The Taff dominated by Merthyr, once the Iron Capital of the World. The magnificent Cyfarthfa Castle is a must.
The river Taff (Afon Taf) is formed from two smaller rivers - the Taf Fawr and Taf Fechan which originate in the Brecon Beacons. Both rivers flow through glorious, picturesque countryside punctuated by reservoirs, such as Ponsticill. The Brecon Mountain Railway runs up its eastern side on the route of the former railway from Pant Station to Dolygaer, while on the Taf Fawr, Garwnant enjoys wonderful forest scenery with great family cycling.
In Merthyr Tydfil at Cefn Coed y Cymer the impressive curving viaduct now carries the Taff Trail. Named after the martyr, Tudful, Merthyr, as it is more familiarly known, was one of the most important places in the industrial revolution as the ‘Iron capital’ of the world. The Merthyr Rising of 1831 was the violent climax to many years of simmering unrest among its workers, which resulted in the iniquitous hanging of Richard Lewis (Dic Penderyn). By 1851, a year after Thomas Carlyle had described it on a visit as a "Vision of Hell", Merthyr had become the largest town in Wales as a result of its phenomenal iron production overseen by the ironmasters who owned the works: Guest at Dowlais and Crawshay at Cyfarthfa.
On 21 February 1804, as a result of a 1,000 guinea bet between Samuel Homfray, owner of Penydarren, and Richard Crawshay, owner of Cyfarthfa, the world's first railway journey took place at Penydarren as Richard Trevithick's steam locomotive hauled its load along the tramway to Abercynon. This precursor of the Railway Age is nowadays commemorated by the Trevithick Trail.
On the hillside above Merthyr Tydfil sits Cyfarthfa Castle, the impressive former seat of the Crawshays, which was built in 1825 by William Crawshay II, overlooking the furnaces which occupied the valley floor. Perhaps the most famous, or should that be infamous, member of the family was Robert Thompson Crawshay, whose tomb in the churchyard at Vaynor, just to the north of Merthyr, is inscribed with the words, 'God Forgive Me'.
From Cyfarthfa Castle you can see one of the newest attractions, BikePark Wales, one of the best mountain bike parks in the UK, which challenging routes for all ages and abilities, as well as an uplift service to get the most action from your visit.
One of the best ways of discovering the rest of valley to the south is via the Taff Trail, a fantastic 55 mile (93 km) cycling and walking route which links Brecon and the mouth of the Taff at Cardiff Bay. South of Merthyr, the trail runs along the contour of the valley from which can be seen the Cemetery Memorial and the Memorial Garden for the 144 people, 116 of them of them children, who died in the calamitous Aberfan tragedy of 1966.
At Quakers Yard (Mynwent y Crynwyr) the river cuts a sharp meander, known as "Fiddler's Elbow", where it is joined by the Taf Bargoed whose beautiful valley has a rich industrial heritage and Welsh-language culture. At its heart is Parc Taf Bargoed, popular with visitors and locals alike, with its lakes used by anglers and the weir pools rapidly becoming an internationally recognised venue for canoeing. Near to Parc Taf Bargoed lies the Rock UK Summit Centre, a must visit for those visitors who enjoy outdoor activities and climbing.
Moving south we come to Pontypridd, one of the chief towns of the valleys, renowned for its musical heritage as the birthplace of Sir Tom Jones and opera singers, Sir Geraint Evans and Stuart Burrows, as well as the place where father and son Evan and James James wrote the lyrics and music of the Welsh National Anthem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.
Ponty is famous for its Old Bridge, whose distinctive shape is depicted in the badge of the town’s rugby team. With its historic market, the town is a thriving commercial centre with interesting shops such as The World Of Groggs and the famous Otley Brewery.
Just south of Pontypridd is Nantgarw, site of a famous porcelain works whose rare surviving pieces are considered today to be among the most exquisite examples ever made. The Nantgarw China Works Museum has a collection of the world famous china on display.
As the Taff hastens its way towards Cardiff, Garth Mountain which rises steeply on the western flank has become a popular walking destination as a result of the film, ‘The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain'.
As you descend the valley, the Victorian ‘fairytale’ castle, Castell Coch emerges into view from the main roads. Designed for the third Marquess of Bute by William Burges, and built on remains of a much earlier castle, Castell Coch is one of the finest examples of Victorian medievalism in the UK.
- BikePark Wales
A lovingly created network of trails for riders of all abilities. Swooping, bermed runs, tight gnarly rock sections, jump trails, drop offs, a pump track and even a family specific loop. The only venue in the UK to have a professional trail crew maintaining and building new trail all the time.
- Cyfarthfa Castle Museum & Art Gallery
Cyfarthfa Castle is located in the historical town of Merthyr Tydfil, which established itself as the Iron Captial of the World in the 18th Century with its huge Ironworks complexes.
- Brecon Mountain Railway
Travel back to the age of steam on one of Wales' most popular railways, where vintage trains make regular seven mile round trips through beautiful scenery into the Brecon Beacons National Park. Sit back, enjoy the ride and take in the lovely valley of the Taf Fechan and the Pontsticill reservoirs.