MadeinRoath is an artist-led organiser of free events and the second march from Merthyr Tydfil to Roath, Cardiff was part of their Made in Spring festival. This year I did the 14 mile Merthyr to Pontypridd stretch representing Women’s Arts Association solidarity with the right to the arts.
Buses run from Ponty to Merthyr every 10 minutes. Once in Merthyr, we walked over to the Redhouse on Merthyr’s High Street to meet others there. Redhouse is the former Town Hall and the renovated Grade II listed building makes a fine centre for cultural regeneration. Printed yellow dusters to “draw the line” on art and cultural cuts were being printed and stitched and we had red flags too. (In 1831, the red flag of revolution was first flown here in Merthyr, against lowering of wages and unemployment.)
Walkers had packed lunches of tasty rolls, fruit, crisps and Becca’s energy-boosting fudge, and photos by Homer Sykes of last year’s march were on the walls.
About 20 of us set off, after stirring poetry from a Redhouse balcony followed by song – famous Bells of Rhymney by Idris Davies (from his 1938 Gwalior Deserta, also a wood-block print by Paul Peter Piech). It was drizzling and 17 of us left Merthyr on the Taff Trail.
The purpose of the march is to confirm people’s right to arts and culture, that these rights cannot be a “low priority” or something to cut – they are absolute and for all. And we were walking on a public right of way, and the definitive right to use our paths, trails and other ways is also in danger of being lost if not asserted.
Geoff Matsell had provided a short history of the route we were taking, mostly following the tramroads and towpaths (the trams and canals are long gone). This is the bridge that carried a railway from Merthyr through the mountain to Hirwaun, Neath and Swansea.
I learned about Lucy Thomas (we passed Lucy Cottage) who lived 1781-1847 and first sold coal to households – sale coal – instead of only to industry. On the steep hillsides, cottages with two stories on the higher side and three on the lower were called house-over-house. We saw rows of cottages, like Quay Row and Pond Row, which dated back to the early 19th century.
The steep hillsides have some tidy gardens too, and bright cherry blossom.
The muted cloud covered colours over the valley as we passed Troedyrhiw and onwards were lovely.
No one could forget the Aberfan disaster in 1966, when a slag heap wiped out the primary school and 144 died (I lived in Manchester then). It is poignant to see the row of white memorial archway stones in the cemetary beyond the hedge and darker stones.
As well as the walkers, we had CiBach the corgi accompanying us – she was cheerful, saying Hi to each of us. Past Aberfan, the Taff Trail goes under the A470 with a brutalist concrete tunnel with tagging. Note James with his banner-in-progress (more on it next year).
The trail now goes beside some huge rocky wooded areas, with twisted trees, trail bikes and opportunities for photographer Pete to pose walkers and CiBach.
I do recall how noisey the A470 was here: the trees were great but cars do make a row. Birds seemed to singing loudly in order to compensate perhaps.
Steadily forwards, with beautiful greens of spring – and occasionally, burnt hillsides.
At Pontygwaith, we descnded into a tunnel under the A470 and into Good Cop – Bad Cop. Cuktural nourishment before food.
Pontygwaith has a hump-backed bridge and a 500 year-old farm. Even better was the prospect of tea and a lunch break at the National Garden Scheme cafe.
A pause for a tree by the bridge and reflections.
The break was welcome.
The next bit of the Taff Trail was special for me because it began with a horse-step and yes, horses are allowed on the Trevithick Trail, named after Richard Trevithick. In 1804 the first steam train, designed by Trevithick, travelled this route. (I just wish horses were allowed on all the Taff Trail – it is certainly wide enough for shared use. Maybe RCT Councillors simply hate horses.)
You can still see the stones from the tramway, and stone walling hold back the rail embankment of the Valleys line above.
This was a lovely part of the walk, with a lake and then the river below, and buttresses of old lines, and I heard a wren among the birdsong.
And there were the colours of bracken and greens, with the odd stone carving.
The Goitre Coed viaduct is really impressive, with Brunel’s name on its plaque. This carries the Valleys line to Merthyr from Cardiff and was built in 1840, having a second viaduct built next to it in 1861 because it was so busy.
We crossed over the river. Becca is here drawing the line, in chalk.
The trail passes Quaker’s Yard, a pre-industrial village and recently home to poet Philip Gross (his book with artist and print-maker Valerie Coffin Price is “A fold in the river”).
We were surprised to see these pre-fabs, and met this smart dog with his owners.
A dual carriageway over us has a net between the two – showing what car-drivers chuck even so high above ground.
The signpost says it is 4 miles to Ponty and 10 to Merthyr. We were ready for another comfort break in Abercynon.
This all looks a bit grey and pensive.
By contrast, the valley opens out below Abercynon, with horses grazing on the meadow and a sparkling river.
The Taff Trail comes into Pontypridd through Trallwng, the river now lazy.
We walked via the terraces and into Ynysangharad Park, where poet Steve Kennard added more culture to tea time.
We split off there, with best wishes for the day’s finish at Taffs Well, and on to Roath the next day.