This is my love letter to Wales. I am fascinated with it's rich history and rugged landscape. Within 50 miles I can travel over 5000 years. The Bronze and Iron Ages, the Middle Ages, and the not so distant Industrial Revolution all huddle beside each other amongst the verdant Southeast Valleys. This is where I ride and this is why I write.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Brecon to Merthyr Tydfil

Eventually this section will cover the route from Brecon to Merthyr Tydfil, but I've found several problems with my photos, so I've had to cut it back a bit. What I present today is my first pass at outlining the Taff Trail from Brecon to Pontsticill.

Looking north across Pontsticill Reservoir

Note: A number of issues have arisen whilst organising the materials for this document. Firstly, getting clear, easy to understand photographs of every control point has been much harder than I anticipated and I need to return to re-shoot many. Secondly, The weather has has been difficult to work around. Ideally, I'd like to have the same sort of sunny day for each shot, but during the course of a single day the conditions change so often that what I start out with - is not what I end up with. And lastly, I need to carry more batteries for the camera! I just ran out of juice before I could finish shooting Stage One.

So, I've got to go back and reshoot some specific areas. I need to make notes on what control points I could present better. And I need to re-think my "mini-maps". I wonder if they add any real value? There ya have it, my summary of my first pass. Let me know what you think. Cheers - cm

I've divided the overall route up into three distinct stages starting in Brecon and continuing through to Cardiff Bay. I've included icons to indicate significant points of interest, but most notably ALL turns. I've then included within each stage two types of maps to assist the viewer with navigation. And lastly, the stages are photographed with particular attention paid to ALL junctions and unique areas of interest.

This instalment is my first pass and will eventually cover Stage One: Brecon to Merthyr Tydfil. (I've several areas to re-address as noted above...) I will document the other stages over the course of the summer. So stay tuned!

Taff Trail Stages:
  • Stage One: Brecon to Merthyr Tidfyl [ 24.4 miles ]
  • Stage Two: Merthyr Tidfyl to Pontypridd [ 13.5 miles ]
  • Stage Three: Pontypridd to Cardiff Bay [ 15.3 miles ]

Control Points & other markers:
From my experience, I've found that the hardest part of following cycle routes is when they pass through towns or villages. It doesn't take but one missed turn or a poorly placed sign to get you completely off course. You'll find that I've placed great deal of detail to get you through some of the more congested areas.
Start - Each feature will present a significant location for the beginning of that stage.
Control Points - Every significant junction requiring a turn or unusual navigation wil be clearly marked and accompanied with a photograph.
Monument - Important historical markers or locations of significant importance found along the route will be noted.
Toilets - Public toilets can often be found within small villages. However; those found within pubs & restaurants will not be listed.
Food - All locations for either snacks, tea & coffee, or restaurants will be listed, where practical.
End - Each stage will present a significant location at the end. Consecutive stages will begin and end at the same location.

You will find two distinct types of maps: stage maps and "mini-maps" of sub-sections within each stage. The stage maps will be embedded interactive web-based files provided by Ride with GPS and can be enlarged via links to their website. The mini-maps will be image files which can be enlarged within this website and printed as .pdf(s) for use whilst traveling.

ROUTE COLOUR KEY:  Traffic-free  Shared Use  Quiet Road  Steep Hill

 Brecon to Llanfrynach 

[ Click to enlarge for more details, download, and print. ]

Stage One: Brecon to Merthyr Tydfil
The Taff Trail begins by the Brecon Canal Basin and the Theatr Brycheiniog. This can be found just past the roundabout for Canal Road and Rich Way.

Brecon Canal Boat Basin

 The Start 

[ Click to enlarge for more details, download, and print. ]

Look for a tall green pole with several directional markers, specifically; Llwybr Taf/Taff Trail, located on the wide pavement facing the boat rentals.

To begin, cycle on the road that leads to the left and behind the theatre. As you come around the other side of the theatre, take your first right heading down a small lane.

Continue to the far end of the lane to join the traffic-free path just by the canal.

Approximately .25 mile(s) the path branches. You may choose either direction for the two routes rejoin a short distance ahead.

If you choose to bear right. you'll pass several restored lime kilns dating back to the 1850's. Find out more on the history of Monmouth & Brecon Canal.

Once the paths rejoin, you have approximately another 1.4 mile(s) to leasurely cycle along the canal and enjoy the views before you reach the first control point.

There are several bridges you'll pass under which are both very narrow and low over-head. You may wish to disembark and walk underneath. Remember, pedsetrians have the right of way. So proceed slowly and be sure to ring your bell!

Control Point 1 is at the canal lock. [ 2.2 miles ] Go through the gate, turn right and proceed across the bridge onto the B4558. Continue up the hill to the next junction.

You might want to look around a bit, for this is an unusual junction. It has a canal lock and a bridge which spans over both the Monmouth & Brecon Canal and the River Usk.

Control Point 2 is at the top of the hill. [ 2.6 miles ] Bear right at the junction toward the village of Llanfrynach. Note: Pen y Fan is ahead of you in the distance.

As you enter the village of Llanfrynach, bear left past the community centre.

Just past the community centre on the right (across from the church) is a small building with public toilets.

Control Point 3 is just past the toilets. [ 3.3 miles ] Turn right at the junction down the narrow lane. Note: the red phone booth converted into a lovely little library!

Continue over the small bridge and down the lane. The lanes gets very narrow as you cycle between farm fields and high hedges for just over a mile.

After you cycle past several farm houses and assorted small buildings; you should notice that you're back along side the M&B Canal.

Control Point 4 is just a few hundred feet ahead. [ 4.8 miles ] Turn right at the junction onto B4558. Note: this road can be very busy. Pay particular attention as cars may come around the curve from your right quite quickly.

Relax and enjoy the nearly flat ride twisting along the road. Look to your left and you'll see that you're also beside the M&B Canal. (See sidebar; "Alternate Routes")

Control Point 5 is just over a mile ahead. [ 5.9 miles ] You might miss the signs (especially during summer months), but you cannot miss the pink house! Turn right at the junction and head up the lane.

This lane will take you through the tiny village of Aber and then the Talybont Reservoir. The lane is not too steep and levels out in several places as you slowly make the ascent.

You'll pass two small junctions in short succession; continue straight up the road.

Continue another .5 mile(s) after passing through the village of Aber to reach the reservoir.

Control Point 6 is at Talybont Reservoir. [ 8.0 miles ] Turn right and head across the small road which runs along the top of the damn. Note: the signs are easily blown about by the wind and may not be pointing in the proper directions (as shown).

The next control point is just ahead at the end of the paved road.

Control Point 7 is at the far end of the reservoir. [ 8.2 miles ] The route sign is on the left; however, you need to turn right and head into the Talybont Forest.

Pass through the gate and proceed straight up the forest road. Note: the route is a continuous climb of roughly 2%-3% over packed gravel for the next five miles to Control Point 9.

Relax and take your time. It's a rewarding climb as the views over the reservoir open up and you move deeper into the heart of the Brecon Beacon Mountains.

Chances are good that you'll find yourself stopping quite often as you discover openings through the trees. Needless to say the views are simply stunning.

And I hope you've brought your camera... you'll find good use for it!

I recommend looking around too... you never know what you might discover.

At 640 meters tall, Twyn Mwyalchod looms ahead as you're nearly to the top of the climb.

Control Point 8 is through the gate at the end of the gravel road. [ 13.2 miles ] Turn left onto the paved road. You cannot miss the sign.

Continue up the paved road to the crest of the ridge where you'll be at the highest point of the Taff Trail (1,454 ft.).

Be careful not to race down the hill too quickly. The next control point is approximately .5 mile(s) down as the road levels for a short distance.

Control Point 9 is at Torpantau; the final stop for the Brecon Railway (on your left). [ 13.7 miles ] However; you need to turn right into the car park and continue across to the gate at the far edge. (For ice cream, see: "Alternate Routes")

Control Point 10 is a just ahead at the fork in the gravel road. [ 13.8 miles ] Bear left and head down the slight hill. (See: "Alternate Routes" for details on the road leading to the right.)

Control Point 11 is at the bottom of the gravel road. [ 14.3 miles ] You'll come to a gate and a car park. Proceed across the car park and turn left onto the paved road.

Cross over the narrow bridge (look!) and continue up the road.

Following a short descent you'll find that the road flattens as you come along side Pentwyn Reservoir. Note: look to your left, for the views through the trees are wonderful.

You then have a short climb followed by a quick drop down to a junction for the next control point.

Control Point 12 is at the junction facing the reservoir. [ 15.9 miles ] Turn right toward Pontsticill and proceed approx. 500 feet to the next control point.

Control Point 13 is at the very next junction. [16.0 miles ] Turn right onto the gravel road and ride up through the gate. (See: "Alternate Routes" if you wish to continue going straight on the paved road.)

This next section is short, but surprisingly steep for 0.6 mile. However; it is worth stopping as often as you like for the views across Pontsticill Reservoir are wonderful.

Once you finally reach the top, you are rewarded with a spectacular view across the reservoir. The next control point is just down the ridge a short distance.

Control Point 14 is at the junction of two gravel roads. [ 16.6 miles ] Bear right and continue up the hill. Note: the road becomes much rougher for a short distance.

Then surprisingly, the path becomes paved just before dropping steeply. Proceed cautiously for the path also turns abruptly to the left as you descend.

This is an excellent place to stop for a break. The scenery is fabulous, there is a bench, plus you'll find a rather unique bridge crossing a lovely little gorge. It's worthwile to wander around. Note: there is a stile leading up a walking path too.

Once you get back on your bike and cross the bridge, there is a short but rather steep ascent. The path then levels and resumes on packed gravel as you travel through Taf Fechan Forest.

After 1.3 miles you'll approach another gate and small car park at the entrance to the forest.

Control Point 15 is at the the entrance to Coed Taf Fechan Forest. [ 18.3 miles ] Turn right onto the paved road and continue 0.3 mile(s) to the next control point.

Control Point 16 is at the next junction. [ 18.6 miles ] Take a sharp left and continue heading toward Dowlais and Merthyr Tydfil. Note: if you go straight a short distance, you can find food and toilets in the village of Pontsticill.

There are two popular pubs in the village of Pontsticill each serving traditional pub fare; The Red Cow Inn and The Butcher's Arms Freehouse.
Within the village of Pontsticill you'll find public toilets up the hill just past the Butcher's Arms Pub on your right.

Zip down the road for 0.3 mile(s) to Pontsticill Reservoir dam.

Control Point 17 is across the dam. [ 19.1 miles ] The road bears to the right and continues downhill past the Pontsticill Water Treatment Works.

Note: All images from here down to Merthyr Tydfil need to be re-taken. What you're seeing presently is merely for poistion and planning.

Control Point 18 is at the bottom of the hill. [ 19.5 miles ] Bear left and continue up the hill approximately 0.5 mile(s) to the next control point.

Show caution near the top of the hill as you pass through two sharp turns under the bridge. Continue climbing beyond the bridge a short distance to find the next control point.

Control Point 19 is a short distance beyond the bridge on your right. [ 19.9 miles ] Enter through the gate, bearing left and down the traffic-free walking/cycling route.

Note: there are picnic tables to your right. (photo needed...)

The route continues traffic-free and uninterrupted for the next 2.8 miles. Relax and enjoy the ride. It's easy coasting down through the Taf Fechan Valley.

You may wish to pause on the Pontsarn Viaduct and take a look over the edge. It's quite a drop to the valley below and the views looking over the river are quite impressive. (better photos needed...)

-- END --

For the time being, this is where I'll stop. I need to return to Pontsticill Reservoir to photograph the route down through Merthyr Tydfil. You can see the aspect ratio of the images changes at Control Point 17 where my Sony camera batteries died and I began using my Samsung smartphone. Also needed; "Definition of Terms" and colour-coded mini-maps (test printouts!)

But this is just a first pass and a work in progress. Let me know what you think of my efforts so far. Cheers! - cm

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