exploring Merthyr Vale
I travelled upstream along the River Taf by train from Cardiff to explore Merthyr Vale by bike. I climbed a quiet mountain, discovered a little ruined 14th century site called Forest Chapel and saw a beautiful ancient carved Celtic stone in the church at the mountain town of Merthyr Tydfil.
Please Note: People can now travel inside Wales, but frustratingly you can’t quite travel to Wales from another country yet. Please wait until the rules change to travel to Wales. You will be able to come to Wales soon!
It’s a 50 minute direct but slow train ride up to Merthyr Vale from Cardiff. The railway follows the River Taf – a scenic journey. I woke early arriving in the mountains before 8 o’clock. My bike came on the train. There are bike spaces in the carriage -you don’t have to book on these South Wales valley lines – but it’s best to avoid busy times if you are taking your bike.
I cycled South from the village of Merthyr Vale. A few hundred yards after the last house there’s a small country mountain road. It’s an inviting but steep lane.
The climb is soon rewarded with spectacular views.
The small village of Aberfan sits on the other side of the valley and here 1500 years ago a young woman Tydfil encountered a band of Pictish soldiers who were roaming in the area. From this part of the valley the legend says that she quickly moved higher up the valley, pursued by soldiers. Today’s adventure is to explore possible routes for a women’s fun run in June, celebrating the life of the 5th century young woman Tydfil.
At the top of the road there is a wonderful view of the town Merthyr Tydfil. The young woman, Tydfil, daughter of King Brychan, was murdered there 1500 years ago by soldiers in a place where she had founded a Christian settlement. She gives her name, Tydfil, to the town today.
I abandoned my bike and climbed up half a mile further up the mountain beyond the road to look for the ruins of Forest Chapel.
Gelligaer and Merthyr Common stretches for miles over this mountainside. It should be a national park.
After 10 minutes walking to the top of the mountain I came across the ruins of Forest Chapel. It lies, covered in grass, where several old grassy tracks form an ancient forgotten crossroad on the common.
I felt lucky to find the ruin because in summer the low grassy walls are covered in bracken and I’ve read reports of people coming here and not finding it.
The 14th century stone chapel was built at a time when many people travelled to Merthyr Tydfil to see the grave of the young woman Tydfil. Then these grassy mountain tracks were important routes across South Wales. The chapel has a small boundary wall to the East. Very little is known about its history in this lonely spot.
I came down the mountain. Nice to let the bike descend on that beautiful, steep mountain road! And I then made my way up the Trevithick bike trail to the next village up the valley, Troedyrhiw.
Just as you arrive in Troedyrhiw village a small track climbs away from the bike trail and leads back up the mountain. I locked my bike and set off up the hill. After a few hundred metres climb I found the old outdoor swimming pool, hewn out of the rocks by local miners. The local community are slowly restoring it. When I come back in future years maybe I’ll swim!
It’s hard to describe how to find the open air swimming pool on the mountain side here. Best to go to Troedyrhiw (the same train stops there) and ask somebody who lives locally. People were very friendly today.
The Trevithick bike trail is great family cycling and I was soon up in the town of Merthyr Tydfil. The church at the end of the Trevithick bike trail marks the spot where Tydfil died and was buried. Inside the church there are two early medieval stones. One, associated with her death, has an early Celtic cross engraved on upon it.
St Tydfil’s church is just next to the railway station in Merthyr Tydfil. If you don’t fancy the mountain climb that I’ve done today, another option is to take the train to Merthyr Tydfil and then cycle down the valley along the Trevithick bike trail, following the River Taff. It’s an historic trail because the modern bike trail follows the course of the first ever steam train to carry iron and passengers back in 1804.
The descending trail passes along spectacularly beautiful sections of the River Taf . I cycled through Quaker’s Yard where a friendly local man offered me, a passing stranger, rest in his lovely riverside garden. I must have looked tired. I accepted. It was very kind of him. We chatted about the rich history of the area. The village is named Quaker’s Yard after a small non-conformist burial ground by the bridge. Quakers Yard has a railway station, as does nearby Abercynon where I sat by the river and ate my lunch.
The Trevithick Trail is well signposted at every turn, and it joins the better known Taf Trail. I cycled down to Pontypridd and caught the train back to Cardiff.
There’s more to explore in Merthyr Vale. I’ll return…