Walking on Water
Here is a trail with a slight difference from some of the others, even in its ambitious title! It is about the role of the mighty river Taf (sometimes spelt Taff) and its effects on this town’s history to the present day. The confluence or joining of its two separate tributaries is just below Cefn Coed: the Taf Fawr and the Taf Fechan, which flow either side of the southern flanks of the Brecon Beacons, rising at some 3,000 feet and then going southwards to the sea at Cardiff.
Jackson's Bridge, Georgetown
This Bridge, dating from the end of the 18th century, took the Dowlais tram road across the Taff to the headwaters and starting point of the Glamorgan Canal, opened in 1793. Thus heavy loads of bar iron could be navigated south to the Bristol Channel on a route that ran parallel with the river Taf for most of its journey south. A fictional character in Alexander Cordell’s novel The Fire People, one “Jump Jackson”, would for a wager of a silver florin jump with his one and only leg off this Bridge into the Taf below!
From this Bridge, head south on the left-hand side and you are now walking through that dubious area once known as “China”: a low-lying, flood-prone series of warrens and alleyways and the locale for thieves, prostitutes, criminals and anyone else of a detrimental character. No one knows the true origins of this exotic phrase. Certainly, it is called “China” on the first local OS maps. By 1900 it had been largely cleaned up and lost its awesome reputation of the 1840s-50s.
Opposite the town’s Fire Station and immediately below where one stands is the point of entry of the Morlais Brook into the Taff. From the main roadway bridge here, there are good views looking southwards towards the weir, which acts as a breakwater, filter, and salmon leap, that enables spawning fish to head upstream.
There is an information board on the other bank; remember to read on the return journey. The new build of Merthyr college stands opposite. Raymond’s Wharf was once opposite the fire station, open ground which had on it, as a local cause of excitement leading up to Christmas, a fairground; it is now part of the present car park. Walk down the pedestrianised, neatly flowered promenade.
The Iron Bridge
The Iron Bridge, dating from 1799, straddled the Taf here, with Ynysgau Chapel (1749) nearby. Both have long since gone. Present town centre Merthyr Tydfil, including the new bus station, is to one's lefthand side. A few hundred paces and the towns newest bridge crosses the river with an elliptical structured top support, similar in design to the much larger arched bridge over the Missouri river at St. Louis, USA, there serving as the gateway in the 19th century to the wild west!
Keep heading south, Caedraw flats on the left (once, notoriously lowlying, flood-prone habitations) and notice the changing colours of several metallic murals depicting local scenes on the walls. You arrive at a small, exquisite poetry garden depicting Charles Horace Jones, local poet, raconteur and maverick of this town. Here is the next crossing of the Taff, at the edge of Rhydycar and the main access to joining the A470 road going north (to Brecon and mid-Wales) or south (Cardiff and England).
About turn and trace one's steps to a pedestrian bridge to cross the river: (i) turn left to view a series of mosaic artwork depicting the history of Merthyr Tydfil, as a pedestrianised walkway gets one to Rhydycar Village. Then (ii) turn right and head back towards the college car park, noting some interesting artwork on the way and several watercourses, bridges, and stonework.
You are here walking on the first section of the now filled-in Glamorgan Canal. Re-join the circular trail at the Fire Station once more by crossing back over the bridge to the town side.