The tour’s duration is approximately two hours, the route taken is on flat paths, apart from one steep section that can be bypassed.
A shorter route included for those with mobility restrictions.
Places of historical and nature interest are highlighted along the route.
The walk starts at the small car park on Forest Farm Road, Whitchurch.
Go down to the canal via one of the two paths. The one on the right has a gentler slope and the benefit of a handrail. (This was erected using funding from the Friends of Forest Farm, to provide better access for those with mobility issues.)
You will see is two watercourses. The one on the left is a ‘feeder’ from the River Taff at Radyr weir, which was used to provide water for the Melingriffith tin plate works. The one on your right is one end of the only remaining stretch of the Glamorganshire Canal.
Started in 1790, the canal linked the ironworks of Merthyr Tydfil to the sea at Cardiff — a distance of 25.5 miles. The drop of around 542 feet (165m) from Merthyr to sea level required 50 locks. The section of the canal at Forest Farm finally closed in 1943, although parts of the upper stretches had been closed or in disrepair for many years prior to then. (There’s more information about the canal on Wikipedia.)
The first bridge you will cross in known as The Sunny Bank Weir bridge and dates from 1851. The rounded edges of the canal side of the bridge allowed the ropes from horse-drawn barges to pass over smoothly.
Continuing along the tow-path, after about 50 metres you will see a stone wall on the opposite bank of the canal. This is the site of the three-storey Sunnybank cottages, which originally provided housing for workers at the nearby tin-plate works, which stood on the site of the modern housing estate between Forest Farm Road and the river Taff.
As you continue on your walk, after about another 300m there is a path on the left, which follows the Melingriffith feeder. Ignore this for now (we’ll go along it later), and carry on along the towpath.
This part of the canal has abundant wildlife. The water quality is good, and various species of waterfowl and waterbirds can be seen, including mallard, moorhens and coots. If you’re lucky (and patient) you may see a kingfisher, or at least a flash of iridescent blue as one goes past. In spring and summer there will dragonflies and damselflies.
As you walk along the towpath, if you look above the tree line to your right you may be lucky to see buzzards circling on thermals, often being mobbed by the local crow population.
The terrace woodland that rises above the far bank of the canal is predominantly beech, with much ash, some oak and alder, and is part of the ‘Long Wood’ Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The range of species present indicate that the
woodland is certainly many centuries old, and it may have even been a wooded area since the last ice age.
You will go up a gentle slope as you approach Forest Lock. There is still a mooring post, where barges tied up while waiting for their turn to head north.
A path turns off to the left, and another goes over a small bridge, up into Long Wood. But we’ll continue to follow the towpath towards Middle Lock.
As you continue along the towpath you will find stones from Middle Lock cottage scattered amongst the trees on your left.
The wooded area on the left-hand side of the towpath was planted relatively recently, to help increase the various bird populations
When you reach Middle Lock you’ve come to the other end of the Glamorganshire Canal at Forest Farm. Water feeds into the canal from a culvert that passes underneath Longwood Drive.
There are two route options now. The first one involves a steep climb up to Longwood Drive by crossing the canal, over the culvert. The other is easier going, and turns left at the end of the canal following a path parallel to Longwood Drive, to join the road after about 200m.
If you wish to follow the steeper route pass over the canal as discussed above the climb includes a number of steps cut into the hillside they can be slippery when wet and in autumn.
At the top of the hill turn left onto Longwood Drive noting the remains of the Cardiff Railway in the cutting. After carefully crossing Longwood Drive re-enter the reserve following the signposts.
As you re-enter the reserve you will descend another set of steep steps. As you descend you will see the remains of the Cardiff Railway Bridge as it passed over the Canal.
The Cardiff Railway
Recent articles in the local press have proposed to reinstate the link between Coryton Station and Radyr to form a circle line around the city. Although, the disused Coryton branch which forms the eastern edge of the country park would appear to travel in this direction the lines never met in the Radyr area but near Pontypridd.
The story of the Cardiff Railway is one of a powerful land owner (the marquis of Bute) who owned Cardiff Docks along with Coal mines in the Rhondda and the equally powerful Taff Vale Railway which had a near monopoly on coal transportation.
Then and Now
Longwood drive now runs in front of what was the railway bridge in the picture.
The story starts in 1885 when the Marquis of Bute purchased the Glamorganshire and Aberdare Canal with the objective of closing both and converting them to railways. In 1897 an act was passed which formed the Cardiff Railway Company and it was given powers to construct a railway using the Rhymney Railway to Heath Juction and then joining the Taff Vale south of Pontypridd.
In 1898 the construction of the Railway started with the first 3 1/2 miles from Heath to Tongwynlais, however in the same time the Taff Vale also purchased a strip of land running along the east side of their railway south of Pontypridd. The purchase by the Taff Vale was said to be for the provision of sidings but this land was to prove vital in the legal dispute between the two companies.
Although the Cardiff Railway was built towards Ponypridd, years of legal disputes ensued, with the Taff Vale refusing the Cardiff Railway access to their recently purchased land. Finally, on the 15th May 1909 the first and only train to connect the two lines was operated near Rhydyfelin.
In 1921 The Cardiff Railway became part of the mighty Great Western Railway and between the wars the carriage of coal reduced with passenger traffic only between Whitchurch and Cardiff.
However, shortly after the Second World War the line was again in use as the new colliery at Nantgarw was opened but in 1953 the line north of Coryton was finally removed.
Much of the Cardiff Railway was destroyed with the building of the A470 in the early 1970’s and the later M4. A link between Coryton and Radyr would have a dramatic effect on the reserve and although the circle line is part of the local transportation plan Cardiff County Council have no immediate plans for its introduction.
Following on along the footpath you will meet the easier route mentioned earlier.
However, if taking the easier route this is a steep access point and is slippery in winter. An easier safer route would be to continue along Longwood Drive and re-enter the reserve opposite the entrance to the GE Healthcare site.
You will shortly be arriving at the Taff Trail that is part of the Lon Las Trail developed by Sustrans it connects North and South Wales. By turning left you will join a well surfaced path following the east side of the River Taff.
A short detour following signs to Pontypridd will enable you to cross the Taff using the Iron Bridge which originally carried the the narrow gauge Melingriffith and Pentyrch Railway. There’s an excellent view of Castell Coch from the bridge.
Also, available at the western bank is a Gelynis ‘Pick Your Own’ Farm which also provides refreshments during the summer months. Returning to the walk the River Taff is on your right. For many years the Taff was heavily polluted by industry. However, since the decline of heavy industry especially coal mining the water quality has improved dramatically. The environmental changes have lead to increased fish stocks and a resurgence in other wildlife, including otters and dippers.
The railway line to the west was once part of the Taff Vale Railway that transported coal for export through Cardiff and Penarth Docks. Now only used for commuters to and from Cardiff it was the opening of the railway in 1840 that started the decline of the Glamorganshire Canal.
As you walk south you will approach Radyr Weir, which was built in 1769 to provide water for both supply and transportation for the Melingriffith Tin Plate works.
On the left of the footpath is the start of the feeder that was seen at the beginning of the walk. An information board next to the river shows how the fish pass built in 1989 works and also details the light railway that occupied this site. A reconstruction of the tramroad has been provided on the left hand side of the pathway using the original stone sleepers.
This was also the site of an extensive salmon fishery that was trading with Bristol until the industrial revolution destroyed the stocks by pollution when it ceased operation in 1860.
Times have changed and the Taff is now developing into a major salmon and trout river again.
Following the footpath for another 500 metres there is a small ascent over the flood defences where we will turn left towards Forest Farm following the signs. There is also a footbridge at this point which links the reserve to the west bank of the Taff, for Radyr and Radyr Station.
Forest Farm Hall itself no longer exists but was built by the owners of the Melingriffith Tin Plate Works.
Cardiff Council Rangers Service now occupy the Farm Cottages and the outbuildings have been converted for various organisations including the Wardens centre.
On the left hand side you will pass the allotment site and as you continue on your walk the large field on your right may have a selection of cows and horses to study.
As you pass over the feeder turn right keeping the feeder on your right which you will follow until the end of your walk.
The next section will enable you to take a well earned rest and study wildlife in greater detail.
Straight ahead through two gates the first bird hide is on your left. This area is known as Llyn-Brwynog built in 1996 is known as the Friends Hide and was completed after a major funding raising activity by the Friends Of Forest Farm.
There are various habitats available for waterfowl and to the right of the hide is a specially built Sand Martin Cliff. The artificial nesting site is used from May onwards as Sand Martins arrive on these shores from their winter resting grounds.
There is also a good chance of viewing Kingfishers and Herons.
Using funding from the Friends group, winter feeding takes place alongside the sandmartin cliff to help maintain the bird species that are constantly under pressure.
Leaving the Friends hide and following the feeder to your right the next hide area is Llyn-Y-Gamlas the Lockley Hide is named after a local well known naturalist.
This is a different habitat although still with a water resource the scrapes in winter have varied bird species available for viewing especially in winter and snipe in particular.
After leaving the Lockley hide turn left you will notice a line of stones over the feeder. On the far bank a rail from the original MelinGriffiths light railway has been unearthed. This dam was built a few years ago to keep water in the upper part of the feeder which us used as a nursery for young birds. The Melingriffith railway ran alongside the river Taff and we believe the unearthed rail was part of the work’s internal network.
Finally after passing through the large gate return to the start of your walk.
We hope you have enjoyed your walk and will visit this important environment again. Friends Of Forest Farm is a community organisation whose objective is to protect this special place from damaging development.