The tours duration is approximately two hours, the route taken is on flat well serviced 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, which can be found by following Velindre Road from the Whitchurch Library Roundabout.
At the start of the reserve you will find an information board showing the layout of the reserve and areas of interest. These information boards are situated at various points of the reserve.
You will enter the reserve by two slopes the slope on the right has a gentler slope and has the benefit of a handrail. This was installed using funding from the Friends Of Forest Farm to provide better access for those with mobility issues.
One of the first things you will see is two watercourses. The watercourse on the left is a feeder from the River Taff at Radyr weir that was used to provide water for the Melingriffiths Tin plate works. The watercourse on your right is the only remaining part of the Glamorganshire Canal that remains in water. Started in 1790 it linked the Ironworks of Merthyr at a height of 568 feet to the sea at Cardiff a distance of 25.5 miles that included 52 locks. This part of the canal finally closed in 1943 although north of this location it had been in disrepair for many years previous to this date.
The first bridge you will cross in known as The Sunny Bank Weir bridge and dates from 1851. The rounded side of the bridge enabled the ropes from horse drawn barges to pass over the bridge which was built to allow overflow from the canal to pass to the feeder to supply works and conserve water.
As you walk north after 50 metres you will see a stone wall. This is the site of the three story Sunnybank cottages that originally provided housing for the workers of the nearby Melingriffiths Tinplates Works which stood on the site of the modern housing estate on the left hand side of Forest Farm Road.
As you continue on you walk there is a branch where one path follows the Melingriffith feeder and one path follows the canal, keep the canal on your right. We will return via the other pathway later in our walk. This part of the canal has abundant wildlife the water quality is high and various species of birds can be seen. Theses include mallard, moorhens, coots as well as the sound of various woodland birds.
This is also where it is possible to see Kingfishers fishing as well as various species of Dragonflies in the summer.
You will find a gentle slope where you will approach Forest Lock. A Capstan (mooring post) shows where barges moored waiting for their turn to head north. Although the Glamorganshire Canal was built relatively late in the canal era it was reported to be the most profitable canal in the whole of the UK.
Again following the canal on your right continue north towards middle lock.
As you continue along the canal you will find remains of Middle Lock cottage on your left.
On your right hand side is a large beech wood which is part of the Long Wood SSSI ( Site of special scientific interest )
Above the tree line you may be lucky to see Buzzards circling on thermals often being chased by the local crow population. On the left hand side is a recently planted wood that has been established to increase the different bird populations. There are two route options here; route one includes a sharp climb to Longwood Drive by crossing over the canal as it appears from a culvert. Route two replaces the steep climb by turning left at the end of the canal following the embankment to your right and crossing Longwood Drive to join the footpath almost directly opposite. 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 into part of the reserve that is maintained by the RSPB’s volunteers to encourage different species. Volunteers are always welcome and details of events appear on our Website. As you descent 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 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 continued 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 (formerly Amersham) factory.
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 Mellingriffiths Light railway which will provide excellent views of Castell Coch.
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. The environmental changes are leading to increased fish stocks and 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 Mellingriffiths Timplate 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 MelinGriffiths Tinplate 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.
Friends of Forest Farm Nature Reserve and Glamorganshire Canal