We walk in the tracks of the world’s first railway steam engine

Today – Thursday, 12 September 2013 – we walked in the track of Richard Trevithick’s world first steam engine railway journey of 1804.

Our walking tour started at 1400 from outside the old Navigation Inn (now the Celtic Carvery) at Abercynon and followed the route of the Merthyr Tramroad norther as far as Pontygwaith.

A group of a dozen walkers outside the former Navigation House (now Celtic Carvery) in Abercynon

Walkers at the start of the Open Doors tour of the Trevithick Trail south outside the historic Navigation House (now Celtic Carvery) in Abercynon

This covers almost three miles of the old tramroad – we saw the stone setts that supported the iron rails that carried the world’s first steam railway locomotive on the bridle path and cycle track as we neared Pontygwaith.

A cinder walk and cycle path passes through green leafed trees and bushes. To the right is a glimpse of the river Taff.

The Merthyr Tramroad runs alongside the river Taff near Quaker’s Yard. Both the Taff and the Trevithick trails and cycle paths follow the same route at this point.

The trail passes through one arch of Brunel’s Goetre Coed viaduct – built for the Taff Vale Railway in 1840 and still used by passenger trains to and from Merthyr Tydfil.

A metalled track passes under a stone arch - there's a much larger arched bridge behind trees to the left

The Trevithick Trail passes under one arch of Brunel’s later stone viaduct built to carry the Taff Vale Railway

A plaque on the arch remembers Brunel’s achievment in building the viaduct across the Taff Valley, the Merthyr Tramroad used by Trevithick in 1804 and the river Taff.

Grey stone of a railway viaduct arch with a plaque remembering Brunel

A plaque on Brunel’s massive Goetre Coed viaduct for the Taff Vale Railway

We stopped at Pontygwaith Farm and – courtesy of Diana and Ray – enjoyed a cup of tea in the surroundings of their fine gardens. These are open to the public in the summer as part of the National Gardens Scheme.

Ray told our tour group of a dozen – plus tour leader Rob Thomson (creator of this Trevithick 1804 website) – about the historic finds made at the farm. He explained how Pontygwaith was the site of one of Wales’s biggest pre-industrial revolution iron foundrys – and how Cromwell’s soldiers ravaged it in the Civil War because it produced arms for King Charles 1’s Royalist forces.

After that the tour continued up a steep section of the Taff Trail before heading back for the return leg to Abercynon following the track of the old Glamorganshire Canal.

The canal – built for Richard Crawshay, the iron industry’s most powerful and wealthy men and owner of the Cyfarthfa Works and other ironmasters in 1790 – carried much of the iron produced in Merthyr Tydfil to market.

The whole area is rich in the heritage of Merthyr Tydfil’s iron works – in Trevithick’s time the largest centre of iron production in the world – of the later deep mine coal industry and of railway and canal transportation.

At Abercynon we found the remains of lock number 16 on the canal in a garden – it was one of 17 locks that stepped down the hillside to an aqueduct carried the waterway over the River Taff.

We will be holding the walking tour again on Sunday next, 12 September 2013, again at 1400 and also starting and returning to the Celtic Carvery (former Navigation Inn) in Abercynon. The route is six miles and includes a steep gradient – the whole tour (which will not go ahead if the weather is inclement) will probably take between 3 and 4 hours.

The tours are organised by volunteers from the Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Trust in association with Open Doors Wales, Merthyr Tydfil CBC and Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC.

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