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Once Wales’ largest town, Merthyr Tydfil was a key player in the UK’s Industrial Revolution – it was even known as the Iron Capital of the World. Today, only relics remain of the town’s grand mining and manufacturing heritage, and the landscape is littered with abandoned steelworks and viaducts once used to transport coal and iron to the country’s ports. But the region’s natural delights remain as beautiful as they’ve ever been, and a plethora of outdoor adventures await.
Perhaps the most striking monument linked to Merthyr Tydfil’s industrial history is the Aberfan Disaster Memorial Garden. In 1966 a colliery spoil tip collapsed, spilling down a mountain into the village of Aberfan, engulfing a junior school and a row of terraced homes. 116 children and 28 adults were killed in the catastrophe. You can visit the graves of those who lost their lives at the beautiful memorial within Bryntaf Cemetery.
Plenty of industrial heritage can be found along the Taff Trail, the long distance walking route that traverses Merthyr as it wends between Cardiff and the Brecon Beacons. Wander along the Merthyr section and you’ll soon come across Cyfarthfa Iron and Steelworks. Only a tiny portion of the plant remains – namely a huge brick arch, which was built to support the six blast furnaces – but it helps onlookers imagine the sheer scale of what was once there.
Head a mile north east to visit Cyfarthfa Castle. The grade I-listed house was built by and home to the Crawshay family, who managed the Cyfarthfa Ironworks in the 19th century. Today it’s a museum and art gallery, featuring exhibitions that celebrate the hard work of local miners, displays telling the Crawshay family history, and a collection of art. The collection includes numerous paintings by Penry Williams, one of Merthyr Tydfil’s finest artists, whose work earned him the moniker of ‘the Welsh Turner’. The grounds of the castle are also a public park, ideal for wandering in fine weather.
North of town, another castle awaits. But Morlais Castle couldn’t be more different. It dates back to the 13th century, and unfortunately small ruins are all that remains after King Edward I ordered the destruction of the Welsh rebel stronghold. It’s worth seeking out for the views alone, as well as the interesting room with an arched entryway.
Nearby you’ll find the Brecon Mountain Railway, and a vintage steam locomotive which travels 5 miles between Pant to Torpantau on the old Brecon and Merthyr line. The journey is remarkably scenic, and on the return leg the train stops at Pontsticill, allowing passengers to soak in the views of the tree-lined reservoir.
Prefer your scenery with a side of adrenaline? Don’t miss Bike Park Wales in Abercanaid, just south of Merthyr Tydfil’s town centre. It’s the UK’s biggest purpose-built mountain biking resort, boasting over 40 outdoor wooded trails designed for a range of abilities, including the UK’s longest and most exciting beginner’s trail. You don’t need your own equipment to enjoy a day out here – just turn up in comfy clothing and let the experts arrange the rest!
Prefer ascents to descents? Head to the Rock UK Summit Centre, one of the UK’s biggest indoor climbing centres. Besides bouldering and rock climbing walls, other activities are often available on weekends, including archery, aerial adventure courses, caving and abseiling. There is also bunkhouse accommodation available if you would like to spend some more time in the area.
Our 101 team have been working with local tourism, business, community and Council initiatives to bring you some of the best ways for you to live your connection to Merthyr_tydfil.