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Often overlooked in favour of its mountainous and coastal neighbours, Rhondda Cynon Taff is one of Wales’ most underrated regions. Comprising five valleys, Rhondda Cynon Taff was once one of the most important coal mining regions in the world, with over 70 collieries in an area of just 164 square miles.
Today, visitors can immerse themselves in the area’s illustrious past – sometimes literally, on a mine shaft tour – but there’s more to RCT than its coal mining history. While the landscape here was entirely transformed by the Industrial Revolution, the local lakes, rivers and hills are healing and ready to welcome hikers and cyclists. Other sites of interest include Treforest, where singer Tom Jones was born, as well as countless welcoming valley towns and villages that hosted hundreds of American GIs in the Second World War.
Just 12 miles from the Welsh capital of Cardiff, the market town of Pontypridd is the largest in Rhondda Cynon Taff – the historic Market Quarter is worth a browse. To learn about how coal mining shaped this corner of South Wales, take a peek at the exhibits in Pontypridd Museum; outside you’ll find the aptly named ‘Old Bridge’, which dates back to 1756 – the stone bridge is a local icon and was once painted by Turner in his work ‘The Bridge at Pontypridd’. Pontypridd is also home to the National Lido of Wales – at almost 100 years old, the refurbished landmark features three heated outdoor pools, 1920s-style changing cubicles and informative exhibitions about the lido’s history. A memorial to the local father and son who composed and wrote the Welsh national anthem in 1856 sits in the adjacent Ynysangharad War Memorial Park.
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A key family-friendly attraction is Rhondda Heritage Park on the outskirts of Ponty. Here you can don a helmet and head underground with a retired miner for a tour of Lewis Merthyr Colliery. Claustrophobic? There’s also a decent visitor centre, play area, gift shop and cafe on site.
It’s worth a detour 15 minutes south to visit the Royal Mint in Llantrisant. All of the UK’s coins (and plenty of others) are made here, and you can join a tour to watch them being made, or even strike your own. There’s lots on offer for coin collectors too, including US dollars made from gold mined during the California Gold Rush.
Aberdare – known as the Queen of the Valleys – is RCT’s second largest town. Here Cynon Valley Museum covers everything from the town’s Jewish connections and historic railways to local Stone Age artefacts. Across town, the Grade II-listed St Elvan’s Church, with its 180ft spire, houses a WWI memorial in St Michael’s chapel.
Aberdare is also a great jumping off point for outdoor adventures; visit the 500-acre Dare Valley Country Park with its numerous walking trails (such as the 3.5km Bwlfa Trail around the valley floor), or follow the National Cycle Network’s 12.3 mile Route 478 by bike or on foot. It intersects the famous Taff Trail at Abercynon; start here to finish at Penderyn Distillery just outside Aberdare, on the edge of Brecon Beacons National Park – what better way to celebrate the end of a long walk or bike ride than with a glass of locally-made whisky?
Rhondda Cynon Taff has some of the UK’s best spots for stargazing. Pass through shopping town Treorchy – known for its long-established, world-famous male voice choir – to finish the day with a spot of stargazing on nearby Dark Sky Discovery Site, Bwlch Mountain.
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