Climbing to the summit at Torpantau, past stunning views and scenery with mountains, lakes and forests, the Brecon Mountain Railway starts from Pant Station in Merthyr Tydfil. The railway was built in 1980 on part of the original trackbed of the old Brecon and Merthyr railway and runs beside scenic reservoirs on its way up into the Brecon Beacons, 400m above sea level, climbing steeply above the Pentwyn Reservoir. The original stone waiting room at Pontsticill is now a small steam engine museum.
Cyfarthfa Castle, an interesting museum in Merthyr Tydfil, is set in 160 acres of grounds with great views, a children’s park, miniature railway and a “splashpad” for sunny days. “Ironmaster” William Crawshay commissioned this grand mansion in 1824, overlooking his immensely successful ironworks. The museum has some great historical artefacts, from the first secret ballot box and early dresses by Laura Ashley to ancient Egyptian grave goods. www.cyfarthfa.com
Did you know?
Merthyr Tydfil was once the greatest iron-making town in the world and saw the trial run of the world’s first steam railway locomotive in 1804.
At Pontsticill Station you can join the Taff Trail, a 55-mile walk from Brecon to Cardiff Bay, with views of the Brecon Beacons. The route, which can also be cycled, runs along riverside paths, old railways and woodland tracks. After four miles through forests from Pontsticill, it crosses the spectacular, 15-arch Cefn Coed Viaduct, which was opened in 1868 to carry the Brecon and Merthyr Railway over the River Taff. It was closed to trains in 1966 and is now only accessible to walkers and cyclists.
Llancaiach Fawr Manor near Treharris, half an hour on the bus from Merthyr Tydfill, was built in the sixteenth century. Today, it is a museum, with costumed guides and rooms furnished to look as they would have in the seventeenth century, when the owner, Colonel Edward Prichard switched sides in the Civil war to support parliament against the king. The manor’s defensive walls are more than a meter thick and the house is full of walled up stairs and passageways so that more windows are visible outside than inside. In winter, visitors can tour Llancaiach Fawr by candlelight and hear about its resident ghosts. (Entry £8.50; ghost tours from £15) www.bit.do/ManorHouse
On a clear day, you can see the three peaks of the Brecon Beacons, the highest mountains in South Wales, as the train approaches Pontsticill Station: Corn Du, Criban and Pen-y-fan are all around 800m high. The landscape is also rich in wildlife, including red kites; this magnificent bird of prey was saved from extinction and can now be seen around the Brecon Beacons.
Bike Park Wales at Gethin Woodland Centre in Abercanaid (a mile from Pentre-Bach station on the mainline railway from Merthyr Tydfil) is the UK’s first full scale mountain bike park, www.bikeparkwales.com. Bryn Bach Parc, just off Heads of the Valleys Road, is a 20-minute journey on the X4 bus from Merthyr and offers kayaking, gorge walking, climbing, caving, cycling, crazy golf and more. www.parcbrynbach.co.uk
On the Rails
There is a licensed tearoom at Pant Station, serving snacks and full meals and a lakeside café for drinks, snacks and ice creams at Pontsticill station, with picnic tables and kids’ play area. Open during train service hours.
Off the Rails
The Red Cow Inn in Pontsticill is a cheerful place to stop off on a local walk. www.facebook.com/RedCowPontsticill and, down the road, the Butcher’s Arms also has hearty food, local beers and a relaxed atmosphere. www.butchersarmspontsticill.co.uk
Coed Owen bunkhouse on a working sheep farm in Cwmtaff is a short bus ride from Merthyr Tydfil. Dorm beds from £22. www.breconbeaconsbunkhouse.co.uk
Llwyn Onn Guest House in Cwmtaf is four miles north of Merthyr Tydfil, with comfortable rooms and views of reservoirs and mountains. Doubles from £70, B&B. www.llwynonn.co.uk
Nant Ddu Lodge in Cwmtaf is a hotel and spa with a popular bar and bistro, set in lovely grounds. Doubles from £99, B&B. www.nant-ddu-lodge.co.uk
InnThe Prince of Wales on Merthyr Road in Tredegar is a down-to-earth, dog-friendly pub with doubles from £60, B&B. Tel: 01685 844441
Get on the train at Pant Station and travel to Torpantau Station in the Brecon Beacons. Get off the train here and walk to Torpantau’s waterfalls. You can reach these hidden gems, high in the mountains, via a riverside path through beautiful wooded scenery; the Blaen-y-Glyn waterfalls are where the little River Caerfanell and other streams cascade down from the hills on their way to the Talybont Reservoir. You can return on a later train to Pant Station, where you can relax and enjoy a home cooked meal, cream tea or a coffee and fresh-baked slice of cake.
Take the train from Pant Station into the Brecon Beacons and, on the way back, get off at Pontsticill and walk (about five miles) round the reservoir before heading back to Pant. Cross the dam and join the Taff Trail, where the road heads gently uphill, through woodland, passing a little waterfall, and then downhill again towards Merthyr Tydfil’s sailing club. Besides the railway’s cafés, there are two pubs in Pontsticill village.
Brecon Mountain Railway is 4 miles from Merthyr Tydfil. The 35 bus will take you to Pant Cemetery, a few minutes’ walk from the railway.