Cardiff from Top to Bottom

I’ve been toying with the idea of a walk through Cardiff for a while, starting at the highest point on Garth Mountain* down to a lowest point on the Cardiff Bay Barrage. The idea was to keep within the boundary of the City and County of Cardiff. The shortest route measures at just under 11 miles but would be spent mainly walking along the A470, a very busy major road leading from Cardiff and the M4 to Merthyr Tydfil. This would clearly not be much fun, nor would it be particularly healthy. An alternative route, much of which follows the Taff Trail, would be just over 12 miles, however I discounted this as much of the Taff Trail isn’t particularly interesting once you’ve walked it through the City a few times. So, a compromise route was chosen at just under 12 miles – partly along the Taff Trail but missing out some bends in the river and then going through the town centre rather than along the river.

Further logistics to be considered were getting to the start point –  no point in taking the car as it would have to be a long return walk ! The nearest bus stop to the summit of Garth Hill* is just over a mile away in Pentyrch. That would have to do. Luckily Cardiff buses run there on Sundays and Bank Holidays so only one ticket had to be purchased – a Day to Go – which would also cover the return journeys (and might be handy if I decided to curtail my walk early) . 

It seems that I now had planned a 13 mile walk with additional distances to bus stops for the return. 14 miles loomed 🙂  – not a lot for some people, but, for me, a good long hike. At least it was going to be mostly downhill! Weather forecast was cloudy, with some possible sunny bits and not too hot. Rucksack was packed with rain wear, water, biscuits, 1:250,000 map, compass and whistle. None of these were needed but it’s always a good idea to go prepared. A hat and sun cream might have been a good idea, but luckily the sun held off for most of the trip…

*The summit of Garth Hill, The Garth, is just over 1000ft – in some minds this makes it a mountain. It is only that high because a bronze age burial mound sits at the highest point and the trig point was placed on top of that. Yes, this is the basis for the film “The Englishman who went up a Hill and came down a Mountain”, however it is the highest point for many miles around and affords a good all round view on a clear day.

360 Panorama from Garth Hill

… and then there was the question of what camera to take. Well, this was a walk, so I decided that whilst I might take some excellent shots with a DSLR, it would be heavy to carry for 14 miles, and I decided to stick with my phone. oh, and the battery pack. The battery pack was definitely needed for the device that was going to record my route (via the OS app), take and store pictures, contain my bus ticket and enable me to keep home informed of my progress (and at one point in the woods, confirm that I was going in the right direction!). The pictures I took have been processed in Lightroom.

Off we go

From the bus stop at Pentyrch it’s a steady uphill to the top of The Garth – the steepest bits are probably on the lane before the paths start. Plenty of families and dog walkers around – lot’s of good mornings. I managed to get to the top without anyone else being there and had a few minutes to myself before the top of the hill filled up. A chat with an old gentleman who was visiting the area after many years away. I was able show him where various towns and villages he knew were, before I bid him Good Day and set off on my trek.

The top of The Garth is quite flat and criss-crossed by a number of paths. These were clearly popular with the local cattle, who whilst not anywhere to be seen, had left their recent, fresh, loose, marks all over the place. It was necessary to watch where I put my feet. At the other end of the hill it drops very steeply down towards Taffs Well and there is a large outcrop which has great views down the Taff Gorge and over Cardiff. Take care not to step off the edge though. From here was probably the only bit of the walk that could be regarded as potentially tricky. The path is very clearly defined but has a number of steps down (well some are just rocks) that are quite large. It was dry under foot but in places the loose dirt was slippy. It is a very pretty path though, flowers and greenery were starting to show through the dead grass and the bird song was loud. 

Off the hill and along the road that leads to Gwaelod Y Garth, the village under The Garth. Further along, the road has quite a steep hairpin bend as it comes into the village, a bit scary the first time you go along in a vehicle! This time, however, after passing a pleasant old barn, I turned off the road and into woodland…


There are a number of paths here – one (the one I was following) looked as though it might actually be a stream in rainy weather – hence my checking that I was going the right way – the woods descend towards Gwaelod Y Garth and there are signs of what looks like old workings. I believe there may have been iron ore workings here in the distant past. The sunken path gets deeper and has stone wall sides at one point – it seems that the path has been graded to allow wagons to be used, on old maps it is marked as an old tramway. I finally came out on the road leading out of Gwaelod and left the “rough” walking behind me.

Walking along the road here, there is not much of beauty to be seen, an industrial estate on one side and the steep sides of the hill, Lower Garth, on the other. Lower Garth has the distinction of basically being a hollowed out hill. There are a couple of quarries inside it and, in places, I think the hole has got deeper inside than the road is at the bottom on the outside. As I passed through the Taff Gorge, the industrial units give way to office units and then to Pughs Garden Centre. Looking up towards Lower Garth, I could see one of the remaining piers of the Walnut Tree Viaduct that used to take a railway line high above the gorge. Brief glimpses can be seen of Castell Coch between the offices…

There is a farm shop at Pughs where I got myself a pint of milk and a small pasty (and maybe some emergency chocolate covered marzipan) for later. I find the milk more refreshing than water and the calcium is good for feeding tired muscles. Then, on through sports fields and a skateboard park – which, despite it being a bank holiday and nice weather, was completely empty. The path then leads on towards Gelynis Farm, care must be taken as the path (and farm access) crosses the railway line. Make sure the lights are green before you cross and don’t dawdle. Trains are frequent but not very exciting, unless you like to see 30 year old diesel multiple units.

Beyond the the farm, the path crosses the River Taff on an old iron railway bridge – an old tramway that went from Gwaelod Y Garth, across the “main” line on a flat crossing and then down to the old tinplate works at Mellingriffith – the old track bed forms much of the Taff Trail from here to where it passes the old works – (they are now a housing estate) and I joined the Trail at this point. Straight away I was going under the M4. Despite the motorway being quite a way above, it was still very noisy and I didn’t want to linger. The river was very still at this point though and an old tree had been washed into the middle of the flow. 

The path here is quite flat and tarmac, following the edge of the river. Watch out for lycra clad cyclists going too fast. I came to the recently completed hydro electric generator that has been installed at Radyr Weir. Plenty of downstream pictures available elsewhere, so I thought I’d include the upstream view. Pity about the blank sky…

From here it wasn’t much further to another crossing over the Taff – this allowed me to miss out a loop in the river. The bridge is quite a fine metal arched structure which bounces slightly if you stomp too hard. Quite safe for bicycles and horses though, although I wouldn’t want to pass both at the same time. 

From here I passed under a very low railway bridge by Radyr railway station and then on into the housing estate that has been built on the old railway yard. A new bridge has been built over one of the railway lines to allow access. More uphill bits. 

The new housing estate has only recently been completed. It has a large grass area and the roads have been offset and made into squares and bricked areas to reduce traffic speed – sometimes not sure if I was on a road or a pavement, but cars I saw moving did seem to be going slowly. Pity no one seems to have cut the grassed area recently.

From here the path joined alongside the river again – the old road and railway bridge leading to the back entrances of the railway yard have been made into a path and cycle way and loops round to allow access to Hailey Park in Llandaff North.

New paths have also been laid here,

these join back up with the Taff Trail as it goes past the sports pitches. I sat on a bench here for a while and finished my milk, contemplating that home was not far away and I could give up now. I decided to press on – so far, I had only completed half the walk.

Back across the Taff at Llandaff Bridge, I don’t remember the skies looking this imposing, but cameras don’t lie…

Back alongside roads for a while and into Llandaff  – another uphill bit that allowed me to get a good view of the cathedral before heading back downhill and towards the crossing of Western Avenue – a very busy road.

Whilst waiting for the green man to allow me to cross Western Avenue I took this picture of the Welsh Joint Education Committee offices – a striking building…

…and then back into green grass, trees and sports pitches of Llandaff Fields.

These pitches were quite empty but nearer to the other side of the park it was busy with dog walkers, and families enjoying the nice weather. The cafe was doing a roaring trade. I ate my pasty, and found myself at the top of Cathedral Road. Not far until the town centre now

Further down I turned into towards Sophia Gardens – the home of Glamorgan Cricket Club and the National Express bus station…

I then crossed the river (again) into Bute Park

… at which point I stopped taking pictures for a while. I was tired, it was busy, my phone battery needed a charge,  it wasn’t all that photogenic. Pick any of these. My walk continued down Westgate Street, past the Principality Stadium (Millennium Stadium as was) and bus stops that could take me home, but I pressed on towards Cardiff Bay. Into Custom House Street and then onto Bute Street. The sun was making more appearances now and the day was brightening up – the streets were busy with people enjoying themselves. The railway line to Cardiff Bay runs alongside for much of Bute St, but much higher, so I would occasionally hear the sound of the single carriage shuttle that goes to Queen St station. I think it made two journeys in the time it took me to walk (I had slowed down a bit at this point), however it was waiting at Cardiff Bay Station when I passed so the camera came out again.

Cardiff Bay station is next to the old headquarters of the Taff Vale Railway Company. This glorious building has fallen into disrepair, however plans are apparently afoot to convert it into a museum for the Royal Army Medical Corps. There are a number of once glorious buildings in this area. Just over a hundred years ago this area was rich. The first million pound cheque was written at the Coal Exchange and the Marquess of Bute was the richest man in the world. He is responsible for Castell Coch, seen earlier.

Beyond the once glorious buildings, I found myself in the new Cardiff Bay area, home of many restaurants and watering holes. Once home to Torchwood (apparently) and where, it seems, a lot of people go on a Bank Holiday Monday. After a quick stop at a passing Tesco’s for more milk, I found myself at the waterfront looking up at the Welsh Assembly building

By now, I was getting tired. As I was within reach of the waters of Cardiff Bay, it did occur to me that I could have called the walk complete, however I decided that I should press on towards my goal of the Sails on the barrage. Cardiff Bay is very photogenic, but you will have to look elsewhere on this website to see what it looks like, as, on this occasion my camera remained in my pocket as I went past the Norwegian  Church, The Scott Memorial, Roath Lock, The Dr Who Experience, Boat World and the Cycle Hire. The latter establishment was quite busy. It hires out all kinds of pedal powered vehicles – including ones made for four people about the size of a small car. It turns out that they were all heading down the narrow path/cycleway towards the barrage. That is except from those hired earlier, who were heading back up the same path. There were also families walking and some more of those lycra clad cyclists I had seen earlier. So, I apologise if I looked grumpy at this point, I wasn’t. I was just tired and keen to finish my task. Past the Yacht club, the end of my journey was in sight!

But, there was time to look back at where I had come from 

and where I would end up if I carried on – a view of the Islands in The Bristol Channel.

Finally, I got to the end of my walk. Beneath the sails is a pictorial timeline of Scott’s Expedition to the Antarctic, but my main view was to stand at the “prow” of the decking there and look back to the top of Cardiff on The Garth. 

…and then it was just another mile of walking and two bus journeys to get home. Luckily I didn’t have to wait long for the buses and they had seats. This is the walk as tracked on the OS App (apart from the bus bits)

Where to next?