Friday, 29 May 2015

Biddulph Valley Way

Stoke-on-Trent to Congleton

This is Route 55 of the National Cycle Network and is covered
 in the Sustrans book "Traffic Free Cycle Rides" (published 2015) page 174

Most of  the route is hard surfaced and well signed, the first half having marks on the path as shown right.

The start of the ride is at the lakeside in Central Forest Park, being about 2 miles North of Stoke-on-Trent railway station, which means cycling through the centre of Hanley, preferably following College Road. The length of the ride is 12 miles from the park, plus the couple of miles from Stoke railway station.

Beside the lake is a small snack bar and you need to cross the road behind it at the pedestrian crossing and make for the Oatcake and Pikelet shop. opposite.
Route 55 goes up the street alongside.

                                         This is the lake and below is the snack bar.

A good place to take on provisions for the journey as there is not much else until you get to Congleton. There is a good choice of food and drinks here and prices are very reasonable.

    This is the oatcake shop.  Go up the street alongside. From here it's uphill,,climbing through several streets until you reach the top of Birches Head where we leave the housing estate and can see a panoramic view including the high chimney of Chatterley Whitfield which we will eventually pass.

                                          Arrow shows chimney approx. 3.25 miles away.

 The descent from Birches Head is very steep, and the bad news is that we have to come up it on the way back!

 Once on the valley floor we follow a tree lined tarmac path, but watch out for places where the tree roots are lifting the surface.

                                            Several nice lakes alongside the path.

The path enters more open country now, climbing uphill.

     Side path leads to Chatterley Whitfield Colliery now disused and although in theory a mining museum, the state of the buildings is such that they are not open to the public for Health and Safety reasons.

                Turn left to cross this ornamental pedestrian/cycle bridge and then right on the other side..

 And now we come to cross another bridge with an interesting cast iron pedestal which celebrates the opening of the bridge in 2007.

By our old friend John Grimshaw CBE, founder of, and at that time CEO of, Sustrans.
             The bridge crosses quite a busy road and has user friendly surface of rubber tiles.

                       On now to cross another road with quite a steep climb on the other side.

                  This section of the path has a poor surface, quite the worst of the whole ride.

                       But as we approach Biddulph we are back on a nice smooth tarmac surface.

                 Dropping down from another road crossing the path goes beneath this low bridge.

And on the left is this lovely old thatched roof cottage.  Pity about the asbestos garage alongside.

                  From here to Congleton the scenery is quite delightful ....................................

                               .................... with lots of mature trees alongside the path.

.                                            ..... and steep banks on both sides.

 Mostly wooded, but a glimpse of pasture on the valley floor here with horses enjoying a stream.

Eventually we leave the off road path and ride into Congleton, a nice little town with lots of places to eat and drink.
The Counting House is Wetherspoon's local, in the far distant of this view.

Monday, 25 May 2015

The Taff Trail (South)

The River Taff flows some 28 miles southwards from Merthyr Tydfil to join the waters of Cardiff Bay.  In doing so it drops 600ft, and so it is advantageous for cyclists to cycle in the same direction  for preference.  Freewheeling downhill is one of the great joys of cycling, something that you cannot do with any other form of locomotion, with the possible exception of roller skating, but who wants to roller skate 28 miles?
So we start at Merthyr Tydfil, having travelled there from Cardiff by train.
The railway runs along the valley from Cardiff but goes no further than Merthyr due to the Brecon Beacons which lie to the North.

Click on pictures to enlarge them.
 From the railway station at Merthyr Tydfil the first problem is to find the start of the route which lies on the South side of the town alongside the river and close by this roundabout.

Here the Sustrans milepost confirms that we are on the correct route and that Cardiff is but 28 miles distant.
This milepost is in the car park of the Aldi supermarket in Merthyr.
Directions and the route from the railway station are currently (May 2015) much affected by road and pathway works close by the station.

 Soon we are off on this nicely surfaced path with the prospect of a (mostly) downhill run all the way to Cardiff.

                    The valley is wide here as we pass by Aberfan, scene of a terrible disaster in 1966.

 Although we are never far from the River Taff, there are some diversions and also some small climbs.  This is both a diversion and a hill.
                                          But well worth the effort as we continue downhill.

 Although the route is well signed, there are some sharp turns.  Great care needed here as we drop down to the grim underpass beneath the A477 trunk road, as the path is not only steep but there are steps

                                              It's as steep as it looks!
                                   Exit from the dark and foreboding underpass. Note more steps.

 To this lovely old stone arched bridge which would have most modern motor vehicles grounded.
                                          The most humpback of humpback bridges.

                                                   As bridges go, this is a work of art.

 A welcome surprise here at  Pontygwait Farm where you can get a nice cup of tea and a cake in return for a donation to the National Gardens Scheme Charity.  Highly recommended.

 A few yards further up the hill we turn through the gate to enter the Pontygwaith Nature Reserve.

 The path through the nature reserve was once the site of a tramway built to carry coal from the nearby mines down towards Cardiff.  .The path surface is poor for cycling
                                     The River Taff runs way below on the right and the bank is precipitous.

A mileage check here as we are almost halfway to Cardiff  (15 miles) having come 11 miles from Merthyr.

                                        Near Pontypridd the path gets down to river level.

                         The route passes through the public park in Pontypridd.

 And eventually, after some difficulties in crossing the main roads, we approach Cardiff through Bute Park which is enormous.

                    Alongside the River Taff, now much wider than we have yet seen it.

                       The Sustrans milepost confirms that Cardiff is but two miles hence.

                  Hundreds of mature trees in Bute Park, these hosting a carpet of wild garlic in flower.

 We pass by this elegant suspension bridge which connects Bute Park to Sophia Gardens on the far bank of the river.

Finally we come alongside the magnificent Cardiff Castle and through the gates are suddenly on the busy streets of the capital of Wales.