I’m staying at RIVER HOUSE HOSTEL and today I’m planning to ascend, Garth Hill which overlooks the semi rural village of Taff’s Well. Taff’s Well is known locally as “Gateway to The Valleys” and Garth Hill is Cardiff ’s highest mountain.
Although I’m making an early start, it’s 07.40 and I’m into my second tea of the morning, someone has been up and busy whilst I was snoring, sorry sleeping quietly, that person being owner Charlie Prothero. Whilst I volunteer for washing up duties Charlie dries, telling me of the background to The River House. “Abi and I opened for business in 2007. It took us three years overcoming planning issues and scraping enough money together to get all the building work and refurbishment completed. Our plan from the start was to offer our guests a simple, homely, comfortable experience. We made sure the building stayed with that of an authentic Welsh style and design. The first 18 months were hard work, costs dictated we had to do everything ourselves. As our customer volumes increased we’ve been able to employ three/four staff. We have beds for 52 people and many times throughout the year we will fill them all. For example we have the rugby international Wales vs France on Friday. From Thursday to Sunday will be very busy” I suggest River House is more of upmarket B+B than hostel, does he agree? “Well that’s kind of you to say. We think our guests enjoy their stay as we run the place as a family business, cleanliness, comfort and value for money our main focus” He wipes down work units, tops up jugs of milk and juices and is off, doffing another of his many hats as a guest asks a question.
Once again I on my way having enjoyed a super healthy breakfast of cereal, yogurts and the obligatory morning tea. I’m taking a 20 minutes train journey to Taff’s Well from Cardiff Central. Both village and mountain have been the inspiration for creative minds. They provide the backdrop for the fictional book and film “The man who went up a Hill but came down a Mountain”. Here’s your quiz/puzzle question: Which long running sit-com was based on a Taff’s Well shop. It’s T.V. duo being Arkwright and Granville? Yep, “Open All Hours” If I spot Nurse Gladys Emmanuel in the village it will be reported to this readership!
As I alight exiting Taff’s Well station there is Garth Hill, unmissable and pleasantly imposing on the skyline, unmissable. I decide to walk along the High Street to pick up light supplies for the hours ahead. Although it’s mid-February blue skies and dry(ish) footpaths are my welcome companions. What a difference to yesterday’s brutal weather for my Barry Island walk. The route is simple to follow. Up through a section known as the “zig zags” over the River Taff, then a steep tarmac section which takes around 15/20 minutes to complete. I’ve reached the top quicker than planned or anticipated. In total it’s been no more than a 30 minute climb.
Once on top of Gareth Hill there are spectacular views back across Cardiff Bay and across the Bristol Channel to Weston-Super-Mare. There are the options of circular walks, allowing for stops and starts to admire the views. Other paths are dead ends routes offering some quite time for those folks wishing to enjoy the peace, tranquility of the scenery.
As I make my way down a couple of pubs are starting to gear up for afternoon diners, warm enough to sit outside for a while. I need to decide what to do from here. On reaching the station area I see there are a few footpaths signs offering walks from two to seven miles. I decide on Caerphilly which according to the sign is four miles away. This is one of many old rail tracks which have been turned into Sustrans cycle/walking routes. (What a fantastic initiative the whole concept of Sustrans has been throughout the UK. I hope it continues to gain the funding it requires as the routes provide safe, comfortable rides and walk to thousands each year)
Except for a few dog walkers, it’s pedestrian free with, just trees, birds and an occasional squirrel for company. All is well with the world until I reach the busy main road. The signs for walkers have disappeared. I can see plenty of signs for bikes, cars and roundabouts, but nowt for walkers, not a local in sight to ask.
With industrial language ending most of my internal conversations, I decide to give up, go back to the station, defeated. At my halfway point (back) a walking is coming my way. I wonder if he can solve my mystery of the “missing signs”? Indeed he can, he’s a local. “Oh yes it catches some people out that one” he say’s, meaning “twpsyn” (Welsh for idiot) but not actually saying it. “What you need to do is go to the main road and then follow the cycle signs” “But I’m not on a bike” I say stating the bleedin’ obvious. “I know it’s a bugger” he says with a shake of his head. In five words the man has closed out our conversation. He’s a genius.
Should I carry onto the station or start again for Caerphilly? You guessed it, I start again. We walk to the main road, following the fffff…flippin’ bike signs, cross over and walk another half mile at which point we say our good lucks and goodbyes. The bike signs take me through housing estates, small play areas, car parks until Caerphilly’s famous castle is in sight. The light is fading fast but I manage to take a couple of castle photographs. It’s the second largest castle in Britain, covering an expanse of 30 acres, so a tad disappointed I didn’t get the time to go exploring.
A quick bite to eat in the town and it’s back on the train to the warm and comfort of River House Hostel. This hostels make a great base for a trip to Cardiff and there is lots to see and do in and around Cardiff depending or your likes and dislikes. If art is your thing I would recommend a trip the cities Museum and Arts centre. A broad range of artists covering many centuries and genres, from the famous to local one artists. Very impressive.