Follow the Taff Trail
Follow part of the route taken by Atlantic salmon as they head up the River Taff to spawn near Merthyr Tydfil, says Julie Brominicks
FISH PASS, CARDIFF BAY
Salmon must enter the freshwater part of Cardiff Bay via a fish pass installed in the barrage. A system of pools and weirs and fish ladders stagger the flow, allowing migrating fish to pass. The pass is also used by trout, grey mullet – and an otter.
Smoke once filled the Taff Valley. Abundant in iron ore, coal, limestone, timber and water, it was an industrial heartland of ironworks and collieries, slag heaps and slums. All this was bad news for salmon and other migrating fish. Weirs channelled off water to power machinery, making the river unnavigable for them, and the water was polluted. Now the valley is green again, the water clear and the weirs have been adapted to let salmon pass.
They do so every autumn, tasting or smelling the river of their birth from out at sea. Some enter Cardiff Bay in summer and leave soon after, as if just checking the route. Others come up river early, languish, and deteriorate – salmon don’t eat while in fresh water. But some wait till autumn and swim, swift and sure, up river to spawn, reaching the Merthyr Tydfil area in around November. You can follow their journey by walking this 15-mile route using parts of the Taff Trail and the Trevithick Trail. The walk starts at Quakers Yard and heads north towards Merthyr Tydfil. It is well marked, and here are some highlights:
The path is shaded by forest as the river flows through a gorge. You walk beneath Brunel’s Taff Vale Viaduct, and over a Grade II listed packhorse bridge.
Pantglas School was buried in 1966 by a coal tip which, undermined by water, slid down the valley, killing 28 adults and 116 children. Today, the spot is marked by a memorial garden. Kingfishers hunt by the weir, which is also a good salmon viewing spot.
The route joins the Trevithick Trail for a while. Watch for otters, given away by their tell-tale trails of bubbles in the water. This was the route taken in 1804 by the first steam train to run on rails, designed by Richard Trevithick.
MERTHYR TOWN WEIR
This extraordinarily tall weir was built to cream off water that powered machinery at Plymouth Ironworks. Salmon were unable get beyond it until a fish pass was provided in 2008. An otter pass runs along the wall above it.
ABOVE AND RIGHT Author Julie explores the Taff Trail, a 55-mile walking / cycling route that follows the river from Cardiff Bay to Brecon