Heading into Radyr, the line starts to snuggle up closer to the Taff and we begin to climb into the hills. Shortly after Radyr station, you’ll see Radyr Weir spanning the Taff. This was built way back in 1774 to divert water into an artificial course (known as a leat) to the Melingriffith Tin Plate Works, which were at that time the largest such works in the world.
These works bore witness to the entire industrial era – it was a forge even before industrial times, and was a corn mill before that. As the industrial revolution took on new technologies and greater scale, so did the works.
And since 1798, the Melingriffith Brass Band has been the semi-official band of the works, and has also been evolving its sound from a drum & fife troop into a full brass ensemble that still plays today.
The Melingriffith works were eventually closed in 1957, but the area around the Radyr Weir continues to evolve into the new industrial era.
For example, if you look across the weir through the trees you might glimpse the South West School of Non-Destructive testing – a facility where they evaluate the properties of materials, components or systems, without causing damage, for clients ranging from the oil industry to aerospace.
Similarly, a few minutes down the line, the Treforest industrial estate was the largest industrial estate in Western Europe at the time it was built on the site of another industrial-era tin plate works.
A hydro-electric scheme was built into Radyr Weir itself in 2016. It takes the 500 million cubic metres of water flowing through it per year, puts it through two screw turbines, and generates 400 kW and saves 700 tonnes of CO2 annually.
Being an obstacle to migratory salmon and sea trout, a fish pass was built into the weir, along with the Llandaff Weir and Blackweir. This, along with efforts to reduce industrial pollution, has turned the Taff from a waterway where nothing could live into one of the best salmon and trout rivers in Wales.
Shortly after Radyr, you should be able to see a fairy-tale-esque castle which begs for a story.
Castle Coch – or “Red Castle” – is regularly voted by the public as one of the most loved buildings in Wales, but the story doesn’t quite seem to live up to the aesthetic. It is one of a patron with unlimited wealth and a passion for antiquities and architecture giving an architect of boundless imagination a blank cheque to restore a medieval ruin.
The patron was the 3rd Marquess of Bute – John Crichton-Stuart. His father was one of the principal investors into the South Wales iron and coal industries early in the industrial revolution – he built iron works in Merthyr, docks in Cardiff, and acquired land almost everywhere in between.
The 3rd Marquess succeeded the 2nd at the tender age of 5 months, and spent his early years cultivating scholarly interests in history and architecture. He became the mega-patron of Victorian architecture.
The architect was William Burges. He too grew up in considerable wealth, which allowed him to explore his own interest in architecture. He became a central architect of the Gothic Revival style which fetishised a utopian vision of medieval Britain.
The original medieval castle was likely built shortly after the Norman conquest for its strategic location. Around the year 1290, the Clare lords of Glamorgan built a formidable stone fortress with a massive earthen moat some 34 metres across over the earlier defences
The castle was probably destroyed during the Welsh rebellion in Glamorgan of 1316 and in the 1530s it was described as “all in ruin… but high” by antiquarian John Leland, and it remained that way for centuries.
The 19th century fixer-upper could be termed “High Victorian Gothic Revival French-influenced style.”
The conical towers only hint at the splendour within. From the bedrooms to the banquet hall, the interiors are extravagantly detailed from floor to vaulted ceiling. But 6 years after the restoration commenced in 1875, when only 1 room had been decorated, the Marquess of Bute died of kidney disease.