Easter weekend drew nearer and nearer and all we had were vague plans to “go West”, but when Easter suddenly arrived, it was North East that we went.
Those West Wales plans fell apart on the Saturday. Struggling to find inspiration on the map, and determined to avoid the car, our eggshell minds cracked and we heard a little chick cluck out “Middle Ninfa Campsite”, and that was that. We’d read about this campsite a while ago, made a note, and here was an opportunity to explore – the route just laid itself out for us:
A train to Merthyr and then cycling the rest of the way; Taff Trail to Talybont-on-Usk, along the Canal to Llanfoist and just 1km up to the Campsite. Google maps told us to expect 3.5 hrs in the saddle, we figured 6 to allow for slowness (and enjoyment).
I checked my watch, 1.30pm. Rain tapped at the glass of the train doors as they slid open, letting us out into a cold and dreary Easter Sunday in Merthyr. All shops were shut, and our short wet cycle through the town centre would have been silent were it not for the hubbub from the pubs.
The Taff Trail threaded us through the old streets of Merthyr and eventually took us up to the reservoirs. The rain was capricious: occasionally merciful, stopping to let us dry off, and moments later cruel and juvenile, bursting down upon us when we were enjoying some magical moment – pausing to take a photo of the steam train running along the hillside or savouring our picnic beside the waterfalls.
The downpours and the uphill cycle had almost broken our spirits by the time we were gazing across at Blaen y Glyn. The magic that came next will be known to those of you who’ve done this part of the Taff Trail: a downhill track for what seems like an impossible time, at the end of which you find yourself not deep below the earth’s crust as you might expect but in Talybont-on-Usk.
It was there the rain nearly caught us again, but this time we had a cosy pub to hide inside – with a hot cup of tea, two complementary chocolate eggs (and no questions asked).
From Talybont (and for the rest of the trip) the canal took centre stage. Dog walkers, canal boaters, slow travellers, wild pheasants, inquisitive cattle and the quiet of the canal.
Perhaps it was basking in all this enchantment or pausing for photos with the giant redwood that slowed us down, or maybe google maps was just fantasising when it said “3.5hrs”, but somehow we found ourselves at 10pm in the dark, pushing our bikes up (and up and up) the 2km from Llanfoist to Middle Ninfa Campsite.
It was most definitely worth it. The family who owns Middle Ninfa are extremely hospitable, their farm is incredibly charming and the view from that hill is one of the best things you can wake up to.
It was Easter Monday morning and the sun shone brightly as we made our way back to the Canal. The yellow fields of rapeseed lit up the valley below and the muddy brown waters of the canal lead us on like a mini mississippi snaking around the hillsides.
We arrived in Pontypool just in time for the train back to Cardiff, bringing us in at 1.30pm, our little Easter adventure complete.
Total Time: 25 hrs
Distance: 50 miles on the train + 45 miles cycling (approx.)