Ladies and Gentlemen, I blew it.
When coining the title “Notes from a Small County”, I thought I was being very clever, by blatantly ripping off the excellent Bill Bryson’s “Notes from a Small Island”, whilst making it more applicable and practical for myself for making it that much more localised.
So it doesn’t really serve the title very well when I confess that the following post is going to be about a place several miles away from my county, this entry instead being about mine and a friend’s (Chris Lloyd – despite the name, not Doc Brown) travels to the rather nice Welsh town of Pontypridd.
So before I go off and have a good cry as to how much of a failure I’ve been, let’s begin.
Taking a train from Cardiff, it takes one about half an hour to travel to Pontypridd. Right off the bat I can say the ride itself is a nice change of scenery, as the further north you go in Wales the more wooded and mountainous the terrain becomes, which is nice for me as I always seem to end up near the bloody coast. It’s hardly surprising when one stops to realise that in Great Britain that despite it being around seven-hundred miles long you are never more than seventy miles from the sea. It’s a real sliver of a island when you come to think about it.
To digress, disembarking the train and leaving the station in Pontypridd, making a left turn under the railway bridge we immediately came across a Wetherspoons. Honestly, I find it quite grounding and reassuring to travel somewhere new and immediately find something that I recognise.
Except maybe Ebola.
Regardless, we crossed the main road and followed the narrow streets into the town centre. Seriously, I cannot emphasise how much of Pontypridd is so inherently narrow. The streets are narrow, there are a bunch of narrow alleyways and at least two of the pedestrian bridges are narrow. If you ever find yourself think of moving to Pontypridd, I’d advise laying off the pork pies.
The town itself, besides it’s fascinating and unusual layout of two main streets that intertwine, has many of the features that one would expect from a welsh settlement. The obligatory Game, Subway and string of various different banks aren’t particularly hard to locate – although when we went to buy some chips (the cheesy chips in that place were utterly heavenly), the place didn’t accept cards, and we took a little longer than I’d like to admit locating a bank with an ATM, which happened to be next door.
Anyway, there’s more to Pontypridd that meets the eye, and not just the indoor market which, despite its outward appearance of embracing good, old-fashioned european culture, blasted Ghostbusters on the radio as we strolled through. Quite the bizarre place really. As well as this, there’s a giant park, with a pleasant name that roles really well off of the tongue. I’m going to have to refer to google maps to ensure I get this poetic beauty correct.
In all honesty, I shouldn’t jest, because Ynysangharad happens to be a war memorial park. It’s quite fitting that those who died defending our country get to be buried in the nicer spots in Wales I think.
Before I go into detail on this place, I’ll just mention an encounter we had with some locals on the way there.
As we were walking down the street, from around the corner suddenly came a couple, which happened fast enough to ensure that I almost walked into the man.
I hastily apologised, as did he, politely, and we carried on our way.
“What’s wrong with some people?!” the girl squawked as we got some distance.
Well, I never.
Moving on to nicer pastures, Ynysangharad War Memorial park is bloody lovely, and I’d thoroughly recommend a visit there if you ever find yourself in Pontypridd. There are a few other features there too that don’t just encompass the victims and heroes of war. For example, as well as being a rather large and impressive bandstand, there is a monument to two rather important welsh fellows, those being father and son respectively, Evan James and James James. Evan James actually wrote the Welsh national anthem, Hen Wlad fy Nhadau, or, not in martian, “Land of my Fathers”. It was then first performed in Maesteg by Elizabeth John, who also hailed from Pontypridd, in early 1856.
As I’m determined to make this a tradition whenever I foray into new lands, I couldn’t count my visit complete without sampling the local alcohol on offer. To this end, Chris and I rounded up our trip with a visit to the local up, The Maltsters Arms, or indeed The Maltsters ‘Rms, thanks to an elusive A that had fallen off. We grabbed a table near the window which gave us a good view of two of Pontypridd’s bridges, one of which is the famous one.
The old stone bridge is pretty much the biggest thing that Pontypridd is famous for, and was built over the River Taff in 1756 by William Edwards. At the time that it was built, it was the largest single-span stone arch bridge in the world. It’s kind of a shame that it’s somewhat dwarfed by the much more modern road bridge located right next to it, but it’s still a great sight which offers a fantastic view of the River Taff, and its contrasting river banks.
As an aside, I love the good old British habit of apologising for literally the most minor of things. Whenever I go for single pint, I usually default to Guiness. Evidently so does Chris, as we both ordered one each.
“Sorry mate,” said the bartender, “but they don’t come in a glass,”, at which point he handed us two cans of guiness and two pint glasses, which we rapidly discovered filled the pint glass anyway. I wonder if he genuinely thought the fact we had to pour our own pints may have utterly ruined our day.
Honestly, that pretty much covers everything, aside from a rather upsetting encounter with a railway attendant on the train back who informed me that my railcard had expired (I hadn’t realised), snatched it off me and contorted and bent it out of shape in front of me before keeping it and charging me £7 for a single to my destination. This all happened very fast, and I’m still in the recovery ward.
So yeah, Pontypridd. Truly, I had a good time. Whilst I’d hardly suggest taking the family for a full day of activities and the like, it’s definitely underrated as a place to check out and explore.
Stick that on Yelp.