Martin H. and I had to go to Abercynon today, as Cwm Taf Local Health Board were holding a meeting and we wanted to sit in at the back and make notes. Ynysmeurig House, where they have their headquarters, isn’t exactly accessible. We were lucky to have a lift on the way down, but on the way back we were on our own.
As the crow flies, the complex of office buildings known as Navigation Park is a couple of hundred yards (if that!) from the station. It’s built on the site previously occupied by Abercynon colliery, so it’s obviously not in the middle of the town, but it seems that little provision has been made for people to get there. The more I’ve thought about it, I can’t help wondering whether it’s just a twist of fate.
As I observed in A Tale of Two Castles, there seems to be an increasing trend for local authorities and other public bodies find the most inaccessible spot to set up shop. I first noticed it in 1984 in Uxbridge, when I was living in halls of residence at Brunel University. I decided to deliver our electoral registration form by hand, on the way into town one day, and found myself dicing with death to reach Hillingdon Civic Centre, built as a large traffic island in the middle of a very busy roundabout. (Incidentally, the council chamber was used in one of James Bond films from around that time – don’t ask me which one – to stand in for MI6 headquarters.
Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC is based at ‘The Pavillions’ (which includes the chief executive’s office, the secretariat, the council chamber and many of the support services) in Clydach Vale, near Tonypandy. I’ve been there three times, the first by bus (which took well over an hour and a half) and the other two occasions by car, which cut the journey time to less than half an hour. You can walk from Tonypandy, but it takes about quarter of an hour each way. There’s a bus that runs fairly close to the little trading estate where these nondescript quasi-warehouses are located, but it’s still a good five-minute walk from the main entrance. One day, back in the days of Aberdare Online, someone referred to it as ‘The Far Pavillions’ – a reference to M.M. Kaye’s novel of colonial India – and the name stuck. It might have been a Freudian slip, Then again, maybe not…
Anyway, back to today’s exploration. To get from Navigation Park to the station at Abercynon is straightforward enough. (See Straightforward? Pah! for a reminder of just how much I hate that word.) You walk through the car park, cross the shiny new bridge across the River Taff, nip through the car park, go down the steps, through the underpass, and back up onto the platform. Easy!
The problem was that Martin and I had only just missed one train, so we had time to kill. We decided to walk through the side streets and have a quick Coke in the Navigation, which reopened as a very cosy and friendly pub/restaurant about eighteen months ago. We skirted the shiny new bridge, cut through a little lane into a long terraced street, and emerged beside St Thomas’ Church.
The Navigation is directly opposite, and marks the approximate location where Richard Trevithick’s first railway journey ended and the Glamorgan Canal had its northern limit at that time – hence the name. (Early canals were known as ‘navigations’, and the labourers who worked on them were known as ‘navvies’, a term you still hear amongst older people to describe the guys who work on major civil engineering projects such as roads and railways.)
We chatted for a while until we reckoned that it was time to go for the train. We crossed back to the church, and then ducked down an unlit minor road to a narrow bridge, further upstream from the shiny new bridge. I’d been there once before, when Stella and I went exploring the Taff Trail, but when we did it we were walking in broad daylight. It was pitch dark, and hammering down with rain as well. The bridge is narrow enough to take a vehicle, but its surface is pitted and full of ruts where the water can accumulate. I stuck to one side, where there’s a slightly raised kerb, but Martin plunged straight into a puddle. We passed the old Railway Club, which was taken over as a clubhouse by the local bikers’ group for a couple of years until it closed entirely, and emerged into a narrow lane running parallel to the railway line. There’s a high fence on either side, and we could see the car park on the other side. All we had to do was go through the underpass and we were on the platform. Job done…
Except that the gates to the car park were locked. I knew from my earlier visit that the lane ended dead just before the new signalling centre, so there was no point in walking any further. We doubled back and made our way back over the bridge. If we missed that train, we’d be waiting an hour for the next one, so we didn’t want to hang about. There was a chap crossing the bridge towards us, so we asked him for help. We doubled back (again!) and our guide led us down a very narrow, unlit, and almost invisible lane back onto the main road.
We emerged at the end of River Row, ducked under the railway bridge, and walked the few hundred yards to the station. By now we were convinced we’d missed our train (and with nowhere else to go, we’d have ended up back in the Navigation to kill time), but the Goddess of Chaos and Arriva Trains Wales were on our side for once. The Aberdare train was fifteen minutes late, so we had time to get our breath back before embarking on our return journey.
Now, I’m fairly sure that there must be an old footbridge kicking around on the rail network somewhere, which we could transplant to Abercynon and which would make a very useful link between the back streets and the station. Then again, maybe the Powers That Be are quite happy to sit securely within their out-of-town bases, where the general public can’t get to them without a great deal of time and effort. Whatever happened to free and open debate, eh?