Opportunity: A Youth Network for River Action

We’re the UK representative for A Youth Network for River Action, a conference for helping rivers across Europe that will happen between 22 – 28 September 2017 in Slovenia.

We have a space available – travel, accommodation, and food paid for. We will be spending four days in Bohinj, rafting on the Bohinjka and walking along the Mostnica. We’ll then spend two nights in Ljubljana taking part in the European Commission and SPARE (Alpine Convention) water management meeting. Also public action is planned in Ljubljana city centre (wild river flash mob). We can’t wait!

If you’re between 18-30, and this sounds like something exciting to you, and you’d like to take part in building the Living Taff’s place at the conference by writing relevant blog posts, building the network in Taff Valley, developing social medias, or by finding other ways – let us know and apply by writing an expression of interest (telling us why you’d be good at representing the Living Taff) of no more than 800 words, send to livingtaff@gmail.com before 17.00 on 13 July 2017.

Guitar Makers

We’re looking to use our blog as way to show the different things that are happening, or people’s stories, along the river. In this post, we introduce Paul (who makes guitars) and Dan (who repairs and maintains guitars) – they are both based in Cardiff.

Were you aware that there is a man who lives a short distance from the Taff and who makes some of the best guitars in the world? In a large workshop at the bottom of his garden Paul Beauchamp works on his own to create a range of much sought-after guitars and ukuleles. It takes Paul approximately a month to build a guitar and practically everything is done by hand.

“Mostly professional classical guitarists buy my guitars,” explains Paul. “It’s word of mouth that sells most of my instruments and I have clients all over the world. When I started making guitars there was a lot of emphasis on the American way of making them by using a machine to carry out nearly all of the tasks. But today I think that professionals appreciate the personal hand-made approach.”


Dan Alport has studied popular music to degree level at the University of South Wales and besides being a wonderful player of styles ranging from gypsy jazz to the blues, Dan has also trained in guitar maintenance and is working with some of the top rock groups in Britain to ensure that their guitars are in tip top condition..

“I work on guitars in my workshop at home but am also available for call-outs if something goes wrong in the studio or in a concert,”says Dan. “I have been given some amazing guitars to maintain. To start off with I was almost too frightened to touch them. But when I get them to sound right once again it feels like a dream.”

Dan is based in Pontcanna and can be contacted on 07758482622

Paul Kent: Taff Bargoed Community Hydro Scheme

The Taff Bargoed community Hydro Scheme was opened by Lesley Griffiths AM, the cabinet secretary for environment and rural affairs on 25th October.

The scheme was designed to use the energy of the Taff Bargoed River as it descends a cascade in Parc Taff Bargoed near Treharris, the electricity generated being sold and the profits from the scheme to be used for the long term management of the park.

The Taff Bargoed is the principal tributary of the river Taff on its Eastern side and rises just South of the A465 near Dowlais top and joins the Taff at Quakers Yard.

During the industrial era this dynamic upland river was significantly polluted and nearly a mile of it’s lower reaches were buried under the waste tips of Deep Navigation Colliery through which it passed in a brick culvert.

Following the closure of the mines in the valley, Parc Taff Bargoed was created during which the tips of Deep Navigation were landscaped and the river brought out of the culvert to run in a new channel some 30 metres higher, this and the building of the Taff Merthyr Colliery site reed beds have resulted in water quality improvments, wildlife has returned and the area is now a great asset to the surrounding communities.

One of the primary features of the re-landscaping was the creation of a 30 Metre high concrete cascade at the South end of the park and it was this that provided the site for a hydro power plant.

Following initial desktop studies in 2010 it became apparent that the river could support a 100Kw hydro scheme and that this would be finacially viable, the next 4 years were spent detailing consents, design, financial modeling but most importantly and time consuming obtaining leases from Merthyr Tydfil Council.

Work on site finally started in August 2015 with the construction of the intake at the top of the cascade, this work had to be completed before mid October due to prohibitons on engineering works in the river during fish migration, Through the winter of 2015/16 work continued with the final testing occuring in early May 2016, since then the plant has operated well with few teething problems.

If you wish to see the plant in operation please contact Friends of Taff Bargoed Park through their facebook page where the entire construction process is also documented.

International Uilleann Piping Day and Recital

October 15th is the worldwide celebration of the Irish Uilleann Bagpipes, and piping events are planned at a host of locations around the globe.

The South Wales Uilleann Pipers will be holding a free afternoon of music and information on Irish piping. There will be live performances from international and local pipers, question and answer sessions and a chance to try the pipes for anyone who might be intersted in starting on the instrument.

Performances by

  • Joey Abarta (uilleann pipes, USA)
  • Gerardo Albela González (Galician Gaita, Spain)
  • Members of the South Wales Uilleann Pipers


  • A ‘try the pipes’ session where people are invited to have a go
  • Historical recital with the playing of old piping 78s on a wind up gramophone

Following the recital there will be an Irish music session in The Cayo Arms pub, Cardiff, 6-10pm

Where the River Cynon meets the RiverTaff

There is obviously an extra force where two rivers meet. The Cynon River joins the Taff at Abercynon and it is no exception. It has a fascinating history that is not widely known. In the 1990s, a friend of mine told me that he was thinking of moving to Abercynon. I asked him why – it seemed a strange choice. Like so many towns in the Valleys, it has its fair share of closed shops, unemployment and general deprivation. My friend told me that Abercynon is a holy place. This came as a complete surprise.

My grandparents had had a little hardware and china shop in the town in the 1920s. It was where their children were born, including my own mother. Could he tell me its story? I wanted to know.

In the 1920s, the coal-mining industry was at its height and people had come to the town from different parts of Wales, from Ireland, Italy and Poland. The O’Shea family was such a family. One of the children, Gerald, aged just 3, went missing one day. His mother was not over-worried at first – children played outside for hours. When Gerald eventually returned, he was soaking wet. His mother asked him what had happened and he told her that he had fallen into the well. The well was very deep – about 6’ and she asked him how he’d managed to get out. ‘The Lady brought me out’ was his simple answer. Then he pointed to the medallion around his neck. The Lady he was referring to was the Virgin Mary. Gerald’s mother was worried and tried to get him to keep this to himself. But Gerald repeated the information and his mother went anxiously to see the priest.

The small child was interrogated by the priest and never changed any details of his story. Other priests from as far away as Ireland were consulted and Gerald was questioned again and again. He kept true to his experience. For such a young child, his life would have been much easier if had let the story go. But it had happened to him and he couldn’t deny it. When I heard this story, there was initially a natural reluctance to take the story literally. I was cautious. Then other things began to fit together like a jigsaw and I took the story to heart. Apart from Gerald’s experience, there was little for the immigrant miners to do during the Depression in the mid- twenties. They were determined and devout men and took up the task of building their own church, brick by brick. St. Thomas’ Roman Catholic Church is the fruit of their labours. They also worked on a pathway leading from the left of the church to a little shrine and, beyond it, to the well and the river. This was important as pilgrims had started to visit the place in search of cures for their ailments.

There were several accounts in the Western Mail and the South Wales Echo of the time which reported on the coachloads of pilgrims who visited the shrine and the river. Some of them were healed. To my amazement, I recalled a story that my mother had told me. I’m afraid that I had not really taken it on board. Apparently, when they were living in Abercynon, my mother was unable to walk properly. Her father must have heard about Gerald’s experience and the claim that the water in the river had ‘healing properties.’ He was a devout Welsh Baptist at a time when there was great suspicion between denominations. Nevertheless, he took my mother down to the river and bathed her in its waters. He did this several times and as a result, she was able to walk properly.

My mother could never recall this event without becoming very emotional. Peter and I took her back there a few years before she died. She was overwhelmed. So it had really happened and the timescale fitted into the events about which I had just been told. I went to Abercynon on the train to visit and the shrine was indeed still there. But it was neglected and the access to the river was dangerous. It was so dangerous that the gate leading down to it was locked with a warning notice to anyone who wanted to go further down. I thought that this was a great pity and wondered what could be done about it.

At the time, there was something called the Sacred Lands Project. Its aim was to do exactly this – to restore ancient shrines. I contacted them and two members came down from Birmingham to see it. Amongst the ladies who provided them with a very generous tea, including a pile of Welsh cakes, was Teresa (Gerald’s sister), Tessa and a lovely lady called Margaret Phillips. I hoped that the Project would provide some financial help but something different – and more wonderful, happened. The local parishioners were inspired to renovate it themselves. I went over a couple of times at first with Robert (the friend who had told me the story), Teresa, Tessa and Margaret and we tried to tidy up the little garden around the shrine.

From then on, local parishioners have worked hard for years to recreate the shrine above the river to its former glory. By 2011, the garden had been planted with bulbs and shrubs and was kept in good condition; the statues and the railings had been cleaned and repainted. The slippery pathway had been powerwashed to make it safe again, the invasive Japanese knotweed had been cleared from the banks; the crumbling Stations of the Cross had been removed and replaced with new ones.

There was even a bench so that visitors can rest, ponder, and listen to the surging sound of the river below. It’s impossible to visit the shrine without hearing its lively flow. It is very much part of the entire experience. In St. Thomas’ church, there are post-cards of the shrine on sale. The profit goes into the maintenance of the shrine. What happened to Gerald? After many years of being questioned and sometimes humiliated, he left Abercynon. But when he died and no-one could disbelieve him anymore, he was brought back to Abercynon.

A couple of years ago, the shrine was vandalised but the determined parishioners installed CCTV – so often an ugly necessity in today’s world. Visit it if you want to find peace – and maybe more. 

– Diana Morgan

Historical Coracles

To celebrate the fact that very few coracles have been on the Taff in two hundred years, the Cwmni Da television production company came down this week from Caernarfon to film our coracles on the Taff at Bute Park. Chris Powell, who is the brains behind actually building the coracles said, “It was great to see them really floating and being manoeuvred not only by Dylan Jones, who is the secretary of the Coracle Society but also by Meinir Gwilym from the television company, who has never even sat in one before.”

We are still building more coracles and hope to organise some races on the Taff later on in the year. Let us know if you’d like to be involved.

Shine a Light?, by Sustainability Wales

Shine a Light?, a  20 minute politically challenging film, supports the idea of democratising our energy supply, bringing ownership and profit back into communities whilst reducing climate change. Local energy schemes are massively important in Germany and other EU countries, whilst the UK lags far behind.

Filmed by Park6 Productions for the charity Sustainable Wales, it features former MP Alan Simpson, Professor Calvin Jones, Paul Kent, local groups, and a superb soundtrack from Twm Morys.

Dic Penderyn – A Martyr of the Industrial Revolution

During May 1831 the coal miners and ironworkers who worked for William Crawshay took to the streets of Merthyr Tydfil, calling for reform, protesting against the lowering of their wages and and for the way they could be dismissed when it suited the company. 

Conditions must have been extremely bad, as organised labour was practically unheard of and openly disagreeing with the aristocracy was something that employees would never have dreamt of. However, by the end of May the whole area was rebelling and this was the first time that the red flag of rebellion was used anywhere in the world.

After they had stormed Merthyr town itself, which was now the largest town in Wales, the rebels sacked the local debtors’ court (now a pub) and took back the goods that had been collected. Account books containing debtors’ details were also destroyed. Some of the  desperate shouts that were heard were Caws a bara (cheese and bread) and I lawr â’r Brenin (down with the king) – not very radical by today’s standards but, at this point in time, many people still thought that royalty was only a step away from divinity.

Onto the scene appeared Richard Lewis, also known as Dic Penderyn, after the farm where he was born near Port Talbot. Dic moved to Merthyr Tydfil to find work as a miner and became part of the Merthyr Rising of 3 June 1831. Along with Lewis Lewis – or Lewsyn yr Heliwr – (Lewis the Hunter), his cousin, Dic Penderyn was arrested for stabbing Private Donald Black of the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders, using a bayonet attached to a gun. This incident was alleged to have happened outside the Castle Inn. Private Black’s injuries were not fatal, and he was unable to identify either Lewis or Dic.  Despite this, both men were convicted and sentenced to death. The cousins were held in Cardiff Prison but Lewis was reprieved due to the testimony of a special constable and instead he was transported to Australia. The people of Merthyr Tydfil doubted Dic’s guilt and over 11,000 signed a petition for his release. The Conservative newspaper, the Cambrian, even voiced doubts and other industrialists backed this up. In spite of the lack of evidence, Lord Melbourne, the Home Secretary wanted to make an example of someone and Dic Penderyn was publicly hanged on 13 August at the age of 23 in St. Mary Street, outside the prison, which is now the site of Cardiff Indoor Market. There is a blue plaque that commemorates this 

His last words were in Welsh, “O Arglwydd, dyma gamwedd” (“Oh Lord, this is iniquity”). In 1874, a man named Ianto Parker confessed on his death bed, in the United States, to the Reverend Evan Evans that it was he who had stabbed Private Black and then fled to America. Another man named James Abbott, who testified against Penderyn at the trial, also later admitted to lying under oath.

Title image copyright: © Cyfarthfa Castle Museum; Art Gallery 2016 (People’s Collection Wales), and this Flickr contributor.


Cardiff and its Pirates

During the Middle Ages, even after Henry VIII’s Act of Union, Cardiff was, more or less, a coastal village that saw Bristol develop while it struggled to survive. Cardiffians watched international trade sail by to Bristol, which became a city in 1542, and the realisation came about that this was an excellent base for pirates. The reason for this was Cardiff’s quite remote location and if investigators were sent from London, they had difficulty communicating because of the Welsh language. And it seems that the local aristocracy was often involved with the pirates, or even had them as family members.

Ships were wrecked by lighting beacons on cliffs that led them onto rocks, or by simply boarding them and hauling them into port and selling their cargo in Cardiff Market. Some of the world’s most famous pirates used the port. Captain Henry Morgan was typical of the sort of pirate who came from a well-off family near Newport and sometimes worked for the government and sometimes worked for himself, specialising in raiding Spanish ships that came back to Europe loaded with gold. John Callis, from Tintern, was also from an affluent family in Tintern but became the most wanted pirate in Britain in 1570. Finally, Bartholomew Roberts, aka Black Bart, who was from west Wales, sometimes used Cardiff as a base but spent most of his life around the Caribbean and South America where he became perhaps one of the best known pirates in the history of buccaneers.