Downtown MERTHYR TYDFIL (or Tudful), ten miles north of Pontypridd, is a robust place whose main glory is its location at the top of the Taff Valley, on the cusp of the industrial coal country to the south and the grand, windy heights of the Brecon Beacons to the north. In the eighteenth century it became the largest iron-producing town in the world, as well as by far the most populous town in Wales, with four massive ironworks exploiting the local abundance of the key ingredients. It became a hotbed for industrial disputes, resulting in occasional riots and eventually the election of Britain's first socialist MP, Keir Hardie, in 1900.
Half a mile northwest of the town centre, just off the A4102 (Bethesda Street), is Chapel Row, a line of skilled ironworkers' cottages built in the 1820s, one of which holds composer Joseph Parry's Birthplace (April– Sept Thurs– Sun 2–5pm; free). Parry wrote the national favourite, Myfanwy, which is now piped into the rooms, some of which are given over to a display on his life and music.
Back across the other side of the river, just beyond the Brecon Road, Cyfartha Castle (April– Sept daily 10am–5.30pm; Oct– March Tues– Fri 10am–4pm, Sat & Sun noon–4pm; free) is an ostentatious mock-Gothic castle built in 1825 for the boss of the original ironworks. The castle is set within attractive parkland and contains, in its old wine cellars, an enjoyable and gory walk through the tumultuous history of Merthyr. Upstairs, the grand main rooms house an art gallery with an impressive collection of Welsh pieces.
The train station is a minute's walk from the High Street. North from here is Glebeland Street and the bus station. Accommodation ranges from the plush Tregenna Hotel in Park Terrace, next to Penydarren Park (Tel:01685/723627, Web: www.tregennahotel.co.uk ; Price: £60), to the less fussy Chaplin's, 30–31 High St (Tel:01685/387272, Web: www.chaplinshotel.co.uk ; Price: £50), and, cheapest of all, the Penylan guesthouse, 12 Courtland Terrace (Tel:01685/723179; Price: Up to £40). There's a campsite four miles north of town in the beautiful surroundings of Grawen Farm, Cwm Taf (Tel:01685/723740).