Bards, singers, and icons
Ponty is the birthplace of Thomas John Woodward, otherwise known as international singing superstar Tom Jones. He cut his teeth in the early 60s singing in the dancehalls and working men’s clubs of the valleys before letting his unique and powerful baritone loose on the concert halls of the world. By 1967, Jones the Voice had scored several worldwide hits and was a headlining act in Las Vegas, where it is said he advised Elvis himself on how to stage a show there.
Another famous musical partnership to emerge from the town is father and son team Evan and James James, writers of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau - Land of my Fathers, the national Anthem of Wales. Evan decided to write some stirring, patriotic words for his son’s melody, Glan Rhondda (the shores of the River Rhondda) in 1865 and it became a popular song amongst choirs and soloists at the Eisteddfodau of the day. Then, in 1905 at Cardiff Arms Park, Wales were hosting the first ever New Zealand rugby touring team. The All Blacks began by staging their customary haka war dance. In response, Welsh player Teddy Morgan led the crowd in a passionate rendition of Evan and James’ song. Wales won the match and the custom of singing anthems preceding international sporting events was born. Soon, it became the established anthem of the Welsh people. There is a memorial to Evan and James James in Ynysangharad Park in Pontypridd, a lovely spot for a stroll or a relaxing picnic on a summer’s day.
Swim, splash, and slide
Also situated in Ynysangharad Park is the National Lido of Wales, Lido Ponty, a wonderful fully refurbished outdoor swimming pool. Consisting of the main pool, an activity pool, and a splash pool, the Lido is heated and is open all year round. It’s extremely popular, so booking a session online in advance is advised.
The old bridge can rightfully be referred to as ‘iconic’. Designed and built by architect William Edwards, the new bridge, as it was called then, was completed in 1756 after three previous attempts by Edwards to span the Taff. Its arched design with three circular holes at either end makes it well worth a visit if you’re in town. This crossing is still in use for foot traffic and is Grade I listed.
Taking its name from the bridge, Clwb y Bont (The Bridge Club in Welsh) is Ponty’s Welsh language and culture hub. They boast a diverse programme of events, their own choir, and a warm and friendly welcome if you just happen to pop in for a drink in the bar. Situated between the main shopping area and Ynysangharad Park, it’s an ideal place to experience a bit of Valleys hospitality.
From the 1890s until the outbreak of World War 2, there was an enormous wave of immigration to South Wales from Italy, with families from the Apennine Mountains and in particular the town of Bardi opening cafés and ice cream parlours all over the Valleys. The legacy of this is to be seen in the surnames of many families and of course in the many businesses and establishments that are still open and thriving. Ponty has quite a few on its streets: Café Royale and Café Fresco are amongst the very best in Wales.
The Market Quarter
Any visit to Pontypridd couldn’t possibly be complete without a visit to the excellent covered market - The Market Quarter. From fresh fruit and veg, butchers and sweets, to gift shops, a barber shop, bookshop and more, the market contains something for everyone. Whether you fancy a natter over a Welsh Cake, an all-day breakfast or a meal at Janet’s Authentic Northen Chinese Restaurant or Lewi’s Thai Cafe, Ponty Market really does have it all. There’s been a market here since the early 19th century with the present building dating from the 1870s. Recent refurbishments have retained the traditional character of the market, but cleverly brought it into the 21st Century with style and aplomb.
Meet the miners
If you arrive at Pontypridd via the rail link, it’s worth considering that when it was built in 1907, the main platform was the longest island platform in the world. The station was bustling with an endless procession of freight trains carrying coal, black gold, from the mines of the Rhondda Valleys to Cardiff Docks and beyond.
And if black gold and the industrial heritage of the area is your thing, it’s worth visiting the Welsh Coal Mining Experience, just a few miles north of Pontypridd in the village of Trehafod. Here you can learn about how the coal cut from the hills of the Rhondda became the most sought after fuel for the transport and industries of the world. Set on the sight of the Lewis Merthyr Colliery, the Welsh Mining Experience offers tours by retired miners who offer first-hand stories of their own experiences of working underground in South Wales’ coalfield.
Follow Gareth’s Instagram account Take Me Somewhere Good for more inspiration.