Long-time followers of the Hisdoryan blog will know that I love my Welsh history – it’s what I studied at university. So I’m really pleased to welcome my friend and fellow blogger Katrina from Real Girls Wobble to talk about some of her local Welsh history – and learn a few new things along the way!
Wales’ Only Thermal Spring
Once a thriving tourist hotspot, the now nearly forgotten Taffs Well Spring can be found on the outskirts of Cardiff. Not only is it Wales’ only thermal spring, but it is also the smallest in the world. People would travel from all over to take a dip in the ‘healing’ water. Why is it that one of Wales’ most natural wonders has been forgotten?
When visiting Cardiff, the top places to see are usually Cardiff Castle, St Fagans National History Museum and Cardiff Bay. Another that features high on the ‘must-see’ list is Castle Coch, which is only a 5-minute drive from Wales’ only thermal spring in Taffs Well, or Ffynnon Taf in Welsh. It is almost hidden behind Taffs Well Bowling Club on the banks of the River Taff and looks like an abandoned building.
Visiting the Taffs Well Thermal Mineral Spring
In the 18th and 19th centuries, thousands used to flock to experience the restorative powers of its naturally heated water. The water plunges 4 metres into the ground. It has spiral steps carved into the side of the walls, making the therapeutic decent into the 21.6 degrees water easier.
The water bubbling on the surface has not seen the light of day for thousands of years. It initially fell as rain in the Brecon Beacons and flowed downwards to the bedrock. It then flowed under the South Wales coalfield, absorbing the natural minerals, before emerging in Taffs Well. Scientists have calculated that it takes around 5000 years to filter through, meaning the water in the well today fell as rain in 3000BC.
It is easy to see how the well gained in popularity. Used mostly by locals until the mid-18th Century, until the Industrial Revolution in South Wales began to pick up momentum. Coal was brought down the River Taff and Glamorganshire Canal, so stories of the healing well close by would have spread. The introduction of transport links and train lines would have also made this travel easier.
Cure your ills at Taffs Well Hot Spring
Taffs Well became a destination for people seeking relief and cures for various diseases including arthritis and rheumatism, as well as preventive properties to help you relax and revitalise your skin. As well as bathing, a German chemist called D.W Liden encouraged people to drink the waters. He undertook a series of experiments and the hand-written manuscript is now kept at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. The water does not look appetising to drink, as it has an orange scum from the minerals that sit on the surface.
With the increased popularity, an entrance charge was soon added for two shillings and sixpence – about £10 today. There would often be queues of people waiting to bathe. Wooden and metal structures were also erected to allow for privacy. Men and women would have to bathe separately, for modesty sake of course, and women used to put a bonnet on the door handle outside to stop men from coming in.
The building which you can see today was constructed in the 1890s to try to attract more bathers. It has a central door to make it easy to let people in and take payment. It also has chimneys to aid the escape of the naturally occurring nitrogen gas in the water. However, the building had been built too late. The popularity and the disbelief of its healing properties had begun to waver.
Another lease of life
As the Great Depression hit the coal miners, until then Wales’ biggest industry, the building fell into disrepair. In 1929 the villagers of Taffs Well started to restore it, and it opened in 1930 complete with a small swimming pool. In 1952 a large flood hit the area, and again it fell into disrepair. The pool was filled in in the 1990s to make recreational grounds. Incidentally, the park stands in the shadow of Garth Mountain which was the location for the Hugh Grant film, “The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill and Came Down A Mountain.”
A more modern lifeline
The building was given a Grade II listing by Cadw in the early 2000s. Rhondda Cynon Taff Council, who own the site, did some repair work in 2011 and said they had plans to make the well famous once again. As of yet, no extensive marketing has been done for the well, which is a massive shame. I have always lived and worked in the area, but only discovered the well when I moved to the village and noticed the information boards when out walking. Inside there are audio-visual features which explain the history and the 5000-year journey of the waters – which you can listen to in English or Welsh.
There is also very little information on RCT’s website, another missed opportunity in my eyes. I think this is because there is not a massive money-making perspective. However, there are 3 pubs within walking distance. The Taffs Well Inn actually starts the route to the well. Plus, other shops in the village so there is incremental business potential.
Myths and Legends: The Grey Lady of Taffs Well
Asides from its healing properties, the best-known story associated with the spring is that of the Grey Lady. Robed in grey, many people have testified to seeing a lady at twilight walking along the banks of the River Taff or getting on the ferry under the Garth Mountain. Around 70 or 80 years ago, a woman in grey beckoned over a man who had been getting some of the water from the well. He put his pitcher down and asked what she needed help with. She asked him to hold her hands tight until she requested that he release her, which he did. He thought the hand holding was going on a bit too long and was starting to feel uncomfortable by the confrontation. A stabbing pain caught him in his side, and he loosened his grip. The grey lady said, “Alas, I shall remain in bondage for another hundred years, and then I must get a woman with steady hands and better than yours to hold me.” She vanished and hasn’t been seen since. If what she said was true, we haven’t got too long to wait before she makes a re-appearance.
Visit Taffs Well Thermal Spring
The Taffs Well Hot Spring is supposed to be open daily between 10am-4pm. However, in my experience, the doors are not always open. If you can track down the Park Ranger, they will open the doors for you.
Getting to the Taffs Well Spring is very easy, its address is 1 Park Lane, Taffs Well, Cardiff, CF15 7PF. There is plenty of on-street parking around the park, and a small car park by the spring itself. It is a 10-minute walk from Taffs Well Train Station. The Stagecoach buses 132 and 136 also go through the village, from Cardiff, Caerphilly and Pontypridd.
About the Writer
Katrina Rohman is a Marketing Manager in the tourism industry and has over 15 years of expertise in the field. She runs the website Real Girls Wobble, an award-winning lifestyle blog which looks to inspire readers with travel, food and drink, especially in Cardiff and the surrounding areas. You can also expect product reviews, business and marketing tips. She is a passionate cider drinker, a cooking from scratch advocate, a Cardiff City FC season ticket holder and Welsh rugby fan.
P.S. Want to discover more historical sites in Wales? Then why not check out my new Welsh History Travel Guide?