From Cardiff to countryside: relieving stress by walking to Castell Coch

Experience the mental benefits of walking alone in the countryside by following the trail one Cardiff resident plans to walk a thousand times.

The final destination on the walk.

Alan Bretos has walked the Taff Trail to Castell Coch, seven miles there and seven miles back, 105 times and has no plans of stopping any time soon. His ultimate goal is to walk the trail 1000 times in total. I decided to walk the trail myself to see what benefits can be gained through spending some time walking this little sliver of countryside alone.

Taff Trail forest path.

“The walk has great paths of tree-lined forests, the Taff which bubbles rumbles and meanders at stages,” said Alan.

Once you reach the forest farm country park, you finally feel as though you’ve escaped the looming backdrop of the city. Before this point, it’s always apparent you are still somewhat enveloped in the concrete grip of the city, as houses and industrial buildings peak over behind the trees surrounding the barren grassland on either side of the trail.

Power lines and buildings overlooking the trees on the trail.

As the noise of traffic in the distance stops, you’re left alone with the sound of the birds and your own thoughts. I found myself significantly slowing my pace once I reached this part of the trail as the need to reach my destination was no longer pressuring me. I felt I could move at my own pace and was free to side track as much as I wanted to enjoy the wildlife. “I have spotted Herons, Horses, Cows, kingfishers, and cormorants,” said Alan.  So, if wildlife is what you’re after there’s no better place to find it.

Squirrel stopping to eat in a tree.

Although the trail provided me with some much-needed time alone and gave me the chance to alleviate much of the stress weighing down on me, one of the minor issues I will warn you of is that you are unable to alleviate yourself at any point along the trail. For such a long walk which requires an obscene amount of fluids to keep yourself hydrated, you’d expect at least a single bathroom along the route. Even when I reached Castell Coch, I was denied entry to their bathroom unless I paid the fee to enter the Castle, which I did not. This was, however, a minor issue for what turned out to be a very beneficial experience.

Graffiti under a bridge at the end of the trail.

Without the pressures of city life buzzing around you reminding you of your responsibilities and the stress you’re constantly under, whether it be from work or relationships, you can think clearly. The maladaptive thinking that takes hold when you’re constantly surrounded with the stress of life and the feeling that you can’t cope quickly fades away in the peaceful sound of the water running past you and the birds singing above. I found my head far clearer and my resolve far stronger to try and take action in the difficult situation I find myself in. “The benefits are great… I can ponder my work life, any issues on my mind, plan holidays, listen to cricket, get the heart pumping all beneficial. Huge lung fulls of fresh air.” Said Alan.

Overgrown part of the Taff trail.

Once you reach the end of the Taff trail and enter the village of Tongwynlais, you may think your journey is over and you’ve reached Castell Coch. Unfortunately, not. This may be the most disheartening part of the walk. Once you reach the entrance to Castell Coch you realise the castle lies on top of a very steep hill. Once I realised this, after three hours of walking, I wanted to lay face down on the pavement and let the elements wash me away. But I’d come so far, I crawled to the top of the hill and looked at the stunning castle. Maybe this is what the trail is all about. Despite my burning desire to fall at the bottom of the hill and remain there until the end of my days, I persevered and reached the castle. Perhaps this is the lesson the trail is trying to teach, or maybe this is just the lesson that I took away from the experience.

Castell Coch sign signalling you’ve reached the end of your trail.

As a student struggling with the stress of a master’s degree along with many other problems, I would very much encourage students and anyone dealing with anxiety and stress to consider setting some time aside to walk the Taff trail to Castell Coch.

Park along the Taff trail.