The North Wales Pilgrim’s Way

While I am laid up, the wonderful Andy Delmege has been walking the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way (http://www.pilgrims-way-north-wales.org/ ) from west to east in order to assess it as a low-level route for the Cistercian Way. Here’s the first of a series of blog posts https://pilgrimpace.wordpress.com/2017/07/21/north-wales-pilgrim-path/. More to come.

Mind you, I still want to walk it myself when the knee heals. Prayers to St Rita, maybe?

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Routing and mapping

Work on the Cistercian Way has taken a bit of a back seat recently for various reasons. I had great plans to work on routes in west and north Wales this summer. Alas, lugging a heavy bag of books off the bus (real first-world academic problem, this) I banged my knee and damaged the cruciate ligament. Then I went on a field trip with the wonderful Eddie Procter (@landscapism, http://landscapism.blogspot.co.uk/ ….), half way up the pilgrim route on Mynydd Maen my knee popped again and Eddie had to haul me out of a bramble bush. Doctor says it will heal but no walking on rough ground. ‘But that’s what I do’ I wailed.

Also no kneeling. That’s the other thing I do (old tomb carvings).

Meanwhile, we have been trying to get maps on the site.  We have permission to use VisitWales’s licence so we can embed marked-up Ordnance Survey maps into the site.

If only it were that simple.

Bizarrely, the Ordnance Survey can’t work with URLs ending .wales or .cymru. This is in spite of the huge number of sites that now have those URLs, including our public transport web site, https://www.traveline.cymru/ . We have asked again and again and they simply stall us – they don’t seem to see the problem. Even the Secretary of State’s office has tried.

But there is some progress. I went to north Wales over the weekend to talk to the Historic Houses Association at Gwydir Castle. Enormous fun, though I’m not entirely sure why I was there – the dedicated couple who have been restoring the house and tracking down its lost treasures know much more about it than I do.

I stayed in Trefriw, where they were having a scarecrow festival.

Princess Siwan and Llywelyn Fawr with locals and the Urdd mascot!

Since I was last walking in the area, Trefriw has done some great work waymarking local paths and producing a leaflet of trails. Some of these actually fill in the gaps and problem areas in the route through that area. Of course, I couldn’t walk any of them – but I did walk along the road, see where routes joined and left, and once the knee is better I can join the dots. Downloadable leaflet at http://www.visitllandudno.org.uk/things-to-do/trefriw-trails-p291871  and more detail of some of the trails at http://www.trefriwoutdoors.co.uk/trefriw_trails.html  (but not trail 9, unfortunately).

It looks as though we can comfortably take the route through the lead mines to the church at Llanrhychwyn (OS ref SH 77474 61672).

This has to be in my top 3 of Welsh churches. A little, unspectacular building, looking as though it has grown out of the bones of the hills, it has a lot of its C17-C18 woodwork

and some intensely moving medieval stained glass.

From here you can cut down footpaths and very minor roads to Llanrwst or Trefriw to find somewhere to stay. You can then continue on the low-level route along the banks of the Conwy or climb back up to the high-level route.

To stay on the high-level route, from the church start by following the leaflet route 8 in reverse. (You have to bear in mind that most of the routes are only waymarked one way, so you have to do a bit more of the work yourself.) Walk back down the lane from the church to SH 77398 61772 and take the road to the left. At SH 76998 62092 take the footpath to the right. Follow the footpath round Penrallt farm and down toward some disused mine workings. At SH 76967 62883 the leaflet route 8 goes right but you go left and down to cross the Crafnant at SH 76967 62883. This puts you on leaflet route 7 (in reverse again). Walk up to the road and turn right.

I got this far in about 2007, took the next footpath to the left at SH 76900 63116, and went up through the woods.

This landed me up to my knees in bog and up to my armpits in bracken and scrub. I got through but I couldn’t recommend it. The leaflet suggests you take this footpath but bear round to the right, keeping to the edge of the woods (OS gridpoints SH 76882 63166, SH 76975 63281, SH 77047 63318, SH 77017 63408), above Gelli-newydd farm and along the lane to the road.  Turn left.

From here you can follow the very minor road over the spur and down to Llyn Cowlyd. For an easier but slightly longer walk, take the footpath to the right at SH 77017 63408. You are now on leaflet route 9 and – glory be – walking it the right way round, so the waymarks should be with you.  You should be able to cut up to this point from Trefriw by taking the road up the hill and following the waymarked path at SH 77834 63344.

Rejoin the road at SH 77587 64723. At about SH 76977 65593 it becomes a lane, then a footpath leading to Brwynog Isaf and Uchaf. Turn right on a minor road at SH 74642 64133. You are now on the higher-level route as described on the web site. Take the footpath over the spur and down to the ruined dam of Llyn Eigiau, then on to Conwy Mountain.

I haven’t actually walked any of this, but it looks as though it should work.

And Crafnant House in Trefriw is an excellent place to stay – peace, quiet, good books and amazing vegan breakfasts. Usually the vegan breakfast is what’s left when you remove the bacon, eggs and anything with milk. At Crafnant House I had vegan French toast one day and a sweet potato hash that would have made a perfectly good supper the other day. Highly recommended.

Chapel Hill and Penterry: a rethink

My friends in Tintern are keen to do something about the ruined church of St Mary, Chapel Hill. It’s a pretty little Victorian Gothic building, in ruins since deconsecration and a disastrous fire, though the churchyard is still in the charge of the Church in Wales. They are also keen to revive Tintern as a centre for pilgrimage. It’s a key location on the Cistercian Way – of course –  but there’s also lots of scope for local pilgrimage. The combined parishes of St Arvans, Itton, Devauden, Kilgwrrwg and Penterry do a walk around the parish churches on Rogation Sunday – could we tap into that? And could the Cistercian Way be tweaked to take in Chapel Hill?

So a group of us set out this morning to try it out. Actually, it works very well – if anything, better than the route up the Stony Way, which is now so badly damaged by off-roading as to be dangerous.

Start in the same way, across the main road from the abbey and up past St Anne’s House (the old gatehouse chapel – look for the line of the precinct wall in the surface of the road) but go straight across the side road and up the steep lane to the church. After visiting the church (the building is marked as dangerous but the churchyard is stunning, with some huge C18 tombs) continue up the lane. At SO 52946 00098 the tracks divide – take the left fork and keep going up a lovely hollow way. At ST 52606 99801 cross a forest road

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(here’s Nell with her new friends)

and keep going up to a gate.

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The path winds right and left and up to another gate.

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Walk along the hedge to the gate at the top right corner of the field.

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Turn left on a metalled lane.

You can cut across the fields to Penterry church from the gate just before the next farm buildings at ST 52196 99539 – angle across the field to the far corner at ST 52082 99071 and keep going on the same line. If the animals in the field put you off, continue on the lane to ST 52342 98851, go through the gate to your right, walk up the field with the hedge to your right, through the gate at the top and up the next field to the church.

This would make a nice circuit: Tintern Abbey – Chapel Hill – Penterry – back to the abbey. The Stony Way is in such a poor state that you might do better walking back across the fields to Ruddings. We didn’t, because we had dogs with us and there were lambs in the fields, but if it had been wet under foot we might have regretted it.

For the walk across the fields, go back down to the metalled road at ST 52342 98851 and go straight across, down to a stile to join the Stony Way at ST 52429 98866. Go straight across the track and over another stile, then turn left and follow the RoW which bears gradually up to your right. You can divert up to visit the (very overgrown) Iron Age fort at the top. The path is waymarked round the farmyard at Ruddings (an old grange site) and down the lane which was actually the main road down the valley before the nineteenth century. Look out for the limekilns to your left on the way down, and the line of the outer precinct wall. I haven’t walked this way for a few years so I probably ought to recheck it, but the local footpaths are generally well maintained.

 

Llangatwg to Llanfaenor: joining the dots

Third day of fine weather. Can we manage to link the walk from Llanthony with the Wye Valley –

Yes, we can!

The Offa’s Dyke Path is still the best way south from below Cwm-iou – it gets you across the railway line and the main road, both difficult crossings (and the road could probably do with a bit more notice for drivers) and across the fields to Llangattock Lingoed. Llangattock is well worth a visit for many reasons. There’s B&B at the Old Rectory (http://www.oldrectorystayinwales.co.uk/ ), a cabin which can be rented just for one night (https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/14687416 ), and the Hunter’s Moon http://www.hunters-moon-inn.co.uk/ , a village pub with food and accommodation. (The pub is open all day from 12 noon, every day, so you can get a cup of tea if you roll past late in the afternoon.)

And the church – http://www.villagealivetrust.org.uk/what-to-see/churches/st-cadocs-church . Much of its medieval rood screen, medieval stained glass (very rare in south Wales), a huge wall painting of St George, and this humdinger of a seventeenth century gravestone.

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The naive vernacular figures either side of a central cross are the trademark of a local firm of stonemasons.

But eventually you have to tear yourself away. The ODP would take you all the way to Monmouth, but the Cistercian Way plans a diversion to visit  the remains of a Cistercian grange. Leave the churchyard by the south gate, following the ODP waymarks. Walk down the field and over a footbridge to turn left on the lane. At SO 36244 19009 follow the ODP waymark across the field to a footbridge at SO 36422 18751.

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Leave the ODP here and turn left down a very muddy bank and across another footbridge at SO 36509 18746.

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Bear slightly to the right up the next field to a stile in the far hedge at SO 36799 18904. Continue on the same line across the next field heading for the impressive Jacobean chimneys of the intriguingly-named Great Pool Hall. (This is a timber-framed gentry house of a kind you would be more likely to find in town – more details at http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/300001924-great-pool-hall-grosmont#.WMqd46JBrIU.)

Cross the road at SO 37057 18999 and walk down through the yard of Great Pool Hall, between the house and the stables. Go through a little gate ahead of you

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and walk along the right side of the hedge. Cross the stile at the far left corner of the field and keep on the same line bearing right towards a stile in the fence at about SO 37554 18827

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(the stile is difficult to see and the fence isn’t on the map).

Look up to your left and you can see the huge mansion of Glen Trothy, built in the 1880s at the height of the Victorian passion for Scots Baronial architecture.

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It was built for the Vaughan family, who were Catholics, and has a lovely little chapel dedicated to the Sacred Heart (http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/300014407-glen-trothy-house-including-attached-sacred-heart-chapel-llantilio-crossenny#.WMqeo6JBrIV ). The house isn’t open to the public. (If you Google for places to stay nearby you may find the Glen Trothy Caravan Park but that’s nowhere near – it’s in Mitchel Troy, south of Monmouth.)

The bank below the stile is a bit overgrown but there were some lovely wood anemones.

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Scramble down, turn left on the metalled drive, immediately right over a little bridge and immediately left up the bank.

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You are now on the line of the Three Castles Way – a promoted route, and reasonably well waymarked. Cross the road at SO 37675 18743, scramble up the far bank (there are steps but they are worn) and over the stile.

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Bear up to the right across the next field to a stile about ⅔ up the far fence.

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Continue bearing round to the right past Cae Scybor. Cross the drive and walk to the left of the hedge ahead of you.

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When the hedge bears to the right, keep straight on to cross a stile at SO SO 38102 18930. Bear slightly to the left across the next field. The map shows the RoW going along the hollow lane at the far side of the field but this can be very muddy (police have put warning signs about off-road activity) so the RoW is now waymarked along the far edge of the field to a stile and gate at SO 38295 19093.

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Turn left and walk along the lane. Turn right on the metalled road and right again at the fork following the sign for Cat’s Ash. In about ⅔ km you reach Llanfair Cilgoed, site of Dore’s grange. The name suggests it might have been an early Christian hermitage. You can cross the stile at SO 38976 19088 and walk diagonally across the field to look at the earthworks of what may have been fishponds and vineyards.

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The land of the grange was sold off when Dore was closed in 1536 but the grange chapel became a chapel of ease, a small church for weekly services but without the power to do the big stuff like baptisms, marriages and funerals. In 1560 the curate was a John Dydbroke who had been a monk at Dore. He would not have been paid much as a curate but he had also managed to get hold of a lease of the grange so he could have lived quite comfortably on that. The present church is a little Victorian box, built when the old one had long been in ruins and people had to trek nearly 6 km to the church in Llandeilo Gresynni.

Llanfair church is worth seeing. There is some good modern stained glass and a very informative exhibition about the history of the grange and the Cistercian order (though I did spot one mistake – thirteen Cistercian houses in late medieval Wales? What about the other two??)

A bit more background at  http://www.villagealivetrust.org.uk/what-to-see/churches/st-mary. The church is always open and has a kettle, tea and coffee for walkers.

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Continue down the lane and just past the churchyard there is a gate in the hedge which gets you back into the grange field. The foundations of the old church are in a small railed enclosure ahead of you.

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Pick up the footpath again, walk below Llanfair Grange farmhouse and bear left to the far left corner of the field.

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The stream is culverted here but it is still very muddy. Immediately over the stream, turn left and cross a stile.

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Bear right across the next field and head for the far right corner (the woods marked on the OS map are no longer there).

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Cross a stile and turn left on the main road by the 1861 restaurant (http://www.18-61.co.uk/ – tbh it looks a bit posh for walkers but might be good for an evening-out  treat).

Past the restaurant, take the next turning to the left. At SO 39947 19229 (opposite The Laurels) take the waymarked footpath through the gate to your left. Walk to your right and gradually downhill to a gate at SO 40187 18976.

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Continue parallel with the stream to another gate (with a rather battered stile) at SO 40368 18652.

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Turn left on a roughly metalled road. After the bridge, this becomes a muddy lane going steeply up hill.

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At the top it becomes very overgrown and so muddy as to be impassable (more off-roading, but this is technically a byway for vehicles so it’s legal) but it’s easy to get into the field to the right and walk along the hedge.

Turn right on a metalled road and follow it to Llanllwyd. Go through the farmyard at Great Llanllwyd and straight on along a lane (this one a restricted byway – horses but not motorised traffic). After the dogleg in the lane go straight on through the gate ahead and to your right, and walk down hill to the right of the hedge.

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When you pass under the pylons, go through the gate to your left and continue on the same line but to the left of the hedge. There is a slight hollow trail along the hedge. At the bottom right corner of the field, go through a gate and down a lane to the ford and footbridge at Little Mill.

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Here you pick up the route I explored last summer (https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2016/06/12/pushing-up-the-borders/ ) and walk on to Grace Dieu and Monmouth and down the Wye valley to Tintern.

So we have the route clear and walkable from Capel-y-ffin to Tintern and on to Llantarnam. Now all I have to do is get it translated …

Llanthony to Cwm-iou (2)

Strike 2. Yesterday (https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2017/03/13/llanthony-to-cwm-iou-1/) ended at the bridge at SO 29087 24788 with instructions not to go over the bridge and follow the waymarked route to Cwm-iou but to take the footpath up to Daren. The path started well but got very very muddy. Also it goes through several farmyards – which I always find a bit uncomfortable – and the first farmyard was literally knee deep in mud and completely impassable on foot. The only option was to go back down the lane and go for the lower, waymarked path.

Actually, it isn’t too bad. Cross the bridge at SO 29087 24788, and bear left to the road. Turn left. In about ½ km. at SO 28942 24273 take the waymarked lane over the bridge to your left.

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After the cottage, go over the stile to your left,

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cross the lane (2 more stiles),

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turn right and follow the hedge to your right.

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Good views up to the ‘yoke’ which gives its name to Cwm-iou, the result of a post-glacial land slip.

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The path is well stiled and waymarked straight along the east bank of the Hoddni to the Cwm-iou road.

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Turn left on the road and walk up to the church. (I did try the footpath waymarked to the left but it takes you a long way up to the lane above the church only to come back down again.

The church was as lovely as ever – sad monument to little Joan Williams,

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these in the chancel,

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this in the south window.

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Leave the church by the west gate, turn right on the steep road downhill, then on the next bend at SO 29988 23291 take the waymarked path to the left.

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Follow on the same line over the stiles, across the next two fields,

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along the hedge,

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across a minor road and over a stream.

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Bear up to the right across the next field to the lane above Perthi-crwn.

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The right of way goes in front of the house and along a lane.

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Continue on the same line through the fields, with the hedge to your right.

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After you cross a small stream at SO 31468 22758, ignore the turning to the right but go over the stile at the far right corner of the field.

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Bear left across the next field,

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cross the stream at SO 31728 22698

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and bear up to the right towards a stile at the top of the next field, SO 31778 22588.

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Keep bearing to the right and cross another stile at SO 31817 22530.

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Turn left on a muddy lane then right when you meet a metalled road at SO 31864 22543.

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You are now on the Beacons Way. At SO 32074 22362 the Offa’s Dyke Path joins from the left. I’m still puzzled by the stonework in the little garage ahead of you, at Trawellwyd.

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It must have been recycled – but from where?

Keep straight on and follow the OD waymarks, which will take to across the railway and main road to Llangattock Lingoed. You could follow the OD to Monmouth but I’m working on a slight diversion past Abbey Dore’s grange at Llanfair Cilgoed.

Possibly tomorrow, DV and Derek the Weather permitting?

Llanthony to Cwm-iou (1)

Good grief, two days without rain – so we are back out on field work. Also my neighbours’ dogs are off on holiday so I am focusing on things I can’t do with a dog in tow – eg anything involving stiles.

First up was checking the bit just north of Llanthony. I did some work on it back in December (https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2016/12/11/visions-and-revisions/ ) and suggested that the footpath past Trevelog and Deri-duon probably wasn’t worth struggling with. The problem is that there are several deep stream valleys cutting across the path, with dangerously steep and muddy banks. There are also some heavily overgrown sections. These could be dealt with, but the steep banks need steps – which would decay and need repair and eventually replacing. Not viable in the present climate.

I then suggested that the (unwaymarked) footpath through the gate at SO 27800 29048

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should lead to the path past Llwyn-on at SO 27870 28961- and it does. Go through the gate and walk along the hedge to your right

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then pass below Llwyn-on, turn up to your left and keep contouring round on the same line past SO 27997 28789 and SO 28099 28639. Pass above Broadley Farm and keep on the same line past SO 28292 28423. At SO 28415 28343 cross a stile by a gate. Walk along the lower edge of the woods and ford a small stream. Cross a stile out of the woods at SO 28482 28271 and bear right across the next field, past the new barns to rejoin the road down the valley at SO 28498 28092.

I wanted to recheck it to make sure there were no more problems. It’s all well stiled and waymarked. You do have to ford several streams but even after the recent rain they are shallow and easy to cross.

Take the path below the ruins of the abbey gatehouse. After exploring the abbey, retrace your steps, turn right round the west end of the Abbey Hotel and right again to walk above the outer wall of the abbey precinct, following fingerposts and waymarks to ‘Hatterall Ridge South’. Past the abbey church, go through a gate at SO 28959 27882. Bear left across the next field and up hill to a gate in the top hedge at SO 29242 27913.

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Continue on the track through the trees, bearing right across a little stream. At the top of the wood turn left through a gate

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and walk along the fence to your right. At SO 29445 27887 go through the gate to your right.

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Walk ahead keeping to the same contour, passing well below two ruined farmsteads.

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(The whole valley was intensively settled with hundreds of farms and smallholdings until bottom fell out of British farming in the nineteenth century and most of the young men left to work in industry.) Don’t be distracted  by the waymarked stile in the trees at the top left corner of the field

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– it’s a difficult scramble across the stream and the track from it is overgrown. The right of way goes through the gate a little further down the hedge, at SO 29750 27537, and past another ruined barn.

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Bear up to the left on a faint track

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and join a clearer track which continues on the same contour line down the valley.

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Go through several waymarked gates. Keep to the same line above Maes-y-beran farm

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and head for the stile at SO 30180 26611.

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Pass below a stand of conifers (not on the map). Continue on the same line above another stand of conifers (this one is on the map) and through a ruined farmstead at SO 30134 25823. The path continues on the same line, going gradually downhill. At SO 29928 25599, just before a stream and a belt of trees,

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turn sharp right and walk downhill. Turn left to walk through the ruins of Weild,

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another substantial farm which has been completely abandoned. From here the path slopes gradually down hill to SO 29533 25286, SO 29309 25090 and SO 29201 24962. At SO 29109 24794, just before the bridge, ignore the waypost pointing to Cwm-iou along the road and turn left following the signs for Darran.

That was as far as I could get today. I walked back along the road – a very new lamb in the field

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and the deserted chapel at Henllan

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(some of the stones in the wall look awfully like tombstones).

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Back at Llanthony I was recalling T. S. Eliot’s

… hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea

 – and lo and behold, a sign for Treats of Llanthony  (http://www.llanthonytreats.co.uk/ ), just below the road towards the river.

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As well as the cafe there is a cabin, bunkhouse B&B and room for camping. Sue was supposed to be ironing towels after a busy weekend and with more guests arriving but she kindly did me a cuppa – then tea and cake for another random walker – then more tea and cake for two lads on bikes – did she ever get the ironing done, I wonder? Treats basically seems to be open whenever you want it to be, though of course Sue does have to go and do things like shopping occasionally. She says that if you are walking in the area you can always ring ahead and check – 01873 890867.

Another fine day and I should get past Cwm-iou.

 

Visions and revisions

Back to Capel-y-ffin for a final check of possible footpaths off the old road down the valley to Llanthony. One correction: three stone stiles (not two) on the path across the fields south of Capel-y-ffin before you pick up the old trackway past The Vision farm.

At SO 27544 29793 you can follow the waymarked path to the left, bearing left across the fields and above Trevelog farm.

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The path has been re-routed to bypass the farmyard: head for about SO 27894 29711 and follow the waymarks across the stream,

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bear right up the bank

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and head for the double stile into the woods at SO 27845 29466.

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The path is overgrown through the woods:

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bear slightly to the right and pass below the ruined barn of Deri-duon

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and the line of the path becomes clearer past SO 27847 29148 and through the yard of Llwyn-on Farm.

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At SO 27929 28860 the gate is currently damaged and wired up and you are asked to turn left and go through a black iron gate.

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Continue on the same line past SO 27997 28789 and SO 28099 28639. Pass above Broadley Farm and keep on the same line past SO 28292 28423. At SO 28415 28343 cross a stile by a gate. Walk along the lower edge of the woods and ford a small stream. Cross a stile out of the woods at SO 28482 28271 and bear right across the next field, past the new barns to rejoin the road down the valley at SO 28498 28092.

The path is mostly well stiled and waymarked. However, you have to ford several streams.

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It can be very muddy, especially around the gates, and there are several steep and potentially dangerous scrambles up the stream banks.

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(there is a stile at the top of that bank – getting there is the challenge)

In wet weather (and when isn’t it wet in Wales – if you can see the mountains, it is going to rain, if you can’t see them, it is raining …) the road is a much easier alternative, and it’s easier to look at the view.

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You can compromise by walking along the road to SO 27732 29423, taking the green lane straight ahead, then go left through the gate at SO 27800 29048 (not waymarked but a right of way)

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and walk up to your left across the field to rejoin the footpath at SO 27870 28961, just before Llwyn-on. This avoids the worst of the mud and the scrambles.

Time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

(Eliot always has the words for it. You might get toast and tea at the Half-Moon or the  Llanthony Priory Hotel.)

The Gnoll

If we are going to map the high-level route from Margam to Neath, we need the grid points through Gnoll Park. This is proving surprisingly difficult – the park is full of paths, it isn’t always easy to identify them on the Ordnance Survey map, and there has been a lot of tree felling, the result of the dreaded Phytophthora Ramorum. (More on this at http://www.gnollestatecountrypark.co.uk/default.aspx?page=10621 .) On the one hand, it has mainly resulted in the loss of larch, Western hemlock and Rhododendron ponticum, and has opened out some spendid vistas. On the other hand, it means that the aerial photos on the Ordnance Survey web site are no longer accurate! Google Earth is a bit better but still doesn’t show the path as it is now and Google Street View is pre-felling. So the grid points below are mostly approximations to help with mapping and won’t make it to the final web site.

At first I missed the turning off the minor road down from Blaen-cwm-bach.  After much plodding up and down I got back to it. It has changed since 2005: no stile, and the path no longer goes along the edge of the woods. You turn left off the road at SS 78064 98289

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but instead of turning at right angles to the road the path now bears to the left, through scrub and rough grass,

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going below rather than above the park boundary. Follow the path down into the trees,

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past the Gazebo (a rough shelter at about SS 78031 98080) and the Grotto below it, and down flights of wooden steps to the stream. This was landscaped in the eighteenth century into a series of cascades.

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Walk down the right (north) side of the stream until you are above the Mosshouse Pond. At about SS 77828 98099

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cross to the left (south) side and walk past the pond. Go through the gates at the end of the dam (SS 77656 97999)

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and take the path straight ahead of you. This climbs above the Llantwit Brook and bears round to the south-west.

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When you reach the ‘Halfway House’, another folly originally built as a ‘temple’  at SS 76984 97624,

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take the path to the right. The path bears round to the left at about SS 76904 97641 to pass to the left of the Guinea Pond.

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Follow it to SS 76754 97443, turn right and walk down to the car park and children’s playground.

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At SS 76619 97463 you can turn right for the Visitor Centre (café! Toilets!!) or keep to the left of the Fish Pond (a quieter walk). The remains of Gnoll House and its arboretum are west of the visitor centre. When you reach the dam at the end of the pond (SS 76360 97217)

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take the surfaced road which continues down the north (right) side of the stream. You can cut down steps to your left

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or continue on the road to the dam at the end of the Great Pond, SS 76081 97142. Cross the dam and turn right at SS 76096 97067. Continue down the valley to the Memorial Gates at SS 75895 97093

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and along Gnoll Drive, through the outer gate at SS 75638 97319,

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to the B4434 at SS 75523 97402. Cross the road and walk to the right of Victoria Gardens, past the massive clock tower of St David’s Church and into the middle of Neath.

To visit the castle, turn right at SS 75304 97608 along Wind Street and left at SS 75389 97658 along Old Market Street. At SS 75346 97739 this turns to the right and becomes Castle Street. The remains of the castle are ahead of you, across a paved area. You should be able to walk to the left of the castle and through the supermarket car park to the bridge over the canal at SS 75262 97850.

Revisiting Pelenna

The clever people at Sugar Creatives are doing clever creative stuff with the web site – but that means I have to crack on with uploading grid points so they have something to work on. Usually I do them as I go along, but there are bits of alternative route that I haven’t looked at for years, and the aerial photos on the Ordnance Survey site look nothing like what I remembered. An excuse to get the boots out …

I meant to do this just with Nell, but Cara refused to stay in the house so we all set off together. The alternative higher-level route from Margam to Neath seems OK as far as Afan Argoed and over the ridge to Cwm Pelenna but I can’t make sense of some of my notes after that. We drove to Ton-mawr to walk up the valley of the Gwenffrwd. Strike one: the Ton-mawr Sport and Fitness Centre is no more. On the positive side, mountain biking in the Afan and Pelenna valleys has really taken off: the Gyfylchi Mountain Centre is refurbished, there’s the Afan Bike Park at Gyfylchi and new trails at Penhydd, and more places to stay (eg Bryn Bettws with a range of bunkhouses and cabins, https://brynbettws.com/).

So the track over Gyfylchi and down to Cwm Pelenna is clear and walkable. At SS 80968 96002 the line of the South Wales Mineral Railway emerges from the Gyfylchi Tunnel to your right.

 

dsc_1787At SS 80876 96091, cross the river by a railway bridge. Bear left with the line of the railway track (now a bridle path). At SS 80185 96261, cross the road, walk up the steps ahead of you and continue up through the houses to the main road through Ton-mawr.

At SS 80193 96372, cross the road, turn left and go up the steps to your right, just before the children’s playground.

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At SS 80169 96418, turn left on a very minor road. After Blaenafon Farm (SS 80151 96757)

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the road becomes a surfaced track. Across the valley to your left, the rush-filled ponds are part of the world-famous River Pelenna minewater treatment system.

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At SS 79908 97905 the track passes above the ruins of a substantial farm.

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From this point the track is not marked on the OS map as a right of way but it is waymarked as a byway.

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At SS 80140 97561 you have to ford the Gwenffrwd, quite tricky even after a very dry October and potentially impassable in wet weather.

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I remember struggling with this back in 2005. Nell liked it, though – you can just see her head peeping out of the water.

At SS 79656 98552 the main track bears to the left.After several gates, at SS 79428 98582 you pass through the earthworks of a massive Roman camp.

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There are lovely views from here.

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We turned back at the top of the ridge,

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but you can walk on down the hill and through the grounds of the Gnoll, or turn right and follow the Cefn Ffordd, the great Glamorgan Ridgeway, along the watershed and down to the Rhondda. I remember walking that with a group of extra-mural students on a rather wet day back in the 1990s.

Angels and visions

Tintern-Llantarnam is pretty much sorted and we are working our way back up the borders. I haven’t walked the area round Llanthony since 2005 and there have been a lot of changes and improvements to the footpaths. The track over the pass from Hay and down the Nant Bwch seems to be the way to go, and it takes you past Llanthony’s third monastery, the strange Anglican community founded by Joseph Leycester Lyne, Father Ignatius. Hugh Allen’s new biography of him is a good read.

Just past the monastery you meet the road from Llanthony over the Gospel pass. Turn left to visit the church at Capel-y-ffin, described by Kilvert as ‘squatting like a stout grey owl’ among the yews of the churchyard. Lovely cherubs on the south wall

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and symbolism on this head stone –

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‘One by one the sheaves are gathered’. Just south of the churchyard, at SO 25483 31495, take the lane alongside the churchyard wall,

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across the Hoddnu

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and past another tiny church.

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This is Capel-y-ffin Baptist chapel built by the two brothers, William and David Prosser. According to Wikipedia, ‘a wall plaque commemorates their work in bringing The Ministry of the Gospel to their house in the year 1737. And Secured this Place for That Sacred Use for the Time Being. Both died near the End of the Year 1780.’

The lane bears up to the right, passing above Blaenau farm and becomes a path across the fields.

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It is well walked and waymarked as a route up to the Offa’s Dyke path.

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Cross two pretty stone stiles (the second at SO 26068 31171  is a bit of a challenge)

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and continue on the same line along a stony track.

Nell and Cara coupldn’t manage the stiles. Cara is getting old and creaky but hates being picked up. Nell is just daft. So we went back along the track, they had a good swim in the Hoddnu and we walked down and up a very steep stony lane to rejoin the track at the far side of that very precipitous stile. Walking along the road and down that lane is the best way to go if you have dogs.

The farm above the track at SO 26521 31032  is called The Vision, and was given that name after the famous vision of the Virgin Mary at Father Ignatius’s monastery. The farm inspired Bruce Chatwin’s novel On the Black Hill, though he relocated it to the other side of the Hatterall ridge.

At SO 26701 30804 the track becomes a metalled road. There are some footpaths to the left but they mostly go up the ridge. The road is very quiet, little more than a farm track, and an easy walk. After about 1.8 km, at SO 27735 29421 , the road turns to the right. Go through the gate ahead of you and continue along a narrow lane. This has all the feel of an old road, possibly the original road down the valley. It would be too narrow for carts, so once the local farmers took to using wheeled vehicles the road across the valley would be easier. I walked along the lane to rejoin the metalled road at SO 27912 28728 but it might be worth exploring the track that bears left at SO 27795 29061 and becomes a footpath passing above Broadley farm and rejoining the road at SO 28502 28103.

At SO 28560 27946 you turn left on the main road down the valley (usually quite quiet, though it can be busy on summer weekends) with encouraging views of the priory and the Half-Moon pub.

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Ahead of you is the priory gatehouse, now a barn. When the road bears right round the gatehouse, take the footpath straight on to the rest of the priory buildings.