Graig Fawr to Pontarddulais

Having decided that the Carmarthen Ferry can take our route across from Ferryside to Llansteffan, the St Illtyd Walk really is the way to get from above Pontardawe past Pontarddulais. I still think the way Rachel and I went up along the ridge is better (see https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2018/11/03/up-from-pontardawe/). Then you can carry along the ridge to pick up the St Illtyd Way – see towards the end of https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/cistercian-way-going-west-from-neath/.

Whichever way you go, you get to Penlle’rcastell, high above the Ammanford road.

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This is variously described as a fortified settlement site and a castle – Coflein at https://coflein.gov.uk/en/site/300308/details/penller-castell suggests a castle built by William de Breos on the northern border of his territory in c 1252. This really was the north-west frontier province of Norman territory, with people like my ancestors the Welsh lords of Afan as the Taliban. Here’s the interior

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and the ditch

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Older maps show the St Illtyd Walk going along the road around the castle site, but it has now been re-routed and waymarked to pass closer to it. Walk from SN 67019 09521 to the castle then head for the road at SN 66417 09402. Cross to the waymark

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and take the track ahead of you. Keep just to the right of a wind farm (new since the OS last surveyed the area). Pass between the turbines and a patch of forest and keep on the same line to pass slightly to the left of Pentwyn Mawr. Join the stony track from the wind farm at SN 63752 07845 and walk along it past a waymark post

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to the minor road.

Here again the route has been changed. Older maps direct you straight on, but the waymarked route now goes to the right along the road to SN 63495 08029.

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Here another waymark

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directs you along a track to the left. The tracks interweave but all go roughly in the same direction along the ridge.

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There are waymarks though some have suffered decay or possibly deliberate damage

and this one at about SN 62940 07691 had been twisted so that it was quite misleading.

It’s a pity we can’t put a waymark on the trig point.

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At SN 61393 06534

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the path is waymarked to the right down a steep slope, then at SN 61319 06543

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it is waymarked to the left again. At about SN 60843 06203 look to your left. Under the bracken, Amy spotted a Neolithic chambered cairn (details at https://coflein.gov.uk/en/site/91900/details/graig-fawr-chambered-tomb).

The waymarks don’t always include the St Illtyd Walk logo

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but you continue along the ridge and downhill on a rough stony track. Through a waymarked gate

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you get to a surfaced road. A rifle range offered a bench

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so we rested then continued along to the minor road at SN 60494 04518 and down into Pontarddulais. Follow the waymaks through the centre of town and out to the bridge over the Loughor.

After Pontarddulais we really ought to walk the linking section of the St Illtyd Walk to where I picked it up last month (https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2019/05/23/joining-the-dots-south-carmarthenshire/) and check out the final bit from Pontyates to Ferryside. Then it’s coast path to St Clears.

After that, the trouble would begin. (‘  “A long time before that, if I know anything about the roads” interrupted Gandalf’. I seem to have quoted that before …) But we do seem to be getting there.

Meanwhile, there is some enthusiasm for a continuation from St Clears and Whitland towards St Davids – a south Wales Pilgrims’ Way to complement the North Wales one, and a Welsh Camino in time for the big celebrations in St Davids in 2023. And we have volunteers working on paths in north Carmarthenshire. It’s all happening at once!

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Joining the dots – South Carmarthenshire

So we’ve got a good route through south-east Wales, Ceredigion is pretty much sorted thanks to Ceredigion County Council’s wonderful network of promoted paths, Pembrokeshire has the Coast Path, the Landsker Trail and the Knights’ Way – what about Carmarthen? Time to join the dots?

To be honest, we did struggle on the Carmarthenshire sections in 1998 and in 2005. The county has a lovely gentle landscape of rolling hills and distant vistas,

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but it doesn’ t seem to be traditional walking country. The coast path is great but it takes a long time to get anywhere. But the coast path has brought new developments – including a ferry from Ferryside (yes, there did used to be a ferry there …) to Llanstephan. Timings depend on the tides – https://www.carmarthenbayferries.co.uk/timetable/ –  so anyone using it on the Cistercian Way would have to plan ahead, but all of a sudden it makes the route much more doable. We don’t have to find a way across to Carmarthen – we can follow the St Illtyd Walk from Pontardawe and Pontardulais down towards Llanelli then cut across.

I learned about the ferry at a splendid networking event organised by Celtic Routes, an EU funded project to encourage tourists to spend more time in less-visited areas of south-west Wales and south-east Ireland – https://irelandwales.eu/projects/celtic-routes . It’s being led by Carmarthenshire County Council so it seemed like a good time to start picking up on footpaths. I have a meeting with the footpaths officer next week so it seemed tactful to do a bit of walking first. Steve is slowly getting better and actually felt well enough to drive me to the route north of Llanelli. drop me off and arrange to pick me up ten miles along.

We are hoping that the St Illtyd Walk will be usable without too much work. There may be a few glitches, though. Driving through the lanes north of Llangennech we realised that our 1:25,000 OS map was out of date. The St Illtyd Walk has been rerouted from SN 54688 03117 to avoid the very dangerous stretch of main road further on. The new route goes down the lane then turns right at SN 54687 03014. I walked past the turning three times before deciding it must be somewhere in the Japanese knotweed.

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There’s a waymarking post in there somewhere …

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then a faint path through the trees.

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Part of the problem may be this tree fallen across the path,

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but it does need some knotweed bashing at the start. Llanelli Ramblers’ Footpath Volunteers have done good work on stiling and waymarking –

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… might contact them and see what they can do on maintenance.

You emerge from the woods and bear left to the top left corner of the next field.

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Cows. Oh, good, they are kept away from the path by an electric fence. Not so good – fence across the path.

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Technically it should be possible to shimmy under it, but that would get you under the feet of a lot of inquisitive cattle. Scramble over gate to left and walk along the other side of the hedge. Gate at the bottom of the field, back on track – and another electric fence. (Stile in distance.)

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This time no cows so I crawled under. After that it was all plain sailing. There was quite a bit of street walking – waymarks on lamp-posts,

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a bit more waymarking needed on new walls –

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but also footpaths round the backs and up the pretty Swiss Valley.

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(Yes, polling station – saw several of those – as Celtic Routes is an EU funded project it seemed appropriate …) Then you get to the bottom of the Lliedi reservoir and walk back up the far bank. Where the road crosses the Lliedi at SN 51495 04154, turn left and walk up hill. At SN 51495 04154 the road turns sharp left.

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Scramble up the bank ahead of you and turn right on the cycle path.

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This is on the track bed of the Carmarthenshire Railway, which claims to be the world’s first operating public railway. It began in 1803 with horse-drawn trains linking Gorslas and Llanelli. In 1875 the long-defunct line was taken over by the Llanelly and Mynydd Mawr Railway Company (yes, I know, that’s how Llanelli is spelt in the company’s name to distinguish it from the Llanelli and Mynydd Mawr, a modern heritage charity which wants to reinstate part of the line and open a heritage centre).  Lots more information at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Llanelly_and_Mynydd_Mawr_Railway.

The railway continues along the Upper Lliedi Reservoir to Horeb. Here I planned to turn left on the road to Five Roads and see if I could find footpaths to cut across to the Gwendraeth.

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Horeb has a good pub (open) and a chapel (closed). It was a Baptist chapel with an open-air pool for baptisms down by the river. I got a bit distracted by the chapel graveyard.

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The road to Five Roads was quite busy. I did look at the paths across to Carwe but they would need a bit of work. The big problem, though, is that the only possible way across goes through two farmyards. I’m really not comfortable with that. Yes, they are public rights of way – but we are hoping that this route will be busy and popular, and I don’t think it’s fair to be routing that amount of traffic through what is after all someone’s work place.

So I went back to the road and along to explore the cycle track in Cynheidre. This is where the Llanelli and Mynydd Mawr’s Heritage Centre is – and there’s also a wildlife park. More information at https://www.llanellirailway.co.uk/. At Cynheidre the cycle path bears east towards Tumble. Go back to the minor road heading north out of the village and follow this towards Pont Henri. On the way I met some people cutting back foliage on the road. They advised me not to go through Pont Henri itself but to turn left on the B4317 then cut across to the old railway line. I didn’t take their advice but I probably should have done. Pont Henri village is a way north to go south again. The main road is probably no more busy, there is a pavement, and at SN 47687 08638, just after Ynyshafren Farm, yoiu can bear right on a footpath that leads to the old railway line. There’s a footpath along the disused line through Pontyates and down past Pontnewydd. From there I have walked along footpaths and minor roads to Llansaint, where you pick up the coast path. But that was back in 2005 so it will need rewalking.

Back to Bedwas – the best route (probably?)

Nell and I have now had several goes at the tracks from the ridge above Bedwas down towards the church. The problems are –

  • The tracks aren’t rights of way and the rights of way often aren’t paths;
  • It’s a very steep hill and the paths tend to turn into streams;
  • Lots of the paths are blocked by fences and deep culverts draining the coal tips. Some of the fences are worn down and you can scramble over them and across the culverts, in dry weather – but it isn’t something we can recommend ;
  • This isn’t walking country, and it is motorbike scrambling country – which means fields are fenced off and gates are wired up.

We had great hopes of the paths that are marked on the map cutting across from the tip on Twyn yr Oerfel to the street above Bedwas church, but this started with a very steep scramble down a badly eroded dirt track through the coal tip. Then it was blocked in several places and even after a very hot and dry few days it was a real stream bed at the bottom. Nell thought this was great

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but it would probably be impassable in wet weather.

So the route to go for is the one over the Mynydd Machen ridge to Twyn yr Oerfel in https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2019/04/06/back-to-bedwas-again/ then the route down the hill from Twyn yr Oerfel in https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2019/04/10/back-to-bedwas-update/ .

Now all I have to do is write it up for the actual web site and translate it into Welsh. This will be very good for me.

Back to Bedwas – update

Nell and I had another look at tracks down from Twyn yr Oerfel. Instead of heading over the coal tip, walk round or over the burial mound and head for the gate at ST 18068 90686.

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Walk down a stony track.

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This becomes a grassy lane

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lovely views

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and lambs

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When you reach Ty Canol farm, bear right on a tarmac lane

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this is surfaced but technically not a public road but a right of way.

At ST 18142 89373 turn right through some large stones. This isn’t technically a right of way and is marked on the OS map as a track, but it has clearly been a road and on Google Maps it’s marked as Colliery Road. Pass coal tips and the remains of Bedwas Navigation Colliery to your right and rejoin the path we walked earlier.

So – which one to go for? The path past Ty Canol starts well, but the section just above the farm has degenerated into a stream bed, and from the farm down it’s tarmac. There’s no traffic, though. The track past Bedwas Colliery isn’t a richt of way – but neither is much of the stony track we walked earlier. There are several public footpaths running between the two tracks, and it did look as though one of them might offer the best of both worlds, but unfortunately they are all blocked by a big concrete drainage channel running down from the tip above Twyn yr Oerfel.

There’s also the fact that the site of Bedwas Colliery has been suggested for a new housing estate, though there has been a lot of local opposition to this.

There are some tracks on the map cutting across from the tip towards Bedwas – we may need yet another look.

 

Back to Bedwas again

Our route over Mynydd Machen using the Raven Walk and the Machen Forge Trail didn’t really work – too many dodgy sections, plus it left out Bedwas Church. So we are back to thinking about a route from the Blackvein Road and over Twyn yr Oerfel to Bedwas but without so much road walking.

From Twmbarlwm, walk down the Darren road and along the canal to the bridge over the Ebbw at ST 22581 91434 (this is as on https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/as-the-raven-flies/ ). Cross the river, bear right with the road. The footpath to the left from ST 22369 91196 has been cleared but don’t take it. The modern road swings right and left but the old road is still there as a bridleway – bear left at ST 22309 91151, cross the road at ST 22286 91034 and continue on the bridleway. At ST 22206 90899 walk a few metres down the drive to a large house

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then bear left on a waymarked bridleway

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up into the trees.

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At ST 22071 90922 turn right on a stony forest road. There were lots of streams for Nell

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though we did wonder about this strange piece of industrial archaeology.

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Follow the road round the contour for about 1.8 km. At ST 20495 90928 turn sharp left and walk uphill.

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Don’t cross the stile at ST 20619 90899

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but bear right with the track and continue up hill. At ST 20457 90637 turn right on the metalled road. At ST 20232 90469 the road goes downhill to the right: take the track which bears to the left and follow it for just over 1.5 km.

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Wonderful views

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and you can just see fields of solar panels on the far ridge.

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At ST 18726 90687 the main track goes left then right. At ST 18569 90661 cross a cattle grid and continue across open mountain land.

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There are two Bronze Age burial mounds above to your left – Twyn yr Oerfel East and Twyn yr Oerfel West. You can take any of the tracks up to the left to explore them. Twyn yr Oerfel West

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has an unusual enclosed forecourt – for what the archaeologists call ‘possible ritual activity’.

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The main track bears round to the left at ST 18135 90728 and crosses towards the coal tip.

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Here we think we may have gone wrong – we should have gone further to the east and looked for the track heading downhill from ST 18079 90683 and past Ty Canol Farm. Instead, we took a very steep and stony track that skirted to the left of the coal tips above the old Bedwas Colliery. It worked, but it wasn’t what we planned. On the other hand … below Ty Canol it’s road walking, which is one thing we were trying to avoid and one reason why we diverted away from the mountain road past Pen-y-waun (this we think is the old Heol Bedwas – there was a farm called Pen-heol-bedwas near the top).

To follow what we did today, from ST 17946 90654 you can go over the tip (shorter, steeper) or take the gentler path round to the left. When the paths rejoin at ST 17767 90353, go through the gate ahead of you

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and down a steep stony path. (Be careful – the stone can be very slippery in wet weather.) Ignore paths to the right leading over the coal tips and keep going downhill.

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The path is fainter but still there.

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From about ST 17913 89543 the track is surfaced. The site of the old Bedwas Navigation Colliery is to your left (more on this at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bedwas_Navigation_Colliery ).Turn left on the surfaced road which then bears round to the right and under a line of  pylons. At ST 17827 89410 the track we were originally aiming for joins us to the left. We bore to the right

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and continued on that line

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just below the line of pylons. At ST 17637 89430 the track divides.

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Take the left fork. This becomes a metalled road through housing. Continue on the same line until you see the church below you to your left, through the trees.

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Past the church, turn left on Church Street: this gets you to the main churchyard gate. You can then continue down hill to the centre of Bedwas, cross the dual carriageway at the traffic lights, go over the old bridge ahead of you and pick up the route described in https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2018/12/10/back-to-bedwas/ .

So do we go with what we did today (it was a brilliant day’s walk) or try to find the lane past Ty-canol – or maybe look for the footpath that cuts across between the two? The road goes ever on …

 

Back to Bedwas

As far as we could make out, the medieval pilgrimage route from Llantarnam to Penrhys probably crossed the Ebbw by the old bridge near the monks’ Maes-tir grange farm (the ‘Pont’ of Pontymister) then went up through Ochrwith and along the north side of Mynydd Machen. There are faint traces of hollow ways under the bracken skirting the summit to the north, and house platforms west of the summit, but we were a bit doubtful about the age of the trackway along the ridge. we thought it perhaps more likely that medieval travellers would have avoided the summits, using the very minor road which contours above the Blackvein then becomes a track crossing the ridge at Twyn yr Oerfel and down the old Bedwas road past Bedwas church. From the old bridge in Bedwas, John Leland’s description of the route ‘through the middle of the county [of Glamorgan]’ to ‘Penrise village where the pilgrimage was’ went along the banks of the Nant yr Aber. We couldn’t follow the stream all the way but we worked out a route along side roads, through a trading estate, along the river bak for a little, then through the Asda car park, under the railway line, along a cycle track paralleling the main road and so up through Hendredenny to Groes-wen.

For many years we tried to walk as near as we could to the old route. This meant a lot of walking through housing, including the Ty-Sign estate in Risca and a long plod through the outskirts of Caerphilly. I like paths that go along alleyways, round the back of industrial estates and between gardens. They belong to an earlier palimpsest of the landscape, before the factories and the railways were built. But they aren’t to everyone’s taste. Also, our original route skirted round Caerphilly. Local authority support tends to require routes that go through town centres, to help with regeneration. And it would be a pity to miss Caerphilly Castle – the in-your-face brutalism of de Clare’s original plan softened by age and the geese and swans in the moat.

So back to the maps. We could leave the medieval route to walk over the summit of Twmbarlwm and down the Darren Road then follow the Raven Walk over the shoulder of Mynydd Machen. And we could avoid the outskirts of Caerphilly by crossing the Rhymney in Machen and following the Machen Forge Trail then cutting across to the Van (details of all this at https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/twmbarlwm-machen-or-not/ , https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2014/06/01/wits-forge-and-fireblast/ , https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/cistercian-way-machen-to-caerphilly/ ).

Lovely walk – but it misses out Bedwas Church. This is a building very dear to our hearts and has recently had a lot of conservation work. Also the route isn’t problem-free. The line of the Raven Walk above the Blackvein is in very poor shape – worrying for a promoted path – and the tracks over the shoulder of Mynydd Machen can be so overgrown as to be impassable in summer. Then on the route from the Machen Forge Trail to Caerphilly there are some dreadfully wet and boggy sections.

Rewalking that route recently (and having to swing on a tree to get over one stream) I realised how near it gets to Bedwas bridge. Can we reconcile the two routes, keep to the tracks along the Mynydd Machen ridge, take in Bedwas then cut round through the fields to the Van? That would then leave a very short road section into the middle of Caerphilly.

First job was to check the footpaths from Bedwas. Go over the old bridge, then turn left through some bollards.

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This lane leads to a new housing estate and Llanfedw Close. Walk up the close, turn left into Rhyd-y-gwern Close, right almost immediately into Rudry Close (all these streets named after old villages round Caerphilly) and after the first house take the waymarked footpath to the left.

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This winds between gardens and woods to emerge on a side road at ST 17207 88151. Turn left, and in 0.5 km at ST 17636 87930 turn right on a roughly-metalled lane over a disused railway line and up to Gwern-y-domen Farm. (The actual Gwern y Domen is an earthwork motte-and-bailey castle just south of the railway line and round about here DSC_2894

 

a bit about it at http://www.castleuk.net/castle_lists_wales/171/vancastle.htm . The railway line is overgrown but passable and seems to be walked occasionally. ON the other hand – there are plans to build a housing estate on the fields round here.)

Walk between the farm buildings at Gwern-y-domen

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and continue on the same line on a waymarked footpath through bracken and scrub. At ST 17076 87241 and ST 17022 87121 keep to the right (north) side of the hedge. From ST 17022 87121 you will be able to see a double line of hedge to your left – a sure indication that this is an old road. At ST 16757 86939, turn left through some rather complicated gates and walk down the lane past the Van, now restored and made into several substantial houses. At the bottom of the lane, turn right on Cwrt Ty Mawr and right again on Van Road. From here it’s a short walk along the road to Caerphilly and the castle.

We now need to look again at tracks and side roads from Risca over Mynydd Machen and down to Bedwas.

 

Up from Pontardawe

The paths we used over Mynydd Gellionnen in 1998 and 2005 are now totally bogged down and impassable. Our friend Stuart Fry suggested an alternative using part of the St Illtyd Walk and climbing up to the disused church at Llangiwg. The church is lovely, there’s a holy well and a bit of an early medieval carved stone, but it’s a long way up to go down again and a lot of road walking (see https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/cistercian-way-going-west-from-neath/ ). Aled Elwyn (who tweets as @silwria) has suggested an alternative using the cycle track to Trebanos then taking an alternative route on better trackways over Mynydd Gellionnen. So Rachel, Nell and I had a look today.

In Pontardawe you need to find the cycle track going south-west along the Tawe. At SN 71439 03048 you pick up a surviving section of the Swansea Canal and continue between canal and river until you reach the Trebanos Upper Lock.

1.canal

Turn right at SN 71177 02660, cross the main road through Trebanos and walk up Pheasant Road. At SN 70873 02724

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take the roughly metalled track to your right (waymarked as a bridleway). At SN 70797 02789 the metalled track goes left and downhill to a farm. Bear slightly right here

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following the waymarks up a grassy track. This becomes a hollow lane between hedges, climbing steadily up hill. It’s quite steep but the views are splendid. Also there were goats.

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And donkeys.

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The surface is very stony and could be wet after rain.

At SN 70255 03087 you reach another metalled farm lane.

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Turn left, then at SN 70182 03128 turn right and walk up to the Gellionnen Road. Turn right. Ignore the first track to the left (leading to Eithrim Farm) and continue to the cattle grid at the beginning of the open access land.

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Go through the pedestrian gate and turn left following the waymark.

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Walk to the right of the fence. When the fence bears away to your left, continue along the same line across the moor

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and up to Gellionnen Chapel. One of Wales’s oldest chapels, this is Unitarian, with a radical tradition – http://www.ukunitarians.org.uk/gellionnenandgraig/ . Walk up the track from the chapel to the road and turn left.

You are now on the line of the Cwm Clydach Walk. You have a bit of road walking but it’s a very quiet road – we saw no traffic. Walk downhill to cross the Nant Llwydyn and bear sharp left with the road. The Clydach Walk goes along the stony track to your right at SN 69529 04594, but you don’t have to scramble over the rather rickety locked gate at the bottom of the track –

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there is a waymarked stile a little further along the road.

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Bear right with the track, past the ruins of Llechart-fach

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(why are the ruins of farm houses always so poignant?). At SN 69894 05118

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the stony track goes down to your right but the waymarked path goes up to the left and becomes another hollow way along the field edge.

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At SN 69812 05339 go through the gate to your right

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then bear up to the left following the field edge.

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The views from the top are wonderful.

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Cross a stile at SN 69765 05691

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and continue on the same line across open ground.

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At SN 69714 06068 you cross another rather rickety stile

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and continue on the same line across the moor. The Carn Llechart burial mound is above you to your right and there are several more burial mounds along the track. You are now back on the route we looked at two years ago, and you can follow the Cwm Clydach Walk to Capel Baran and the road.

This was a good walk with less in the way of busy roads than the St Illtyd Walk. The hollow ways suggest you are on old trackways, which is always nice. The only problem was the stiles – it took both of us to get Nell over them. If you are walking with dogs that can’t work out how to climb stiles, you might still be better on the St Illtyd Way.

Wentwood again

Finding yourself on someone else’s blog is a rather strange experience – a bit like bumping into a school teacher on holiday. Last week Rachel and I walked across Wentwood to check some of the paths – see https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2018/07/25/rewalking-wentwood/ . When we had scrambled down to the the Usk Valley Walk, we saw another walker in the distance. We stopped to remove a bee from the path (I thought it was dead, Rachel said it might just be tired because of the heat, and we didn’t want it being trodden on), the walker passed us, asked what we were doing and went on his way.

Then I found this on Twitter – https://twitter.com/AnneWareham/status/1023492376147439616 . I thought I’d look at the blog at https://charleshawes.veddw.com/other-walks/the-usk-valley-walk-usk-to-caerleon/ . And there we were!

Then we had a really interesting discussion on Twitter (involving people like  @AncientTorfaen, @ Gwentydd and @ServiliusPulex – see the threads from Anne Wareham’s initial tweet) about the relationship between the Usk Valley Walk, the Roman roads between Usk and Caerleon and possible medieval routes through the area. At one point Charles Hawes said he wished we could have the discussion on his blog so I summarised some of the information there.

I felt it still needed a blog post of its own – so what follows is a bit more background and some more thoughts.

Details of the Roman roads east and west of the river between Caerleon and Usk are in GGAT’s report at http://www.ggat.org.uk/cadw/cadw_reports/pdfs/GGAT%2075%20Yr3%20Roads%20final.pdf. Plotting all those OS grid points on the online OS map suggests that the road east of the river followed the minor road from Caerleon past Bulmore and Abernant Farm. The next identifiable bit is between ST3898697257  and ST3916298149 on a lane running north from Llantrisant – not the line of the Usk Valley Walk but slightly to the east. GGAT reported some aerial evidence of a route south of Llantrisant but gave no grid references. Nearer to Usk, evidence of the road is at SO37970025 just south of the prison and just east of the Llanllywel road.

So the Roman road east of the river probably underlies the pre-A449 road or runs near it for much of its length. The Usk Valley Walk roughly parallels it but apart from the road section from just south of Usk to Llanllywel probably doesn’t use much of it.

What about the route east from Caerleon towards Caerwent and Chepstow? GGAT were broadly happy with Margary’s description of this, which is reflected in the route marked on the OS map. There is more detail in D. Maynard’s 1996 reports and A. M. Yates’s 1997 report on excavations in the Celtic Manor golf course, still unpublished in 2004 and in the GGAT archives. The Usk Valley Walk roughly follows this from Cat’s Ash across the golf course to the Bulmore road across the river from Caerleon, though there may be some diversions to get through the golf course.

There is plenty of other evidence, archaeological and documentary, for early activity in the area. The OS map shows a remarkable group of earthworks west of the road down from Caer Licyn. A student of mine, Daryl Williams, did some survey and geophys on these for his M. Phil. thesis a few years ago (when we still did Archaeology in Caerleon … when we still had a university in Caerleon …). His conclusion was that the more northerly site, a rectangular double ditch, was probably Roman and could be a pre-Caerleon temporary fort (similar examples at Gelli-gaer, Coelbren etc). The complex to the south-west of this he thought was later (because the central enclosure clearly respects the earlier structures) and could be an early medieval ecclesiastical site of some sort.

This was all very speculative – and why another ecclesiastical site in an area that’s littered with disused churches? There’s the site of St John Henrhiw, St John in the Wilderness, at about ST 396 915, the chapels of St Julius, St Aaron and St Alban nearer Caerleon, Gwenog and Penrhos somewhere in Caerleon (more about all these in Diane Brooks, ‘The Early Christian Church in Gwent: A Survey’ in the Monmouthshire Antiquarian vol. 5:3). Diane Brooks also suggests Cat’s Ash is the Villa Cathouen in a charter in the Book of Llan Daf that Wendy Davies dates to c 745. The charter may suggest there was a church there. The converted barn of Cat’s Ash Farm was a later medieval chapel – you can still see the outline of the east window. And there are more recent closures – Llanbedr was disused in the 19th century. Kemeys Inferior was closed to build the A449 and much of its stonework went to extend St Woolos Cathedral, through the footings and the gravestones can still be seen. There’s no right of public access to it now but I did get permission to take students there for some years. Churches are also thick on the ground west of the river – Llanhennock, Tredunnock, Llandegfedd, the disused church of Llanddewi-fach. Many of these have archaeological or documentary evidence of early date.

So the site between Caerlicyn and Cat’s Ash could be part of this pattern of over-provision. Paul Courtney (in I think his Ph D thesis on the medieval landscape of Gwent) speculated that the number of disused or vanished churches in the area around Caerleon might derive from the dispersal of the Christianized Roman population in the early fifth century. There are several ways that early churches got started – on burial sites (often with relics of martyrs), as monastic foundations on the edge of villa estates – but over much of the Roman empire, Christianity spread from town to countryside (the word ‘pagan’ comes from pagus, a country-dweller) and one likely point of origin for many rural churches is the church built on a villa estate.

Later on, Caerlicyn and Cat’s Ash were on one of the main roads through south Wales. Ogilby’s Britannia (1675) is the first detailed road map of Britain, and it marks the route past Caerlicyn as the main road from London to St David’s. This makes it likely that it was the medieval pilgrimage route to St David’s. (Terry Jones – yes, him from Monty Python – had some very interesting ideas about the politics behind Ogilby’s choice of routes to survey and particularly about his edging back towards the Catholic tradition with routes to St David’s and Holywell. Worth remembering who was on the throne in 1675, who the heir to the throne was – but also what happened in 1678 and 1688 to make Catholicism politically difficult again.)

Derek Bissell’s detailed work on the location of Ogilby’s Monmouthshire routes was privately published in 2001 as ‘In the Steps of John Ogilby: some old roads of Monmouthshire and Brecknockshire’ – should be a copy in the bigger libraries. He traced Ogilby’s London-St David’s route through Monmouth and Trelech, past Newchurch and Gaerllwyd, mainly following the modern roads but with a few sections that are now off-road (eg the bridleway between ST 43707 96263  and ST 43169 96381 ). It goes round the north of Wentwood, passing Cas Troggy. Ogilby’s surveyors rarely noted antiquities but Cas Troggy is an exception. What this tells us about its condition in the 1670s is anyone’s guess. At the crossroads past Cas Troggy, at ST 41327 95029, the Ogilby route leaves the road and goes along the edge of the forst following the track to the south-west up Bertholau Graig. At ST 40029 94087 it is joined by the track running across Wentwood from east to west, and heads towards Caerlicyn and the the Kemeys Graig. Past Caerlicyn it contimues down the tarmac road to ST 37457 91042 where it bears right down a hollow lane to the Abernant road and so to Cat’s Ash.

What my daughter and I were doing when we met Charles was exploring an off-road alternative to the last bit of tarmac. There is a bridleway down from Caerlicyn but it is VERY steep, then you go steadily back up hill to rejoin the road. Looking again at the map, I’m not entirely certain that the bit where we met was the UVW as it’s marked on the latest online OS. We were on the track that goes from ST 38238 92445 to ST 37780 91747 and ST 37520 91410. According to the map, we should have continued downhill across the fields from ST 38238 92445 and gone closer to the farm. However, we did pass several UVW waymarks and there were waymarks on the road at ST 37477 91065. Has the route changed – does the OS need updating?

Rachel and I had left a car in Cat’s Ash and drove back to the other car in Earlswood. From Cat’s Ash the Cistercian Way follows the UVW into Caerleon. There’s a bit of road walking then you are supposed to cut across the golf course. I haven’t walked that section in many years. Last time I was walking that way was towards the end of our round-Wales trek in 2005. I was walking on my own at that point, there was some sort of high-powered world trade conference at the Celtic Manor and what they called a Ring of Steel round the whole site. I think my mother was worried that I was going to try to batter down the fence with a cross-stave but discretion was the better part of valour and I walked round by the road.

A couple of years ago, though, the route was far from clear. Andy Delmege is a clergyman from the West Midlands who walked much of my Cistercian Way route on a sabbatical in 2016. He had great difficulty negotiating the route of the Usk Valley Walk through the Celtic Manor golf course. Charles Hawes also reported problems – waymarks defaced and missing, paths crossed by roads that aren’t on the map. I probably ought to have a look at it myself, but something definitely needs to be done. It’s an important promoted route and part of it does run along a documented section of the Roman road. That bit of the route is actually within Newport City Council – their footpaths team have been keen on the project in the past so we’ll see what they can do.

Rewalking Wentwood

We have been having a drought, which is something we are not used to in Wales. Desperate measures were called for – so Rachel and I planned a long walk. Result! – it rained in Cardiff for about 3 hours, but we went east and had just a bit of mizzle.

Back in 2016 I walked the eastern slope of Wentwood with Andy Delmege on his great trek round Wales but I had to go back to the car from Five Paths. We got a bit confused about paths at the top of the first slope. The route Andy took was OK but missed the burial mounds and was technically not a right of way.The problem is that even recent OS 1:25,000 maps show a cleared area at Five Paths which doesn’t correspond with what is there now. The online map has been updated. Whe you get to the cleared area at ST 43281 95027 you need to keep straight on, roughly due west, to the right of the cleared area (my map marked the RoW to the left of the cleared area, which was where we went wrong last time). This is a well-surfaced forest road. At ST 42216 94830, just past the car park, cross a minor road and take the forest road ahead of you and slightly to the right. The burial mounds are just north of the track at around ST 41690 94556.  (Here they are in rather different weather.)

At ST 41428 94552 cross another minor road and keep going straight on. In about 80m. the paths divide.

Follow the waymark

and take the left fork,

passing just to the north of the mast. The track becomes fainter but continues bearing just south of west and mostly downhill. At about ST 40036 94168 the track rising to meet you from the right is the line of the London to St David’s route mapped by John Ogilby in 1675. You are probably now on the medieval pilgrimage route to St David’s. The modern path sometimes follows a marked hollow way and sometimes climbs above it.

There has been a lot of off-roading damage on this section of the path – last time I walked it, in slushy and wet weather, there were deep water-filled ruts,

and it would still be difficult under foot in wet weather. Part of Wentwood now belongs to the Woodland Trust and the rest is managed by Natural Resources Wales. Both have been trying to discourage off-roading but it’s a large area to control and there’s the perennial problem that it’s difficult to exclude motorbikes while still allowing access for horses and push-bikes.  Forest roads can also be accessible for wheelchair users and again it’s difficult to block motorbikes but allow wheelchairs. There was a scheme in north Wales to fit lockable barriers that could be opened by radar keys but I don’t know how that worked. The line of the London-St Davids road was at one time a byway for all vehicles so off-roaders had a legal right to use it, but its status may have been changed.

At ST 39576 93699, emerge from the trees and turn right on a well-surfaced forest road.

At ST 39445 93571 the forest road ends at a line of large stones.

Continue on the same line along a path. This becomes a well-marked track, sometimes a hollow lane or just to one side of the hollow. At ST 38965 92859 you pass the ‘motte and bailey castle’ of Caer Licyn – not a motte and bailey at all according to my old student Neil Phillips and most probably a garden viewpoint constructed as a folly.

At ST 38648 92438 you rejoin the metalled road.

The Ogilby route continues straight on and gradually down hill. When you get out of the trees, the faint earthworks in the field to your right are all that is left of a puzzling series of enclosures. Could be Iron Age … one at least could be a preliminary Roman camp before the fortress at Caerleon was built … some evidence of early medieval occupation … the road you are on could be even older than that. At ST 37465 91043, when the road bends left, take the hollow lane to your right: this is still the line of the Ogilby road, overgrown but just about passable. Turn left on Abernant Road and walk down to the B road past Cat’s Ash Farm. (The converted farm barn is a medieval chapel on the site of an even earlier church, mentioned in the Book of Llan Daf – you can still see the otline of the east window)

If you want to avoid the tarmac, at ST 38648 92438, look for the bridleway waymarked to your right. This goes down a VERY steep and rough slope to join the Usk Valley Walk. It’s a pretty walk but goes down a long way to climb back up again.  On balance I’d recommend sticking with the road.

On to Rhedynog-felen

So we can get to Beddgelert from Blaenau Ffestiniog. Then if we do settle for a route via Cwm Pennant and the cycle track, here is what I walked ten years ago.

From the centre of Beddgelert take the Caernarfon road. At SH 58528 48359 turn left on a metalled lane. This takes you over the river, under and twice over the railway line. At SH 58064 47898 take the track to your right. The path ahead of you goes over the summit of Moel Hebog. For an easier walk, keep to the track, contouring round to the right and into the forest. Just inside the forest, at SH 58064 47898, take the forest track to your left. Once you are inside the forest, at SH 57698 48491, turn left on the forest road and follow this up hill. At SH 56870 48753, cross the Afon Meillionen and take the track to your left. Keep on the right bank of the stream and follow a track through the trees, out of the forest and over Bwlch Meillionen. The old Moel-hebog mine is to your left.

Follow the path down Cwm Llefrith. When you reach Cwrt Isaf farm, do not follow the waymarked footpath to the right but walk down the farm lane to the metalled road. At Pennant Chapel, turn left. In about ¾ km, turn right over Pont Gyfyng. Take the waymarked footpath to the left of Bryn Wern farm. cross a stile and bear to the right up a steep bank through the trees. At about SH 52203 45206 you rejoin the stony track and walk above the slate quarry and up to a stile to the open moorland. Here the paths fan out: take the middle one, passing to the left of the ruined buildings  at SH 52040 45210. Just before Cae Amos (this looked derelict when I was there  but it’s now a MBA bothy – another reason for going this way), bear left along a (very overgrown in 2008) path  through bracken and reeds. At about SH 51575 45404 a waypost marks the beginning of the access land. The track to the left here looks tempting on the map but was impassable ten years ago. Instead, I crossed the wall, bore left across a small stream and up the far bank. (These overgrown paths may be clearer now the bothy is being used.)

I can’t work out the waypoints for the next bit, but from my notes you keep up the slope, cross a stile over a wall, and bear to the left up the next field to a stone wall. The path is stiled and waymarked below the wall but is very boggy and overgrown. I ended up going through the gate and walking above the wall. Eventually you cross back over a stile and walk down a short lane to the stony track leading to Garn Dolbenmaen.

From SH 50750 45528 it should be possible to follow a path to the right, along the stone wall. This becomes a stony track. At SH 49080 45874,  take the track to the left and walk down to a minor road. Turn right here,  then at SH 48003 46204 turn left, cross the main road and turn right on the cycle track.

This is based on notes from ten years ago, so things may have changed. It would be better in any case to work out a route that goes further to the north. From the ruined farmstead at SH 50237 45545 the map marks a footpath going north over Bwlch Cwmdulyn and down towards Llanllyfni but looking at the aerial photos I can’t see anything on the ground. There must be tracks over the mountains above Beddgelert heading north-west but they need local knowledge – perhaps when we move on to looking at routes through Snowdonia we may get some better ideas on this one.