On Saturday a small but happy band of pilgrims set off from Llantarnam – with me were my daughter and her long-suffering boyfriend, one of my MA students, three women from the Ancient Cwmbran Society and of course Cara the pilgrim dog. We had a good send-off from Sister Ann Larkins of the Sisters of St Joseph of Annecy including a blessing with holy water from a medieval stoup found in the abbey ruins.
Over the years our route has diverged from the medieval trackway. The old maps suggest this went across the fields, down the lane behind the church, and along the main Llantarnam Road towards Cwmbran. You can’t now walk across the fields (there’s a dual carriageway across the route) and the road makes pretty boring walking. So we go down the Abbey drive, along Ty Coch Lane, and head for the canal towpath. Less authentic but a better walk.
We reclaim the old road in Old Cwmbran and plod over St Dial’s Hill. The women from the Ancient Cwmbran society remembered playing there as children and might even have seen the ruins of St Dial’s farmhouse before it was demolished to build the police college. It could have been on the site of the medieval shrine chapel, but unless we could get in to look at the ruins we could never know.
Here we are on top of the hill. Down the other side and past Greenmeadow Community Farm, a classic hollow way with outgrown beech hedges takes us across the modern roads and up to Thornhill. The Ancient Cwmbran Society gave us tea and we debated whether to try the top route up Mynydd Maen (virtually a stream in places but the original route the monks would have taken to their granges at the Rhyswg and Cil-lonydd) or to cut through Greenmeadow Woods. The top route has the better views, and we all had good boots, so up we went.
The waymark actually says ‘Pilgrims’ Way’. The blackberries were at their best, we had lunch above the ruins, and Dave Standing found some grange boundaries. There is still so much archaeology to explore up there.
I have always felt that the medieval pilgrims wouldn’t have gone over the top of Twmbarlwm – why go all that way up just to come down again?? The track through the woods towards Pant-yr-yrfa is now pretty clear but the farmyard is well blocked so we had to go up the ridge in the end.But there were some magnificent bank and ditch features under the trees – this is all part of the Dorallt grange and has evidence of early mining.
Then we diverted again from the original route, which would have gone down the road through Ty-Sign and across the Stony Bridge in Pontymister. But that makes for a long road walk through the houses – so we headed across Twmbarlwm to Pegwn-y-bwlch, down the Darran road, along the canal and down to the Blackvein bridge.
Dave Standing’s photos of the day are at https://picasaweb.google.com/108133310404705177233/LlantarnamAbbeyToPenrhysPilgrimage2013DayOne
Sunday started well but by the time we crossed the ridge above Pen-heol-bedwas the rain was setting in. Cara did some very pathetic shivering over lunch, though we think this may have been a ploy to get extra cake. The afternoon was just the two of us, my daughter Rachel and myself – even Cara had gone home in the minibus. We had a wonderful welcome from the ladies at Groeswen, but once we stopped we couldn’t get going again.
So we propose doing the final section – Groeswen to Eglwysilan and on to Pontypridd – on Wednesday, when the weather looks a little more promising. Saturday is also looking good so far. We set off from the green by the White Bridge, on the Ynysybwl road out of Pontypridd, at 10 am on Saturday and aim to be in Penrhys in time for tea. There will be transport back to the start.