I feel I’ve spent Easter as a martyr to the wider impact agenda. The Cambrians’ conference at Llangollen was brilliant (https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/cambrian-monuments/, https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/more-cambrian-monuments/) … but I caught a cold. Colds always settle on my chest … so I went up Twmbarlwm with Cymdeithas Twmbarlwm, the Anclent Cwmbran Society and a few hundred others (https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2014/04/19/good-friday-riding-westward/), and got the father and mother of all chest infections that flattened me for a fortnight.
It’s over now – but it put paid to a lot of plans for fieldwork over the Easter break. Before Easter I had a series of very positive meetings with local footpaths and tourism officers about resurrecting the Cistercian Way. The plan now is to try to get Llantarnam to Margam clear and waymarked in time to provide a flagship project for the Valleys Festival of Walking in 2015. (Rhondda Cynon Taf were really gung-ho about doing it for this year but we concluded that really wasn’t workable!)
We still need a few tweaks to the route. When we walk from Llantarnam to Penrhys as a pilgrimage we try to keep as close as possible to the medieval route, but this results in a lot of walking through built-up areas, down through the Ty-Sign housing estate from Twmbarlwm and through the industrial estates around Caerphilly. Last year we bypassed Ty-Sign and walked from Twmbarlwm to Pegwn-y-bwlch, down the Darren road and up through Coed Waun-fawr to join the Mynydd Machen ridge just above Ynys Hywel. I’m now trying to find a better route into Caerphilly. The Caerphilly footpaths officer suggested the new cycle route along the north bank of the Rhymney but I don’t like walking on cycle paths (too many speed merchants in dayglo Lycra shorts!).
There’s a lane down from Twmbarlwm that leads to Moriah Chapel in Risca then up past the Danygraig cemetery (where so many of Steve’s family are buried), east of Mynydd Machen and down into Machen. I remember walking that one twenty years ago: there are some good hollow trails on the north slope of Mynydd Machen, suggesting it’s an old trackway. Then you can pick up the Machen Forge trail to Waterloo. But how to get from there to Caerphilly? Time to put the boots on …
There are a couple of possible paths from Waterloo to the Van, on the outskirts of Caerphilly. When the Machen Forge trail gets to the main road through Waterloo,
go straight across and along the path between the houses, then turn left and walk along a stony lane past some pretty cottages. Ignore the footpath turning left: but when you get to the end of the lane, go through the gate into the field
and continue along the same line with the house to your right. Go through another gate
into the woods. There were bluebells and wood anemones, and I picked wild garlic leaves to cook for supper. When the paths divide,
turn right and walk along a very muddy path
along a stream with lots of evidence of iron working.
At the end of the wood, go over a bridge and stile
and follow the waymark to the left along the edge of the woods. The footpath is stiled and waymarked, though some of the stiles could do with a bit of attention.
Look out for another redundant stile.
Cross to the left and keep going on the same line, over several more stiles
and up to the drive of Pentwyn-gwyn a lovely old farmhouse with an eighteenth-century datestone.
Walk up the drive and turn right on a minor road. In about ¼ mile, when the road bends sharp right, turn sharp left and walk up the stony lane. It goes virtually parallel with the road for the first hundred yards then gradually bears to the right and emerges on Rudry Common.
Here you turn right and walk along a track across the common. The route across the fields from Waterloo is a good walk but was very wet underfoot. We have had a very wet winter and I need to walk it again in dry weather. Meanwhile, in wet weather it might be better to use more of the minor roads. Where the paths divide just past Waterloo, take the track to the left
and walk along the stream
then over a bridge.
Bear right to walk under the pylons and up to the top right corner of the field. Turn right on a minor road. Cross the main road in the middle of Garth Place village and walk up Garth Lane.
Keep to the right of the houses at the top of the lane, which becomes the track over Rudry Common. When the tracks divide,
take the right fork and walk down hill through a substantial gate
and over a new bridge.
The next bit is very wet and boggy –
we may need to do some work here –
then you go through a gap in the hedge to the right
and bear left to walk diagonally up the slope.
At the top go right then left through the gaps
and continue on the same line. Follow the track to the right of the knoll ahead of you, with Gwern-y-domen farm to your right,
and walk down to join the stony track to the farm. Turn left and follow the track round the hill. It becomes a muddy path, then goes through a double gate,
and eventually becomes a metalled lane leading down to the Van. The Van (Welsh Y Fan, The Place) was one of the most impressive mansions in the valleys, built by Thomas Lewis in the late sixteenth century. The interpretation board outside says there was an earlier castle on the site and points to twelfth-century masons’ marks on the stone.
But there is a bit of a trap here: much of the stone to build the house came from Caerphilly Castle (lots more on this in the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales inventories for Glamorgan, a lot of it online at http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=lm4CmIvbAa4C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false ) . The Lewis family moved on in the early seventeenth century and built an even bigger and better house along the same lines at St Fagan’s (it’s now the National History Museum). By the end of the 20th century, the Van was a ruin, roofless and crumbling. Then in the 1990s it was bought by a restorer who virtually rebuilt it and made three substantial houses out of the mansion and outbuildings.
There was some criticism of the restoration techniques but it did preserve the fabric and re-create the appearance of this grand gentry mansion. This is an unsolvable problem for historians: do we stick out for the highest standards of conservation practice or do we go for something that’s commercially viable and will actually happen? And do we conserve as found, undertake limited restoration (which can involve replacing a lot of the fabric – how much of the tracery in Tintern’s windows is original) or go for a complete rebuild? No easy answers. But we think we do have the answer for this bit of the Cistercian Way – it’s a lovely walk, with lots of interest, and from the lane below the Van it’s a short walk along the road into Caerphilly itself and the real castle.