It’s been a dreadful winter for walking. Not that I mind walking in the rain – as the great Alfred Wainwright said, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing’. But the persistent rain this winter has turned paths to slurry and fields to quicksand. We needed a couple of dry days in a row – and when did we last have that?
Until this week. Going walking on Wednesday involved bunking off 2 meetings and some very peeved colleagues. Thursday was easier. Friday was impossible. But it was worth it. Two glorious days and the route to Pontardawe finalised.
Neath to Pontardawe should have been easy. There was nothing wrong with the way I walked with the late great Derek Thomas in 1998 (apart from the fact that we started in a thunderstorm and Derek wouldn’t stop for prayers). But the sun eventually came out and there were lots of concrete pipes for us to explore. (Derek was justifiably famous for being able to talk interestingly about concrete pipes, different designs, different manufacturing techniques – you wouldn’t think it could be fascinating but it really was. Wish I could remember even half of it.)
But since then new housing has been built, quiet roads have got busy, old paths have been blocked, new permissive paths have been opened, churches have been restored – and I have acquired a GPS unit but not the ability to do route-finding, photograph and take GPS waypoints at the same time. So a simple task actually took 2 days.
Neath Abbey became an industrial site after the Dissolution. There was a copper works on the actual site and the famous Neath abbey Iron works just to the north. The whole area round the abbey site is now an industrial estate, with the canal as a nature reserve running through it.
For the route to Pontardawe: leaving the abbey turn right and walk under the railway bridge. Turn right on the main road then left up Taillwyd Road. Immediately after the next railway bridge take the track bearing down to the left. Cross the bridge over the Clydach. The weir under the bridge provided a head of water for the iron works. The rough track to your left will take you downstream under the railway to the ruins of the ironworks. The most striking of these are the late eighteenth-century furnaces, two of the highest masonry blast furnaces ever constructed.
The casting houses which would have stood in front of them have gone, but you can still the line of the railway which would have taken materials to the charging houses at the top of the furnaces.
A little further on, the roofless building to the right of the entrance, behind the ironmasters’ house, is the shell of the engine manufactory.
A projecting wing of this building extended towards the Clydach river and a water wheel powered by a leat from higher up the stream drove a series of machines. Much of the machinery for the works was made on site. There were two cylinder-boring workshops on the ground floor of this building, a fitting shop and smithy. Upstairs was the pattern-makers’ workshop.
Opposite the furnaces and almost completely overgrown (I did once manage to spot them in winter) are the ruins of the forge with its water-wheel housing. Here there was a wrought iron bar and tinplating mill.
The path up the west bank of the Clydach looks like a pretty rural scene with waterfalls but it’s full of industrial archaeology.
The waterfall under the bridge actually powered the rolling mill and forge.
At SS 73798 98384 cross back over a footbridge and walk up to turn left on the Taillwyd road. The road is blocked to vehicles just north of here. At SS 74028 98751 walk through the bollards and take the footpath ahead of you, up the east bank of the river. At SS 74405 99750 cross a side road and continue along the path. At SS 74316 99531 take the steps up to your right and back to the road. At SS 74328 99849 turn left on Woodview Terrace (signposted Bryncoch RFC).
At SS 74168 99944 the footpath over the bridge to your left takes you up hill and across the fields to the church of St Matthew’s Dyffryn. A pretty churchyard surrounding the nineteenth-century estate church which John Newman describes as a ‘period piece’ with its stencilled texts. Recently restored, the inside glows with colour.
(photos © Sarah Perons)
It’s not always open, though, so may not be worth the detour.
The road on past the footbridge is busier than it used to be, but you can soon turn off it. At SN 73826 00096 (when the road from St Matthew’s Dyffryn rejoins) turn right along Primrose Bank. This is a bridleway with a rather discreet waymark.
(not the blue post but the wooden one in the trees). We failed to see it on the Wednesday, pushed on up the road and were attracted by the paths through the Dyffryn Woods, now part of the Woodland Trust. But there seemed to be no way out of the wood to the north. On Thursday we walked along Primrose Bank – and yes, there were primroses –
round to the right of the rugby club and along a lane though the trees. At SN 73813 00669 the main track turns right and goes steeply down to the river. Turn left here, walk up the footpath to the left of Ty-llwyd Farm and turn right on the road.
At SN 73236 01784 (Tyle-coch Farm) we had another go at finding the path north from Dyffryn Woods. The online OS map shows a bridleway going north along Mynydd Drumau, joining the permissive track through the woods and emerging on a lane at SN 72593 01689. We walked up the hill towards Tir Abbey Farm but there seemed to be no right of way across the fields to join the bridleway. In any case, it’s a long way up to go down again. By the time you rejoin the road at Ty-llwyd it’s a quiet country lane and a pleasant walk.
After 2.4 km from Ty-llwyd, at SN 72901 02601, take the footpath to the right (signposted Alltwen) and walk down the fields through a series of kissing gates and across a little bridge. When you rejoin the metalled road at SN 72753 03109 turn left. This side road becomes a lane then a footpath crossing two roads and a footbridge to emerge in the car park of Tesco’s. Turn right, cross the bridge over the Tawe and walk into Pontardawe.