Having said Neath-Pontardawe was sorted – I WAS WRONG!
After leaving the abbey and walking up Monastery Road, it really is worth turning left along the A4230 to look at the remains of the abbey gatehouse to your right a little way along. Good photos on Google Earth.
Then on the way back it’s worth turning left at the mini roundabout and walking up Longford Road (rather than Taillwyd Road) – you get a good view of the top of the ironworks furnaces and you can cut down to the Clydach just after the viaduct.
Apart from that the route is all OK. I’m now in touch with the church in Dyffryn and they are keen to be on the route and make arrangements for access. The church is open in summer and it should be possible to arrange access in the winter as well. The churchyard is lovely and the interior is frankly stunning (see Sarah Perons’ photos on my previous posting). So the finalised version of the route is: turn left over the footbridge at SS 74168 99944, walk up through the woods and along the lane to the church, then along the very minor road to SN 73826 00096, across the crossroads and along Primrose Bank.
But after Pontardawe the problems do start. In 1998 and again in 2005 we found paths across Mynydd Gellionen. This is now completely impassable. What is marked as a track and footpath at Heol Ddu lived up to its name – heavily overgrown and knee deep in black peaty mud. There is no way of bypassing it because the whole area is totally waterlogged.
My friend Stuart Fry – stonewaller, blogger, collector of old farm machinery – has suggested an alternative on the other side of the Clydach valley (this is a different Clydach). Friends of his are very much involved in looking after the old parish church of Llangiwg. The church was declared redundant by the Church in Wales in 2004 but has been acquired by a local group, the Friends of Llangiwg Church ( http://www.llangiwg.com/ ) who are working to restore it and hold events there.
You can walk through Pontardawe and up the hill to the church then down to the old river crossing at Rhyd-y-fro. It’s a stiff climb but worth it for the views, the church and the holy well. Alternatively, the St Illtyd’s Walk past Pontardawe has been reworked and re-waymarked. Walk into the middle of Pontardawe and along James Street. Just after the disused chapel, turn right and walk up Allt-y-cham Drive. After the school, this becomes a private road and eventually a track. You can turn right and walk up through the woods to Llangiwg or left and follow the St Illtyd’s Walk round the back of the houses and through the woods. Shortly after the path down from Llangiwg rejoins the Walk, you leave the woods and bear right across the fields to the road. (This section was very very muddy but just about passable. In wet weather it may be better to take the road past the church up hill and turn left on the Gwrhyd Road at SN 72045 06273.)
From here, though, the St Illtyd’s Walk has over 4.5 km of road – minor road and quiet, but still road. Then there is a strange diversion of over 6 km to bypass 2¼ km of road. Admittedly this also avoids a steep climb but it’s a long way round. Part way up the road at SN 70439 06199 a footpath goes up to the left. It has waymarks and gates and everything but it is totally impassable – heavily overgrown with brambles and very boggy and treacherous underfoot. I got through by half-swinging on a tree across the wettest sections but it really isn’t viable. This is a pity, as it gets you to the ridge of Carn Llechart with its Bronze age burial mounds. However, a little further along, at SN 70119 06343, a metalled lane used as a right of way goes back to the left. This will take you to the ridge, though by a rather roundabout route. The road climbs back across the slope then turns sharply north. When the metalled road goes left, keep straight on following a muddy track. This bends sharply left to follow the field boundary at SN 70027 06135. At about SN 69900 06098 look out for a fainter track bearing right over the shoulder of Mynydd Carnllechart. Follow this to the ring cairn at SN 69731 06270.
Take the track to the left of the cairn. This will take you past several other smaller cairns
and down to join the line of the Cwm Clydach Walk. This leads round the western slope of Mynydd Carnllechart and up to the remote Capel y Baran.
Here you rejoin the road briefly before deciding whether to take the shorter and steeper route up to Penlle’rcastell or follow the longer St Illtyd route to the north.
From Penlle’rcastell a rather busier road goes downhill to Ammanford. It may be possible to work out an off-road route for at least part of this – watch this space.