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.
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.
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
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
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.