Back to Bedwas – the best route (probably?)

Nell and I have now had several goes at the tracks from the ridge above Bedwas down towards the church. The problems are –

  • The tracks aren’t rights of way and the rights of way often aren’t paths;
  • It’s a very steep hill and the paths tend to turn into streams;
  • Lots of the paths are blocked by fences and deep culverts draining the coal tips. Some of the fences are worn down and you can scramble over them and across the culverts, in dry weather – but it isn’t something we can recommend ;
  • This isn’t walking country, and it is motorbike scrambling country – which means fields are fenced off and gates are wired up.

We had great hopes of the paths that are marked on the map cutting across from the tip on Twyn yr Oerfel to the street above Bedwas church, but this started with a very steep scramble down a badly eroded dirt track through the coal tip. Then it was blocked in several places and even after a very hot and dry few days it was a real stream bed at the bottom. Nell thought this was great

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but it would probably be impassable in wet weather.

So the route to go for is the one over the Mynydd Machen ridge to Twyn yr Oerfel in https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2019/04/06/back-to-bedwas-again/ then the route down the hill from Twyn yr Oerfel in https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2019/04/10/back-to-bedwas-update/ .

Now all I have to do is write it up for the actual web site and translate it into Welsh. This will be very good for me.

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Back to Bedwas – update

Nell and I had another look at tracks down from Twyn yr Oerfel. Instead of heading over the coal tip, walk round or over the burial mound and head for the gate at ST 18068 90686.

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Walk down a stony track.

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This becomes a grassy lane

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lovely views

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and lambs

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When you reach Ty Canol farm, bear right on a tarmac lane

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this is surfaced but technically not a public road but a right of way.

At ST 18142 89373 turn right through some large stones. This isn’t technically a right of way and is marked on the OS map as a track, but it has clearly been a road and on Google Maps it’s marked as Colliery Road. Pass coal tips and the remains of Bedwas Navigation Colliery to your right and rejoin the path we walked earlier.

So – which one to go for? The path past Ty Canol starts well, but the section just above the farm has degenerated into a stream bed, and from the farm down it’s tarmac. There’s no traffic, though. The track past Bedwas Colliery isn’t a richt of way – but neither is much of the stony track we walked earlier. There are several public footpaths running between the two tracks, and it did look as though one of them might offer the best of both worlds, but unfortunately they are all blocked by a big concrete drainage channel running down from the tip above Twyn yr Oerfel.

There’s also the fact that the site of Bedwas Colliery has been suggested for a new housing estate, though there has been a lot of local opposition to this.

There are some tracks on the map cutting across from the tip towards Bedwas – we may need yet another look.

 

Back to Bedwas again

Our route over Mynydd Machen using the Raven Walk and the Machen Forge Trail didn’t really work – too many dodgy sections, plus it left out Bedwas Church. So we are back to thinking about a route from the Blackvein Road and over Twyn yr Oerfel to Bedwas but without so much road walking.

From Twmbarlwm, walk down the Darren road and along the canal to the bridge over the Ebbw at ST 22581 91434 (this is as on https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/as-the-raven-flies/ ). Cross the river, bear right with the road. The footpath to the left from ST 22369 91196 has been cleared but don’t take it. The modern road swings right and left but the old road is still there as a bridleway – bear left at ST 22309 91151, cross the road at ST 22286 91034 and continue on the bridleway. At ST 22206 90899 walk a few metres down the drive to a large house

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then bear left on a waymarked bridleway

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up into the trees.

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At ST 22071 90922 turn right on a stony forest road. There were lots of streams for Nell

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though we did wonder about this strange piece of industrial archaeology.

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Follow the road round the contour for about 1.8 km. At ST 20495 90928 turn sharp left and walk uphill.

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Don’t cross the stile at ST 20619 90899

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but bear right with the track and continue up hill. At ST 20457 90637 turn right on the metalled road. At ST 20232 90469 the road goes downhill to the right: take the track which bears to the left and follow it for just over 1.5 km.

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Wonderful views

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and you can just see fields of solar panels on the far ridge.

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At ST 18726 90687 the main track goes left then right. At ST 18569 90661 cross a cattle grid and continue across open mountain land.

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There are two Bronze Age burial mounds above to your left – Twyn yr Oerfel East and Twyn yr Oerfel West. You can take any of the tracks up to the left to explore them. Twyn yr Oerfel West

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has an unusual enclosed forecourt – for what the archaeologists call ‘possible ritual activity’.

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The main track bears round to the left at ST 18135 90728 and crosses towards the coal tip.

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Here we think we may have gone wrong – we should have gone further to the east and looked for the track heading downhill from ST 18079 90683 and past Ty Canol Farm. Instead, we took a very steep and stony track that skirted to the left of the coal tips above the old Bedwas Colliery. It worked, but it wasn’t what we planned. On the other hand … below Ty Canol it’s road walking, which is one thing we were trying to avoid and one reason why we diverted away from the mountain road past Pen-y-waun (this we think is the old Heol Bedwas – there was a farm called Pen-heol-bedwas near the top).

To follow what we did today, from ST 17946 90654 you can go over the tip (shorter, steeper) or take the gentler path round to the left. When the paths rejoin at ST 17767 90353, go through the gate ahead of you

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and down a steep stony path. (Be careful – the stone can be very slippery in wet weather.) Ignore paths to the right leading over the coal tips and keep going downhill.

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The path is fainter but still there.

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From about ST 17913 89543 the track is surfaced. The site of the old Bedwas Navigation Colliery is to your left (more on this at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bedwas_Navigation_Colliery ).Turn left on the surfaced road which then bears round to the right and under a line of  pylons. At ST 17827 89410 the track we were originally aiming for joins us to the left. We bore to the right

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and continued on that line

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just below the line of pylons. At ST 17637 89430 the track divides.

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Take the left fork. This becomes a metalled road through housing. Continue on the same line until you see the church below you to your left, through the trees.

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Past the church, turn left on Church Street: this gets you to the main churchyard gate. You can then continue down hill to the centre of Bedwas, cross the dual carriageway at the traffic lights, go over the old bridge ahead of you and pick up the route described in https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2018/12/10/back-to-bedwas/ .

So do we go with what we did today (it was a brilliant day’s walk) or try to find the lane past Ty-canol – or maybe look for the footpath that cuts across between the two? The road goes ever on …

 

Back to Bedwas

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.

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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.

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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 DSC_2894

 

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

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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.

 

Up from Pontardawe

The paths we used over Mynydd Gellionnen in 1998 and 2005 are now totally bogged down and impassable. Our friend Stuart Fry suggested an alternative using part of the St Illtyd Walk and climbing up to the disused church at Llangiwg. The church is lovely, there’s a holy well and a bit of an early medieval carved stone, but it’s a long way up to go down again and a lot of road walking (see https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/cistercian-way-going-west-from-neath/ ). Aled Elwyn (who tweets as @silwria) has suggested an alternative using the cycle track to Trebanos then taking an alternative route on better trackways over Mynydd Gellionnen. So Rachel, Nell and I had a look today.

In Pontardawe you need to find the cycle track going south-west along the Tawe. At SN 71439 03048 you pick up a surviving section of the Swansea Canal and continue between canal and river until you reach the Trebanos Upper Lock.

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Turn right at SN 71177 02660, cross the main road through Trebanos and walk up Pheasant Road. At SN 70873 02724

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take the roughly metalled track to your right (waymarked as a bridleway). At SN 70797 02789 the metalled track goes left and downhill to a farm. Bear slightly right here

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following the waymarks up a grassy track. This becomes a hollow lane between hedges, climbing steadily up hill. It’s quite steep but the views are splendid. Also there were goats.

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And donkeys.

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The surface is very stony and could be wet after rain.

At SN 70255 03087 you reach another metalled farm lane.

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Turn left, then at SN 70182 03128 turn right and walk up to the Gellionnen Road. Turn right. Ignore the first track to the left (leading to Eithrim Farm) and continue to the cattle grid at the beginning of the open access land.

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Go through the pedestrian gate and turn left following the waymark.

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Walk to the right of the fence. When the fence bears away to your left, continue along the same line across the moor

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and up to Gellionnen Chapel. One of Wales’s oldest chapels, this is Unitarian, with a radical tradition – http://www.ukunitarians.org.uk/gellionnenandgraig/ . Walk up the track from the chapel to the road and turn left.

You are now on the line of the Cwm Clydach Walk. You have a bit of road walking but it’s a very quiet road – we saw no traffic. Walk downhill to cross the Nant Llwydyn and bear sharp left with the road. The Clydach Walk goes along the stony track to your right at SN 69529 04594, but you don’t have to scramble over the rather rickety locked gate at the bottom of the track –

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there is a waymarked stile a little further along the road.

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Bear right with the track, past the ruins of Llechart-fach

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(why are the ruins of farm houses always so poignant?). At SN 69894 05118

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the stony track goes down to your right but the waymarked path goes up to the left and becomes another hollow way along the field edge.

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At SN 69812 05339 go through the gate to your right

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then bear up to the left following the field edge.

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The views from the top are wonderful.

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Cross a stile at SN 69765 05691

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and continue on the same line across open ground.

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At SN 69714 06068 you cross another rather rickety stile

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and continue on the same line across the moor. The Carn Llechart burial mound is above you to your right and there are several more burial mounds along the track. You are now back on the route we looked at two years ago, and you can follow the Cwm Clydach Walk to Capel Baran and the road.

This was a good walk with less in the way of busy roads than the St Illtyd Walk. The hollow ways suggest you are on old trackways, which is always nice. The only problem was the stiles – it took both of us to get Nell over them. If you are walking with dogs that can’t work out how to climb stiles, you might still be better on the St Illtyd Way.

Wentwood again

Finding yourself on someone else’s blog is a rather strange experience – a bit like bumping into a school teacher on holiday. Last week Rachel and I walked across Wentwood to check some of the paths – see https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2018/07/25/rewalking-wentwood/ . When we had scrambled down to the the Usk Valley Walk, we saw another walker in the distance. We stopped to remove a bee from the path (I thought it was dead, Rachel said it might just be tired because of the heat, and we didn’t want it being trodden on), the walker passed us, asked what we were doing and went on his way.

Then I found this on Twitter – https://twitter.com/AnneWareham/status/1023492376147439616 . I thought I’d look at the blog at https://charleshawes.veddw.com/other-walks/the-usk-valley-walk-usk-to-caerleon/ . And there we were!

Then we had a really interesting discussion on Twitter (involving people like  @AncientTorfaen, @ Gwentydd and @ServiliusPulex – see the threads from Anne Wareham’s initial tweet) about the relationship between the Usk Valley Walk, the Roman roads between Usk and Caerleon and possible medieval routes through the area. At one point Charles Hawes said he wished we could have the discussion on his blog so I summarised some of the information there.

I felt it still needed a blog post of its own – so what follows is a bit more background and some more thoughts.

Details of the Roman roads east and west of the river between Caerleon and Usk are in GGAT’s report at http://www.ggat.org.uk/cadw/cadw_reports/pdfs/GGAT%2075%20Yr3%20Roads%20final.pdf. Plotting all those OS grid points on the online OS map suggests that the road east of the river followed the minor road from Caerleon past Bulmore and Abernant Farm. The next identifiable bit is between ST3898697257  and ST3916298149 on a lane running north from Llantrisant – not the line of the Usk Valley Walk but slightly to the east. GGAT reported some aerial evidence of a route south of Llantrisant but gave no grid references. Nearer to Usk, evidence of the road is at SO37970025 just south of the prison and just east of the Llanllywel road.

So the Roman road east of the river probably underlies the pre-A449 road or runs near it for much of its length. The Usk Valley Walk roughly parallels it but apart from the road section from just south of Usk to Llanllywel probably doesn’t use much of it.

What about the route east from Caerleon towards Caerwent and Chepstow? GGAT were broadly happy with Margary’s description of this, which is reflected in the route marked on the OS map. There is more detail in D. Maynard’s 1996 reports and A. M. Yates’s 1997 report on excavations in the Celtic Manor golf course, still unpublished in 2004 and in the GGAT archives. The Usk Valley Walk roughly follows this from Cat’s Ash across the golf course to the Bulmore road across the river from Caerleon, though there may be some diversions to get through the golf course.

There is plenty of other evidence, archaeological and documentary, for early activity in the area. The OS map shows a remarkable group of earthworks west of the road down from Caer Licyn. A student of mine, Daryl Williams, did some survey and geophys on these for his M. Phil. thesis a few years ago (when we still did Archaeology in Caerleon … when we still had a university in Caerleon …). His conclusion was that the more northerly site, a rectangular double ditch, was probably Roman and could be a pre-Caerleon temporary fort (similar examples at Gelli-gaer, Coelbren etc). The complex to the south-west of this he thought was later (because the central enclosure clearly respects the earlier structures) and could be an early medieval ecclesiastical site of some sort.

This was all very speculative – and why another ecclesiastical site in an area that’s littered with disused churches? There’s the site of St John Henrhiw, St John in the Wilderness, at about ST 396 915, the chapels of St Julius, St Aaron and St Alban nearer Caerleon, Gwenog and Penrhos somewhere in Caerleon (more about all these in Diane Brooks, ‘The Early Christian Church in Gwent: A Survey’ in the Monmouthshire Antiquarian vol. 5:3). Diane Brooks also suggests Cat’s Ash is the Villa Cathouen in a charter in the Book of Llan Daf that Wendy Davies dates to c 745. The charter may suggest there was a church there. The converted barn of Cat’s Ash Farm was a later medieval chapel – you can still see the outline of the east window. And there are more recent closures – Llanbedr was disused in the 19th century. Kemeys Inferior was closed to build the A449 and much of its stonework went to extend St Woolos Cathedral, through the footings and the gravestones can still be seen. There’s no right of public access to it now but I did get permission to take students there for some years. Churches are also thick on the ground west of the river – Llanhennock, Tredunnock, Llandegfedd, the disused church of Llanddewi-fach. Many of these have archaeological or documentary evidence of early date.

So the site between Caerlicyn and Cat’s Ash could be part of this pattern of over-provision. Paul Courtney (in I think his Ph D thesis on the medieval landscape of Gwent) speculated that the number of disused or vanished churches in the area around Caerleon might derive from the dispersal of the Christianized Roman population in the early fifth century. There are several ways that early churches got started – on burial sites (often with relics of martyrs), as monastic foundations on the edge of villa estates – but over much of the Roman empire, Christianity spread from town to countryside (the word ‘pagan’ comes from pagus, a country-dweller) and one likely point of origin for many rural churches is the church built on a villa estate.

Later on, Caerlicyn and Cat’s Ash were on one of the main roads through south Wales. Ogilby’s Britannia (1675) is the first detailed road map of Britain, and it marks the route past Caerlicyn as the main road from London to St David’s. This makes it likely that it was the medieval pilgrimage route to St David’s. (Terry Jones – yes, him from Monty Python – had some very interesting ideas about the politics behind Ogilby’s choice of routes to survey and particularly about his edging back towards the Catholic tradition with routes to St David’s and Holywell. Worth remembering who was on the throne in 1675, who the heir to the throne was – but also what happened in 1678 and 1688 to make Catholicism politically difficult again.)

Derek Bissell’s detailed work on the location of Ogilby’s Monmouthshire routes was privately published in 2001 as ‘In the Steps of John Ogilby: some old roads of Monmouthshire and Brecknockshire’ – should be a copy in the bigger libraries. He traced Ogilby’s London-St David’s route through Monmouth and Trelech, past Newchurch and Gaerllwyd, mainly following the modern roads but with a few sections that are now off-road (eg the bridleway between ST 43707 96263  and ST 43169 96381 ). It goes round the north of Wentwood, passing Cas Troggy. Ogilby’s surveyors rarely noted antiquities but Cas Troggy is an exception. What this tells us about its condition in the 1670s is anyone’s guess. At the crossroads past Cas Troggy, at ST 41327 95029, the Ogilby route leaves the road and goes along the edge of the forst following the track to the south-west up Bertholau Graig. At ST 40029 94087 it is joined by the track running across Wentwood from east to west, and heads towards Caerlicyn and the the Kemeys Graig. Past Caerlicyn it contimues down the tarmac road to ST 37457 91042 where it bears right down a hollow lane to the Abernant road and so to Cat’s Ash.

What my daughter and I were doing when we met Charles was exploring an off-road alternative to the last bit of tarmac. There is a bridleway down from Caerlicyn but it is VERY steep, then you go steadily back up hill to rejoin the road. Looking again at the map, I’m not entirely certain that the bit where we met was the UVW as it’s marked on the latest online OS. We were on the track that goes from ST 38238 92445 to ST 37780 91747 and ST 37520 91410. According to the map, we should have continued downhill across the fields from ST 38238 92445 and gone closer to the farm. However, we did pass several UVW waymarks and there were waymarks on the road at ST 37477 91065. Has the route changed – does the OS need updating?

Rachel and I had left a car in Cat’s Ash and drove back to the other car in Earlswood. From Cat’s Ash the Cistercian Way follows the UVW into Caerleon. There’s a bit of road walking then you are supposed to cut across the golf course. I haven’t walked that section in many years. Last time I was walking that way was towards the end of our round-Wales trek in 2005. I was walking on my own at that point, there was some sort of high-powered world trade conference at the Celtic Manor and what they called a Ring of Steel round the whole site. I think my mother was worried that I was going to try to batter down the fence with a cross-stave but discretion was the better part of valour and I walked round by the road.

A couple of years ago, though, the route was far from clear. Andy Delmege is a clergyman from the West Midlands who walked much of my Cistercian Way route on a sabbatical in 2016. He had great difficulty negotiating the route of the Usk Valley Walk through the Celtic Manor golf course. Charles Hawes also reported problems – waymarks defaced and missing, paths crossed by roads that aren’t on the map. I probably ought to have a look at it myself, but something definitely needs to be done. It’s an important promoted route and part of it does run along a documented section of the Roman road. That bit of the route is actually within Newport City Council – their footpaths team have been keen on the project in the past so we’ll see what they can do.

On to Rhedynog-felen

So we can get to Beddgelert from Blaenau Ffestiniog. Then if we do settle for a route via Cwm Pennant and the cycle track, here is what I walked ten years ago.

From the centre of Beddgelert take the Caernarfon road. At SH 58528 48359 turn left on a metalled lane. This takes you over the river, under and twice over the railway line. At SH 58064 47898 take the track to your right. The path ahead of you goes over the summit of Moel Hebog. For an easier walk, keep to the track, contouring round to the right and into the forest. Just inside the forest, at SH 58064 47898, take the forest track to your left. Once you are inside the forest, at SH 57698 48491, turn left on the forest road and follow this up hill. At SH 56870 48753, cross the Afon Meillionen and take the track to your left. Keep on the right bank of the stream and follow a track through the trees, out of the forest and over Bwlch Meillionen. The old Moel-hebog mine is to your left.

Follow the path down Cwm Llefrith. When you reach Cwrt Isaf farm, do not follow the waymarked footpath to the right but walk down the farm lane to the metalled road. At Pennant Chapel, turn left. In about ¾ km, turn right over Pont Gyfyng. Take the waymarked footpath to the left of Bryn Wern farm. cross a stile and bear to the right up a steep bank through the trees. At about SH 52203 45206 you rejoin the stony track and walk above the slate quarry and up to a stile to the open moorland. Here the paths fan out: take the middle one, passing to the left of the ruined buildings  at SH 52040 45210. Just before Cae Amos (this looked derelict when I was there  but it’s now a MBA bothy – another reason for going this way), bear left along a (very overgrown in 2008) path  through bracken and reeds. At about SH 51575 45404 a waypost marks the beginning of the access land. The track to the left here looks tempting on the map but was impassable ten years ago. Instead, I crossed the wall, bore left across a small stream and up the far bank. (These overgrown paths may be clearer now the bothy is being used.)

I can’t work out the waypoints for the next bit, but from my notes you keep up the slope, cross a stile over a wall, and bear to the left up the next field to a stone wall. The path is stiled and waymarked below the wall but is very boggy and overgrown. I ended up going through the gate and walking above the wall. Eventually you cross back over a stile and walk down a short lane to the stony track leading to Garn Dolbenmaen.

From SH 50750 45528 it should be possible to follow a path to the right, along the stone wall. This becomes a stony track. At SH 49080 45874,  take the track to the left and walk down to a minor road. Turn right here,  then at SH 48003 46204 turn left, cross the main road and turn right on the cycle track.

This is based on notes from ten years ago, so things may have changed. It would be better in any case to work out a route that goes further to the north. From the ruined farmstead at SH 50237 45545 the map marks a footpath going north over Bwlch Cwmdulyn and down towards Llanllyfni but looking at the aerial photos I can’t see anything on the ground. There must be tracks over the mountains above Beddgelert heading north-west but they need local knowledge – perhaps when we move on to looking at routes through Snowdonia we may get some better ideas on this one.

On to Rhedynog-felen

We have done some work on extending the route to the north-west, to the original location of Aberconwy Abbey. Monks from Strata Florida founded an abbey in 1186 at a place called Rhedynog-felen, but they soon moved east to the mouth of the Conwy. This could have happened as early as 1192 according to David Williams, though James Bond (in Archaeologia Cambrensis vol. 154, 2005, suggests it was on the initiative of the great Llywelyn ab Iorwerth in 1198-9.

We can’t be certain about the exact site of Rhedynog-felen. One tradition puts it just south of Clynnog Fawr, where there are two farms called Mynachdy Bach and Mynachdy Gwyn. David Williams in his The Welsh Cistercians suggests it was a little further north, between Llandwrog and Llanwnda, at SH 461 574 or SH 453 573.  This seems more likely as there are farms there actually called Rhedynog-felen Fawr (now a ruin) and Rhedynog-felen Fach.

But how to get there? Most of this I haven’t walked for eight or nine years, so it could well have changed. Follow the line of Sarn Helen north of Trawsfynydd until you reach the Iron Age settlement at Bryn y Castell. At SH 72541 42756 take the track to the left and bear to the north, away from the settlement. At SH 72498 43179 you pass Hafod-ysbyty, the summer farm of the Knights of St John who were based at Ysbyty  Ifan, some miles to the east. They had the privilege of sanctuary and according to tradition it was abused. Hafod Ysbyty was one of the hide-outs of the Red Bandits of Dinas Mawddwy, who terrorised the area in the fifteenth century.

Continue on the track past Hafod Ysbyty. Below you and to your left are Llan Ffestiniog and Blaenau Ffestiniog, centres of the Welsh slate mining industry in the nineteenth century. Here you will find shops and accommodation.

The path you take here depends on what you want and where you are staying. Head towards Tanygrisiau on the other side of the valley. Walk up Cwmorthin Road, across the railway line and up a steep hill. When the road becomes a stony track by a waterfall,

stay on the right bank, then cross to the left bank at SH 68206 45618 and continue up stream.

Cwmorthin is an amazing, evocative place, the deserted ruins of what was once another big slate mining settlement. Here are the original farmsteads, the cottages of quarrying families, the chapels, the barracks where some of the men from neighbouring villages lived during the week and the actual slate works.

More on the history of the valley and its people at http://www.cwmorthin.com/introduction.html and good photos at https://becausetheyrethere.com/2013/05/22/thirty-years-on-cwmorthin-revisited/ .Specifically on the slate mines see http://www.cwmorthin.org/ .

Walk along the track past the ruins of Capel y Gorlan,

up the slope past quarry buildings and a mill

to the main slate works. Turn right here and walk across the remains of the yard. From SH 66572 46381 a right of way is marked on the map going a little west of north and towards Llyn yr Adar. I walked this about 10 years ago and there was no track on the ground so I had to do it on compass reckoning, working across ridges of outcropping stone.

At  Llyn yr Adar you have to be very careful because if you continue on the same line you walk off the edge of a rather spectacular waterfall. A slightly more perceptible track bears to the right, round the head of the little stream that feeds Llyn Llagi, then becomes a much clearer track north of the river. You should be able to find footpaths down to Llyn Dinas and past the Sygun copper mines and follow the minor road south of the river to Beddgelert. Bits of this are a spectacular walk but I can’t really recommend it – navigating from the quarry at the head of Cwm Orthin to Llyn yr Adar is difficult even in clear weather and could be lethal in poor visibility. On the other hand, if you like a challenge, you could use it to approach the Watkin Path up Snowdon.

A better alternative goes down Cwm Croesor. The OS map marks the right of way behind the Cwmorthin quarry buildings but this is difficult to find on the ground. The map also marks a track turning left at SH 66429 46234 but my recollection is that the path is waymarked from the end of the buildings at about SH 66479 46238.  Anyway, turn left around here and follow a faint track between outcrops of stone, with a small stream and slate tips to your left. Over the first ridge, cross a stile and keep straight on. The track becomes clearer and continues down through the ruins of Croesor Quarry and on down the valley, eventually becoming a metalled road.

At the cross-roads at SH 63198 44616 turn right. Walk past the school. Next to the chapel, the house called Ael-y-bryn was the home of Bob Owen Croesor, farm labourer, quarry clerk, W.E.A. lecturer and historian (more on him at http://yba.llgc.org.uk/en/s2-OWEN-ROB-1885.html ). The road becomes a steep stony track. (At SH 62829 45079 a footpath to the right would take you up Cnicht, the ‘Matterhorn of Wales’.) The track bears round to the west through heather and bracken. Cross the Afon Dylif and keep going west above the north bank of the river. To your left around SH 61391 45105 is something marked on the map as ‘Cytiau’r Gwyddelod’, ‘the houses of the Irish’ – actually the foundations of  Iron Age round houses and field enclosures.

At SH 61196 45113 the track bends to the right and goes sharply downhill. At the crossroads at SH 61163 45247, go straight on and take a very minor road across the Afon Nanmor and over the spur to Nantmor. This is a tricky bit – I haven’t walked it since the Welsh Highland Railway between Beddgelert and Porthmadoc was reopened and the OS map isn’t entirely clear about the paths. If you cross the railway line and continue to the main road, then turn right, you might be able to take a track which bears right at SH 59685 46172 and meets the footpath near Pont Aberglaslyn. Alternatively, you can continue on the road (a main road but not that busy) to the bridge, turn right on the footpath and walk along the east bank of the Afon Glaslyn. There is a right of way through the car park if you turn sharp right at SH 59685 46172 and you can turn left at the railway line for the footpath to Pont Aberglaslyn. I feel it should be possible to bypass the main road entirely by walking along the railway line from the crossing at SH 59874 46099  but there isn’t anything on the map.

Anyway, once you get to Pont Aberglaslyn you can follow a footpath between the river and the railway line to the bridge at SH 59170 47375 then stay with the river into Beddgelert.

This is really as far as we have got, because from Beddgelert we walked south-west down Cwm Pennant towards Garn Dolbenmaen, heading for Clynnog. That was a lovely walk – as the poet Eifion Wyn said, ‘Pam, Arglwydd, y gwnaethost Cwm Pennant mor dlws, A bywyd hen fugail mor fyr’ – Lord, why did you make Cwm Pennant so beautiful, And the life of an old shepherd so short?

Alas, it goes in the wrong direction for us. There are paths up the west bank of the river going north from Beddgelert but it’s hard to see how to get further west without a lot of road walking. We might settle for Cwm Pennant and Garn Dolbenmaen, after all, and the cycle track up towards Llanwnda.

Or look at the footpath across the mountain from Llanfihangel-y-pennant via Bwlch Cwmdeulyn to Nebo and throiughthe lanes to the cycle path a little further north.

Once you get there, Rhedynog-felen lies between the Coast Path and the North Wales Pilgrims’ Way, so you could use either to get to Aberdaron and Bardsey, or follow the Pilgrims’ Way in reverse to Bangor and Conwy.

We are a Charity!

The great news is that (thanks to John Winton’s efforts and perseverance) we are now a charity – Registered Charity Number 1178491. This means we can move forward with things like applying for development funding.

Field work is still tricky but I have been going over old notes and doing some updates to the web site. The new route from Ponterwyd to Machynlleth suggested and described in detail by Ceredigion Ramblers is there. This means that we have a good route through Ceredigion from Lampeter to Machynlleth. There are also plans for a revised route from Machynlleth to Dolgellau – a little longer but with less road walking and scope for a diversion over Cader Idris.

Meanwhile, National Parks Wales have put together a position statement and priority actions related to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.This is clearly going to be relevant for the Snowdonia National Park section of the route – from Machynlleth to Conwy. This could be our next target for development. Much of that section is sorted but there is some fine tuning and checking to be done. We have been told that Snowdonia NP are keen to develop projects that lead people away from the central mountain core around Snowdon itself and to explore other parts of the Park. This could be where we come in.

It will also inspire us to think about the north-west extension of the route to Aberconwy Abbey’s original location, somewhere south of Caernarfon. This in turn would link back to the North Wales Pilgrims’ Way to Bardsey. Watch this space.

Round Rhyd-y-croesau

When we first walked the Cistercian Way in 1998, we used an awful lot of the Offa’s Dyke Path. To be honest, you could use the OD virtually all the way from the Clwydian range to Strata Marcella and Welshpool, but it felt uncomfortable for several reasons. Sections are very heavily walked, it goes through some very sensitive ecologies, and it really feels like cheating to use so much of an existing route. Since then, I have redone the northern section so that it goes down the Vale of Clwyd and over Mynydd Llantysilio. In 1998 we left the OD at Llangollen and found an alternative route over the Ceiriog hills. Rewalking that in 2005 I found that much of what I had done in 1998 was now the Ceiriog Trail.

But we were there first!

In 1998 and 2005 we cut down into Rhydycroesau and worked our way across to the Candy Woods to join the OD Path. That was never very satisfactory – it isn’t a good section of the OD and a lot of it seemed to go along the actual monument, which can cause damage. It did look as though it ought to be possible to follow the Ceiriog Tral a bit further then walk along the lanes to join the OD further south.

I had a meeting in Ironbridge with the Church Monuments Society’s web designer. Fleeing the uproar over the Good Priest of Geddington (that’s another story) I went to stay with friends in Baschurch and had a good day’s walking.

Follow the Ceiriog Trail up from Llechrydau and along the ridge. At SJ 22500 32535 keep straight on, down to cross the Cynllaith and up to the road at SJ 22506 31656.This is the view looking back to the ridge.

Here the Ceiriog Trail goes right but you keep straight on along the tarmac lane to Ty’n Celyn. After the cottage at SJ 22420 31238 this becomes a stony track which swings over the ridge

and down to cross another minor road at SJ 22381 30758. Take the tarmac lane straight on (signposted for Bwlch) and down hill. At SJ 22200 30660

take the left fork, another stony track over the next ridge. At SJ 21788 29953 you meet another tarmac road. Straight across the road a stile and waymark leads to a very steep slope – more of a scramble – down a field.

I’m still nursing a damaged cruciate ligament so I took the road round but the footpath down the field looks clear and it’s waymarked through a gate at the bottom, at SJ 21791 29789. Turn right on the road here and follow it across a stream with some pretty cascades.

Up the other side of the valley at SJ 21660 29408 you reach a T junction. A footpath is waymarked ahead but this takes you some way west towards Llansilin. Instead, turn left on the road and walk down hill. At SJ 22171 29204 cross the main Llansilin road and walk down the lane on the other side (marked Unsuitable for Motor Vehicles).

The first few yards are metalled but it soon becomes a muddy track down to the stream. There is a ford for vehicles and a footbridge to the left. Keep going up the lane on the far side. It was wet and muddy underfoot but clear and passable. At SJ 22484 28685, bear right on a roughly metalled lane.

You are now in the setting for Ellis Peters’ ‘Brother Cadfael’ novel Monk’s Hood. The disputed manor of Mallilie is ahead of you and to your left. Ifor ap Morgan’s farm is below to your right. Away to your right is Llansilin, where the commote court was held.

At SJ 22241 28337, turn left on the road and walk up hill. Ignore the restricted byway to the left at SJ 22363 28127. At SJ 22751 27839, turn right on the track to Glascoed Fach (waymarked as a footpath). After the farmhouse, the lane becomes a field path. Cross two stiles and bear right across the next field to the far right corner. Go over a stile and turn right on the road. After a few yards, at SJ 22231 27242, turn left on a very minor road (signposted Wernddu). Follow this past Graig-wen Wood. Immediately at the end of the wood, at SJ 22428 26786, turn right on a tarmac lane to Wernllyfnant Farm.

This was the only tricky bit all day. The lane goes through the farmyard, which always feels uncomfortable. After the farmyard, there are two gates ahead of you. The bridleway is waymarked through the left-hand gate and to the left of the hedge

but in fact you have to go through the next gate to the right and walk above the hedge.

(This is looking back along the line of the track, clearly above the hedge.)

When the field opens out, keep going on the same line with the steep slope above you to the right, bearing slightly to the left and  towards the stream.  The field is very wet and boggy: pick your way through as best you can. The bridleway goes up hill to a gate at SJ 22619 26294 but there is a stile a little lower down at SJ 22664 26306.

Turn left on the road and walk down hill for a few yards, then at SJ 22722 26304 take the track to the right. This is yet another road-used-as -public-path which eventually becomes a metalled lane and joins the road at SJ 23496 25149.

This was as far as I could get before walking back to the car in Rhydycroesau. It was an excellent walk, quite energetic because you are cutting across several stream valleys, but mostly on good clear tracks and very minor roads. The route crosses and recrosses the border, but there are no markers – the only way to tell what side you are on is to look at the county council logos on the waymarks.

From the road at SJ 23496 25149 you could turn right, cross the bridge, turn left at SJ 23414 25066 and follow the  minor road to join the OD Path south of Nantmawr. Alternatively, turn left, then at SJ 23646 25212 a lane goes down to your right to Ty-coch Farm. This should continue as a footpath, across the stream and becoming a minor road to Nantmawr.

After Nantmawr the OD Path climbs Llanymynech Hill then goes into Llanymynech itself and along the canal bank. Llanymynech Hill has an Iron Age fort plus a well-preserved section of the Dyke, and Llanymynech has pubs, a café and a shop, and is a good base. However, it might be possible to cut south from the road at SJ 23496 25149, possibly through Llanyblodwel, to join the canal bank at Carreghofa. I will have to look at that again.