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.

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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.

The North Wales Pilgrim’s Way

While I am laid up, the wonderful Andy Delmege has been walking the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way (http://www.pilgrims-way-north-wales.org/ ) from west to east in order to assess it as a low-level route for the Cistercian Way. Here’s the first of a series of blog posts https://pilgrimpace.wordpress.com/2017/07/21/north-wales-pilgrim-path/. More to come.

Mind you, I still want to walk it myself when the knee heals. Prayers to St Rita, maybe?

Routing and mapping

Work on the Cistercian Way has taken a bit of a back seat recently for various reasons. I had great plans to work on routes in west and north Wales this summer. Alas, lugging a heavy bag of books off the bus (real first-world academic problem, this) I banged my knee and damaged the cruciate ligament. Then I went on a field trip with the wonderful Eddie Procter (@landscapism, http://landscapism.blogspot.co.uk/ ….), half way up the pilgrim route on Mynydd Maen my knee popped again and Eddie had to haul me out of a bramble bush. Doctor says it will heal but no walking on rough ground. ‘But that’s what I do’ I wailed.

Also no kneeling. That’s the other thing I do (old tomb carvings).

Meanwhile, we have been trying to get maps on the site.  We have permission to use VisitWales’s licence so we can embed marked-up Ordnance Survey maps into the site.

If only it were that simple.

Bizarrely, the Ordnance Survey can’t work with URLs ending .wales or .cymru. This is in spite of the huge number of sites that now have those URLs, including our public transport web site, https://www.traveline.cymru/ . We have asked again and again and they simply stall us – they don’t seem to see the problem. Even the Secretary of State’s office has tried.

But there is some progress. I went to north Wales over the weekend to talk to the Historic Houses Association at Gwydir Castle. Enormous fun, though I’m not entirely sure why I was there – the dedicated couple who have been restoring the house and tracking down its lost treasures know much more about it than I do.

I stayed in Trefriw, where they were having a scarecrow festival.

Princess Siwan and Llywelyn Fawr with locals and the Urdd mascot!

Since I was last walking in the area, Trefriw has done some great work waymarking local paths and producing a leaflet of trails. Some of these actually fill in the gaps and problem areas in the route through that area. Of course, I couldn’t walk any of them – but I did walk along the road, see where routes joined and left, and once the knee is better I can join the dots. Downloadable leaflet at http://www.visitllandudno.org.uk/things-to-do/trefriw-trails-p291871  and more detail of some of the trails at http://www.trefriwoutdoors.co.uk/trefriw_trails.html  (but not trail 9, unfortunately).

It looks as though we can comfortably take the route through the lead mines to the church at Llanrhychwyn (OS ref SH 77474 61672).

This has to be in my top 3 of Welsh churches. A little, unspectacular building, looking as though it has grown out of the bones of the hills, it has a lot of its C17-C18 woodwork

and some intensely moving medieval stained glass.

From here you can cut down footpaths and very minor roads to Llanrwst or Trefriw to find somewhere to stay. You can then continue on the low-level route along the banks of the Conwy or climb back up to the high-level route.

To stay on the high-level route, from the church start by following the leaflet route 8 in reverse. (You have to bear in mind that most of the routes are only waymarked one way, so you have to do a bit more of the work yourself.) Walk back down the lane from the church to SH 77398 61772 and take the road to the left. At SH 76998 62092 take the footpath to the right. Follow the footpath round Penrallt farm and down toward some disused mine workings. At SH 76967 62883 the leaflet route 8 goes right but you go left and down to cross the Crafnant at SH 76967 62883. This puts you on leaflet route 7 (in reverse again). Walk up to the road and turn right.

I got this far in about 2007, took the next footpath to the left at SH 76900 63116, and went up through the woods.

This landed me up to my knees in bog and up to my armpits in bracken and scrub. I got through but I couldn’t recommend it. The leaflet suggests you take this footpath but bear round to the right, keeping to the edge of the woods (OS gridpoints SH 76882 63166, SH 76975 63281, SH 77047 63318, SH 77017 63408), above Gelli-newydd farm and along the lane to the road.  Turn left.

From here you can follow the very minor road over the spur and down to Llyn Cowlyd. For an easier but slightly longer walk, take the footpath to the right at SH 77017 63408. You are now on leaflet route 9 and – glory be – walking it the right way round, so the waymarks should be with you.  You should be able to cut up to this point from Trefriw by taking the road up the hill and following the waymarked path at SH 77834 63344.

Rejoin the road at SH 77587 64723. At about SH 76977 65593 it becomes a lane, then a footpath leading to Brwynog Isaf and Uchaf. Turn right on a minor road at SH 74642 64133. You are now on the higher-level route as described on the web site. Take the footpath over the spur and down to the ruined dam of Llyn Eigiau, then on to Conwy Mountain.

I haven’t actually walked any of this, but it looks as though it should work.

And Crafnant House in Trefriw is an excellent place to stay – peace, quiet, good books and amazing vegan breakfasts. Usually the vegan breakfast is what’s left when you remove the bacon, eggs and anything with milk. At Crafnant House I had vegan French toast one day and a sweet potato hash that would have made a perfectly good supper the other day. Highly recommended.

Chapel Hill and Penterry: a rethink

My friends in Tintern are keen to do something about the ruined church of St Mary, Chapel Hill. It’s a pretty little Victorian Gothic building, in ruins since deconsecration and a disastrous fire, though the churchyard is still in the charge of the Church in Wales. They are also keen to revive Tintern as a centre for pilgrimage. It’s a key location on the Cistercian Way – of course –  but there’s also lots of scope for local pilgrimage. The combined parishes of St Arvans, Itton, Devauden, Kilgwrrwg and Penterry do a walk around the parish churches on Rogation Sunday – could we tap into that? And could the Cistercian Way be tweaked to take in Chapel Hill?

So a group of us set out this morning to try it out. Actually, it works very well – if anything, better than the route up the Stony Way, which is now so badly damaged by off-roading as to be dangerous.

Start in the same way, across the main road from the abbey and up past St Anne’s House (the old gatehouse chapel – look for the line of the precinct wall in the surface of the road) but go straight across the side road and up the steep lane to the church. After visiting the church (the building is marked as dangerous but the churchyard is stunning, with some huge C18 tombs) continue up the lane. At SO 52946 00098 the tracks divide – take the left fork and keep going up a lovely hollow way. At ST 52606 99801 cross a forest road

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(here’s Nell with her new friends)

and keep going up to a gate.

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The path winds right and left and up to another gate.

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Walk along the hedge to the gate at the top right corner of the field.

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Turn left on a metalled lane.

You can cut across the fields to Penterry church from the gate just before the next farm buildings at ST 52196 99539 – angle across the field to the far corner at ST 52082 99071 and keep going on the same line. If the animals in the field put you off, continue on the lane to ST 52342 98851, go through the gate to your right, walk up the field with the hedge to your right, through the gate at the top and up the next field to the church.

This would make a nice circuit: Tintern Abbey – Chapel Hill – Penterry – back to the abbey. The Stony Way is in such a poor state that you might do better walking back across the fields to Ruddings. We didn’t, because we had dogs with us and there were lambs in the fields, but if it had been wet under foot we might have regretted it.

For the walk across the fields, go back down to the metalled road at ST 52342 98851 and go straight across, down to a stile to join the Stony Way at ST 52429 98866. Go straight across the track and over another stile, then turn left and follow the RoW which bears gradually up to your right. You can divert up to visit the (very overgrown) Iron Age fort at the top. The path is waymarked round the farmyard at Ruddings (an old grange site) and down the lane which was actually the main road down the valley before the nineteenth century. Look out for the limekilns to your left on the way down, and the line of the outer precinct wall. I haven’t walked this way for a few years so I probably ought to recheck it, but the local footpaths are generally well maintained.

 

Llangatwg to Llanfaenor: joining the dots

Third day of fine weather. Can we manage to link the walk from Llanthony with the Wye Valley –

Yes, we can!

The Offa’s Dyke Path is still the best way south from below Cwm-iou – it gets you across the railway line and the main road, both difficult crossings (and the road could probably do with a bit more notice for drivers) and across the fields to Llangattock Lingoed. Llangattock is well worth a visit for many reasons. There’s B&B at the Old Rectory (http://www.oldrectorystayinwales.co.uk/ ), a cabin which can be rented just for one night (https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/14687416 ), and the Hunter’s Moon http://www.hunters-moon-inn.co.uk/ , a village pub with food and accommodation. (The pub is open all day from 12 noon, every day, so you can get a cup of tea if you roll past late in the afternoon.)

And the church – http://www.villagealivetrust.org.uk/what-to-see/churches/st-cadocs-church . Much of its medieval rood screen, medieval stained glass (very rare in south Wales), a huge wall painting of St George, and this humdinger of a seventeenth century gravestone.

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The naive vernacular figures either side of a central cross are the trademark of a local firm of stonemasons.

But eventually you have to tear yourself away. The ODP would take you all the way to Monmouth, but the Cistercian Way plans a diversion to visit  the remains of a Cistercian grange. Leave the churchyard by the south gate, following the ODP waymarks. Walk down the field and over a footbridge to turn left on the lane. At SO 36244 19009 follow the ODP waymark across the field to a footbridge at SO 36422 18751.

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Leave the ODP here and turn left down a very muddy bank and across another footbridge at SO 36509 18746.

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Bear slightly to the right up the next field to a stile in the far hedge at SO 36799 18904. Continue on the same line across the next field heading for the impressive Jacobean chimneys of the intriguingly-named Great Pool Hall. (This is a timber-framed gentry house of a kind you would be more likely to find in town – more details at http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/300001924-great-pool-hall-grosmont#.WMqd46JBrIU.)

Cross the road at SO 37057 18999 and walk down through the yard of Great Pool Hall, between the house and the stables. Go through a little gate ahead of you

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and walk along the right side of the hedge. Cross the stile at the far left corner of the field and keep on the same line bearing right towards a stile in the fence at about SO 37554 18827

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(the stile is difficult to see and the fence isn’t on the map).

Look up to your left and you can see the huge mansion of Glen Trothy, built in the 1880s at the height of the Victorian passion for Scots Baronial architecture.

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It was built for the Vaughan family, who were Catholics, and has a lovely little chapel dedicated to the Sacred Heart (http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/300014407-glen-trothy-house-including-attached-sacred-heart-chapel-llantilio-crossenny#.WMqeo6JBrIV ). The house isn’t open to the public. (If you Google for places to stay nearby you may find the Glen Trothy Caravan Park but that’s nowhere near – it’s in Mitchel Troy, south of Monmouth.)

The bank below the stile is a bit overgrown but there were some lovely wood anemones.

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Scramble down, turn left on the metalled drive, immediately right over a little bridge and immediately left up the bank.

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You are now on the line of the Three Castles Way – a promoted route, and reasonably well waymarked. Cross the road at SO 37675 18743, scramble up the far bank (there are steps but they are worn) and over the stile.

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Bear up to the right across the next field to a stile about ⅔ up the far fence.

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Continue bearing round to the right past Cae Scybor. Cross the drive and walk to the left of the hedge ahead of you.

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When the hedge bears to the right, keep straight on to cross a stile at SO SO 38102 18930. Bear slightly to the left across the next field. The map shows the RoW going along the hollow lane at the far side of the field but this can be very muddy (police have put warning signs about off-road activity) so the RoW is now waymarked along the far edge of the field to a stile and gate at SO 38295 19093.

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Turn left and walk along the lane. Turn right on the metalled road and right again at the fork following the sign for Cat’s Ash. In about ⅔ km you reach Llanfair Cilgoed, site of Dore’s grange. The name suggests it might have been an early Christian hermitage. You can cross the stile at SO 38976 19088 and walk diagonally across the field to look at the earthworks of what may have been fishponds and vineyards.

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The land of the grange was sold off when Dore was closed in 1536 but the grange chapel became a chapel of ease, a small church for weekly services but without the power to do the big stuff like baptisms, marriages and funerals. In 1560 the curate was a John Dydbroke who had been a monk at Dore. He would not have been paid much as a curate but he had also managed to get hold of a lease of the grange so he could have lived quite comfortably on that. The present church is a little Victorian box, built when the old one had long been in ruins and people had to trek nearly 6 km to the church in Llandeilo Gresynni.

Llanfair church is worth seeing. There is some good modern stained glass and a very informative exhibition about the history of the grange and the Cistercian order (though I did spot one mistake – thirteen Cistercian houses in late medieval Wales? What about the other two??)

A bit more background at  http://www.villagealivetrust.org.uk/what-to-see/churches/st-mary. The church is always open and has a kettle, tea and coffee for walkers.

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Continue down the lane and just past the churchyard there is a gate in the hedge which gets you back into the grange field. The foundations of the old church are in a small railed enclosure ahead of you.

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Pick up the footpath again, walk below Llanfair Grange farmhouse and bear left to the far left corner of the field.

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The stream is culverted here but it is still very muddy. Immediately over the stream, turn left and cross a stile.

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Bear right across the next field and head for the far right corner (the woods marked on the OS map are no longer there).

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Cross a stile and turn left on the main road by the 1861 restaurant (http://www.18-61.co.uk/ – tbh it looks a bit posh for walkers but might be good for an evening-out  treat).

Past the restaurant, take the next turning to the left. At SO 39947 19229 (opposite The Laurels) take the waymarked footpath through the gate to your left. Walk to your right and gradually downhill to a gate at SO 40187 18976.

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Continue parallel with the stream to another gate (with a rather battered stile) at SO 40368 18652.

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Turn left on a roughly metalled road. After the bridge, this becomes a muddy lane going steeply up hill.

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At the top it becomes very overgrown and so muddy as to be impassable (more off-roading, but this is technically a byway for vehicles so it’s legal) but it’s easy to get into the field to the right and walk along the hedge.

Turn right on a metalled road and follow it to Llanllwyd. Go through the farmyard at Great Llanllwyd and straight on along a lane (this one a restricted byway – horses but not motorised traffic). After the dogleg in the lane go straight on through the gate ahead and to your right, and walk down hill to the right of the hedge.

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When you pass under the pylons, go through the gate to your left and continue on the same line but to the left of the hedge. There is a slight hollow trail along the hedge. At the bottom right corner of the field, go through a gate and down a lane to the ford and footbridge at Little Mill.

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Here you pick up the route I explored last summer (https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2016/06/12/pushing-up-the-borders/ ) and walk on to Grace Dieu and Monmouth and down the Wye valley to Tintern.

So we have the route clear and walkable from Capel-y-ffin to Tintern and on to Llantarnam. Now all I have to do is get it translated …

Llanthony to Cwm-iou (2)

Strike 2. Yesterday (https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2017/03/13/llanthony-to-cwm-iou-1/) ended at the bridge at SO 29087 24788 with instructions not to go over the bridge and follow the waymarked route to Cwm-iou but to take the footpath up to Daren. The path started well but got very very muddy. Also it goes through several farmyards – which I always find a bit uncomfortable – and the first farmyard was literally knee deep in mud and completely impassable on foot. The only option was to go back down the lane and go for the lower, waymarked path.

Actually, it isn’t too bad. Cross the bridge at SO 29087 24788, and bear left to the road. Turn left. In about ½ km. at SO 28942 24273 take the waymarked lane over the bridge to your left.

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After the cottage, go over the stile to your left,

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cross the lane (2 more stiles),

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turn right and follow the hedge to your right.

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Good views up to the ‘yoke’ which gives its name to Cwm-iou, the result of a post-glacial land slip.

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The path is well stiled and waymarked straight along the east bank of the Hoddni to the Cwm-iou road.

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Turn left on the road and walk up to the church. (I did try the footpath waymarked to the left but it takes you a long way up to the lane above the church only to come back down again.

The church was as lovely as ever – sad monument to little Joan Williams,

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these in the chancel,

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this in the south window.

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Leave the church by the west gate, turn right on the steep road downhill, then on the next bend at SO 29988 23291 take the waymarked path to the left.

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Follow on the same line over the stiles, across the next two fields,

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along the hedge,

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across a minor road and over a stream.

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Bear up to the right across the next field to the lane above Perthi-crwn.

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The right of way goes in front of the house and along a lane.

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Continue on the same line through the fields, with the hedge to your right.

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After you cross a small stream at SO 31468 22758, ignore the turning to the right but go over the stile at the far right corner of the field.

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Bear left across the next field,

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cross the stream at SO 31728 22698

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and bear up to the right towards a stile at the top of the next field, SO 31778 22588.

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Keep bearing to the right and cross another stile at SO 31817 22530.

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Turn left on a muddy lane then right when you meet a metalled road at SO 31864 22543.

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You are now on the Beacons Way. At SO 32074 22362 the Offa’s Dyke Path joins from the left. I’m still puzzled by the stonework in the little garage ahead of you, at Trawellwyd.

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It must have been recycled – but from where?

Keep straight on and follow the OD waymarks, which will take to across the railway and main road to Llangattock Lingoed. You could follow the OD to Monmouth but I’m working on a slight diversion past Abbey Dore’s grange at Llanfair Cilgoed.

Possibly tomorrow, DV and Derek the Weather permitting?