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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Rewalking Wentwood

We have been having a drought, which is something we are not used to in Wales. Desperate measures were called for – so Rachel and I planned a long walk. Result! – it rained in Cardiff for about 3 hours, but we went east and had just a bit of mizzle.

Back in 2016 I walked the eastern slope of Wentwood with Andy Delmege on his great trek round Wales but I had to go back to the car from Five Paths. We got a bit confused about paths at the top of the first slope. The route Andy took was OK but missed the burial mounds and was technically not a right of way.The problem is that even recent OS 1:25,000 maps show a cleared area at Five Paths which doesn’t correspond with what is there now. The online map has been updated. Whe you get to the cleared area at ST 43281 95027 you need to keep straight on, roughly due west, to the right of the cleared area (my map marked the RoW to the left of the cleared area, which was where we went wrong last time). This is a well-surfaced forest road. At ST 42216 94830, just past the car park, cross a minor road and take the forest road ahead of you and slightly to the right. The burial mounds are just north of the track at around ST 41690 94556.  (Here they are in rather different weather.)

At ST 41428 94552 cross another minor road and keep going straight on. In about 80m. the paths divide.

Follow the waymark

and take the left fork,

passing just to the north of the mast. The track becomes fainter but continues bearing just south of west and mostly downhill. At about ST 40036 94168 the track rising to meet you from the right is the line of the London to St David’s route mapped by John Ogilby in 1675. You are probably now on the medieval pilgrimage route to St David’s. The modern path sometimes follows a marked hollow way and sometimes climbs above it.

There has been a lot of off-roading damage on this section of the path – last time I walked it, in slushy and wet weather, there were deep water-filled ruts,

and it would still be difficult under foot in wet weather. Part of Wentwood now belongs to the Woodland Trust and the rest is managed by Natural Resources Wales. Both have been trying to discourage off-roading but it’s a large area to control and there’s the perennial problem that it’s difficult to exclude motorbikes while still allowing access for horses and push-bikes.  Forest roads can also be accessible for wheelchair users and again it’s difficult to block motorbikes but allow wheelchairs. There was a scheme in north Wales to fit lockable barriers that could be opened by radar keys but I don’t know how that worked. The line of the London-St Davids road was at one time a byway for all vehicles so off-roaders had a legal right to use it, but its status may have been changed.

At ST 39576 93699, emerge from the trees and turn right on a well-surfaced forest road.

At ST 39445 93571 the forest road ends at a line of large stones.

Continue on the same line along a path. This becomes a well-marked track, sometimes a hollow lane or just to one side of the hollow. At ST 38965 92859 you pass the ‘motte and bailey castle’ of Caer Licyn – not a motte and bailey at all according to my old student Neil Phillips and most probably a garden viewpoint constructed as a folly.

At ST 38648 92438 you rejoin the metalled road.

The Ogilby route continues straight on and gradually down hill. When you get out of the trees, the faint earthworks in the field to your right are all that is left of a puzzling series of enclosures. Could be Iron Age … one at least could be a preliminary Roman camp before the fortress at Caerleon was built … some evidence of early medieval occupation … the road you are on could be even older than that. At ST 37465 91043, when the road bends left, take the hollow lane to your right: this is still the line of the Ogilby road, overgrown but just about passable. Turn left on Abernant Road and walk down to the B road past Cat’s Ash Farm. (The converted farm barn is a medieval chapel on the site of an even earlier church, mentioned in the Book of Llan Daf – you can still see the otline of the east window)

If you want to avoid the tarmac, at ST 38648 92438, look for the bridleway waymarked to your right. This goes down a VERY steep and rough slope to join the Usk Valley Walk. It’s a pretty walk but goes down a long way to climb back up again.  On balance I’d recommend sticking with the road.

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

DSC_2025

(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.

DSC_2029

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

DSC_2030

DSC_2032

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.

 

Llanthony to Cwm-iou (1)

Good grief, two days without rain – so we are back out on field work. Also my neighbours’ dogs are off on holiday so I am focusing on things I can’t do with a dog in tow – eg anything involving stiles.

First up was checking the bit just north of Llanthony. I did some work on it back in December (https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2016/12/11/visions-and-revisions/ ) and suggested that the footpath past Trevelog and Deri-duon probably wasn’t worth struggling with. The problem is that there are several deep stream valleys cutting across the path, with dangerously steep and muddy banks. There are also some heavily overgrown sections. These could be dealt with, but the steep banks need steps – which would decay and need repair and eventually replacing. Not viable in the present climate.

I then suggested that the (unwaymarked) footpath through the gate at SO 27800 29048

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should lead to the path past Llwyn-on at SO 27870 28961- and it does. Go through the gate and walk along the hedge to your right

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then pass below Llwyn-on, turn up to your left and keep contouring round on the same line past SO 27997 28789 and SO 28099 28639. Pass above Broadley Farm and keep on the same line past SO 28292 28423. At SO 28415 28343 cross a stile by a gate. Walk along the lower edge of the woods and ford a small stream. Cross a stile out of the woods at SO 28482 28271 and bear right across the next field, past the new barns to rejoin the road down the valley at SO 28498 28092.

I wanted to recheck it to make sure there were no more problems. It’s all well stiled and waymarked. You do have to ford several streams but even after the recent rain they are shallow and easy to cross.

Take the path below the ruins of the abbey gatehouse. After exploring the abbey, retrace your steps, turn right round the west end of the Abbey Hotel and right again to walk above the outer wall of the abbey precinct, following fingerposts and waymarks to ‘Hatterall Ridge South’. Past the abbey church, go through a gate at SO 28959 27882. Bear left across the next field and up hill to a gate in the top hedge at SO 29242 27913.

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Continue on the track through the trees, bearing right across a little stream. At the top of the wood turn left through a gate

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and walk along the fence to your right. At SO 29445 27887 go through the gate to your right.

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Walk ahead keeping to the same contour, passing well below two ruined farmsteads.

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(The whole valley was intensively settled with hundreds of farms and smallholdings until bottom fell out of British farming in the nineteenth century and most of the young men left to work in industry.) Don’t be distracted  by the waymarked stile in the trees at the top left corner of the field

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– it’s a difficult scramble across the stream and the track from it is overgrown. The right of way goes through the gate a little further down the hedge, at SO 29750 27537, and past another ruined barn.

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Bear up to the left on a faint track

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and join a clearer track which continues on the same contour line down the valley.

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Go through several waymarked gates. Keep to the same line above Maes-y-beran farm

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and head for the stile at SO 30180 26611.

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Pass below a stand of conifers (not on the map). Continue on the same line above another stand of conifers (this one is on the map) and through a ruined farmstead at SO 30134 25823. The path continues on the same line, going gradually downhill. At SO 29928 25599, just before a stream and a belt of trees,

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turn sharp right and walk downhill. Turn left to walk through the ruins of Weild,

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another substantial farm which has been completely abandoned. From here the path slopes gradually down hill to SO 29533 25286, SO 29309 25090 and SO 29201 24962. At SO 29109 24794, just before the bridge, ignore the waypost pointing to Cwm-iou along the road and turn left following the signs for Darran.

That was as far as I could get today. I walked back along the road – a very new lamb in the field

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and the deserted chapel at Henllan

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(some of the stones in the wall look awfully like tombstones).

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Back at Llanthony I was recalling T. S. Eliot’s

… hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea

 – and lo and behold, a sign for Treats of Llanthony  (http://www.llanthonytreats.co.uk/ ), just below the road towards the river.

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As well as the cafe there is a cabin, bunkhouse B&B and room for camping. Sue was supposed to be ironing towels after a busy weekend and with more guests arriving but she kindly did me a cuppa – then tea and cake for another random walker – then more tea and cake for two lads on bikes – did she ever get the ironing done, I wonder? Treats basically seems to be open whenever you want it to be, though of course Sue does have to go and do things like shopping occasionally. She says that if you are walking in the area you can always ring ahead and check – 01873 890867.

Another fine day and I should get past Cwm-iou.

 

Revisiting Pelenna

The clever people at Sugar Creatives are doing clever creative stuff with the web site – but that means I have to crack on with uploading grid points so they have something to work on. Usually I do them as I go along, but there are bits of alternative route that I haven’t looked at for years, and the aerial photos on the Ordnance Survey site look nothing like what I remembered. An excuse to get the boots out …

I meant to do this just with Nell, but Cara refused to stay in the house so we all set off together. The alternative higher-level route from Margam to Neath seems OK as far as Afan Argoed and over the ridge to Cwm Pelenna but I can’t make sense of some of my notes after that. We drove to Ton-mawr to walk up the valley of the Gwenffrwd. Strike one: the Ton-mawr Sport and Fitness Centre is no more. On the positive side, mountain biking in the Afan and Pelenna valleys has really taken off: the Gyfylchi Mountain Centre is refurbished, there’s the Afan Bike Park at Gyfylchi and new trails at Penhydd, and more places to stay (eg Bryn Bettws with a range of bunkhouses and cabins, https://brynbettws.com/).

So the track over Gyfylchi and down to Cwm Pelenna is clear and walkable. At SS 80968 96002 the line of the South Wales Mineral Railway emerges from the Gyfylchi Tunnel to your right.

 

dsc_1787At SS 80876 96091, cross the river by a railway bridge. Bear left with the line of the railway track (now a bridle path). At SS 80185 96261, cross the road, walk up the steps ahead of you and continue up through the houses to the main road through Ton-mawr.

At SS 80193 96372, cross the road, turn left and go up the steps to your right, just before the children’s playground.

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At SS 80169 96418, turn left on a very minor road. After Blaenafon Farm (SS 80151 96757)

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the road becomes a surfaced track. Across the valley to your left, the rush-filled ponds are part of the world-famous River Pelenna minewater treatment system.

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At SS 79908 97905 the track passes above the ruins of a substantial farm.

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From this point the track is not marked on the OS map as a right of way but it is waymarked as a byway.

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At SS 80140 97561 you have to ford the Gwenffrwd, quite tricky even after a very dry October and potentially impassable in wet weather.

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I remember struggling with this back in 2005. Nell liked it, though – you can just see her head peeping out of the water.

At SS 79656 98552 the main track bears to the left.After several gates, at SS 79428 98582 you pass through the earthworks of a massive Roman camp.

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There are lovely views from here.

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We turned back at the top of the ridge,

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but you can walk on down the hill and through the grounds of the Gnoll, or turn right and follow the Cefn Ffordd, the great Glamorgan Ridgeway, along the watershed and down to the Rhondda. I remember walking that with a group of extra-mural students on a rather wet day back in the 1990s.

Shw’mae, Sistersiaid?

This should have been the post for Diwrnod Shw’mae, the day when we all try to speak Welsh, or at least to start every conversation by saying ‘How are things?’ in Welsh.  We thought we had the Cistercian Way from Llantarnam to Neath sorted, so we got the text professionally translated. But we keep coming up with little tweaks and updates – the last bit of the route to Llangynwyd, the logging trails on the Raven Walk, now a better way from Ynysybwl to Llanwynno. Is my Intermediate level Welsh up to it? Can I persuade our wonderful tutor to accept bits of translated web site as Homework?

So … the route from Ynysybwl. For many years it was really a pilgrimage and we went through the middle of the village. As it became more of a heritage footpath we took to going up the Llys Nant, the boundary of the short-lived abbey of Pendar’s lands in the area. Across the road to Buarth Capel, down to the Nant Ffrwd (which powered the monastic mill) and up to Mynachdy. From there we started off walking the stony track that leads to the forest road to Llanwynno. This was clearly the old road – the line of the right of way goes straight across the modern road to Pontypridd and becomes the track down to Pontygwaith and the line of the medieval bridge across the Rhondda Fach.

If you are going to the church and pub at Llanwynno, it might make more sense to take the footpath from ST 04341 94850 past the two wind turbines. We walked that some years ago and decided the stony track was better, but that was before the motorbike scrambling circuit got so very popular. It’s busy in the week, and at weekends it’s thronged with people. This time Andy and I went through the gate at ST 04341 94850 and along the footpath. Walk along the stony track towards the turbines, through the gate at ST 04213 95166, bear left across the next field to a stile in the far left corner and walk along the fence to another stile at the top left of the field.

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(The stiles are single-step and difficult with dogs. ) Turn left and walk above the scrambler circuit. The track bears right into the forest. Look out for a fainter path to the left at ST 03441 95598 (if you miss it, continue to the junction of the forest roads and turn left there.)

Cross the forest road at ST 03317 95602 and walk straight ahead up the bank and over another stile. Turn left and walk round the left edge of a little hillock and down to the road below the pub. If you can’t face the climb, stay on the forest road at ST 03441 95598 and turn left on the metalled road up to Llanwynno. Either way is probably better than the track through the scrambler circuit – unless you have dogs with you. We did manage to haul Nell over the stiles but it wasn’t easy and she did complain.

Having a bit of spare time we went to look for St Gwynno’s Well. This had a lot of restoration work a few years ago – here we are inspecting it in 2009.

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The path is signed from the road but very overgrown. It gets a bit clearer under the trees but the only way to find the actual well was to let Nell off the lead and follow her unerring instinct for water. It’s a pity – you can get funding for capital projects but not for maintenance, and once the path is overgrown people won’t use it.

The church at Llanwynno has finding for massive repairs including a new roof. This meant we couldn’t go in, but it will make the building secure for the foreseeable future. It may eventually have to go out of parish use – it would make a wonderful bunkhouse or camping barn for walkers, and could still be used for services.

Andy’s blog for the day is at https://pilgrimpace.wordpress.com/2016/10/22/arrived/ with a photo of the pilgrims at the well.