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.

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Angels and visions

Tintern-Llantarnam is pretty much sorted and we are working our way back up the borders. I haven’t walked the area round Llanthony since 2005 and there have been a lot of changes and improvements to the footpaths. The track over the pass from Hay and down the Nant Bwch seems to be the way to go, and it takes you past Llanthony’s third monastery, the strange Anglican community founded by Joseph Leycester Lyne, Father Ignatius. Hugh Allen’s new biography of him is a good read.

Just past the monastery you meet the road from Llanthony over the Gospel pass. Turn left to visit the church at Capel-y-ffin, described by Kilvert as ‘squatting like a stout grey owl’ among the yews of the churchyard. Lovely cherubs on the south wall

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and symbolism on this head stone –

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‘One by one the sheaves are gathered’. Just south of the churchyard, at SO 25483 31495, take the lane alongside the churchyard wall,

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across the Hoddnu

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and past another tiny church.

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This is Capel-y-ffin Baptist chapel built by the two brothers, William and David Prosser. According to Wikipedia, ‘a wall plaque commemorates their work in bringing The Ministry of the Gospel to their house in the year 1737. And Secured this Place for That Sacred Use for the Time Being. Both died near the End of the Year 1780.’

The lane bears up to the right, passing above Blaenau farm and becomes a path across the fields.

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It is well walked and waymarked as a route up to the Offa’s Dyke path.

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Cross two pretty stone stiles (the second at SO 26068 31171  is a bit of a challenge)

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and continue on the same line along a stony track.

Nell and Cara coupldn’t manage the stiles. Cara is getting old and creaky but hates being picked up. Nell is just daft. So we went back along the track, they had a good swim in the Hoddnu and we walked down and up a very steep stony lane to rejoin the track at the far side of that very precipitous stile. Walking along the road and down that lane is the best way to go if you have dogs.

The farm above the track at SO 26521 31032  is called The Vision, and was given that name after the famous vision of the Virgin Mary at Father Ignatius’s monastery. The farm inspired Bruce Chatwin’s novel On the Black Hill, though he relocated it to the other side of the Hatterall ridge.

At SO 26701 30804 the track becomes a metalled road. There are some footpaths to the left but they mostly go up the ridge. The road is very quiet, little more than a farm track, and an easy walk. After about 1.8 km, at SO 27735 29421 , the road turns to the right. Go through the gate ahead of you and continue along a narrow lane. This has all the feel of an old road, possibly the original road down the valley. It would be too narrow for carts, so once the local farmers took to using wheeled vehicles the road across the valley would be easier. I walked along the lane to rejoin the metalled road at SO 27912 28728 but it might be worth exploring the track that bears left at SO 27795 29061 and becomes a footpath passing above Broadley farm and rejoining the road at SO 28502 28103.

At SO 28560 27946 you turn left on the main road down the valley (usually quite quiet, though it can be busy on summer weekends) with encouraging views of the priory and the Half-Moon pub.

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Ahead of you is the priory gatehouse, now a barn. When the road bears right round the gatehouse, take the footpath straight on to the rest of the priory buildings.

Pushing Up the Borders

Llantarnam-Neath is sorted, I think I’ve worked out Monmouth-Tintern and Tintern-Llantarnam, time to push a bit further up the Marches. To be honest, we could just use the Offa’s Dyke Path from below Cwm-iou through Pandy, Llangatwg Lingoed and Llandeilo Gresynni. It’s a good route past castles and through pretty villages, it’s meticulously gated and waymarked, it’s clear but isn’t over-walked, it actually goes past Grace Dieu Abbey – why not?

I don’t know why not. But somehow it feels like cheating to make too much use of an existing route. We really ought to be able to commit to keeping a few more footpaths open.

The OD Path really is the only way to get from Grace Dieu to Monmouth. And it’s pretty much the obvious route from below Cwm-iou to Llangatwg Lingoed. Llangatwg is well worth the visit – the church has a splendid wall painting of St George (south Wales has 3 wall paintings of St George, all in churches dedicated to Cadoc, most awkward of saints. Two could be coincidence, three looks like a pattern – but why?), some intriguing medieval stained glass (very rare in south Wales – again, we don’t know why) and one of the most splendid post-medieval cross slabs I have ever seen, its shaft flanked with vividly-carved figures in late sixteenth century dress.

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From Llangatwg the OD Path goes south to White Castle. But another footpath heads east across the fields to the intriguingly-named Great Pool Hall and the Scots Baronial mansion of Glen Trothy. Here you join the Three Castles Way which takes you to Llanfair Grange. This was an out-station of a Cistercian abbey just over the border into England, Abbey Dore. The monks were so important that when they were given the grange they were actually allowed to divert the main road to go around it.

The Cistercian Way doesn’t go as far as Dore but the grange is worth a visit. You can see the remains of fishponds, and the terraces where the lay brothers cultivated grapes in the warmer weather of the thirteenth century.  This was one of the first sites excavated by our great Cistercian historian and archaeologist, David Williams. The muscle power was provided by young men from the Young Offenders’ Institute near Usk, working as volunteers and rewarded with lemonade and crisps. You wonder where they are now.

The grange chapel lies under the trees and a new church has been built along the lane.

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From Llanfair there should be footpaths to Plas Ivor and Llanllwyd. I walked that way but about ten years ago so it needs rechecking. Friday I went to look at the footpaths at the Grace Dieu end. There should be paths along the Troddi and the Llymon brook. They are stiled and waymarked, and there are even sturdy little bridges across some of the smaller streams, but the paths aren’t walked and they are hopelessly overgrown.

Back to the road and up to Llanfaenor. The church here has been converted into a house.

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There are no end of other Llan names in the area – Llandishty, Llancreaver, Llanllwyd. Llanfaenor and Llanllwyd (now a farm) are both recorded as chapelries of the great mother church at Llangatwg Feibion Afel – you have to wonder if the others were as well. Llandishty Cottages are on the route.

There’s a hollow lane from Llanllwyd down the valley to Littlemill Farm. It’s overgrown at the bottom but passable. When you get to the stream, cross the narrow footbridge and walk up the far bank. Turn right and walk above the hedge, cross a stile and turn left on a rough track up towards the farm. Through the gate, turn right and follow the roughly surfaced track up to Llanfaenor. From there the best route at the moment is down the very minor road to Onen, across the old Abergavenny-Monmouth road and down to Llanfihangel Ystum Llywern. Here you rejoin the OD path to Grace Dieu. It means a few miles of road walking but the road is very quiet and there are lovely views across the rolling hills of north Gwent.

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At Llanfihangel lies buried Sir Joseph Bradney, the great historian of his adopted county of Monmouthshire. He came from Shropshire, inherited an estate around Talycoed near Llanfihangel, fell in love with the area and its history and settled there. He learned Welsh and tried to employ all Welsh servants in his house. Very much the old-fashioned huntin, shootin’ and fishin’ Tory, he was also an old-fashioned antiquarian historian. He led the local militia and was desperate to serve in the front line in the First World War but by then he was too old. Eventually, after badgering all his contacts, he was taken on as commander of a labour corps, digging emplacements and latrine trenches just behind the front line.

Been there, though on the other side of the fence.

Back in the 1980s, as a result of a chance conversation on the bus to Aberystwyth, I discovered that the ‘missing’ final volume of Bradney’s History of Monmouthshire was actually in draft form in his papers in the National Library of Wales.  After some negotiating I got hold of photocopies and edited it for the South Wales Record Society. It was a major tidy-up job, checking transcripts of old documents and church monuments, assembling some very fragmentary notes and typing the whole thing on the latest in high-tech, an Amstrad PCW (remember those?). Most of the typing I did while nursing my daughter, typing with my right hand and nursing her on the left. Then I had to learn how to transfer it to a proper PC, just at the point when we were discovering the wonderful world of Windows. The book was published in 1993. It sold like hot cakes and put the Record Society on a good financial footing for some years. Eventually it sold out and the National Library decided to put it on line – it’s at http://welshjournals.llgc.org.uk/browse/listarticles/llgc-id:1044290/llgc-id:1044493.

I have always wondered how the very conventional Sir Joseph Bradney would have coped with having his notes tidied up and his transcripts corrected by a woman who had spent time at Greenham Common and felt the Labour party was getting dangerously right-wing. There might have been a few difficulties … on the other hand, we had many interests in common and I imagine he would have coped.

Now Sir Joseph sleeps in the churchyard with some of his children, their monuments all but hidden under seeding grass and marguerites.

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If the church is open, you can see the war memorial which commemorates his youngest son Walter. Walter was killed at Peronne in the spring of 1918. He died only a couple of miles from where his father was stationed, but such was the chaos in army communications by that time that it took weeks for the news to reach Sir Joseph.

From Llanfihangel the OD Path takes you along the west bank of the Troddi. It’s meticulously waymarked, almost too much so, and meanders along the river bank until you reach the road at SO 44694 13362. Turn left, and in about ¼ km turn right to cross the fields to the site of Grace Dieu.

I need to rewalk the stretch from Llangattock to Llanfaenor and we are there.