Mynydd Maendy in the sunshine

Last time I went up Mynydd Maendy, west of Ton Pentre, it was bucketing with rain and visibility was minimal. Here’s Andy Delmege’s photo of us walking up the ridge from Penrhys –

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and it got worse! Strange to relate, most of the group gave up in Ton Pentre. I had planned to stop there but it seemed dreadful to let Andy go on his own so I went with him. We were running a bit behind time and I set far too fast a pace going up the hill: I thought several times I would have to give up but Andy was very patient and we made it to the Bwlch. Somehow we got on a track that I didn’t recognise, so I thought I’d better go back and see if things had changed since  I was last there ten years ago.

The other logistical problem is that Cara the pilgrim dog has decided she’s too old to do hills. In south Wales this does limit your options … But she is also getting deaf and sleeps very soundly, so we can sneak out without her.

Tuesday the sun was shining and the sky was blue so Nell and I went off on the train up the valley. The climb from Ton Pentre up the ridge was still pretty stiff but we took it at a more sensible pace and I made it. Wonderful views … this is better!

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Past the radio mast you go through a gate at SS 96073 95462.

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Don’t go over the stile ahead and to your right

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(this was where Andy and I went wrong – the track takes you down to the forest then back up). Continue along the line of the fence to your left, bear left with the fence and go up the track which slants up to the left of the next rise.

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At the top – more wonderful views –

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you will see the track up from the forest rejoining you from the right. Through the gate the path becomes a stony track for a while,

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here’s Nell on the path

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then after another gate it becomes fainter but still there. Climb the steep slope ahead of you

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then follow the track as it bears right round the shoulder of the summit.

There’s nothing like a nice bench to make you feel you aren’t on a serious walk!

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The track over Mynydd Maendy is actually nice and clear, but the track up the ridge from Penrhys was quite difficult with a lot of damage from motorbike and 4×4 scrambling. I did wonder if there might be an alternative – down the steep track from the well to Llwynypia and up the other side through the forest? There’s no obvious way up from Llwynypia but plenty of forest tracks and the old lane from Llandyfodwg over Mynydd William Meyrick. So once we got to the Bwlch we headed south along the forest access track.

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There’s a touching little memorial just south of the Bwlch.

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There are good paths on the north side of Cwm Clydach

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but most of the way we were in deep forest and the motorbike damage is just as bad. We’ll probably stick with what we’ve got.

Mind you, we do need to have another look at the tracks over Mynydd William Meyrick. According to the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales (the Non-defensive Secular volume of the Glamorgan inventory – i.e. anything that isn’t a church or a castle) this is a medieval road, and it leads from Llandyfodwg in Glyn Ogwr to the other Tyfodwg church, Ystradyfodwg, what is now better known as Ystrad Rhondda. Tyfodwg was himself a pilgrim and this could just be the pilgrimage route between his two churches. Exploring it without Steve to drop me off at one end and pick me up at the other could be tricky but we will find a way round it.

Meetings, mist and mud

It’s been a two-steps-forward-one-step back sort of summer. We relaunched the project at the National Eisteddfod in Abergavenny. This wasn’t a full formal launch – we aren’t quite ready for that yet – but we filled the Churches tent, all the emergency printing of leaflets went, the retiring Archdruid Prof. Christine James spoke on the importance of pilgrimage and the Cistercians in the Welsh historical and cultural tradition

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my old colleague David Howell (now at the University of Gloucester) spoke very powerfully on the importance of heritage beyond the tourist honeypots and the need to experience heritage by walking through it rather than just visiting sites

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(more on his blog at https://historyglos.com/2016/08/31/cultural-festivals-controversy-and-a-heritage-trail-launch/ ). And I managed to introduce the whole thing in more-or-less fluent Welsh.

We made good contacts with Cadw  and the Ramblers which led to a meeting in the Ramblers’ office in Cardiff and an invitation to talk to the Glamorgan footpaths secretaries and the Glamorgan AGM. We have also been contacted by Lampeter Ramblers and we will be back to working in Ceredigion nest month.

On the other hand … our planned walk from Penrhys nearly drowned the participants: some amazing photos at https://pilgrimpace.wordpress.com/2016/09/18/cistercian-way-photos-1/ . And Andy Delmege, who had planned to walk the whole route as a sabbatical this autumn, has wrecked his knee and had to go home.

Mind you, it was just as well we gave up on that first day west from Penrhys before we reached the final off-road section. I looked at it again today and it really is impassable. It’s not so much the access from the lane past Gadlys at SS 85944 88007: someone has done a great job there bashing down the Himalayan balsam. The stile has finally collapsed but the gate next to it seems to be permanently open. But the track through the woods is so muddy and has been so badly ploughed up by stock that it really isn’t safe to walk. A pity – apart from that section it’s a very pleasant alternative to the road.

But there are other alternatives. The Bridgend footpaths secretary has sent me some of the Llynfi Valley walks leaflets. There’s a possible route through Maesteg and out along the Neath Road then south by footpaths and very minor roads along Cwm Cerwyn and Cwm Sychbant. This bypasses Llangynwyd, which is a pity, but it does go through Maesteg with its glorious nineteenth-century chapels. On the other hand, it goes very near to the high-level alternative route from Margam to Neath. Would walkers be tempted to cut across, missing out Margam entirely?

A shorter alternative goes down Cwm-du and through Pont Rhyd-y-cyff, over the railway bridge, turn right opposite the Railway Tavern and follow a waymarked path between the railway line and the houses. At SS 86892 89157 the path briefly rejoins the road. Turn right. After a couple of houses look out for a waymarked footpath to the right between the houses. Follow the path round to the right of the playing fields and up to the main road at a roundabout. Take the Maesteg road. In 0.15 km, after the first house of Cwmfelin, at SS 86375 89440, a footpath goes up to your left. Through the gate, bear left across the first field to a stile in the far left corner at SS 86285 89225. Walk along the hedge to your left and go through a kissing gate at SS 86180 89019 and down steps. Turn right on the metalled road and walk up to Llangynwyd. This avoids the busiest road around the new village of Llangynwyd and is only a little longer than the on-road route. I think this is the one to go for.

But can I translate the new route description into Welsh myself? With a bit of help, maybe …

We still have to decide what to do about the path through the farmyard at Cwmducanol. The dogs really are a problem, and the feeling at the Ramblers meeting was that we would be better recommending the alternative route via Fosse. On the one hand it really is a pity if the farm is allowed to effectively block the right of way; on the other hand, it seems unlikely that we can get anything permanent done about it. Rights of way diversions are simply too expensive. We will settle for what we can get and save our money for areas where there is no other way through.

Penrhys Pilgrimage this year

A bit different this year – set out from Penrhys at 10 am on Saturday 3 September, walk over the hills to Llangynwyd. It’s a hefty walk so there are drop-out points on the way and a back-up vehicle.

This year’s pilgrimage is a bit more freeform that what we’ve done in previous years. Andy Delmege, the vicar from the West Midlands who walked with us last year, is proposing to walk the whole of the Cistercian Way in September and October as a sabbatical. So we are going to set him on his way on Saturday 3 September, starting out from the estate church at Penrhys, walking up the ridge to the wind farm and down into Ton Pentre. From here an old trackway leads over Mynydd Maendy and across Bwlch y Clawdd. There’s a magnificent ridge route along Craig Ogwr and over Mynydd Caerau down to Pont Rhyd-y-cyff then footpaths bypassing the road up to Llangynwyd. Bronze Age burial mounds, early medieval tribal boundaries, 360-degree views. At Llangynwyd is a medieval church which was a great focus for pilgrimage, and the graves of Ann Thomas, the ‘Maid of Cefn Ydfa’, and her lover Wil Hopcyn.

Andy will be staying overnight at Llangynwyd and setting off the next day for Margam and the coast. He will be coming back down the Borders towards the end of October – he’s due in Tintern on 18 October. When we have a date for his arrival at Penrhys we can arrange to walk the last section with him, hopefully with a visit to Llanwynno.

Key times and stopping-off points for Saturday 3 September (start time is exact, times along the way are approximate):

10 am start at Llanfair Church, Penrhys, CF43 3RH, ST 0018 9495

11.30 – 12 (ish) Ton Pentre: we will be passing near the railway station, SS 9728 9535, then walk along Church Road and Maindy Road, past the police station at SS 9694 9542 and up the hill

1.30 car park at Bwlch y Clawdd, SS 9395 9459

5.30 bridge at Pont Rhyd-y-cyff, SS 8725 8910

7 pm Llangynwyd Church, SS 8572 8883

This is like a medieval pilgrimage – there is no official organisation behind it. We can provide the route and arrange some stops on the way, but the rest is up to you. We do plan to have a back-up vehicle to get you back to the start. You will need to be reasonably fit, and you will need weatherproof clothing, stout walking boots and suitable refreshment. We can take no responsibility for the welfare of participants.

More information: maddy [at] heritagetortoise.co.uk

 

West from Tintern – final version?

Having sorted the route across Earlswood from Itton to Wentwood, all that remained was to check the paths through Chepstow Park Wood. My French cousin Amy is staying with us, she loves the dogs, the dogs love her, it looked as though it might stay dry …

We started from Penterry Church and rewalked the route to Chepstow Park Wood from the old blog post. The fields between the Gaer and Pen-y-parc were knee deep in hay but apart from that it all went well. We did look at alternatives through the woods on the way back – walking across farmland isn’t easy especially with dogs – but we would have had to make quite a long diversion north to keep on walkable tracks. So what follows (partly repeated from the old blog post) is the recommended route.

Cross the main road past Tintern Abbey and walk up past St Anne’s (once the outer gatehouse chapel). Turn left and walk along the back lane past the Beaufort Arms. Once past the hotel car park, the track bears right. The OS web site marks the Wye Valley Walk up the stony track ahead of you but it’s waymarked to the left, past the limekilns and up to Rudding Farm. This is a long way up to go down again. Better to stick to the track up hill ahead of you. This is the Stony Way, built for the monks to provide access to their grange farms up the hill. It has been very eroded and overgrown, though it seems to be recovering. When you get out of the woods, the climb becomes less steep. At ST 524 988, there are stiles to left and right. Go right, walk up the field and cross another stile to a metalled road.

In wet weather the alternative is to follow the Wye Valley Walk waymark then turn right at the top and walk along the edge of the woods. Rejoin the Stony Way by a stile at the end of the woods, cross the track and take the stile up into the fields.

Cross the metalled road, walk up the hedge to your right, and bear left across the next field to the stile into Penterry churchyard.

Leave the church by the footpath going south-west across the fields. Cross the metalled road and take a stony track ahead. When the main track goes right to a cottage, keep straight on and into the forest. When the forest road divides, take the left fork, then bear left again up a waymarked hollow lane between massive stone walls. In 2005 it was possible to turn right at the top of the hill and walk on through the woods but this path seems to have vanished. Instead, go over the waymarked stile, walk to the middle of the field then turn right and walk to a gate in the far hedge, then walk along the hedge to your left. You are now on the St Tewdrig Trail (http://www.thecircleoflegends.co.uk/tewdrigtrail.htm ).

Turn left on the metalled road then right along a stony track. Bear left with the track and walk round the slope. There are wonderful views to your left. The big farm below you is on the site of Tintern’s Rogerstone Grange, and the reservoir was once a holy well. The St Tewdrig Trail goes downhill to the grange. When the stony track goes left into the field, keep straight on.

After some sadly decaying memorial benches the track bears  right into the forest. Take the first track to the left. This swings along the edge of the woods to ST 48770 96518.

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Here you bear left and walk down to the edge of the forest. Just past the Forestry office,

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turn right on the metalled road and walk down to Itton. Turn right on the main road, left past the council houses and right on a very minor road down to the Glyn and Coed Llwyfos.

I still need to check the routes through Wentwood but there shouldn’t be any problems there, so we are pretty much sorted from Monmouth to Llantarnam.

Ymlaen a ni i’r Eisteddfod!

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.

Earlswood at last

It’s taken a while to get back to that awkward section between Chepstow Park Wood and Wentwood but I think we are there, thanks to the detailed description of the route through Coed Llwyfos on Christopher Somerville’s web site at http://www.christophersomerville.co.uk/?p=456 .

It looks as though the way through Chepstow Park Wood will involve walking up from Tintern past Penterry Church to the St Arvans road and the lane from Pen-y-parc. When the stony track goes left into the field, keep straight on. At ST 50149 97391 the track bears right into the forest. Take the first forest road to the left. This swings through the southern part of the forest and emerges on a very minor road at ST 48774 96411. Turn right, and right again on the B4293 into Itton Common. At the telephone box turn left for Shirenewton but immediately take the very minor road to the right. At ST 47865 95996 go straight across the cross-roads. In just under 1 km, at ST 47104 96435, turn left down the lane to Coed-Llifos Farm. In about 100m. take the rough track to the right, along the edge of a small plantation.

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In another 100m. pass a barn on your right. Go straight on down a stony slope and through the remains of a kissing gate following waymarks.

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Pass the barns to your left and join a metalled track. Follow this round to the right, keeping to the right of the house,

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and go through a gate on your left at ST 46823 96406.

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Follow the waymarks, bearing slightly to your right

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and down the slope to a gate in the middle of the hedge at ST 46696 96298 (just to the right of a large oak tree). Walk down the next field and into the woods, heading for a footbridge at ST 46591 96113.

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Over the footbridge take the path to the left and follow it up to a gate.

Turn right and follow the hedge to your right, then when the hedge bears away to the right you bear left and head for the top left of the field. At ST 46510 95900 go through a gate and down the green lane to Pant-y-cosin.

(There were some very cute Shetland ponies and a goat in the lane.)

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Walk through the farmyard and along the lane.

(The section through the woods is very muddy underfoot and would be impassable in wet weather. Stick to the road: or if you have got down to the woods and found them impassable, retrace your steps to the gate at ST 46696 96298, turn left and walk with the hedge to your right through a gate and across two fields to emerge on the road at ST 46165 96339. Turn left and follow the road through the gloriously-named Bullyhole Bottom (is it called Bullyhole Bottom because it hath no bottom?) and up the far side of the valley. At the top of the slope, at ST 46167 95968, when the road bends to the right, go through the gate to the left. No waymark but it is a right of way. Follow the hedge to your right until you join the green lane down to Pant-y-cosin.)

The lane from Pant-y-cosin takes you to the B4235 at ST 46575 95214. Cross CAREFULLY – this is a busy road. Take the bridleway ahead of you.

It was my day for cute animals. There were alpacas in the field.

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Also some of those little charcoal grey pigs, but they were the other side of a thick hedge.

At ST 46533 94899 you get to a metalled lane. The OS map looks as though you should turn right but in fact you bear left (virtually straight on) and follow the metalled lane to the road at ST 46389 94672. Turn left (carefully again: quite a busy road) then right almost immediately. There are footpaths but they do not follow a direct line: better to follow the road, which is quiet. At ST 45678 94885 turn left down an even more minor road. Go straight across the cross roads at ST 45366 94679 then bear right with the road and walk downhill. At ST 44919 94794 turn left and take the road past Earlswood Valley Chapel, the oldest Methodist chapel in Wales. Founded in 1791, largely by the efforts of a local woman, Ann Lewis, who had heard John Wesley preaching at Devauden, the chapel was built largely by local labour and tradition maintains that much of the stone was carried from the nearby quarry, by the local women, in their aprons.

Walk on past the chapel and down hill. At ST 44447 94795, just before New Mill house, bear left down towards the ford. Cross the footbridge to the right of the ford and follow the bridle way to your right up into Wentwood. This should take you to Five Ways and on through Wentwood and down the line of the old London-St Davids road (now an eroded track along the Kemeys ridge) and eventually to the Usk Valley Walk into Caerleon.

Job done?

Cwm Bodringallt

From Penrhys up the ridge and down the old Maerdy road to Pentre (https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2016/04/19/penrhys-the-meadow-on-the-nose-of-the-forest/) was a wonderful walk but a long way up the ridge, and a long plod up hill to scramble a long way down again. Also the track is badly damaged by motorbikes and off-road vehicles. Measuring out the route along Cwm Bodringallt, it’s about 2 km shorter and should be an easier walk. Time to try it out.

Start as for the route up the ridge: from the statue, take the road round the west of the estate, and turn left on a roughly metalled road at the top, between the sub-station and what remains of the sports centre, at grid reference ST 00027 95074. Walk up the metalled road and bear left along the forest edge. The road becomes a  rough track along the ridge. Follow it bearing slightly west of north with the fence and the wind farm to your left. You get the best of the views but without the last climb. At about SS 99221 96229 you cross the road to the wind farm. At SS 98589 96828 go through a gate in the fence to your left,

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cross the road through the wind farm and take the track downhill just before the seventh of the eight turbines.

When you reach the gate at SS 98390 96289,

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don’t take the track ahead of you but turn left

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and walk across the fields down Cwm Bodringallt. At SS 98508 95830 you meet a stony track

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which continues down the valley. The current online OS map marks the bridleway on down the track and through the farmyard but the farm gate has a No Access sign. Instead, at SS 98457 95543 follow the waymark through the gate to your right

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but do not continue along the track to your right (this eventually leads to the tumbled ground of the land slip). Instead, turn left and follow the fence to your left. When the fence goes left, continue on the same line along the edge of the steep slope.

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Don’t be distracted by paths to the right but keep on the same line, going steeply downhill,

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through a gate and out to the lane behind the playground at SS 98285 95304.

Turn right on the lane. Cross the road at SS 98045 95328 and continue along the lane behind the houses and out onto the open hillside. Past the quarry, the lane goes steeply downhill through the heather, through a gate and into the trees, and emerges at the south end of Pleasant View (SS 97339 95436). Walk along the street for a few yards then down the steps to your left. Cross the road and railway bridge and walk into Ton Pentre.

Cistercian Way – going west from Neath

Having said Neath-Pontardawe was sorted – I WAS WRONG!

After leaving the abbey and walking up Monastery Road, it really is worth turning left along the A4230 to look at the remains of the abbey gatehouse to your right a little way along. Good photos on Google Earth.

Then on the way back it’s worth turning left at the mini roundabout and walking up Longford Road (rather than Taillwyd Road) – you get a good view of the top of the ironworks furnaces and you can cut down to the Clydach just after the viaduct.

Apart from that the route is all OK. I’m now in touch with the church in Dyffryn and they are keen to be on the route and make arrangements for access. The church is open in summer and it should be possible to arrange access in the winter as well. The churchyard is lovely and the interior is frankly stunning (see Sarah Perons’ photos on my previous posting). So the finalised version of the route is: turn left over the footbridge at SS 74168 99944, walk up through the woods and along the lane to the church, then along the very minor road to SN 73826 00096, across the crossroads and along Primrose Bank.

But after Pontardawe the problems do start. In 1998 and again in 2005 we found paths across Mynydd Gellionen. This is now completely impassable. What is marked as a track and footpath at Heol Ddu lived up to its name – heavily overgrown and knee deep in black peaty mud. There is no way of bypassing it because the whole area is totally waterlogged.

My friend Stuart Fry – stonewaller, blogger, collector of old farm machinery – has suggested an alternative on the other side of the Clydach valley (this is a different Clydach). Friends of his are very much involved in looking after the old parish church of Llangiwg. The church was declared redundant by the Church in Wales in 2004 but has been acquired by a local group, the Friends of Llangiwg Church ( http://www.llangiwg.com/ ) who are working to restore it and hold events there.

You can walk through Pontardawe and up the hill to the church then down to the old river crossing at Rhyd-y-fro. It’s a stiff climb but worth it for the views, the church and the holy well. Alternatively, the St Illtyd’s Walk past Pontardawe has been reworked and re-waymarked. Walk into the middle of Pontardawe and along James Street. Just after the disused chapel, turn right and walk up Allt-y-cham Drive. After the school, this becomes a private road and eventually a track. You can turn right and walk up through the woods to Llangiwg or left and follow the St Illtyd’s Walk round the back of the houses and through the woods. Shortly after the path down from Llangiwg rejoins the Walk, you leave the woods and bear right across the fields to the road. (This section was very very muddy but just about passable. In wet weather it may be better to take the road past the church up hill and turn left on the Gwrhyd Road at SN 72045 06273.)

From here, though, the St Illtyd’s Walk has over 4.5 km of road – minor road and quiet, but still road. Then there is a strange diversion of over 6 km to bypass 2¼ km of road. Admittedly this also avoids a steep climb but it’s a long way round. Part way up the road at SN 70439 06199 a footpath goes up to the left. It has waymarks and gates and everything but it is totally impassable – heavily overgrown with brambles and very boggy and treacherous underfoot. I got through by half-swinging on a tree across the wettest sections but it really isn’t viable. This is a pity, as it gets you to the ridge of Carn Llechart with its Bronze age burial mounds. However, a little further along, at SN 70119 06343, a metalled lane used as a right of way goes back to the left. This will take you to the ridge, though by a rather roundabout route. The road climbs back across the slope then turns sharply north. When the metalled road goes left, keep straight on following a muddy track. This bends sharply left to follow the field boundary at SN 70027 06135. At about SN 69900 06098 look out for a fainter track bearing right over the shoulder of Mynydd Carnllechart. Follow this to the ring cairn at SN 69731 06270.

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Take the track to the left of the cairn. This will take you past several other smaller cairns

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and down to join the line of the Cwm Clydach Walk. This leads round the western slope of Mynydd Carnllechart and up to the remote Capel y Baran.

capelybaran_compressed

Here you rejoin the road briefly before deciding whether to take the shorter and steeper route up to Penlle’rcastell or follow the longer St Illtyd route to the north.

From Penlle’rcastell a rather busier road goes downhill to Ammanford. It may be possible to work out an off-road route for at least part of this – watch this space.

Cistercian Way – back to it!

It’s been a dreadful winter for walking. Not that I mind walking in the rain – as the great Alfred Wainwright said, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing’. But the persistent rain this winter has turned paths to slurry and fields to quicksand. We needed a couple of dry days in a row – and when did we last have that?

Until this week. Going walking on Wednesday involved bunking off 2 meetings and some very peeved colleagues. Thursday was easier. Friday was impossible. But it was worth it. Two glorious days and the route to Pontardawe finalised.

Neath to Pontardawe should have been easy. There was nothing wrong with the way I walked with the late great Derek Thomas in 1998 (apart from the fact that we started in a thunderstorm and Derek wouldn’t stop for prayers). But the sun eventually came out and there were lots of concrete pipes for us to explore. (Derek was justifiably famous for being able to talk interestingly about concrete pipes, different designs, different manufacturing techniques – you wouldn’t think it could be fascinating but it really was. Wish I could remember even half of it.)

But since then new housing has been built, quiet roads have got busy, old paths have been blocked, new permissive paths have been opened, churches have been restored – and I have acquired a GPS unit but not the ability to do route-finding, photograph and take GPS waypoints at the same time. So a simple task actually took 2 days.

Neath Abbey became an industrial site after the Dissolution. There was a copper works on the actual site and the famous Neath abbey Iron works just to the north. The whole area round the abbey site is now an industrial estate, with the canal as a nature reserve running through it.

For the route to Pontardawe: leaving the abbey turn right and walk under the railway bridge. Turn right on the main road then left up Taillwyd Road. Immediately after the next railway bridge take the track bearing down to the left. Cross the bridge over the Clydach. The weir under the bridge provided a head of water for the iron works. The rough track to your left will take you downstream under the railway to the ruins of the ironworks. The most striking of these are the late eighteenth-century furnaces, two of the highest masonry blast furnaces ever constructed.

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The casting houses which would have stood in front of them have gone, but you can still the line of the railway which would have taken materials to the charging houses at the top of the furnaces.

A little further on, the roofless building to the right of the entrance, behind the ironmasters’ house, is the shell of the engine manufactory.

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A projecting wing of this building extended towards the Clydach river and a water wheel powered by a leat from higher up the stream drove a series of machines. Much of the machinery for the works was made on site. There were two cylinder-boring workshops on the ground floor of this building, a fitting shop and smithy. Upstairs was the pattern-makers’ workshop.

Opposite the furnaces and almost completely overgrown (I did once manage to spot them in winter) are the ruins of the forge with its water-wheel housing. Here there was a wrought iron bar and tinplating mill.

The path up the west bank of the Clydach looks like a pretty rural scene with waterfalls but it’s full of industrial archaeology.

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The waterfall under the bridge actually powered the rolling mill and forge.

At SS 73798 98384 cross back over a footbridge and walk up to turn left on the Taillwyd road. The road is blocked to vehicles just north of here. At SS 74028 98751 walk through the bollards and take the footpath ahead of you, up the east bank of the river. At SS 74405 99750 cross a side road and continue along the path. At SS 74316 99531 take the steps up to your right and back to the road. At SS 74328 99849 turn left on Woodview Terrace (signposted Bryncoch RFC).

At SS 74168 99944 the footpath over the bridge to your left takes you up hill and across the fields to the church of St Matthew’s Dyffryn. A pretty churchyard surrounding the nineteenth-century estate church which John Newman describes as a ‘period piece’ with its stencilled texts. Recently restored, the inside glows with colour.

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(photos © Sarah Perons)

It’s not always open, though, so may not be worth the detour.

The road on past the footbridge is busier than it used to be, but you can soon turn off it. At SN 73826 00096 (when the road from St Matthew’s Dyffryn rejoins) turn right along Primrose Bank. This is a bridleway with a rather discreet waymark.

primrosebankwaymark

(not the blue post but the wooden one in the trees). We failed to see it on the Wednesday, pushed on up the road and were attracted by the paths through the Dyffryn Woods, now part of the Woodland Trust. But there seemed to be no way out of the wood to the north. On Thursday we walked along Primrose Bank – and yes, there were primroses –

primroses

round to the right of the rugby club and along a lane though the trees. At SN 73813 00669 the main track turns right and goes steeply down to the river. Turn left here, walk up the footpath to the left of Ty-llwyd Farm and turn right on the road.

At SN 73236 01784 (Tyle-coch Farm) we had another go at finding the path north from Dyffryn Woods. The online OS map shows a bridleway going north along Mynydd Drumau, joining the permissive track through the woods and emerging on a lane at SN 72593 01689. We walked up the hill towards Tir Abbey Farm but there seemed to be no right of way across the fields to join the bridleway. In any case, it’s a long way up to go down again. By the time you rejoin the road at Ty-llwyd it’s a quiet country lane and a pleasant walk.

After 2.4 km from Ty-llwyd, at SN 72901 02601, take the footpath to the right (signposted Alltwen) and walk down the fields through a series of kissing gates and across a little bridge. When you rejoin the metalled road at SN 72753 03109 turn left. This side road becomes a lane then a footpath crossing two roads and a footbridge to emerge in the car park of Tesco’s. Turn right, cross the bridge over the Tawe and walk into Pontardawe.

 

Cistercian Way above Caerphilly

I looked at this last year (http://www.heritagetortoise.co.uk/2014/06/wits-forge-and-fireblast/) and concluded that the only way out of Caerphilly was to follow the Sustrans cycle route 4 (the ‘Three Castles’ route). It’s mainly back streets but well signposted. The cycle route goes through the park to the left of the castle moat, crosses Crescent Road, through the car park, up a ramp and under the railway line. There’s a rather awkward wiggle through the housing estates and across a main road, then round the backs of more houses, through the park and more back streets to the road up Caerphilly Mountain. Cross the road and keep on the cycle path but where it turns left, go straight on

cyclewayPenrhos

to rejoin the mountain road and walk up to the Penrhos roundabout. There is a VERY difficult road crossing to the left of the roundabout. Take the waymarked path straight ahead:

Penrhosroundabout

you are back on the line of the Ridgeway. The path rejoins the Groeswen road. (This is a very unsatisfactory bit of the route but there isn’t a viable alternative – and it does take you past the cafe at the garden centre.)

From here to Groeswen there should be a footpath across the fields past Gwaungledyr-uchaf Farm. I was warned that it was very wet underfoot but we went anyway. The farm is now a riding stables. The horses in the field took a serious interest in the dogs and we had to scramble over the fence in a bit of a hurry. The young woman who runs the stables was very helpful but warned me (again) that the next field was virtually impassable with mud. And it was – no way to get to the kissing gate out of the next field without going through mud to your knees. We made it but I can’t recommend it.

The alternative is the evocatively-named Gypsy Lane – a hollow way to the right of the road past the garden centre.

GipsyLane

At the top of Gypsy Lane turn left and walk along a slightly bigger road to Groeswen. Opposite the pub car park a kissing gate takes you back on the Ridgeway over Mynydd Meio to Eglwysilan.

In 2012 and 2013 we took the footpath which slopes down the hill from Eglwysilan church to the top to Pontypridd – but this is getting so overgrown as to be virtually impassable. There’s a bit of misleading waymarking to contend with as well. Go past the church and churchyard, take the waymarked footpath to the right. Follow the churchyard wall then bear slightly to the right to cross the fence

Eglwysilanpath1stile

(there has been a stile but the step has gone; it’s waymarked but only in the other direction). Keep on the same line and walk across a very marshy field and down the bank (very wet and uneven underfoot) to a footbridge across the stream. Turn left and follow the path which gradually climbs the bank. When you reach the top, follow the fence and cross a stile. Walk below the farmhouse and across another stile. Walk across the next field with the hedge on your right and over a stile just above the next farmhouse.

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Walk above the farmhouse on a stony track through several gates.

The waymark on the last gate is misleading.

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It suggests you bear to the right towards the top corner of the field. I think the map may be out of date: the farmhouse at Tir Cae Mawr is tumbled stone and the field boundary past it which the footpath followed is no longer there. Instead, bear slightly to the left and go a little down hill to the mid point of the far hedge, where there is an old iron kissing gate.

kissing-gate

Through this, turn left and walk a little way down stream to ford the stream, then go straight on round the top of the next field. Through a gate you pick up a rough track which takes you through more gates to the metalled road by Hendre-Prosser. Go straight across the road and down the bank. There is no footbridge but the stream is fordable.

stream

Go through the kissing gate and up the far bank. Keep just below the hedge to your right and walk across the top of the field to a stile.

stiletogorse

Over the stile, take the track to the left of the waymarking post,

waymarktogorse

downhill through the gorse and bracken. This is VERY overgrown – you will need sticks.

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There is a broken stile into the woodland

brokenstile

and a kissing gate a little further on, after which the path becomes clearer. Walk down to a gate to the right of houses (very muddy underfoot).

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Take the track to the left which becomes a metalled road and bears right.Turn right on Rockingstone Terrace, which becomes Hospital Road. Opposite the entrance to the Cottage Hospital turn left into Pontypridd Common (now a public park) and follow the main metalled footpath which goes gradually downhill past the War Memorial then more steeply downhill to the bottom corner of the park where Common Road meets Merthyr Road.

Cross Merthyr Road, head towards the A470 and turn right on Coedpenmaen Close. After the school, take the footbridge across the A470. Walk straight on along Foundry Place, left into Ralph Street, right immediately into Dorothy Street, bear left with the street, turn right on The Parade and left to the bridge across the Taff. This is roughly where the medieval bridge was.

There are alternatives which bypass the overgrown section. There is a footpath which goes SW from Ffynnon Rhingyll, but I haven’t looked at it. It would involve a lot more road walking. It should also be possible to take the footpath just before the Rose and Crown in Eglwysilan and cut down to the cycleway. The other alternative is to stick to the road past Eglwysilan and turn left at Penheol Ely: this is as far as we can see the medieval route but it’s all road. We’ll try to get the local authority on board with some clearance but long-term maintenance will be more of a challenge.