Back to Bedwas

As far as we could make out, the medieval pilgrimage route from Llantarnam to Penrhys probably crossed the Ebbw by the old bridge near the monks’ Maes-tir grange farm (the ‘Pont’ of Pontymister) then went up through Ochrwith and along the north side of Mynydd Machen. There are faint traces of hollow ways under the bracken skirting the summit to the north, and house platforms west of the summit, but we were a bit doubtful about the age of the trackway along the ridge. we thought it perhaps more likely that medieval travellers would have avoided the summits, using the very minor road which contours above the Blackvein then becomes a track crossing the ridge at Twyn yr Oerfel and down the old Bedwas road past Bedwas church. From the old bridge in Bedwas, John Leland’s description of the route ‘through the middle of the county [of Glamorgan]’ to ‘Penrise village where the pilgrimage was’ went along the banks of the Nant yr Aber. We couldn’t follow the stream all the way but we worked out a route along side roads, through a trading estate, along the river bak for a little, then through the Asda car park, under the railway line, along a cycle track paralleling the main road and so up through Hendredenny to Groes-wen.

For many years we tried to walk as near as we could to the old route. This meant a lot of walking through housing, including the Ty-Sign estate in Risca and a long plod through the outskirts of Caerphilly. I like paths that go along alleyways, round the back of industrial estates and between gardens. They belong to an earlier palimpsest of the landscape, before the factories and the railways were built. But they aren’t to everyone’s taste. Also, our original route skirted round Caerphilly. Local authority support tends to require routes that go through town centres, to help with regeneration. And it would be a pity to miss Caerphilly Castle – the in-your-face brutalism of de Clare’s original plan softened by age and the geese and swans in the moat.

So back to the maps. We could leave the medieval route to walk over the summit of Twmbarlwm and down the Darren Road then follow the Raven Walk over the shoulder of Mynydd Machen. And we could avoid the outskirts of Caerphilly by crossing the Rhymney in Machen and following the Machen Forge Trail then cutting across to the Van (details of all this at https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/twmbarlwm-machen-or-not/ , https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2014/06/01/wits-forge-and-fireblast/ , https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/cistercian-way-machen-to-caerphilly/ ).

Lovely walk – but it misses out Bedwas Church. This is a building very dear to our hearts and has recently had a lot of conservation work. Also the route isn’t problem-free. The line of the Raven Walk above the Blackvein is in very poor shape – worrying for a promoted path – and the tracks over the shoulder of Mynydd Machen can be so overgrown as to be impassable in summer. Then on the route from the Machen Forge Trail to Caerphilly there are some dreadfully wet and boggy sections.

Rewalking that route recently (and having to swing on a tree to get over one stream) I realised how near it gets to Bedwas bridge. Can we reconcile the two routes, keep to the tracks along the Mynydd Machen ridge, take in Bedwas then cut round through the fields to the Van? That would then leave a very short road section into the middle of Caerphilly.

First job was to check the footpaths from Bedwas. Go over the old bridge, then turn left through some bollards.

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This lane leads to a new housing estate and Llanfedw Close. Walk up the close, turn left into Rhyd-y-gwern Close, right almost immediately into Rudry Close (all these streets named after old villages round Caerphilly) and after the first house take the waymarked footpath to the left.

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This winds between gardens and woods to emerge on a side road at ST 17207 88151. Turn left, and in 0.5 km at ST 17636 87930 turn right on a roughly-metalled lane over a disused railway line and up to Gwern-y-domen Farm. (The actual Gwern y Domen is an earthwork motte-and-bailey castle just south of the railway line and round about here DSC_2894

 

a bit about it at http://www.castleuk.net/castle_lists_wales/171/vancastle.htm . The railway line is overgrown but passable and seems to be walked occasionally. ON the other hand – there are plans to build a housing estate on the fields round here.)

Walk between the farm buildings at Gwern-y-domen

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and continue on the same line on a waymarked footpath through bracken and scrub. At ST 17076 87241 and ST 17022 87121 keep to the right (north) side of the hedge. From ST 17022 87121 you will be able to see a double line of hedge to your left – a sure indication that this is an old road. At ST 16757 86939, turn left through some rather complicated gates and walk down the lane past the Van, now restored and made into several substantial houses. At the bottom of the lane, turn right on Cwrt Ty Mawr and right again on Van Road. From here it’s a short walk along the road to Caerphilly and the castle.

We now need to look again at tracks and side roads from Risca over Mynydd Machen and down to Bedwas.

 

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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

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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:

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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.

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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

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(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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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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.

Wit’s forge and fireblast

I probably spoke too soon about the chest infection, and it has been a horrific few weeks in work (undergraduate programme closed, no forward planning but a tidal wave of daft paperwork) – but walking is therapy so we are back to it. Rachel and I have walked the Rhymney Valley Ridgeway from Machen to Rudry so yesterday’s task was to check out the link along the Machen Forge Trail (more on this at http://your.caerphilly.gov.uk/countryside/sites/your.caerphilly.gov.uk.countryside/files/pdf/walking/2012%20Stroll%20On%20Machen%20Forge.pdf). It works very well as far as Caerphilly but then the problems start. Machen has two pubs (the Ffwrrwm Ishta is closed at the moment for renovation but is reopening) and local shops.

Follow the line of the Ridgeway down to the main road, turn right, then left down Forge Road. A new footbridge crosses the river  alongside the narrow road bridge – good views back, and down the river.

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Turn right along a very minor road and walk upstream, passing Green Row, originally the barracks built for the pit sinkers. When the road bears left and away from the river, take the track straight on.

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You are out in the countryside but it is dotted with hulks of its industrial past – this spectacular viaduct

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and the stables for the pack ponies who carried iron and coal before the railway was built.

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(You can get to this point by walking through Machen and along the cycle path then crossing a new footbridge.)

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The path climbs up to the railway embankment and down again where bridges are missing. The stonework of these bridges is magnificent – huge quoins carved to exactly the angle of the  line.

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Victorian public infrastructure has such confidence in its permanence – none of that nonsense about the cheapest quote.

Eventually you cross back over the line and walk up the field edge to a path between houses

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and emerge in Waterloo village.

From here we took the drier road route to Garth Place (https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/cistercian-way-machen-to-caerphilly/) to check out the pub. Pub icons on OS maps are no longer reliable as so many rural pubs are closing. It’s ironical that we have a drink problem but we are losing pubs that were the centres of community life. They have almost become part of our past – so much so that the Folk Museum in St Fagan’s has abandoned its Welsh nonconformist temperance identity and is rebuilding a Cardiff pub as part of the industrial area of the museum.

The good news is that the Rudry Arms in Garth Place is still open – the bad news is that it’s only open during the day on Saturdays and Sundays. So weekday walkers will need sandwiches. Oh, and it’s in a street called Starbuck Street but I couldn’t see any sign of that either.

Garth Place to Caerphilly is a lovely walk over Rudry Common with glorious views north to Mynydd Machen and Mynydd Eglwysilan. From the Van, walk down hill then turn right along Cwrt Ty Mawr and right again on the Van Road, straight over the roundabout and into Caerphilly.

We walked from Caerphilly to Groeswen as part of the Cultural Olympiad ‘Cauldrons and Furnaces’ pilgrimage on 2012 – but we did it in torrential rain and I have no idea where we went! The Sustrans cycle route 4 goes through the castle park. It starts well – a path around the castle moat with geese and ducklings –

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crosses Crescent Road, through the car park, up a ramp

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and under the railway line.

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There’s a rather awkward wiggle through the housing estates

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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 striaght on the the big roundabout. Here you have a VERY difficult road crossing and you are back on the line of the Ridgeway, across the fields to Groeswen.

Cara and I got bored with this and tried to find an alternative but there really isn’t one. The other side streets in Caerphilly just get you back to the main road. There are footpaths through the park but they too lead to main roads. If the route is going into Caerphilly we’ll just have to stick with the cycle route out. The alternative is to stay on the Ridgeway – it’s a lovely walk along the ridge between Cardiff and Caerphilly but goes some way to the south and makes for a very long day’s walk. We can put both on the web site and give people the choice.

Cistercian Way: Machen to Caerphilly

I feel I’ve spent Easter as a martyr to the wider impact agenda. The Cambrians’ conference at Llangollen was brilliant (https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/cambrian-monuments/, https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/more-cambrian-monuments/) … but I caught a cold. Colds always settle on my chest … so I went up Twmbarlwm with Cymdeithas Twmbarlwm, the Anclent Cwmbran Society and a few hundred others (https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2014/04/19/good-friday-riding-westward/), and got the father and mother of all chest infections that flattened me for a fortnight.

It’s over now – but it put paid to a lot of plans for fieldwork over the Easter break. Before Easter I had a series of very positive meetings with local footpaths and tourism officers about resurrecting the Cistercian Way. The plan now is to try to get Llantarnam to Margam clear and waymarked in time to provide a flagship project for the Valleys Festival of Walking in 2015. (Rhondda Cynon Taf were really gung-ho about doing it for this year but we concluded that really wasn’t workable!)

We still need a few tweaks to the route. When we walk from Llantarnam to Penrhys as a pilgrimage we try to keep as close as possible to the medieval route, but this results in a lot of walking through built-up areas, down through the Ty-Sign housing estate from Twmbarlwm and through the industrial estates around Caerphilly. Last year we bypassed Ty-Sign and walked from Twmbarlwm to Pegwn-y-bwlch, down the Darren road and up through Coed Waun-fawr to join the Mynydd Machen ridge just above Ynys Hywel. I’m now trying to find a better route into Caerphilly. The Caerphilly footpaths officer suggested the new cycle route along the north bank of the Rhymney but I don’t like walking on cycle paths (too many speed merchants in dayglo Lycra shorts!).

There’s a lane down from Twmbarlwm that leads to Moriah Chapel in Risca then up past the Danygraig cemetery (where so many of Steve’s family are buried), east of Mynydd Machen and down into Machen. I remember walking that one twenty years ago: there are some good hollow trails on the north slope of Mynydd Machen, suggesting it’s an old trackway. Then you can pick up the Machen Forge trail to Waterloo. But how to get from there to Caerphilly? Time to put the boots on …

There are a couple of possible paths from Waterloo to the Van, on the outskirts of Caerphilly. When the Machen Forge trail gets to the main road through Waterloo,

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go straight across and along the path between the houses, then turn left and walk along a stony lane past some pretty cottages. Ignore the footpath turning left: but when you get to the end of the lane, go through the gate into the field

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and continue along the same line with the house to your right. Go through another gate

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into the woods. There were bluebells and wood anemones, and I picked wild garlic leaves to cook for supper. When the paths divide,

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turn right and walk along a very muddy path

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along a stream with lots of evidence of iron working.

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At the end of the wood, go over a bridge and stile

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and follow the waymark to the left along the edge of the woods. The footpath is stiled and waymarked, though some of the stiles could do with a bit of attention.

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Look out for another redundant stile.

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Cross to the left and keep going on the same line, over several more stiles

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and up to the drive of Pentwyn-gwyn a lovely old farmhouse with an eighteenth-century datestone.

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Walk up the drive and turn right on a minor road. In about ¼ mile, when the road bends sharp right, turn sharp left and walk up the stony lane. It goes virtually parallel with the road for the first hundred yards then gradually bears to the right and emerges on Rudry Common.

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Here you turn right and walk along a track across the common. The route across the fields from Waterloo is a good walk but was very wet underfoot. We have had a very wet winter and I need to walk it again in dry weather. Meanwhile, in wet weather it might be better to use more of the minor roads. Where the paths divide just past Waterloo, take the track to the left

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and walk along the stream

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then over a bridge.

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Bear right to walk under the pylons and up to the top right corner of the field.  Turn right on a minor road. Cross the main road in the middle of Garth Place village and walk up Garth Lane.

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Keep to the right of the houses at the top of the lane, which becomes the track over Rudry Common.  When the tracks divide,

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take the right fork and walk down hill through a substantial gate

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and over a new bridge.

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The next bit is very wet and boggy –

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we may need to do some work here –

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then you go through a gap in the hedge to the right

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and bear left to walk diagonally up the slope.

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At the top go right then left through the gaps

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and continue on the same line. Follow the track to the right of the knoll ahead of you, with Gwern-y-domen farm to your right,

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and walk down to join the stony track to the farm. Turn left and follow the track round the hill. It becomes a muddy path, then goes through a double gate,

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and eventually becomes a metalled lane leading down to the Van. The Van (Welsh Y Fan, The Place) was one of the most impressive mansions in the valleys, built by Thomas Lewis in the late sixteenth century. The interpretation board outside says there was an earlier castle on the site and points to twelfth-century masons’ marks on the stone.

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But there is a bit of a trap here: much of the stone to build the house came from Caerphilly Castle (lots more on this in the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales inventories for Glamorgan, a lot of it online at http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=lm4CmIvbAa4C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false ) . The Lewis family moved on in the early seventeenth century and built an even bigger and better house along the same lines at St Fagan’s  (it’s now the National History Museum). By the end of the 20th century, the Van was a ruin, roofless and crumbling. Then in the 1990s it was bought by a restorer who virtually rebuilt it and made three substantial houses out of the mansion and outbuildings.

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There was some criticism of the restoration techniques but it did preserve the fabric and re-create the appearance of this grand gentry mansion. This is an unsolvable problem for historians: do we stick out for the highest standards of conservation practice or do we go for something that’s commercially viable and will actually happen? And do we conserve as found, undertake limited restoration (which can involve  replacing a lot of the fabric – how much of the tracery in Tintern’s windows is original) or go for a complete rebuild? No easy answers. But we think we do have the answer for this bit of the Cistercian Way – it’s a lovely walk, with lots of interest, and from the lane below the Van it’s a short walk along the road into Caerphilly itself and the real castle.

Heritage trails (again)

We had another go at the last part of Pilgrimage Day 2 (having given up at Groeswen because we were wet to our underthings last Sunday). Here we are setting off

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And here is a contender for World’s Most Useless Stile.

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Cute ponies on the ridge

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and Rachel and Cara contemplate the trig point.

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It was a splendid walk – but the problem is, it isn’t the original pilgrim way. That, as far as we can make out, followed the line of the minor road round the contour east from Groeswen, then turned north and went past a farm which is actually called Penygroes (head of the cross). A local folklorist had a story about a medieval cross on the corner, but I’ve never seen a reference to it anywhere else.

The route we took has a lot of up but a splendid view, taking in Steep and Flat Holm, the Quantocks, the Carmarthenshire Fan and Brecon Beacons, the Twmbarlwm and Mynydd Machen ridges and the tips of the towers of the Second Severn Crossing. The original route is flatter, goes along the spring line (handy for medieval pilgrims with horses or mules) and has good views of the Glamorgan hills – but it’s a road, and there is a lot of rubbish. What to do? Suggest both, make it clear the upper route isn’t the original one, and leave it up to the individual pilgrim?

We had lunch in Eglwysilan and contemplated the tombstones. There’s a nice balance of Welsh and English, including this one in cast iron

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and this one where the early part is in Welsh and the last entry in English.

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Also these cute back-to-back cherubs

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and a rather more modern cherub who looks as if he is asking ‘Please, sir, can I have some more?’

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From Eglwysilan you can continue along the road (the original route) or cut across the fields – we went for the fields, got lost once but scrambled back on track and got down to the White Bridge in commendable time.

Saturday we will set off from the green just below the White Bridge at 10 am and head for Mynachdy, Llanwynno and Penrhys – and Derek the Weather promises a good day.