Back to Bedwas again

Our route over Mynydd Machen using the Raven Walk and the Machen Forge Trail didn’t really work – too many dodgy sections, plus it left out Bedwas Church. So we are back to thinking about a route from the Blackvein Road and over Twyn yr Oerfel to Bedwas but without so much road walking.

From Twmbarlwm, walk down the Darren road and along the canal to the bridge over the Ebbw at ST 22581 91434 (this is as on https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/as-the-raven-flies/ ). Cross the river, bear right with the road. The footpath to the left from ST 22369 91196 has been cleared but don’t take it. The modern road swings right and left but the old road is still there as a bridleway – bear left at ST 22309 91151, cross the road at ST 22286 91034 and continue on the bridleway. At ST 22206 90899 walk a few metres down the drive to a large house

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then bear left on a waymarked bridleway

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up into the trees.

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At ST 22071 90922 turn right on a stony forest road. There were lots of streams for Nell

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though we did wonder about this strange piece of industrial archaeology.

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Follow the road round the contour for about 1.8 km. At ST 20495 90928 turn sharp left and walk uphill.

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Don’t cross the stile at ST 20619 90899

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but bear right with the track and continue up hill. At ST 20457 90637 turn right on the metalled road. At ST 20232 90469 the road goes downhill to the right: take the track which bears to the left and follow it for just over 1.5 km.

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Wonderful views

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and you can just see fields of solar panels on the far ridge.

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At ST 18726 90687 the main track goes left then right. At ST 18569 90661 cross a cattle grid and continue across open mountain land.

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There are two Bronze Age burial mounds above to your left – Twyn yr Oerfel East and Twyn yr Oerfel West. You can take any of the tracks up to the left to explore them. Twyn yr Oerfel West

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has an unusual enclosed forecourt – for what the archaeologists call ‘possible ritual activity’.

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The main track bears round to the left at ST 18135 90728 and crosses towards the coal tip.

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Here we think we may have gone wrong – we should have gone further to the east and looked for the track heading downhill from ST 18079 90683 and past Ty Canol Farm. Instead, we took a very steep and stony track that skirted to the left of the coal tips above the old Bedwas Colliery. It worked, but it wasn’t what we planned. On the other hand … below Ty Canol it’s road walking, which is one thing we were trying to avoid and one reason why we diverted away from the mountain road past Pen-y-waun (this we think is the old Heol Bedwas – there was a farm called Pen-heol-bedwas near the top).

To follow what we did today, from ST 17946 90654 you can go over the tip (shorter, steeper) or take the gentler path round to the left. When the paths rejoin at ST 17767 90353, go through the gate ahead of you

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and down a steep stony path. (Be careful – the stone can be very slippery in wet weather.) Ignore paths to the right leading over the coal tips and keep going downhill.

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The path is fainter but still there.

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From about ST 17913 89543 the track is surfaced. The site of the old Bedwas Navigation Colliery is to your left (more on this at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bedwas_Navigation_Colliery ).Turn left on the surfaced road which then bears round to the right and under a line of  pylons. At ST 17827 89410 the track we were originally aiming for joins us to the left. We bore to the right

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and continued on that line

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just below the line of pylons. At ST 17637 89430 the track divides.

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Take the left fork. This becomes a metalled road through housing. Continue on the same line until you see the church below you to your left, through the trees.

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Past the church, turn left on Church Street: this gets you to the main churchyard gate. You can then continue down hill to the centre of Bedwas, cross the dual carriageway at the traffic lights, go over the old bridge ahead of you and pick up the route described in https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2018/12/10/back-to-bedwas/ .

So do we go with what we did today (it was a brilliant day’s walk) or try to find the lane past Ty-canol – or maybe look for the footpath that cuts across between the two? The road goes ever on …

 

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Walking with Ravens

Getting someone else to walk the route from the instructions on the web site has been very useful. Andy has spotted a few places where the instructions need to be clearer or where we need to focus on waymarking. On Friday we both walked up the hill from Risca towards the Blackvein. Apparently we went past the cottage where Steve’s father was brought up, but its foundations are now lost in the woods. Someone has done a bit of clearing on the old line of the Raven Walk from ST 22375 91193

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(I must get back and have another look at that) but we stuck to the road, took the bridleway across the zigzags and headed for the top path at ST 22311 90954.

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This now seems to be the official line of the Raven Walk – there’s a waymark on the other side of the post. It looks a bit different from when I was last there because the forest below the path has recently been felled.  This opens out some wonderful views but the logging trail does confuse the path. We need to get some waymarking done here as well as a bit of maintenance further on.

The line of the footpath becomes a stony track, crosses a forest road at ST 22471 90939

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and continues along the track, but you have to look out for a path turning right off the track and into the trees.

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We found this at the second attempt and it climbs into the trees and up to the stile.  From here the Raven Walk should go left along the edge of the forest to the gate at ST 23095 90588 and up the hedge to cross the minor road at ST 22933 90388. This bit is very overgrown with faint tracks through the undergrowth – Andy followed one of these and got to the road a bit to the west. There’s a right of way and several tracks running up to the road, one of which might be the hollow way I spotted there some years ago. Anyway, they all lead to the better track over the shoulder of Mynydd Machen and from there it’s clear all the way to Caerphilly and Pontypridd.

Andy’s blog post on this bit is at https://pilgrimpace.wordpress.com/2016/10/21/risca-pontypridd/ .

Twmbarlwm-Machen (or not)

After all that fun in Ceredigion it’s back to tweaking the SE Wales route so we can get it waymarked for next summer. Walking to Penrhys as our annual pilgrimage we’ve tended to stick as closely as we can to our best guess at the medieval route – though we have in recent years taken to walking along the canal in Cwmbran rather than plodding up the old main road to Old Cwmbran. We also give in to temptation and walk to the summit of Twmbarlwm in fine weather. I don’t think medieval pilgrims would have bothered with this – the line of the medieval route is probably the modern byway that runs along the top of the forest, though there’s an even lower track through the forest and the farmyard at Pant-yr-yrfa.

I’ve been discussing these routes with Dave Standing, who has done some excellent work surveying grange boundaries on Mynydd Maen (as a backup to his main work on monastic water management systems – on which he will be publishing Any Day Soon!). He’s tracked grange boundaries through the forest and we’ve been discussing whether roads would go through granges. I think they would have gone through grange farmland but not through the inner enclosure round the farm yards and domestic buildings. There are actually examples of roads being diverted round grange precincts – the Ffordd y Gyfraith at Llangewydd north of Bridgend is a striking example, and the documented diversion of another major road round Dore’s Llanfair Cilgoed grange between Monmouth and Abergavenny.

Our discussion has been triggered by a debate over 4×4 access to the Mynydd Maen ridge. This one is always a problem. On the one hand people have the right to use roads for their legal purpose, and if a track is classified as a byway for all vehicles they have a right to go there. These tracks are also part of the historical evidence of the landscape and they often indicate where the old roads went. On the other hand, what 4×4 drivers really seem to like is ploughing along up steep climbs and through the mud, which is exciting but causes huge damage. There’s also the problem that some (not all) use the legal byway as an access route for some illegal off-roading along the ridge. There’s another RUPP (Road Used as Public Path) crossing the ridge but I think that’s been reclassified. The main problem is the very eroded track along the line of the ridge, which isn’t on any map.

Torfaen Council could reclassify the legal route as a restricted byway but it would be expensive as they’d be challenged. They could try to fence and gate it to stop illegal off-roading but that again would be expensive and might make difficulties for the commoners who need to move stock around. The commoners don’t like the off-roading as it damages the grazing and scares animals.

There’s also the problem of how you accommodate horse riders. Restricted byways are effectively bridleways, open to horses and pedal bicycles but not motorbikes (not sure about the legal status of those battery-assisted pedal bikes, though). 4x4s can’t get through horse gates but I’ve yet to see a gate that will allow a horse through but block a scrambler motorbike. I’ve been looking a bit more carefully at horse-riding routes because of Robin Hanbury Tenison’s idea to ride part of the Cistercian Way next year. Most of the paths I’ve been walking in Ceredigion are actually bridleways or restricted byways – there’s a wonderful Ceredigion on Horseback project (more on that at http://ceredigionbridlewaysgroup1.webs.com/home.htm ). Ceredigion doesn’t seem to have the same problem with scrambler bikes. I do remember a very imaginative proposal for a wheelchair-friendly trail round the Llyn Alwen reservoir in north Wales with gates you could open with radar keys (those are the keys you use to get into disabled toilets) but I can see that if we tried that round here you’d have old ladies being mugged for their radar keys!

Anyway, back to the footpaths off Twmbarlwm. As far as we can tell the medieval route ran down through what is now the Ty-Sign housing estate, along Mill Road (which ultimately gets its name from Llantarnam Abbey’s Maes-tir mill) and across the Ebbw at the actual Pont of Pontymister. Pontymister Farm, on the far side of the river, is on the site of Llantarnam’s Maes-tir Grange. All very interesting, but a long plod on main roads and through the houses. We’ll put it on the web site for purists but people walking mainly for pleasure would probably want more footpaths and less busy roads. Last year we trialled a new route over Mynydd Machen but that still left us with a long walk through the suburbs of Caerphilly. I’ve been discussing this with Caerphilly CBC and they would obviously like the route to go through the middle of Caerphilly (regeneration reasons) so I’ve been looking at ways to do this going via Machen and past the Van (see the blog at https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2014/06/01/wits-forge-and-fireblast/ and links). The alternative is to use the Ridgeway and bypass Caerphilly to the south – a longer walk and would probably mean an extra day getting from Llantarnam to Penrhys, but it’s a lovely route.

Whichever one we go for, we need a route down Twmbarlwm and over the saddle south-east of Mynydd Machen to pick up the Rhymney Valley Ridgeway into Machen. Plenty of footpaths and bridleways marked on the map, so Cara and I set off with our sandwiches. We did some zigzagging up the Risca side of Mynydd Maen. The best route off Twmbarlwm is still the one we used last year – over the twmp, down to Pegwn-y-bwlch and down the lane that eventually becomes the Darren Road. When this crosses the canal, you can turn left (instead of right, which we did last year) and walk along the towpath for a couple of hundred yards then turn right down Temperance Hill.

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This is a VERY steep road which becomes an even steeper metalled lane heading towards the spire of St Mary’s Church. When you reach the railway line turn left down steps and right on the road under the railway bridge. Go to the right of St Mary’s churchyard, turn left on the main road through Risca and right almost immediately along Exchange Road (named after the Exchange pub on the main road – still there, but for how much longer?). Cross the Ebbw by a new footbridge straight ahead of you. Turn left on a metalled footpath and walk under the dual carriageway.

Here the problems started. You can walk up the steps from the underpass to a minor road through an industrial area. Turn right past the factory then immediately left through the brickworks yard and up to where the road is blocked by large stones.

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This becomes the path through the Dan-y-graig nature reserve. When the paths divide, bear right

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and climb steadily to a stile at the top right corner of the reserve.

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There has clearly been a path from here up towards Mynydd Machen but it’s heavily overgrown. It would be passable in winter with a stick to beat back the brambles – in summer (with shorts) it really isn’t. We went back to the bottom of the nature reserve and walked along the road past the cemetery. This has a lot of new housing (we were clearly in the posh end of Risca!) which has put paid to the bridleway but the road continues and becomes a track above the new part of the cemetery and along Mynydd Machen.

This track really goes too far back to the south-east but at least it eventually joins our best guess at the original pilgrimage route, the minor road from the old bridge through Lower Ochrwyth and up to Castle Farm. After Castle Farm it becomes a track – and in about 100 yards this was completely blocked by a huge fallen tree.

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We got part way through this but it really wasn’t safe.

Back to the map. Back down the track towards the cemetery and over a stile. Footpath across fields. Blocked by barbed wire and a vehicle yard – and we could see that it wouldn’t bypass the blockage on the lane. Back down the fields. Up and down the hedges looking for gates and scrambling places. Eventually we worked our way back to the route from the nature reserve and managed to follow it up the slope. It’s heavily overgrown once you get to the mountain but just about passable (we did go into the fields at one point and had to scramble out over a barbed wire fence). The council has put nice new gates in but if the track isn’t walked it will disappear.

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At this point I found myself wishing for some scrambler bikes to bash down the undergrowth!

We walked along the roughly metalled road to the saddle (this is our original pilgrimage route in reverse), and a little way up the very eroded track over Mynydd Machen itself. You don’t have to go up to the summit: a waymarking post takes the Rhymney Valley Ridgeway to the left and into the forest then downhill to Machen. There are tracks going to the right at the waymarking post and one of those might give us a better way up from Risca – that will need another day’s walking. The Raven Walk route is a possibility but that would take us all the way up river to the bridge by Crosskeys College that we used last year.

Watch this space. Again.

 

Who would true valour see?

On Saturday a small but happy band of pilgrims set off from Llantarnam – with me were my daughter and her long-suffering boyfriend, one of my MA students, three women from the Ancient Cwmbran Society and of course Cara the pilgrim dog. We had a good send-off from Sister Ann Larkins of the Sisters of St Joseph of Annecy including a blessing with holy water from a medieval stoup found in the abbey ruins.

Over the years our route has diverged from the medieval trackway. The old maps suggest this went across the fields, down the lane behind the church, and along the main Llantarnam Road towards Cwmbran. You can’t now walk across the fields (there’s a dual carriageway across the route) and the road  makes pretty boring walking. So we go down the Abbey drive, along Ty Coch Lane, and head for the canal towpath. Less authentic but a better walk.

We reclaim the old road in Old Cwmbran and plod over St Dial’s Hill. The women from the Ancient Cwmbran society remembered playing there as children and might even have seen the ruins of St Dial’s farmhouse before it was demolished to build the police college. It could have been on the site of the medieval shrine chapel, but unless we could get in to look at the ruins we could never know.

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Here we are on top of the hill. Down the other side and past Greenmeadow Community Farm, a classic hollow way with outgrown beech hedges takes us across the modern roads and up to Thornhill. The Ancient Cwmbran Society gave us tea and we debated whether to try the top route up Mynydd Maen (virtually a stream in places  but the original route the monks would have taken to their granges at the Rhyswg and Cil-lonydd) or to cut through Greenmeadow Woods. The top route has the better views, and we all had good boots, so up we went.

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The waymark actually says ‘Pilgrims’ Way’. The blackberries were at their best, we had lunch above the ruins, and Dave Standing found some grange boundaries. There is still so much archaeology to explore up there.

I have always felt that the medieval pilgrims wouldn’t have gone over the top of Twmbarlwm – why go all that way up just to come down again?? The track through the woods towards Pant-yr-yrfa is now pretty clear but the farmyard is well blocked so we had to go up the ridge in the end.But there were some magnificent bank and ditch features under the trees – this is all part of the Dorallt grange and has evidence of early mining.

Then we diverted again from the original route, which would have gone down the road through Ty-Sign and across the Stony Bridge in Pontymister. But that makes for a long road walk through the houses – so we headed across Twmbarlwm to Pegwn-y-bwlch, down the Darran road, along the canal and down to the Blackvein bridge.

Dave Standing’s photos of the day are at https://picasaweb.google.com/108133310404705177233/LlantarnamAbbeyToPenrhysPilgrimage2013DayOne

Sunday started well but by the time we crossed the ridge above Pen-heol-bedwas the rain was setting in. Cara did some very pathetic shivering over lunch, though we think this may have been a ploy to get extra cake. The afternoon was just the two of us, my daughter Rachel and myself – even Cara had gone home in the minibus. We had a wonderful welcome from the ladies at Groeswen, but once we stopped we couldn’t get going again.

So we propose doing the final section – Groeswen to Eglwysilan and on  to Pontypridd – on Wednesday, when the weather looks a little more promising. Saturday is also looking good so far. We set off from the green by the White Bridge, on the Ynysybwl road out of Pontypridd, at 10 am on Saturday and aim to be in Penrhys in time for tea. There will be transport back to the start.