Giant Hogweed Warning



GIANT HOGWEED WARNING


Just a reminder to walkers, especially now it seems summer has finally come, to be wary of Giant Hogweed when you are out in the country especially if you have your children with you. The picture below shows a young girl who suffered 2nd degree burns after coming into contact with Giant Hogweed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Bluebells at Wentwood and Brecon Beacons

 Bluebells



The appearance of the first spring flowers always has Wenvoe walkers thinking about the arrival of bluebells. Spring this year was cool and we enjoyed wood anemones, daffodils, primula etc. for longer than usual. Then the blue bells arrived. You can spot them in lots of places in Wenvoe but many of them are the Spanish variety which overrun the English variety and spread rapidly (in your garden keep them under control or they will take over). English bluebells are daintier than their Spanish relatives (which stand straighter) with arching stems and hanging bells. You can find English bluebells (which I will refer to simply as bluebells from here on) near Wenvoe, including Wenvoe woods and Coed Nant Bran. The woods between Castell Coch and Pentyrch were a glorious carpet of bluebells mixed with wild garlic. We have enjoyed them on several walks:



Wentwood


Wentwood is northeast of Newport and is the largest area of ancient woodland in Wales covering 1000 hectares. In its 1000-year history it has been a hunting preserve for Chepstow castle and there is evidence of charcoal hearths and the remains of a mill. The woodland is a haven for wildlife and a peaceful place to visit with many ancient trees. There are paths for walkers, cyclists and horse riders, which are well – marked and graded. It is also a great place to see bluebells.

The wood is gradually being restored to native broad -leaved trees which were replaced by fast growing conifers for timber in the 20th C. Nature has a way though and as the conifers are removed seedlings of the original woodland are taking advantage of the light and growing.

We were a larger group than usual and were soon catching up with each other. The air was clear and the sun shining so that the newly opened leaves on trees were bright green. The trees sheltered us from the heat of the sun and walking was fairly easy

Occasionally we reached a clearing in the wood where we could see the hills – Sugarloaf and Skirrid.

But the stars of the day were the trees and flowers. The purply-blue of bluebells highlighted by stitchwort and the trunks of silver birches but mostly contrasting with the lime green of newly emerged tree leaves. And as if this wasn’t enough the air was full of the sweet scent which is unmistakably bluebell. (Some people find it difficult to smell bluebells – I recently learnt that it is easier to smell them if you draw air in lightly through your nostrils; if you take great gulps the scent can elude you.).

Passing through an area where a large swathe of trees had been cleared, we were able to see the Severn estuary and the Prince of Wales bridge. Soon we were back in the woodland and came to the ‘Curley Oak’. The oldest tree in Wales’s largest and oldest forest. There is something truly primeval about this hollow ancient tree, said to be over 900 years old. Yet, until the Woodland Trust launched an ambitious campaign to purchase over 350 ha of Wentwood Forest in 2005, few people even knew of its existence. The Woodland Trust has thinned the trees which tightly surrounded the Curley Oak to allow in more light and give it a better chance of survival. [Walk 7m 900ft Map 152]



Brecon Beacons


A couple of weeks later we went to the Brecon Beacons, parking above Pontiscill reservoir to walk in the Taf Fechan forest and above Pentwyn reservoir. Another fine day and a smashing walk. As soon as we stepped over a stile into open countryside a sea of bluebells was laid out before us. We travelled up the east side of the Taf Fechan to Torpantau station, stopping for long periods to watch the Brecon Railway steam train. Then we crossed the river at the bottom of the Taf Fechan reservoir which is being returned to nature with some excellent footpaths but no proper link to the east. We stopped for lunch alongside the reservoir and chatted to some people who had started at 8 a.m. and walked a long distance but were still springing down the path. As we descended on the western side of river, the ground was boggy for a while. Then we found more bluebells in the open, in an area where trees had been cleared. There were new buds on the various conifers and a huge area of trees which had tumbled down, partly felled and partly due to wind damage.

We were close to the Barn tea rooms and most of us went to get refreshments whilst our hero drivers walked another mile to retrieve the cars and came back to join us. [Walk 6.5m 850ft Map OL12]

In June I spotted a single bluebell on a walk from Merthyr Mawr – the last one for another year.

 



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Upper Cwmbran

 Upper Cwmbran


We parked in Upper Cwmbran, climbing to The Square, which has stone cottages arranged in a square with one side open to the countryside. There was a public house ‘The Squirrel’ which had a school, on the upper floor, for local children. The bus terminus was the site of a mill pond and wool factory which manufactured red flannel shirts for miners.

A stile led to a footpath and the remains of Mineslope Colliery. A noticeboard explained that the beautiful landscape surrounding us was once a thriving industrial site. In 1837 two levels were driven into the hill to extract coal and clay. The clay was used in a nearby brickworks whilst the coal was taken by tram to the newly erected wharf at Caerleon and on to London. The line of the tramway is still visible behind Brickyard cottage which together with Mineslope cottages were built for local workers.

Mineslope Colliery was developed to exploit ‘black gold’. Neglected buildings were demolished in the 1980s and renovation of the site began in 2012. The Engine house remains are visible as is the Lamp house, where miners would have lit their lamps before going underground. There are remains of the fan house, which would have extracted foul air from the mine using a steam driven fan.

We continued, accompanied by a group with 3 Rottweiler dogs which made some of us uneasy, but the dogs were well behaved and playing amongst themselves. We soon came to Blaen Bran reservoir, which is derelict, and the rottweiler group peeled away. Several trees in the forest had been severely damaged by recent storms.

Now we were coming up to the mountain ridge and were exposed to a strong cold wind. The surrounding countryside and Cwmbran were spread out below us and we spied Llandegfedd reservoir in the distance. We followed a good track and after a while found deep ruts, damage from off road vehicles. We passed several mine boundary markers and reached the trig point at the walk’s highest point. We strode across the mountain top, skirting muddy stretches and following a long line of electricity pylons for a time. At lunchtime we ducked down into a dip in the hill sheltering from the wind (partially successful). We had good views of a deep valley and remembered a previous walk.

The track down the mountain was good and we soon found ourselves in the company of a few off-road motorcyclists, we got off the dusty track to avoid being sprayed. Signs warned of a steep drop into a quarry to our left. Turning at the southernmost point of our walk, we spotted the top of Twmbarlwm peeking above the hills.

 

Now we quickly lost height and came below the quarries, which were covered in vegetation. Three ewes with their lambs walked at the side of the track with us which seemed strange until we realised a man with a dog, was walking behind them. He turned back up the hill before he reached us, and the ewes headed to safe pasture. We had seen buzzards, crows and heard the delightful song of the lark. We passed a pond with a couple of geese above farmland.

Continuing, we were surprised to find a noticeboard about Llanderfel chapel, its remains being in the field ahead. Derfel, known as Derfel Gadarn (mighty, valiant, strong) was a 6th century monk. Legend says he was a follower of King Arthur and one of seven warriors to survive the battle of Camlan. He became a monk after the battle and founded two churches, the other in North Wales. He became bishop of the monastery on Bardsey Island, a holy place where some 20,000 saints are said to be buried.

In the Middle Ages the chapel was part of the Llantarnam Abbey to Penrhys pilgrimage route. Thousands of pilgrims visited the chapel as it was thought that Derfel could enter Hell and bring back the lost soul of a relative. In the sixteenth century a wooden statue of St Derfel was taken from the chapel, under Henry VIII’s orders. Legend said that if the statue was burnt it would burn a forest; it was used as firewood in the public burning of John Forest in 1538 – a Franciscan friar and the confessor of Catherine of Aragon.

As we descended into the valley it was warmer and we spotted stitchwort, sorrel, bluebells, violets and 3cornered leeks.

It had been a windy and cool day but, at the end of the walk, the sun shone and we sat outside for tea with cake (supplied by two of our group with recent birthdays. Thank you both).

Walk 7.5miles 1400ft – Map OS152

 



 

 Redbrook /Offa’s Dyke

 Redbrook /Offa’s Dyke



A walk near the Wales/England border, beginning in Redbrook, Gloucestershire, a typical English riverside village with church, village hall, local shop, post office and playing field. Quite pretty, with clean air, different from how Redbrook was in the past. It is now hard to believe that ‘it was once the most bustling little place imaginable’, but, since Roman times it has been a hive of industrial activity. First iron (smelting was first mentioned in1300), then copper and later tinplate were made here.

In the 17th century Britain was dependent on copper imports. John Coster experimented with new ways of smelting copper using coal rather than charcoal. In 1690 he established a coal fired smelter and by the late 1690s was producing 80 tons of high-quality copper which sold for £100 a ton and was used in wire and battery-ware.

The English Copper Company established works in Redbrook and secured contracts from the Government Mint to become the main supplier of blanks for the copper penny. The copper ores were roasted to drive off sulphur and arsenic and visitors commented that ‘a thick yellow smoke hangs over the works which is unwholesome and detrimental to vegetation’.

Centuries of metal making at Redbrook produced huge amounts of waste. Most waste products were recycled; furnace slag was crushed and sent to Bristol glass makers and molten waste from copper smelting was cast into black slag blocks, copings and quoin stones which were used in many of the local buildings and exported down the Wye. (In the19th century Swansea smelted most of the Britain’s copper and was known as Copperopolis.

In the 19th century Redbrook tin was the thinnest tin you could buy. The Redbrook tinplate company became world famous with demand coming from the United States for packing tobacco. The village ran to the works hooter and Redbrook’s residents lived cheek by jowl with the noise, smoke, and smell from the works until 1961 when they closed, unable to compete with the Welsh strip mills.

As we set off along the river Wye, a group of children were doing artwork in the open air. Colourful examples of their past work were displayed on a noticeboard. It was wonderful to walk through a woodland in bud and to see the water in the river sparkle in the Spring sunshine. Soon we found ourselves climbing steep slopes and scrambling over/around fallen trees. A huge number of tree trunks were piled up where a logging company had felled trees from the hillside. Our route took us through a large field; the first wildlife of the day was spotted, a small group of deer.

The spires of the impressive All Saints church at Newland could be seen in the distance and we walked across fields of ewes with lambs, and past a building with coloured pencils as fence posts before reaching the village. The church was open and contains many memorials and stones. There is a medieval chapel dedicated by King Edward 1st in 1305 which was appropriated by the wealthy Probyn family. The local pub derives its name from the Probyn family crest; it was thought that Ostriches could eat iron, so the bird is shown with a key in its beak, alluding to the Probyn family wealth which came from metal industries.

The graveyard attached to the church has several benches and there are alms houses on the boundary, but we didn’t stop as we had hills to climb before lunch. As we left through the lych-gate, we could see that most village houses are stone and full of character.

The fields were strewn with lady’s smock (or milk maids and various other names). It is an important food plant for the orange-tip and green-veined white butterfly.

We arranged ourselves over a group of tree trunks and stumps to relax in the sunshine for lunch with views of the valley below us. As we finished, the temperature dropped as a breeze started. We descended the hill to a road where a stream ran alongside. Following the road, we passed fishing lakes and a small holding with two turkeys in the garden. Then we tackled a steep hill finding goats at the farm at the top. On a narrow footpath next to a house, we spotted a sign ‘5mph Please drive slowly children playing and animals’.

From here there was a brilliant view of the surrounding hills, especially Sugarloaf and then it was mostly downhill back to the cars at Redbrook. Now we crossed the pedestrian bridge, beside a crumbling old railway bridge, over the Wye into Wales, to enjoy a well-earned drink at the Boat Inn. Here we could see all sorts of energetic people – canoeists who appeared to be a hen party, cyclists, and walkers. [Walk 7miles 1300ft – Map OL14]

 



 

Bargoed

 Bargoed


This walk took us to Bargoed Woodland Park, which was created on land formerly occupied by Bargoed, Britannia and Gilfach collieries. The country park has been created from barren waste ground left after the closure of the last mine in 1985. 90,000 new trees, 6500 bulbs and 8000 wildflowers have been planted. This was once part of the largest colliery tip in Europe and LS Lowry immortalised it in his 1965 painting ‘Bargoed’.

We started from the Pengam car park, south of Bargoed, where a wooden sign was carved with leaves of holly, hawthorn, oak, and sycamore each with its flower or fruit. As we got out of the cars, we all shivered and put on extra clothes, if we had them; although it was a sunny morning it was several degrees cooler here than it had been in Wenvoe.

We kept to the west of the river Rhymney following it and then the Nant Bargod Rymni upstream, towards Parc Cwm Darren. It was easy walking on a tarmac path and most of the morning we climbed steadily on a disused railway track.

As we passed Bargoed town we saw a couple of the sculptures installed as part of a Bargoed public art project. Funded by the European Union there are 4 sculptures totalling £200,000. At the northern entrance to Bargoed’s High St is ‘The Angel of Bargoed’ with open arms inspired by the statue’s proximity to Angel Way, the War Memorial and the church overlooking the site. As we by passed the town, we saw ‘The Daffodil’. There are three large painted steel daffodils, near Bargoed station, welcoming people to this valley. It is so tall that you can see it from distant hillsides.

It was lovely to walk in sunshine with the sound of running water; we were in a steep sided valley and water rushed down it. Many bricks had been used in impressive arched tunnels and steps funnelling the water and there was a huge brick wall reinforcing the hillside.

As we entered Parc Cwm Darren, we spotted a display of bright scarlet elf cap on rotting wood covered in bright green moss. We looked down at a wooden bridge and continued walking across a tarmacadamed bridge. A stone sign told us we were at ‘Caradoc’s Bridge’. Caradoc was a Silurian leader who fought against the Roman occupation in Wales but was eventually captured and taken to Rome. It is believed that this bridge near Deri has been called Caradoc’s Bridge in his memory.

Another memorial stone recorded more recent events ‘In memory of those whose lives were touched by the tragic events at the Darren Colliery, October 29 1909’. The 27 names of those who died are listed.

At the northern part of the walk, we turned back on ourselves climbing the steep hill side to reach the ridge. Just before the top we spotted a concrete bunker below the path and clambered on top of it, to rest and eat our lunch. Within moments we were treated to not one but two red kites soaring above us, so close we could clearly see their colouring. In no time they were out of sight as they flew off up the valley and we were left with the memory and magnificent views.

The day had warmed up and we enjoyed blue skies and open landscapes, our route often following tarmac paths. One field was covered in green mossy humps, none of us knew how they had occurred. In the hedge alongside a road, we spotted bird feeders. Someone had made them from toilet rolls, with the outside coated in fat and then rolled in bird seed (or was the seed melted in the fat before rolling the toilet rolls in it?), so simple but very effective.

Returning to Pengam towering over us was a statue placed over an old ash tip. This statue is 40ft and called the Lady of the Stream, it depicts a woman watching over children in the area, supposedly in reference to Pengam folklore of youngsters drowning in a stream.

Arriving back to the cars we saw poetry (having missed it when we drove in) cut into metal at the entrance to the carpark

When the children come here to plant primroses and violets

let us tell them about the old tree and the fact of its joy

let us teach them about change

let us show them a future…’

Our route had enticed us with a dipper in the river, tadpoles, coltsfoot, showing its yellow flowers before the leaves and of course those wonderful red kites and most of it had been on solid paths but no spring lambs yet. Afterwards we went to Caerphilly Garden Centre, where we sat outside in sunshine for drinks.

Walk 7.75 miles, 1300ft. Map OS 166

 



 

Clytha

 

 Clytha


On a March Day in 2018 we visited Clytha and I opened my write-up of the walk with ‘snow flurries and hills dusted with white’. It was bitterly cold with icy winds which made us pull hats down to our eyebrows and on that day, we trudged through mud and flooded lanes. Four years on and a month earlier, the weather forecast was blustery with showers and heavy rain after 2pm but still relatively mild.

We travelled to the National Trust car park at Clytha Park. Our route, reverse direction to our previous visit, was described as a ‘snowdrop walk’ and we were eager to spot the gorgeous flowers which push up through the earth so early in the year and presage the advance of winter and the coming spring.

Our walk was based on a route from the National Trust website and took us on some permissive paths (allowed by a landowner) which are not shown on OS maps. We set off south, along the river Usk which was fairly full and came to a good strong footbridge, crossing a small stream, but it was tilted at about 10° – very strange. The river Usk is a designated SSSI, and a special Area of Conservation well known for salmon and trout. Otters, dippers, sand martins, kingfishers and bats live in or near this stretch of the river.

We were pleased to find our first snowdrops, a small clump on the bank of the river. Soon we found a mat of white snowdrops in the undergrowth and a spread of bright blue and pink flowers of lungwort (pulmonaria) glowing in the shade. Lungwort is named after the white splodges on some leaves which resemble diseased appearance of the lungs. It is used by herbalists to treat coughs and bronchitis and can also be used as an astringent. Nearby were tight clumps of pink flowers on bare branches of viburnum. All cheering us on a grey winter’s day, especially when we found a carpet of snowdrops under a hedge which covered about 20ft.

A long line of mole hills would suggest a good population of moles here but who knows as… ‘Mole activity is usually greatest in late winter and early spring and moles are very territorial and in many cases the mole hills seen in a garden are the activity of just one individual. ‘

Leaving the river, we followed the road to Bettws Newydd. A small village which boasts a Grade II listed, stone well ‘Erected by those who love him, to the memory of William Richard Stretton of Brynderwyn, who died 24th March 1868’. The 17th century, Black Bear Inn emanated enticing smells of bacon cooking – willpower and the threat of rain later kept us walking.

Pretty black faced sheep stood framed by the outlines of the Blorenge, Sugarloaf and Skirrid on the distant horizon, clear at the beginning of the walk but now wreathed in dark black clouds and probably heavy rain.

Coed y Bwnydd beckoned us in. It was presented to the NT by Captain Geoffrey Crawshay in memory of Sgt R.A. Owens, RAF who died aged 21 in World War II. Snowdrops carpeted the whole of the wood, breath-taking! Later in the year you can see bluebells and orchids. We climbed to a hillfort; where human involvement goes back over 2000 years and sat on a tree trunk to enjoy a well-earned lunch.

Now we were on the final stretch. We passed Clytha castle, an C18th folly, in the care of the Landmark trust and available to rent, and the Clytha Arms. It started to rain but we voted to complete the walk rather than dash for the cars which were close by. We skirted Chapel Farm with the remains of Capel Aeddan, a chapel dedicated to St Aythean, thought to be founded in C12th. All that survives is an L-shaped wall footing but we couldn’t spot it. The stone may have been used on Chapel Farm, where a substantial C17th house with stone-mullion windows was added to a C16th stone house with upper crucks.

We went down into woods where one of us was inspired to give us a short excerpt from Hamlet! Then a short walk along Clawdd Brook and we re-joined the river Usk espying a red kite soaring above us and a buzzard being mobbed by crows.

Trees had provided colour all day. Early, yellow, hazel catkins could be spotted hanging and blowing in the breeze. Birch skeletons stood with drooping branches covered in pink/ purple buds. And most notable, large clumps of Mistletoe had been a constant companion sitting high up in many of the trees. It grows in hawthorn, poplar, and lime as well as the apple trees with which most people associate it.

A lovely walk with excellent views and dry weather until after lunch with sunny spells, how lucky we are! Walk 8.7miles, 900ft. Map OL13

 



 

Llantrisant Walk

Llantrisant


 

Parking downhill from the Bull Ring in the centre of Llantrisant, we set off back to the top of the hill and straight down the other side, where we joined a footpath. From here we walked a wide circle around the town, in a clockwise direction.

At times we came close to the busy network of roads around the town, Talbot Green shopping centre and even the Royal Glamorgan hospital. We walked through woodland, followed a tributary of the river Ely, and then the river Ely.

It was firm underfoot for almost the whole walk with good paths, sometimes tarmacked including a disused railway. But where they weren’t solid, they were still firm as the ground was frozen which was lucky as it was muddy where ice had defrosted.

At one point we walked past a sign ‘Private Land Keep Out’ followed by ‘The owners accept no responsibility for loss or injury to persons trespassing on this land’ – we were on a legal footpath which was soon confirmed by an RCT footpath sign!

For lunch we distributed ourselves on mossy walls, logs, and leafy mounds, looking for all the world like a group of gnomes.

The end of the walk involved a long climb from the bottom of the valley to ‘Billy Wynt’ on the hilltop of Y Graig. The squat tower is generally believed to be the remains of a 13th century windmill, but records suggest it was an auxiliary tower of the castle.

The tower was restored as a folly in 1890. Some of us climbed the spiral stairs inside the tower to emerge on the perimeter wall and all of us took in the 3600 views, including the whole of the walk we had done. As we gathered to leave a man came over to talk to us: a Freeman of the town, he was attending to animals in the adjacent field. As a Freeman he is allowed to graze animals, and has a horse, a Billy goat and 3 Nanny goats. He also has beehives which are still active as the winter weather has been so mild. He is continuing a long tradition, Llantrisant common has probably been grazed by Freemen’s animals for over a thousand years.

Returning to the town via a grassy footpath we passed in front of some tiny cottages at Heol y Graig and found ourselves surrounded by history.

Llantrisant has a notable history, today we are all aware of the Royal Mint in the town, but we were surprised by the wealth of history which is still evident as you walk around it.

The Bull Ring has shops and the ‘Model House, craft and Design Centre’ and has been updated with memorial benches for World War II and a memorial stone for the dead of World War I, but it is still dominated by the statue of Dr William Price (a fully qualified doctor and surgeon who promoted Welsh culture, proclaimed himself Archdruid of Wales and was a militant leader of the Chartist cause). Dr Price felt cremation was healthier than burial as it avoided contamination of the water supply. He attempted to cremate his baby son who died at 5 months but was stopped by a constable. A landmark court case followed in Cardiff. He defended himself brilliantly, was found not guilty and later cremated his son. This enabled the Cremation Society to further their cause and the Cremation Act was passed in 1902. He was cremated on 31 January 1893 before 20,000 people.

A Blue plaque indicated that four cottages were one of the first workhouses in Glamorgan (1784). Behind the large parish church of St Illtyd, St Gwynno and St Dyfodwg is the historic part of the town. Here are the remains of the castle which was fortified by Richard de Clare in 1246. It was damaged during the 14th century and King Edward II was imprisoned at the castle in 1326. Owain Glyndwr may have inflicted further damage. In 1767 the estate came to the 1st Marquess of Bute and the tower was dismantled. Local houses (including the police station) were built or restored with its stone and sections were transported to rebuild Cardiff Castle.

A stone commemorates the 650th anniversary of the charter to the town and the presence of Longbowmen from this area at the battle of Crecy 1346.

The Guildhall was established in 1346 and rebuilt 1773, where the Hundred Court was held, dispensing local justice, and governing the ancient borough. In 2017 it was refurbished to become a heritage and visitor centre.

Beating the Bounds is an ancient tradition, a ceremonial seven-mile walk took place in May or June to avoid spoiling the harvest, this ensured that prior to maps, knowledge of the boundary was understood. It continues every seven years and attracts over 10,000 visitors to the old town. I wonder how much of the route we walked.

Walk 7.8 miles, 750ft. Map 151.

 



 

 

Llandegfedd Reservoir


Llandegfedd Reservoir


Llandegfedd lake is a large reservoir, constructed in the early 1960s by Cardiff Corporation to provide drinking water to the rapidly growing city. It is now owned by Welsh Water and the lake is a haven for birds, wildlife, walkers and water sport enthusiasts. It is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) because of its value to overwintering wildfowl. The longer walks around the lake are only open between March and September, though there are short walks of 1 mile or so available all year. Other activities include archery, clay shooting and a recently added mini golf course.

We started at the large carpark at the reservoir. We walked away from the lake, our route going south to Llandegfedd village before heading generally north, but to the east of our outward route, to return to the lake near Coed y Paen.

As we crossed the dam, several skeins of Canada geese came flying to the reservoir. We saw three groups of at least 30 geese each time, causing us to stop and admire them.

We headed into the woods above the pumping station and started climbing. The paths were in a poor state of repair but…at least it was dry so we could walk them. In wet weather it would have been difficult.

We walked through a brown carpet of autumn leaves, dotted in places with the bright green of fallen apples, and across wide open fields. On reaching a stream, crossing it proved impossible, so we took an alternative path along the stream. We found a herd of cows standing along the bank, as if trying to reach the water, even though the bank was too steep. Yet not far away there was easy access – what were they playing at? A sign warned us that a bridge was unusable, but we decided to take a chance on being able to cross the stream.

Soon we arrived at a very tidy Walnut Tree farm; a large area of grass in front of the house had statues of deer and a flock of pheasants, some taking to the air as we approached. Our path took us into a field where a large ram wore a bag of dye strapped to his front to mark any ewes he serviced. And there ahead of us was a brand new sturdy bridge which looked like it had only just been completed. Excellent!

Walking through a wood some white fungi, growing on the limb of a tree, glowed in the dim light.

We passed through Llandegfedd village and the Farmers Arms pub. A little further and we met cattle bunched together in a well-trodden field, next to which there was a huge tank of slurry with its ‘delicious’ smell and a couple of silage clamps. We walked through there quickly.

We entered a path which had road signs at the beginning clearway, 30mph limit, beware cattle and another warning ‘Unsuitable for Access’. Well, it started as a green lane! And soon deteriorated into a gully, all the soil having been washed away so there was only rock at the bottom with steep sides which were 4ft high in places, with, of course, the autumnal growth of nettles and brambles. We emerged near a large cattleshed, the last person being about 15 minutes behind the leaders – that’s how difficult it was.

We found a spot to eat our lunch after this exciting episode; and decided to give the next hill a miss, taking a level route back to Llandegfedd reservoir and adding about a mile to the walk.

At The Forest, I was surprised to see eucalyptus trees growing. We spotted signs for Coed y Paen and Prescoed prison (a category C prison for vulnerable prisoners which has been a Borstal in the past). We also saw a healthy-looking herd of pedigree Holstein cows belonged to Cilwrgi farm, part of the prison. They also have a sawmill, woodlands and workshops and there was a sign for an SSSI on their land.

Entering a field, we found a lone ‘mad’ cow, running towards us like a bucking bronco, getting close and then staring hard with wild eyes. We waved our walking poles to get it to move away – it ran across the whole field before turning to come back but we had hurried on and exited the field. Why was it by itself and what was wrong with it? And no, it was not a bull!

A short walk along a wooded lane brought us back to Llandegfedd lake, and we were soon supping drinks at the Visitor Centre café.

We have done this walk in the past with no problems but some footpaths were not maintained. In the Vale of Glamorgan, we are fortunate that the Walk and Clear volunteers from Valeways work hard to keep footpaths open. Thank you to all the Valeways volunteers. Walk 7 miles, 1100ft. Map 152.

 



 

The Icehouse & Chepstow Racecourse


To the Icehouse


A larger group has walked a couple of times this month, though these events haven’t been advertised in What’s On as we are not ready to open the group to all comers yet. Bert and Gwyn Bates are doing a sterling job of offering local walks, once a month, mid-week.

Our first walk started at the Village Hall, went through the tunnel in Vennwood Close and across fields to Wrinstone farm. We passed through the woods to the Michaelston-le-Pit track and after entering Michaelston took a path heading east, again over fields to pass some rather nice houses. The last stretch of this path has been closed over the summer while a huge wall is constructed next to one of these houses and there were 3 foreign workers, still labouring as we passed. Arriving at the road we crossed to view the Icehouse, with boards across it to stop anyone falling in. We came back by turning left down the road past the houses and through a field which must have been a glorious meadow in the summer. There were beehives standing at the back of it. A brief walk across fields to the Michaelston road and we returned to the village via Salmon’s Leap.

We retired to the garden of a couple in the group and had a picnic in glorious sunshine. It was wonderful to be together again and have a good natter with cake. Walk 6 miles.

 


 

Around Chepstow Racecourse


We parked in Chepstow Leisure Centre, with the intention of doing a circuit of the racecourse and headed out to the road where we saw what felt like hundreds of people striding out on a sponsored Macmillan walk. It seemed that their route was to and from the racecourse (no doubt longer than ours).

We set off through a housing estate and along a busy road. We passed a tiled plaque describing Llangynfarch, St Kynemark. Augustinian canons established a small medieval priory here in the 13th century. The name derives from a Welsh Prince Cynfarth whose 7th century church was near here. The Augustinians led a quasi-monastic life without the rigours of strict discipline. Their church was dedicated to St John the Baptist. Excavations in the early 60s found traces of the Priory’s 13th and 14th century buildings.

On entering woodland, we saw lime kilns and signs explaining that they were felling ash trees. Beech trees were in abundance and a lone willow stood to one side with a stretch of Himalayan balsam, whose seeds are said to be edible and a bit like capers. The tree-lined drive to Rossfield farm looked attractive and as we walked past the house, we decided there were probably at least 3 residences. The garden had a brilliant tree house complete with a bridge and rope ladder. As we travelled across a field, we spied some Muntjac deer running next to Briers Grove; for some reason they couldn’t find their way back to the wood when we interrupted their grazing.

At Oakfield stud farm they were haymaking, the fields golden brown. The gates at this stud farm are a particular style having an extra piece added to their tops. St Arvans is a pretty village and terraces with names like Squirrel Cottages and The Row. A Victorian drinking fountain, which residents raised £30 to purchase, stands in the centre of the village. A nearby tree was presented to the parish on the Golden Jubilee of the Women’s Institute movement in 1965.

Continuing we found a huge lime tree that was hollow on its northern side. We climbed a hill so that we had excellent views of Chepstow racecourse, the Severn estuary glistening in sunshine, both Severn bridges and England. A good place for lunch.

Entering woodland, we were soon on the Wye valley walk. Lover’s leap gave us our first view of the river Wye and the steep cliffs of Lancaut on the opposite side of the river. This walk along the Wye is delightful, though there are some steep drops (not great for vertigo sufferers). Travelling through woodland we passed standing stones, a cave, a grotto, Piercefield nature reserve, a viewing platform (which didn’t have a view) and the Alcove from which we could see the river Wye steeply below us, Chepstow castle and the Prince of Wales bridge. The grotto was originally lined with crystalline minerals, iron and copper slag and according to an 1816 visitor ‘We found the grotto full of gay ladies and gentlemen’. It was built into the side of an Iron age hillfort.

Arriving back at the car park there is an information board; you could use this to do a short walk along the Wye Valley Walk. The full walk is 136 miles, so we did about 3 of those! Then we headed to Chepstow Garden centre to enjoy tea in the garden.

Walk 6 miles, 500ft. Map OL14

 



 

Parc Cwm Darran


Parc Cwm Darran


On a fine day at the end of June we travelled to Parc Cwm Darran, north of Bargoed. Even the drive here was interesting as we found ourselves driving across an area which none of us had ever visited before – a vast coal reclamation site. We are so lucky that the industrial sites of our valleys have been redeveloped into wonderful Nature Parks. Parc Cwm Darran was created on the land abandoned when the Ogilvie mine closed in 1975. It now takes some imagination to picture the landscape covered in gantries and pitheads with millions of tonnes of coal waste in huge black mounds. Trees and grass would have struggled to grow in the wasteland created by the coal industry.

Since 1975 most of the coal buildings have been demolished, debris buried, and mineshafts capped. The mounds of waste have been reshaped to blend into the hilltops, the colliery feeder pond is now a reed fringed lake, a pond has been created and trees and grasses have been planted to provide habitats for wildlife. The result looks like a natural landscape and walking through the area makes you realise just how much can be achieved with what industry left behind.

Most importantly for us it has a network of footpaths and parking at the visitor centre we were able to use their facilities before starting our walk. There are several trails recommended from a stroll around the lake(1Km) for those with health challenges, a couple of slightly longer routes (up to 3Km) and cycle trails. For younger visitors there is even an Ogilvie Olympics obstacle course.

Luckily, we had a booklet with a recommended route that would take us up onto the hills for a longer walk. After a short walk along the lake in morning sunshine, we headed into the wooded hills. We had only just started out when we spotted some results of the regeneration, large furry caterpillars, and swathes of orchids in the grass.

We found a large stone entitled ‘Marquis of Bute Stone’ with an engraving ‘The Romans first introduced boundary and road marker posts. Until this time ditches had traditionally been used. The Roman marker stones, such as along the Apian Way leading to Rome, showed the name of the emperor only. The Marquis of Bute boundary stones demarcating land under their control, continued this tradition so that the letters MB are shown.’. In two places, once on the edge of moorland and again at the edge of the country park, we spotted these marker stones which rather grandly showed a B beneath a stylised crown.

Out in the open, a kite soared overhead, a sight which is always thrilling even though it is becoming more common. The land around us was lush and dotted with groups of trees. We entered an atmospheric stretch of oak woodland where all the tree trunks and branches were gnarled, bent and twisted. Maybe they struggled to grow during the industrial period this land experienced.

We emerged onto extensive moorland where we could see the outline of Pen y Fan and its accompanying hills in the far distance. We decided to break for lunch while we had sunshine and such good views.

Continuing, we spotted some strange structures at the top of the ridge, which looked like a 1970’s idea of a spaceship. According to a passer-by (one of the few people we saw all day) they are listening stations. Now we had a wide track to walk along and were surrounded by hundreds of sheep. The farmer drove towards us on his tractor, we stepped off the track and he had soon disappeared in a cloud of dust. Some sheep grazed next to a pond, and we noted the murky waters.

We skirted the Fochriw forest with its tall bare trunked fir trees and tumbledown stone walls and came back towards the country park. A long wooden sign at Cwmllwydrew Meadows Nature Reserve depicted a goods train with a tree branch covered with leaves as an engine.

Returning to the lake we saw plenty of waterfowl and yellow water lilies.

In medieval France, the yellow water lily was described as ‘the destroyer of pleasure and the poison of love’, the opposite to an aphrodisiac. Stonemasons carved flowers of the water lily into the roof bosses of Westminster Abbey to encourage celibacy.

Arriving back at the visitor centre we quickly changed out of our boots and sat in the shade enjoying tea and ice-creams whilst cooling down. By the time we left it was school chuck out time and the roads through the valleys were chock-a-block with parents trying to collect children. Avoiding the industrial route, we came by and the narrow valley roads with cars parked both sides some of us enjoyed a picturesque drive along a narrow mountain top road to pick up the main road to Cardiff, which rounded off the day nicely. Walk 7 miles, 800ft. Map 166

 



 

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