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

 



 

Forest of Dean


Forest of Dean


 

We ventured into England (just) for this walk in the Forest of Dean on the Wales/England border, parking in a large layby opposite Broadstone Park, Staunton. Returning down the hill we picked up a track leading to the Kymin, a National Trust property with stunning views across Monmouthshire and a map showing what is visible. You can park here but the end of the walk would be a steep climb back up – not a good idea. There is a Naval Temple with inscriptions on all 4 faces. A group of girls from Surrey were sat on the grass psyching themselves for their Duke of Edinburgh treks; we wished them success.

We headed downhill through Beaulieu Wood and spotted a field with beehives where beekeepers were working in their protective clothes.

We took a broad path through High Meadow Wood picking up the Wysis Way, an 88Km route which connects Offa’s Dyke to Thames path. Sweet chestnut trees have grown here for centuries, some of them exceptionally large. The forest has deciduous and evergreen trees including oak, both pedunculate and sessile, and beech. Now we began to find some huge stones towering above us. We passed the Everard Oak, an impressive tree rising from the deep hillside and designated by the verderers of the Forest of Dean to John Everard in appreciation of his service as deputy surveyor.

We turned onto a footpath to our right climbing steeply and suddenly we were miniaturised by the Suck Stone, probably 40,000tons in weight. It has slipped down the hill and is widely regarded as the largest detached boulder in Britain. It is said that if anyone climbs the stone, they will be visited by the mischievous fairy of the rock who will grant them superhuman powers.

Continuing to climb we arrived at the immense Near Hearkening rock. It is an overhanging cliff of erratic stone, comprising quartz conglomerate and red sandstone. It is called Hearkening rock as gamekeepers used it to detect poachers, in search of the King’s deer, at night, the acoustics allowing you to hear a whisper – needless to say, we did not notice this as we were all chatting amongst ourselves. We stopped for lunch here, spreading out across the stone and under trees, with views across to Skirrid, the Black mountains and Monmouthshire.

Now we entered Lady Park Wood, it is an ancient broadleaf woodland untouched since 1944 – probably the closest to a primeval forest you are likely to find. The sense of quiet peace in this area was remarkable, my whole body seemed to sigh and absorb the wonderful energy of this place.

Staunton village’s name comes from Old English Stane (as in Stane street) and ‘Tun’ a stony settlement. Staunton is mentioned in the Domesday book as one farmstead and a waste or meend.

We soon spotted the village pound, originally built in the 17thC to hold stray animals. The pound keeper was responsible for the animals and extracted a fine for their release, a practice which continued until mid 20thC. The current pound was built to replace one on the site of the National school, which is now the village hall. At the Old people’s home nearby there were two fancy dress scarecrows, a carer and a resident, propped against the fence and looking down on us.

Opposite the late Norman, All Saints church are medieval buildings which were a granary, mill, windmill, alms house and the remains of the medieval village cross.

Now we walked through Hymens Meend, a more open area, and reached a trig point. Nearby is the Buck stone with terrific views into Wales. The stone is another monster; it was once a rocking stone but was dislodged by Victorian vandals, an inn keeper with actors from London. The stone was split into several pieces, but it was cemented back together in 1886 and secured in place with an iron bar; it no longer rocks. About six tons of chains, huge timbers and enormous cranes were used to ‘skid’ the stone back up the hill to its current location. At one time it was believed that the stone had been placed in its position by Druidic agency and may have been a druidic altar.

Skirting Staunton Meend, we had brilliant views south to England near Buckstone House and returned to the cars. What a wonderful walk. It had been a warm day but luckily, we had spent most of it in woodland and kept reasonably cool.

Walk 6.5 miles, 1200ft. Map OL14

 



 

Pontiscill/ Taf Fechan


Pontiscill/ Taf Fechan


This is a walk planned for last autumn but abandoned, due to a landslide (still in evidence all these months later). This time the road was open but as we passed Pontiscill reservoir a large coach came in the opposite direction and our convoy had to back up to allow it to pass which was not easy on such a narrow road. Then the Owl Grove car park, Taf Fechan Forest, was shut but there had been no notice on their website (currently closed in the week and open at weekends). We had to drive up the road to Torpantau station where we were able to park as the steam train was not running. Phew! Now we could get on with the business of walking.

Our route was to the Lower Neuadd reservoir and back down the Taf Fechan (4 miles) with a possible extension to the foot of Cribyn.

The track from Torpantau station is excellent and that day the weather ideal for walking, temperature exactly right and no rain.

Walking up the valley we were almost constantly serenaded by larks flying high above the moors. Causing two of us to chant ‘Ark, Ark the Lark in Cardiff Arms Park’ (with apologies to Max Boyce).

Crossing the stream of Nant y Gloedd we had to decide whether to continue or walk across the bottom of Lower Neuadd reservoir for our return. Everyone voted to continue uphill towards the foot of Cribyn. And were we glad we did. Soon, one person heard our first cuckoo of spring, but it only called once. A second person heard it on our return down the valley but again it only called once.

A bit later we spotted a bird of prey flying across our path ahead, we quickly realised it was a kite and watched its swooping flight. Before long, a second kite had joined it and they swooped and turned together until they flew off to the distant mountains. A wonderful interlude.

 

At the head of the valley and the foot of Cribyn is a col where a huge vista opens with Brecon and Powys spread out below a steep drop. We stopped here in sunshine for lunch and in no time a pony (part of a herd grazing nearby) came over and approached each of us in turn in the hope of food. We all resisted, and it eventually returned to grazing with its mates. As we ate, we saw a steady stream of cyclists, struggling up the steep hill. As they crested the col, they each breathed a sigh of relief and stopped.

Now it was time to retrace our steps to the reservoir. We spied a plane in the sky which appeared to be climbing vertically, both the plane and the ascent were unusual, but the latter was probably because of the high hills.

Work is being done to restore the Lower Neuadd reservoir and it will bring the local water closer to its former, natural course before the dam was built in 1884. The reservoir is no longer needed as a water resource so the existing dam will be modified to allow water to flow naturally through the valley.

A public footpath and new bridge will be installed to allow continued enjoyment of the walking area – with the existing footpath diverted while the work is carried out. Any area where work is done, including work to the dam, will be restored to ensure the beauty of the local area is maintained and an improved natural ecological habitat provided.

Water levels in the reservoir are being steadily reduced to ensure work is undertaken safely with the least disruption possible to local wildlife and habitat. Welsh Water has ensured fish have been moved to a new habitat. This will be monitored and, by removing a significant barrier to fish and restoring the downstream passage of sediment, the work will have major benefits to habitat connectivity on the Taf Fechan.

Our return was along the west side of Taf Fechan. The sun was quite hot now, so we appreciated the sound of water and some shade from trees. Arriving at the Owl Grove car park we found it had just opened for the weekend! But we had to trudge uphill to our cars in the heat of the day, a warm end to a fabulous walk.

A big bonus was that the Barn tea rooms were open, and we had tea and cakes or ice cream. Walk 8.5miles, 1200ft. Map OL12.



Cardiff Parks


The first official Wenvoe Walkers mid-week walk started at Victoria Park. On a bright sunny afternoon, we took in Thompson’s Park, Llandaff fields, Pontcanna and the river Taff before circling Llandaff cathedral and making our way to Insole Court where we had drinks. So good to be together again.

 



 

Wye Valley


Wye Valley


At last, we have freedom to travel for our walks and to meet in increasing numbers. Four of us travelled to Goodrich Castle (English Heritage) in Herefordshire for a walk beside the river Wye.

The beginning of the walk was along the road to Kerne bridge, a beautiful old stone bridge with several arches. Despite the traffic on the road this stretch was spectacular as, we could see the outline of Goodrich Castle on the hill, a country house set back from the road and bright yellow fields of oil seed rape all with a backdrop of dramatic purple, grey heavy clouds and even though we knew we were in for a soaking of a different sort we soaked it up.

The country house, whose buildings are Grade I listed, was originally the refectory of the Augustinian, Flanesford Priory. Weakened by the Black Death the priory was one of the first to succumb at the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

At Kerne Bridge we descended to the footpath alongside the Wye and from the start we were accompanied by canoeists on the river, increasing in number as the day wore on. We spotted lots of swans on the river (some nesting) as well as mallards and two mandarin ducks.

The footpath was blocked by a fallen tree whose root ball seemed to be about 10ft high. Others had passed before us, so we were able to get around it. Walking through open fields we saw the usual symbol of spring, lambs aplenty but mostly in ‘gangs’ away from their ewes. Cows grazed with calves and we were lucky to see a calf suckling.

At Welsh Bicknor there is a flamboyant High Victorian Church and the youth hostel, a former rectory. The land is owned by the YHA and we noticed a couple of stylish, camouflaged glamping pods were being installed. We stopped here for lunch. A quick look around the outside of the church shows an amazing amount of decoration, including 3 arches in the porch besides the one above the door

We came upon a new memorial to a group of scientists who died when their aircraft caught fire 15,000ft above the Forest of Dean and plummeted to earth. It was on a return journey to RAF Defford, near Worcester, from South Wales. Alan Dower Blumlein, a driving force in the development of airborne radar, was one of the dead, along with other colleagues from EMI, the RAF and the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE). They were working on H2S radar which was a cutting edge “Air to Surface” radar system that went on to help win WWII. The plane was carrying the highly secret cavity magnetron and Sir Bernard Lovell (who was later knighted for his work at Jodrell Bank and had given up his seat on the plane to another scientist) sifted through the wreckage on the night of the crash to retrieve it. He was affected by the tragedy for the rest of his life. Blumlein’s wife is quoted on the memorial ‘If you have to die, this is a beautiful place’. The sacrifice of the 11 men is also remembered by a memorial stained-glass window which was installed at Goodrich Castle chapel on the 50th anniversary of the crash.

Continuing our walk one of us looked back and spotted a deer where we had just been. As we stopped and watched lots more followed and began to graze. Later as we passed woodland, we saw another herd of deer. How lucky was that two herds of fallow deer in one day?

As we approached Symonds Yat, we passed the grave of a child in his 16th year who drowned while bathing in the river. At an outcrop of rock, we could see two separate birds sat on nests but so far away it was difficult to identify them. Symonds Yat Rock viewpoint is well known as one of the best places in the country to watch peregrine falcons, so maybe we saw one.

We left the river on a path to Coppet Hill, climbing back to Goodrich village and then up to the castle.

What a fabulous walk, apart from one (very heavy) shower the sun shone all day, the area is beautiful with lots of interest, both historic and natural. This stretch of the River Wye, from Kerne Bridge to Coppet Hill, is shaped a bit like an upside-down heart. Goodrich Castle is red sandstone, dates mainly from 13th century and is worth exploring but the café was still open for refreshment, so we had tea and cake in the spring sunshine whilst wondering what the traffic on the M4 was going to be like on a bank holiday Friday.

Walk 9 miles, level walk apart from the climb back to Goodrich Castle at the end.

 



 

St Nicholas to Peterston-super-Ely

Footsteps


St Nicholas to Peterston-super-Ely


Escaping from Wenvoe, we parked in St Nicholas, near the church, and explored north to Peterston-super-Ely. I walked with 3 different households over a few days. As one of my companions said, ‘It’s so nice to have a view to the north after so long.’

The first outing took us west from the church, towards the school and a footpath alongside the school. Opposite the church was a fruit tree in full blossom – beautiful. The school has several large, raised beds, an outside classroom, a playing field and a small pond, with a plastic duck. A good fence surrounds the whole area, but we saw several rabbits ‘trespassing’.

Crossing a couple of fields to the west we were surrounded by one of the sounds of spring – ewes calling their bleating lambs – so young and tiny. We stayed clear of them and came to a track leading north through trees. At a junction we took a left to cross Cottrell Park golf course and entered woodland. This is delightful now bright yellow celandine, white wood anemones, pussy willows, violets – white and blue, primroses, and the first signs of bluebells all jostled for our attention. I gathered wild garlic for supper.

The lane joins a road at a babbling stream and leads to a Chapel in Peterston-super-Ely. It is worth exploring the graveyard  there are some interesting headstones, but the ground is uneven. Turning right at the T junction we walked across the bridge over the river Ely to follow the river. There are benches along the river, a good place to rest and have a snack. You can walk further into the village to explore the village and church but return to the footbridge over the river to Wyndham Park. A wide avenue of trees takes you uphill past lovely houses. Snakes head fritillaries were spotted on the roadside verge. You can walk around this estate to find the ‘Moroccan’ houses and street names reminiscent of Dyffryn gardens.

Near the top of the hill, on the right, the footpath passes between two houses. At the field, we walked away from the houses and through a gap in the hedge on the left to follow the righthand boundary of the next field, emerging at Homri where building work is taking place. The drive becomes a road and leads back to St Nicholas. If you have not seen it already look for the grave of the blacksmith in the churchyard. This route is 3 miles.

On the second outing we started the walk in the same way but on reaching Peterston-super-Ely we did not cross the river but entered the National Trust meadows (footpath on the left just before the river). After a short walk there is an orchard on the right with a living willow shelter. We could not resist stopping for elevenses in the morning sunshine.

Re-joining the footpath, we turned right after crossing a small stream to walk along the river. This area is Pendoylan Moors (the other side of the river being Peterston Moors) and in winter is a flood plain. We were surprised to find it dried out so early in the year and walked north until we came near the farm. As you walk here you need to look ahead for the next footpath sign and keep to that line, if you follow the river itself you will wind all over the place and walk a lot further. It was quiet here apart from the regular trains running past in the distance – we saw 2 goods trains with 21 carriages. We espied buzzards soaring overhead and clouds of house martins swooping down over the water. Retracing our steps to Peterston-super-Ely, we crossed the bridge to pick up the previous walk. – There is a Valeways leaflet describing a 7-mile route which travels further north and comes back to Peterston-super-Ely on the eastern side of the river.

A third outing involved leaving St Nicholas via the road on the eastern side of the church. Before reaching Homri there is a footpath on the right which takes you down the valley to the Natural Burial ground. There are way markers showing where the path goes. We explored the paths in the Natural burial ground, where there are lots of bluebells but no flowers yet, before returning via the same route and aiming for Peterston-super- Ely, reversing the route described in the first outing above.

We were walking through a wood and could hear a ewe calling loudly; was she hurt? But as we neared the edge of the wood, we could see a lamb in the wood with its mother and sibling on the path outside, but the lamb couldn’t find a way out. We tried to usher the lamb through the kissing gate, but it ran off in the opposite direction. We spent a while rounding it up again before it got trapped momentarily between the fence and a tree trunk; somehow it scrambled out but ran into the next gated field. After a few more minutes of its mother calling, (and us trying to round it up) it came to the gate and we opened it to let it through. Ewe ran off with her two lambs without a backward glance (and certainly no Thank you!), both lambs eagerly suckling when they stopped. This took quite a few minutes, and we were now ready for our lunch which we ate with a view to the north.

Sunshine helped make all these walks a joy and we saw our first butterfly of spring; a comma. A longer walk could be created by walking south to Tinkinswood and Dyffryn as described last month, or even extending the walk to Wenvoe. Walk 3-7 miles depending on route taken. Map 151

 



 

Footsteps


Dyffryn

A favourite walk is to Dyffryn as there are several routes that can be taken. Hopefully before long Dyffryn Gardens will open and refreshment can be taken there before returning home. The photo below is of the mid-week walkers a couple of years ago, everyone with a smile on their faces despite a thorough drenching.

The first and most straight-forward route is to walk along the road to Dyffryn via St Lythans, though the road is a bit busy for this to be truly relaxing. From the village you can go along Pound Lane and into Wenvoe woods, which emerges onto a track running from Burdon’s Hill to the St Lythans Rd. From here there is a footpath to 12th C St Lythans Church where you can explore the churchyard and spot the vent at the top of the tower which was an outlet for the oven where bread was baked.

Walking along the St Lythans – Dyffryn road you reach Dyffryn Gardens in about 1 mile. Returning along this road follow the brown tourist sign for the footpath to the St Lythans burial chamber, a megalithic dolmen built in the Neolithic period around 4000 BC. The dolmen has three upright stones and a capstone which is 3 metres wide and 4 metres long; all the stones are mudstone.

 

From the dolmen you travel to Maesyfelin (the mill field) farmhouse. The footpath passes between the house and some outbuildings and through a gate. Over a couple of stiles straight ahead (east), you will often encounter a herd of cows. Across a couple of fields with the Goldsland woods (private) on your right and you emerge onto a stony track. Remains from seven Neolithic humans have been excavated from a cave in these woods. It is thought the corpses had been placed there to decompose before being removed to sites such as Tinkinswood or St Lythans burial chambers. This seems to be the sole site in Britain where corpses were left to rot prior to placement in communal tombs.

On an open piece of land is the Bee Loud Glade with a noticeboard giving information about the ongoing work to attract pollinators. The rest of the open area had a good display of flowers last summer, including one of my favourites the tiny but gorgeous blue flax which can be used to produce linen or flax oil. The footpath runs along the southern edge of this area and into a small woodland, along the northern boundary of Wenvoe golf course, and back to Burdon’s Hill. Going south here leads to the Port Rd or turn left going up the track, almost always with some mud, and take the stile on the right back into Wenvoe woods, to retrace your steps to Walston Rd.

For a longer walk you can continue past Dyffryn Gardens along the road and take the footpath to 6000 -year-old, Tinkinswood burial chamber (through a field and over a stream to reach the chamber from the road). A larger dolmen than the one at St Lythans, the Tinkinswood site contained human remains and pottery dating to the early Bronze Age. It is a good place to stop for a while. Instead of returning to the road you can cross a field and a small holding. There is a large open field, with Dyffryn Gardens to the left which seems to have a sense of quiet peace. Eventually the path emerges beside the Nant river and you can walk through Dyffryn village, with a stream either side of the road and some lovely houses.

At the end of the village there is a footpath around a small farm, where there are llamas, sheep and other animals. This leads into Dyffryn Springs fishery where you skirt a lake and can spot waterfowl and heron. After this are Old Wallace and New Wallace farms, where you walk through the stable yard and can look across the valley towards Barry and the airport. After New Wallace the track becomes a road, leading to Goldsland farm and the golf course and eventually the Port Rd south of Wenvoe

Other variations allow diversions through the Wild Orchard and Coed Nant Bran, even taking in St Nicholas and/or the Downs. Whichever path you take you can rely on mud somewhere, the possibility of having to wade through an inch or so of water (or 3inches this winter) and the vagaries of the British weather. But you will also see some beautiful countryside, lots of history beneath your feet and around you, and plants and animals aplenty if you keep your eyes and ears open. Many of these paths cross farmland and it is important to keep to the footpaths, keep any dogs on a lead and leave nothing but footsteps. I hope you enjoy your rambling as much as I do.

Walk 5-8.5 miles depending on which route is taken. Map 151

 



 

Local Walking – Wenvoe

Footsteps


Wenvoe

The winter rain has turned most footpaths into quagmires and more of us than usual are walking them but there are places we can visit on firm ground. You are advised to wear good footwear – walking boots, wellies or sturdy shoes on all but the driest days as the lanes around our village can be muddy, wet (either streams or large puddles) and sometimes icy.

Once again, the golf course has been closed to players and we have been allowed to explore the extensive grounds, if we keep off the greens, fairways and bunkers and keep any dogs on a lead.


The first and easiest route, which is used by lots of people, is to walk along the main road past the garden centre and take the first turning – Burdons Hill. It is uphill with snowdrops under a hedge and a 3D aeroplane on the side of a garage. You will come to a junction turning right goes north past Burdons farm and it is worth going past the stone stile, for a quick visit to the Elizabethan orchard on the left, which offers views across farmland, but then retrace your steps to the junction.

At the junction you follow the good track alongside the golf course (left turn from the top of Burdons Hill) that leads down to the golf course road. When you arrive at this road, turn left to come back to the Port Rd and another left leads to Wenvoe.

For a slightly longer walk on grass, another option, is to go through the kissing gate straight ahead and enter the golf course, to walk around its boundary. Stay along the top edge of the golf course and you will find a footpath sign. Currently, you can avoid this and stay within the golf course. Follow the boundary of the golf course until you see an opening onto the road, turn left onto the road and you will come back to the Port Rd.

 

This short walk has lots to offer – excellent views across the golf course, snowdrops and lots of birds – people have seen a tree creeper, nuthatch, wren and green woodpecker as well as the usual cheery robins, tits, blackbirds, crows, buzzards and sparrows chattering in the hedges. If you venture across the golf course road as far as the lake on the golf course you might be lucky enough to spot frog spawn. And on the way back to the main road you can see the sole lamb, that appeared in January, in amongst the sheep.


My second suggestion is to do a linear walk to Michaelston-le-Pit. Cross the main road using the pedestrian bridge and walk along Station Rd. A footpath on the left has purple crocuses growing along it – there were cottages here at one time. Continuing, you pass Station Terrace where the railway station used to be and walk over the old railway bridge. This is an area which often has mud and standing water (several inches deep). Carry on, there are fields either side of the road and as it winds it becomes narrower, I walk quickly here in case any cars come by – there is nowhere to stand aside. There are lots of lambs in one of the fields.

When you reach the T-junction turn right to follow the road to Wrinstone Farm. At the farm turn left up a stony track, near the top you will have views of the Channel in winter. Follow the footpath signs to the right near the top of the hill and soon head downhill to join a tarmacked road. Turning right leads to Michaelston-le-Pit. You will pass Cwrt Yr Ala (a large house which once belonged to the Raleigh Family) and then a footpath on the right (noticeable because there is a sign telling you all the things you must not do) at Salmon Leaps which will bring you back to Wrinstone farm, It is lovely, but the path can be slippery and muddy.

Carry on along the road to enjoy the water cascading down the weirs and spot ducks and sometimes a heron. The raised village green is covered in purple crocuses now. Can you find the stone protruding from its wall which is a foothold for mounting a horse? Opposite, behind the telephone kiosk, is a covered well which at one time was the village’s only source of drinking water.

A few minutes later you will arrive at the grade I listed, church lychgate, a World War 1 memorial to local soldiers. Enter St Michael churchyard, to explore and maybe have a rest on one of the benches supplied, the Yew tree is impressive.

 

Leaving the churchyard retrace your steps to return to Wenvoe (maybe via the footpath at Salmons Leap if the weather is good).

Walk 2-7 miles depending on which route is taken. Map 151

 



 

Ogmore by Sea Walk

Ogmore


We walked in the Ogmore area several times last year, using the Vale Trails leaflet no.1 ‘Ogmore by Sea Walk’ as a basis for our routes and starting from St Brides Major. From here we walked past St Bridget’s Church and were soon on footpaths leading onto Ogmore Down. This part of the walk is across open countryside with good wide grass pathways.

We have seen swallows sitting along a fence and gracefully swooping for insects in the air. At Pant Mari Flanders there is a hollow cut into limestone with a stone structure covering an ancient well. If you take the more northerly route you pass the golf course where the views are extensive.

After crossing the Down, you come to the river Ewenny and walking south soon arrive at its confluence with the River Ogmore, the site of Ogmore Castle. From here it is a lovely walk along the river and estuary towards the sea. The dunes of Merthyr Mawr Warren are on the other side of the river and horse riders gallop along the other bank. Stepping-stones offer a safe river crossing unless the water is extremely high.

Ogmore Castle is one of 3 fortresses built, at the time of the Norman invasion, to guard Glamorgan against attacks from the Welsh-held west. Beginning as a castle of earth and wood in the early 12th century, it was quickly fortified in stone before being further strengthened with a curtain wall in the early 13th century. Unusually the original defensive banks and ditches are still visible, the deep ditch in the inner ward was designed to fill with sea water at high tide.

The castle was given to one of the 12 knights of Glamorgan, William de Londres, who left when the Welsh attacked in 1116. Allegedly, the castle was saved by his butler, Arnold, and for this he was knighted Sir Arnold Butler and given the castle and manor at Dunraven as a reward. Ogmore Castle continued to serve as a residence until the 16thC and hosted the Court House until 1803.The present-day castle remains consist of the keep and some outer walls.

A ghost Y Ladi Wen (“the White Lady”) is said to guard the castle’s hidden treasure. In the story, a spirit was long said to wander the wider area until a man finally had the courage to approach her. When someone eventually did so, the spirit led him to treasure (a cauldron filled with gold) hidden under a heavy stone, he could take half for himself. Later, he returned to take the rest; the angry spirit attacked him as he returned home. The man became gravely ill but did not die until he confessed his greed.

The river always has lots of birds swimming along and feeding – seagulls, Canada geese and ducks to name a few. Soon we reach the estuary where the horizon opens out and the sun glistens on the sea – it seems to do this even on grey days though you may need to look far away to see it. The route now heads east towards Southerndown and Dunraven Castle, through the car park with the sea on the right. As soon as we were away from the concreted area, we scrambled over some rocks to sit gazing out to sea whilst eating our lunch and trying to work out whether any of the black birds hopping about on the grass were choughs. For some reason it is hard to spot their red beaks and legs but eventually, we were all convinced we had seen one (should have brought binoculars).

Looking over my shoulder briefly I noticed someone walking along the path that I thought I recognised – a celebrity. I quietly said something to my companions who said I was wrong. But… when we resumed our walk who should walk towards us but Gareth ‘Alfie’ Thomas of Welsh rugby. We were so cool, and he was very gracious exchanging greetings with us but underneath two of us were excited and the other two (English) had no idea who he was.

This stretch of the coast is picturesque and mostly level with a short steep climb near Southerndown. Then there is a steep drop down to Dunraven Bay where there are facilities and Dunraven castle and Walled garden (where according to legend there is another ghost!)

From here we walked inland passing the Heritage centre and then across farmland to come out opposite the Farmers Arms. Passing the pond and pump, we turned right to avoid the busy main road, climbing the road behind a row of houses. At the top there was a steep descent back to the road and our cars.

Walk 5-8 miles depending on which route is taken. Map 151

 



 

Sirhowy Valley Country Park


Sirhowy Valley Country Park


Sirhowy Valley Country park is south of Caerphilly, with 4 miles of flat well surfaced path along the former railway track. The entrance to the park follows the old railway and we drove past Full Moon, once the site of the Full Moon Inn and a small community of cottages but all that remains is the crossing keeper’s cottage. We parked at Nine-mile point car park.

It was a gloomy morning, but the air was fresh as we set off, not along the level railway but straight up the hillside to reach Mynydd Machen Common. The steep valley walls of bare cliff made it seem steeper than it is. A large tree had fallen across the path but luckily it was a good distance off the ground and we easily ducked under it.

Up here we had good views across the valley, houses old and new nestling into the red hillside rising behind them. Ferns lift the spirits at this time of year in their winter russet coats (if you can look at them from a distance rather than walk through them!). The rain-soaked ground beneath our feet was soft but, in most places, there were stones beneath the surface, so we did not sink far.

A feature of the walk was the number of fungi we spotted. Some traditional mushroom shaped glowing an orange colour, lacy frills around twigs and fallen tree branches and some climbing through dead trees. The trees looking as if they are being eaten alive by the fungi but of course they are only there because the tree is dead, and they are clearing the dead wood with many insects helping them.

 

The trees form sculptures as bereft of their leaves you can see their structure. A fallen tree covered in moss looked like a creature stalking through the wood. Old beech hedges, now several trees, with their lower limbs and roots exposed and wrapped around one another along a boundary were fascinating. Two trees apparently reaching out to each other as two branches were wedded together about 3ft from the ground, created a seat. An old stone wall was steadily being destroyed by a tree pushing its way through the restriction.

The sun came out and we enjoyed its heat and the views all around us. We found a relatively dry, grassy ledge to sit on for lunch, and gazed out at the distant Channel watching clouds blow across and then towards us, the view disappeared just as we finished.

Now it was time to head downhill. Partly on a tarmacadamed road but also along a stretch of particularly muddy path, luckily there was a stream flowing down it and we walked in the stream to use the stones for purchase. Then the stream ran out and one of us (me!) slipped and almost ended up with their face in the mud! Apparently, it looked quite dramatic, but the landing was soft, and the only damage was a small graze and muddy hands and trousers. Some long, wet grass took care of the hands and we were on our way. Before long we arrived at the railway with a level walk back to the cars.

To the miners of the valleys a ‘journey’ meant a line of coal trams joined together. The Sirhowy Valley has been a place of journeys for the past two centuries. Iron and coal travelled down the valley by horse, canal, road and rail. Salmon and trout made their way up and down the river to mate or find their way back to the sea.

An intricate metalwork sculpture stood at the top of a post showing horse drawn carts, steam trains, cyclists and trees. Bright pink open-ended boxes hung from lots of the trees and we decided they were for detecting the presence of small mammals. It was a while before we could see the river at the bottom of the valley even though we could hear it and narrow waterfalls tumbled down the hillside to it.

The Sirhowy valley tramroad joined the Monmouthshire canal tramroad at Nine-mile point on its way to Newport. Sir Charles Morgan, of Tredegar house, and his business partner John Jones had a colliery at Blackwood and needed a new tramroad to get their coal to Newport. The Sirhowy company fought the construction of the new road. Only the threat of an Act of Parliament brought agreement and the Penllwyn tramroad was built by1824. By 1864 the practical use of the tramroad was finished as it was replaced by the railway. Penllwyn Tramroad Bridge crosses the river near Nine-mile point. it has an impressive arch and is a grade II listed structure, with the original stone sleepers still visible.

Walk 8.3 miles Map 166

 



 

Severn Bridges Footsteps

Footsteps on the Severn Bridges

Our plan to walk between the two Severn bridges, was postponed due to lockdown so we were going to go for it despite a wet weather forecast. We parked at Portskewett and set off in a north-easterly direction on a course parallel with the river but a short distance inland, we caught glimpses of the 2nd Severn crossing (the Prince of Wales bridge). The route took us through fields and past huge electricity pylons ‘marching’ across the countryside.

On a slight rise there is a group of stones and we climbed to look at them. We watched a group of long tailed tits flitting between trees. A herd of bullocks with their mothers and gorgeous coats of various warm shades of brown followed us along a fence. We climbed onto a low bank and found a small harbour with 6 boats stranded in mud – it was low tide. Starlings flew in clouds and landed on one of the electricity pylons, even knocking each other off to claim a chosen perch.

Now we headed towards the railway. This is a mainline, we had heard quite a few trains, and were careful crossing but as the track is straight, although misty rain was falling, we could see a long way.

Reaching the river, we were on the Wales Coast Path and could see the 1st Severn bridge to the north and the 2nd crossing (completed 1996) to the south. Looking towards England we caught glimpses of brightness coming our way through very dark clouds. Nearing the new bridge, there is a small island with a beacon and the nuclear power station was just visible.

Rocks underlying the Severn estuary are old red sandstone and carboniferous limestone, the same ancient rocks which form the Brecon Beacons. 15,000 years ago, this area was untamed grassland and forest. Early Britons lived and hunted here but global climate change at the end of the last Ice Age transformed it. Increased temperatures caused Ice sheets to melt, leading to major rises in sea levels and the result is the estuary we see today.

It is easy to forget as we trundle across the bridges to England that crossing the River Severn has been a challenge for centuries – even the Romans were regular users ferrying legions across to Aust. The Severn Railway tunnel was built by the Victorians, connecting Sudbrook with England, at a cost of £2 million, it opened in 1896.

At Black Rock we stopped for lunch and the heavens opened, rain hammering down. It was here that the ferry, established in 1930s, crossed to England. This avoided the drive up to Gloucester though at times queues (possibly of several hours if you missed the tide) could mean no time was saved. It stopped when the bridge opened in 1966 (initial toll 2s6d – 12.5p).

There is a large wooden sculpture of a lave fisherman and a salmon towering over the area. The Estuary has the second highest tidal range in the world. Knowledge passed down over generations allows the lave fishermen to wade out into the estuary to fish for salmon with their lave nets. Fishing can only take place for 1.5 hours either side of low tide. It was first recorded on the Severn estuary in the 1700s, but almost certainly predates this time. The craft was featured in a BBC Countryfile programme about the Gwent Levels earlier this year. We were disappointed that birds seemed to be in short supply, as we could have expected to see migrating birds at this time of year but enjoyed the call of the curlew and a flock of terns.

Sudbrook village was created, between 1883 and 1876, to house the 3000 workers, with their families, who built the Severn Railway tunnel. As well as houses a school, mission hall, two hospitals, a coffee house and reading room were constructed. In 1883 a 6ft tidal wave flooded the village and people had to be rescued from their single storey homes.

During construction, the Severn tunnel was completely flooded by a breach of the Great Spring and the project was saved by a diver, Alexander Lambert, who had to walk through the drowned workings in complete darkness to seal it off. Sudbrook pumping station was built to extract water from the Great Spring; it still pumps millions of gallons of water daily.

Following the estuary, we came upon the ruin of Holy Trinity Chapel and then walked under the 2nd Severn Crossing before travelling inland towards Portskewett. We walked through the Cornfield project which is an open space maintained and enjoyed by the community. An historic map of the village is on a notice board near St Mary the Virgin C12th church.

Driving home the motorway had speed restrictions because of heavy rain and standing water affecting visibility – we were very lucky to have escaped with only one short heavy shower.

A flat walk of 6.5 miles

 



 

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