Llangorse Mynydd

 Llangorse Mynydd

Llangorse Mynydd

It was 13 weeks since I had been out with the Wenvoe walkers, so it was with some trepidation that I joined them on a trip to Mynnydd Llangorse. As we set off at a cracking pace, I thought I will never keep this up but soon got into the swing of it. The route is basically a climb from the car park outside Cwmdu village hall (fee £1) up to the moors on the top of Mynydd Llangorse and then a descent.

It was ideal walking weather slightly cloudy but dry with rain clouds hanging on the hills. The land was lush with grass and there were some wonderful old trees. Harebells were spotted and then seemed to be everywhere alongside the footpath.

Ahead of us were some dilapidated buildings. Three very old tractors stood, as if on parade, in a field. At the farmhouse slates were missing from the roof and guttering was falling off; it looked as if one end of the house was probably weatherproof, and the rest deteriorating. The corrugated iron roof of the barn was rusty with more holes than rusty iron. But there were several cars and apparently someone does live there. Even a sign for the bridal path looked as if it had been there forever being completely covered in silvery lichen, apart from the blue outline of a horse and rider.

Continuing we spotted orange waxcap fungi on the steep slope above the farm. Now we were getting closer to the purply pink flowers of the heather strewn moors. The heather on Mynydd Llangorse was ‘going over’ but that on Pen Tir, our return route, was glorious. It was close to lunchtime when we reached the trig point and Llangorse lake had not come into view, but we sank into the springiness of the heather to eat. It was quite cold with some of us wishing we had gloves!

Dark clouds still clung to the hills around, and rain was visible in the distance, but at last there was Llangorse lake, looking quite murky, below us. A cairn marked the turning for the path over Pen Tir and we were soon surrounded by heather in full flower with its subtle scent.

The descent was gradual at first, and the last half an hour was steep which I found quite demanding. But what a lovely walk. Although dark clouds clung to the hills, we had got away with some sunshine and just a few drops of rain. After refreshments at Tretower castle, we drove home over the top and were lucky to see a kite and a wide rainbow.

Walk 7.2m 1350ft.



Crickhowell and  Llantwit Major


A good start to this walk; as we drove over the mountains (through Beaufort for the views) to Crickhowell car park, we saw cloud inversions and the valley mist starting to rise.

The walk route was undulating, we started with an uphill stretch along a road heading east out of Crickhowell. As we climbed, we enjoyed aerial views of the town and the surrounding countryside. It was not long before we were on footpaths and amongst trees. At one point we found an old favourite, a huge, sweet chestnut tree which we posed under, as we did the last time we passed this way. Nearby someone had altered a sign bordering a military camp: ‘Warning this is a literary camp. Beware of sudden loud noses.’

The hollow in an old oak was so large a man could have taken shelter inside it. At Llangenny we continued north following the beautiful Grwynne Fawr river, where we were soon enjoying ancient trees and the waterway. There was dappled shade and a lovely old bridge over the river. A pretty fungus, grey with white edges grew in a bed of moss.

Coming to a more open area, the hills around us were bathed in sunshine, the earlier mist having lifted but it was still hot and humid. As we walked along a road the hills behind were framed by the roadside hedge and we paused to take it all in.

Now buildings started to appear, and we were back in the outskirts of Crickhowell. Outside one house was a wooden carving of an animal with a large snout sporting binoculars and a rucksack. The Tourist information centre provided a second wooden sculpture (this time with a walking stick and rucksack) a cuppa and culture; there is a gallery upstairs with interesting artwork and reasonably priced cards. An excellent day’s walking in gorgeous countryside. Map OL13 Walk 7miles 1050ft.

 Llantwit Major travelling west along the coast

We parked at the sea front in Llantwit Major where there is a café and toilets and, if the surf is up, surfers. Walking past the lifeguard’s station we climbed the steep steps up to the coastal path travelling west. The path is well maintained but can be very muddy in wet weather. I enjoy a linear walk going as far as I am comfortable and then returning the same way. If you are feeling more adventurous you can take one of the paths heading inland to create a circular walk, but you will need a map to do this.

The last time I did this was a beautiful sunny morning with hardly any breeze so that the sea was very calm. We walked past Tresillian Bay (a stony beach to negotiate here) and were on the way to St Donat’s Bay when a rescue helicopter passed overhead. We were able to watch the helicopter lower itself close to the water’s surface and then lower a man to ‘rescue’ a dummy they had thrown out into the sea. From our vantage point on the cliffs everything looked tiny, and you wonder how they ever spot people in such a vast expanse of grey. Later we met some local children who were camping and taking part in outdoor activities at Atlantic College during their summer holidays.

St Donat’s Bay, Atlantic College, is a good place to stop on the sea wall for refreshment. It was here that we turned back to Llantwit Major. The coastal path and Heritage coast continues to Nash Point, then Monknash, Dunraven Bay and Ogmore. All of it splendid walking with brilliant views but even on bright days you may need warm clothes as the wind along the coast is usually quite strong


 A Special Day


A Special Day

As regular readers will know I have missed the Saturday walks for quite a few weeks, but we were all together in mid-August to celebrate the wedding of Claire, the youngest member of our group. A few of us took short walks around the village before setting off. We all donned rather smarter gear than we usually wear on a Saturday and made our way (by car not Shanks’s pony) with umbrellas or raincoats, to Penarth, as it started to rain quite heavily at about 11a.m.

The wedding was at the Tabernacle Church where church members greeted every guest with a smile and a hearty welcome. There was a good congregation assembled when the groom, Stephen, arrived with the bride’s uncle a few minutes before Noon. Then the sun came out from behind the clouds and another uncle accompanied a glowing bride, in a gorgeous deep pink dress with a flowered pattern and a toning bouquet. The congregation clapped and cheered.

The Pastor welcomed everyone, and his words were light, entertaining and loving throughout the service. The bride’s mother, Dianne, shared a reading from the bible about love. And then the couple made their vows and signed the Register. The Pastor invited people to take photos and suddenly it was as if the paparazzi had been unleashed with lots of us rushing to the front of the church (Until this point surreptitious photos had been taken on iPhones and cameras).

We all trooped downstairs where church members served us non-alcoholic Prosecco, which was surprisingly tasty. A buffet was laid out, with a separate vegetarian section and two wedding cakes, one of which was a present from Claire’s sister in Australia.

After eating, lots of chatting and very little walking everyone departed a little lighter of heart. Some of us bearing table decorations!

Congratulations Claire and Stephen.

Local walking

Along the Glamorgan Heritage Coast there are fabulous views but be aware that if you walk along the beach under cliffs you need to be at least 30ft from the cliff face to avoid possible rock falls.

Nash Point to Monknash: It is important to check the tide here; there is a tide timetable outside the cafe at Nash Point (parking fee£3). It is a simple walk of 2-3 miles either over the cliff top or across the pavement beach but there are lots of stones on a slope to navigate before you reach the beach. I usually walk along the beach one way and over the top to return. The tide was way out last time I did it and the wind was blowing hard on the top, so I walked both ways on the beach. I keep my shoes on until I am past the roughest of the stones and then kick them off to walk on the sand at the edge of the water and paddle in the sea as I go. Your feet glow after a mile or so of this.

Forest of Dean

 Forest of Dean

It was another warm day as we set off to the forest of Dean, parking at the RSPB Nagshead nature reserve car park. Our route was taking us north to the water at the edge of Stonyhill Green, then west towards The Barracks where there is a picnic spot, from there to Parkend and along the Dean Forest Railway before turning North to our start point.

We passed a family of waterfowl at Cannop ponds and were soon amongst grand trees, many of them sweet chestnuts. We crossed a busy road and passed between two large gate posts to a footpath and soon had views of open fields bathed in sunshine from the welcome gloom of the forest.

At lunchtime we approached a large house where the footpath almost disappeared as we skirted the property and came out onto a tarmacadam roadway. We looked for somewhere to settle and eat. One person decided to check where the road led and found a church a short distance away. We all followed him and found a large churchyard where we enjoyed our lunch, there was even an extension to the churchyard on the other side of the road. After eating, most of us explored St Paul’s church, which is unusual as it is octagonal and cruciform.


Continuing, we followed a footpath and came out on a road, several people found themselves unable to pass an ice cream shop without trying the goods! Soon we could see steam and were at the station for the Dean Forest Railway. A train had just arrived and we were lucky to see people board and the train depart in clouds of steam.

After leaving the railway we spotted a sign ‘Ladies Walk Path to Church’. No doubt a shortcut but why ‘ladies’ had their own path was beyond us. We were soon at the most southerly point of the walk and went around the Parkhill Enclosure back to the cars, passing Whitemead park on the way. Good paths throughout the walk.


It was still very warm, so we sought out a local hostelry where we parked up the road to avoid – 1. stray cricket balls from the game on the pitch opposite and 2. blocking the view of the match for customers sat out front.
Walk 8.4m 900ft Map OL14



My ability to walk has been restricted by sciatica for the last few weeks so I have explored the area around the village, as I did during lockdown. I started around the Redrow estate, to the garden centre and up Burdons Hill, along the side of the golf course, past a House called Fairview and back to the main road via the golf club access road.
Paying attention to the natural world is relaxing and enhances my experience. Just using my senses to notice nature took my attention away from my pain. I was delighted to spot several apple trees in one garden followed by a mock orange with its heady scent. When the flowers were decimated by a heavy fall of rain I was momentarily disappointed but was very happy to be smothered by the heavy scent of Jasmine at the top of Burdons Hill. If you carry on for a while you will find a gate into the Elizabethan Orchard which is looked after by the Wenvoe Wildlife Group (they always need volunteers if you are interested). Retrace your steps and you will notice a gate which gives access to Wenvoe golf course, don’t go through it but keep it to your right as you continue down a track. The rose hedge belonging to the golf course is on your right and depending on the season there will be glorious deep pink roses or large red rose hips.
There are lots of trees on this stretch and you might like to focus on their bark, leaf shape, height or even the scent they emit. When you get to the golf club access road turn left and be aware that there are usually vehicles every few minutes. The roadway is lined with some splendid oaks and lots of other trees, plus an open area of grassland both sides, currently full of thistles. Butterflies are in abundance here in the summer.
Earth footpaths are a pleasure, the ground beneath one’s feet is softer so feet and joints don’t get sore and silence is deeper away from roads. And, for example, after a rain shower the soft pitter patter of raindrops falling from leaves at the top of trees onto lower leaves can be heard.







Clydach Vale
Clydach Vale is a village adjoining Tonypandy in the
Rhondda valley. It is named after Nant Clydach, a
tributary of the river Rhondda.
It was a warm day and we were planning to walk in
the woodland surrounding the Clydach Vale Country
Park, which has been created in the old mining area.
There are low level footpaths and two lakes to
explore, on Saturday morning it was very popular.
We parked and set off along the
shore of a lake which had a good
number of waterfowl swimming
around and one chunky bodied
one with a red wattled face, but I
have no idea what it was. As we
moved along the shore, we could
see a cafe with outside seats
perched on the edge of the lake
and started planning our
refreshments after the walk.

At the end of the lake, we
moved onto a footpath leading
into the woods, leaving the bustle of the lake area
behind. And yes, as planned we had the shade of the
trees, with occasional breaks in the shrubbery
allowing us to see the village spread out below us.
Yellow gorse bushes shone across the area and even
one yellow rhododendron. It was not long before we
found that the footpaths we expected were gone and
replaced by wide gravel paths. These had been
created as wind turbines have been put at the top of
the hill and we were now walking the access roads.
Trees had been felled in the process so we no longer
had shade but one advantage was that we had
extensive views across the valley.
Arriving at a trig point we found a huge cairn, about
6ft high, next to it. At first, we thought it might have
been built as an animal shelter but there were no
obvious openings. We stood here a while and looked
at the vast number of turbines
and were very pleased to note
that they were turning even if
it was with reduced output due
to the light wind speed! We
were walking along Mynydd
William Meyrick, a hill
straddling the boundary
between Bridgend and
Rhondda Fawr. To the west
was open moorland whilst the
area we were walking was
mostly woodland but with

Behind us we spotted Tylorstown tip in the distance,
a wedge of a hill which is easily identified. In
February 2020, after several other winter storms,
Storm Dennis precipitated a landslip on the
Llanwonno side of the tip. This blocked the river
valley, broke a foul sewer, covered a strategic water
main in several metres of debris, and covered a
footpath and cycle path. The area was closed to members of the public to ensure safety
immediately. The hillside has been
reinforced and new footpaths and cycle
paths created, and new receptor sites created to
reduce the impact should further storms hit
We headed into the shade of fir trees for a lunch
break and were soon surrounded by insects, so most
of us retreated to the edge of the path. When we
resumed we were walking past
tall firs with bare trunks for
most of their height. The lower
branches obviously dropped
when they were surrounded by
other trees but the creation of
the roadway for the wind
turbines had taken out the
protecting trees on the edge of
the wood.
We turned back down the valley,
losing height quite quickly and
as we dropped lower the
temperature rose. We spotted a rose and a
chaenomeles (Japanese flowering quince) but the
skies had been very quiet all day, apart from one
buzzard the only birds we had seen were at the lake.
Now approaching Clydach Vale again we could see
below us a sports field. Someone said that this was
where handball was invented. A little research has
revealed that the native games developed in Wales
share a Celtic heritage with sports in Cornwall,
Scotland and Ireland. A number of sports are
recorded, including variations of ‘village football’,
‘bat and ball’, and ‘hand ball’ games. The most
prominent native sports to survive into modern
Welsh history are Cnapan, Bando and Pel-Llaw.
Welsh handball, more commonly known as ‘Pel-
Llaw’, is related to Irish handball, Fives, Basque
pelota and later American
handball and has been
continually played since the
Middle Ages. The sport’s
popularity offered ordinary
people opportunities through
prize- money, bookkeeping
and even player
professionalism. Pel-Llaw
has been described as ‘Wales
first national sport’.
At the end of the walk we
went to the cafe on the lake
for tea/ beer/ ice cream and
enjoyed a well earned rest. There is a large display
board with a map of Rhondda showing all the
mining tunnels underground, a fascinating picture
which makes you realise that the Rhondda is like a
huge sieve and there is a tunnel below you almost
wherever you go.Walk 7m 1100ft Map OS166
[Footsteps walk routes and map are available by
contacting the editors]



Glamorgan Coast and Abercarn

 Glamorgan Coast

We parked near the Plough and Harrow Inn and walked straight across a sodden field towards Broughton. We wended our way to Monkton and across farmland towards the coast. Some of the fields were muddy and we soon had great clarts of mud on our boots making our feet heavy. Foot stamping and dragging feet through long grass cleaned boots as there were no puddles!

There was no wind, the air unusually still, and it was eerily quiet. Far off to the west we spotted a Murmuration. Joining the coast at St Donats, we turned towards Nash Point. We sat on rocks outside Atlantic College and stared out to sea eating our lunch. Someone spotted two heads in the water coming towards us and then carrying on across the bay. They stayed together and we could not identify them. People at the coast watch centre said, ‘great black backed gulls.’

At Nash Point we descended into the valley and a couple of peregrines took off as we arrived. It was high tide, so we kept to the cliff tops. There was not a ripple on the sea. The path inland at Monknash was slippery from heavy rain during the week. At the old mill the stream was full and the tufa quite spectacular.

The volume of water in a stream made some of us reticent to cross the top of a small waterfall but we did. The trees beside the stream were old and gnarled from the wind and their roots a foot or more above the earth A large horse followed us across a field, and we passed the remains of a mill, whose roof was replaced by a wacky hairdo of ivy.

Back at the Plough and Harrow, the Barry Male Voice choir, having a social lunch, burst into song as we waited to be served. With the roaring fire and Real ale to drink, what a great atmosphere to end a lovely walk.

Walk 6.6m 400ft Map OS151


Abercarn is in the Ebbw valley and driving towards a parking area, we passed a huge church, St Luke’s iron church. According to a foundation stone, it was built in 1923. It became redundant due to a dwindling congregation in the 1980s and although it is grade II listed it is now derelict (but in the care of Cadw?). Looking at photographs on the internet you can see that it was once a truly impressive church. Its architect was J. Coates Carter who was born in Norwich and is notable for his design and restoration of churches in S. Wales (including Llandaff cathedral and the Paget Rooms in Penarth). It is not clear who commissioned it, but it could be a Crawshay as they owned an estate in Abercarn. It is early gothic style with slim cast iron columns.

( See More Photos of Church https://www.28dayslater.co.uk/threads/st-lukes-church-abercarn-south-wales-12-08-08.35494/ )

We set off downhill through leaf strewn woodland to running water, Nant Gwyddon, crossed a bridge and reaching the other side started climbing. We walked through mixed woodland accompanied by almost incessant bird song, it was mild, so Spring was in the air!

As we climbed the trees seemed to be older and the path was edged by beeches towering above us. Along an old hedge-line tree branches intertwined as they reached skyward. Roots penetrated old boundary walls and trees and stones were clothed in green moss with the roots clinging to the hillside.

Coming out onto open access land with open moorland, we could see the Pen y Fan area wreathed in cloud with Corn Ddu clearly visible in the distance. We kept looking at the scudding clouds in the hope that we would see the whole range and just before we arrived at woodland they cleared, and Pen y Fan peeped out of the cloud.

All the paths were good and flat underfoot but there was a fair amount of climbing so we waited until we were at the top of our climb before, we stopped for lunch on the wild moors. As soon as we stopped three scrambler bikes came past us and another two passed as we ate.

Resuming we started to descend, climbing over a fence and then a few trees blocking the path (felled to deter motor bikes). This wood was a fir plantation and as we emerged from the trees we could see vast swathes of land stripped of its tree cover by the forestry workers and evidence of erosion.. We spotted frog spawn in a pool, long catkins and tiny red flowers on a hazel, and fungi growing on a dark tree trunk and several sheep’s skulls.

The paths throughout the walk were in good condition, so we were able to stride out on the descent and we didn’t need to climb a single stile. Wonderful.

Walk 7.75m 1400ft Map OS152


Garth Hill and Ystradowen

 Garth Hill 

There was a downpour at 8.30 and again at 9.00, with rain cascading over the chutes. Still, we met as usual and agreed to ‘give it a go’, the rain stopped and ‘dry until 12.00 with 40mph winds’ was forecast. From the Radyr to Pentyrch road, we crossed Heol Goth and climbed to enter Garth Wood. We were greeted by bird song and the paths through this lovely wood were good.

Pentyrch’s the King’s Arms is a grade II listed building, originally a 17th century copyhold farm (Cae Golman). It has a fireplace with a beam dated 1711. We passed Acapela Studio near the Lewis Arms, a venue with a strong reputation.

The sun came out and there was no wind until we reached the top of the Garth, and were we glad we had persisted. Visibility was amazing with 3600 clear views encompassing the Severn bridge, Newport transporter bridge, Glastonbury Tor, the Channel, the islands of Flat Holm and Steep Holm, Cardiff, Wenvoe, and the airport as well as the Valleys.

We descended rapidly and settled next to an old stone wall for lunch. The wind was cold, but it was pleasant in the weak sunshine. As we ate, dark clouds gathered and seemed to sweep around us up to the Valleys. Then we hurriedly finished our lunch and resumed walking as the first drops of rain began to fall.

There was a very wet area between Garth Hill and the river Taff. Here we needed to cross a stream onto a very wet ‘island’ before climbing a wobbly stile. Two gallant men (one of them with one foot in a stream) held the stile steady as we each climbed over it and jumped across a second stream. Someone offered me a hand to help me, and they fell back into the mud as I came forward and I got a boot full of cold muddy water helping her up. Then we trudged up the hill across the field which was potholed with deep puddles between tiny patches of grass. We were very glad to reach the stile at the top of the field and a lane. Another person had taken a tumble in the field but none of us was hurt and even my feet were warm and cosy by the time we exited the field.

The final descent to the Taff trail was steep with zigzags, it was obviously used by mountain bikers. The river Taff was very full and fast flowing, and we talked about how dangerous water can be.

Tea at Pugh’s Garden Centre refreshed us.

Walk 6.6m 1200ft Map OS151



Another week of torrential rain, hail, and wind with many floods, had us thinking it might not be practical to walk in the Vale, but we agreed to go and see how the land lay and come home if necessary.

We parked in Ystradowen and headed west and then north towards the fisheries as we thought this would be the wettest area underfoot. It was squelchy underfoot but nowhere was impassable, so we kept going. The fields did have a lot of lying water with ponds visible in places, but the footpaths were all firm underfoot with occasional streams to navigate at the bottom of slopes.

We made our way to Hensol Forest where we used the main tracks which were excellent underfoot. At the car park we stopped for lunch at the BBQ area and the sun shone briefly and we could see the Channel.

Resuming we walked towards Prisk, a stream was in full flood with a tree creating a dam, so we detoured and walked along the road, where we spotted our first daffodil and red campion of the year. Back on a footpath we saw a kite take to the air and admired its majestic flight which must have been an effort as a brisk wind had blown up. A meandering stream spread across a wide area, but we negotiated it without a problem, climbed a slope, admired some pretty sheep with black markings and were back in Ystradowen.

Did you know that Tom Jones had a home in the village until 1998?

The café at Bonvilston provided us with piping hot mugs of tea. And when two bikers’ meals arrived with plates piled high with omelette and chips, we were asked ‘Do you have chip envy?’ (We must have been salivating). The next minute a bowl of chips appeared – they said they had cooked too many and we were welcome to them. All that for £1.50 a head!

Walk 6.4m 800ft Map OS151




At the beginning of our walk, we took a slight diversion to visit the Old Ford Project, an environmental enhancement scheme involving the village’s Ancient Well, Clapper Footbridge, Watercress beds, woodland hedges, Colwinston Brook and Springs. Unusually for the Vale of Glamorgan Colwinston village has steep slopes at its centre. The watercourse is now underground but rises to the surface in prolonged wet weather.

The Michaelmas Well is one of three wells which provided the village with water until 1935 when the main water supply was brought to the village. There are 24 steps to the bottom of the well, with recent rain only the top step could be seen but a local resident told us that there were sixteen steps visible after the hot dry summer of this year.

There was a ford across the stream a short distance from the well. Until the early 1900’s when the old ford was covered for traffic the clapper bridge was the only dry path across the stream for pedestrians. It is an 18th century structure, one of several in the Vale. A pond fed by springs has been excavated to provide more habitats for wildlife and it is hoped watercress.

We returned to the centre of the village to begin our walk and soon passed the village War Memorial which was erected at the village green in 2014. Colwinston is a ‘Thankful Village’ – one of only three in Wales which suffered no fatalities in World War I. However, four men were lost in World War II, one of them Agatha Christie’s son-in-law, Colonel Hubert Prichard.

One house had an exuberant Christmas garland around the whole of their double porch entrance, with door wreaths, small reindeer, and lanterns; it all looked splendid. We spotted several Victorian wall-mounted post boxes still in use on the walk, one on a house called ‘Ramblers’ which we thought appropriate but realised it probably referred to roses rather than walking!

There are ten Grade II listed buildings in the village, all dating from the medieval or post-medieval period. They include a thatched house, ‘the Old Parsonage dating from the 16th century which has a Gothic or Tudor arch and is one of only two in the Vale with a latrine in the form of a small closet next to the fireplace.

Now we walked through fields and crossed the A48 at the old Colwinston village milestone – Cowbridge 3 miles, Bridgend 4 miles, London 173 miles – only to find the next stile blocked, a nearby gate was an easy substitute.

It was a cloudy but reasonably clear day, and we could see the long line of wind turbines on the hills, quite a few rotating. A red kite appeared overhead and seemed to ‘stay with us’ for the rest of the walk soaring high and occasionally swooping quite close to us. Would you ever get tired of seeing this marvellous bird?

A tall chimney north of Gelliaraul farmhouse, Llangan, dominates the landscape. It is Grade II listed and has three distinct levels and an arched opening a couple of feet above the ground; possibly some sort of oven associated with the nearby quarry. Arriving at Llangan we found their public phone box was a book exchange and contained a defibrillator, good idea we thought until we saw a sign ‘Sorry this defibrillator is out of order’. We passed the church, walking through the graveyard, where there is an old cross and noted that the church looked as if it had been doubled in size at some point in its past.

Now we were walking on grass again and spotted a buttercup flowering, not bad for December. We passed a huge solar panel installation and found a pile of logs so stopped to eat lunch; glimmers of sunshine appeared. Some of the logs had a very pretty, thin, pure white, fungus growing on them. As we set off, we met a flock of sheep with square shaped heads, even the ewes looked masculine, and the ram was solid muscle.

Now we walked through Troes and turned south to return. At times it was quite dark but then the sun would come out for a while and brighten everything. Nearing Colwinston we came to ‘Charlie’s Shop’, – open 9-5 so after checking he was open, we finished the walk and drove back up the road for a few minutes to enjoy a piping hot cup of tea next to a wood burning stove, very cosy and he had lots of local eggs for sale.

Walk 6.9m 400ft Map OS151



 Neath Canals 

 Neath Canals 

This is an easy walk in the Vale of Neath, following the Neath Canal and back along the Tennant Canal.

The river Neath is known to have been navigable to Neath town bridge for sea going ships since Roman times. The Neath canal was preceded by several smaller canals connecting industrial sites to the river. In 1790 it was decided that a canal from Pontneddfechan to Neath would be of public benefit. Construction started in 1791, one of the building contractors was imprisoned over financial irregularities in 1794, and it was completed in 1795. For the first 60 years of its existence the canal prospered and in 1845 a £100 share was worth £350. As much as 200,000 tons of coal was carried annually, as well as iron, ironstone, fire/clay bricks, silica, lime, gunpowder and building stone. The opening of the Neath and Swansea junction canal (Tennant canal) in 1824 led to traffic being diverted, as Swansea had better shipping facilities. When the Vale of Neath railway opened in 1851, canal trade dwindled and in the 20th century the canal closed. It was maintained for the supply of water to industry, but navigational structures (locks) were abandoned and became derelict.

Restoration began in 1974 with the formation of The Neath and Tennant Canals Trust. Both canals are owned by private companies who have lost their income from selling water so there is little money for maintenance, and they are wary of others working on the canals because of insurance liabilities. The Trust is limited to work approved by the canal owners which is often just litter picking. They want to see a master plan created which would preserve the canals and promote them for well-being and tourism.

It was a wet day and we set off in full waterproof gear. As we began our walk along the Neath canal, we puzzled over what looked like a dog’s kennel on the opposite bank of the canal – a cheap duck’s house? Then we walked past a huge gas depot – every type of canister and gas you could imagine.

South of Tonna is the Neath canal Depot where there was a smithy, workshop, wood seasoning shed and sawpit as well as the lock keeper’s cottage and stables. In its heyday it would have been extremely busy with lock gates being built and repaired, boats maintained and horses which towed the barges being cared for. Some of the buildings are still standing. The man living in the cottage obviously has a sense of humour as there were several figures on the land past the house including skeletons and large cats sprawling on tree stumps. Ducks and geese swam peacefully on the canal.

Soon we arrived at the 13th century, church of St Illtyd. The last time we walked here we saw a bride arriving at the church by barge. Sadly, this would be impossible now as the canal is overgrown and not navigable.

The present St Illtyd church is built on the site of a much older church and probably the location of a hermit’s refuge. The tower of the church is Norman but the actual church dates to the time of St Illtyd, centuries before the Norman conquest. St Illtyd’s was the parish church for nearby Neath until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. The present church was rebuilt in 1859. CADW restored it in 2005/6, the final part of the restoration being to paint the outside of the church white with a solution of lime and tallow just as they did in the Middle Ages.

At Tonna we saw the river Neath. The canal passed through several tunnels, and we walked along what felt like narrow paths at its side. One of the tunnels was quite long so very dark on this cloudy day. Another had an ornate metal bridge over it and fascinating reflections of the ceiling and sides in the water.

After this our path became narrower until we came to an area where there were several small bridges across the canal, a rusted-out barge, and some derelict locks. Here we crossed to the Tennant canal. We planned to lunch here, but the pool was overgrown and the ground wet. Someone explored and we went to a small beach on the river Neath with an excellent view of the Aberdulais aqueduct, viaduct and lockhouse. The river was full, and we watched the water swirling around the arches and the weir as we ate. In 2020 Storm Dennis damaged the aqueduct overwhelming the low arches but the Inlands Waterways Association with the help of the Neath and Tennant Canals Trust formulated a plan in 2021 to save the aqueduct.

The weather was a bit brighter now and the remainder of the walk was delightful with reflections of trees in the canal and leafy walkways.

Walk 6m 170ft. Map OS165

Dragon’s Back 

 Dragon’s Back 

In spring, we talked about which walks we would like to do this year and this one was tops for me, but the summer was so hot that we saved it for the autumn. The Dragon’s Back is named after the shape of the hills which rise and fall like the spines on a Dragon’s Back and from a distance it looks like a sleeping dragon.

There is another ‘Dragon’s Back’ which runs from north to south Wales following the mountainous spine of the country. And people have been racing the route since 1992, taking about 5-6 days to cover 236 miles and ascents which would add up to twice the height of Everest!

Our walk was in the Black Mountains and more modest but still a demanding walk. We arrived at the car park on the A479, next to a pub to take the last parking spaces (there is an honesty box for payment). Unusually we were tackling the route anticlockwise to enjoy ‘an exhilarating finale on a switchback route along the crest of a long narrow ridge on Y Grib’.

We took a track towards Cwmfforest farm where we started a gentle climb which soon got steeper. Most of us took regular short breaks ‘to look at the fantastic views’ which were unfolding around us. As we climbed, we could see beyond the ridge to the west to Pen y Fan in the distance. Reaching a cairn, we followed a section of the Cambrian Way and coming round a mountain spotted Sugar Loaf and England to the southeast.

Surrounded by the awe-inspiring Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons, we were crossing moorland and bog, but paths improved by the national park and the dry summer – meant that what was normally bog was now just damp. We came to a steep section which has been reinforced with huge stones making this section easier to climb and preserving the countryside around us.

The high point of the walk is Waun Fach, (small moor) the highest point in the Black Mountains at 810m, it is the second highest mountain in southern Britain (Pen y Fan being the highest) and we felt the keen wind as we reached it. We met a group of deaf people taking a group photo. Then it was time for our group photo, and after heading downhill slightly a well-earned lunch out of the wind and looking over the next stage of the walk.

We saw a few people walking in T shirts, apparently with no refreshments or waterproof gear. But we were impressed by a family: a woman, man and two very young children were steadily climbing with the children stopping now and again to examine something which had caught their attention. The woman carried a rucksack, presumably so that the man could carry the children if it became necessary.

We continued, taking in the views of the Dragon’s Back and the distant hills. It was a perfect day for walking, not too warm but sunny with occasional cloud and the visibility was incredible; we could see the Bristol Channel, rolls of mountains to Pen y Fan and beyond to the west and the flattish landscape of the north stretching into the far distance. Gliders were being lifted by planes from a nearby airfield and then soaring on the up draughts. They mirrored a red kite which flew below us displaying its divided tail and distinctive colouring.

Now we approached the promised finale as we took in the crest of Y Grib and then dipped and climbed along the mounds of the Dragon’s Back keeping the 360O views. All too soon we were facing the last climb to Castell Dinas Hill fort. A few people opted to skirt around it but the rest of us struggled to the top. At 450 metres it is the highest castle in England and Wales and is positioned to defend Rhiangoll pass, between the market towns of Crickhowell and Talgarth. Standing there you get a sense of Welsh history and of the many people who have been there before you over hundreds of years The original Iron Age defence is reduced to stone wall ruins, outlines of ditches and ramparts. One piece of wall has an arch which it was decided was the ‘Dragon’s eye’.

A stroll downhill over a rickety stile, passing some beautiful oaks and lush grassland and we stopped briefly to look back at where we had been. A brief walk along the original track and there was the carpark with the Dragon’s Back Hotel beckoning us for a drink.

The weather had been great with no rain and the word I used on the day, for the walk and views was splendiferous – what more could you ask for? Walk 7.4miles 2100ft Map OL13

A map of any of the walks featured in ‘Footsteps’ can be obtained from ianmood029@gmail.com


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