Penhow

Penhow



 

Penhow – As you read this the weather will be sunny and warmer (I hope), but we undertook this walk towards the end of all that winter rain. We parked on the A48 near Penhow, taking a footpath to Penhow castle. Our route took in Penhow Castle farm, passing Magor services on M4, Pencoed castle and back to Penhow via Llandevaud.

The manor of Penhow was held by Caradog ap Gruffydd, Prince of Gwent before the Norman invasion. The estate was seized, and a Norman knight built Penhow castle in the 12th century. By the mid twentieth century the castle was deteriorating and was restored by film director, Stephen Weeks. It is a Grade II listed building, private home and some claim the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Wales. Walking through the farmyard we admired the agricultural buildings and castle and visited the small church complete with bell tower and bellringers’ ropes.

We walked along the road as the fields were waterlogged and a stream beside the road, St Brides brook, was overflowing. Indeed, we paddled along the road and kept to its centre to avoid puddles. Some, who will remain nameless, really enjoyed splashing through the water and generally playing as they walked! It was another matter whenever a car came along as we had to find refuge to avoid being drenched.

We arrived at St Brides Netherwent (circa 1290), an isolated church with snowdrops in the churchyard and a claim for the oldest inscribed bell in Wales. The inscription is ‘Ave Maria Gracia Plena, one like a pot and the other like a pan’ with other embellishments. The bell is still rung to call people to worship 700 years after it was made. There was a very smart steel doored toilet in the corner of the churchyard which was available for use.

Continuing along the flooded road, we arrived at the back of Magor services which was a bit smelly as their bins were lined up near our track. Now we were going slightly uphill and soon moved onto a footpath heading towards Pencoed castle.

There are extensive renovations taking place at the Grade II listed, Pencoed castle and it looked markedly different from the last time we passed it. We hunkered down near one of its boundary walls to eat our lunch and enjoy the castle and its surroundings.

According to Wales Online, the castle was sold for £1.1m in 2020 and there are extensive plans for its development. It is estimated that the castle was built between 1500 and 1560 and for generations belonged to the Morgan family from Tredegar, who built a large mansion on the medieval site. More recently a coal owner and politician, D. A. Thomas, restored the mansion for his adored daughter and her husband. The coal owner died before the work was complete and soon after his daughter divorced. In 2016, a farmer turned property developer, Peter Morgan, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his girlfriend, Georgina Symonds, a dancer and personal escort at the castle. An unfortunate building?

A dovecote in the grounds is fascinating, probably medieval and Grade II listed, all four stone walls are still standing and there is only a small opening at the top for birds to enter and leave. The doorway has a wooden lintel and stone arch above it and it has hundreds of roosting perches inside.

We continued to Llandevaud, crossed the common and then walked across fields back to Pencoed farm. We rounded off the walk with tea at St Mellons Garden centre. Walk 6.7m 500ft Map OL14

 



Llwyn Onn Reservoir and Taibach

Llwyn Onn Reservoir and Taibach



 

Llwyn Onn Reservoir

Driving to the start of this walk, at the beginning of March, the weather was changeable, rain, sleet and hail and we could see snow on the tops of some hills. On arrival at the Garwnant Visitor centre at Llwyn Onn Reservoir, we were welcomed by a light snow shower, the first snow some of us had seen this year.

Our route was north from Llwyn Onn to Cantref reservoir, along the Taff trail and then back along a forest track. It was wet and muddy underfoot, but firm as the footpath was stoney. Quite heavy cold rain had replaced the snow. Where the Taff trail bordered farmland, a new fence had been erected with barbed wire on the top leaving a narrow path between it and the undergrowth to our left which some people found quite difficult to negotiate, especially when low tree branches extended across the path.

Looking across the valley the whole of the hillside was covered in snow and we could see a few tiny figures crossing it. There was also snow lying on the ground around us. The reservoirs were full to overflowing and as we reached Cantref reservoir we stood watching the overflow race along a release stream. This reservoir is one of three forming the Taff Fawr System, it is about 1000ft above sea level and was built in 1892.

 

Now we returned via the forest track and were surprised to find lots of cabins which were occupied. There were no leaves on the surrounding trees, so we had good views of the snow-clad hills. Passing the cabins, we found a picnic table covered in ice where some of us ate our lunch while others perched on stones or on the ground.

We spotted frog spawn in a puddle and feared that most of it was dead as it had turned white.

A couple of people took a shortcut to the visitor centre while we continued to Llwyn Onn reservoir to come back along its shoreline. Towards the end of the day the sun came out and the snow sparkled, a magical sight after the gloom of our wet Welsh winter. At the visitor centre, which has good facilities, including a sculpture trail, and an incongruous large plastic dog, we rejoined our friends for a welcome cup of tea.

Walk 5.8m. Map OL12

 

Taibach

It was another cold morning with rain forecast as we prepared to walk Cwm Dyffryn, near Taibach. The beginning of the walk was level and a river gurgled beside us, surprisingly a large patch of vinca was in full flower.

We crossed a stream, entering more open countryside, and saw a large solar farm on the opposite hill. We were looking out across Swansea Bay and could see the distinctive buildings of the city and the Gower peninsula in the distance.

At lunchtime, we found a hollow, sitting on rocks strewn about the area, and sheltered from the cold wind. Before we finished eating the sun came out.

In a wet patch of footpath, were our first tadpoles of the year; we trod carefully to avoid killing them. Many trees had been felled since we were last here and we gained our first view of Port Talbot steel works and of ‘the blue pool’.

The blue pool is a reservoir which is affected by algae; hence the water is turquoise in summer. It was for sale at £30K and we all joked about buying it. Within the week it had been bought for the princely sum of £15K.

Progress being good, we added an easy trip around the Blue Pool, but it did involve jumping or paddling across a couple of streams. There were lots of tree limbs submerged in the pool and you could easily see how stories of monsters could arise.

We continued our descent through woodland, spotting some coltsfoot coming into flower. A row of trees stood tall even though their roots seemed to be completely exposed on one side, because of erosion.

We reached a grassy path which ran parallel to the M4 and the steel works. From this vantage the steel works looked huge. A farm lay in the narrow strip between us and the motorway, where ewes with tiny lambs rested. A deer was spotted on the hillside, and after some debating about whether it was a rock or tree, everyone saw its head move and four more appeared. They dashed over the crest of the hill on spying us. Escapees from Margam park, we wondered? Soon after, a lone sheep on the hillside was identified as a goat (its beard gave it away) and two others one black and the other brown were spotted.

Before long we were doing the final stretch back to the cars. We retired to Pyle garden centre for refreshment, very happy with our day’s walking.

Walk 7.2m, 1000ft. Map OS 165

 

 



River Taff

River Taff



January and the start of February have made life difficult for walkers with lots of rain and boggy countryside. This walk was mostly firm underfoot taking in the Taff trail and an old railway. We parked Northwest of Merthyr Tydfil in Cwm Taf Fechan.

The beginning of the walk was along the Taff trail heading north and we were immediately impressed by the amount of water in the river as it powered along beside us. The area is quite rocky up here and the water tumbled and roared as it negotiated its path. Even streams coming down the hillside were in strong flow and created decent waterfalls. Dippers were spotted flying onto the rocks of the river. We all watched our step, as anyone going into that river would come a cropper. It was dramatic though and reminded me of a saying from the Chinese Tao Te Ching ‘Nothing under heaven is softer or more yielding than water; but when it attacks things hard and resistant there is not one of them that can prevail.

A dead tree in an open area was covered in moss, lichen, ferns and fungi. Was it the amount of water in the atmosphere that sustained them? It was obvious that a lot of maintenance had been done on the steep banks at the side of the river, so we were more aware of the plants and even mineral deposits.

A footbridge took us over the river and almost straight away we were faced with a steep climb up from the river via an apparently unending flight of wooden steps. At the top we gained views of the surrounding area and the extent of a huge landslip.

Morlais castle came into view at the top of a nearby hill and there was an option to climb to the castle ruins. It was built around 1288 by Gilbert de Claire, Lord of Glamorgan who had already built Caerphilly castle. Humphrey de Bohun, Lord of Brecknock disputed de Claire’s claim to the land and the battle of Maesvaynor ensued which Bohun won. In the 13thcentury it was briefly used as a stronghold by rebels in the fight for Welsh independence. Edward I destroyed parts of the castle to prevent it being used as a stronghold ever again. Today only the crypt and moat are recognisable. Surprisingly, no-one opted to do the climb but most of us had visited it in the past and probably didn’t fancy tackling the muddy slopes up to it.

We were walking along an old railway and came to the platform at Pontsarn station. Pontsarn roughly means ‘the bridge over the long road’, the long road being the Roman road from Gloucester to West Wales. Once a busy place on the Brecon & Merthyr railway with its own Station Master and Porter, today nature has reclaimed it, and it is quiet. From here we could see the spectacular Pontsarn viaduct, supported by seven stone arches it is 455ft long and 92ft high and built entirely of local limestone.

The viaduct is an historic listed structure and is within the Taf Fechan Nature reserve which has SSSI status for its ancient broadleaved woodlands. In the past the railway brought many people from the iron and coal industries of the South Wales valleys to enjoy this beautiful location. They were able to visit the Pavilion tea rooms and head down to the river under the arches of the viaduct to play games. Today when we arrived, we could observe the men toiling away to secure the hillside after the recent landslip and look over the sides at the river and land far below us.

Continuing we reached Morlais tunnel. In 1873, Dowlais was the western terminus of the London and Northwestern Railway’s Abergavenny branch. The next objective was Merthyr Tydfil and the tunnel, 1037yards long and 80ft at its deepest, was created. Heavy engineering penetrated the hill, driving through limestone and millstone grit, with three shafts sunk to expedite progress. In 1876, Rees Jones – one of the sinkers working on the shafts – was found guilty of stealing two waistcoats off a washing line and sentenced to 21 days imprisonment with hard labour. The tunnel closed in 1958. Walls have been built across both entrances with access doors and ventilation holes. Half-a-dozen cars – now burnt out – were driven into the tunnel before it was secured.

We found an opening but due to the heavy rain of this winter it was flooded with several inches of water and, as we peered in, cold wet drips went down the back of our necks. Enough of a deterrent to put us off trying to enter.

The landscape altered now, and we walked alongside a rocky escarpment where we were dwarfed by the cliffs of Morlais quarry. We could see the viaduct below shrunk to the size of a normal bridge by the vast landscape around it. Now all we needed to do was follow a track downhill and across fields passing Welsh mountain cattle, back to the cars.

A brief journey took us to Cyfartha castle where we enjoyed refreshments.

Walk 6.2miles 500ft. Map OL12

 



Brynna

Brynna



Parking on the northerly edge of Brynna we took the track to the hills. It was a cold but beautiful sunny morning, and we were looking forward to some good views. Soon we came across a farm with lots of vehicles, some obviously still in use but many abandoned and one so deeply buried in brambles it was anybody’s guess how long it had been there.

Approaching another farm, I saw from a distance, a woman in full riding regalia mount a horse and ride off. Getting nearer we could see that there was ice on the surface of a pond, a sheep covered in mud from head to toe apparently stuck in a feeding trough, as it attempted to negotiate a very muddy area to access the trough.

There were ducks on the pond, hens and quail wandering around the farmyard and a couple of geese. Our ‘horse whisperer’ tried to soothe a horse in its stable who seemed to have something caught in its throat – probably just a seed from the oats but it was causing obvious irritation.

Back out on open areas we could see the tops of wind turbines sat stationary on the hill. A tree trunk facing the full sun had a hole which was alive with honeybees buzzing in and out of the trunk, a few of them even seemed to be sunbathing as they perched with their backs to the sun on the edge of the hole.

Before long we were off the track and on mountain paths, crossing a field near Mynydd Hugh to the track which passes in front of the original wind turbines on the Taff Ely Ridgeway. When we reached the noticeboards, we had brilliant views of the channel and the vast field of turbines turning slowly. It was a still day and we wondered whether they were not producing electricity but being turned by motors.

As we continued the distinct outline of Tylor’s Town tip came into view. Then a member of our group pointed to some animals in a distant field ‘look how the long shadows of those sheep make them look like human beings staring our way’. As we got closer, we realised that they were not sheep at all but people on horseback all done up in their riding best

But curiously they didn’t seem to be moving.

It was lunchtime so we made our way to some rocks near the remains of St Peter’s Church. The church had a head stone for someone buried in the 18th C. We draped ourselves across the stones above and watched the ‘action’ as we ate. There were two Masters of the hunt dressed in red jackets, everyone else being in black. After a while we realised that there seemed to be a problem with the hounds: apart from a brief glimpse of a group of about six hounds descending the hill, we saw three individual hounds which one of the masters was calling from the valley just in front of us. But curiously most riders were just hanging around in the distant field.

As we resumed our walk, we realised that the riders were coming towards us along the path we were about to take, so we kept out of their way. We waited on the edge of a field as a long line of riders passed us. Later we met a few people who were leaving, and they said that they had indeed been watching the hunt rather than participating which meant that children could join.

Walking east a short way we spied the green Daffodil sculpture at Caerphilly and explored some tracks, then it was time to swing round to get back to Mynydd Coedbychan for the descent to the cars. Unfortunately, this bit of the walk was very wet and involved crossing a fast-flowing stream to an island before crossing a second stream to terra firma – it was clearly marked with footpath signs but once again rainfall had altered the terrain. Lots of encouragement was needed for some of us (me in particular) but as usual we found a way through.

At this point I spied my first buttercup of the season, just a tiny spark of yellow in the grass. Soon we gained the main track. Small groups from the hunt shared the track with us as they made their way downhill. After a sunny day the sky was darkening with clouds at dusk and the temperature was dropping as we arrived back at the cars.

A lovely walk on good paths, highlighted by the entertainment provided by the local hunt. Refreshment at a local hostelry rounded the day off nicely.

Walk 7.2m 1000ft Map OS151.

 



Pontsticill  and Llanblethian

Pontsticill  & Llanblethian



Pontsticill

After stating last month that we would be staying closer to home while the days are short, the last Saturday in November was so beautiful that we went to the Brecon Beacons. We started at Pontsticill reservoir. parking near the Brecon Mountain Railway. It was very cold with the first heavy frost of the year.

We climbed a good track between the Brecon Mountain Railway and Pontsticill reservoir. The steam railway station was shut at Pontsticill, but a Christmas tree was visible, and Father Christmas was walking along the platform; the railway features ‘Santa Rides’. We were lucky to spot the train coming up the line with its tell-tale smoke and lights.

At an outdoor centre there were several tents pitched in the valley. It made me shiver to think of camping out in this weather, but they were lucky as the centre had a café; we resisted the temptation to join them. Getting closer to the top, the firm track petered out at a woodland and the ground became very boggy in places. We could hear off-roaders revving their engines behind us as they ploughed through the soft soil. All too soon they were passing us, making a racket, sinking about 1ft into the ground, shooting earth everywhere and leaving the footpath badly damaged.

At lunchtime we sat amongst tall grasses. There was no wind and sunshine on our backs so although it was cold 4 layers of clothing, hat and gloves were sufficient to stay warm even when we sat for lunch. As we finished lunch some light clouds formed overhead, and we spotted shapes – a ‘butterfly’ and a ‘jellyfish’ were clear.

The views were amazing: to our left was the Pen y Fan range and to the right Sugar Loaf, Skirrid and Table Mountain. Looking behind us, we could see Pentwyn and Pontsticill reservoirs in the sunshine and ahead Talybont reservoir and Tor y Foel. At Talybont we could see the frost along the shoreline as we glanced down.

We carried on to a trig point surrounded by icy water. Even in the sun some puddles had ice thick enough to resist stabbing with walking poles. Frozen mosses and even brambles looked beautiful in the clear light as we started to descend.

The return walk along a road was very easy but we still spotted icicles. The sun was dropping quickly as we did the same and the light over the reservoirs was colder as we walked the last mile and glanced back at the craggy outline of Pen y Fan.

What a glorious day in the mountains; you cannot fail to feel glad to be alive and happy, if a little tired after such a day. [Map OL12 8.7miles 1000ft]

Llanblethian

A week later and another very deep frost welcomed us on Saturday morning, but this time there was mist and fog, so we walked from Llanblethian. We set off across fields towards St Hilary. Large holes littered the ground where livestock had grazed in the autumnal mud, but it was frozen solid, so we didn’t sink but walked carefully so as not to twist ankles.

Tackling a rickety stile, we were told they had been waiting 2 years for a kissing gate from the Vale, a sign of budget restrictions? As we joined a track, there was a surprise – tiny little lambs with their ewes. Ahh and Brrr!

At St Hilary the thatched Bush Inn was closed, so we couldn’t stop but continued towards St Mary Church/ Llanfair. A circular picnic table on the green next to the church had seating for eight, exactly our number so we settled there for lunch. Anyone walking past might think we were a bit crazy picnicking in December, but we needed the calories, and the chat was good.

We visited Old Beaupre Castle, climbing the stile into its grounds. It is a medieval manor house largely rebuilt in the 16th century, by Richard Bassett. The gatehouse is dated 1586 and a Renaissance porch added in 1600 is unique to Wales.

The Bassett family used Beaupre to display their wealth and influence. Considering that it is a ruin with no entrance fee there is a fair bit to explore, there is even a staircase. This led to 3 bedchambers, each with its own fireplace, en-suite toilet and four-poster bed. The Bassett family fortunes changed when they backed Charles I during the Civil war, lived beyond their means in London and had to sell Beaupre Castle in 1706. It is worth a visit.

As we left the castle the sun broke through the fog and mist and we could look up towards fog hanging over the valleys of South Wales, quite atmospheric. The Vale is normally muddy with lots of stiles and this walk was no exception but … all the footpaths remained frozen and our boots stayed relatively clean. [Map 151. 8.2 miles ]

 



 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

 Crickhowell



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



 

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

 


Mindfulness

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.

 

 

 



FOOTSTEPS

 

FOOTSTEPS

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
views.


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
Tylorstown.
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]

 


 

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