Ascent Of Blorenge
Blorenge – To start we drove to Keepers pool, (currently named after the nearby gamekeeper’s house though it was original Forge pond). It is also known as Llyn Pen-ffordd-goch, the pool at the head of the red road, after the sandstone grit of which the road was constructed. A grey day deteriorated into a foggy one as we climbed and we had difficulty seeing the car park. Standing on the edge of Keepers pool we couldn’t see the road let alone the countryside we would be exploring. We had intended to walk our circular route in an anti-clockwise direction heading straight up the mountain but decided to reverse it in the hope that the weather cleared before we gained the summit.
We walked north close to the road peering ahead for the footpath which would take us across the road and slightly downhill to follow Hill’s tramroad. Horse drawn trams containing pig-iron travelled the route from Blaenavon ironworks to Llanfoist and here the tramway contours around the Blorenge mountain, our destination.
The water from Keeper’s pool supplied Garnddyrys forge and rolling mill which, in its heyday, produced 300 tons of wrought iron a week as iron bars, rails and plates. It operated for almost 50 years until production was transferred to the new site at Blaenavon and Garnddyrys closed in 1860. We passed the remains of the forge master’s house and a large mound of dark material. This is a heap of slag which has been shaped by a century of wind and rain. Sadly its ‘head’ has fallen off in recent years so it no longer resembles a ‘ prehistoric Monster’.
Continuing we followed a section called Rhiw Ifor towards Govilon we still had little visibility but now and again the clouds parted and we glimpsed the scenery around us and at times extensive views across the open plains to the north and east. Alongside the tramway we spotted a low tunnel; this was probably constructed to protect the tramroad from slippage due to large quantities of slag produced by the forge.
We continued northeast around the Blorenge towards Pen-y-graig farm. The drifting fog allowed brief glimpses of Sugar Loaf and it wasn’t until we had passed the farm that we could see the Skirrid with its hidden summit. Travelling south we continued to contour around Blorenge until we arrived at Punchbowl. This was an eerie place in the mist, woodland rose over a steep sided hollow and a pond was surrounded by lots of moss. We sat down to eat part of our lunch and were treated to the sounds of sheep bleats echoing around us. It sounded like people at times and it’s easy to see how disorienting this would be if visibility was any worse. Lucky for us the cloud was lifting all the time and we could view the whole area by the time we moved off.
Our route continued south a short way before we turned north once again to start our ascent of the Blorenge. As we climbed the mist cleared at last and we walked along an edge for a while to enjoy extensive views of the countryside and Abergavenny, the Skirrid towering over it. At the summit the sun shone at last and we could see for miles. Taking a rest amongst the rocks we ate the rest of our lunch appreciating the panorama.
Now we headed southwest towards Blorenge aerials and Cefn y Galchen. There is a memorial to Foxhunter, a horse which appeared at the Royal International horseshow jumping in the King George V cup 1948, and winning gold at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Lt Col Harry Llewellyn chose Blorenge mountain as a final resting place for his horse. A car park nearby allows easy access to the summit of Blorenge mountain and Keepers pool, suitable for anyone unable to undertake a long hike.
From here it was a gentle walk west back to Keepers pool. The ground we covered marks the end of the South Wales coalfield as it is formed from Millstone grit, a hard rock that signified to colliers that they had reached the end of the coal measures. Millstones were manufactured in this area from this stone. The rock was affectionately known as ’farewell rock’
Arriving back at Keepers pool we had superb views of the surrounding hills in total contrast to the thick fog which had greeted us only a few hours earlier. We had walked 7.25miles with a 1200ft climb.
Alexander Cordell’s 1959 novel ‘Rape of the Fair Country’ brought people’s attention to the historic importance of Blaenavon. The publicity surrounding the book and sale of the film rights encouraged Blaenavon council to retain the ‘crumbling ruins’ as a possible future film set (unfortunately the film was never made). In the 1990s consideration was given to making Blaenavon a world heritage site. Alexander Cordell commented ’If this could be achieved it would be a fitting epitaph to the people who died making this small town an industrial giant. All that the people of the past have to commend them for the sacrifices they made are the dirt monuments that they left behind.’ Blaenavon Industrial Landscape was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 2000. It covers 3290 hectares and about 45% of it is within the Brecon Beacons National park. (Map OL13)