Cwm Clydach and The Swansea Canal

On a sunny morning in late October, we parked in Clydach and we walked east along the Swansea canal, with reflections of trees in its still waters.

The canal was built to serve collieries, iron works and copper works in the Tawe valley. The first section opened in 1796; its final length was 16½ miles and included 5 aqueducts to carry the canal across the river Tawe, at Pontardawe, Ynysmeudwy, Ystralyfera and Cwmgiedd. One section, the Trewyddfa canal, was privately owned by the Duke of Beaufort who charged a toll.

We passed the heritage centre in Coed Gwilym Park, where metallic outlines of three figures stand. The towpath is easy walking and we soon found another ‘sculpture’, a bicycle marooned on top of a tall tree trunk (the towpath is a cycle trail). A little later we spotted a rhododendron bush in full flower.

The river Tawe soon came into view and we walked a short distance between the river and canal. We crossed a bridge and after following the canal for a while, headed uphill away from Trebanog towards Gellionen. A flock of handsome goats in a field next to the footpath were very friendly coming up to the fence and standing on their hind legs to eye us up whilst another (the nanny?) stood/sat on a nearby picnic table.

As we continued we enjoyed extensive views of Swansea Bay with thick fluffy white clouds on the distant horizon. At Gellionen there is a chapel ‘for the use of the society of protestant dissenters’. It was erected in 1692 and rebuilt in 1801 when an ancient carved stone, part of a Celtic cross (from 8th century Llan Eithrim church), was set into an outside wall. The stone is now in Swansea museum. As we left the chapel we went through a gate with a sign which said ‘Welcome – Croeso please take care of this stunning place’.

We continued northwest crossing moorland and passed close to (but didn’t see as although only 50 yards from the footpath it is a difficult place to find) Carn Llechart. Believed to be about 3500 years old, it is one of the finest examples of a stone ring cairn or burial chamber in Wales. It has 25 low stones set close together and leaning outwards with a shattered stone lined cist (coffin) towards the centre.


Now we headed west and downhill alongside a stream towards the Lower Clydach River. We entered woodland which was shaded and cool. At the river we scrambled across rocks or sat on grassy hummocks to find a spot to relax and eat our lunch.

Cwm Clydach RSPB Reserve established in 1987 is mixed broadleaf woodland with a wide variety of bird species present all year. These include Buzzard, Red Kite, Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Tree Creeper, Bull finch Dipper and Grey Wagtail. Otters have returned to the river, a sign of how much cleaner it is.

Until 1962 much of Cwm Clydach was a working coal mining valley. The largest colliery was opened in 1863, known locally as ‘Nixons’ it was one of the main employers. It produced 115,000 tons of saleable coal a year. It was a rock top colliery but as it was virtually gas free, the boilers to raise the haulage engines were underground, as was a blacksmith’s shop, which was rare in a colliery.

The path through Cwm Clydach was covered in warm brown leaves and the sun shone through the trees which had dropped most of their leaves. We passed the remains of many abandoned buildings, some with streams tumbling over them – a reminder of the area’s industrial past. We passed the village of Craig-Cefn-Parc. Its name is thought to mean rocks behind the enclosure. Craig probably refers to small quarries that were in the area. Cefn Parc (meaning at the back of the enclosure) is the name of an old farm at the top of the village – its name suggests that it was at the edge of a Manorial Lord’s enclosure. Even now it is the last farm before you reach the open common.

We continued along the river through housing and passed a large weir. Walking over a bridge over the river we could see the lower Clydach Aqueduct where the canal joins the lower Clydach River and the River Tawe. Now we were back alongside the canal and returned to our cars, passing signs of the restoration work which the Swansea Canal Society are undertaking.

Our walk was 7.7 miles in length with 700ft of ascent. OS Map 165.