Pontneddfechan and Penderyn

We started from Craig y Ddinas a towering stone wall which translates as ‘Fortress Rock’. The car park was busy and groups of adventurers were donning wet suits and crash helmets ready for ‘gorge walking’ activities in this area famous for its beautiful waterfalls.

We kept to the southern side of the Afon Mellte as we set off and stayed on the lower path so that we could enjoy the sights and sounds of the teeming water below us. The valley was strewn with bluebells, was sheltered from any wind and felt warm even though the day was fresh.

After a short while we came to a bridge, with an excellent view of the river which led to the Gunpowder works. The Glyn-Neath Gunpowder Works, or Powder Mills, were established in 1857 to produce blasting powder (known as black powder) for use in coal mining and limestone quarrying. The works operated until 1931. It may seem strange to place such a factory in a steep valley but the location was actually well suited to the dangerous process of manufacturing gunpowder.

The site was large and remote, stretching over a mile and a half along the north bank of the River Mellte, with room to create plenty of space between each factory building to ensure that any explosions were localized. Safety was paramount; employees at the works wore leather slippers fastened with wooden pegs over their shoes and boots. Trousers were not allowed pockets or turn-ups to prevent grit to be carried into the works in case it caused sparks.

The river provided energy to turn waterwheels etc. and the raw materials required were sourced in the vicinity and moved upriver on a tram road. This tram road is used today as a level footpath, ‘The Powder Trail’ allowing visitors to explore the remains of the works.

Moving back across the bridge we climbed out of the valley and continued upriver until we arrived above the huge waterfall which is Sgwyd yr Eira – ‘fall of snow’.

We descended the steep and uneven path and a few people walked behind the waterfall to look at the world through a wall of water, very refreshing and exciting. The space behind the waterfall has been created by water eroding the soft rock behind it and there may be loose rocks so it isn’t advisable to stay too long.

As we came to the head of the valley we heard our first cuckoo of the year and as we emerged into open countryside its call became loud and clear. Then the terrain changed and we found ourselves stepping across tussocks in the moor trying not to dip into any of the waterlogged areas or turn an ankle (boots really earn their keep at times like these) but also enjoying some gentle climbing and the sunshine.

After a while we found ourselves in a very boggy area and although most of the group successfully negotiated it someone at the back (yours truly) stepped on a tussock which promptly descended at a rate of knots leaving her with one leg up to the knee in brackish water, and falling forward onto the peaty bog. A nearby friend quickly grabbed her arm and helped her out, one leg now soaking wet from knee to toes and the other knee soaked. As the sun was hot the trousers were soon drying.

The path was easier near Penderyn, although tempted to stop, we walked past the Tavern Llew Goch and arrived at St Cynog’s church. It has a distinctive weather vane that looked like a peacock but on closer inspection is a cockerel.

#a JUNE W1 IMG_4864Lunch was in a nearby field and we could hear a peacock calling. Lunch took a little longer than usual as a certain person changed into spare socks (carried for years but never used before) and spread various items out to dry in the sun. It was a very pleasant spot and our view splendid.

We were now on the final leg of the walk going generally west. Our route took us around Penderyn resevoir and through Trebanog Isaf. Then we came across a bunkhouse with a tap for people to wash their bicycles and next to it a brilliant gate made from old bicycles.

After crossing a very steep gully, with slippery stone – a challenge for many of us, once again helped by friends- and an open area we made our way back to arrive at Craig y Ddinas once more.

A lovely day’s walking, though a bit wet underfoot at times we clocked up 8 miles and 1500ft.

Footsteps – Bedwas

Parking in Bedwas outside a church, we set off up hill walking towards Trethomas. Bedwas’s origins in the coal industry were clear as looking to our left huge spoil heaps crowned the hills; for the first time this year (on one of our walks) topped by a lovely blue sky.

As we progressed up the hill we came upon a ruin and this was to prove to be a feature of the day. It was a route dotted with ruins and even small slag heaps, one looking like a pyramid. From Trethomas our route took us northeast, west towards Ty canol, then in a generally northerly direction above the Sirhowy valley.

As we headed across a waterlogged field we found an old green lane with trees arching overhead, casting dappled shadows in the sunlight and dry underfoot – lovely. We came upon a farm and a sheep dog decided to join us. I’ll refer to it as ‘he’ but in truth he had such a thick coat that we couldn’t tell whether it was a male or female and one of our party named him/her ‘Fluff’.

On came Fluff through the farm gates (which he could have got under), across a series of fast flowing streams and through an area overgrown with bracken and brambles, all this uphill. At this point he got fed up with the rough going and went through a hole in the fence and ran across an open field – as if to say ‘what on earth are you doing scrambling there when there’s this lovely field to run across’.

We assumed that he’d got a bit bored with us as we watched him run off to herd some sheep in the distance. We continued upwards and, as we looked back, could see Fluff looking at us from the other side of a fence around the field below us. Now we thought 'he’s on the wrong side of that fence so that’s the last we’ll see of him'.

Still climbing, we were confident we’d lost him until 5-10 minutes later there he was again walking alongside us. We decided that if he stuck with us for the whole walk we’d bring him back home by car. Then we arrived at a boggy bit of moorland where a farmer and his wife were putting out feed for their cattle.

Being farmers they were well equipped and produced a dog lead, put it on the dog and lifted him into their tractor cab. They were amazed at how far he’d followed us and promised to take him back home. We carried on over the top of the ridge at the head of the valley and headed south. We were exposed to a very cold wind and even though the sun was shining brightly, we kept moving to stay warm.

Dark clouds appeared in the distance and cleared off quickly. There were superb views out to the channel and we could see England clearly. As we started to descend we came through some very wet lanes, some flooded. One was so deep that we walked tentatively through it, trying not to create any waves which would have allowed water into our boots.

Soon we found a high sided lane, which became our refuge for lunch. Towards the end of our break we heard the sound of a hunting horn, moving away and then coming closer and closer. A shadow passing across us let us know they were in the field behind us. A lone hound went bounding up the lane in front of us.

footsteps02Some time later the master in his red coat came out of the field and passed us, followed closely by a pack of hounds, none of them paying us any attention so intent on their task were they. Four black jacketed riders and another red jacket joined them from the opposite direction and they disappeared back down the lane. One of them said they were out training and we hadn’t seen a fox. Some distance away we could see sheep on the hill flocking together and rushing across the hill side, we hoped none of them were pregnant ewes.

We packed up and continued, mostly down hill and crossing very full streams. Arriving in Bedwas we had walked 8 miles and climbed 1400ft. All day we’d been saying isn’t this marvellous – no rain and sunshine from start to finish magic!