Alternative routes to Penrhys

(or How the Old Poet Got to Penrhys – part 2)

The route over Mynydd Maendy and the Afan-Ogwr watershed still looks like the best route for the Cistercian Way – clearly an old trackway, magnificent views (weather permitting) and the shortest off-road route. But it probably isn’t the way medieval pilgrims like Gwilym Tew would have gone.  Old, overweight, carrying that massive candle, he would most likely have taken the gentler route from his home near Llangynwyd, via Llangeinor and Llandyfodwg  (now better known as Glyn Ogwr) and over Mynydd William Meyrick. According to the RCAHM Glamorgan inventory the route over Mynydd William Meyrick is medieval. The rest has to be deduced from the line of byways and green lanes.

I’ve been meaning to look at this route for some time. Then I went to Llandyfodwg with Tristan Gray Hulse to look at the famous medieval effigy slab there.

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It depicts a pilgrim with staff, satchel and badges including a scallop shell, the crossed keys of St Peter and – crucially – another badge showing keys on a ring. Tristan thinks this may actually show the saint himself. According to legend, Tyfodwg locked himself in chains as a penitential act and threw away the key. He then went on a pilgrimage to Rome, where he found the key in a fish he was given to eat.

There is another Welsh parish named after Tyfodwg: the old name of Ystrad Rhondda, between Treherbert and Tonypandy, was Ystradyfodwg. Before the Industrial Revolution, this was a huge and sparsely-populated curacy, covering the whole of the Rhondda and dependent on the rectory of Llantrisant. (This all looks like the remains of a minster church set-up providing for the spiritual needs of a small Welsh kingdom.) The old church in Ystradyfodwg was where Ton Pentre church is now (the Cistercian Way goes past it). As far as we can see from surviving records, though, this church was never actually dedicated to Tyfodwg: the earliest sources record it as dedicated to St John the Baptist. Was this an early second millennium rededication? Possibly – or (the theory on the Llandyfodwg church web site) was Tyfodwg an early Welsh ruler of the whole area who brought Christianity there and was eventually regarded locally as a saint? So the whole Rhondda area was Ystrad Dyfodwg, Tyfodwg’s valley, and Llan Dyfodwg was possibly the church where he died and was buried.

Mike Ash of the Glamorgan Ramblers has looked at old maps of the area around Ton Pentre. A trackway ran north of where the church is now. There seems to have been a bridge just north of the modern bridge, and there are also rocky outcrops which could have provided the supports for a medieval timber bridge.  Writing in about 1540, the antiquarian and general surveyor John Leland said there were timber bridges across the two Rhonddas just west and east of Penrhys.

The parish of Llandyfodwg has raised money to conserve the effigy and reposition it off the floor and in a more accessible position. Might there be scope for a parish pilgrimage, from Llandyfodwg to Ystradyfodwg? Time to put the boots on …

The Royal Commission’s route up the ridge from Llandyfodwg isn’t the obvious one along the bridleway from SS 95766 87306. Instead, it goes up the west side of Cwm Dimbath, and along the footpath which leaves Dimbath Lane at SS 94802 87782. The beginning is very overgrown

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but there is a hollow lane visible from about SS 94769 87831 (still very overgrown)

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and some travellers clearly didn’t make it … .

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This hollow lane continues up the edge of the fields to SS 94439 88211, skirts the coal tip (suggesting it was an old boundary) and goes into the forest at SS 94171 88861. From here it follows the forest road to SS 94999 90679 then cuts across the angle of the forest road to the edge of the forest at SS 95271 91052. This section has had a lot of off-roading damage.

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Nell likes off-roading damage because it makes puddles. Cara doesn’t like it because she gets stuck in the ruts.

The track continues round the head of Cwm y Fuwch. From there it has been interrupted by the building of yet another wind farm but it should be possible to pick it up again as it climbs to re-enter the forest on Mynydd William Meyrick at SS 95636 92082. From there it slants down along forest roads and presumably follows the line of the public footpath down the steep side of Cwm Cesig and into Ton Pentre.

We thought we ought to turn back when we got to the wind farm. My recently-purchased 1:25,000 OS map didn’t have the wind farm on it, but the online version does. I wanted to cut across to look at the bridleway to the east of Cwm Dimbath. Unfortunately the paths across the moor are confused by the access tracks for the wind farm – we could see the stile but between us and it was knee deep bog. We ended up on a lengthy diversion through the forest but we eventually got back on track. The bridleway is another well-marked hollow trail

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and seems to be waymarked from Llandyfodwg at least as far as SS 96269 90405, where it descends into the valley of the Ogwr Fach. This might be a better route for any walk between the two churches.  From this point, where the bridleway crosses the windfarm access road,  your best bet would be to follow the access road to SS 95711 91940, bear left with the road to SS 95601 91865 and pick up the line of the footpath into the forest.

Good Friday, riding westward

posted in: Heritage Paths | 1

Pleasure or businesse, so, our Soules admit

For their first mover, and are whirld by it.

Hence is’t, that I am carryed towards the West

This day, when my Soules forme bends toward the East.

 

The Good Friday walk on Twmbarlwm is one of our Valleys traditions that seems to have survived into the third millennium. I wonder whether that has something to do with the fact that it goes along the old pilgrimage route to Penrhys – do the stones themselves remember?

The Twmbarlwm Society (http://www.wbarrow.co.uk/twmbarlwm/) organises a walk every year, starting at the Stony Bridge in Pontymister, and we meet with the Ancient Cwmbran Society (http://ancient-cwmbran.wix.com/publish) on top. So the Cwmbran group walk westward, as John Donne rode westward on Good Friday, meditating on the fact that he seemed to have turned his back on God’s suffering. Last year there was snow on the ground; this year the sun shone and there were lambs and early bluebells. The Twmbarlwm Society has organised some maintenance work on the top, mainly geared to trying to keep off-roading bikes and 4x4s from damaging the monument. These impressive double fences

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reinforced with last year’s Christmas trees will protect the new growth on quickset hedges. There are sturdy new gates and an attempt to design stiles that will allow horses through but not motorbikes.

Here we are on the top

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not just the organised groups but well over a hundred other people coming and going while we were there. Magnificent views

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And walking along the ridge –

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now we are the ones going westward, down to Pegwn-y-bwlch and the canal. I think this is another old trackway, one of many cutting down the hillside. We walked it last year as an alternative to the medieval route which goes through the housing estate at Ty-sign and along busy roads. This year we may try Moriah Lane and up past Dan-y-graig. We are trying to find a route as close as possible to the medieval route but one which makes a pleasant walk. The Cistercian Way project is back on track and our target is to get Llantarnam to Margam clear and waymarked for the Valleys Festival of Walking in 2015.

We had tea in the cafe on the canal and watched the ducklings

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then took the car up to Danygraig to look at the family graves. Cara went to sleep in the sunshine.

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I can’t help taking a professional interest in the cemetery, much to Rachel’s amusement. Some of the graves have weathered old wooden markers – you have to wonder whether the family moved away, or just lost interest. Of course, the biodegradable wooden marker is now the new trend, with woodland burials and eco-funerals. I still can’t quite decide whether I want the wicker coffin and plain wood marker or the full Victorian ritual with black horses, ostrich plumes and mutes with staves. Economy will probably win in the end.

Off the Celtic Stones Trail

posted in: Heritage Paths | 4

Well, the attempt to find another way over Stormy Down was a complete bust – so what follows is a rant about

(a)    Fly-tipping

(b)   Motorcycle scrambling

(c)    Blocked footpaths

The first problem was that the road from Tythegston to the A48 is much too busy for a pleasant walk. But we persevered, crossed the A48 and took the track up to Stormy Down. The perennial problem of fly tipping –

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all along the lane (some Christmas decorations here – I always find that particularly sad)

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You can cut through the bracken and brambles to a footbridge (hallelujah!)

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but the other side is a labyrinth of scrambler tracks with attendant mud and litter. This is a pity because we did find the ruins of Margam’s Stormy Grange, very atmospheric in the mist

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but this is a bit niche! and not really worth the plod through the rubbish. I thought I might check out the footpath over to Laleston on the way back. It should leave the road at Ty-du Farm

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but I was told very firmly by a young woman out exercising the horses that the footpath didn’t go over their land any more, her father had sorted it out with the council and I couldn’t go through the fields because all the fences were electrocuted.

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Here’s the old stile – but I didn’t feel up to electrocuted fences so we went back along the road and down the path to Tythegston past Ty-erfin, even more mysterious in the mist.

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The only option seems to be to repair and waymark the stile at 851 802 and hope that the people at Upper Park Farm don’t claim to have Sorted Things Out With The Council!

“Celtic Stones”

Having got the Galilee Project all wrapped up, Gareth Kiddie and the Llanilltud PCC are now working on a trail from Llandaff to Margam, linking the sites of some of our major collections of early medieval inscribed stones. The route across the Vale of Glamorgan is pretty much sorted thanks to the Valeways project, and I think we have a reasonable route from Llandaff to  St Fagans (the new home of the National Museum’s collection of stones and casts). More on that at http://heritagetortoise.wordpress.com/2013/10/06/faith-tourism-faith-in-tourism/ .

So that leaves Merthyr Mawr  (a bit more on that at http://heritagetortoise.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/llancarfan-and-merthyr-mawr-faith-in-heritage/ and http://heritagetortoise.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/on-knowing-where-your-towel-is/ ) and Margam, where the collection of stones in Cadw’s little museum is justly famous.

But how to get from one to the other? There’s the coast path … but it isn’t a good section, going through a huge industrial estate. Cara and I were sure we could do better than that …

It didn’t start too well. The lane from Candleston Castle up to Candleston Farm is still more like a river

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But if you go over the little bridge opposite the castle, the bridleway up through the sand dunes is steep but easy to follow.

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The shrubs are sea buckthorn, planted to stabilise the dunes. They are pretty in flower and glorious when the thickets are aflame with berries, but they are savagely prickly and really a bit too vigorous. Keep going up hill, bear round to the right and keep the trees and the line of fence to your right, go through a gate,

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follow the track a little west of north, through another gate

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When the track divides, go left and through a gate (or over the stile)

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and turn left on a stony lane to Tythegston.

Cute calves in the field

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And the view of the church from the far slope

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Tythegston is a pretty village with old houses and a pottery. The church is now a wedding boutique (!) but the eleventh-century cross slab is still in the churchyard

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And if you look very carefully at this stone over the north window of the chancel you can just see the shaft of the cross on a later medieval tomb slab.

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Walk past the cross, turn left on the main road and right immediately along a road marked ‘Unsuitable for motor vehicles’. In a few hundred yards, where a drive goes off to the right, take the waymarked footpath sharp right.

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This is stiled and waymarked across the fields – cute lambs –

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past the ruins of Ty-erfin

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up to the main road and turn left. (The stile here is a bit dodgy.)

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The road isn’t too much of a problem – there is a pavement and a central reservation which makes crossing easy. In a few hundred yards there should be a stile on the other side and a footpath across the fields to Upper Park Farm. There has been some clearance here but the stile is heavily overgrown and unsafe.

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We need to rethink this bit. After Park Farm you can cut across Stormy Down but there are no clear paths and with the bracken up in the summer it wouldn’t be easy. We eventually got back to the road to go under the M4. There is a rough stone stile into a field just beyond the M4 and a spiffy new gate on the footpath through the limeworks

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but how to get to it? And how to get through the lake beyond it? We went back to the road. The bridleway north of Stormy Down looks clear – we need to see if we can get to that from south of the motorway.

Walk along the minor road and across the railway line. When a track turns sharp right, take the waymarked footpath ahead to the right.

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Walk up the field, bearing slightly to the left of the hedge (and keeping to the left of the pylons) to go through a gate.

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Continue up the slope with the hedge to your right, go through a kissing gate

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and another farm gate. Bear left up the hill to pass to the left of the farmyard at Pen-y-castell – there is an encouraging municipal bench at the top –

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Also a bench mark.

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You need to keep to the left of the bench mark and bear left down the slope to a lane between the houses, then turn left on the road. In about 200 yards, just after the church, turn right down School Road. This becomes a metalled lane and goes down steps. Continue straight  on. Victoria Road becomes Crown Road. When the road bears right, take the footpath to the left, across a little bridge and up to cross the railway. Bear slightly right across the next field and follow the track along the edge of the fields up to the road.

Ahead of you is Hafodheulog Farm. This was one of the granges of the Cistercian abbey at Margam. The name means literally ‘The sunny summer farm’. Hafodheulog is on higher ground that the granges at Llangewydd and Horegrove, and you can imagine the lay brothers bringing the herds up there in the spring. In the woods behind the farm is an even more remote grange, Hafod Deca, where they could have pastured sheep in the summer. Llangewydd, Horegrove and Hafodheulog are still substantial farms but Hafod Deca is a ruin in the forestry plantation. I have a memory of finding the ruins when I was walking up there twenty years ago but they are nowhere to be seen now – did I imagine it?

Take the lane to the left of Hafodheulog, go over the stile at the end and bear slightly left across the field to a stile (heavily overgrown when we were there, and the waymark in need of attention!). From here we walked up the lane past Pentre Farm but it was very difficult to find the footpaths to the left of the road. There has been a lot of felling in the forest, and the forest roads are in poor shape after a very wet winter. You have to cross the Cynffig river and there is no footbridge, just a ford. We may have to rethink this bit as well: you could go left after the overgrown stile and walk up the lane to Troed-y-rhiw Farm. From there the track along the edge of the forest and across the fields is fairly clear, though it may need to be kept clear in the summer. The track goes behind Graig-goch and into Margam Park, and you can follow a footpath across the park and out on the road from the Crugwyllt ridge down to the church and the Margam Stones museum.

 

Back on the heritage trail …

posted in: Heritage Paths | 0

One fine day a fortnight ago – so we went out with Laleston Community Council, Bridgend CBC’s footpaths maintenance officer and Chris Jones-Jenkins who is doing the reconstruction illustrations, for another look at the proposed Merthyr Mawr and Laleston Stones trail. The footpath across the fields to Laleston and up to Llangewydd worked well and Chris had some very pertinent questions about the appearance and function of wayside crosses, the ‘look’ of the church and village at Llangewydd and the possible location of the ‘castle’ (was it ever more than a fortified residence?). But the walk back across the fields towards Candleston was tricky. The main road crossing was clearly dangerous (why is it so much worse crossing at that point – the crossing on the way to Laleston is usually OK?). The gates all sat in small lakes, and there was standing water across the path. Cara obligingly waded in and the water came to her shoulders so we didn’t bother. In any case there was a fence blocking the path beyond the mini lake. We decided to avoid the path to Candleston because it tends to turn into a river, but the alternative path back to Merthyr Mawr was even worse. The small ditch at the side of the field had turned into a 2-foot deep torrent. We jumped, scrambled, traversed fences … there were waymarks and stiles all the way but that isn’t much help when the stile is sitting in a foot of water!

On the other hand we all had a great time. But it clearly isn’t a walk for the inexperienced or faint-hearted. The community councillor suggested we look again at walking back along the Ffordd y Gyfraith: apparently it’s being closed to traffic at one point to enable it to be used as a walk-to-school route, so it would make a nice safe walk.

There was another fine day this week so Cara and I went out for another go. The sun shone and there were snowdrops and crocuses in the churchyard at Merthyr Mawr.

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The community councillor had also suggested we use the footpath behind the church to cut off a bit of the road walking. Cara doesn’t like stiles but she has her own way of dealing with these stone stiles …

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The lane to Whitton Farm has a nice new gate and stile.

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This time we walked over the fields and straight on to Laleston village. The footpath goes along a very long narrow field – could this be the remains of the strip field system? The lane from the church and across the fields to the Ffordd y Gyfraith is muddy but passable – then you can continue as we did before to Llangewydd but walk straight back along the Ffordd y Gyfraith, or for an off-road route turn off at the kissing gate by the housing estate and return to the original route across the fields.

I still like the route past Candleston. You can bypass the lake and the blocked footpath, and once you get to the forest edge the path is good past Candleston Farm. But the track past the sand dunes was over a foot deep in fast-flowing water. We explored the horse track up the edge of the dunes.

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It’s not a good alternative at that point because you have to climb all the way up and go over a mile to the west before you can turn left and make your way south to the car park. But you can get to the bridleway across the dunes from the top lane past Candleston Farm. It adds about 2 miles to the route but it’s a lovely walk across the dunes with views out to sea and over Ogmore Castle.

So I’ve rewritten the leaflet and sent it off, suggesting a basic circuit across the fields to Laleston, up the Ffordd y Gyfraith to Llangewydd then back down the Ffordd y Gyfraith to Merthyr Mawr, with the Candleston route as a fair-weather option. There’s still a bit of work to be done on stiles and waymarks but it should be in place by the summer.

The Holy Rood of Llangynwyd

Llangynwyd is probably most famous now as the burial place of Ann Thomas, the ‘Maid of Cefn Ydfa’, and her poet lover wil Hopcyn. (More about them at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ann_Maddocks ). But in the Middle Ages it was famous as the shrine of the Holy Rood of Llangynwyd, a carving of the Crucifixion that was so vivid it was believed to be able to perform miracles. People went there on pilgrimage, the poets wrote in its praise.

We can still trace many of the routes pilgrims would have taken to get to Llangynwyd. One route came over the hills from the east, and ran between Llangynwyd and the even more famous shrine of the Virgin Mary at Penrhys. One route came from the coast at Margam, where the Cistercian monks had custody of the shrine. And one route came from the south, from the rich farmland of the Vale of Glamorgan. This was the route called the Ffordd y Gyfraith, the ‘Road of the Law’, because it was also the route that officials took, travelling from the lowlands to the wild hill country.

You can still trace these routes on the ground. They are marked by lines of hollow trails, worn into the hillsides by generations of travellers. The line of the Ffordd y Gyfraith is also marked by the bases of wayside crosses which would have shown travellers they were on the right track. There is one called Croes Antoni on Ogmore Down, one where the Ffordd y Gyfraith crosses the main road at Laleston, and one which marks where the line of the road was diverted to go round Margam Abbey’s Llangewydd Grange.

Old pilgrimage routes still make good walking. The have a sort of resonance, from all those footsteps of people travelling in hope. Looking at the hollow trails worn into the hillside on Mynydd Ty-talwrn, and the little platforms that are all that’s left of peasant cottages and bigger farmhouses, you realise that these empty hills were once home to a thriving and complex society.

I’m working with Merthyr Mawr and Laleston community councils on a circular route round their villages, looking at the heritage of early Christian carved stones and later monastic granges (more on that at http://heritagetortoise.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/laleston-stones-trail/ ). Part of the route of that goes along the Ffordd y Gyfraith.  More, the church at Laleston has a very strange medieval tombstone with three crosses on it which may be based on the design of the rood at Llangynwyd, showing the two thieves as well as Christ on the cross .

So taking the route north from Laleston to Llangynwyd is a good idea for all sorts of reasons. It isn’t entirely straightforward … for the first sections of the route and their problems see  http://heritagetortoise.wordpress.com/2013/11/28/laleston-to-parc-slip/  and http://heritagetortoise.wordpress.com/2013/11/22/heritage-trails-again-2/ . But it still looks doable. So taking advantage of a break in the rain on Thursday, Cara and I headed back to Parc Slip, walked up to the ridge and explored the footpaths down to Llangynwyd.

The line of the Ffordd y Gyfraith clearly went along the hollow trails you can see coming down the Glamorgan Ridgeway from the radio mast.

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At this point the modern road goes west of the old track. In about half a mile you take a waymarked footpath to the right. Bear left across the first field, heading for an old gatepost. Ahead of you on the skyline are the earthworks of a big complex of ruined buildings.

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This is called ‘Farmstead’ on the modern OS map but older maps call it the ‘British Residence’. When the archaeologists Cyril and Aileen Fox were surveying this area in the 1930s, they thought this and the house platforms on Mynydd Ty-talwyn were the remains of early medieval farmsteads. They eventually decided they were later, probably built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries when the climate was better and you could farm the hills. When the climate got dramatically worse in the early fourteenth century, there were famines followed by the Black Death and most of these settlements were deserted. Recently, an American archaeologist has revived the idea that this was an early medieval settlement. My friends in the Archaeological Trust say it is much, much later, possibly post-medieval. But the hollow trails of the Ffordd y Gyfraith run through the site, and seem to go through some of the buildings –

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so my guess is that it’s medieval, and that it was deserted by the time the pilgrimage became popular in the fifteenth century.

Walk across the next field to the head of a little valley. Walk down a rough farm track with the stream on your left, then cross the stream and walk up the track to Maescadlawr farm. Take the footpath to the left  just past the farmyard and bear right across two fields. Go through a gate and cross the metalled lane. Walk down the lane towards Bryncynan farm. Just before the farmhouse, the track bears right and goes downhill. At the bottom, cross a stream then turn left on the roughly metalled track to Gadlys Farm. At the farmhouse take the track to the right and look out for an overgrown but waymarked footpath down to the right.

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This takes you across a bridge. Go over the rather battered stile to your left.

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From here a faint path runs along the right bank of the stream and into the woods then bears up to a mossy and tumbledown stone wall.

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When you reach the corner of the wall, turn right and follow the faint path up the field towards the top right corner, then follow the field boundaries to your right up to the minor road. Once you go under the line of pylons you will see the whitewashed tower of Llangynwyd church ahead of you.

So far, so good. Merthyr Mawr to Llangynwyd would be a good day’s walk: you could find a local B&B then walk on along the suggested Cistercian Way route to rejoin the coast at Margam. But if we want a circular walk back to Parc Slip or Laleston there may be problems. You can retrace your steps along the minor road and take an earlier waymarked footpath along a track to the right. After a few yards the footpath goes left – there’s a nice new gate

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But the lane is very heavily overgrown, the fields are boggy, there are some dodgy fences …

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Bridgend CBC have done good work on stiles but once the path gets into the woods it disappears. There should be a footbridge leading to the lane from Gadlys farm but I couldn’t find it. In the end we took a path to the left, and went back to Parc Slip the way we came. I need to have another look at this one from the other end. If we could clear and waymark that bit of the path through the woods, then clear the blocked lane near Ffynnon Iago, we’d have a good circular walk from Parc Slip.

Laleston to Parc Slip

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Well, we always knew this would be the tricky bit of the route. We actually started doing it backwards from Parc Slip so Steve could park there and walk round the reserve while Cara and I went on. It started well – footpath waymarked from the Bankers Hill road, and we saw 3 deer, 2 does and a young stag, in the woods (but they crashed into the undergrowth before I could get the camera out).

Then it got tricky. The route is theoretically mostly clear but VERY muddy and difficult to follow. This is roughly how it would work if you were going north:

Probably best to follow the Merthyr Mawr – Laleston route in reverse so you go through Laleston village and across the field to the Ffordd y Gyfraith. Then when the Ffordd y Gyfraith gets to Cae’r Heneglwys, turn left and walk along the lane to the Cefn Cribwr road then take the footpath to the right through the woods. This brings you out on the road at the old pound. Go straight on here, with the site of Margam’s Llangewydd Grange under the brambles to your left and two atmospheric ruined farmhouses on either side of the railway line

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Eventually you go under the M4. Turn left immediately up some overgrown steps

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over a stile

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and across the field walking along the embankment above the motorway to another stile

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(this was where we met the goat!)

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Then it gets tricky – you need to bear right across the fields but they are deep in mud and there are no waymarks. Eventually you reach a roughly cleared track

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a not-very-useful stile

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and out on the Cefn Cribwr road.

You should go left here and there should be a path almost immediately going north but we couldn’t find it in the other direction. Instead we walked along the track down towards the old quarry. When you get to the skeleton of an old railway carriage

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you are back on track. Go through the gate, turn left and through another gate.

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I think the line of the footpath then goes down the fence to your right and across a little stream

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(virtually impassable, this bit) – then turn left and walk north of the line of trees as best you can. Eventually you get into the trees where there seems to be the line of an old embankment

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which becomes a lane (this was where we saw the deer)

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and comes out on the Bankers Hill road. From here it’s a short walk across the old railway line to the entrance to Parc Slip nature reserve.

So what do we say to Bridgend CBC – well, the route they want to Llangynwyd is doable but needs quite a bit of work before you can promote it. Up to them.

 

 

Heritage trails (again)

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The road goes ever on …

The trial round Laleston and Merthyr Mawr seems pretty much sorted. Bridgend CBC are keen to have a trail going north to Llangynwyd. Since the route round Laleston is themed around the pilgrimage route to Llangynwyd this seemed a no-brainer. And yesterday was a sunny day so Cara the pilgrim dog and I set off with our sandwiches.

Following the actual Ffordd y Gyfraith won’t work  beyond Llangewydd because most of it is a busy B road. It’s difficult to find footpaths shadowing it and crossing the M4, but the very minor road north from the Laleston pound goes under the M4 and there are footpaths across the fields, then a wiggle gets you into the Parc Slip nature reserve at Cwm Ffos.

More about Parc Slip at http://www.welshwildlife.org/visitor-centres/parc-slip-visitor-centre/ and something about walking trails in and around the park at http://www.glamorganwalks.com/parc_slip.htm . The long walk around the park looked promising so we parked there and set off north. The road past the reserve crosses the main Cefn Cribwr road and becomes a pretty lane to Cwmrisca farm.

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When you get to the farm, go through the gate to the right

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Some of the gates need a bit of attention but in general the path is well waymarked.

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You leave the fields, climb a steep slope and emerge on the ridge. Don’t take the obvious trackway to the left

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but bear right to join the old Ogwr Ridgeway (now renamed the Glamorgan Ridgeway)

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and turn left over this rather battered stile

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Follow the ridgeway past the mast on Mynydd Baeden and down to a minor road. You are now back on the medieval Ffordd y Gyfraith. The hollow trails running parallel to the metalled road suggest how much traffic it took.

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(here’s a detail with some sheep for scale)

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The little dimple on the far ridge of Mynydd Ty-talwyn is a house platform, all that remains of a deserted settlement. Many of these upland settlements vanished during the early fourteenth century, when the weather got dramatically worse, there were famines and mountain land could no longer be farmed. Harsh times.

Our world now has the opposite problem, the diseases of affluence – once you get back on the road, rubbish and fly-tipping is a problem.

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but the views are spectacular

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You can take a diversion along the track to Cefn Ydfa, home of the famous maid of Cefn Ydfa, the beautiful Ann Thomas.

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The story is that she was the daughter of a wealthy local farmer. She was in love with a young poet, Wil Hopcyn. But Wil was only a labourer and her family made her marry the son of another local landowner. She died of a broken heart. Wil wrote the famous Welsh song ‘Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn’ in which he says he has watched the white wheat ripening but another man has the harvest. You can see memorials to both of them at Llangynwyd church.

I didn’t have time to explore the footpaths down into Llangynwyd – that will have to wait for another day. We walked on along the Ridgeway then down through the forest. The monks of Margam had a summer grange here called Hafod Deca. Walking here some years ago I thought I found the ruins of an old farmhouse but it is now nowhere to be seen. Did I really see it, or did I read about it and think I had seen it? Memory is a funny thing.

Below where the ruins might have been you rejoin the Glamorgan Walks route, cross a minor road and walk through the farmyard of Ffynnon Iago with its well under the trees.

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But after that the route gets bogged down and totally overgrown. We had to push our way through woods and I sank up to my knees in some very wet fields. Not an alternative route, then, and no scope for a circuit. But once you reach Llangynwyd there are routes off in all directions – east to the railway station, east and west along the Glamorgan Ridgeway, following the pilgrimage route down to Margam, or north to join Andrew Dugmore’s Cultural Olympiad route.

We got back to Parc Slip in the twilight –

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more fine tuning next week.

 

Laleston Stones Trail

Laleston and Merthyr Mawr are planning a loop off the Wales Coast Path featuring their collection of Celtic crosses, later carvings and other heritage attractions. Yesterday the sun shone and it seemed like a good day for a walk … so Cara the Pilgrim Dog and I set off from Merthyr Mawr. The village is almost chocolate-box pretty with a little wedding-cake of a Victorian church. More on the carvings at http://heritagetortoise.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/llancarfan-and-merthyr-mawr-faith-in-heritage/ and http://heritagetortoise.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/on-knowing-where-your-towel-is/ .

We walked alongside the park wall and up the lane towards Whitney Farm. The stile here, where the footpath leaves the lane at 879 784

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needs waymarking and a bit of attention!

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The puddle is probably the result of recent torrential rain but a lot of the gates and stiles have puddles and we may have to think about ways of dealing with this.

Good stiles and gates across the fields

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though we may need some waymarking especially here at 877 789

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where the line of the right of way on the map goes through two hedges but the path obviously goes through the gap.

Emerge on the Bridgend bypass at 877 793, turn right, cross the road and through a good sturdy gate at 878 792.Image

Clear waymarking needed here at 879 796

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where the path goes back to the right, then it’s straight on to the Ffordd y Gyfraith at 881 796.

The Ffordd y Gyfraith is mostly very minor roads and tracks now, but in the Middle Ages it was one of the main roads through south Wales. The name means ‘The Road of the Law’. This was how soldiers and officials got from the western Vale of Glamorgan to the area around Llangynwyd. Llangynwyd was the Helmand Province of medieval Glamorgan (with my ancestors the Welsh lords of Afan as the Taliban). By the fifteenth century it was also famous for the carving of the Crucifixion on the rood screen of the church. Unusually, this may have depicted the two thieves as well as Christ. A medieval tombstone in the church at Laleston probably shows its design.

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(this is John Rodger’s drawing of it, in 1911)

The Ffordd y Gyfraith crosses the main Bridgend road at 881799, at the east end of Laleston village. Almost buried in the roadside verge is the socketed base of a medieval wayside cross.

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From here the road is very quiet, little more than a track

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until you reach the crossroads at Cae’rheneglwys. Here another wayside cross base is completely overgrown with brambles.

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The two stones in the field

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are all that remains of the medieval church and village of Llangewydd. Two carved ‘Celtic’ crosses were found here and are now in the National Museum. There are some more plain standing stones in the hedge to the left of the photo. Unfortunately there is no possibility of public access to the field, but an interpretation board on the road will show what the church and settlement might have looked like.

So what happened to the settlement – in a word, the Cistercians. This reformed religious order spread from France across Europe in the early twelfth century, reaching Wales in 1131. Part of their ethos was that they wanted to farm their own land by the sweat of their brows. They preferred to settle on unused land and bring it under cultivation themselves. But there was very little unused land in England and Wales – and when they were given land which was already being farmed, they sometimes used a combination of persuasion and moral blackmail to remove the tenants. The Cistercian monks of Margam were given the land around Llangewydd in the middle of the twelfth century and within fifty years they had removed the church and the little settlement around it.

At Cae’rheneglwys you turn left on a slightly wider country road then keep straight on past the old village pound at 872 813.

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To your right are the ruins of the monks’ farm buildings, now hidden behind a new house called The Grange. There should be another interpretation board here showing what the grange might have looked like. The road bends to the left – another sign of the power of the Cistercian order. They could expect that a major road like the Ffordd y Gyfraith could be diverted to pass round one of their granges.

Go back to the pound and take the footpath to the south. This area is marked as woodland on the map but it’s mostly scrub and bracken. Some of the heaps of tumbled stone are geological, but some may be the remains of Llangewydd Castle.

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You need to be careful going through the wood. The right of way heads for a stile at the far right corner but most of the paths head for a gate in the south fence. The stile gets you out on ‘Roger’s Lane’ – actually a fast and busy road to Laleston and not really suitable for walking. I thought it might be possible to take the side road west to Haregrove Farm (another of Margam’s granges) and swing back across the fields, but the walk along the road wasn’t very inspiring and the footpaths across the fields weren’t stiled or waymarked. It would need a lot of work for not much benefit.

Part of the problem with the side roads is the amount of litter. It’s a bit different from Cardiff: our lanes are full of rubbish but it’s mostly junk food rubbish. I’ve noticed when walking in the area in the past that the country round Bridgend has much more fly-tipping, builders’ rubbish and general domestic rubbish complete with black bin bags.

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This lot actually had a couple of pairs of shoes that could have gone to the charity shop.

We have even on occasions been grateful for the rubbish. I remember my old friend Derek Williams making a plaited cable out of a disembowelled sofa in order to drag a car out of the mud on an unusually random field trip along the Ffordd y Gyfraith back in 1997. But generally it’s unsightly and puts visitors off.

So my instinct is that the best thing to do at the junction with Roger’s Lane is to head back along the side road to Cae’rheneglwys and down the Ffordd y Gyfraith to 878 802 and follow the footpath (well gated and waymarked) across the fields to Laleston.

Laleston has a shop, a choice of pubs for lunch, the church and several other buildings of historical interest – and the well

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about which I know nothing, but I’m sure my friends in the Welsh Holy Wells societies will have some ideas.

From Well Street, take the footpath past the school and between the school grounds and the playing fields. This is clearly well walked but leads back to the bypass. This is the one really dangerous bit of the walk. The path should go straight across the road, but it’s near a blind bend and very difficult to cross. We may have to advise walkers to go along the verge to the left until they get a clear view, then walk back on the other side.

The footpath to the south is intermittently waymarked and needs some maintenance but it’s easy to follow. Cara liked this moated stile.

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At 873 787 the paths divide. Bear left and go round the east corner of Coed Cwintin to rejoin the track past Whitney Farm and return the way you came. We went right and along the west edge of the wood. No stiles or waymarks but gates and an attempt to deal with the puddles

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The lane goes round Candleston Farm and turns south again. Where the tracks divide, take the left fork and go steeply downhill to a stream. At the next fork you can bear left and walk over the ridge to Ton Farm or keep right to walk along the stream (literally in places)

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to Candleston Castle. We need to find out whether the flooding on the road is the result of heavy rain, or if there is an alternative path.

 

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To your right are the soaring dunes of Merthyr Mawr Warren

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and to your left is Candleston Castle

 

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– really a fortified manor house, probably built in the fifteenth century. From the castle you can continue along the coast path to Porthcawl or return along the road to Merthyr Mawr and your start point.

It was a good day’s walk – about eight miles along the best route, with plenty of interest on the way. We need to do a bit of work on stiles and waymarks, write a guide leaflet and work on the interpretation boards. Watch this space.

Faith tourism, faith in tourism?

‘All these died in faith, before receiving any of the things that had been promised, but they saw them in the far distance and welcomed them, recognising that they were only strangers and pilgrims on earth’ (Hebrews 11: 13)

The irrepressible John Winton of the Churches Tourism Network Wales, having virtually invented church tourism for our nation, is launching his Faith Tourism Action Plan in St Asaph. Here are some amazing statistics. Churches are among our most popular tourist attractions – St David’s Cathedral gets 262,000 visitors a year and Brecon gets 120,000. Their motivations vary – they may be interested in old buildings, tracing their family connections or simply looking for somewhere free to get out of the rain. But on the international scene, faith tourism is big business. Pilgrimage to Compostela has a huge impact on the economy of northern Spain. Pilgrims making the hajj to Mecca contribute about $8 billion a year to the Saudi Arabian economy. It’s no wonder that VisitWales is keen to encourage John’s plans.

Part of this, of course, is the Galilee Project (http://www.illtudsgalileechapel.org.uk/) . Initially conceived as a way of providing a better display space for the early medieval carved stones at St Illtud’s Church, this is spiralling out with an ambitious plan for a pilgrimage route across south Wales, linking Llandaff, St Fagan’s (where the museum will be the new home of the collection of early medieval stones now in the National Museum in Cathays Park in Cardiff), Llancarfan (another early monastic site with some impressive late medieval wall paintings), Llanilltud itself, Merthyr Mawr and Laleston, and Margam.

Part of the aim is to get rid of the unfortunate Anglicisation of the church’s name, Llantwit (St Twit – who he?) and re-popularise the Welsh version, Llanilltud. Seriously, we have deferred for too long to the English inability to pronounce our place names – they are part of the intangible charm of our heritage and we need to stop hiding them.

So John, Gareth Kiddie (the project’s business consultant) and I sat down with the maps to think about possible routes. Like most heritage footpath plans, this one is a balancing act: we need a good walk, on open and clear footpaths, that visits key sites and pushes the buttons of the potential funders.

John seems to treat me as a sort of enquire within upon everything to do with church history. Sometimes this means that he calls me in for things that I know nothing about: but when it comes to pilgrimage and footpaths I am on home turf. The biggest problem seemed to be the start. Llandaff Cathedral is in the middle of a built-up area. Who will want to walk for miles along busy roads before reaching the countryside? But Cardiff is famous for its ‘green lungs’, corridors of woodland and open space between the housing estates; and one of the biggest of these runs along the river. We might have to go north in order to go south … but north from Llandaff is the traditional pilgrimage route to Penrhys, one I’ve walked in the past as an alternative to our usual route from Llantarnam.

So it was that I put my boots on and collected Cara the pilgrim dog, and we made our way to the Taff bridge between the cathedral and Llandaff North.

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The route up river from Llandaff starts well – you walk up the river bank from the cathedral, climb to the road for a few metres past the boat club then back to the river bank as far as the bridge. Keep on the west bank of the Taff and walk along Radyr Court Road, then when the road bears up to the left take the path along the river bank. Turn left under the railway line and walk up to the path through Radyr Woods then turn left past the playing fields of Radyr Comp to emerge at the roundabout where the Radyr road meets the Llantrisant Road.

Here it gets problematic. The footpath across the fields goes through the farmyard of Maes-y-llech – never a good idea. I had a nice chat with the farmer (he knows my cousins from the Vale). He admits he doesn’t like footpaths through his farm but accepts that it’s legal – but for a promoted path it might be better to re-route it. But here’s the real problem – he eventually said that the whole farm is scheduled for building under the latest local development plan. This explained some of his bitterness – his family have farmed there for generations but as tenants so the farm will be sold and they will be out on their ears. It’s dreadful for him, but it also means there isn’t much point in putting a lot of thought into a route that’s going to go round the back lanes of a housing development.

But there is an alternative. The footpath from Maes-y-llech cuts across the line of the disused railway from Fairwater to Llantrisant. After that, the footpath is clear up to the Pentrebane road. You have about 400m. on the road then there is a footpath across the field to a green lane that gets you into the new housing in St Fagans and the back gate of the Museum. So I walked back along the railway line.

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It needs a bit of attention

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(fallen trees, and one bridge has been demolished: there’s an easy scramble down the embankment and back up) and it isn’t actually a right of way but it has a waymark post for a promoted route half way along

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and it gets you by a very pleasant route into the southern part of Danescourt. I re-walked it with my daughter Rachel and she approved.

So the suggested route is as follows: from the cathedral up the river to the bridge. About 100 m. along Radyr Court Road, go up the steps to your left. Walk along Highfields, turn down Greenwood Road, left along the Llantrisant Road to the roundabout. Down Tangmere Drive, along Grantham Close and into the park, bear right and you are on the old railway line. Follow this for about 1/2 mile until you are out of the trees, then after the pylon turn left and follow the footpath across the fields to the Pentrebane road and down the green lane to St Fagans.

Keen pilgrims would probably want to make a bit of a loop to the north to go past Radyr Court and St John’s Church. St John’s is the old parish church of Radyr, a simple building of rough stone with a huge old yew tree.  Radyr Court is now a pub but it was in the Middle Ages the home of the Mathew family. The women of the family were famous for looking after pilgrims on their way to Penrhys. According to the elegy written by Rhisiart ap Rhys to Elspeth Mathew,

Parlwr gan vwr niferoedd
I vels draw val osdri oedd

‘her parlour was to many invalids like a hostelry’. He also said that she sent a considerable weight of candles to Penrhys, but she never seems to have gone there herself. Perhaps she considered herself to have taken informal vows at Radyr and to be running a sort of maison Dieu, a hospice for pilgrims. This would make her something like Sister Anne Larkins, who runs the retreat house at Llantarnam and sets us off on our annual pilgrimage from Llantarnam to Penrhys with a blessing of water from a medieval stoup found in the abbey ruins.

The family also claimed to be hereditary custodians of the skull of St Teilo. This famous relic was recently returned to the cathedral after some time in Australia. It is still shown occasionally to visitors and would probably be brought out for an organised group. The cathedral also has the effigy tombs of David Mathew, Sir William Mathew and his wife Jenet

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with the famous ‘sleeping bedesman’.

So there are a lot of connections.