PictureMountain above Ton Pentre

   You pass through the Valleys on the A470 en route to the picturesque Brecon Beacons.
   You briefly admire the ironmaster's castle at Cyfarthfa from the Expressway and cannot fail to notice the 'Arches', or Cefn viaduct.
   You may even head to one of our few designated tourist destinations such as Big Pit, the Civil War manor house of Llancaiach Fawr or the Rhondda Heritage Museum.
   Once there was a Cowboy Village at the end of the Rhondda, but it disappeared with the gunsmoke into glooming clouds over the Rhigos.
   Once there was a dry ski-slope near Merthyr, which was supposed to be a wet one ( as in snow from a machine); that too melted overnight.
   There's still a Climbing Centre near Bedlinog, but the proposed white water rafting course never materialised and now, of course, there's one in Cardiff Bay.
   If you go walking you head for Pen-y-fan, so you can say -' I've done that one!'
   The Valleys are all slag-heaps and pit villages with no point left to them.
   When I used to teach in Cardiff this was the prevalent attitude. People from the Valleys are supposedly parochial, as opposed to cosmopolitan Cardiff.
   On the contrary, most Cardiffians knew very little about the Valleys, so I took pleasure in reminding them that their city was built on the very coal which came from our communities.
   Rare exceptions were cyclists who used the Taff Trail, but found that, like most cycle tracks in Wales, this one too often merged into town and village.
   In terms of cycling we could learn from England and the likes of Barnstaple and Wadebridge, where the tracks are almost entirely independent and bike hire is reasonably priced and freely available.
   Walking is something that we need to publicise far more widely, as there exists innumerable interesting ones throughout the Valleys. Thanks to Taith Bevan I have experienced three of these in the last few weeks.
   Never mind Coastal paths and National Parks, our own Valleys are a wealth of walking possibilities.
   Above Mountain Ash is the hamlet of Llanwynno ( although I'm not sure what defines a 'hamlet', except I once smoked them!). We went on a long hike in a circle which took in a stream called Sychnant which was anything but 'sych' (dry) and the waterfall of Pistyll Goleu (nothing to do with 'pissing', but a little spout nevertheless).
   This is the ideal walk because you begin and end at the Brynffynon pub and can toast the local legendary runner Guto Nyth Bran with a pint of the best real ale, after a seven mile trek. There are shorter routes, of course.
   The next weekend, we three intrepid explorers set off to conquer the mountain above Ton Pentre. Sherpa Jamie Bevan took the lead, followed by the music-man himself Andrew Bartz, balancing on the uneven stones and myself taking up the rear and surreptitiously mainlining chocolate biscuits
   This was more difficult than the sheltered conifers of Llanwynno, as we headed upward onto boggy moorland and a huge cloud. I had never experienced such a weird weather sensation of fog and strong wind at the same time.
   We carried on walking and landmarks of car-park and lake had been mysteriously lifted. We would've continued till we reached Cardigan Bay had I not suggested veering left towards the forest to begin our descent.
   Amazingly, we arrived back at Ton at the point where the instructions specified and a welcome 'paned o de' at a local caff. With perfect timing, the rain came tampin' down just as we made our way back to the car.
   My favourite hike - though one I'm still recovering from several weeks later -  was the circular route down from the Rhigos (between Hirwaun and Treherbert) ,into Blaencwm at the very head of the Rhondda Fawr and back up to the Rhigos again.
   Taith Bevan excelled with this one and not once did we stray, except to ask a fella in Blaencwm, who gave us several alternatives routes.
   This walk took in all the varied Valleys' landscapes in one
   At the top of the Rhigos were carefully placed flowers where someone had a fatal accident. This mountain is renowned locally for its micro-climate and can be very dangerous for drivers.
   Downward , we passed the remarkably preserved Stone Age settlement of Hen Dre'r Mynydd, with its remains of circular stone dwellings. Our path was often blocked by rusted car chassis and we debated whether they were there because of accidents or whether joyriders had torched and pushed them over the edge. We were glad it was a quiet Sunday!
   After Blaencwm, there was a steep walk up to the high ridge overlooking the village: it took us past waterfalls in full flow. At the summit there's a Man U. flag and a plastic memorial to somebody's Taid (grandad).
   Down into the forest and we thought we'd spied our first sheep of the three walks (so much for cliches!). They turned out to be beautiful mountain goats; the Billy goat looking rather menacing with his large, sharp horns.
   'Don't stare 'em in the eyes! ' I suggested,' just like we were in the Wyndham!'

   Finally, upward on a knee-cracking, heart-bursting path beside a fast-flowing stream, disturbing a heron which gracefully flew away doing its pterodactyl impersonation.
   We'd seen the huge gap in the hillside left by the mine which once gave Blaencwm its sole purpose.
   There's an equally large gap in the experiences of many in Cymru, myself included.
   I know programmes like 'Weatherman Walking' have sought to remedy this ; but the Valleys are all too easily dismissed  with stereotypes and cliches.

   I would like to thank Taith Bevan and  Balancin'  Bartz for three fascinating journeys into the unknown........and for getting us home without recourse to the emergency services!

                        BLAENCWM  SHRINES

They worshipped at the Shrine of Plastic
before pushing cars off the edge,
torched and burnt before they somersaulted
down the steep slope
and now only crows
pick insect offerings in rusted hulks.

Red Devils' flag flapping on the summit
of the ridge, waving like the young boy
taken before his climb ; black plastic lettering
of TAID overlooking the valley houses
running like channels coastward.

In the forest, making pledges of peace
to a herd of goats white as stream-surge,
the Billy's butting horns axe-like,
returning to pupiled stones of Hen Dre'r Mynydd
carried out of time by wild sights.




02/17/2014 13:15

What a lovely post. The imagery - I can almost feel the wind whipping my hair, the long silences and absence of expectations, an expanse of beauty that sets you into a unique existence.

When I lived in Cardiff, I took every weekend to hike in Beacons and up in Snowdonia and explore surrounding places. My friends thought I was nuts.

But, reading your post, I remember why I left the noisy debauchery of Queen Street for the raw crispness of the valleys and the hills.

And I loved your poem. It reminds me of a trail near Caerphilly where dilapidated shopping carts and the skeletons of gulls lay side by side, sprinkled with dirt, leaves, and pottery shards. Images that wind like vines around "wilderness."


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