The Swansea Canal near Glanrhyd north of Pontardawe

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1 INSPIRING LANDSCAPES FASCINATING HISTORY & LEGEND GREAT WALKS IN THE SWANSEA VALLEY Pontardawe to Ystalyfera along the Swansea Canal and Cycle Path and the Legend of Ynysygeinon Rock! Historic & Geographic Background The Swansea Canal near Glanrhyd north of Pontardawe The area around Pontardawe has an interesting transport history and it is fortunate that the earliest form of bulk transport infrastructure, the Swansea Canal, still exists in parts. Not so fortunate for the railways in that the Midland Railway, which went from Swansea to Brecon via Pontardawe has been entirely obliterated by the A4067 road and the Tesco supermarket development. The Swansea Canal was opened as far back as 1798 and, at 16¼ miles in length, was built to convey coal and iron from the Ystalyfera area and lower down the valley to Swansea Docks. By 1873, the canal was sold to the Great Western Railway who saw it as a way to compete with the recently opened Midland Railway on the opposite side of the valley. However, by 1902, the canal ceased to be profitable and traffic ceased in 1931, having only been active in the lower six miles from It was closed for navigation by a series of acts between 1928 and 1962 but is still used for industrial water supply from extant sections. A railway was promoted by the Great Western Railway in 1911 to link the Swansea District Line at Felin Fran with Gwaun cae Gurwen to promote mine development there. Only short sections were built (serving Trebanos colliery from the south and Cwmgorse colliery from the west); the section from Trebanos to Cwmgorse had embankments, cuttings and a tunnel but without any track laid. Pontardawe was an industrial town of considerable importance with a functioning steelworks until the early 1960 s, together with associated metal industries. The railways and other industrial infrastructures have been almost completely obliterated, replaced by roads, light industry and retail.

2 THE WALK Route summary and terrain This route follows the towpath of the Swansea Canal from where Herbert Street in Pontardawe crosses over and continues in two sections either side of Ynysmeudwy. The first section is along the partly restored section under the stewardship of the Swansea Canal Society; the second section within a nature reserve managed by Neath Port Talbot Council. At Godre r Graig, the route crosses the valley and follows the northern section of National Cycle Network Route 43 to its junction with the A4067 at Ystalyfera roundabout, thereafter street walking into the town. Apart from the nature reserve section which has rough undergrowth, the route is easy and fairly level throughout. Start point Pontardawe Arts Centre (GR ) End point Ystalyfera New Swan Hotel (GR ) Recommended Maps O.S. Explorer 165 O.S. Landranger 159/160 Distance Estimated net time Grade Refreshments Toilets 7 kilometres 3.5 hours Easy to Moderate Pontardawe Arts Centre Greggs Bakery Café, Pontardawe Asda Superstore, Ystalyfera Roundabout New Swan Hotel, Ystalyfera Pontardawe Herbert St Asda Superstore, Ystalyfera

3 THE ROUTE IN DETAIL The bus stop at Pontardawe is close to the start of the walk at Arts Centre (GR ) in Herbert Street. From here, head up Herbert Street towards the crossroads and after 100 metres, the road crosses the Swansea Canal. Turn right and join the towpath along the right hand bank of the canal. You will see the impressive St Catherine s church towering above you (left) and after 100 metres, cross a minor road re-joining the canal path on the other side. The next 0.5 kilometres is through semi-industrial landscape before opening out into pleasant countryside on your right. This part of the canal was some of the earliest to be restored and is generally in good condition. The area to the right, now the site of the Arena Centre was formally a major centre for storage and distribution of pit props (used to support underground passages in the mines) throughout South Wales. For the next 2 kilometres, the path continues its bucolic course through open country backed by mountains to the right and housing on the left obscured by trees. Shortly before Ynys Meudwy (GR ), you will see remains of two locks, both in very poor condition and now reduced to weirs, though the area surrounding is very attractive woodland. At Ynys Meudwy, cross the B4603 road and immediately beyond drop down to the next stage, a designated nature reserve managed by the local council. The path is a lot narrower and rougher here and the area is rich in flora and bird life. After 1.5 kilometres, you reach the A4067 road, at which point the canal peters out and for 200 metres, walk on the left hand grass verge (no pavement) to the road junction below Godre r Graig (GR ). Cross here with great care (as traffic is very fast along this section) and take a minor track which crosses the river and joins the cycle route (NCN 43). NCN 43 is built on the track bed of the Midland Railway which originally linked Swansea with Brecon and was that companies only railway built to tap the rich pickings of anthracite coal destined for the English Midlands as well as coal from local mines to Swansea Docks. There was a branch line from Ynysygeinon Junction to Brynamman East. The line had a passenger service to Brecon until the 1930 s and between then and 1952, passenger trains still operated between Brynamman and Swansea. The railway stayed open serving the collieries at Ynyscedwyn and Gurnos and the open cast site above Abercrave until the mid-1960 s. Turn left on to NCN 43; at this point, you will see a very moving memorial to the four miners who tragically lost their lives in a recent drift mine disaster at nearby Tareni Gleision. You follow the well surfaced cycle trail for 1.5 kilometres to the site of Ynysygeinon Junction railway yards and you will see the now overgrown track bed of the former railway to Brecon climb steeply to the right with the cycle path taking the former Brynamman branch. Ynysygeinon was not only an important railway location but also the only known location of a famous legend. Over a century ago, Dai, a local farmhand was out catching rabbits near the rock when he saw a little man speak a magical word and a heavy door open leading inside the rock. Dai came back later having remembered this word and the door opened revealing to him a faerie world full of gold inside. The door closed, he was trapped but the

4 faeries adopted him and he lived in peace for seven years, after which he returned to the farm with a sack of gold. He was persuaded to reveal the magic words for his master who decided go and see for himself; he went several times, each time returning with a sack of gold then one day never reappeared. Dai went looking for him and found his four quarters strung up behind the stone door. Frightened out of his wits, Dai never used the magic words again. It seems it s never wise to take the generosity of the faeries for granted! The imposing Ynysygeinon rock, towering over Ystalyfera From Ynysygeinon, follow the trail which leads towards the main road at the roundabout near to the Asda store (GR ). You can either end your walk here or walk a further 0.75 kilometres to the centre of Ystalyfera and the New Swan Hotel, an excellent place for refreshment before catching the bus back to Pontardawe. Ystalyfera was a prominent centre of the iron and tin industries and though virtually all trace of the Ystalyfera Tinworks has been lost under the Asda Superstore, there are well preserved remains of the Ynyscedwyn Ironworks at Glanrhyd (midway between Ystalyfera and Ystradgynlais). It s a further kilometre beyond the end of the walk but well worth a visit. The X50/51 buses also pass this site. Notes All distances are given in metric GR refers to Ordnance Survey grid reference

5 LOCAL TRANSPORT and PARKING Train Station Swansea 13 kilometres Neath 6 kilometres Bus Stops Parking Pontardawe Jubilee (200 metres) Asda Superstore, Ystalyfera New Swan Hotel, Ystalyfera Pontardawe Council Car Park (charged) Buses Tickets Both ends of the walk (Pontardawe Jubilee and Ystalyfera New Swan) are on the X50/X51 bus route Swansea-Ystradgynlais running every hour daytime weekdays only. There is a bus stop outside the Asda store if you wish to curtail your walk there. Bus services operated by First Cymru First Day tickets Swansea Bay give a day s unlimited travel (adult, 16 & under and family options available) and can be purchased from the driver on the bus. Plan your journey

6 GALLERY: portraying the natural beauty and historic interest on this walk Swansea Canal and St Catherine s Church at Pontardawe Bridge No. 8 near the Arena Centre The picturesque section of the canal south of Ynys Meudwy

7 Ynys Meudwy lower lock (remains of) The start of the nature reserve at Ynys Meudwy bridge Crossing the River Tawe near Godre r Graig

8 Memorial to the miners who lost their lives at Tareni Gleision The sylvan setting of NCN 43 between Godre r Graig and Ynysygeinon Remains of Ynyscedwyn Ironworks

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