St Illtud’s Walk, day 5: Pontardawe to Creunant

November 10, 2023 2 Comments

Forestry isn’t my favourite walking environment, and today has done nothing to shift that prejudice.  It all began so well.  Well, fairly well.  Today C. and I start out by bus.  But since our last encounter with St Illtud, First Cymru has done its best to destroy our local bus timetable.  It now takes nearly half an hour just to reach Mumbles – it would be quicker to walk – and many buses are less frequent.  As a result, we don’t get to Pontardawe until 10:30 – a late start on a short November day.

We join the canal in the town centre and follow it for a few miles.  We first walked here with J., years ago, as part of our Cwm Tawe route from Swansea to Storey Arms, and this stage hasn’t lost its quiet attractions.  The sun lights the dying leaves on the waterside trees.  Ducks and mallards splash in the silted water as we pad along the towpath.  Soon a triangular sign greets us, ‘Volunteers at work’, and then two groups of hi-vis-jacketed members of the Swansea Canal Society, dragging tree trucks out of the water.  We reflect how economists, prisoners of their dismal art, routinely fail to register this kind of voluntary work, that does so much to maintain our environment for everyone.

The canal heads north, past the locks at Ynysmeudy and small stone bridges, each labelled with a number.  We wonder whether, when it was first built, locals grumbled at the arrival of this disruptive ‘new technology’.  Its effective life was short – from 1798, when it was completed, to the coming of the railway, though commercial use carried on somehow till 1931.

Short of Godre’r graig, we cross the Tawe, sullen and swollen with recent rains, and join the old railway, now a tarmacked cycle track.  A few dog-walkers greet us in passing, but the way is as peaceful as the towpath.  Then a post with the familiar St Illud’s Walk logo sends us off on a muddy path, up the steep slope to our left.  The hill is awash with water.  Immediately we have to jump across seven or eight streams set going by earlier rain, before reaching drier, open ground higher up.  Now it’s started to rain.  We struggle with rainwear while the shower lasts, and then struggle to take it off, thanks to the usual zip problem.  The path zig-zags up the hillside, until we reach wild, tussocky land, crossed by power lines, on the flattened summit.  Big views open up to the mountain on the other side of Cwm Tawe, Mynydd Allt-y-grug, and down to former chapels of Ystalyfera and their successor, a giant green Asda.

Ahead of us, like a dark green wall, is the western edge of Creunant Forest.  A signpost guides us to a gap in the trees and we plunge in, down a broad track laid with shattered stones that are difficult to walk on.  This is old-style, monocultural forestry with close-set conifers and an interior that’s dark and lifeless.  At the end of this avenue, St Illtud turns right.  But there’s a peremptory sign barring our way.  It tells us that ‘non-authorised persons’ are forbidden from passing it.  We can here the sounds of heavy machinery further on, no doubt the sign of tree-felling in progress.  We debate whether to disobey and feign ignorance when challenged, but think better of it, and instead turn left.

But now we’re walking in quite the wrong direction, north along the contour.  After a while a narrow path, marked on the OS map, leaves the track and moves east, a small improvement.  The price we pay for a better direction is slower progress.  It’s rocky and wet underfoot, and branches and twigs snatch at our coats and threaten to scratch our faces and eyes.  Eventually we reach a point where we can see Cwm Dulais below, and long views across to Bannau Sir Gâr.  We’re losing ground, and losing hope of reaching Creunant in time for lunch.  So we stop to eat our sandwiches by a forest gate.  A local man, the only person we meet in the forest, overtakes us.  He says he’s already been walking for nine miles, and his daughter’s large dog still shows no sign of tiredness.

We find a path leading south, the right direction at last, but we’ve lost too much ground and we need to climb again, for over a mile, to rejoin St Illtud’s Walk.  This path has turned into a small river, and we stumble along it, our feet uncertain on the slippery rocks and treacherous leaves.  At last we reach the St Illtud path and resume the descent to the valley floor.  But the going isn’t any easier, and by the time we reach a tarmacked minor road at the bottom we’re exhausted by the concentrated effort of keeping ourselves vertical. We’ve lost well over an hour in time through our deviation.

In Creunant we walk up to the main road, where we find Segadelli’s, an old-fashioned, and old-established, sweetie shop.  As a reward for good effort we buy two Mars bars (our annual self-allocation) and sit on a bench opposite, where Eric, a milkman with a smile for everyone, is commemorated by a plaque.  Across a minor road is the whitewashed old church, or chapel of ease, parts of which date to the thirteenth century. 

We’d intended to finish the walk in Resolven, in the Vale of Neath, but we agree that there’s not enough daylight left to get us up and down the next mountain.  Besides, we’ve both spend much our energy splashing through the forest, and, on top of that, we’d miss the Resolven to Neath bus.  So we decide to call it a day and wait for the next bus home, which turns out to be the T6 Traws Cymru bus to Swansea.  At the Quadrant we just miss the next Mumbles bus, catch a Pennard Cliffs bus instead, and get rescued by car.  The day ends as it began, with a curse on those responsible for Swansea bus cuts – and the thought that our next stage of St Illtud’s Walk will be a few miles longer than we’d planned.  Maybe we’ll leave it till the days start to lengthen.

Comments (2)

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  1. Gillian Lewis says:

    Great read…loved the pic of Segadellis. Public transport is becoming a bit of a joke..just like our train journey yesterday.

  2. Dafydd Pritchard says:

    Mae’n gas gen i gerdded pan mae hi’n llithrig!

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