St Illtud’s Walk: day 6: Y Creunant to Resolfen

May 24, 2024 3 Comments

We’ve now erased the dark memory of Day 5, back in November, and today the daylight hours are reassuringly long.  So C and I feel up to tackling another inter-valley stage of the Walk, from Y Creunant to Resolfen.  We should have done this as the coda to the last stage, but exhaustion and fading light defeated us then.  It’s not a long walk, but it’s strenuous and slow, and almost all the route is forested, which, as always, is bad news for us.  But the sky’s bright and sunny, with almost no wind.

St Margaret’s Church, Y Creunant

We’re also in a hopeful mood, having visited Millefiore, which offers the best coffee and pastries the centre of Swansea has to offer, while waiting for the bus to Creunant.  The T6 drops us off in the village and we gather ourselves opposite Segardelli’s shop.  It’s too early in the day for ice cream, so we set off eastwards and uphill, past the modest old chapel-of-ease and the larger Salem chapel of 1867.  A few houses along a lane, and then we’re climbing on a stony path, through bluebells and the bright green leaves of deciduous woodland.  Almost straight away we’re thrown into confusion: the St Illtud signs point to one route, the OS map suggests something quite different.  In the end we trust the signs and find ourselves in Crynant Community Forest, complete with neat wooden signs and sculptures, and large views back across the Dulais valley to the forested slopes we trudged through six months ago.

Eventually the path loops up and round through woodland and rejoins the OS-marked line of St Illtud’s Walk.  Now we leave the broadleaves behind – the mountain ash is in peak blossom – and we’re climbing steeply through conifer plantations.  It’s tough going.  The spring rain that’s fallen for months on end has left the sunless ground sodden, and many of the ‘paths’ double as streams.  The gradients are steep, so that we need to stop quite often to recover.  Everything around us is silent.  There’s not another human soul – in fact we meet no one at all between Y Creunant and Resolfen – and the dense forest has squeezed out all sign and song of birds.

Sarn Helen

At last we reach the watershed, where the going gets easier.  Soon our path crosses another major track, at right-angles.  This is the dead-straight route of Sarn Helen, the Roman road that ran north from Neath to Caerhun near Conwy.  We imagine the disaffected legionaries tramping along, cursing the climate, their commanders and the recalcitrant Britons.  Tom Bullough walked this way in 2020, on a journey he recorded in his angry book Sarn Helen.  He talks of the ‘acidic desolation’ of Hirfynydd, the name of our mountain ridge, and the struggle that other trees and flowers have to flourish on the margins of the stifling conifers.  Bullough notices the small castle sign for St Illtud’s Walk, and he’s intrigued.  For him, the ‘age of the saints’ offers a model of a society that treated the natural world with a respect and a reverence that have gone missing in our selfish age.

After Sarn Helen we’re confronted with the mirror-image of the walk up: a steep slope, and a stony path running with water and often sunk in deep channels.  We stumble downhill, trying to avoid twigs twanging into our faces and edging nervously round the frequent drowned sections of path.  Evey so often we emerge from the gloom into a sunny clearing – a broad, smooth forestry track, almost a motorway, but without a vehicle in sight.  These tracks hug the hill’s contours, whereas we’re committed to descent, so as soon as we’re across each track we’re plunged back into the forest, down another thin, wet path.

It’s not quite lunchtime, but we decide to take a break from the mental effort of concentrating on not falling, and stop at the next ‘motorway’.  There are no ‘services’, nowhere to sit, so we sprawl on the track and eat our sandwiches and apples.  By now it’s not quite silent: we can hear the dull roar of the concrete-paved A465 dual carriageway ahead of us.

Neath Canal, Resolfen

At last the hard descent comes to an end, and we’re allowed to turn left, along a contouring track that veers north and makes a more gradual descent towards Resolfen.  Below we can see the village and the green footbridge, our only hope of crossing the wild A465 that thunders on up Cwm Nedd.  Once over that, we’ve the canal and the river to cross before we get to the village.  The main street is called Commercial Street, but most of the old shops are shut, and we’re content to find a general store and buy a couple of Magnums – fair reward for the morning’s hard mountain yomping – before the bus arrives to take us down Cwm Nedd back to Swansea.

Comments (3)

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  1. Mr Michael Statham says:

    I’m so glad you mentioned Tom Bullough and his latest book Sarn Helen.

    It is essential reading for anyone concerned about climate change and the state of the UK environment. After reading the book it is difficult not to feel anger and frustration.

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