Walk Around Llangynwyd – a village in the Llynfi Valley.
On a sunny day in May my husband and I set out for a walk around the village of Llangynwyd. We started at the Cross Inn in Cwmfelin, a long established watering hole. Since 2010 it has played host to the Cerddin micro-brewery. The word Cerddin is Welsh for Rowan Tree. This tree is distinctive due to its bright red berries which appear in the Autumn. It is stated in Mythology that the Rowan is magical and that it warns off spirits. The Inn was the 2015 winner of the CAMRA branch Pub of the Year competition.
We headed in the direction of the historic village of Llangynwyd; the road rose steadily between houses and cottages towards the mountains beyond. Once past the dwellings the hedges on both sides sported a variety of vegetation. Just coming into flower were Herb Robert, Ground Elder, Wild Strawberries, Nettles and Cleavers. Ferns – both Male and Hart’s Tongue -, Ivy, Welsh Poppies, Brambles, Buttercups and Broadleaf Dock vied with each other for growing space. The Herb Bennet and Dandelions were coming to an end of their flowering period and were covered in seed heads, although a few flowers were still visible here and there; the seed heads of the Dandelions, fly-away pom-poms of feathery umbels , drifted into the air as we passed them. Also growing on the banks and hedges were Ash, Hazel and Sycamore. This last one was flowering; lemon and lime clusters were hanging grape like under the leaves. In amongst the Brambles was a Black-veined White Butterfly feeding on the very few emerging flowers.
We soon came to the Lamb and Flag House with its pretty garden and views over the surrounding hills. The dwelling was once the Lamb and Flag public house. This Inn was once a thriving business. My grandfather told me that when there was a funeral in St. Cynwyd’s Church, the coffin would have to be carried up the steep hill from Cwmfelin and so the bearers would rest the coffin against the wall of the Inn whilst they rested and slaked their thirst.
After passing the Lamb and Flag we turned down a lane which wound around the back of the house and led us into a woodland known as The Brynna. This area comprises of a stream-valley broad-leafed woodland, together with open Bracken and neutral grassland communities on west-facing slopes. Oak, Birch, Grey Willow, Alder, Hawthorn and Ash and Rowan trees can be seen throughout. There are a number of boardwalks to navigate the often wetter grassland. The Brynna is an important habitat for wildlife, notably the Marsh Fritillary butterfly which is a biodiversity species which is declining nationally. However, we were not fortunate enough to see any. As we followed the pathway we passed open airy places where Bluebells and Red Campion grew in perfusion. On the side of the path were Common Field Speedwell, Ribwort Plantain, patches of Cow Parsley and mats of Yellow Archangel. There were escapees from the garden like white Lilac and purple Honesty; the Honesty carried both flowers and translucent, oval seed heads. Under a canopy of white May Flowers we entered the wood, the full sun disappeared and we walked in dappled shade. Many of the trees we passed bristled with mosses and lichen. The whole wood was alive with birdsong, but the birds were cleverly camouflaged in the canopy. The planting here favoured those shade loving species: Ground Elder, Sanicle, a few Primroses, Garlic Mustard, Germander Speedwell, Wood Sorrel, Opposite and Alternate leaved Golden Saxifrage, Common Dog-violet, Celandines, carpets of Bluebells, together with ferns and a myriad of mosses. We descended towards the marshy bottom of Cwm Cerdin and the River Nant Llest-Wen. Beside and across the path the arthritic Oak tree roots mingled with the mosses; a small stream also trickled alongside it.
On the right, as the path levelled out, was a wooden bridge across the river. However, we turned to the left and climbed the steps. Following the track we negotiated a few boardwalks, which traversed the more squelchy spots, to a slippery concrete foot bridge. Here a stream rushed from the higher ground, tumbling over stones and small boulders , towards the river below. On the other side of the bridge, Wimberry bushes were emerging through the leaf litter. I remember foraging for these sweet little berries – which may be known to you as Bilberries – with my Grandmother as we walked over the hills around Llangynwyd on sunny summer days many , many years ago.
Through a rusty old kissing gate we entered some fields where horses were grazing and Jackdaws were swooping. Magnificent views of the hills could be seen: fields, farm buildings (Pentre Farm), live-stock and forests of conifers. A metalled surface track was soon reached; we followed this until the junction with the road. This track was once part of an Opencast Mining road, allowing transport to and from the site at Waun-y-Gilfach in the 1930’s. I remember as a small child watching sports car speed trials along this road with my uncle who was a great car enthusiast in the 1960’s. Dame’s-violet, Buttercups and Ragwort grew on the side of the track and Wild Honeysuckle intertwined with the wire fencing. At last we sighted a bird sitting on one of the fence posts singing its heart out, a Warbler of some description.
Across the road from us was the farm “Nant Y Castell” and from here we walked up a narrow road until we reached a kissing gate, where we entered a some fields. Along the road were banks of wild flora: Wild Strawberries, Hart’s-tongue, Male and Maidenhair ferns, Mosses, Ivy, Herb Robert, Red Campion, Bluebells, Celandines, Dog-violets, Himalayan Balsam, Wood Sorrel, Garlic Mustard and Brambles. A riot of colour peeping through the greenery, many of the plants precariously protruding from crevices in the dry-stone walls which also lined the road. Oaks, Sycamores and pollarded Hazel bushes provided shade from the bright sunlight. As the sun shone through them they cast shadows upon the road; these shadows danced as a breeze caught the branches.
Near “Nant Y Castell” is the Norman Castell Coch (Red Castle) The castle was protected on three sides by two small valleys, with an extensive bailey wall on the fourth side. It was built in the early 12th Century on what was probably a 1st Century BC Celtic farmstead site. The castle was destroyed in a Welsh uprising in 1257, rebuilt and finally destroyed again in 1294. Today only the ruins of the gateway and curtain walls remain.
The road would have taken us into the village of Llangynwyd but before reaching the little village we veered off the road into fields, sign posted Llwybr Troed Cyhoeddus/Public Footpath. The ground was quite marshy with sedges growing everywhere. Views of Waun y Gilfach, its hills, fields and conifer forests, assaulted our vision. The straight lines of overhead cables attached to pylons seem to stride across the landscape like the aliens from War of the Worlds. Our forefathers would have seen the same vistas but without the invasion of these very necessary conduits of modern living. The flow of the brown sedges were interrupted by sometimes green and sometimes more colourful plants: Ribwort Plantain, Thistles, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Tormentil and Dame’s-violet. Across the field and behind the trees we could see the top of the white-washed bell tower of the church of St. Cynwyd, the Corner House Pub and the Old House Inn.
St. Cynwyd’s church is our family church and we have been members for generations. Many of my ancestors are buried in the church yard. The site has been used for worship since the 6th Century with the earliest written reference to it in the 12th Century. The tower is 15th Century as is the font. The tower has been restored in the last ten years or so; the white wash was applied and the leaking roof repaired and the bells re-hung. On the day of the official opening of the tower I was allowed to climb it. It was a precarious ascent squeezing past the huge bells and through a small trap door on to the roof. For the first time in my life I viewed the hills and valleys surrounding the church. What a magnificent sight.
The Old House Inn is South Wales’ 2nd oldest pub. The now thatched Old House Inn dates from around 1630 but the site was occupied much earlier by an ale house serving pilgrims and drovers travelling the hilltop track ways – it was established eight centuries ago and dates back to 1147. Its long room was used by nonconformists for services before they had their own chapel. Records show that from 1799 the Inn was also used for meetings of Friendly Societies formed by local farm labourers and servants. It has a long association with the New Year tradition of the “Mari Lwyd”, Grey Mare. A decorated horse’s head is brought to the pub every New Year’s Eve. The Mari Lwyd on the Inn sign are words ‘Yr Hen Dy′ (The Old House) with the Mari Lwyd (Grey Mare) shown beneath. Around New Year a group with a man in a white sheet with a horses skull on his head, goes from house to house in the village singing impromptu verses in Welsh to those inside. They have to reply in kind. If they fail the Mari Lwyd has to be invited in and served with ale and food. Llangynwyd is one of the last places in Wales where the tradition survives. The Inn is also connected with the traditional Welsh love story The Maid of Cefn Ydfa, based on the ill-fated romance of lowly poet Wil Hopcyn (1701 – 1741)and wealthy Ann Thomas (1704 – 1727)from Llangynwyd. The Maid of Cefn Ydfa Ann Thomas (the Maid) was a young heiress who lived with her parents at Cefn Ydfa lodge in the early 18th Century. Anne fell in love with a poor thatcher, Wil Hopkin (In Welsh, his name is spelt Wil Hopcyn as there is no letter k in the Welsh alphabet). The story goes that her mother found out and promptly banned Ann from using writing paper and ink. Ann was persistent and continued to send messages using her blood to write with. Time went by and Wil moved away to Bristol docks. Eventually Ann married a gentleman by the name of Anthony Maddocks. The marriage ended tragically as Ann died two years later of a broken-heart. Anthony Maddocks married again a few months later, to another young heiress. Wil Hopkin never married and died 14 years later, in 1741, at the age of 40. He and Ann are both buried at the church. Ann is buried in the family grave in the chancel of St. Cynwyd’s Church, while Wil lies in the churchyard under the shade of a yew tree. Wil was well-known as a poet and to show his love for Ann he wrote the love song ‘ Bugeilio’r Gwenyth Gwyn” ( the White Wheat).
The buildings of the Corner House pub date back to 1722. There were a Tithe Barn and three cottages on the site, one of which was the house of Wil Hopcyn. The buildings were used as school rooms between 1740 and 1773. The Corner House features in the book “Haunted Pubs of Glamorgan” by Viv Small. Many strange happenings were noticed: voices heard when the bar was empty; ethereal figures appeared; a Cromwellian trooper sighted; a deep coldness felt in some rooms, even on a warm day. Whenever anything odd happens that cannot be explained, people simply say “Wil is about”.
Back to the walk out in the fields and past farm animals until we eventually reached the road which was lined with Silverweed. A thug of a plant, Japanese Knotweed, was also emerging. Its red mottled stems and lime green unfurling leaves, although small now would soon swamp the whole area.
We left the road again and went back into the fields, over a wooden stile. I sat awhile and watched as a panorama of greens unfolded before me: a patchwork of fields and woods. Nestled in the hollows were small farms with white farmhouses and brown barns. The hedges were a riot of colour: Hazel, Hawthorn, Holly, Brambles, Male Ferns, Bracken with bronze curly tips, Bluebells, Wild Honeysuckle, Red Campion, Himalayan Balsam and Greater Stitchwort. The fields were carpeted with Buttercups, Greater Stitchwort and Common Mouse-ear. The sheep and lambs paid us no mind and were quietly munching their way through this cornucopia of vegetation. We followed the “Llynfi Valley Walks” signs through well manicured fields and rough fields and over stiles. Sometimes the dead brown Bracken crunched under our feet, grasses and new fronds poking their way through it. Sometimes Wimberry bushes and Gorse crowded the path. A vanilla scent wafted towards us from the newly emerging bright yellow flowers of the gorse as we descended into a valley and mixed woodland. Old dry-stone walls, covered with mosses and lichens, separated this wild area from the cultivated grassland. All pervasive here was the intoxicating perfume of the Bluebells; some nestled up against the walls but most were carpeting the ground in great swathes under the damp canopy of moss and ivy covered trees. A magic fairyland. Some areas, however, looked quite foreboding with moss and ferns and dead leaves and grotesquely twisting tree roots protruding here and there out of the ground. In the background we could hear birdsong and the gently tinkling water in the stream as it softly flowed through the valley. Amongst the slowly rotting leaves were the remains of Celandine plants, well past their best, and dainty purple patches of Common Dog-violet. We crossed the stream via an old stone bridge and joined the access track to Gadlys Farm.
The history of the farm can be traced back to a Tudor Manor House which was occupied by the Vaughn family who were the stewards of the Lords of Tir Iarll. Tir Iarll meaning Earl’s Land is the traditional name of an area of Glamorgan, a Cwmwd covering the present day parishes of Llangynwyd, Betws, Cynffig and Margam, which has long had a particular resonance in Welsh Culture notably the Mari Lwyd (Grey Mare).
After we passed the farm and out buildings we continued along the track until we crossed a cattle grid and met the road again. Hedges enclosed the road on both sides but occasional gaps and gates allowed us to view the countryside beyond. Again a veritable cornucopia of vegetation assaulted our eyes and noses: Foxgloves, Butterbur, Nettles, Field Speedwell, Buttercups, Greater Stitchwort, Red Campion, Bluebells and Common Dog-violets. We passed the site of the Old Gadlys Woollen Mill, now a much renovated dwelling “Gadlys House”, until rusted kissing gates appeared on either side of the road. We took the left hand path, which used to be part of the Dyffryn Llynfi Porthcawl Tramway. The path took the high road and the now non-existent tramway would have followed the lower road, which was quite wet and muddy. Mixed woodland surrounded us and under foot were Wild Strawberry plants, Water Avens, Common Dog-violets, Creeping-jenny, Mosses, Ferns and Ivy. Hogweed thrust up through the lower ground cover and Holly bushes with tiny pink/white flowers snagged our arms as they nudged their way onto the path. This is very familiar territory for me as this pathway snakes its way past the Welsh School, formerly Maesteg Comprehensive School, where I spent my formative years. This was the cross-country route that I plodded along many, many moons ago. The school playing fields could be seen through the hedges and fencing but I could not help noticing that the tennis courts were in a very sorry state. I loved playing here on its hard surface with the trees and birdsong surrounding us.
At the end of the track were large iron stumpy posts. These were the Great Western Railway boundary markers. As previously mentioned this was a tramway and it ran from the top of the Llynfi Valley to the docks at Porthcawl. The tramway amalgamated with the Great Western Railway in 1872.
Kissing gate to kissing gate. We crossed the road, Maesteg Road, and entered the fields opposite. More familiar territory. A view of my old stomping ground was arrayed before me, a place where my friends and I roamed freely without a care in the world, a picture that will ever be in my heart. The squelchy ground with sedges and lined with Crab Apple trees were still there but hidden behind the trees was a very different view than I remember as a girl. I saw the road that my Mum still lives on but the field in front of it was filled with new houses.
Gone was the grassy sloping hill which we all slid down especially after winter snows; gone was the big Oak Tree that stood proud in the middle which we climbed and I tumbled from, breaking my arm in the process. Gone is the safe haven of my childhood. We skirted around the housing estate into another field that I played in. We walked on. Ahh! this was more as I remember: the muddy path, the Oak and Sycamore trees – bigger than I remember – , the glade behind them, where a spring once sprang, now an overgrown jungle. My Grandmother used to send me to the spring to fetch a jug of the fresh sweet-smelling water. Then on to the path paralleling the railway line; a valley sprinter train sped past us. We ascended to the road and looked down from the bridge onto the railway line; the train had been spirited away, as had the platform which once stood in amongst the trees. ( Dr. Beeching in his reshaping of British Railways closed many valley lines for passenger trains in the 1960’s. Llangynwyd station was closed in 1970.The line is now fully operational, but alas no station/platform was built at Llangynwyd, only in other villages and towns – Garth and Maesteg.) This platform at Llangynwyd was the staging point for children from further up the valley to alight and continue their journey to the school. Walking the very path on which we had just traversed.
We could have continued our walk following the public footpath to our starting point but home beckoned, my childhood home that is, just up the road. So we finished our walk partaking of tea and biscuits with my Mum.