Polite conversation amongst the early arrivals at the Village Hall was cut short by the sight of a tall, funereal figure approaching from the direction of the churchyard. There was an audible sigh of relief when we recognised the apparition was none other than Frank, resplendently wrapped from head to toe against the cold. (I could have exaggerated some of that!) When the day’s full complement of seven arrived we set off for Afan Argoed and the start of the first walk of 2018. The Visitor Centre was busy with mountain bikers but car parking posed no problem and we quickly descended to the floor of the valley to cross the Afan and attack the steep ascent on the other side. It soon became clear that the customary keen fitness edge of our group had been blunted somewhat by overindulgence during the festive season. Gaining the forestry road, the gradient was much gentler and, on reaching the abandoned track of the South Wales Mineral Railway, the slope was all but indiscernible
To each side of the trail the moss-green winter trees with their tortured and twisted limbs impressed while across the valley we could see the onetime mining villages of Cynonville and Duffryn Rhondda. High above to the left as we reached Abercregan the huge wind generators were robbing energy from the brisk northeasterly wind and we too decided to renew our energy reserves by taking lunch just before arriving in Cymer. It was here that John realised that he was the only one of us not wearing spectacles but, nevertheless, he was the first to spot two red kites soaring above us – a wonderful and welcome sight in this part of South Wales.
After assembling for the team photograph we pressed on, past the sites of each of the three railway stations that once served Cymer, to join the disused track of the Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway back down the valley.
It was gratifying to see that much effort had been expended to install informative boards along the trail as well as individual posts with delightful images of native birds, butterflies and plants at their tips. Incongruous sights on the reclaimed Duffryn Rhondda colliery land were tall, stately eucalyptus trees with shed bark piled untidily at their feet – reminiscent maybe of youthful bad habits? A closer look at the adjacent houses revealed no blue plaque! Arriving back at Afan Argoed we were straight into the cafe for well-earned coffees and, in my case, a shared portion of apple and toffee cake which was much tastier than humble pie when it was revealed that we had walked nearer to seven and a half miles than the five I had originally stated. Oh well! The weather was cloudy and cold but the rain held off until we were in sight of the finish and, even then, was only very light. A surprisingly tame robin redbreast hopped expectantly around the car but was disappointed as we had no food for it so it was off home after a thoroughly enjoyable day out in entertaining company with stimulating conversation and lots of laughs.