Nine Wanderers arrived in shared cars at a relatively quiet Afan Argoed Visitors’ Centre on a chilly but sunny morning.
Heading down to the floor of the valley we crossed the Afan river on the heavily renovated bridge to tackle the stiff climb up to the forestry road which would take us toward Pontrhydyfen. After a little while we took a short descent so we could view some overgrown remains of a leet which once carried water to power the Oakwood iron works. A pleasant path alongside towering pines with the river a distant burble brought us to Rhyslyn carpark, previously the site of Pontrhydyfen railway station on the Rhondda Swansea Bay Railway. The difficulty of building a railway in the narrow, steep-sided valley was amply illustrated by the enormous bridge abutments which allowed the rail track to cross and recross the river to and from the station.
A short road walk led us on to the magnificent Grade 2* listed aqueduct completed in 1827 which carried the leet water to the iron works of which there are no visible remains. Now open only to walkers and cyclists we crossed the aqueduct and continued through Oakwood past two chapels, one undergoing conversion and the other tastefully completed, until we came to the second structure dominating the small town – the Port Talbot Railway and Docks Company viaduct. Its ten arches were built in the 1890s of red brick and now have a Grade 2 listing. We continued along the abandoned railway track before descending into Pontrhydyfen proper where we viewed the confluence of the Afan and Pelenna rivers directly underneath the viaduct.
Hoping to find where Richard Burton was born Robbie enquired of a resident and it transpired we were standing right next to the house. A photograph and plaque inside the porch confirmed the site.
Back at Rhyslyn carpark we ate our packed lunches at some picnic tables where the skies clouded over and the ensuing chill encouraged some to don jackets. After refreshments and a photograph, we set off to follow the track of the Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway back to Afan Argoed. A brief trip through the “Kanji Wood Garden” – twinned with an Afan Garden in Japan – but, regrettably, in need now of some tlc was followed by a longer diversion occasioned by deterioration of the rail track. Highlights of this alternative were the fantastically gnarled and twisted winter trees and the extravagantly moss clothed remains of ruined walls and farm buildings.
Ascending to the Visitors’ Centre we were all looking forward to coffee (or tea) only to find the cafe was “closed until further notice”. I did consider flight but, this being impractical, I had to stand and face the music!
A good day’s walk which appeared to have been enjoyed by all. The weather was fair and it was satisfying to explore further afield after the restrictions suffered by us all for so long.