Forward to the past

Apologies for the rather forced title. Indulge me.

Yesterday Rufus and I went wandering over Tor Clawdd, a hill near the Upper Lliw reservoir and Bryn Llefrith plantation. Both have featured heavily in this blog before and they are a favourite destination in reasonably good weather. During our walk we came across an odd concrete structure on a dike that followed the top of Tor Clawdd. The bank and ditch is listed as a defensive work in the archives and is likely to have been some form of control over those proceeding south to the coast. Whatever it was, it was subsequently used as a convenient starting point for a number of adits, or small horizontal pits, used to mine coal. In this case, the Graigola seam. An aerial photos shows the extent of the pits, which line the northern edges of the hill. On the ground they are weathered and worn but clear and make for annoying walking as the sides are steep.

Today we went back because I wanted to investigate in more detail the adits and two concrete structures; one I’d come across yesterday and the other I’d seen on an aerial photograph. We set off to walk along the dike, climbing steeply for a few metres from the road. When the dike was built, this road didn’t exist and the route would have been further to the west. The old track is still visible in photos and faintly in person. We quickly reached the first little brick shelter. It had a concrete roof which had shown up on the photos and was a single room, about 3m by 3m with a smaller outbuilding which looked like it was for storage. There were no markings inside but I noticed the interior had been plastered, and there was a single abandoned bird nest, delicately attached to the ceiling.

Not far beyond was the concrete base I’d seen yesterday. It looked like a mounting point for an engine, possibly used to raise and lower wagons ontop the road below. There were mounting bolts still in place and it was aligned to a track that led down to the modern road. I haven’t been able to find any information about that part of the mining operation. We walked around the northern edge of the hill and then south, following the edge of the hill before it dropped down to Bryn Llefrith and the reservoir. It was a lovely morning and although a cold wind blew from the north, we were soon sheltered from it and the sun was allowed to warm us up.

We walked down as far as the firing butts and I spent a few minutes picking up more bullets and broken glass until Rufus let it be known that he was bored and wanted to walk on. In addition to some fine examples of .30 calibre bullets, which would have been fired from American rifles and machine guns, I found three .45 calibre bullets which are pistol rounds, sometimes used in sub machine guns of the day.

I followed Rufus as he headed back to the hill and the dike. By now the sky was blue and the sun was warm and it was just pleasant walking. We strolled and bounded and dodged hidden mud pools until we reached the undulating line of spoil from the coal mines. Looking down to the reservoir, the water was blue and it felt like summer.

The next thing I wanted to visit was a ring cairn, which I read about when researching the dike and which was supposed to be along side the old track running parallel to the earthwork. The cairn has not been dated and it is not clear if it is contemporary with the dike. It has been suggested that it is the remains of a shelter for those guarding the dike, or perhaps a temporary cattle pound. RCHM records suggest holes for stones, which would make it more of a ring cairn or even a henge.

We spent about 20 minutes wandering about. Rufus enjoyed the chance to explore new ground and I was eventually rewarded when I found the faint outline of the ditch, inside which was the low earth bank. This was no Stonehenge but it was clearly a ring and must have had some significance for those who built it. An undertaking like this was no light matter when most of the time was spent tending to livestock and crops. On this exposed high ground next to a thoroughfare it would have been highly visible and a landmark to those who lived nearby.

To Rufus’ relief, I quickly took the photos I wanted and we set off back towards the car. As we reached the layby, I watched as three model aeroplanes soared from the eastern slopes of Tor Clawdd. But it was time for us to head home for coffee and snacks.

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The Mountain of the Small Cairn and the Graigola Seam

First of all, a warning. There are two photographs of a spider at the end of this blog. Its a small one, and being on this blog, it can’t jump out and get you. Or can it?

An extended walk was long overdue. Both Rufus and I needed to stretch our legs, get rid of the cobwebs and head out into the countryside. So early this morning, we headed north to Brynllefrith and the hills surrounding it. Today, I decided to avoid the plantation itself, figuring that with all the rain we’d had recently, it would be one long, muddy path with added marsh. Instead, we headed north a little way before striking off west on Mynydd y Gwair and on to Mynydd Garn Fach. It was a grey morning when we set off but the cloud was high and there was a chance it might clear.

Underfoot, it was as wet as I had expected and we splashed along a very faint track left by quad bikes. Rufus ranged far and wide and on one pass by me, I noticed he had a passenger. I always keep an eye out for things on his coat, mainly to remove any ticks (although these are hard to spot). But this time, he had a spider on his head. It was a garden spider and it seemed to be quite happy riding along for free. Rufus must have brushed through it’s web on his wanderings. I’m not good with spiders, but I decided to remove this one and somehow I managed to catch it in my hand, where it retracted it’s legs and waited to see what I’d do. After grabbing a quick arachnid portrait, I set it down in a clump of grass.

After that encounter, I became aware of a lot of webs, mainly floating about and which I felt rather than saw. As we went on, they brushed up against my hands and I even found part of a web and a small spider in my hair. There were a lot of flying insects around too, which would account for the webs – an abundance of free food had obviously attracted the arachnid population.

The quad bike track turned into more of a rough path as it merged with St Illtyd’s Walk, a long distance path that stretches from Margam Abbey to Pembrey Country Park. We followed in the saint’s footsteps for a while, crossing the River Lliw (here a mere stream) before climbing the small hill of Mynydd Garn Fach (the mountain of the small cairn). We spiralled our way to the top by taking an anti-clockwise route around to the west and south. There are the remains of old mine workings here and the views from the top of the hill can be spectacular in clear weather. Although it was cloudy, the visibility was good and I could see all the way to Port Talbot and Swansea Bay.

We lingered a while at the top, with a great view of what is left of Brynllefrith and the Upper Lliw reservoir to the east, and Mynydd y Gwair and the distant wind farm to the north. Several years ago the wind farm was planned to be sited on Mynydd Y Gwair and there was a concerted effort by locals to oppose it. They were successful and the hill remains free of turbines. Part of the reason for not building here was the extensive mine workings discovered during the geographic and geological survey done in the area. Birchrock colliery further down the Dulais Valley was the site of several shafts exploiting the Swansea 5ft seam and the Graigola seam, which was accessed via horizontal shafts or adits, some of which can still be seen. There was a substantial risk of subsidence from the old workings, and of landslips where the Graigola seam reached the surface.

We didn’t know about the subsidence risk as we tramped all over the summit of Mynydd Garn Fach and instead we set off back down one of the tracks that lead from a mine adit on the east side of the hill back towards the River Lliw. Fortunately, we didn’t fall down any holes in the ground and made it safely to the waterlogged moorland opposite Brynllefrith. My car came into view while we were still a mile or so away and I noticed another car parked close to it. Wary of such things after my adventures on Fairwood Common, I checked through my telephoto lens but there was no sign of anyone nearby. But as we walked parallel to the woods on my right, I heard banging sounds that could have been from a shotgun. There are foxes in the woods, although I haven’t seen them since the tress were chopped down, so I hoped it wasn’t to do with them. I spotted someone in the woods wearing a red jacket and instinct made me take a picture. Looking at the photo (below) after, I could make out three men and a car with it’s door open. The car would be on a mud filled path so I’m not sure if it was stuck and they were trying to recover it.

As we neared the car, the first big blobs of rain fell and just as we reached the car, the rain started for real. We just managed to avoid a soaking.

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Fun Wednesday

I knew it was going to be an eventful day when I woke at 4am with cramp in my left leg. Proper, painful, grunt-out-loud cramp. Although the pain subsided after a few minutes, the dull ache in my calf muscle stayed there are threatened to become pain again with every movement. By the time Rufus popped his head around the door to remind me it was time to get up, it felt better but once I put my weight on it the cramp started again.

Accepting no excuses, Rufus insisted I let him out in the garden. I hopped downstairs and hopped to the back door. Rufus charged out into the white garden, undaunted by the snow that had fallen during the night. I paced up and down the hall, as the movement was easing the ache.

Minutes later we were both back in bed for a lie-in. Today, Rufus was having his hair cut and I’d taken the day off, as the timing meant I’d either have to leave him at the stylists for too long or spend a couple of hours travelling back and forth.

By the time I’d had breakfast, my leg was better and we set off for a walk on Cefn Bryn. The sun was still shining but a cold wind made it a little uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I hobbled and Rufus ran and we did a circuit of the top of the moorland.

The it was off to the hairdressers. I dropped the hippy off and set off for the Neath canal. I’d wanted to take a stroll down there before the weather closed in but I wasn’t sure how far I’d get with my still dodgy leg. I ended up doing about 2 miles and every step eased the aching muscle. I was disappointed at the amount of rubbish in the water; the canal runs right by an industrial estate and a lot of it must come from there. The built up land on which the estate sits seems to have been created from landfill, as where it has eroded, old tyres and other crap are poking through. But typically, on the return I managed to slip on a bit of loose gravel and twist my ankle. On the opposite leg. At least I was now hobbling evenly.

Next, it was shopping and lunch and I decided (just to be awkward) to tackle them in reverse order. But while I was enjoying a chicken salad sandwich (I weighed this week and it wasn’t pleasant reading), the phone went and it was the groomer to tell me Rufus had been styled and was ready to be picked up. I raced through the shopping and sped up to get him. With rough weather forecast for the afternoon, I wanted to let Rufus have another little walk before it got too stormy so we drove down the road to the old engine house of Scott’s Pit. It’s all that remains on the surface of one of the many little collieries that were scattered throughout the Swansea valleys.

Rufus wasn’t keen to stay out long and he turned around to head back to the car when the rain started. He was feeling the cold. Back in the house, he flopped out on the sofa and was soon snoring away. It’s a hard life being a hound, and more so when you have to keep your appearances up!

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Frustrations

Another glorious morning and the sun forced the curtains aside and slapped me on the face at about 7am. That’s ok – it’s an hour’s lie-in for me. Any longer lying awake and my back starts to ache. Age, I suppose. So I was up and out of the house by 7.45. My knee is still playing up so it was plastered with ibuprofen gel and strapped up. I ended up in Mumbles. It would have been a nice walk but today I had to drive and also be very careful where I went. No hills, no rough ground. Even the few steps down to the beach made me wince.

Even so, I managed to get some decent photos of the sea as it made every effort to soak me by splashing over the rocks. Then I strolled back along the seafront, taking in the views across Swansea bay. The tide was in and the waters choppy and restless. The waves seemed uncoordinated and random. I could just about make out my road from there and I have a photo that shows my house. It was that clear. Beyond Swansea, I could see the snow covered hills. I would much rather have been there with my walking buddy and slave driver, Rufus. But it would be foolish to risk worsening my knee.

Not content with Mumbles, I drove down to Birchgrove to find the engine house of Scott’s Pit. This was one of three or four small scale coal pits in the Birchgrove area in the early to mid 19th century. All that remains now is the shell of the Cornish beam engine house which was used to pump water from the mine. Despite several developments to the site, and a branch of the Swansea Vale railway line being built, it went out of use in the middle of the 19th century as the flooding made the pit uneconomical. I’ve seen the characteristic engine house and chimney from the motorway many times but today I was able to find access to it.

Then it was back home for coffee and the inevitable housework.

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