THE UPLAND GOWER CHALLENGE WALK
To most people Gower describes that area of outstanding natural beauty west of Swansea -an area which attracts thousands of visitors to it’s beaches and coastline each year. This well known peninsular, however, is in fact only half of Gower the other being the upland region to the north - both zones during the Middle Ages constituting the ancient Lordship of Gower. Today, however, the historical connection between peninsular and hinterland is lost to most people but much of it continues to exist as the parliamentary constituency of Gower.
Gwyr > Gower was originally a commote belonging to the lords of Ystrad Tywi -an area now resembling Carmarthenshire. Around 1100 AD Gower was conquered by the Normans and castles were built at Swansea, Loughor and Talybont (Pontarddulais) to guard three strategically important river crossings. The invaders inevitably acquired for themselves the rich fertile lowlands and settlers were introduced from the west of England to toil the land. The native Welsh, particularly those of the southern part of the peninsular, were evicted to less favourable areas.
For administrative purposes the lordship was broadly divided into two units- Gower Anglicana (The Englishry) and Gower Wallicana (The Welshry). Consequently the peninsular became predominantly English speaking as testified by the frequent use of the suffix ‘-ton’ in place names. The Welshry or Upland Gower, on the other hand, remained unaffected and is still generally Welsh speaking although the twentieth century witnessed a significant language decline.
Geographically the uplands of Gower rise to a height of over 1000 feet and are separated only from the Mynydd Du range by the deep chasm of the Aman Valley. The hills are a combination of ridges and plateaus bisected by wooded cwms. The uplands are very remote and encounters with other walkers are not common. The hills are also dotted throughout with ancient monuments and this walk incorporates most of the prime sites. Alas, most writers have consistently ignored Upland Gower preferring to concentrate on the peninsular. Consequently this fine hill walking country has remained off the tourist map and has become Swansea’s best kept secret.
Start: Pontarddulais railway station(GR588 041)or the town car park(GR589039)
Distance: up to 24 miles.
Maps:1:25 000 Explorer 165 Swansea/Abertawe. Explorer 178 Kidwelly/Cydweli .
Outdoor Leisure 12 Brecon Beacons West
1:50 000 Landranger 159 Swansea & Gower. 170 Brecon . 170 Rhondda
Time: 8 - 12 hours (Depending on ability)
The ability to navigate and knowledge of how to use a compass is essential. Dogs must be on a lead as 90% of the walk is over open sheep grazing land.
The coming of the railway to Pontarddulais in 1839 was to transform a sleepy rural hamlet into a bustling industrial town. Pontarddulais was to become a centre of tinplate manufacturing and at the beginning of the twentieth century boasted six tinplate works. Several mines also operated in the area. The town has a strong cultural history and the choral tradition in the town continues. The town also played a significant role during the Rebecca Riots. In 1843 John Hughes alias ‘Jac Ty isha’, a notable Rebecca leader, was captured near the railway station during an attack on the Dulais Toll Gate and later transported to Tasmania never to return. During the same year an attack on the nearby Hendy Gate left it’s keeper, Sara Williams, fatally wounded. *Unfortunately there is nothing in the area to commemorate those turbulent times. The only surviving relic associated with the riots is the turnpike trust boundary stone which lies in front of the wall of the petrol garage at the start of the walk.
* A memorial stone in memory of the attack on the Dulais Gate has been erected by the Pontarddulais Community Council on the junction of Station Road and St Teilo Street and was officially unveiled on 3 July 2004
From the station ,turn left and immediately left again along Station Road. Proceed along High Street until you meet a T junction. Turn left and continue for 500 yards taking the next right towards Tyn y Bonau Farm. Shortly after passing the farm turn right and follow the road to a crossroads. Continue straight ahead along Pantyfelin Road -ignoring the roads to your right- and follow the track as it meanders upwards towards a T junction. Turn left at this junction and proceed upwards past houses towards a metal gate and the open bracken covered hillside of Graig Fawr. You soon pass on your right an overgrown privet hedge and little remains of a bungalow
'Byngalo Jinks' as it was known was built around 1920s by a TB sufferer. The person afflicted was advised by his doctor to embrace fresh clean air and therefore built his abode on this scenic spot.
Continue upwards for 400 yards then bear left at the next junction. Follow this path for approx. 100 yards then turn right towards a burial chamber. This ancient monument is located a short distance away to your right.
This unnamed Neolithic Burial Chamber (GR 608062) is situated in an area known locally as Cerrig Llwydion (Grey Stones) - a possible forgotten reference to the cairn itself. The stones have long disappeared but some upright slabs of the burial chamber have survived. The site in fact contains two burial chambers which were probably covered by a single mound. Surprisingly the site was not discovered until 1991 and was only registered as an ancient monument by CADW as recently as 1998.
Leave the burial chamber and proceed onwards by turning left at the next T junction. After walking approximately 400 yards you will notice to your right the scant remains of Llandremor Uchaf Farm.
Llandremor Uchaf was the first Methodist meeting place in the area and has an interesting beginning. John Morgan, the occupier, was an old soldier and turner. It is said that he was quite a rough character and would spend his Sundays frequenting the drinking sprees and cockfighting in Pontarddulais. One day in 1740 as he was making his way towards his usual merriment at Waun Gron he suddenly heard the voice of the visiting evangelist Hywel Harries and had an instant conversion; his remote upland home soon became the area meeting place for religious seiats. The members built their own chapel Y Gopa (The Summit) in the town in 1773
Continue along the track where shortly a ridge will appear parallel to your right. Leave the track and climb the hill by means of a well used path and proceed towards the summit and trig point.( Note the sites of two platforms houses on the hillside to your left).
Many medieval platform houses are to be found on these hills They were dug into the hillside and the spoil levelled off to produce a platform on which the house would stand. It is possible that the structure was a ‘Hafod’ or summer dwelling where a farmer and his family would live in close proximity to the livestock before returning to the ‘Hendre’ the old or winter abode.
As soon as the plateau comes into view leave the track and climb to the trig point (GR 608068). The pillar lies within a badly eroded Iron Age stockade or fort but the views make up for the disappointment. To the west the Preseli Mountains can clearly be seen in the distance particularly the distinctive pyramid shaped hill of Y Frenni
After leaving the trig point a detour eastwards can me made to visit a fine ring cairn - marked as ‘Earthwork’ on OS maps (GR628067). It is not easy to locate! The cairn is a large circular ringwork which has a smaller circle within. After visiting the site continue northwards towards the chapel of Gerazim (GR633074). If no detour is necessary keep to the right of the plateau summit as the chapel can be easily missed.
Gerazim Chapel was built in 1811 to serve the spiritual needs of the farming community of Cwmcerdinen. Services are now held very infrequently. Eisteddfodau were once held here and people would walk from miles around to attend the event. In 1999 after a long police surveillance the ruins of nearby Blaen Gerdinen Farm was exposed as an illegal drugs factory. The people involved had lengthy jail sentences.
From the chapel aim in a north easterly direction over open ground towards the pylons and summit of Pentwyn Mawr. From this vantage point a green track will lead you up to a metalled road and a little further beyond to the remains of Penlle’rcastell
The remains of this Norman fortification is situated at the highest point in the Lordship of Gower and is also the highest castle in Glamorgan. The castle has been robbed of masonry but the surrounding ditch has survived well. The construction of the castle during the late thirteenth century seem to be connected to a period of particular unrest which resulted in the Welsh regaining part of the lordship; the lost territory became known as ‘Stryveland’. Today it is known as Mynydd Betws.
Continue downhill in a north easterly direction via Henrhyd Farm and follow a track towards Banc Cwmhelen. On meeting a broad modern track aim for the summit of Banc Cwmhelen to view the villages of Gwauncaegurwen, Cwmgors and Tai’r Gwaith. Note the trotting racecourse in the village below.
Return to the modern track and proceed in a south easterly direction. Before reaching the summit of Bancbryn turn left along a poor track which soon improves via a robbed cairn and aim for the open cast site in the distance. Cross the infant Nant Melyn stream, negotiate two gates and immediately after the last gate turn left; proceed alongside a fence then aim towards a path ascending the summit and trig point of Bryn Mawr. Then descend towards Baran Chapel (GR687078) along a good path where the roof of this remote meeting house soon becomes visible.
Baran Chapel is one of many isolated meeting houses located on these hills .This particular meeting house was established in 1805 when worshippers left nearby Gellionnen Chapel after it became Unitarian. Meetings were first held in the nearby farmhouses of Llwyn Ifan and Nant Y Moel Uchaf. 50 members of the congregation emigrated to Pensylvannia during the nineteenth century.
From the chapel proceed for a mile in a south westerly direction over Mynydd Carn Llechart to the location of it’s famous cairn .Keep slightly to the right of the ridge where a good track will lead you directly to the cairn.
Carn Llechart Burial Chamber (GR 697063) is one of the better known archaeological sites in Glamorgan. It is a Bronze Age ring cairn consisting of 25 upstanding slabs 14 yards in diameter. The stones protrude outwards suggesting pressure from a long destroyed mound. The interior contains a robbed cistfaen. Unfortunately all of the cairns in upland Gower have been robbed of their stone. A few yards to the south lie the remains of an earlier Neolithic Burial Chamber.
Continue southwards towards the metal gate a short distance away and proceed along the left hand side of a field alongside a conifer plantation; bear right towards a stile which is clearly visible on the horizon (This footpath is a public right of way but does not appear on OS maps - soon to be rectified). Follow the fence downhill via Llechart Fawr Farm (ruin)to a metalled road. Turn left at this junction and continue uphill towards Mynydd Gellionnen and it’s chapel(GR 701042).
This long established nonconformist chapel was built in 1692. The chapel was rebuilt in 1801 and part of a Celtic cross was placed in it’s east side. This relic, once used as a mounting block, has on it an image of a draped man. The original stone is now housed at the Swansea Museum and has been replaced at the chapel by a replica.
Leave the chapel and follow the footpath immediately to the north of the graveyard through fields towards the hill of Craig yr Allt. Continue downhill via the dilapidated Cathelyd Ganol Farm to the once mining village of Graig Cefn Parc. Cross the Lower Clydach river by means of a footbridge, turn right and follow the riverside path for a short distance until a junction of paths is met near an old stone structure. Ignore these paths but follow the hairpin bend around and continue in the opposite direction for approx 50 yards then turn right up a series of wooden steps along a steep path to the metalled road. Turn right to visit Pant y Crwys Chapel and the graves of Crwys and the recently departed Dafydd Rowlands, both were well known poets and archdruids. Follow the road around the graveyard and upwards towards a road junction..
At this junction take the right turn along an unsurfaced track towards the desolate farmhouse of Lluast Treharne passing some pigeon lofts en route. Ignore the tracks branching away to your right and continue along the ancient holloway towards Tor Clawdd. A slight detour is possible by turning left along a farmers path upwards towards the nameless trig point at GR 676052. It is well worth the effort. Immediately below is Tor Clawdd Bungalow. Follow the path towards the access road of the bungalow and continue along the metalled road towards Tor Clawdd and it’s dyke
'Torclawdd Bungalow' was built in 1934 by the Gloucestershire born inventor, Harry Grindell Mathews. He invented radio telephony and developed a process for sound on cinematic films and was once employed by Warner Brothers. Indeed Mathews was way ahead of his time and successfully demonstrated that he could immobilize combustion engines and destroy vermin by means of an electric gun. This gave him the tag ‘Death Ray Mathews’. Unfortunately Mathews was not taken seriously by the British Government and was poised to take his inventions and ideas across the Atlantic but sadly died on September 11 1941.
The tenth century dyke at Tor Clawdd was constructed possibly to guard the route to Gower. Traffic would have had to travel along it’s long linear causeway (still visible). A ring work is also located along side the causeway but it is not certain whether they are both connected. Alas, much of the north facing dyke has been badly scarred by old mine workings but is still visible. The site commands a high vantage point with extensive views of the moor and the approaching road known locally as 'Y Filltir Fain'.( The narrow mile)
Skirt around the northern boundary fence of the forestry and reservoir then join the fine track which fords the Afon Lliw stream and proceed upwards along a path - ignoring all other paths- towards the summit and cairn of Mynydd y Garn Fach (GR 651064).
Upper Lliw Reservoir -completed in 1894- was the last of three dams constructed in the valley to supply water to Swansea. There is a fine 2 mile walk linking the two dams. The lower dam has a car park, cafe and is very popular with anglers.
Prior to being robbed of it’s stone Mynydd y Garn Fach cairn (Little Cairn Mountain) would have been an imposing sight on the horizon and would have certainly dwarfed other cairns in the vicinity. Therefore it begs the question, where was the big cairn?
From Mynydd Y Garn Fach proceed in a south westerly direction along a fine green track towards a metalled road. Directly ahead of you can be seen both the urban sprawl of Swansea and the beauty of peninsular Gower. On meeting the metalled road proceed uphill towards Mynydd Pysgodlyn and ignore the tempting hollow way to your right. As the road begins to descend turn right along a well used track towards the trig point (now upended) . Penlle’r Bebyll Bronze Age ringwork is located to your right as you leave the road.
Mynydd Pysgodlyn seems to have been a venue for mass gatherings. Two posters have survived from 1780, one in Welsh and the other in English, advertising games on the mountain which were held over a period of three days in July. The posters give interesting information regarding events, rules and prizes. There were 21 events,7 for each day. Here are some examples
SPORT PRIZES VALUE
£ s d
Womens race Smock and petticoat 1 1 0
Cock fighting A pony 3 3 0
Ass race,face to the tail A pair of boots 1 1 0
Wheelbarrow-driving,blindfolded A coat and Waistcoat 1 5 0
Old womens grinning match A looking Glass 0 10 6
Foot-ball For 12 winners a bottle of gin each 1 4 0 etc
All competitors had to contribute sixpence. The games must have attracted competitors from miles around and would have been an escape from the rigours of daily life.
Mynydd Pysgodlyn was also a venue for more serious meetings. During 1843 Stephen Evans, a leader of the Rebecca Rioters, addressed a mass meeting in Welsh against the Poor Law and Tithe Act
Llwyngwenno Farm, located to the south of Mynydd Pysgodlyn, was a scene of a brutal murder in 1832 where Eleanor Williams 29, a maid at the farm, was killed and her body disposed down the well. Nobody was ever brought to justice for this dastardly crime and as a result there is an interesting inscription on her gravestone (The Murder Stone) at Nebo Chapel in the nearby village of Felindre
Descend southwestwards along a track towards a metalled road and continue above the valley where the scant remains of Graig Merthyr Colliery will soon appear below. The white grassy area clearly visible on the opposite side of the cwm marks the former site of the spoil tip - a landmark which was once visible from miles around.
Graig Merthyr Colliery once employed over 1,000 local men. Coal was hauled down the valley by steam locomotives and they continued to do so right up to the closure of the mine in 1978. Many of the underground trams were taken to Dolaucothi Gold Mines in Carmarthenshire. The mine reopened as a private enterprise but was short lived.
Proceed towards a junction of five metalled roads known as Sgwâr Pant y Ffa or more popularly by it's English name of Five Roads; take the road which climbs the hill directly in front of you. Soon the road descends and after passing the second pylon turn right then left again through a gate and along a rough track. The picturesque valley of Cwmdulais and the moor of Cefn Drum lies to your right. After a small ascent take the track to your left but make a little detour up to the fence to view the town of Pontarddulais. Immediately below lies the farm of Golden Grove.
Golden Grove Farm has links with John Llewelyn Lewis, the powerful president of the American United Mine Workers (UMW) - 1920 to 1960. His father emigrated from the farm to America at the end of the nineteenth century after appearing in court over a fight with a drunkard on this mountain. He was cleared of the charge of assault but was so overcome by shame that he left the country for good.
Rejoin the track and continue down hill towards the Fountain Inn and the A48
* The Bolgoed Toll House was situated uphill a short distance away from the pub and was attacked and destroyed by the Rebecca Rioters during July 1843. Their leader, Daniel Lewis a local weaver, was arrested but later released due to lack of evidence. Lewis was also a poet whose non de plum was Y Petrys Bach (The Little Partridge). He is buried in nearby Gopa Chapel and his headstone gives interesting reading as his epitaph is carved in the alphabet of the Coelbren - the alphabet of the ancient druids, that is, according to the genius and forger Iolo Morgannwg. On Daniel’s grave it reads “Ei genedl a garodd. Ei hun a ddiystyrodd” (His nation he loved. Himself he was prepared to sacrifice) - a reference perhaps to the harsh consequences if convicted at that time for public disorder.
*A memorial stone in memory of the attack on the Bolgoed Tollhouse has been erected by the Pontarddulais Community Council approx 150 yards up the road from the Fountain Inn and was officially unveiled on 3rd July 2004.
Follow the main road (A48) downhill to the town and the start of the walk
Alan Richards 2001