January 13, 2009 by welshcyclist
This shot on the left shows the canal on the left side of the bicycle/towpath, with the river Neath down on the right, beneath the trees. The engineers who built this canal were very skilled, I find it fascinating travelling alongside it, seeing the various water feeds flowing into, and excess water channels flowing from it, all in order to keep the canal at its optimum depth/draught, to facilitate the barge traffic, now sadly gone.
Here’s the Suway 1 ready to roll.
First, I rode down through the village, past Cwmgwrach washery, where the mine seems to be expanding, increasing production now that the price of coal has increased so much. Same too, for Unity mine, on the other side of the valley, coal trains are starting, so we’re told, some time this month, to transport it down to Swansea, two trains a day. That is good news for this part of the world, in these times of recession.
While I cycled I began again to think of the history of this valley, of which I know so little. When coal was king, as they say, these two mines were big producers, employing hundreds of miners, now at a guess they employ perhaps dozens. But it was coal that built the villages of the Neath valley.
Before joining the canal I took a short detour, across the old iron railbridge over the Neath river. I took a picture of the bridge, built to transport the coal from the washery, to the railhead on the other side of the valley, or to the coalbarges on the canal.
You can see the old rails still in place. And here’s a shot of the Neath river as it flows under the old bridge towards the motorway bridge just to the south, old and new together, along with a bicycle path to view it all, I have to admit I’m very fortunate in where I live.
While on the bridge I met Terry an old acquaintance of mine, who was out walking his dog. He told me that he’d seen my photo in the local paper, something I’ve yet to mention in this blog, I think, but my memory is likely to play tricks with me, it’s really bad these days. I’ll have to check back, before risking repeating myself. We both agreed how lucky we are to live in this part of the world. Terry’s retired now, these past 5 years, and likes to keep active walking his dog for miles, up to the hills either side or along the valley floor and canal.
I explained that I wanted to take my bike up into the forestry roads, on the valley sides, all the way up to the top, where there is a rough road that is used by stone lorries, carrying loads from a quarry. I asked him if he knew how to get there, he told me he often walked his dog up there, and gave me directions. We said our goodbyes, and I cycled on to the canal path, while Terry continued his walk with his dog. It was nice to meet and chat awhile with Terry, we live perhaps a mile from eachother, but I hadn’t seen him for years. That surely says something about how we’re all isolated, in many ways right within our own communities. Few of us get out there and do things within our communities, we’re all too busy, earning a living, watching TV, playing computer games, or TYPING ON THE INTERNET, so I’m just as guilty I suppose. A little bit more on that subject, later, if I’ve time, and of course remember.
Yet again, I digress, my ride continued through a very muddy section of the canal towpath, when I noticed a gate, normally padlocked, was open, leading away to the farmland to the left of the canal. It’s tarmaced, and I have been down it a couple of times before, but had never taken any pictures. So I followed the road, as it led under the motorway, shown above, then became a rough track running parallel to the motorway, travelling to a couple of large ponds. These two ponds were created along with the motorway, manmade, when the earth was dug up from the valley floor to produce the embankments that the motorway is built on. Thinking of it now, what a waste, that soil so rich and fertile, from a mature river valley floor, thousands of years old. What would so many gardeners pay for such fertility now? But alas it’s gone never to be replaced.
Very often Elizabeth and I stop to look at these ponds from a layby, next to the motorway, otherwise known as the A465, or Heads of the Valleys road, crossing as the name suggests, the heads of the Rhondda, Cynon, Taff, Rhymney and Usk valleys of South Wales. We look at the ducks, and a pair of resident swans, which we are very fond of. They’ve been in residence for a couple of years now. The ponds are used quite a bit now for adventure sports, waterski-ing, jetski-ing, canoeing etc.. It seems to be a developing business.
There’s a gate, usually locked, that opens into the field that contains these ponds. Today it was open, with a security guard on duty. As I approached he stepped into the gateway, to ask me what my business was. I asked him if I could cycle on down the track to view the ducks on the ponds, and maybe take some photos. He replied that it was OK to do so, and in future if the gates were locked it would be OK to leave the bike at the gate, climb over and walk around the ponds. I thanked him, and pedalled on the couple of hundre yards or so to the pond shores.
This is a view of the largest pond, but at the end of the gravel track. I wanted to go further, but the ground was very wet, from two days of heavy rain, and my cycle shoes simply aren’t up to walking in squelchy mud. Of course the ducks and swans reside at the far end, so no chance of taking some pictures of them, oh well.
There is a small isthmus that seperates the two ponds, today there were a team of divers, three in all, preparing to “check things out,” as the security guard put it? When I took this photo they were perhaps 50 feet to my left, on the above mentioned isthmus, they totally ignored my friendly “Good morning” greeting, consequently I chose to pretend they weren’t there, also.
This is a shot, looking back up the valley at the smaller pond, you can see the tailend of one of the 4×4’s, three in all, used by the divers.
I asked the security guard how deep these ponds were, he reckoned the smaller was 11 metres, and the larger 17 metres deep. That’s pretty deep, and must convert to hundreds of thousands of tons of earth dug up to support the A465. I said earlier what a waste, but the resulting scenes aren’t too bad, are they? Considering also that the A465 was only about 50 yards to my left, when I took this shot.
This last picture shows the scene from the top end of the smaller pond, looking down the valley. You can see the thin isthmus that seperates the ponds, and that black dot on the right of the isthmus, is one of the divers’ 4×4’s. If any of you have the facility to magnify these shots, as I seem to have when I look at your blog shots, you will see alot more detail.
By this time it had started to rain lightly, so I cycled to the left of this shot, along a very soft dirt track.
This is what I found, I’d never noticed this old building before, hidden as it is amongst some trees. It appears to be very old, the stonework is very thick, and obviously has been abandoned for a very long time. The security guard, told me, when I asked if he knew anything about it, he’d been told it was the remains of an old pub.
Which brings us back to history, particularly of this valley where I live. It is all around us, yet we fail to see , enquire about , just plain ignore, or are simply too busy to appreciate it.
I heard a fitting saying recently, it went:-
” ….to forget the past is to have no future…”
That about sums it up I think, I just wish I had the time to find out more. And another thing I must, have to improve my typing skills, it’s taken me 2 hours to get all this down, and I’ve so much more to say. For now it will have to wait for another time.
This is the canal basin at Resolven, it’s a dead end here, but the canal used to continue, unbroken straight to Port Tennant in Swansea. I presume that there used to be tunnel for the barges to pass under the road, at the far end of the basin you can see where the water now flows under the road via the two arches.