Derek Brockway climbs to the iconic summit of Pen Pych in the Rhondda Valley before he takes a riverside walk from Abergynolwyn to Castell y Bere.
Browse content similar to Waterfalls and a Barefoot Walk. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
Great spot, isn't it? But you don't have to travel as far as the Brecon Beacons or the hills of Snowdonia
to enjoy wonderful views like this.
No, in the quiet backwaters and the old industrial areas
you'll find the hidden tracks and the less trodden paths.
Here in Wales, whichever you choose, wherever you are,
you're never far from a wonderful walk.
Are you ready?
In this programme we have two walks,
one in a beautiful unspoilt corner of southern Snowdonia,
with a sunny valley in the foothills of Cadair Idris.
The other walk is here,
a much greener place than it used to be years ago when coal was king,
at the very top of the Rhondda Valley.
My guide for this walk is Kerry Reece, who lives just over the mountain in the Rhondda Fach.
She's passionate about the outdoors and, as a youth worker and assessor for the Duke of Edinburgh Awards,
she encourages youngsters to discover the wonderful world of waterproofs and woolly hats.
This is a classic South Wales Valleys walk.
Starting from the Forestry Commission car park in Blaencwm,
it takes us up past Pen Pych waterfall
and on to the iconic flat top summit.
Then we head to the source of the River Rhondda,
before crossing the head of the valley down to Blaenrhondda
and back to our starting point.
'Surrounded by steep forested hillsides on a crystal clear early autumn morning,
'this could almost be in the Alps.
'Well, if you squint a bit.'
-What a cracking day.
'Thanks to the way the terraced houses were built here,
'in long streets along the valley floor,
'just about everyone has a hill and a walk in their backyard.
'And if you happen to live further afield, Cardiff, Newport or Swansea,
'you could still be here in under an hour.
'These deep valleys were gouged out by glaciers during the last Ice Age
'more than 10,000 years ago.
'When these slow-moving rivers of ice melted, they left behind
'the steep valley sides that make this great waterfall country.'
-Is that the sound of running water I can hear in the distance?
-Oh, wow! Another waterfall!
-I know, it's amazing, isn't it?
-And it's bigger and better than the last one.
-Are we going to get any closer?
-We can get underneath it if we wish.
When you're down in the car park looking up at Pen Pych
it looks very steep,
but it's relatively straightforward walking up here.
It's been enhanced really by Groundwork Trust
to create an accessible path up to the waterfall
by putting in these slabs of steps.
A little bit of care if it's wet, but that's fine.
-Well, we're getting closer now.
-Yes, we are.
And this is a good time of year for waterfalls
because October is one of the wettest months of the year in Wales.
'And, with blue skies and sunshine after a day of torrential rain,
'we're seeing these waterfalls at their very best.'
It's amazing, isn't it? Just look at all that water cascading down.
-And, look, there's even a rainbow for you!
And only half an hour journey, wasn't it, from the car park?
-That's right, no time at all to walk up here.
'To reach the best valley viewpoints,
'we now bear right and up to the edge of the flat-topped Pen Pych.'
The clouds are coming over a bit there.
Yeah, they're called cumulus clouds, Kerry, and, you know what?
I wouldn't rule out the odd shower later on.
'But for now it's still bright and clear and we have
'great views down to the former coal mining community of Blaencwm.
'Today, with few obvious signs of that industry,
'it's hard to believe that at its peak
'there were about 66 mines in the Rhondda
'and it was the most intensely mined area in Britain, maybe the world.'
Where we're looking now, at the end of Blaencwm,
used to be Blaenrhondda colliery
and, just below us over there, Tydraw colliery,
and there used to be a railway line
which ran all the way past Blaencwm there, you can just see the track,
and it used to go straight into the mountain there,
into the tunnel that used to go all the way under the mountain
to Blaengwnfi, the Afan Valley.
-How long was the tunnel?
-Ooh... Over 3,300 yards.
It was the seventh longest railway tunnel in Britain I think at the time
and they approached it from either end, they didn't have any technology,
but from either end they dug, from the Blaengwnfi end and from the Blaencwm end, and met in the middle.
Apparently there's a little kink.
Do you think they'll ever open up the tunnel again?
Maybe they could open it as a cycle lane from Treherbert to Swansea.
It would be a good idea, because it's just either end that's blocked up,
so it wouldn't take too much effort to open it up again.
'A two-mile-long cycle ride through a mountain.
'It gets my vote.
'As we approach the summit viewpoint,
'we can see a football-club banner
'placed there as a poignant memorial to a young local lad,
'a keen Man United supporter tragically killed in a skateboard accident.'
This really is the classic view of the Rhondda Valley,
with the streets and the rows and rows of terraced houses.
Each community blends into another.
Yes, and yet each is distinct in its own way.
People who live there will be very keen to tell you
exactly where they're from.
It's a good place to come up and watch the world go by.
That's right. You can't see it so clearly when you're down amongst it,
but up here it's a really good aerial viewpoint.
-Yeah, and on a day like this you really can see for miles.
Well, we could spend all day up here, but we've got to carry on.
-Where are we going next?
-We're going to get some more beautiful views.
We're going to head off in that direction above Blaenrhondda.
'Kerry's passion for the outdoors
'means that she enjoys the challenge of persuading youngsters
'to tear themselves away from their computers and video games and out onto the hills.'
It's very important to encourage people to get out there and enjoy the countryside, but do so safely
and to manage the risks that it poses and be properly prepared, you know?
Because the weather can change very quickly and, er...
unless you've got what you need then you could be in trouble.
So as long as you're prepared...
No such thing as bad weather, it's just bad preparation!
Yeah, I know what you mean.
So, tell me what really appeals to you about being in the outdoors.
What do you like about it?
Just having the whole experience is beneficial for mind and body.
-Yeah, it can certainly lift your mood, can't it?
-Oh, yes, indeed.
Especially when it's a glorious day like today.
'Yes, how could anyone fail to be uplifted up here on a day like this?
'As we gradually drop down below the ridge, we can now see into
'the upper end of the reclaimed and landscaped Blaenrhondda Valley.
'It may never return to the rural wilderness that existed here
'a mere century and a half ago, but today it looks pretty good to me.'
There we are, Derek, we're going to penetrate deep into the forestry now.
-It looks a bit dark in there.
Who knows, lions, tigers, bears and, of course, the yeti of Blaenrhondda!
There's not really a Blaenrhondda yeti, is there?
Well, I don't know. Some say on a moonlit Friday night you can see him walking up from the club.
Well, it's a good job it's not Friday!
'As we head deeper into Kerry's yeti country, I'm beginning to feel like
'a bit of an explorer, as the path leads us through the forest,
'on towards the source of the river.
'There's plenty of running water up here, and not only in the river.'
There you are, mind where you put your feet now, Derek, because it's very muddy and wet down here.
-Yes, you have got to watch where you're walking, look!
So what's this river called here?
This is our Rhondda now, the Rhondda Fawr,
heading down from the confluence of the streams
that feed down from the waterfalls just upstream here.
There's a bridge across the river.
Yeah. And that bridge is quite a new bridge,
put there by Groundwork Trust
when they were developing this Loops and Links route
for walkers and cyclists.
'Despite marker posts here and there and this purpose-built footbridge,
'we haven't seen another soul on this bit of the walk,
'but this just increases the feeling of being in proper back country
'on a real wilderness walk,
'which is quite incredible considering just how accessible it is.'
Pick your way through the heather.
That's right, yes.
Be careful you don't trip again.
'Just across the valley there's a major road,
'and yet we could be anywhere.
'Dr Livingstone and Stanley in deepest Rhondda Cynon Taff.
'Finally, we arrive at the source of our river.'
We're at the confluence of three streams
that create the River Rhondda.
We've got the Nant Melyn,
up there we've got the Nant Carn Moesen,
and we've got the Nant Gaerllwyd coming down there.
Where they converge down there is where the River Rhondda actually begins.
-So we've found the source of the River Rhondda.
-We have, Derek.
And what a lovely journey it's been, hasn't it?
'But our journey doesn't end here, and there's lots more to see.
'Just across the top of the valley
'the path takes us close to some ancient stone hut circles.'
These are the remains of some of the first settlers in this area.
Iron Age settlements.
Apparently it's the biggest non-fortified Iron Age settlement in the whole of south-east Wales.
There'd be roundhouses, these smaller circles possibly,
and then...they were probably farmers, it's thought,
and the larger enclosures possibly animal enclosures.
A great place to live.
-A bit exposed, but look at the view they would have had.
'But that view has certainly changed since those Iron Age farmers
'looked down the valley about 2,000 years ago.
'Man left his mark here big-time back in the 19th century,
'as mines were sunk
'and collieries dumped their waste over the countryside.
'Today it's a greener place again,
'though man still manages to leave his mark on the landscape.
'And evidence of coal mining is just beneath your feet.'
We can see where some of the coal
on this tip we're walking on has been exposed by the recent rains.
So all this area here
is all coal waste?
That's right, yes, from the collieries down there in the valley.
So when did they close?
The one furthest up here, the Blaenrhondda colliery, North Dunraven,
that was back in the '20s.
But Fernhill, which is a little bit further down there,
a lot more recent, 1970s, late 1970s, '78?
-Can I take a bit?
-Of course you can.
That will look good on my mantelpiece, that.
'Up on the Rhigos Road we can see an old road watchman's hut and garden.
'Before they used steel nets,
'his job was to pick up rocks that fell onto the road.
'But in his spare time it seems he was a bit of an artist.'
What he used to do was, any rubbish that seemed to flow along the road and end up near his hut,
he used to create beautiful things into a little garden,
bit of recycling really,
out of things he found that blew down the mountain.
It's certainly different.
He certainly made his mark on Rhigos Mountain Road.
'A school's art project added even more recycled plastic sculptures here a few years ago,
'to commemorate the old watchman.'
If you look over there, Derek...
If you were here about 20 years ago
you'd have seen quite a different sight.
That was where we had a cowboy town called Western World.
You mean like cowboys, Indians and John Waynes running around?
That sort of thing, yes.
Well, I've heard it was like the Klondike 150 years ago,
but I never knew there was a Western theme park here.
No, no. But it was good fun while it lasted.
'Our walk has certainly been good fun while it lasted.
'In a place once famous for its collieries and coal tips,
'I've really enjoyed a surprising and beautiful walk -
'and a bit of an adventure to the source of a river.
'But suddenly we're back in the world of terraced houses
'and a reminder that this is so close for so many people.
'You know, there's just no excuse for not going for a walk here.
'If you fancy trying one of the walks from the series,
'go to bbc.co.uk/wales.
'Take a look at our interactive Weatherman Walking website.
'It has everything you need, from detailed route information for each walk,
'as well as photos that we took along the way, and walking maps for you to print off and follow.
'For our next walk, we head to the Talyllyn area in the Snowdonia National Park,
'home of one of the great little trains of Wales.'
This is the Talyllyn Railway, which runs
from Twywn on the mid-Wales coast to the village of Abergynolwyn.
A charming way to reach the start of a delightful walk
in a beautiful corner of the Snowdonia National Park.
'The Talyllyn narrow-gauge railway first opened in 1866 to carry slate.
'Then in 1951 it became the first railway in the world
'to be preserved by volunteers.
And waiting for me, I hope, at Nant Gwernol station is Lisa Markham, my guide for the day.
'Busy librarian and keen horsewoman Lisa and husband Ken
'farm in Cwm Llan, a delightful valley
'that we're actually passing through on our walk today.'
-Nice to meet you.
-And you. Croeso y Nant Gwernol.
-Diollch yn fawr.
And what a fantastic way to start the walk.
What a way. Amazing start.
-Shall we go?
Just seven miles or so inland from the Cardigan Bay seaside town of Tywyn,
our walk takes us from Nant Gwernol station,
down through the village of Abergynolwyn,
along the Dysynni River, around to the 13th century Castell-y-Bere,
then up and over the high valley of Nant-yr-Eira
and back to Abergynolwyn.
TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWS
'Apart from the railway and a short, steep incline
'where slate trucks were once lowered down to the station,
'you'd be hard-pushed to see many signs of the quarry
'in this wonderful woodland.
'But 300 men were actually employed at Bryn Eglwys
'before it finally closed on Boxing Day 1946.
'When the railway first opened as a tourist attraction,
'the line came to an end a few miles further down the valley
'but now it's been extended to Nant Gwernol
'you can enjoy a stunning walk along this delightful cascading stream,
'where the workers once walked between the quarry and their homes in the village.
'But, of course, you don't HAVE to use the train to get here.'
Here on the right you will see some of the houses that were built
for the people that worked in the quarry.
This is where they lived, and this is a typical street in Abergynolwyn.
They've got lots of character, these little houses and cottages.
Yes. Surprisingly big...
And so popular, it's really what gives the village the character.
This is unusual, Lisa. What's this all about?
In one beautiful sculpture it's a symbol of the two rivers meeting,
which conveys the name of the village - aber...gywnolwyn.
-Abergynolwyn as we know it today.
Which means...where these two rivers are meeting,
there was a rock that restricted the flow of water.
That restriction caused a whirlpool, a white whirlpool of water, which is Aber...gynolwyn.
Before the slate quarry opened,
there were actually two separate hamlets here, called Pandy and Cwrt.
When houses were built for the workers, the hamlets were joined by this quaint row of slate cottages,
and became part of the new planned settlement known as Abergynolwyn.
It's the organisation of the village that's amazing, because it was well thought out.
They wanted to make it as efficient as possible.
So they had the railway track bringing trucks down from the station
down into the village,
so they could just drive along the houses at the back of this street
and hand out the goods.
So across the bridge and over the river.
Yes, the footbridge out of the village,
just crossing the Gwernol River.
You will just see where the two rivers meet, just below us there.
'And where the Gwernol meets the Dysynni river today,
'I'm afraid the foaming white whirlpool
'that gave the village its name is no more.
'Maybe someone moved the rock.
'Occasionally you come across things on a walk
'that you wouldn't have a clue what they're for.
'Fortunately I've got Lisa with me to explain how once upon a time
'farmers' wives milked their cows out in the fields,
'and they had a rather simple way of keeping the cows from wandering off.'
The cows would be grazing and the woman would bring them over,
tie them up and feed them in this handmade trough.
Then she would be quite relaxed
and they'd get the milk that they needed. Quite amazing.
Thinking of the ways they milk them now, with their posh pipelines and their tanks.
-Much simpler in the olden days.
-Shall we carry on?
'Well, who would have guessed? A metal ring, a chiselled out rock,
'and you've got milk for your cornflakes.
'Life was much simpler back then!
'This steep and narrow-sided section of the Dysynni
'is a classic example of what geologists call river capture.
'If we look at the map we'll see that there's a more direct route for this river to reach the sea,
'as it once did - straight on at Abergynolwyn.
'However, the small stream that was originally here
'gradually ate away at the head of its valley
'until it broke through and stole the neighbouring river, the Dysynni,
'diverting its course.
'A case of geological robbery, you might say.'
-Another stile, another gate.
-Yes, but leave the gate open, keep them as you find them.
'Following the stolen river,
'we now reach what became, thousands of years ago, its new home,
'the stunningly beautiful Cwm Llan,
'lying below the large bulk of Cadair Idris, 2,900 ft above.
'We now join a short section of road near a bridge above a deep pool in the river
'where farmers once brought their sheep to wash before shearing.
'The path now goes right through the farmyard of Cae'r Berllan.
'The magnificent farmhouse is a listed building
'and is over 400 years old.'
As you can see from the plaque, it goes back to 1590.
That's when this magnificent house
was built for Baron Owen's son, Hugh Lewis Owen, and his wife, Catherine.
If you look at the next date, 1755, it was the fourth descendants,
again of the Owen family,
and that's when they actually put the back of the house on.
In 1942, that's when Robert Jones and his family were living here.
The family still farm it.
The son, Robert Jones, and Ceinwen, and the boys.
They are keeping up the tradition of the Welsh Black cattle,
the Welsh mountain sheep
and, more importantly, the shire horses.
'I wouldn't mind a place like that as a country retreat,
'and the stately farmhouse comes with a view to match.
'A glorious panorama up and down the valley.
'Across the fields, we can now see the romantic ruins of Castell-y-Bere.
'This was once an outstanding Welsh stronghold,
'perfectly situated to stand guard over the surrounding valley.
'The castle was built by Llewellyn Fawr - Llewellyn the Great -
'in the 1220s,
'and guarded what was once a major route through the mountains.
'Unlike those castles built by the English in Wales to intimidate the local ruffians,
'Castell-y-Bere was built by a native Welsh prince as both a fortress and a home.'
From the track over there, Lisa, the castle doesn't look very much.
But when you're here it really is quite impressive.
Just imagine what it must have looked like when Llewellyn actually lived here.
It's just a fantastic location.
This is what they think it may have looked like back in the 13th century.
Yes, when Llewellyn Fawr lived here with his wife.
The more you know about the history,
the more it means to you.
You can come here...
It's not as grand as some of the other castles around Wales,
but you can come here and use your imagination
to try and imagine what it would have been like back in the 13th century.
And really soak up the atmosphere.
'In 1283 the castle fell to the English forces of Edward I
'and was soon abandoned.
'Lower down the valley is a buttress of rock with a sheer face,
'home to some very unusual residents this far away from the sea.'
That is Bird Rock, Craig yr Aderyn.
Why is it called that?
Because the cormorants still come up to nest away from the sea.
A seabird is still coming inland.
This is the only place in the British Isles where that happens.
The sea used to come right up to the castle.
'But you'd think the cormorants would have noticed by now!
'A few hundred yards up the valley is the lovely little Church of St Michael,
'where a young girl called Mary Jones went each Sunday.
'Back in 1800, Mary undertook a remarkable walk -
'a feat of endurance which led to the founding
'of a worldwide organisation.'
She was a little girl, she was 16 years of age.
Having worked for six years, saving up her money,
and the one thing she wanted was her very own Bible.
-So what she did, apparently barefoot, she walked all the way to Bala, 25 miles.
She went to the Reverend Thomas Charles to buy this Bible
but he didn't have any copies left.
But he felt so sorry for this...
you know, the desperate measures she'd taken for this Bible, that he gave her his.
'The story of Mary Jones and her Bible
'inspired the founding of the British and Foreign Bible Society,
'that now supplies Bibles to countries around the world.
'We now head off over the high valleys of Nant-yr-Eira,
'which means snowy stream.
'This is also the first section of the Mary Jones Walk -
'an official route retracing Mary's marathon barefoot walk,
'which starts here and ends 26 miles further on in Bala.
'Walking it barefoot is optional.'
This is interesting, there's a gap in the rocks here.
Yes, a landmark on the Mary Jones Walk to say that you're on the right track.
-A bit of a gateway.
-Yes, it is.
Look, people have written on the rocks as well, their names.
Graffiti in the hills.
We're walking through this upland valley now,
back down to the village now, battling against the wind.
You should have worn your extra-strong hairspray today.
-Yes, or a hat!
-It would have been blown off!
Well, we're approaching the brow of the valley now.
I was just thinking about Mary Jones and the journey she made to Bala,
another 23 miles that way, barefoot, dodging all these thistles.
-She must have been a tough Merionethshire girl.
-Inspirational is the word.
'The path now heads towards this dramatic glacial valley.
'The Mary Jones Walk goes up the valley from here.
'Our route, though, turns down through a woodland of mountain oak.
'The trees were important to the local leather industry
'that was here before slate quarrying,
'and provided work for the women rather than the men.'
Walking through the trees, Derek, it takes you back a little bit
to those strong Welsh women from Abergynolwyn.
They used to come to the trees, chop the wood, carry it down to the tannery and use the bark
to colour the leather.
Which really, before the quarry, was the main business in Abergynolwyn.
-Another little bit of history.
'And we're on the home stretch.
'A few stiles to clamber over
'and a mile or so along a country lane will bring us back
'to the village of Abergynolwyn.
'Packed into an incredibly varied six-mile walk,
'from steam train to waterfalls, a 13th-century fortress
'and then finally retracing the steps of the young Mary Jones,
'this has been a day to remember in magical Merionethshire.
'Now, what time was that train due to leave?'
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
In the final programme of this series, weatherman Derek Brockway heads off on another two wonderful walks in Wales. In the first walk, at the very top of the Rhondda Valley, Derek climbs past cascading waterfalls to the top of the iconic flat-topped summit of Pen Pych and onwards to find the source of the river Rhondda. Then, in the foothills of Cader Idris, he sets off on the Talyllyn railway for a glorious riverside walk from Abergynolwyn to the romantic Castell y Bere, a 13th-century Welsh stronghold, and then follows in the footsteps of Mary Jones, a fifteen-year-old girl who, back in the year 1800, walked 26 miles barefoot to buy a Welsh bible.