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We are very close to the Millennium Stadium. The streets are very busy with people on their way to work but in just a matter of minutes we are walking along the River Taff and away from the city bustle. We have nine OS maps none of which cover the area from Cardiff to Rudry. Rather than buy a map just for this 11 miles or so, we are hoping the basic map in the guide will suffice.
As we turn off the main street to continue along the river, a guy with an american accent calls out, "Where are you headed?". We reply, "Conwy!" He waves and wishes us luck. He looks strangely like Bill Bryson and, in my head, this incident begins the walk on a very surreal note.
There is a pleasant walk through the Sophia Gardens which run alongside the river. We cross to the opposite bank and can’t resist sitting by the Taff for a while in the sunshine. People, who are familiar with our other walks will know that speed or distance is never an objective especially if there is a fine view to be had.
We arrive at Tongwynglais just before noon which is fortunate because that’s also when the fish ‘n chip shop opens. We sit on a bench in the village and enjoy lunch. There is a grocery store, as well, which is not mentioned in the guide book. We have heavy first day packs so resist the temptation of buying extra provisions and make do with some snacks for tonight.
It is beginning to get quite hot as we begin the steep climb to Castell Coch. It really is a “fairy tale” castle. We would like to have a look round but must press on. We take on some liquid (it was a thirsty climb) and continue through Fforest Fawr. We find it slow going. It could be the heat, (we keep stopping for drinks) or getting used to heavy packs but it takes us 3 hrs to walk the 3 miles from Tongwynlais to Thornhill!
The views and the cooling breeze put a spring back into our step and we cover the next three miles into Rudry in no time at all.
We arrive at the Maenllywd Inn, in Rudry and treat ourselves to a deserved pint. We ask where The Coach House is as we have booked a bed for the night. We ask the barman, the barman asks the barmaid, the barmaid nods to a local in the corner who comes over and asks,
“Well, which way are you facing?”It transpires that The Coach House is a further 1.5 miles. Not really what we wanted to hear. It doesn’t take long but nobody answers at The Coach House. Finally, a woman appears and says,
“I’ve been waiting for a car."
We settle in and find that Charlie's unopened packet of Worther’s Originals have
We reach Machen very quickly. So quickly, in fact, that we take off our sacks and check the GPS just to make sure we’ve not wandered off track in the forest. No, it definitely is Machen. After a smoke break we don our sacks again, pick up our sticks but …….there’s one missing! Charl has left his stick several miles back where he stopped to look at the map before entering the forest. He decides not to go back for it. Just then a cyclist, who is very red in the face and obviously in a hurry, throws his bike over the stile. I take the opportunity to ask him if he has seen a hiking pole along the way but he seems to think I am dropping a hint at retrieval and mumbles something about “…..can’t stop” and disappears up the road.
We go down into Machen and head for the church where we have to take a path up the other side of the valley. We turn off and come to some buffers and a railway siding. There is a path alongside. This must be The Rhymney Valley Railway Walk on the map. We walk alongside the railway and eventually the path peters out and we continue along the sleepers. This feels very odd. I think I hear a train and jump to the side shouting to Charl to get off the track! He takes no notice and, of course, there is no train. We continue like this for about 3/4 of a mile when Charl notices grease on the points. This siding must be in use! We check the map……......
We should be on the Rhymney Valley RIDGEWAY Walk!
We stop for lunch at the side of the track before shuffling back over the sleepers (surprisingly hard work) and find the correct path.
At times it is quite steep through the forest but it is cool and soft underfoot. Once above the tree line we can look down on Machen and see where our useless trek up the railway line took us! It is hot again once out of the trees but one final pull brings us to the trig point and Mynydd Machen summit. We sit on the summit and brew up. It is so warm and peaceful it is hard to get going again.
Charl realises he left his Worther’s Originals in the fridge at The Coach House. Two things he’s lost today!
There is a radio transmitter on the summit of Mynydd Machen and we follow the access road down into Risca. There is a view of Ebbw Vale which is not at all as I imagined. We come into Risca where we intend picking up some provisions. I ask a guy where the nearest shop is and he directs me to the Spar. Charl waits on the corner and “pack sits”. The shop is further than I think and it is so hot my skin is burning. I buy everything we need and some more Worther’s Originals! When I return Charl is fresh and ready for the off. He has been resting in the shade. We manage, with difficulty to get everything packed away in the rucksacks.
We cross Risca, walk along the canal and go up through the Medart forest. There are a myriad of paths and we seem to be going round in circles. We have to keep checking we are on the right one. We come to a clearing. There is a stream, some flat ground and we are above the farm level. Ideal. We decide to camp. What with our "railway walk" and wandering around like Hanzel and Gretal in woods, we have covered more ground than we needed to. Did I mention, we are experienced walkers! We may not have reached our planned destination but it has been a long, hot day.
It is almost dusk by the time we have had our meal. We get into the tent and just before we are about to lay down, we hear a noise. A man appears in fatigues. He is carrying a rifle! He walks past without so much as a nod. My mouth drops as I stare, wide eyed at Charlie. This could be the beginning of a very scary movie.
The sun is shining once again when we wake. We can clearly see the radio mast on the summit of Mynydd Machen from our camping spot. I can hardly believe that yesterday we were sunbathing up there. The walk to Pegwn-y-Bwlch is along the side of a very attractive, steep sided, narrow valley. We see a pair of ravens which is very apt as the path through the Medart Forest is called “Raven’s Walk”. At the top we meet two cyclist who are going to cycle down the other side of the valley. From a distance this looks very precarious as the path is steep and very close to the edge. We make a pact to share the “You’ve Been Framed” prize if one of them goes hurtling down the mountain side.
At Pegwn-y-Bwlch there is a curious looking, wooden sculpture of a man and a dog. There is nothing to say who made it or, indeed, who it is supposed to be or what it represents. On the ascent to Twmbarlwm, I ask a local man about the sculpture. He knows nothing about it and says it is a new edition to the landscape.
The climb to the summit of Twmbarlwm is steep but only a short distance. From here the hill fort can be clearly seen. It is surrounded by a ditch so is actually a far higher mound than it appears from a distance. We sit on the shady side and have our lunch.
It is easy going along Mynydd Henllys and there is a slight breeze which makes it more comfortable. It is Saturday and we see more people along this ridge than we have during the whole walk so far. The spread of Cwmbran can be seen below.
We have to leave the main track, go under the power lines and circle the Blaen Reservoir. Finding the power lines, obviously, is no problem but descending to the reservoir is a bit of a puzzle. Charl navigates well and, after a rough walk through the bracken, we find the track down. Having descended it becomes uncomfortably hot again but it is easy going. We stop for tea, with the last of our water.
Although it is late afternoon, it is still scorching when we arrive in Pontypool. There is a filling station where we buy drinks and cornish pasties for tonight.. We sit outside and decide, as the heat has really taken it out of us, that we will find a b&b here. I phone a number in the guide book but it is fully booked. He suggests we try the Holiday Inn.
We chat to two boys with bikes, who are about 12yrs old. They direct us to the Holiday Inn and also McDonalds. They try the weight of our sacks. They say they are light and tell us they have walked ten miles before. I smile. Their voices are telling different stories to their faces.
We walk into the Holiday Inn. They are fully booked too. Apparently there is a big event on at the Millennium Stadium and everywhere is taken up for miles around. I ask if there is a single room but there isn’t even a cupboard. The receptionist takes one look at us and tells us we can sit in the reception area and help ourselves to a cup of tea, coffee or cold drinks. Well there’s service! We sit in comfortable arm chairs, have a cup of coffee (quite a luxury as we don’t carry any) and rest for half an hour. We have no idea what we are going to do next.
As we leave the air conditioning of the Holiday Inn the heat hits us. I this Wales? We may have to walk another five miles after all. Charl spots some waste ground opposite the inn and goes for a scout. There is a path that goes down to the river! We find a secluded spot, dump our sacks in the bushes and pop over to McDonalds. We buy two large coffees, (to see us through the evening and to warm up in the morning), two large fries to go with our pasties, two chocolate deserts and two large, refreshingly ice cold cokes. What a feast! We eat and put the tent up at about 8.00pm. The ground is sort of ashy. We warm some of the coffee before settling down. I can’t sleep. I keep chatting. I am really excited about this walk or is it just the coffee. I listen to the radio. I can’t get comfortable. I decide to turn and lay the other way in the tent so we are head to toe and fall asleep about 2.00 am.