Reports of outdoor meetings 2023.

Thursday 20th July - PTR & SWMR: 'Parsons Folly' & the Railways around Tonmawr

Four walkers gathered outside Tonmawr rugby club for our first walk of the season to explore the interesting but perhaps less well-known geography of the Port Talbot Railway (PTR) and the South Wales Mineral Railway (SWMR) in and around Tonmawr. The trackbeds of much of the former railways, and some of the tramways which fed them, are easily walkable but few structures now remain to remind the walker of the many drift mines which once characterised this area.

Having proceeded a few hundred yards to the west of our start-point, we came across two structures which do remain. This was the site where the running lines of the PTR and SWMR passed over the PTR's line from Blaenavon Junction to form that railway's Blaenavon branch with a third bridge carrying the SWMR's connection to the branch as depicted on the appended extract of the National Library of Scotland's OS map (1888 to 1913) of the area. The southern-most bridge has been infilled with no remains visible, the stone-built bridge of the SWMR can be walked under and the brick retaining walls of the bridge giving the SWMR access to the Blaenavon branch, which linked mines and quarries in the Cwm Gwenffrwd, can also be seen (see photos). The land to the west is now fenced off and in private hands so a visit to the site of Blaenavon Junction was not possible but is likely to have been obliterated.

Under the expert guidance of Ralph Melhuish - whose compendium of maps, photos, facts and figures we frequently stopped to consult - our walk took us along the Blaenavon branch from where we elected to climb through the extensive pine forest by way of a series of tramways and tracks to reach the substantial Gwenffrwd Incline of the Glyncorrwg Mineral Railway, a tramway built between 1839 and 1842 by Robert Parsons. Popularly known as 'Parson's Folly,' he managed to complete his tramway from Blaencreggan to the canal at Aberdulais, with a short branch up the Pelenna valley to his Fforchdwm mine, before he ran out of money. Subsequent owners found the northern section was hopelessly uneconomic which led to closure and lifting in 1852 but the remainder soldiered on until made obsolete by the opening of the SWMR in 1861.

We briefly visited the trackbed of the Whitworth branch, originally constructed as a tramroad down Cwm Pelenna to a transhipment point with the SWMR near the west end of Gylfychi tunnel from where the coal was conveyed to the dock at Briton Ferry, and walked the area around Tonmawr East Junction before lunch was taken in the Colliers Arms at Efail Fach.

After lunch, a stop was made at the impressive Pontrhydyfen Viaduct of the PTR which was crossed on foot before walking along the trackbed back to Efail Fach. It was disappointing to note that the lovely red brick PTR bridge which once stood at this location has now been demolished.

I would like to thank Ralph for leading this walk and providing expert commentary throughout. We were fortunate that the weather stayed dry as rain occasionally threatened and those in attendance headed for home reflecting on an enjoyable and informative walk.

Glyncorrwg Mineral Railway Port Talbot Railway 2

PTR, Pontrhydyfen Viaduct PTR, Tonmawr

Saturday 19th August - Ely Valley Railway: Coed Ely to Pontyclun

Although the forecast was favourable, the rain fell as I drove along the A473 on my way to the start of our walk near the former mining community of Coed Ely. The murk clinging to the hilltops did not suggest the rain would stop anytime soon but stop it did as I met up with fellow walkers Ralph Melhuish and David Bird to start our 4 mile walk down the Ely valley to Pontyclun station, which opened in 1992 and replaced the former Llantrisant station which closed in 1964. Fortunately, the weather remained dry for the rest of the day.

The Ely Valley Railway opened as broad gauge in 1860 to connect with the South Wales Railway of the same gauge. Traffic developments were initially slow as most of the markets for the Valley's mineral wealth were connected to the standard gauge network. Gauge conversion in 1872 unlocked the line's potential but it was not until the line was doubled that passenger services were introduced in 1901. Passenger services were withdrawn in 1958 and freight ended in 1984 with the closure of Coed Ely Coke Works.

We soon came to the site of Llantrisant Common Jctn at which point the TVR had accessed the Ely valley from Common Branch Jctn in the hope, with limited success, that it could abstract traffic to their dock at Penarth. The link closed shortly after grouping in 1924. We mused over the use of a small brick structure, too small to be a p/way cabin and most likely a store of some description or a coal bunker for the signalbox. Venturing into the adjacent undergrowth we found a row of concrete blocks spaced roughly equally and parallel to the trackbed which we identified as the base on which the signalbox was constructed.

The tarmac walk route gave way to a less well-defined surface once we had passed the Royal Glamorgan hospital. We were now walking on shallow ballast with the remains of the occasional timber sleeper visible. A stone bridge carried the railway over a now redundant water course before we crossed the River Ely by means of a more substantial double arched bridge. Here, we observed the signal post for the down fixed distant of Mwyndy Jctn signalbox. Sadly, the signal arm is now absent, although I note from photos I had taken in 2013 that it was present then. At this point, we were forced to detour from the route of the railway on which a housing estate now stands. The erosion of the riverbank made for a fairly difficult walk around the housing development before joining a footpath which led us to the river bridge at Mwyndy Jctn. A section of track is still in situ across the bridge and the brick remains of Mwyndy Jctn signalbox are also visible.

The vacant expanse which was once Llantrisant yard is now secured by fencing, requiring us to follow the river to Pontyclun station where, at the top of the access road, 'The Windsor' pub was a welcome sight for lunch - which we all thoroughly enjoyed - and for a well deserved rest. Fully refreshed, we boarded the bus to return to our start point and reflect on an enjoyable and interesting walk with good conversation and dry weather, for which we can count ourselves fortunate given the changeable weather conditions we have experienced during the majority of the summer.

GWR Mwyndy Jctn River Bridge GWR Ely Valley bridge

GWR Llantrisant Common Jctn SB outbuilding GWR Base to Llantrisant Common Jctn SB

Many thanks to Keith Dumelow.