Reports of outdoor meetings 2021.

Outdoor Meeting: The Ogmore Valley: Nantymoel to Blackmill

On 17th July four members met at Nantymoel for the first of our summer walks down the gradient of the former Ogmore Valley Railway to our destination at Blackmill, a distance of around 4.5 miles. Sun screen and cool drinks was the order of the day as we walked in temperatures which hit 27 degrees.

The route now forms part of the National Cycle Network cared for by Sustrans and has several information boards along its length giving details of its railway history and the collieries the railway served and includes many interesting photos. On the former station site at Nantymoel there is a photo of one of the last passenger trains to depart in 1958 which also depicts a bus in the background and it was interesting to note that buses continue to use that same turning circle today. The sound of the running waters of the Ogwr Fawr were never far away and as we passed through the sleepy former mining communities and enjoyed the peace and tranquillity of the woodland which now characterises the southernmost section of our walk, it was difficult to imagine the noise and grime of the valley's mining past. Sadly, there is now no trace of the collieries which once employed so many but the railway infrastructure has fared a little better with platforms remaining at Wyndham, Ogmore Vale and at Lewistown, that very short-lived halt (1942 - 1951) whose platform is difficult to spot through the vegetation.

At Ogmore Vale stands a rusting contraption by the road crossing (see photo) which had us scratching our heads. It is apparent in one of Sid Rickard's photos of an autotrain taken from the footbridge in 1958 and appears to face approaching road traffic. Would someone in the know please enlighten us as to its use?

Blackmill is an interesting place for railway historians. Expansion of traffic necessitated a better eastward outlet and so lines were promoted from Blackmill to Hendreforgan to provide access to the Ely valley and from Cardiff & Ogmore Jctn, north of Blackmill, to Llanharan. This latter route crossed the valley of the Ogwr Fach above Blackmill and although this section of the route closed in 1938 the masonry pillars of the viaduct stand to this day.

The lure of the beer garden at the 'Fox and Hounds' in Blackmill proved irresistible in the heat of the day where three of us enjoyed fine food and ale in a Covid secure setting. Returning to our start point by bus was an easy choice in view of the heat and the rising gradient of a walk back. The only issue was the frustration of an extended wait for the bus caused by a service cancellation but this could not detract from an excellent walk and a very enjoyable day.

GWR Wyndham Halt GWR Ogmore Valley

Ogmore Vale

Outdoor Meeting: Wye Valley, Monmouth to Symonds Yat

On 12th August four walkers gathered in the cramped car park at the top of Hadnock Road to the north-east of Monmouth for our walk to Symonds Yat, some 3.5 miles away. It was a shame that our number would have been twice what it was had it not been for four members having to drop out at short notice through a variety of unseen circumstances. We were blessed with ideal walking conditions; warm but not too hot, very still and a cloud cover to protect us from the sun. The favourable weather and school holidays had brought out walkers and cyclists and finding a car parking space posed an early problem as the small area designated for the purpose had quickly filled. With some manoeuvring, cars were eventually parked and we set off along the stony track upon which a single track railway had operated from 1873 to 1964.

The line had its origins in the 'Second Railway Mania' of the mid-1860s when a small group of landowners and entrepreneurs saw the Ross & Monmouth Railway not as a 13 mile branch but a section of a cross country route ultimately linking industrial South Wales with the West Midlands and the north. The railway was worked by the GWR from its completion but as the GWR already had all the alternative routes it needed, this line never developed beyond an unhurried rural branch line set in picturesque surroundings with a pattern of working that changed little with the passage of time.

Hadnock Halt
Within a few hundred yards from our start point we encountered the single platform at Hadnock Halt which had been a simple request stop opened as late as 1951 in an attempt to arrest the lines decline. About a mile further on the track bed widened to accommodate a loop siding used by Hadnock Quarries Ltd from 1922 to 1955. Some of the buildings on the loading bank remain as does the posts of the gate protecting the siding at its northern end. About a mile before reaching Symonds Yat we passed the site of the interestingly named Slaughter Siding where another loop siding had spurs either end to link High Meadow colliery to the north and the iron mine of the same name to the south. Nothing remains of the siding today and some landscaping of the area makes it difficult to pinpoint its exact location.

The sight of the Saracens Head at Symonds Yat was welcomed as it was here we sat by the river to enjoy a drink from the pub and ate our packed lunches. Today, the narrow roads of Symonds Yat are crammed with tourists and cars and it is sad that all trace of the railway has been swept away apart from a very small section of platform edging in the car park. In contrast, the buildings of the Royal Lodge hotel have changed little over the years to provide a reference to the familiar photos from the 1950s of a 14xx 0-4-2T simmering gently in the platform with its one or two coach train.

In truth, the route is rather bereft of railway remains as there was no need for bridges or embankments on a line which meandered gently by the river. In contrast to our last walk down the Ogmore Valley, where the loss of the coal mines had changed the scene so dramatically, this rural route had altered little with the passing years giving the same ambience today to that of its railway operating days.

We returned to our cars a little weary after our 7 mile trek but with the satisfaction of an enjoyable walk through a scenic area of the Welsh Borders and having had some interesting and varied conversation along the way. We now look forward to our next walk along the Clyne Valley from Gowerton to Swansea Bay on 7th September to complete our Outdoor programme for 2021.

Access gate Hadnock Quarry siding Buildings at Hadnock Quarry siding

Platform edging, Symonds Yat

Outdoor Meeting: LNWR Gowerton to Swansea Bay

On Tuesday 7th September, 6 members gathered at Gowerton station - the largest attendance of the summer - for our walk down the Clyne Valley on the route of the LNWR which is now a foot and cycle path and is tarmacked throughout. The chosen date turned out to be the hottest day since late July - we were lucky with the weather on all 3 of our walks this year - and the group was quickly able to agree that a mid-way stop at the Railway Inn adjacent to the former station at Killay was in order to enjoy our sandwiches and a pint in their recently refurbished outside setting.

The change of scene at Gowerton is dramatic, so much so that an information board has been erected close to where Gowerton South station and a level crossing once stood and the casual observer would scarcely believe the change over time. The board depicts an era when roads were railways and when a junction existed beyond the level crossing at which the LNWR's main line swung right to pass over the GWR just beyond Gowerton North station and the branch to Llanmorlais veered left. Apart from the track bed on which we walked dropping away to the south, nothing of the railway infrastructure now remains.

As we passed through the residential suburbs of Dunvant and Killay and skirted what is now the Clyne Valley Country Park it was difficult to envisage that this was once an area of industrial activity with a number of small collieries and brick works around Dunvant and coal workings south of Killay. We were particularly fortunate to have Roger Davies on this walk who had researched the history of the railway and associated industries and brought with him a collection of interesting maps and photos. His knowledge of the area enabled him to lead us off our route at a point south of Killay and onto an undulating track through the trees which led us to the remains of the steam winding engine for Clyne Wood colliery (see photo). The engine is marked J Wild & Co Ltd., Oldham with a patent date of 1891. Its unusually small size reflects the shallow coal deposits being worked. The colliery was known to have been well established by 1877, closed before the turn of the century but appears to have restarted in 1912. Few steam winding engines survive in Wales and this one is remarkably complete.

Dunvant Station
Whilst platform facings are evident at Dunvant and Killay it is a shame that nothing remains of Mumbles Road station although a few picnic benches and some ornamental woodwork marks the site. At Dunvant the small wooden waiting shelter on the northbound platform was removed on the station's closure and repositioned in the grounds of an adjacent house, possibly the stationmasters, where it remains today albeit with a few alterations.

Sadly, there is also no trace of the bridge which carried the LNWR over Mumbles Road to set a course along the shoreline for Swansea Victoria. Roger had a couple of photos of trains passing over the bridge and as at our start point the contrast between now and then was such that it was hard to believe it was the same place.

After our 5 mile walk we returned to Gowerton by either a strategically placed car or bus. All agreed it had been a very enjoyable day with special thanks to Roger for his informative input. The walk completed our trio of walks for 2021 and in thinking forward to next year I would like to invite any member who wishes to nominate a walk for the programme to please get in touch.

Killay Station Clyne Wood colliery winding engine

WRRC Walk, Dunvant

Many thanks to Keith Dumelow.