Ian Bateman can’t promise encounters with celebrities on this walk, but he does promise spectacular views. It’s quite a strenuous route and extreme caution is recommended around the falls.
I’m not sure whether you’ve noticed, but country walking seems to be very popular with the great and the good of the celebrity world at the moment. Some of them make a living out of it, like Stuart Maconie and Julia Bradbury, whilst others simply just love it for the pleasure it gives, such as Janet Street Porter and Claire Balding. So, can you imagine my delight when I recently bumped into an actual real-life TV personality, whilst out for a short walk with the dog along Ilston Cwm on Gower. No, not Derek Brockway you’ll be pleased to learn, he with the inordinately large calf muscles and questionable weather predictions, but none other than the previously ubiquitous presenter and West Brom fan, Adrian Chiles. I’d been aware that he has a particular affinity with Gower, so bumping into him wasn’t that much of a surprise. If truth be known, I’ve always kept an eye out for him. Sad, I know. So, as he approached us with his lady friend and their dog I recognised him immediately and exclaimed, ‘Ah, Adrian Chiles!’ I think I was more pleased to see him than he was to see me, because his body language and general demeanour seemed to be saying, ‘Oh, bugger off will you mate, I’m just out for a quiet walk with my Mrs and the dog’.
Naturally, I was rather hoping that he would have recognised me too, being kindred spirits; him writing for the Guardian and me a sometime contributor to the quality publication you currently have in your hands, and that some sort of silent mutual respect would have bonded us together. But there again, maybe I’m being delusional. Why would he for heaven’s sake? Here’s me, banging on about circular walks in a provincial magazine with my dodgy syntax, questionable grammar and schoolboy humour and there’s the Chilemeister writing for a national newspaper on subjects of great gravitas such as ‘How do I know middle age is at an end? I fell over in the Bath’, ‘An ear and nostril waxing is exquisitely painful – but just what I needed’ and ‘looking for a plastic free way to discard dog poo? I have the answer’. And all said without any apparent irony. Chapeau dude!! But alas no, it wasn’t to be. If I’m truthful, when I started to drum up conversation, initially about dogs, he seemed completely disinterested and itching to get away. Understandable. The burden of being recognised and accosted by total strangers with whom you have no desire to enter into any sort of discourse can be a pain. Fame and the resultant recognition can be challenging at times. It was the same for me after I won Morriston Town Player of the Year 1987/88. For 2 years I couldn’t walk down Woodfield Street without getting approached.
But anyway, his partner was lovely and showed a genuine interest in our dog that had recently lost an eye to a tumour just a few months previously. But Adrian was a hard nut to crack. To make things worse and as if we couldn’t make him dislike us even more, we certainly put the tin hat on it when my partner failed to recognise him mistaking him for someone she went to school with!
Anyway, I’m over it, so let’s move on. We’re upping the ante this month after the relatively gentle ambles we’ve done lately, so you’ll need a certain degree of fitness for this walk as it covers about 10 miles with two strenuous climbs, one at the very start. However, it’s well worth it for the variety of landscapes on show and explor-ing some stunning and less well-known areas right on our doorstep.
The path is accessed through a gap in the stone wall approximately 200m across the road from the entrance to Craig y Nos castle and more specifically, opposite the pony trekking centre. The path becomes steep quite quickly as you climb the hill to access the Cribarth ridge, or the famous Sleeping Giant, whose name derives from the slumbering profile it forms as you look at it when you travel up the valley. I’m a bit out of condition if I’m honest, having put on several lockdown pounds, so I had a couple of breathers on the way up especially towards the top when it gets a little playful. You’ll come to a set of wooden steps which scale a stone wall and once over that head straight up, although there’s no discernible path here. Once you reach the top, the landscape becomes quite harsh and angular, a combination of the natural limestone landscape and discarded rocks from dozens of quarries which littered the area during the 18th and 19th century. Again, there’s no obvious path here but you’ll pick your way along and join what appears to be the route of one of the old tramways between the mountain edge on the left and stark rocky outcrops on the right. Although the immediate surroundings are a little bleak, the view that opens up around you is anything but. Carry on for a while until you’ll see a trig point ahead and on the right, marking the summit of Cribarth, and although you’ll need to stray from the path to access it, it would be remiss of you not to do so. Because the views up here are simply stunning. From the valley below and the villages of Coelbren and Banwen to your left with the mountains of the South Wales Valleys beyond, to the perfect U shape of the Tawe valley ahead down to Swansea. And guess what? Yes, the old faithful DVLA gleaming in all its glory in the far distance. Sweeping to the right are the wind turbines of Mynydd y Gwair, with the Amman Valley to the west and the vast expanse of Fforest Fawr to the right and the distant Carmarthenshire hills. We have great views in Wales, fair play.
Re-join the tramway and follow the dry-stone wall, which shortly turns sharp left and after a few hundred yards or so crossing a stile accessing a path on the opposite side of the wall. Turning right, carry straight on following the path which now traverses moorland terrain until you come to a finger post directing you to Abercraf down to the right. This path is straight as a die, suggesting this is also the route of an old tramway which carried the limestone from the quarries to the Swansea canal below, as it leads you off the mountainside and into the village. The only thing you need to take care of is when you join a tarmac road; leave it the minute it swings sharp left where you rejoin the path.
Into Abercraf then, turning left at the bottom of the road and into the village passing some beautifully quaint cottages and lovingly tended gardens along the way. Past the Abercrave Inn and onto the main A4067 below turning left along the pavement and when you reach the church a little way along, look for a waymark sign on the other side of the road, taking care when you cross. Follow this path past a few cottages and through a meadow joining the banks of the mighty River Tawe which you cross via the footbridge ahead. Up the steep steps where you’ll enter the start of the spectacular Llech Valley.
Now, I regard myself as having a reasonable knowledge of local walking routes, but I have to admit I hardly knew of this valley’s existence, let alone how beautiful it was. It’s quite stunning. A steep sided V shaped wooded gorge full of oak, ash, lime and alder has been gouged out by the river Llech running along the valley floor. With a soundtrack of birdsong, it’s quite enchanting. The path rises and falls until it leads you to the star of the show, Henrhyd Waterfall a mile or so ahead.
I remember coming here as a child but had completely forgotten how spectacular it is. It’s the highest waterfall in the Beacons with a drop of around 90m with the water plunging into a naturally formed amphitheatre carved out by the erosive power of the water. It’s quite a celebrity in its own right too as it was used as the secret entrance to the Bat Cave in the film The Dark Knight Rises with Christian Bale. The day I was there the river was quite low so not as spectacular a sight as it would have been after a spell of rainfall, but pretty awesome nevertheless.
Take time to walk behind the curtain of water but be very careful as it can be quite slippery. You don’t want to be getting in the way of the Bat mobile if you slip. Seriously, take care here. Retrace your steps bearing left at the fork rather than returning to the Llech Valley path which will lead you out of the valley. This is the second thigh burst-ing climb, so it may hurt.
Reaching the top, go left down the road and left again at the road junction further on. Carry on along the road, taking great care of course, past the car park and towards the radio mast ahead. When you reach here, climb over the stile and into a field on the left and not the gate alongside the mast, which leads you to the site of a clay pigeon shooting range in the near distance. I had initially gone this way hoping to follow the route of the disused railway, (which incidentally was also used as a film location in Young Winston in 1972 – hell, it’s like Hollywood around here!!) but was informed in no uncertain terms by a man from the shooting club that this was private land and I should turn back immediately. He had a gun, so I did.
So, over the stile and into a field and straight ahead until a hollow appears, with a footbridge below. Over the bridge where the path then ascends, and you head to-wards the end of a row of trees ahead and to the right. You’ll reach a gate but don’t go through it, instead, go right along the edge of the field and into a little copse. The path veers left following the wall and it descends until you reach a tarmac road where you turn right. Carry on, passing a chapel on the right, and after a few hundred yards or so, a path to the right just before you reach the river bridge. Past two cottages and take the signposted path to the left of the entrance gate to a house, right onto a road and right again at the next road junction. After about 100 yards or so, go left down a bridle path which snakes its way back to the perimeter of Craig y Nos Country park. Enter the park, via the first gate you come to and once in the grounds an immediate left alongside the river, making your way back to the start.
So, there you go a challenging but hugely rewarding walk. And who knows, although it’s obviously not Gower, and the possibility is quite remote, but if you do happen to bump into Mr Chiles, can you say that the lady with the one-eyed sheep dog is asking if he’s going to the next Olchfa school reunion. That should go down well.
Starting Point: Craig Y Nos Country Park car park (pay and display) or lay-by just before.
Map: O/S Explorer OL12
Grade: Challenging (depends on fitness levels)
Distance: 10 miles
Duration: 3 ½ / 4 hours
Children/dogs: Maybe a bit much for children, but Henrhyd Waterfall worth a visit on its own
Refreshments: Cafe at Craig y Nos, pubs at Peny Cae Inn, Abercrave Inn and the Ancient Briton
PLAYLIST: Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Chile
Bobbie Gentry: Ode to Billy Joe
Steve Miller Band: The Joker
Penguin Café Orchestra: Sound of Someone You Love
Babybird: You’re Gorgeous
I See Rivers: We Don’t Get More Time
Stone Roses: Waterfall
The Cascades: The Rhythm of the Rain
Nick Kershaw: The Riddle
Bobby Goldsboro: Hello Summertime
Will McNichol: Dragonflies, Frogs and Bumblebees