The goings on in and around Bridgend

Archive for tag: Garw Valley

Digital Bridgend, Pontycymer

The Pontycymer Trail in the Garw Valley

#DigitalBridgend is a new and innovative smartphone application that challenges users to find almost 300 places of historical interest throughout the County of Bridgend. Using augmented reality to find your way around, there are no less than 17 trails to follow, games to play, quizzes and scavenger hunts to unearth the unique heritage of this fascinating part of Wales. This series of blog posts reviews each trail in turn on location. The app is now available on Apple and Android platforms.

This week, it's another visit to 'the Garw' to review one of three available #DigitalBridgend trails in the valley, and as I'm starting to get to know my way around these days, I'm confident to kick off my morning with a visit to Bryngarw Country Park. The trail I'm following today is the Pontcymer trail, a village that I normally pass through but honestly know hardly anything of its history, so this should be a good one for me.

Bryngarw Country Park is not the first point of interest on the trail, but it marks the beginning of the Garw Valley cycle path, that takes you to Pontcymer and beyond to Blaengarw if you wish. So the excellent new café in the park is ideal for a quick 'cuppa', before heading off by bike or car! I chose the latter, but it's just as easy and probably more pleasant on two wheels rather than four if I'm honest.

So. I launch the #DigitalBridgend app on my iphone, select the Garw Valley (the railway icon on the homescreen) and then the axe symbol (which is the Pontcymer trail). Fortunately, I've already downloaded all the additional content that I need for the Garw Valley previously, so pressing the big 'play' button on the Pontcymer page on the app, I'm straight into action, and I'm told the first place I must find is a chapel, about 5 km away.

Following the directions given on the app, that always pop up for all points of interest as soon as you start the trail, it's a short drive up 'the Garw' and I must keep my eyes peeled for the first bridge that I come across on the left hand side. I find it, park up on the side of the road and there in front of me is Tylagwyn Chapel. I walk towards it, and right on cue, the commentary pays on the app. It tells me that this baptist chapel was the first in the valley and the river nearby (even when it was frozen over) was used to baptise the local congregation. Sounds quite the opposite to a baptism of fire to me I must admit.

The second point of interest is only around 150 metres away so we can leave the car parked on the side of the road near the chapel, and continue on foot to find the Pont-Y-Rhil Junction. This time, the commentary is activated by the app, just as you walk over the bridge that crosses over the railway line and junction that played such a major part in the industrialisation of the valley and in particular the transport of coal to the docks in Cardiff. Interestingly ,a railway station was built for passengers but instead of purpose built carriages, initially, they'd wash out the open top coal wagons, put benches in them and offer passengers a ride to Maesteg (including a 1km long tunnel ride too!).

We press the play button again, and continue our journey up the valley until we reach the site of the Lluest colliery. Once again, this is on the side of the main road through the Garw Valley, so it easy to park and indeed, there's a convenient lay-by around 100 metres from our next point of interest. It's quite sad to discover yet another local mining accident had cost lives in the Lluest Colliery, with 19 men and boys being victims of an explosion on this site in 1899. Today, it is poignantly commemorated by a coal dram positioned at the site where you can also see on the hillside remains from the stone arches that once formed part of this colliery.

Onwards to the next point in the trail, so its back to the car (or the bike) and continue along the main road (or cycle path) only a km or so to find a chapel made of tin! The delightfully named Pant-Y-Gog Chapel is also visible from the side of the road so it's easy to park outside and its an interesting place to take a quick look around. The commentary at this stage tells us that this unique place of worship is one of the few remaining corrugated prefabricated chapels that once populated the valleys throughout Wales to meet the demand for non-conformism. The tin chapels and building were a quick and convenient way to erect a building after the method of galvinising zinc with iron reduced corrosion significantly. However, over the years, rust has eventually started to get the better of the building as can be seen today by viewing this remarkable relic from the main road through the valley.

Before leaving the tin chapel, the app has a nice surprise challenge for the user to complete, where you must use your finger on the screen of your phone to drag the prefabricated parts onto a template of the tin chapel in order to erect the building as quickly as possible. Ingenious really, and one of the easier games on the app to enjoy! Even I completed it. It cleverly illustrates the point that these prefabricated tin chapels could be erected very quickly, were springing up all over the valley sides and because of that, and their basic appearance, it's fair to say that they were not everyone's cup of tea.

Next stop, we become aware about a local character, called Merlin, a recent renown Welsh harp maker who I was told by a local who I stopped to talk to that he used to recently ride a penny-farthing through the village much to the amazement and amusement of passers-by in this day and age. That's what I love about this place, there's a wealth of local quirks and facts that are hidden and sometimes only unearthed in conversation with people in the know. So, pop into a café and talk away, this is the Garw Valley, very friendly, and they do like to chat up here that's for sure!

The Ffaldau Workmens Institute and the Pontycymer Square provided an interesting lesson in local history before I moved on to what I think was the best part of this trail, the Garw Valley Railway. For the Square, and all the remaining points in this trail, I found the best place to park was near the local supermarket 'the co-op', as the last stage is all within walking distance of this point.

First, I'm guided by the app over the bridge and down passed a leisure centre and on towards a modern yet basic industrial 'hanger-like' building where the commentary kicked in to tell me all about the significance and history of the local railway.  I was perhaps very fortunate to bump into one of the 85 volunteers who today are working hard to preserve, restore and hopefully reopen the railway line that once stretched the 4 miles from Pontcymer to Bryngarw. I was taken into the large 'hanger' which was in fact the engine shed that today houses the former engines and carriages that would have once been a frequent sight in these parts. This was a real unexpected find, and it's amazing to think that this incredible 'museum' and railway enthusiasm exists hidden away in a valley in the middle of South Wales. I found the app to be really useful here because it presents the user with a number of images of the rolling stock that you can see before you, and there is corresponding text informing us about the history and other facts surrounding each vessel.

I am now directed to the final few points nearby and discover that within yards of where I stand, there have been some quite famous feet standing here before me. The app tells me that the former theatre site known as the Rink once hosted Stan Laurel (of Laurel and Hardy fame) and the authentic Italian café called Station café just across the road was a recent film set featuring Welsh actors Ioan Gruffydd and Matthew Rhys, both Hollywood stars of course who were required to serve behind the counter! This café is definitely worth a visit, it has a story of its own and was once the centrepoint for the whole valley housing a jukebox and a giant brass Gaggia coffee machine. The final point in the trail is a short walk through a restored landscape that once bore the scars of the Fladau Colliery that once dominated the centre of Pontycymer.

In summary, a great little trail which hardly requires any walking at all if by car, and a very pleasant gentle cycle ride if you decide to go by bike from Bryngarw Country Park. Allow around 2 hours max for this, even though I could have easily spent all this time looking at the locomotives in  the Engine Shed. Another part of hidden Bridgend unearthed, I look forward to next week's adventure. Until then.   

Join Derek Smith and friends at Bryngarw

Derek Smith

Derek Smith

Bryngarw has a series of fab free events on Sunday's in August, pay for car parking only. The 'Music in the Garden' event on the 21st August  stars one of Bridgend's most successful guitarists, Derek Smith performing live at Bryngarw Country Park in Brynmenyn, Bridgend from 2.30 - 4.30pm.
Derek will be joined by two of his Mabon musicians, Jasper Salmon on fiddle and Tim Orrell on wooden flute and whistles. Come and enjoy a family day out for an acoustic performance of the interceltic roots fusion music that is the trademark of this internationally successful band.
Join us and enjoy outdoor live music being performed upon the lawn in front of Bryngarw House, with this year's line-up offering sounds to suit everyone's taste:
 Sunday 21 August - Roots fusion with Derek Smith (Mabon) and friends
Sunday 28 August - Light classical with Absolute Zero Viola Quartet
Please note that there is no wet weather cover or seating provided, but you are welcome to bring your own chairs or picnic rugs. Due to this being an outdoor event; it is weather dependant, therefore we advise you to contact Bryngarw House on 01656 729009 prior to starting your journey.
 There will be children's entertainers including balloon modelling and stilt walking. Light snacks available at the park café.
 Admission is free with a car park charge of £2.50 for all events which are set on the beautiful lawns at the award-winning 113 acres of spectacular parkland that boasts Bridgend County Borough Council's largest picturesque landscape.
BryngarwCountryPark is part of the 'OneHistoricGarden' project linking heritage, gardens and opportunities acrossSouth Wales, and is part-funded by the EU's Convergence European Regional Development Fund through Visit Wales and the Welsh Government and supported by The Valleys Heart and Soul of Wales campaign.
For more information, contact Corporate Marketing Assistant Kelly Jones on (01656) 642094. Email: Website:

Garw Valley Walk 1

Garw Valley, looking towards Blaengarw

Garw Valley Walk 1, originally uploaded by Tourism Bridgend.

A scenic walk through the pine forests and grassland with great views of the Garw Valley and beyond. A free guided walk, Wednesday 7th September, start time: 10.00am , starting point: Parc Calon, Blaengarw, Bridgend. CF31 4AH Grid Ref: SS 902 794, Duration: 4 hours, Distance: 8miles / 13km.

Garw Valley, Decorated Mine Shaft

Decorated Mine Shaft, Garw Valley , originally uploaded by Tourism Bridgend.
This mural was created in 2005 and forms the entrance of an old drift mine in the Garw Valley. This can be viewed as part of the Garw Valey Walk 2 circular walking route which starts at Parc Calon Lan in Blaengarw.

Cwm Garw Cirque Glacier

Cwm Garw Cirque Glacier, originally uploaded by Tourism Bridgend.
Great panoramic views from the top of the Garw Valley. This was the last guided walk of the Bridgend Love2walk Festival 2010.