By Joy Strangward (Penarth Ramblers)

On a very cloudy morning a group of nine walkers met up with Naomi and Meryl from Penarth and District Ramblers at Blaen Bran Community Woodland car park in Upper Cwmbran at the start of a 9 mile walk.

This privately owned woodland is made up of what was Blaen Bran Farm and Coed Gwaun-y-Fferiad, which is translated as the ‘wood of the priest’s moor’. Apparently a priest lived there during the Middle Ages and after an argument with Queen Elizabeth who was the daughter of King Richard III, he was hanged on the moor.

During the mid-18th century the industrial heritage of Cwmbran began when coal was dug from Gwaun-y-Fferiad and sold to the tin works of Caerleon and some of the early workings can still be found within the woodland.

Heading off they climbed steeply by road to the Square, which was built for local workers and included terraced houses, a public house named The Squirrel which housed a school on the upper floor and an Ebenezer Chapel, built in 1840 which still stands today.

A stile led them into a field which they crossed to enter woodland following a path before making a slight detour to view the remains of Mineslope Colliery, part of the Porthmawr Colliery which was established in 1837 by R. Blewitt of Llantarnam Abbey.

The colliery which opened in 1854 was worked until 1916 and having been abandoned the buildings fell into disrepair and were finally demolished in the late 1980’s, although the foundations of the original engine house are still visible.

Joining the Cambrian Way they began the steep zig zag climb up onto Mynydd Maen passing Blaen Bran reservoir and a number of fallen trees which had been uprooted following recent storms.

Pausing for morning break near a rough den that had been made against a tree, one walker took advantage of the log inside to sit on, whilst they were overlooked by some inquisitive cows.

Finally reaching the ridgeway of Mynydd Maen, the familiar shape of Twmbarlwm came into sight ahead of them just as the heavens opened. In fact the rain stayed with them as they passed alongside a tree line forming part of the Cwmcarn Forest Drive until they reached Twmbarlwm itself.

Known locally as the ‘Twmp’ because of the large mound on its summit, Twmbarlwm rises to 419m and hosts an Iron Age fort believed to have been built by the Silures, a Celtic tribe that inhabited the area before and during the Roman occupation.

Local folklore tells that the Druids regarded the hill as a sacred site and a place of judgement and in the past Sunday schools, chapels and youth clubs would organise a walk to the summit on Good Friday, a tradition that continued until the 1970’s.

After stopping on its summit for lunch they retraced their steps back along Mynydd Maen to a fork in the path that led them downhill, past a disused quarry and Llandderfel Farm where a brave little lamb ran up to greet them.

A bit further along they paused at the ruins of Llandderfel Chapel, which is classed as a Scheduled Ancient Monument but all that remains are two pieces of mutilated carved wood. During medieval times it was a stopping point for pilgrims on their way to the shrine of the Virgin Mary at Penrhys in the Rhondda Valley and was founded by St Derfel, who was a warrior and allegedly one of King Arthur’s knights.

The pilgrims brought horses, cattle and money to offer St Derfel as they believed he could enter Hell and bring back the soul of a relative.

Continuing downhill on a narrow stony path between fences and past Brook Cottage they walked beside a stream to a minor road which they followed before entering woodland.

Then by fields with some containing sheep, they descended steeply back to the Square to retrace their steps back to their start.

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