Distance: 26 km plus diversions to Llangiwg and along the St Illtyd's Walk.
Grade: moderate to severe, mainly good paths, some steep climbs, some sections can be very wet under foot.
Transport links: Neath has a railway station and buses in all directions. For Neath Abbey itself, buses run from the Smith's Arms, Neath Abbey Road, to Neath and Swansea. There are buses between Pontardawe and Neath. Ammanford is on the Heart of Wales railway line between Swansea and Shrewsbury, and on a regular bus route between Swansea and Llandeilo.
See http://www.traveline.cymru for details.
Leaving the abbey, turn right and walk along the road and under the railway line. The remains of the abbey gatehouse are along the main road to your left — which gives you an idea of the size of the outer precinct. Across the main road is the entrance to the Neath Abbey Iron Works. There is a path but no right of way through the ironworks from the main road, and the gates are often locked. But you can still peer through the gates of the builders’ yard and see the engine manufactory and the great masonry furnaces.
Walk across the mini roundabouts and up Longford Road. To your right is the charging platform for one of the iron furnaces. At SS 73782 97839, just after the railway viaduct, a path goes down to your right to the Clydach brook by the old tramroad bridge.The parapet of the bridge is made from carved blocks of copper slag which probably came from the works in the abbey. Under the bridge is a weir which would have held water back to power the iron works. You can turn right again down the brook for a closer look at the iron works.
Walk back up the path, under the viaduct and past the little tramroad bridge. North of this is the rolling mill and forge. About two thirds of a mile north of the works, you can still see the dam which held a reserve of water to run the works.
At SS 73798 98384 cross back over a footbridge and walk up to turn left on the Taillwyd road. The road is blocked to vehicles just north of here. At SS 74028 98751 walk through the bollards. Down to your left is another dam which controlled the water supply further down the valley. Take the footpath ahead of you, up the east bank of the river. At SS 74405 99750 cross a side road and continue along the path. At SS 74316 99531 take the steps up to your right and back to the road. At SS 74328 99849 turn left on Woodview Terrace (signposted Bryncoch RFC).
At SS 74168 99944 the footpath over the bridge to your left takes you up hill and across the fields to the church of St Matthew’s Dyffryn. A pretty churchyard surrounding the nineteenth-century estate church which John Newman describes as a ‘period piece’ with its stencilled texts. Recently restored, the inside glows with colour. It’s open in spring and summer; if closed, contact Stephen Bodycombe 01792 814237 or Margaret Thomas email address margarett AT btinternet.com.
Take the minor road past the church. At SN 73826 00096 (when the road from St Matthew’s Dyffryn rejoins) turn right along Primrose Bank. This becomes a bridleway round to the right of the rugby club and along a lane though the trees. At SN 73813 00669 the main track turns right and goes steeply down to the river. Turn left here, walk up the footpath to the left of Ty-llwyd Farm and turn right on the road.
After 2.4 km from Ty-llwyd, at SN 72901 02601, take the footpath to the right (signposted Alltwen) and walk down the fields through a series of kissing gates and across a little bridge. When you rejoin the metalled road at SN 72753 03109 turn left. This side road becomes a lane then a footpath crossing two roads and a footbridge to emerge in the car park of Tesco’s. Turn right, cross the bridge over the Tawe and walk into Pontardawe.
The trackways over Mynydd Gellionen re even more heavily overgrown than they were in 2005 but the newly-improved St Illtyd's Walk gives you an alternative. Walk into the middle of Pontardawe and along James Street. Just after the disused chapel, turn right and walk up Allt-y-cham Drive. After the school, this becomes a private road and eventually a track. You can turn right and walk up through the woods to Llangiwg (see below for details) or left and follow the St Illtyd’s Walk round the back of the houses and through the woods. Shortly after the path down from Llangiwg rejoins the Walk, you leave the woods and bear right across the fields to the road. (This section was very very muddy early in 2016 but just about passable. In wet weather it may be better to take the road past the church up hill and turn left on the Gwrhyd Road at SN 72045 06273.)
Walk down the Gwrhyd Road, cross the main road in Rhyd-y-fro and take the minor road ahead and to your right. This is probably the old road north - Rhyd-y-fro means 'the ford of the region' or 'the ford of the lowland'. The road crosses the Clydach river and climbs steadily out of the valley. At SN 70439 06199 a footpath goes up to the left but it is currently (2016) totally impassable. However, a little further along, at SN 70119 06343, a metalled lane used as a right of way goes back to the left. This will take you to the ridge, though by a rather roundabout route. The road climbs back across the slope then turns sharply north. When the metalled road goes left, keep straight on following a muddy track. This bends sharply left to follow the field boundary at SN 70027 06135. At about SN 69900 06098 look out for a fainter track bearing right over the shoulder of Mynydd Carnllechart. Follow this to the ring cairn at SN 69731 06270.
After passing the cairn, follow a fainter track to the left of the field boundary and keep slightly west of north past another much smaller cairn. Cross the road and keep to the same line, across a stream and past another cairn. Pass the little chapel with its strangely Celtic-looking circular enclosure to join the road at Bryn-chwith.
We followed the road from this point but the St Illtyd’s Walk turns off to the right shortly after Bryn-chwith and takes a lengthy diversion to the north past a number of burial cairns and back along Mynydd y Betws. This has the advantage that it avoids the steep descent to cross the Clydach and the equally steep climb back up the other side. Whichever route you choose, it is worth the scramble up to Penlle’rcastell.
Neath to Ammanford is a long day if you look at everything there is to see on the way, and by now you may be running out of time. The shortest route is to walk down the minor road from Penlle’rcastell into Ammanford: it is a fairly quiet road with good views and we did not find it unpleasant. A more off-road alternative would be to follow the St Illtyd’s Walk south-west from Penlle’rcastell over Pentwyn Mawr and turn right at the saddle above Blaenffynhonau, then to cut down along footpaths and very minor roads to Pantyffynnon. Gordon Hindess is working on an off-road route paralleling the road from Penlle’rcastell . WATCH THIS SPACE.
The Ammanford web site at http://www.terrynorm.ic24.net/index.htm has advice on accommodation and masses of background information on the town and district.
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