Blaenant y Gwyddyl 2010
When "nature reserve" becomes "overrun by nature".
This stream valley on the northern slopes of Glyn-neath is supposedly run as a local nature reserve. However, it has apparently not received enough attention, with its paths now obliterated by undergrowth. The locals, who lived on the reserve's access lane, did not know what I was asking about.
The reserve has an information and guide leaflet, but I warn you that it completely fails to represent reality. The OS maps are also laughably optimistic, suggesting several paths that do not really exist. The guide takes you along the worst possible route to access the reserve, but it is the only one that does not cross private land.
The heart of the nature reserve is the oak and maple forest, with the Nant y Gwyddyl stream falling in a pretty waterfall over a dramatic cliff. Despite its proximity to Waterfall Country, it has far more in common with its opposing neighbour Sgwd yr Argoed, with a small stream and extremely tough terrain, covered in the worst undergrowth.
Ignore the guide. If you want to see the waterfall, start in Glyn-neath. From the junction of the B4242 and A4109, follow the A4109 towards Abercrave. Take the first left, and when the road swings left, continue ahead on Lon y Nant. Park on that road. The footpath route starts at the end of that road, but the easy route is to take the tiny Glynmelyn Road on the right. Follow it over the ford up to the Cefn-isaf Farm (asking for permission if needed), by which time the road is a dirt track.
Follow the farm tracks and paths (shown on the 1:25'000 maps) towards the top end of the nature reserve. After the track crosses a small stream, follow the edge of the field beside the stream to reach the reserve's forest. Locate and follow a path heading downhill into the reserve, away from the small stream. It reaches the main stream above the lower waterfall. Ford the stream and head directly up the opposite bank along the remains of a path. When this reaches the base of the cliffs, head to the right along the base of the cliff to reach the main waterfall. Tough, experienced walkers only.
- View from Lon y Nant towards the Rhigos Mountains on the far side of the Neath Valley, with Craig y Llyn (600 metres) on the left, and Mynydd Pen-y-cae (573 metres) on the right.
- Yes, I followed the guide. At the end of Lon y Nant is a bridge over a stream, followed by a stile.
- Immediately, the obvious path heads left, but the reserve's access route continues ahead, keeping a fence to its right.
- When the fence ends, the route heads up ahead-left, with the path disappearing. With no paths, I continued ahead to a small inlet valley, heading upstream along another path to reach the proper route.
- Apparently there are some old mines in the inlet valley. On the far bank is the reserve's fence and gate. The path in the reserve almost immediately disappears into the undergrowth, so I skirted the early part by following the edge of cattle fields above the reserve.
- Time for an introduction. This is the nature reserve. The guide leaflet says to take a path that is somewhere in that.
- A brief attempt to forge through shoulder-high brambles. It was too much, so I was forced to hop fences and return to the fields. The last person to attempt it had given up and made camp here - they would need some recovery time before continuing.
- Passing through cattle fields. These still had deep patches of brambles separating fields, which the cattle had not trodden down. The highlight was balancing on top of a fencepost in a sea of brambles, beating the undergrowth with walking poles so that there would be somewhere to land safely on the other side.
- An inlet stream dribbles a few metres down this mossy fall. From here onwards, my route remained inside the nature reserve.
- Supposedly dominated by oak, maple and holly. "The understorey is not well developed [...] giving the reserve an open character", according to the guide leaflet. Somewhere in that thick forest of brambles, there is a path which is marked on the OS map and guide map.
- Above the small fall, a ledge carried a hint of an upper path. Better than nothing.
- But short lived.
- And then the brambles returned, by now as much as 2 metres tall. At least there is an occasional faint glimpse of path.
- While the lower path swam through a sea of brambles, the upper one reached a crag. By now, I had taken about 1.5 hours to cover just 1 km of distance.
- Then at last the cliff. The way down to the easier route begins at the start of the cliff, heading directly down into the main valley.
- A poor excuse for a path runs along the base of the cliff, over the rocky slopes, to reach the main waterfall.
- Blaenant y Gwyddyl's main waterfall. It is about 7 metres high, and has no official name - hardly surprising given how hard it is to reach.
- It is possible to walk behind the right side of the waterfall, but take care with the slippery rocks. With just 10 seconds on the camera's self-timer, it required a sprint up the fallen rocks to get into the picture, taking about 10 attempts to reach it in time.
- The cliff continues for a short distance on the other side of the stream.
- The base of the cliff has some deep alcoves that are unlikely to be undercuts, and are probably mines.
- This area sits on the coal measures, and was previously owned by the coal board, so these were probably test drifts.
- The path down from the start of the cliff meets the valley bottom at a junction of streams. From there, a much more obvious path climbed up the far bank.
- Just downstream, the stream falls 4 metres over a very pretty V-shaped waterfall.
- Then off down its little gorge.
- The obvious path climbs up to fields, and from there, I remained in fields and skirted the edge of the reserve. Apparently, there are easier paths heading through the Cefn-isaf Farm.
- Webs covering the fields.
- Rainbows in the captured dew.
- Looking towards Mynydd Resolfen (381 metres), above Blaengwrach.
- The Neath Valley. On the left are the Rhigos Mountains, and on the right is Hirfynydd (481 metres). Just beyond here, I picked up a public footpath through the private fields, but it had been fenced off where it joined a road. Although this does theoretically make it a public access route into the reserve, it is blocked by fencing, and only reaches a heavily overgrown part of the reserve.
- The ridiculously narrow Glynmelyn Road, with no passing or parking spaces.
- Ford and footbridge.