A run in the Welsh Valleys

ThistleLast Sunday I found myself in Resolven, a small welsh village not too far from Swansea. It seemed like the ideal place do a long distance off-road training run, in anticipation of the 8 off-road marathons that I’m going to be doing with in the next few months. What awaited me was a vast expanse of countryside and, with the exception of the few roads that I crossed and the occasional village, I barely saw another soul during four and a half hours of running. I also discovered a few gems in the way of hidden trails and little snippets of Welsh history. I really enjoyed myself and the twenty two miles just whizzed by. Read on to find out more.

I left slightly late on a lovely sunny morning at about half eight. I ran at a gentle jog, mindful of the hills ahead, and just wanting to enjoy the morning and the countryside. I roughly estimated the route at 18 to 20 miles and was aware that I wasn’t quite carrying enough water (My Camelbak Octane XCT is due this week!) However, I did have plenty of energy bars and isotonic gels, along with a Canadian Maple Syrup oat bar for a treat at my turning point. This would be at the top of the road climb, just south of Rhigos. On the return leg my wife and her Dad would run out to meet me Glynneath and we could run back along the canal together.

My route began with St Illtyd’s Walk, heading initially south west from Resolven. It Cow camouflagestarted climbing through woodland, up the side of the valley almost immediately. The terrain soon opened up though as the path ran through a few steep fields. I paused briefly to take a picture of some calves who had obviously been rummaging in the hedgerow. Several of them looked like they were wearing camouflage gear. Unfortunately they didn’t let me get close enough for a good picture, so this is all I have. I carried on, climbing steeply for around forty five minutes before cresting the brow of the hill. The views all around were quite spectacular. Just ahead of me thistles sprouted straight up into the air like thorny javelins. The occasional sheep appeared between the tall clumps of grass as I ran, jumped and swerved to find the clearest path.

The route took me into some dense woodland for a mad 500m dash as I dodged boggy patches, jumped rotting logs and negotiated fallen trees. It was a really fun few minutes and I was breathing hard when I emerged to be confronted with a view of the wind farm above Glyncorrwg. Here the path joined the Coed Morgannwg Way and cycle route 47 as it followed wide tracks through the forest. The views across to the Brecon Beacons were amazing as I cruised along the rolling hilltop for the five miles to the top of the Rhigos climb.

Above RhigosI was two hours into the run and my drink had run out, but I wasn’t too worried as it would be downhill for most of the return journey with a few long flat sections once I got down to Glynneath. From the top of Rhigos I followed the road down for about a mile, around a hairpin bend and then joined a bridle path heading north, descending further into the valley. Here I started coming across signposts with a buzzard on them, entitled Loops & Links. I decided to look that one up when I got home. More info on it here

The path was rocky, boggy and overgrown as I descended. There were a few motorbike tracks on it, but it didn’t worry me as I figured that at least the bikes were keeping this particular trail open. I then popped out onto a minor road just west of Rhigos village before heading left onto a small trail called Cwm Gwrelych. This means very little to me, and the pronunciation is certainly a mystery, however it turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.

Adit and boardThe trail started at a small tired stile just before a farm and was a narrow piece of single track for about 100m before it joined a wider farm track. The trail looked really dirty and industrial, and to be honest not too appealing, then I came across the first noticeboard. I read it and it became apparent that the reason the track was dirty was because of the abundance of small shallow coal seams in the area, that were mined extensively by the locals many years ago. There were entrances to small adits (horizontal mining tunnels) visible from the track, and the countryside had a lumpy appearance where the tunnels had collapsed over the years, affecting the geography of the land above.

Parking meterA little while further on I came across what, from a distance, looked like a parking meter. It was in the middle of nowhere at the side of the trail. When I got closer it turned out to be a speaker on a post, with two buttons on it. I pressed the button marked “English” and was treated to someone talking in a strong welsh accent about the mining activities on this particular spot. It was actually very interesting and very atmospheric, most enjoyable. I ended up listening to four or five of these little boxes as I came across them. Eventually I ran out of time though and had to skip some boxes as I made my way to the pre-arranged meeting point with my Wife.

As I was running through Glynneath there were a lot of cycling time triallists about, riding expensive looking aero bikes and wearing skinsuits. This certainly piqued my interest, so I found someone that had finished to find out what was going on. It turned out to be the annual Port Talbot 25 mile time trial and Ian Hutchinson was going to be going out last. It turned out to be the day that he broke the British 25 mile TT record, averaging over 32 mph!

I met my Wife and Father-In-Law at the Glynneath end of the canal and gently jogged the two and a half peaceful, flat miles back to Resolven. Ultimately I had run 21.3 miles in just under 4 hours. Personally I found this really encouraging as it involved a lot of climbing and I spent a fair amount of time being a bit of a tourist, so to still do it in this time was quite an achievement. The last 3 miles were done at a leisurely pace just above walking speed as we chatted away. It’s left me feeling really happy about my fitness going into my 8 marathons with

So, what are you waiting for, get out and explore. You never know what you might find and the countryside has rarely let me down. You just need to be prepared to get a little wet and muddy, (and possibly a bit lost!) and you’ll find some amazing trails and places of interest.

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