Apr 19, 2010

Happy Trails and Tall Tales in the Rhondda Fawr

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The Wonders That Surroud Us, front cover detail
At one time planning a vacation in the Rhondda might have caused raised eyebrows. But since the end of coal mining in the area much has been done to reclaim the coaltips and 'green' the valleys. No where is this more apparent than in the Upper Rhondda Fawr. The area surrounding the villages of Tynewydd, Blaenrhondda, Blaencwm and Treherbert has perhaps sufficiently regained its former semi-rural character to offer a tempting destination to vacationers and hill-walkers.

A forty page guide to the area's attractions has been prepared by local businessman David Michael Williams. The book can be ordered by writing to him at the address at the bottom of this page. Along with locations of former colliery sites and breif details of famous authors who were born in this part of the Rhondda there are many references to the magnificent Pen Pych mountan, a picture of which graces the front cover.

Pen Pych Mountain

David notes that Pen Pych is one of only two flat top spur mountains in Europe which alone is sufficient to make the mountain interesting but the following story makes it much more so ( with apologies for the lengthy quotation ):-

"It is locally told that long ago during the time of Roman expansion, the tribe at the top of the mountain had five prize bulls.. These were used to breed with the cattle of the farmers below on the valley floor. The Romans wanted this land and told the tribe to move, when they refused , the Romans demanded the bulls as payment.

The tribe werent prepared for this to happen so decided that if they couldn't keep their bulls then neither could the invaders, so they drove their bulls off the top of the mountain; they then took their heads and placed them on spikes outside the village. Displeased by this, the Romans swore revenge on the villagers.

Since Pen Pych was a religious site, where druids gathered, the Romans took their revenge during the summer festival. Following failure to take the village, the Romans sent a legion to kill them. During the assault they decided to attack from two sides, not knowing the layout of the land. With their forces split, and only one part facing the Celts, the romans were defeated.. The local Celts attacked the second group and defeated them, the whole Roman Legion was slaughtered. Thus the villagers remembered the tale of the five bulls."

Walker's Paradise

The area abounds with Celtic remains - fragments of stone huts, summer storage holds etc - and a Roman 'police' action here at some time during their nearly four hundred year long occupation of the island of Britain is entirely conceivable. One can only speculate as to how accurately the folk tradition reflects the actual encounter . Whatever the provenance of the above tale what is certain is that Pen Pych provides a superb opportunity for hikers and hill-walkers.

Toward the end of the book a series of walks are described together with illustrations and OS Landranger map extracts. Half of them involve routes on or near Pen Pych and many of them take in views of the superb Lluest waterfall. There are also walks around the old Ty Draw colliery site and other areas of interest to industrial archaeologists.

Destination Rhondda?

AmeriCymru spoke to David Williams about the area and its potential as a vacation destination.

AmeriCymru: You must have seen a lot of changes in the valley since the end of coal-mining in the area. Can you describe the way that the environment and landscape have changed over the last twenty or thirty years?

David: As I child I remember playing in some of the old mine works, and the mines that were still open. The slag was still being dropped on the mountain. I was born in Penrhiwceiber, just over the mountain from Aberfan, I remember those days, when the school and the mines were closed, because everyone went to help. The valleys are green now and there are new trees being planted to replace the old pine trees. The dust has gone, and nearly all the old men with that cough have gone as well. People are starting to discover where they are living now, we are in the country side and it is beautiful.

AmeriCymru: How good a base does Treherbert provide for a vacation in South Wales? Can you describe some of the more easily accessible local attractions?

David: We have about five bed and breakfast accommodation in the local area, but we are only half an hour from Cardiff, Swansea or Brecon. In Porth there is the Rhondda Heritage park (Lewis Merthyr Colliery) In Treorchy we have the Park and Dare theatre, The Male voice choir and Brass band. We have Pen Pych and Cwmsearbren as described in the booklet. The Rhigos mountain road is the second highest point in South Wales. On Pen Rhys we have the statue of Our Lady and the Holly Well, and by it's name this is the place where the English chopped of the head of the Lord Rhys. There are many stone and Iron age sites in the area.

AmeriCymru: When did you first hear the story about the Roman attack on Pen Pych? How widely known is this tale both in the valley and outside?

David: This story came from Mr Todd-Jones the Head master of Pen Pych Infants school, I was told this about six years ago when I was researching the book.

The book can be obtained by by order from the following address. Please include $4 ( UK 2.50 GBP ) to cover postage and packing.

David Williams
1 Station Rd
CF42 5AE

More photographs of Pen Pych can be found on these pages:- Pen Pych Photo Gallery ( Images supplied by David Michael Williams and Ian Price )

Lluest Waterfall, Upper Rhondda Fawr

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