Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Valley of the Witch and Waterfalls

Photo courtesy of geograph.org.uk

A few miles up the Neath valley is the small village of Cwmgwrach, which in English translates to "Valley of the Witch".  Nobody knows exactly how it got its name, but it goes back to at least the 9th century and locals are very proud of their witchy heritage.  It is incorporated on the badges of the local school and rugby team, as well as this super cool road sign ("Croeso i Cwmgwrach" is Welsh for "Welcome to the Valley of the Witch").  I love the warmth, quirkiness and humor of my Welsh heritage - these unexpected gems can be found everywhere.

Interestingly, Australian prime minister Julia Gillard hails from Cwmgwrach.

We were passing through Cwmgwrach on our way to the village of Pontneddfechan to visit the Sgwd Gwladus waterfall - part of waterfall country.  On our way, we stopped at the Cefn Coed colliery museum in the village of Crynant.  This was a super cool museum in what was a working coal mine from the 1920s to 1968 - during its working life it was nicknamed "the slaughterhouse".  The staff there were super friendly and teased Gavin and Dylan mercilessly (though the Gavster gave as good as he got, and Dylan just pretended to be Iron Man and blasted them).  We got to go undergound, visited the boiler room and saw the original 1927 steam powered winding engine.

But what made my dad's day was the restored gas powered tram, which we did not expect to find, and is believed to be the only remaining example in the world.  The Neath gas trams ran from the late 19th century until the 1920s, and the story behind this exhibit is almost as interesting as the tram itself.  After it was decommissioned, an enterprising local from Briton Ferry bought one of the trams, brought it to his back yard and converted it to a garden shed.  It was discovered by the Neath antiquarian society in the 1980s and lovingly restored before finding a permanent home at the museum.  My dad was excited because his uncle was involved in bringing the gas trams to Neath.  We enjoyed exploring the tram - sitting inside and on the top deck where the backs of the seats could be shifted from one side to another so you could sit facing either way.

Eventually we made it to Pontneddfechan ("Bridge over the River Neath" in English).  Dylan had fallen asleep, so Nancy, Gavin and I made the 3 mile hike to the Sgwd Gwladus (Gwladus Falls) while my dad stayed with him.  As with most things in Wales, there is a legend behind the name.  I am a sucker for legends, and here is the story behind this one.

Gwladus was said to be the beautiful daughter of Brychan of Brycheiniog, a 5th century Welsh prince.  She fell in love with a young man called Einion, but their love was doomed.  Both lovers are immortalized as waterfalls, and the legend goes that although Gwladus and Einion could never be together in life, their spirits flow together for all eternity, pouring over the rocks and merging in the pool below.

The hike to the falls is beautiful and secluded, and well worth the time.  I have vivid recollections of getting in trouble with my dad as a kid for jumping off the top into the pool below.  Looking at the falls and pool now, I can well understand why.

Nancy and Gavin on the hike to the falls

Me and Gavin

Nancy and Gavin by the falls

Did I really once jump off the top of that?

By the pool at the bottom of the falls

At the top of the falls

Dylan woke up, and he and my dad met up with us during the return hike

The family

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