Situated within the Brecon Beacons National Park Clydach Gorge (Cwm Clydach) originally fell within the area of Blaenau Gwent but now, due to boundary changes falls just outside. The gorge is deep with very steep sides and was formed by the fast-flowing scouring action of the river Clydach cutting through the limestone rock. The area contains an interesting mix of natural and historic features. The scenery is varied, from the shady, enclosed wooded area along the river, to the open slopes above, with far-reaching views.
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This area is a beautiful area, rich in industrial archaeology, tramroads, pathways and ancient beech woodlands.
Running for about three miles from Brynmawr down to Gilwern, this beautiful gorge forms a natural passage-way between the lush farmlands of the Usk Valley and the barren moors of Northern Gwent and Breconshire. It is a site of Special Scientific Interest. It has been exploited for industry since prehistoric times and this is shown by the two Iron Age forts that guard the entrance into the valley.
By the 17th Century the valley was becoming very industrialised. The Llanelly furnace and forge had been established at Maes Gwartha and, by 1684 were producing large quantities of iron and charcoal. By 1693 Clydach House had been built along with a number of workers’ cottages.The Clydach Iron Works was founded before 1795 following the recent introduction of coke as fuel. The valley has the densest network of surviving early tram road routes anywhere in Wales, one of which was replaced by the Merthyr, Tredegar & Abergavenny Railway in 1862.
The Gorge is still an important connecting route for the A465 Heads of the Valley Road that runs on to Swansea, connecting the Midlands with the Irish Ferry system.
Eifion Lloyd Davies © 2015
This picturesque, traffic-free walking and cycle trail, runs high above the Clydach Gorge to Brynmawr taking in some breath-taking views along the way. Many remains and reminders of the mining, quarrying and railways of Clydach Gorge’s industrial past are also visible.
Established in 1795 continued operating until 1884, this important ironworks was one of the first to use coke rather than charcoal for smelting. This helped to preserve the ancient beech woodland.
Just before its mid-19th Century decline and final closure, over 1,300 people, including some 133 children, were employed here either at the furnaces or producing coal, limestone and ironstone from workings higher up the valley. Financial problems and the inability to compete with the more-efficient larger works operating between Hirwaun and Blaenafon ended iron-making here.
Sir Bartle Frere
During its early period the works were operated by the Frere family, whose Clydach House nearby, was the birthplace of Sir Bartle Frere who, as High Commissioner of South Africa, was instrumental in starting the Zulu Wars.
Constructed in 1824, to provide access to Clydach Ironworks, this bridge is a single span and made of cast iron. It is built on rubble piers with lancet tracery in the arch spandrels.
Fairly recently, in an early twentieth century edition of the Abergavenny Chronicle Eifion Lloyd Davies came across two articles entitled: ‘Reminiscences of the Old Clydach Iron Works’ and ‘Neighbourhood’ written by Thomas Jordan, of Govilon. These articles are essentially oral history rendered in print.
They are notable to the contemporary reader by their description of: – the locality and the ironworks; of the different social groups – the iron workers and miners. They both allude to the Scotch Cattle, how people built their own homes, and to the amount of support they gave to each other.
Eifion has produced an abridged and lightly edited versions of the two 1910 articles by Thomas Jordan.
Clinging onto the steep-sided slopes on the south side of the gorge is a magnificent and ancient beech woodland. It is one of the most westerly, and best examples of, a native beech woodland in the UK. Some of the beech trees are 400 years old.
These trees have somehow managed to survive the area’s industrial past where they were a source of pit props and charcoal, fuelling the local iron and lime works. The woodland is constantly regenerating with the trees flourishing in the shallow, stony soil despite the extremely steep slopes.
Legend has it that Cwm Pwca, (Pucks Valley) which translates as ‘Valley of the Goblin’ has a specific type of goblin called ‘Pwca’ living in it.
This mythological creature was thought to be menacing and brought bad luck to those who saw him. Cwm Pwca in the Clydach Gorge was so named because this is one of the areas that he was reputed to live.
It has been said that Shakespeare once visited the gorge and whilst he was there, was inspired to write ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.
This booklet on the archaeology of the Clydach Gorge has been reproduced and displayed here with the kind permission of Jeff Mapps of Costain.
Section 2 – Eastbound drive through / Adran 2 – y ffordd arfaethedig tua’r dwyrain
Section 2 – Westbound drive through / Adran 2 – y ffordd arfaethedig tua’r gorllwein
Old images of Clydach Gorge
KEEPING WELSH HISTORY ALIVE