Clydach gorge (NCR46) appendix

Welcome to Ramblingfatman a blog of cycle rides, this one is an appendix attached to a 2015 ride, if you want to read about the original ride click here.

A green winged woodpecker It was mid July 2016 and true to British summertime, it was overcast and spitting rain. We were riding from Abergavenny to Newport (via the Clydach gorge), a familiar route we’d done a few times before. The 11 mile stretch from Abergavenny to Brynmawr route is one of the most spectacular cycle routes in the UK, it follows the route of an incredibly engineered railway track that originally ran between Abergavenny and Swansea. The gorge has an amazing plethora of remnants left over from the industrial age, exceptional views of far away mountain ranges, and fantastic wildlife. On leaving Abergavenny it ascends nearly 1000 ft in 10 miles, clinging to the side of the awesome Clydach Gorge. Buzzards flew above us so close we could see into their eyes, then we startled a bird in a hedge, it flew straight in front of us. It was one we’ve never seen before (being city boys), it had green wings, a yellow body and a red hood. Being naive, we believed it was an escaped tropical bird; but in fact it was it was a green winged woodpecker native to the UK.

Though this is a superb ride, there were two main issues with the NSR46- Five and a half miles out from Abergavenny (heading towards Brynmawr), the old trackbed continues on through a field, but the cycle path ends, and diverts onto the road. The problem is with a private land owner who entered into a long term dispute with Sustrans about continuing route 46 on his land (and the original trackbed). Sustrans put a diversion in, which follows local country lanes, but this is the issue; the diversion forces cyclists onto steep climbs on narrow lanes with two hairpin bends to get back on to the cycle track. The diversion acts as a barrier, and is not safe for children and not suitable for leisure cyclists to ride. It has the effect of forcing people to turn back the way they came. Monmouthshire County Council and Sustrans have agreed that there is money to complete the route, it’s just the intransigence of the landowner that is holding it back. There are calls for compulsory purchase of the land and every now and again campaign groups stage protests, we came across one such group, it was hundreds of junior school children wobbling along the path near Brynmawr, they were heading towards the diversion to highlight how difficult it is for little ones to ride. As we approached they parted in the middle to allow us to pass, they were so well behaved. Come on Mr. Landowner, don’t be such a meanie; let the kids ride across your field (please).

The second subject matter is; the cycle path near Brynmawr will be closed for three years while the construction firm Costain Limited work to make a dual carriageway on the heads of the valleys road between Gilwern and Brynmawr. The closure of the cycle path starts at the Brynmawr roundabout, and continues 1,200 metres up until its intersection with bridleway 49/39 and 49/37 until January 2018. The closure has been made to allow for a new ‘Gateway Bridge’ to be built over the new A465 road and a gas main diversion. Again Sustrans have put a diversion in on local lanes, and again the initial road ascends from the cycle track, and then gets worse. True Sustrans built a purpose cycle tarmac path to join up with the Brynmawr and Pontypool cycle track (NCR 492), but it’s so steep, one can only just about walk up it. It leaves you in the middle of the mountain a few miles from Brynmawr (where it would nice to have tea). I can whinge and moan, but I know the work has to be done, though my biggest issue is with ‘Google maps’, they still show the whole route of the NCR 46 as complete and uninterrupted. As most people use Google as their main direction, come on Google, update your maps.

When the problems with landowners are solved and the construction on the new dual carriageway is completed, how about putting the icing on the cake? There are two tunnels on the route, Clydach and Gilli Felen tunnels; if these were re-opened they would make this ride truly unique. From photos of people who have explored these particular tunnels and send them to specialist websites (derelict places, forgotten relics, 28 days later) the tunnels look in remarkable condition. Tunnels have a quality all of their own, the temperature drops within metres of entering producing goose bumps on your arms, they are unnaturally cold and damp. There’s a deathly quiet which makes you feel as if you are biking through a forbidden place. Those that are illuminated barley emanate enough light to clearly see. You are totally aware of millions of tons of rock above. When you emerge there’s a sense of delight, coming back to the light. I love them! Lets see them open again.

Go to top