Into the valleys: an off-road cycle ride through south Wales

into the valleys an off road cycle ride through south wales

After a winter lockdown riding the same old roads within a few miles of home, I am desperate to explore somewhere new and a little further afield. Going somewhere by train and riding home is a simple format for a bike tour, so I hop on a train from Abergavenny to Swansea, on the far side of the south Wales valleys, with no plan other than to spend a couple of days riding back.

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve seen the sea, so I head for the beach. From there I pass through the marina and its swanky waterside developments, and then on to the towpath of Tennant canal. Built to move coal from mines inland to Swansea’s docks, the canal runs beside Crymlyn Bog, a wetland that has somehow survived years of abuse from a nearby oil refinery and power station. Furry, yellow-tinged pussy willow and delicate hazel catkins glow in the bright sunshine of a fresh spring morning. I hear a splash up ahead and watch as an enormous heron glides silently away, its wings almost spanning the width of the canal.

The high-level road bridge across the River Neath has a dedicated cycleway and I then follow the canal into Neath to seek out the remains of its 800-year-old abbey. This was once the largest monastery in Wales, but the growth of copper and iron smelting in the area somehow led to the abbey being buried five metres deep in slag and other debris, until local volunteers dug it out in the 1920s…

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