11 July 2021
This outstanding and very varied walk, led by Neal Batchelor, included mountain walking, a riverside stretch along the banks of the Towy, a visit to one of the largest old lead mines near Rhandirmwyn and some beautiful forest tracks through old oak woods.
Distance: 7.5 miles. Height gain : 445m
Start Point: The Royal Oak, Rhandirmwyn. Grid Ref: SN784 437 OS Explorer Map 187
The village of Rhandirmwyn was once a very important area for mining lead ore. The Romans allegedly mined here, but the mine really took off in the 1770’s the area was home to the largest lead mine in South Wales employing over 400 people and reputedly earning its owner £300k.
We set off on a very steep climb through a beautiful wooded hillside leading up to a large conifer plantation and ultimately reaching open moorland near the site of an old youth hostel called Bryn Poeth Uchaf. Turning off the track briefly, we visited the striking quartz standing stone called Garn Fair and neighbouring cairn which, on a day with higher or no cloud, would also have provided a stunning view up the Towy valley north as well as across to the Brecon Beacons in the South. As it was, we had glimpses of hills but a satisfyingly atmospheric – not to say Druidic? – sense of the ancient landscape. Following a minor road for a mile to rejoin the Llandovery-Rhandirmwyn Road we encountered a very ancient hawthorn, pale toadflax growing in the verge, and several different varieties of sheep including the delightful Welsh Torddu Badger-faced breed; a local farmer is clearly interested in diversity among his flock. At the road we followed a section of the Cambrian Way down sunken paths through a copse to the River Towy, winding through the gorge past a deep pool known as Pwll Penrhyn. Having followed the river to Pwllpriddog bridge, admiring the wagtails dipping to and fro across the water, we took a short diversion to visit the famous Pwllpriddog Oak Tree reputed to be over 600 years old and winner of Welsh Tree of the Year in 2018.
After the bridge we had a lunch stop on an old parish boundary wall of drystone now topped with grass and mosses, and then wandered (in rain) across meadows past the old Salem chapel, and up the track to the ruins of the old Nantymwyn lead mine below Pen y Darren. Fortunately the rain left off so we were able to have a good look around the site. The botanical members of the group were very excited to find not only sea campion growing on the spoil but also stagshorn clubmoss, never previously recorded at the site: a report is on its way to the Carmarthenshire Plant Recorder. Climbing over the ridge above the old mine chimney and engine room, which now has trees and bushes bursting from the roof and windows, we dropped back steeply through a conifer plantation to pick up a forest track back to the village.