February 2018

Friday – Mynydd Henllys – A few patches of blue sky peep through grey clouds. From Cwmbrân station I pass through the large shopping mall and on through the network of roads to Old Cwmbrân. On westwards climbing into the housing estates. Past St Gabriel’s church and memorial church hall. On along Pen-y-Waun lane that rises and falls past housing ranging from late 19th to late 20th century. The sun is out, Robins sing, Wood Pigeons coo. Through Seven Dials housing estate. Into Greenmeadow, a modern estate where house construction continues, as usual architectural interest free. This is the route of the Pilgrims Way. The paths continue on and on upwards. Magpies chack in the trees. Blackbirds, Great and Blue Tits, House Sparrows and Robins flit through the undergrowth. Into Graig Road, a path, through the woodland on The Graigs. Onto the Hollow Lane past the quartz studded marker rocks. As the path climbs, Cwmbrân is laid out below and beyond the hills rising between the plain of the River Usk and the River Wye.

The track finally reached the lane that rises from Upper Cwmbrân. Another old track heads south. The sun reflects blindingly off the Bristol Channel. Garn Wen farm lies up the hill. The lane deteriorates into an overgrown and sometimes rocky path. The path comes to a locked gate with two large stones, I assume to help climb it. The land beyond is bracken and sedge. Past some stones and a piece of wall, all that is left is a building. It stood beside a coal level, where the coal is extracted by digging across the land, the seam being close to the surface. A path crosses the pit in which grows a large Hawthorn, the top is which only rises slightly above the surrounding land. Another deep pit holds a pool of water. Over a stile onto a very broken path. The path becomes a small stream. A track again, passing round Llanderfel Farm. The old farmhouse looks in poor repair but a nearby cottage has been extensively renewed. Through a small grove of evergreens and into a hollow way. The path is rocky and rough. It emerges onto open land covered in bracken. A notice board states that in the field to the north are the remains of Capel Llandderfel.

The L-shaped remains must be well covered now as I cannot see anything. The chapel was an important stopping point on the Pilgrims’ route to Penrhys. The chapel was dedicated to St Derfel, one of only two in Wales – the other being in Merionydd. Derfel Gadarn was a warrior saint and according to legend was one of King Arthur’s Knights He fought at the battle of Camlaan, where Arthur’s son and enemy Mordred was killed and Arthur himself was mortally wounded. After the trauma of the battle, Derfel gave up his warrior life and became a wandering hermit. He founded churches in north and south Wales before becoming abbot of Bardsey. There he died, and was buried alongside (according to tradition) 20,000 other saints. The chapel became a site of pilgrimage as it was believed that St Derfel could enter hell and bring back dead souls.


I start up the hillside. A rabbit bursts out of a patch of sedge and bounds up the hill. The remains of Henllys Colliery upshaft are on the side of the hill. Above is a long, empty reservoir pit. The main colliery is further down the hill where a large mound can be seen. It was opened in 1814 by Joseph Hanson and closed in 1926. The Dublin-Munich flight passes over with white vapour trails soon dissipating in the now largely blue sky. There are numerous channels across the hillside. Over up the hillside past old quarries of differing sizes which supplied the stone for the Ebenezer Chapel of 1860 at Two Locks, donated by Cyrus Hanson. Out in the Bristol Channel are the islands of Flat Holm with its lighthouse and Steep Holm. Beyond is the north coast of Somerset and Weston-Super-Mare. Following the coast below from Newport the view takes in the mouth of the River Severn. The Severn Bridges are visible, the top of the towers of the old bridge just visible above Wentwood.

Following the hints of sheep trails I eventually hit the path along the top of Mynydd Henllys. The view is stunning. As before Newport lay below and the coast runs round to Cardiff Bay. To the west a deep wooded valley of Cwmcarn Forest that leads down to Abercarn. Beyond in the distance are tall communications towers on Mynydd-y-lan. Ahead is my target, Tymbarlwm hill-fort.

It is not proven that there was a hill-fort here; there was a Norman motte and bailey. The hill is in the lands of the Silurian tribe and with such an excellent position it seems likely the Iron Age tribe would have used it. A now virtually destroyed cairn nearby is believed to be Bronze Age. The site consists of a ditch and rampart some 130 by 330 metres with an 8 metre high Mottetump or motte in the eastern end. It is conjectured that the tump is Roman, a look-out or Norman, a Ruinwooden castle or a later castle or hunting lodge for the lords of Newport. The views are breathtaking. North, the Brecon Beacons shining white with snow. Between are over a dozen wind turbines whirling in the wind. South, the valley of the Pantyreos Brook leading into Newport with the Bristol Channel and Somerset beyond. South-west is Cardiff. East is the Severn crossings. Across to the triangulation point at 198 metres. Raven flies past cronking. Back down the hill. A stone is inscribed Floss and Griff. Another huge stone has a 4 inch hole drilled right through it. Back along the hill crest then down an old road, now much broken up. The surface improves but the hill becomes very steep which is murder for my poor old knees. Penheol-y-badd-f√Ęch is an old farm now a ruin. Some way down are sheep in the lane. I worry I will be driving them all the way to the village they turn off up a lane, so I continue. The lane enters Henllys. The nursery in old school built in 1878 with a plaque the Rogerstone and Henllys School Board. On down to the main road. I follow this for a while passing mainly modern housing then catch a bus back to Cwmbrân centre.

Sunday – The River Thames – To Addlestone High Street past the old fire station now a shop with a large villa dated 1891 opposite. The High Street is late Victorian. One large set of shops are dated 1899. There is also a lot is new build. Aircraft are rising steeply from Heathrow and arcing around to set off for distant destinations. Onto the station. Feral Pigeons gather in a roof, going for a quick fly around before resettling back on the same roof. Jackdaws are flying around, seemingly going nowhere. A New York bound aircraft flies overhead. The train arrives. Past new housing developments, fields, little lanes and despite being Sunday morning, a busy M25 motorway. I have to change at Virginia Water. The station is surrounded by modern blocks with a new block being built. Magpies perch on severely pruned trees. A new block nearby has a fair number of for sale signs the windows. Beyond the road bridge rises the tower of Holloway Sanatorium. It was the idea of philanthropist Thomas Holloway, designed in an elaborate Franco-Gothic style by W. H. Crossland, and built between 1873 and 1885. Pevsner regarded these two buildings as the summit of High Victorian design. It is now a gated community. Early clouds has mainly cleared leaving the sun shining brightly but it is cold. The moon is low, pale and huge in the west, diminished from its super blue moon status of a few days ago. Into the next train. As it passes the Great Wood of Virginia Water, several deer bound away into the trees. Over the River Thames at Staines. An Egyptian Goose flies across the river.

I alight at Twickenham. The first written record of the existence of Twickenham is in a charter of 704 AD, where the settlement is described as Tuican hom. Beyond the platform is a wall with large Art Deco concrete panels. Behind is Mary’s Terrace, as informed by the name on a large portico. A pair of parakeets fly over, more appear a few seconds later. Cranes tower over the station as a new apartment block is built. The station approach emerges by a bridge, Cole’s Bridge, over the River Crane. By the river Thomas Cole founded a brewery early in the 17th century. In 1892 George Cole sold the brewery to Brandon’s of Putney, which carried on operations here for another 14 years. This later became the site of a Royal Mail Twickenhamsorting office, which has recently been replaced by St James’s Brewery Wharf development. A house at the end of the bridge has a floral plaque with the date 1903. Opposite are shops in Victorian buildings. Back over the railway, the former London and South Western Railways Windsor line, into the shopping centre of Twickenham. A pub, The Cabbage Patch is apparently the World Famous Rugby Pub. An aircraft roars over low, I am the only person who looks up! Most of the Victorian buildings are fairly ordinary high street fare but the it Post Office is a good Edwardian building with two ornate portholes high either side of the door columns with swags and putti and above the doors are scrolls of Edward VII. It is, of course now a Wetherspoons. At the junction of York Street is an early 20th century white stone bank and what was once at department store with an ornate façade of 1903. In King Street there are more classic early 20th century department store buildings including one which was almost certainly a Woolworths, now a Poundland.

Water Lane leads to the River Thames. At the foot of the road is an old wooden dock now just remains a few inches high. A bridge leads over to the famous Eel Pie Island, formerly known as Parish or Twickenham Ait. Mesolithic deer antler tools have been found on shores the island. There was an inn here in 1743. In the 19th century the inn sold eel pies which the island its name. The Eel Pie Hotel was built the 19th century and hosted tea dances. On 1956 a jazz club opened at the hotel which later hosted many R&B acts who became famous, such as The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Yardbirds etc. The bank is occupied by the inevitable Canada Geese along with gulls, feral pigeons and a pair of Egyptian Geese mating! Eastwards along the riverside. A crane barge is tied to a dock. The church is St Mary has a perpendicular west tower, but body of church rebuilt to designs of John James in 1714-15. A plaque in the wall outside at a height of around eight feet marks where flood water reached on March 12th 1774. Past Champion’s Wharf. Dial House is dated 1890. An Italianate bridge descends to a garden behind a wall where vast statues of horses and maidens forming a fountain can be seen. Their sculptors are unknown. The gardens are part of York House which dates from 1690-1700, being a partial re-building of the earlier house, which was the house of James II before his accession. At the Restoration it was given to the Earl of Clarendon, father of James’s first wife who was the mother of Queen Anne, who was born here, and Queen Mary.

Twickenham Yacht Club clubhouse is an arts and crafts building. Sion Road is a long early 18th century crescent. Parakeets are screeching everywhere. Large Georgian houses stand either side of the 18th century White SwanWhite Swan pub. Opposite is a hard. Orleans House Gallery is a short distance further on. All that survives of Orleans House is the Octagon Room (with its adjoining service wing); the rest having been demolished in 1927. It was built in 1710 for James Johnston, Queen Anne’s Secretary of State for Scotland. Louis Philippe lived here 1800-14 and 1815-17. In 1720 Johnston employed James Gibbs to add the Octagon for the entertainment of Queen Caroline (George II’s wife). The Thames Path runs around a park back to the river. Over the Thames is Ham House. The house was built in 1610 by Sir Thomas Vavasour, Knight Marshal to James I.

A boat of eight rowers passes. A small marina is the site of a ferry, still operating costing £1. Several Great Crested Grebes are on the river including one being severely hassled by a Black-headed Gull. Marble Hill House was built 1724-29 to the designs of Lord Herbert and Roger Morris for Henrietta Howard, mistress of George II. An unusually instructive exemplar of the architectural ideas of the English Palladian School. The setting of the house was the work of the poet Alexander Pope and Charles Bridgeman, the royal landscape gardener. Opposite, The Royal Star and Garter Home The Royal Star and Garter Homeon Richmond Hill, was built between 1921 and 1924 to a design by Sir Edwin Cooper, based on a plan produced by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1915, to provide accommodation and nursing facilities for 180 seriously injured servicemen. Below the home is the Petersham Hotel. A cottage was built around 1650 and rebuilt as a substantial house in the 1770’s. It got the name of Nightingale Cottage from the nightingales on Richmond Hill. In 1863, Nightingale Cottage (by then renamed Ashburnham Lodge) was acquired by the Richmond Hill Hotel Company. They employed John Giles as the architect to design an hotel built in 1865 – the same year as E M Barry’s new French Château wing of the Star and Garter above it on the hill. Though somewhat less ambitious than Barry’s building the Richmond Hill Hotel with its tower, high pitched roofs and many balconies is an imposing structure. Its architectural style was described at the time as florid Italian Gothic. A Cormorant is drying its wings, standing on a buoy. An oval island, Glover’s Island, lays out in the river. Most the dogs here are the trendy sorts, often poodle crosses but there is one splendid Border Collie rounding up its owners in collie fashion.

The Thames is taking a great bend around Richmond Hill which is above the far bank. On this side is the Belgian Village on the Thames. The community was created by Charles Pelabon who built a vast munitions factory here in the First World War. After the war the area was bought by Twickenham Council who built the largest skating rink in the world in the site. It was demolished in 1992 and now flats cover the area. A new rink was promised but never materialised. The river reaches Richmond Bridge, built in 1777 by James Paine and Kenton Couse and widened 1937. Five moulded segmental arches in Portland stone, rise gradually to the centre, which has the widest and tallest arch. Benches in alcoves on the bridge are cast iron dated 1868. Over to the other side of the river.

Up the hill from the bridge is a classic Art Deco cinema, The Odeon. Back into the Thames Path. Huge developments have a Georgian look but is hard to tell. In the courtyard of what must be a recent build there is a market of hand made and artisan foods, crafts etc. Out of the courtyard and past the former Town Hall, restored in 1952 after bombing damage. Opposite is a war memorial. Over the edge is the river, one Black-headed Gull has almost got its black head back after the winter. Feral Pigeons are rolling in the edge of the water, washing their feathers and cooing contentedly. The White Cross Hotel, like the St Helena Terrace and House alongside it, dates from the 1820s or 1830s. Below St Helena Terrace are old boat stores a couple being used for trade, a Greek deli and a pottery. P