Head up to the hilltop ridges separating each of the Valleys to find some of the most spectacular scenery in Wales. This is a landscape untouched by the Industrial Revolution, criss-crossed by drovers’ tracks linking ancient hamlets sheltering around age-old churches. Here are three of our favourite hilltop hamlets, each with a great story, good walking opportunities and a traditional country pub!
The fastest man?
St Gwynno’s Church in the tiny hamlet of Llanwonno, between the Rhondda and the Cynon Valleys, is the last resting place of the fleet-footed runner Guto Nyth Bran. He could run faster than a horse and won many races leading to his legendary status as the fastest man of his time. He is remembered every New Year’s Eve with the Nos Galan races held in Mountain Ash. Round off a great little waterfall walk from Llanwonno with lunch or afternoon tea at The Brynffynon Hotel.
The most influential philosopher?
Llangeinor, with its fabulous views and pretty St Ceinwyr’s Church, was the birthplace of the 18th century philosopher Richard Price. His writing inspired the American War of Independence and the American Constitution. The Bryngarw circular walk follows an old drover’s path past the church and the Llangeinor Arms.
The greatest Welsh love story?
A beautiful 18th century folk song called ‘Watching the white wheat’, written by local lad Wil Hopcyn, tells of the tragic love affair between Wil and his love Ann, the Maid of Cefn Ydfa, a story that William Haggar, the famed Valleys film maker made into a well loved film in 1914. Forced to marry her parents’ choice rather than Wil, Anne died of a broken heart. She is buried in Llangynwyd church whilst Wil lies under a yew tree in the churchyard. Wil lived in what is now the Corner House Inn.
What’s On September
22- 24 September - Elvis Festival Porthcawl
All shook up…35,000 fans head to Porthcawl for three days of extravagant blue suede glitz, Elvis look alikes and Vegas shows.
Wales Valleys Walking Festival - throughout September - a wide range of great walks led by enthusiastic and knowledgeable guides.
Other hilltop churches to visit include St Illtyds Church near Abertillery, with its circular graveyard suggesting a very early religious site. Cistercian or ‘White Monks’ as they were known, ran large flocks of sheep over the mountains. It’s thought St Illtyds was rebuilt by these monks in the 13th or 14th century.