After my recent disastrous foray into Graig’s wilderness, I made certain I was prepared for today’s resumption of the circular walk – long trousers, sturdy shoes and plenty to nibble on if the walk took a tad longer than anticipated. Oh, and I also took Harri along with me.
Regular readers might recall that our local community council has created a 10-mile way marked route around the ward to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee last year. BBC Wales weatherman and keen hiker Derek Brockway will officially open the path later this year.
Unfortunately, my first attempt to walk the Graig Diamond Jubilee Path two weeks ago was not an overwhelming success; I managed to get completely lost less than a mile from Rhiwderin and, like ET, had to phone home for assistance.
While the scenery throughout was spectacular and made me appreciate our beautiful semi-rural area more than ever, I struggled to follow the map and scant directions on the leaflet.
Well, I’m pleased to report that today was a different story altogether. Harri’s formidable local knowledge undoubtedly helped; his off-road running means that he’s aware of the myriad of footpaths criss-crossing through Graig so he didn’t need to keep desperately hunting for the next GDJP way marks like me.
We joined the official route between Bassaleg and Cwm Hedd (points 1 and 2 on the map), quickly reaching the footbridge over the stream, where thick undergrowth on the far side had previously scratched my legs raw. Thank goodness the offending vegetation has now been cut right back and instead of having to fight through waist-high stingy nettles and brambles, we were able to across the bridge and stroll straight into the field via a wide path. So far so good.
When we moved to Rhiwderin a little over six years ago there was scant evidence that people were using local footpaths. With the exception of those forming part of the popular Sirhowy Valley Walk, they seemed to be largely unwalked and overgrown. Our determined attempts to exercise our rights and follow the paths marked on OS maps were often thwarted by farmers, fences, crops and brambles (plus a rather ferocious garage owner).
Fortunately, the situation seems to be changing and there are now signs on the ground that more and more people are pulling on their hiking boots (or Salomon trail running shoes in our case) and discovering how much the outlying areas of Newport have to offer in terms of outdoor recreation.
Back in the spring of 2001, when the foot and mouth crisis was escalating, I sat in a meeting in Newport’s Civic Centre (I was a humble press officer at the time) and was amazed when someone mentioned how many farms were located within Newport’s boundaries. I lived close to town centre and, while I was aware that there were farms and fields in outlying areas like Goldcliff and Marshfield, I genuinely had no idea that so much countryside, woodland and spectacular scenery lay tantalizingly close to the town centre.
Like many, I’d always thought of Newport as an industrial city, with a muddy, tidal river, large docklands, several steelworks and a major motorway running through its core. Thomas Hardy country it most definitely was not.
But over the years I’ve gradually changed my view. I still dislike Newport town centre and avoid it as much as possible, but travel a few miles in any direction and you’re certain of beautiful scenery. The Ridgeway’s double view, Wentwood, Caerleon, Rhiwderin, Marshfield, Llanwern Village, Goldcliff, Nash, Lower Machen… all places worthy of a visit on a summer’s day.
Yet the view of Newport as a dirty, industrial city remains (I think the word Lonely Planet used was ‘gritty’) and I think it’s this public perception that Graig Community Council was hoping to change when it embraced the idea of developing a 10-mile way marked path.
But I digress… back to today and the eagerly-anticipated second half of the route. I estimated I’d walked about five miles on my solitary hike to Afon Mead and back, then on to Bassaleg and Cwm Hedd Lakes; Harri, however, took one glance at the map and estimated we had at least another six miles to cover.
Three hours of hiking, scratching and itching and I’d covered four paltry miles. Still, six miles isn’t far and the terrain wasn’t likely to be particularly demanding, even in the heat.
So… grasping the Graig map once again, off we set. And I’m pleased to report that we encountered no problems at all with footpaths; in fact, we enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon’s walking which took in Park Wood, a delightful section of the Rhymney River Circular Walk, Plas Machen (a Grade II Listed farmhouse built by Thomas Morgan, a member of the Morgan family of Tredegar House) and Lower Machen.
We took a short detour to look at the recently restored Iron Bridge. The footbridge, with its 16-metre span, was another Morgan construction. The area was part of the estate of Lord Tredegar and was commissioned to provide access for horse-drawn carriages and pedestrians from nearby Ruperra Castle to the family’s place of worship at Lower Machen. Harri actually translated the Welsh for the interpretation board at the site.
And so we meandered happily through ripening crop fields and shadowy woodlands, a church graveyard and steep climbing lane until the views opened out and we could see past Craig Ruperra, the summerhouse high above Ruperra Castle, and to the Bristol Channel and Cardiff beyond.
Had I been walking the route alone, I’d undoubtedly have missed a few way marks along the way; nor would the occasional nod from the leaflet in terms of directions have gone amiss. On the whole, however, the Graig Diamond Jubilee Path flaunts the very best scenery the ward has to offer and for that reason alone, it’s worth hunting out your walking boots.