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Y Filltir Sgwâr/The Square Mile: A Forgotten Place – the site of the British Ironworks Reservoir at Cwmsychan

31 Mar 2024 5 minute read
The Old British Ironworks Reservoir (Tom Maloney)

In a year long series Tom Maloney, from Abersychan shows how you can love a place so well it becomes a part of you.

A Forgotten Place: the site of the British Ironworks Reservoir at Cwmsychan

I suspect that every locality has its forgotten places, which over time have become almost invisible in our daily lives.

It’s all the more surprising when these places still have a huge footprint on the landscape.

Cwmsychan is such a location, where an industrial reservoir, quarrying, coal mining and farming all have their history within this little valley that sits above the village of Abersychan.

Sometimes I see a long distance runner or a walker or two, but I usually wander here without seeing another soul, except for the sheep!

Under a Constable sky; the path to Cwmsychan (Tom Maloney)

Enjoying a good walk is as much about taking in the sights, sounds and smells along the way as much as it is in getting to the destination.

I do so much enjoy a big sky, especially when the cloud formations evoke the great artists.

Along the path to Cwmsychan I am reminded of the surrealist clouds in the paintings of Magritte and of Turner’s ethereal, translucent layers of paint, but mostly I think of the great works of Constable, a master of landscape whose sky studies still seem so fresh to my eye.

Cwmsychan Reservoir: winter view after heavy rain (Tom Maloney)

Heavy industry seems to have touched every part of the local landscape and the top end of this valley was chosen for the construction of the British Ironworks Reservoir.

Though the dam wall has been in disrepair for some time, it remains a substantial structure.

I often wonder about why this site was chosen and just how effective it was in supplying water for the production of iron.

In the Welsh, the word for dry is ‘sych’ and this word features within the names Cwmsychan and Abersychan.

It would be reasonable to assume that there has been a long history of dryness, especially in the summer months and this is certainly something that I have observed over the past few years.

This being said, the reservoir partially fills from time to time after periods of heavy rain and you can then easily imagine it in its heyday.

One such memorable moment for me was in the January of 2022.

On a Winter’s morn, with a dusting of frost in the valley, the landscape was transformed by the reflected hues of cobalt blue and rust orange on the mirrored surface of the water.

I treasure beautiful moments like these, they are the reason why I walk.

Imagining The British Ironworks Reservoir:  Illustration by Tom Maloney

Brian Foster’s ‘Abersychan Ironworks 1827 – 1884’ gives the construction date of the ironworks as between 1825 and 1827 so there are two hundred years of history here.

The structure of the dam wall has the appearance of an ancient castle where huge buttresses have been set against the structure to give it support and where these are in place the wall has remained intact.

Elsewhere along its length there has been a good deal of collapse.

In recent years fences have been put up to direct walkers away from the dangerous areas, but from a safe distance it is still possible to see just how much of a massive undertaking it was to build originally.

The Ruins of The Boat House (Tom Maloney)

There is another smaller, rectangular ruin a little way away from the dam wall, positioned close to where the water’s edge would have been.

When I first visited the old reservoir I have to confess I paid these stones no attention at all, but the beauty of visiting a place regularly is that it asks questions of you and you ask questions in your mind of what you see.

Thoughts of a boathouse were confirmed by looking at old maps.

The structure of the dam wall (Tom Maloney)

The old dam wall is a really good viewing point.

Often, I will stand looking out on the landscape and imagine a small workboat, perhaps just a little rowing boat being taken out on an inspection of the reservoir.

Newborn lamb at Cwmsychan (Tom Maloney)

Occasionally, amazing things happen.

I saw my first Red Kite in the wild locally here. It was over literally in a flash and happened far too quickly for me to photograph, but it was such a spectacle of colour and movement and simply wonderful.

And there is such joy in close encounters of the small kind too!

How lovely it was to greet a newborn lamb as it hesitantly walked around a feeding station on a showery day in March this week.

Pasg Hapus iawn i bawb

A very Happy Easter to all.

Read the earlier installments of Y Filltir Sgwâr/The Square Mile by Tom Maloney

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Mike Smith
Mike Smith
3 months ago

Another fine article Tom, enjoyed this one as well. Keep up the good work.

Tom Maloney
Tom Maloney
3 months ago
Reply to  Mike Smith

Many thanks Mike. There’s such a surprise when you see the site of the old British Ironworks Reservoir, no matter how many times you see it!

3 months ago

I enjoyed that very much Tom and shall try and catch up on some more of your previous posts. Well done and thanks for putting me on to them. Chris

Tom Maloney
Tom Maloney
2 months ago
Reply to  Chris

So pleased you enjoyed the post and very much appreciate the lovely reply. Tom

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