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Y Filltir Sgwâr/The Square Mile: Along the Line

05 May 2024 5 minute read
Garndiffaith Viaduct Arches (Photo: 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.

Once upon a time you could easily have described Abersychan as a railway village as there were two railway lines that served the community.

One was constructed at high level and one at a lower level in the valley. Each line had its own station and each connected Abersychan with Blaenavon and Pontypool.

The lower level route is largely forgotten now, and I have found it very difficult to follow in the landscape, but the top-level route has gained a new life as a multi use path and is popular with cyclists and walkers.

It is a gentle, endearing path that sometimes curves and bends with the contours of the hillside, but can also be as straight as a Roman road. Much of its length is included in the Cwmavon Corridor Nature Reserve now.

So as you might expect there are reminders of a railway past wherever you set your compass and sometimes a few surprises as well!

View from the Viaduct (Photo: Tom Maloney)

I think my introduction to the old railway must have been when I saw Garndiffaith Viaduct for the first time.

To say I was I was filled with such awe and wonder to see this magnificent Victorian structure in the middle of a small village does not really do justice to the impact it had on me then.

Magnificent is not a word that I use lightly, I don’t think that a week goes by that I do not walk across its length or stop to admire it in the landscape.

It is such a thing of beauty, with grand pillars of meticulously dressed stone and arches of blue engineering bricks that span the valley with classical dignity.

John Gardner, the engineer responsible for its construction quite rightly has his name inscribed on one of the pillars for the date 1876-7, but I worry that it showing severe signs of wear from weathering. It would be such a shame to see this go.

John Gardner inscription (Photo: Tom Maloney)

What a day it must have been when the first train crossed.
Oh to have been in the crowd
On the day the first train crossed
To hear the spit of steam
And the engine being readied
To see the expectation on the faces
And nervous tension too
To hear the shouts and hurrahs
And mighty whistle blasts
To see the engine trundle forward
Oh to have been in the crowd
On the day the first train crossed
Garndiffaith Viaduct!

So, why was it built? Coflein, the online catalogue of archaeology, buildings, industrial and maritime heritage in Wales has the following entry –

‘The viaduct was built to carry the London & North Western Railway (LNWR) on the Abersychan & Talywain to Brynmawr Line.’

From my limited research this much is agreed on in various sources, but there seems to be some differences relating to the purpose and the date the line came to an end with dates from ranging from 1965 to 1980.

Looking at old postcards and photographs it is clear that the line carried passengers for at least part of its lifetime, but I would think that its primary purpose was the transport of coal, which would have stopped with the closure of Big Pit in 1980.

Site of Abersychan and Talywain Station today (Photo; Tom Maloney)

I stumbled across the site of Abersychan and Talywain Station quite by accident.

In fact, I discovered that I had walked past it many, many times without knowing for quite a number of years.

How history can be in plan sight at times and yet hidden from view!

Abersychan & Talywain Station As It Once May have Looked (Illustration by Tom Maloney based on period postcards)

If you ever venture this way, just a little beyond the Viaduct going up the line you will encounter ‘a cut’ quite probably created with dynamite that is so artfully lined with bricks to create a series of alcoves that I often think of this stretch as an outdoor sculpture gallery.

The Cut – an outdoor sculpture gallery. (Photo: Tom Maloney)

Nature is never far away.

It is lovely to hear Stonechat, Woodpeckers, Jays and Buzzards and … I will never forget the time a Buzzard flew so low over my head whilst I was walking through the cut that I felt the power of its flight and felt as if I walking within its shadow for a second.

How do you price such moments?

But … keep your eyes out for the smaller creatures too, as this is a haven for pollinators as well.

Speckled Wood Butterfly (Photo~: Tom Maloney)

So much to see and experience along such a small stretch of old railway!

And there’s so much more down the line!

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

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adrian savill
adrian savill
7 days ago

Mwynhais hwn

Tom Maloney
Tom Maloney
6 days ago
Reply to  adrian savill

Diolch yn fawr iawn am yr ateb hyfryd

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
6 days ago

Another excellent article Tom, you have a great way with words making it very pleasant reading.

Tom Maloney
Tom Maloney
6 days ago
Reply to  Mike Smith

Many thanks Mike, it such a pleasure to share the lovely places in and around the Abersychan area.

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