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Y Filltir Sgwâr/The Square Mile: Walking the line

26 May 2024 5 minute read
Valley View From The Line Framed by a Bower of Trees in ‘Monet Light’, image by 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.’

Walking The Line

‘Walking the line’ has a little ring of Johnny Cash about it and just as pleasurable as listening to the great man’s music is a stroll following the route of the old railway line.

This feature is a follow up to ‘Along The Line’ published a few weeks ago and takes a look at the lovely scenery between Garndiffiath and Varteg.

It’s so hard to believe that the railway was still operational only a short time ago, its demise being closely linked with mining.

When Big Pit closed in 1980, the sight and sound of diesel engines trundling through the valley, hauling their heavy wagons of coal went with it.

Information boards let you know that this is the Cwmavon Corridor Local Nature Reserve now.

I like the boards very much, but you don’t have to read the boards to understand that Nature is in charge once more.

There is an instinctive connection with the ambience of place immediately.

Dappled pools of light like fleeting spherical stepping-stones along the path, image by Tom Maloney


I know that a walk is going to be memorable if I start to think of the great artists that I admire and the Impressionist painter Claude Monet came into my thoughts immediately.

Monet is probably best known for his later paintings inspired by his garden at Giverny, but I also like earlier works painted at his garden at Vétheuil that play with shadow and dappled light, which I fondly think of as ‘Monet Light’.

As I strolled along the path early on Monday morning, dappled pools of light, like fleeting, spherical, stepping-stones met my gaze stretching into the distance as if to guide my way,  ‘Monet light’ at its best for me.

The outstretched branches played their part in the picture too, like a master class of textures created by beautifully applied brushstrokes.

Perhaps too much going on for some tastes, but I was enthralled by the picture.

I was reminded of how much Monet immersed himself in Nature as an artist and of how fortunate we are to have places like this where we too can commune with Mother Earth.

A shower of light transforms the view off the line. Image by Tom Maloney


I felt like I was in an outdoor gallery on this morning, walking from one amazing picture to another.

On any walk it is tempting just to keeping looking ahead, but there are such delights when you simply turn your head.

The light play was different looking off the line.

Soft backlighting, like a gentle shower of light created so many silver green hues and an almost abstract puzzle of textures and forms so pleasing to my eye.

The Site of Varteg Station Today, image by Tom Maloney

A long platform remains at the site where Varteg Station once stood, sandwiched between Snail Creep Bridge and Shop Road Bridge.

It is a tranquil setting now, without any of the busy comings and goings that you would have expected in the golden years of the railway.

Much has been done recently to develop and enhance the important role that wild flowers have in the landscape here.

A bank of Red Campion (Silene dioica) at the site of Varteg Station, image by Tom Maloney

As if to complete my morning of Monet, I was transfixed by the abundance of Red Campion growing beneath the shelter of the trees at the edge of the platform.

A picture of colour that reminded me so much of ‘The Poppy Field Near Argentueil’ that Monet painted in 1873 and to my mind still a magnificent painting.

Red Campion has such lovely little blossoms, reminiscent of pink propellers gazing towards the Sun.

As was intended, the blooms attracted a goodly amount of pollinators on my visit, but they were all too fast for my photography skills on this occasion!

Imagining Varteg Station as it once may have been, image by Tom Maloney


When I am at Varteg I often have feelings of nostalgia or ‘hiraeth in the Welsh’ and think how the Station may once have looked in the Age of Steam.

There must have been so many stories that began or ended on the platform, so many fond farewells and happy embraces on returning home.

Shop Road Bridge, image by Tom Maloney

Just a little beyond the grassy platform, is Shop Road Bridge that is surely an example of railway engineering at its best.

See past the moss and grasses growing within its walls and you will see stonework of the highest quality and beauty.

The rivets that adorn its rusting ironwork are worthy of an ocean liner.

There are points of interest too, that can be so easily overlooked!

Along its length there are safety refuges or alcoves built into its structure, havens once for the railway workers to get out of the way of passing trains.

Shop Road Bridge, image by Tom Maloney

And … as I stood admiring the structure of the bridge I heard the song of the Cuckoo and enjoyed the circling flight of a buzzard or two high above.

What more could you want from a walk?

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

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Alan Jones
Alan Jones
8 days ago

Hello Tom & many thanks for your prose of this old railway line in particular & the area around Abersychan/Varteg in general. I feel I have a keen interest in this area as my father was born (1921) & raised in Abersychan in a pub (demolished a long long time ago). Unfortunately, my father passed away in 1968 so never had the chance to pass on much more information on his boyhood years in the area to myself or my two brothers. I myself was Pont y pwl born but raised in the Northville area of Cwmbran, the railway line… Read more »

Tom Maloney
Tom Maloney
8 days ago
Reply to  Alan Jones

Many thanks for this fascinating, informative and enjoyable reply Alan, it is very kind of you to take the time to write this. I feel very much the same as you as well about finding out about the local area. It is only in more recent years that I have gained a better appreciation of the landscape and in truth I feel that I am only scratching at the surface still. I would so much have liked to have seen the last trains at Abersychan! I am so glad that you mentioned about the bus route that people can use… Read more »

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