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Y Filltir Sgwâr/The Square Mile: Waterfalls, Cascades and Colliery Spoil

19 May 2024 5 minute read
Cwm Ffrwd in the middle of May 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.

What is the best time to explore the landscape? I am never quite sure, but the glorious sunshine of Wednesday afternoon after Tuesday’s heavy rain made my mind up to follow the meandering cascades and waterfalls at Cwm Ffrwd.

Besides, I thought it was high time that I took another look at this intriguing, beautiful valley with all its contrasts, which was the subject of my first feature ‘The Song of The Ffrwd’.

Spring gives everything a different feel, but the song of the Ffrwd is a constant, you hear it before you see it and when you see it … well it captures something inside of you.

The two sides of the valley Photo: Tom Maloney

If anything the greening of the trees in their Spring attire seen directly opposite the steep, sparkling purple sides of colliery spoil, caught in the spotlight of the afternoon Sun accentuates the contrasting ways in which the valley has been used.

But … the question of how we treat the land is a question that just gets more difficult.

Scorched earth at Cwm Ffrwd Photo: Tom Maloney

A Lonely Tree

High on the valley ridge
A lonely tree
Resplendent in its Spring Clothes
Of waving sap green leaves
Stands but a foot away
From where the fire reached
What thoughts are these
That direct the hands
That strike the malicious match!

As I continued my walk to the waterfalls and cascades within the woodland I was confronted yet again with the heart breaking, needless damage to habitat caused by fire.

On this occasion the effects were limited to a small area, but the implications could have been so much worse.

Whether this fire was started deliberately, or whether it was caused by a barbecue that had got out of control, I see this happening more and more.

Within fifty yards of this devastation, cocooned within a shady, leafy bower is the largest and perhaps the most striking of the waterfalls.

It continues all the while and immediately soothed my thoughts, but I still think of the fragility of the landscape. It asks nothing of us other than that we tread carefully upon its soil.

Waterfall at Cwm Ffrwd sheltered by a shady bower Photo: Tom Maloney

I well remember the time that I regularly used to drive some distance to go hiking, but something has changed inside me.

I still like to go on an occasional adventure elsewhere, but less so now. I even find myself having feelings of guilt if I go too far beyond the boundaries of my square mile.

Perhaps this is a legacy of the Covid times, I am not sure.

The beauty of the Abersychan area is my magnet and Cwm Ffrwd is indeed a jewel.

Nature presents so many amazing sights in short succession and pictures that hold your gaze however many times you see them.

Just a few steps upstream a huge fallen tree spans the Ffrwd and always fills my eyes with awe.

Fallen Tree over the Ffrwd Photo: Tom Maloney

Higher up the valley and sparkling in the afternoon light is the last of the waterfalls.

I should visit this one more often, as it is simply delightful. I like its voice very much.

For all its power, it has a rhythmic, steady flow that is music to my ears.

Sparkling waterfall at Cwm Ffrwd (Photo: Tom Maloney)

Above this rather secretive watery oasis there are again reminders of the industrial past.

This was the site of Varteg Hill Colliery, Top Pits.

Site of Varteg Hill Colliery Top Pits Photo: Tom Maloney

Sheep roam here freely now, but in its day the sight, sound and smell of the mineral railway and pithead winding gear would have dominated the view.

Varteg Top Pits as it may once have been – Illustration by Tom Maloney inspired by old photographs published on

The contrasts of this little valley will, I am sure, be here for many years to come.

The colliery spoil, which is already a habitat for many pollinators, will soften and become greener as time passes.

Perhaps too, who knows, they will hopefully remind us of the impact that human action has on the land and teach us to do things differently.

View of coal tips below Mynydd Varteg Photo: Tom Maloney

My thoughts return to the fire damage. I applaud the Bannau Brycheiniog National Park Authority for its brave stance in losing the name ‘Brecon Beacons’.

It may seem only a small thing, but taking away the association with fire and celebrating the heritage of the mountains for what they are can only be a good thing in my view.

It seems to me that some way needs to be found to make a change in the hearts and minds of those that would cause wild fires, to break the yearly cycle of incidents.

So often these fragile, beautiful places have such difficult access and brave lives are needlessly put at risk.

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

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