On our doorstep… Ironbridge Circular Walk

The pretty village of Draethen, just over the border in Caerphilly
The pretty village of Draethen

Just as every blog post doesn’t have to be lengthy, not every walk has to cover miles and miles.

We have a busy week ahead of us and so couldn’t really spare a whole day out of the ‘office’ (our spare bedroom) to go hiking but the promise of a sunny autumnal day was too enticing to ignore so once again we decided to stay local.

At just 3.3 miles, the Iron Bridge Circular Walk is one of Newport council’s shortest promoted walks (though interestingly, they measure the route at 2.8 miles) and was created to celebrate the restoration of a 16-metre cast iron footbridge over the River Rhymney. The bridge was constructed in 1829 and was part of the estate of Lord Tredegar (of Newport’s Tredegar House) who commissioned its construction to provide access for horse drawn vehicles and pedestrians from Ruperra Castle to and from the church at Lower Machen and the Lower Machen area.

 

The restored Iron Bridge over the River Rhymney
The restored Iron Bridge over the River Rhymney

There’s a rather stunning house for sale right next to the Iron Bridge and it’s up for sale at the moment, though at £1.8 million it’s slightly out of our price range.

Here’s a sneak look at it:

A stunning home in a gorgeous location.
A stunning home in a gorgeous location.

Although it’s one of our favourite places, the Rhymney valley seems to attract relatively few hikers, other than locals. It’s hard to fathom out why this wide and stunning valley remains such a secret; perhaps our forthcoming ebook, Trails in the Rhymney Valley, will go some way towards putting the area on the hiking map.

What was so nice about today’s little walk was the real sense of history that it ensued. Apart from the magnificent Iron Bridge, there are several other reminders of the great influence the wealthy (and philanthropic) Morgan family had on the area, the most impressive being the great Ruperra Castle.

 

Now dilapidated, Ruperra Castle was once a magnificent country mansion
Ruperra Castle was once a magnificent country mansion

 

Ruperra Castle was destroyed by fire in 1941 and has been aptly described as a ‘romantic ruin’. The ruins (for the estate also boasts extensive outbuildings and cottages) are privately owned and access is strictly prohibited (venture too close and, believe me, you’ll hear those hounds!). Three years ago, plans to turn them into flats and housing were turned down by Caerphilly Council and the decision was upheld on appeal. I fully understand why no-one wanted this amazing building turned into a housing estate and its once landscaped gardens crawling with cars, but the alternative could be that we lose this magnificent Grade I listed castle for ever. It’s such a sad state of affairs that such a beautiful historic building which is of national importance to Wales is becoming more and more dilapidated because no-one can afford to restore it for its own sake.

Earlier today Harri stumbled upon a website which appears to have been set up by the current owner to encourage skilled people to come forward to help restore the castle. It’s not clear from the wording whether he is inviting financial investment or just trying to get free skilled labour for what surely be one massive but very worthwhile restoration project. I wish I’d paid more attention during my two plumbing lessons!!

As it’s almost impossible to get a decent view of the dilapidated castle without trespassing, it’s worth visiting that website if only to look at the amazing aerial shots of the castle and its gardens before disaster struck.

 

Now dilapidated, Ruperra Castle was once a magnificent country mansion
Harri relaxing after the climb up to Craig Ruperra

The nearby Craig Ruperra also has an interesting history. Once an Iron Age hill fort and Norman motte and bailey castle, I was also the site of a 17th century stone summerhouse and the walls still remain. This is a lovely spot to stop for a picnic or just to pause and admire the 360 degree views.

 

An artist's impression of the two-storey summerhouse which appeared on an estate plan of 1764
An artist’s impression of the two-storey summerhouse which appeared on an estate plan of 1764

Today’s walk took us past my favourite ‘haunted’ house – Plas Machen. I have no idea if it’s really haunted, of course, but this old sandstone house with its many chimney stacks has always looked like it should have a starring role in a Hammer horror film. Unfortunately, once again, you can’t get as close to the house as I’d like, but it’s still worth stopping and looking at from a distance.

While I often refer to our home village of Rhiwderin as Newport’s ‘last outpost’, that’s not strictly accurate. We might be the last sizeable village but Lower Machen, on Newport’s most westerly boundary, is the absolute last. There’s not a lot there: just 19 houses and a church. Like so many historic buildings in and around Newport, St Michael and All Angels had close connections with the Morgan family and there are eleven hatchments (diamond-shaped tablets displaying the names of dead people) connected with the family at the church.

 

The wonderfully gothic Plas Machen in the Rhymney Valley
The wonderfully gothic Plas Machen in the Rhymney Valley

 

It’s interesting to get the chance to walk the same route at different times of the year as you immediately recognise the seasonal changes.  Today, as we wandered along the edge of one of the larger arable fields, now bare and muddy, Harri reminded me how we’d taken Amber and Imogen walking there a few summers ago and how our little grand-daughters had all but disappeared between the tall crops.

 

Some of the crops were almost as tall as my grand-daughters
Some of the crops were almost as tall as my grand-daughters

We were home before noon, but it was so nice to get out and stretch our legs in such a lovely valley… our valley.

 

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