Rhys grew up in Bro Morgannwg and recently returned after living away. Now, he's out to explore parts of his hometown he's rarely ventured.
After almost 5 years of living in west Wales, I returned to the Vale of Glamorgan at the end of 2019. I have since been on an undertaking to learn more about the county I grew up in. As someone who loves hiking and the outdoors, I felt that walking over 100km of the quiet countryside and serene coastline, would be the perfect way to explore the area.
Each of the 10 Vale Trails offers breathtaking views as each step takes you further back in time, enticing you to learn more about the history of the most southerly county in Wales. Vale Trail 7 is like no other. You can find Neolithic burial chambers older than Stonehenge, Edwardian Gardens and wild woodlands on this 12km, circular walk.
It was a cold winter’s afternoon and the rain began to trickle as I arrived at the small village of St. Nicholas. If you decide to do this walk during a wet wintery day like I did, make sure you wear suitable footwear, as this trail will get very boggy!
Burial chambers older than Stonehenge...
Beginning the walk at St. Nicholas church and crossing the busy A48 heading down a gradual path, I entered a flat field by climbing the stone stile nestled under a large tree, leaving the village behind. Following waymarkers for a short distance I soon arrived at the 6,000 year old Neolithic Tinkinswood Burial Chamber, just as the rain eased off and the winter sun made an appearance.
Tinkinswood was once a Neolithic village dating back to 1,000 years before Stonehenge was built. The limestone capstone at Tinkinswood is believed to be the largest in Europe and would have taken around 200 people to lift it into place! The chamber has played a seminal role in many different cultures over thousands of years, and it is believed that it was used by communities right up until the Bronze Ages. The chambers were excavated in 1914 where the remains of 40 human bodies and a collection of 920 pieces of bone were found buried.
Boggy fields and a bonus chamber...
Continuing the journey away from ghosts of the past, my mind soon focused back to the muddy fields as my foot sank into a gigantic puddle, subsequently creating a pool in my boot. It felt like the sheep alongside me were laughing as they all stared at me wandering diagonally down the farmland to reach another stile. As I climbed over the metal stile and felt the puddle move around inside my socks, I pondered whether to stop to change to a dry pair, until I glanced down at the map and saw the words, “note that this area can become quite boggy”...
After a short walk along a quiet country road, I reached a kissing gate above a layby and the entrance to St. Lythans Burial Chamber. The green grass the tomb sits on, is thought to be cursed, with the legend stating that nothing will ever grow there. It shares its pasture with cows and stands tall in the centre of the haunted field. Like it’s neighbour, St. Lythans is around 6,000 years old and would have been used for similar purposes as nearby Tinkinswood. This site has still yet to be fully excavated, so who knows what lay in the ground below.
Heading out of a surprisingly dry field through farmyard, I continued the journey heading back through waterlogged fields, passing old lime kilns on my right and a murder of crows croaking overhead. I made my way down the rather steep and spongy fields with woodlands emerging in the distance and electric pylons full of birds chirping to my left.
I followed the waymarkers into the picturesque forest and accidentally startled several squirrels either side of me. As I entered deeper under the canopy of trees, snapping broken branches under my boots, the squirrels darted onto the branches above. Stopping for a sip of water, it felt much more like the cold winter's day it was, with the sun unable to find me under the branches of the tall trees above.
A white mist...
1km of ambling through the forest later, the trail emerges onto a golf course leading to a long farmland driveway. I was relieved that I was leaving the muddy fields behind me for a little while so my feet could finally dry out. This soon wavered as I realised the road ahead was flooded in patches and that there was only one way through.
Once I’d made my way through the flooded, pot hole filled road, my feet were finally able to dry off as the trail wondered past St. Lythans Church and meandered along the roadside for around 1.5km. The sun was slowly beginning to set as the sky was turning a slight orange. Climbing over stiles, following waymarkers through wooded paths and fields of sheep, I emerged at the top of a small hill, once again looking down towards a forest I was about to explore. I stopped to catch my breath as a cloudy mist rolled through the trees and began to engulf the field in front of me. By the time I reached the woodland, I looked back to where I was just standing on the brow of the hill, but it too was now covered by the blanket of white mist.
Following the waymarkers through the overgrown, damp woodland, with the light now quickly fading and my feet shuffling through the fallen leaves, it was not long until I reached the final field to walk through. Crossing it diagonally, there was a lovely, strong smell of lavender that caught me off guard.
As I passed the green crops growing in the field, another murder of crows swooped overhead as I climbed my final stone stile to reach the road. Following the road back up to St. Nicholas, I arrived at the village as the street lamps flickered on above me. I felt myself smiling, partly because I knew I could finally put on some dry socks, but mainly, because I felt joy after walking another stunning and varied trail that I had never ventured to before.
If you are to walk any of the 10 Vale Trails, I recommend using the detailed Vale Trails maps located at tourist information points or that can be downloaded online.
Additionally, if you love your history, I would recommend downloading the Vale Tales Storytelling App that brings to life some of the fascinating stories, myths and legends behind the 10 trails!
© 2020 Rhys Russell