It all began on a disused railway line in Bristol back in 1984. The creation of a 14 mile stretch of walking and cycle path; The National Cycling Route Network of the United Kingdom was created. A mighty ambitious goal was set, to expand these 14 miles to 5,000 miles by 2005. With a fairly interpretable aim of being “suitable for an unsupervised twelve year old”.
In very un-British fashion, the goal was smashed by mid-2000. A further goal of 10,000 miles by 2005 was created and once again achieved. Our route-43 Cycle path contributes 36 miles to this grand total, a contribution which is hoped to expand further into the Brecon Beacons and beyond.
The charity Sustrans were instrumental in the planning and pushing for the proposal and had eyed disused railway lines over a decade before the project began. Sustrans continues to push for further cycle path development and boast an impressive website giving details of all cycle routes across the UK.
I spoke with Ryland Jones, Deputy Director for Sustrans Cymru about our path:- ‘Route 43 represents a significant asset for communities along the Swansea Valley and, as has been shown during the recent Covid Lockdown, offers access to green space and a place for people to relax, experience all their local area has to offer and also access basic services, all in a sustainable and healthy way. The route supports communities by enabling local journeys by walking and cycling as well as adding to the attractiveness of the area for tourists and visitors.”
“Sustrans would love to see further development of the route to link into the Brecon Beacons in future and make the route even more accessible, and we will be working with our Local Authority partners to further this vision as part of the wider development of the National Cycle Network in Wales”.
ROUTE 43 DEVELOPMENT
Route 43 has been developed over many years with early sections being completed around 2000. From 2010 to 2013 a significant section around Clydach was completed along the canal and now includes plans for reopening of the former canal lock by Swansea Canal Society. The latest upgraded section between Trebanos and Pontardawe was completed within the last few months.
Working on that project was John Phillips on behalf of Alun Griffiths contractors. I always enjoy speaking with people passionate about their job; whatever it may be (within reason!). I spoke with John, who certainly falls into that category who told me:-
“We started down by the Alloy Industrial estate in Pontardawe and worked right up to the riding school in Trebanos. On the canal bank, it was a complete reconstruction. Timber edging and overlay on most parts, subbase, top-soiling. The canal path, by the riding school was horrendous beforehand, with big pot holes.”
During lockdown, there were safety precautions in play but Covid-19 didn’t slow progress “Everything run according, we had to shut some parts of the path, we had to shut ourselves down from them (the public) and them from us. Everyone was understanding, polite and it all went smoothly.”
You can clearly hear the pride as John tells me “The comments we were having were really positive. The council had an email sent to them from a professor in Rhos which was tremendous, someone from England said that our path was ‘better than Hyde park. Beautiful by the river, one of the nicest paths (they) had ever been on’. It is looking great and one of the best ones which I’ve been a part of.”
The route has been developed by a partnership between Sustrans and each Local authority along the route, using funds from the Millennium Commission, European Regional Development Fund, Welsh Government and National Lottery, amongst others.
The route links to multiple amenity sites and attractions, starting at the mouth of the River Tawe in Swansea, passing through the Copper Quarter and past the Liberty Stadium, following the river to Clydach where it links to the canal towpath and on to Pontardawe. It then uses former railway tracks to link up to Ystradgynlais and currently finishes at Coelbren close to Henrhyd Waterfalls.
Longer term plans for the route will hopefully see it link up through the upper Swansea Valley past Craig Y Nos Country Park and Abercraf and into the Brecon Beacons National Park, eventually linking to Brecon and Llanwrtyd Wells in Powys.
DESCRIBING ROUTE 43
I feel sometimes we need an ‘outsider’ to explain to us what we can’t always see for ourselves and so this is Sustrans description of the first section of route 43 from Swansea to Clydach:-
“Following a mixture of riverside paths, new purpose build sections and old railway lines, this route provides a green strip through the industrial heart of the Swansea Valley. From the route it is possible to see some of the valley’s industrial past, while at the same time the route showcase its regenerated present. The ride begins in the re-developed marina, running alongside the Tawe and taking you up past the Morfa Retail Park and the Liberty Stadium.”
Beautifully put. And from Clydach to Ystalyfera:- “This is a very gentle 6.5 mile ride along canal towpath and old railway, following the valley floor from between two of the major Swansea Valley towns. Starting from Coed Gwilwm Park, the route picks up the canal towpath and takes you into the heart of Pontardawe. Moving away from the Canal and following the river bank, you find your way onto the old railway line.”
“This takes you through woodland alongside the river before emerging on the edge of Ystalyfera. The ride can be halved in length if you stop in Pontardawe, while it can also be extended by riding in the opposite direction. If you are feeling particularly energetic it is possible to ride from Ystalyfera to Mumbles almost entirely on traffic free paths.”
CYCLE PATH USAGE
During lockdown, the cycle path has never seemed busier. Especially when Trebanos RFC set their combined target of 1897 miles; I have never seen so many Trebanos badges in my life as on there then.
It has become something which we probably take for granted. I use the section near me regularly. I got my camera out and walked the route from Ynystawe to Pontardawe after reading Sustrans comments. I went out with fresh eyes, really looked around and took it all in. We are immensely blessed in this valley with our blend of past industry, countryside and modern developments and our cycle path offers a real varied beauty of it all.