Trains. I really love steam trains, and the Rheidol Valley Steam Train is a corker. It is second only to the train from Chama to Antonito in my experience, though granted my experience is still very small taking a global view. This narrow-gauge train, opened in 1902, leaves from Aberystwyth and climbs and climbs through the valley to Devil’s Bridge.
Crawls up the valley. Stops to refill, and allowed us to marvel at the wonderful raised beds full of wondrous flower plantings — it is amazing how this whole project is loved. The volunteers were young, with leather caps and overalls. Life was fine on this Saturday.
Finally we arrived at Devil’s Bridge. Everyone headed there directly so we headed in the opposite direction, following the walk which can be found detailed here.
It’s longer than 6 miles.
We walked to the ruins of Bodcoll’s Woolen Mill, mysterious, overgrown. The river Mynach is beautiful here, impossible to photograph the smooth bowls its waterfalls have carved from the rock.
Climbed up and looked out across the hills. Walked and walked, saw some local hill sheep.
Got a bit lost. Got back on track.
Saw this little church, built in a much older sacred site and incorporating standing stones into the walls. I was tempted to swing by, but there were cows between us and the church.
Also, I had dragged Mark out on this walk in deck shoes. Neither of our shoe decisions was fortuitous.
Still, sheep scattered before us with fear, picturesque against the heather-covered hills.
Feeling powerful we strode up and up, young and strong, not a single ache or pain, not a breath out of place, the wind teasing our hair, the horseflies shying away from our very splendour. We found ruins, marveled at thick walls of stone.
We continued on and on. Crossed more water running sluggishly in the heat filtering down through sun dappled trees.
Then up again.
And then down and down and down a steep, rock stubbled roadway, sharp points penetrating the thin soles of Mark’s shoes though he made not a single complaint. We came to a stand of Scots pines, which the guide tells us have long been associated with rights of way, planted to mark overnight stops for men and cattle as they moved across the land, and at difficult sections of the route.
We descended further, came to the mine tailings of the Cwm Rheidol.
They continue to pollute the river and surrounding area, the informational sign noted the presence of marcasite, a mineral which in the presence of air and moisture (and this is Wales you know, there’s a lot of moisture) begins to develop a powdery white bloom and a whiff of sulpher as it crumbles away (if it’s in a museum exhibit) or dissolves into a sulpheric acid that can also melt lead and zinc into a rather toxic mess.
Still. I spent many holiday excursions of my youth around mine tailings, this made me happy. I know it shouldn’t.
Down into the valley, it was beautiful.
Yet we knew we would have to climb back up.
Back up to the railway line.
And then those bastards made us walk parallel this fairly level if steady climb in a strenuous up and down pattern that echoed the larger walk in microcosm. Until finally, with only once getting lost at the very brink of town, we arrived back.
Past the station and on to Three Bridges itself. Looking down.
A pound in the slot gets you through the old fashioned and terribly narrow iron-barred entrance. Look at this place, three generations of bridge built one upon the other.
The oldest built between 1075–1200, the second in 1753, and the third in 1901. The three of the span this incredible chasm.
Why devil’s bridge? The legend of the old woman who outwitted the devil himself — tragically at the expense of her loyal dog — can be found here. George Borrow wrote of it, Wordsworth too. I haven’t let Wordsworth ruin it though.
I had remembered this bridge from watching Y Gwyll, which I quite loved and have an immense desire to watch again now that I know these landscapes so much better.
We had no time for a pint. We boarded the train. And then failed to find a table at any of Aberystwyth’s fine dining establishments. We bought some wine at the Spar and had a glorious fish and chips sitting on a bench by the harbour.