CYCLING PROGRAMME 2017
We met at Shaftesbury Street for the last ride of the season and cycled down the west bank of the river to the lock of the Old Town Dock, before returning up the east bank. The weather was autumnal, with low cloud and some drizzle but brightened up for a while. The tide was high, which is always a dramatic sight in Newport.
It is an area which has changed a lot over the last decade, with hundreds of new houses built along both banks and an impressive riverside park laid out along the west bank. In the 19th century it was the area that founded the dramatic growth of Newport, from a small market town to a bustling industrial town based on the export of the mineral wealth of the Gwent valleys from the wharfs that lined the riverbank. We crossed East Dock Road to look at the remains of the eastern wall of the Old Town Dock that were uncovered during the recent housing development. It is now part of a landscape feature, which has as its centrepiece a large white slab with an etching of the Dock in its heyday, teeming with sailing ships. We also stopped at Jacks Pill which was the site of Cashmores shipbreaking yard. At its peak over 300 were employed there and hundreds of ships dismantled, ranging from battleships from both World Wars to ocean going passenger liners and tugs. Passing under the Southern Distributer Road we arrived at the lock of the Old Town Dock where there is a group of artworks celebrating the maritime history of the area. We then crossed the City Bridge and returned up the east bank of the river to our final stop at the Ludek café at the end of Mill Street. We found it has a homely atmosphere and serves delicious coffee.
This was the longest ride of the season, starting at Bettws Lane and cycling along the towpath of the Mon Brecon Canal to the Open Hearth PH at Sebastopol and back. It was sunny but breezy as we left the car park. The first stop was at the Ty Coch flight of locks between Newport and Cwmbran. These locks have been recently restored as part of a scheme drawn up and managed by the Mon Brecon and Abergavenny Canal Trust. We had a pre-arranged tour of the site guided by Richard Dommett and Wyn Mitchell. Richard managed the restoration scheme for the Trust. We walked around the pound where barges had queued to enter the lock system. A picnic area has now been laid out here where we saw a kingfisher perched at the water's edge. Near one of the locks an archaeological investigation has uncovered an underground saw pit and the foundations of a workshop and cottage. It is hoped these will be incorporated in the next stage of the restoration scheme. Over 200 volunteers have worked here over the last 4 years, many gaining skills that have helped them in their search for permanent employment. The standard of the restoration work is impressive. Stonework has been renewed and new lock gates installed. In the interests of ease of installation and longevity, the gates were made of prefabricated metal parts which were assembled on site. Richard pioneered the design and it is hoped that it will be used by other canal restoration trusts. He showed us plans for a future phase of the development of the site. Maintaining the momentum of the current scheme is of course dependent on funding, which is sought from a range of sources. Timothy West and Prunella Scales were filmed at the site for the next series of Great Canal Journeys for Channel 4. It is hoped that this will help raise the profile of the canal and maintain interest in the potential for future restoration and development work.
A little further on we stopped at a terrace of cottages one of which had been the home of John Williams a soldier awarded the Victoria Cross for his courage in the defence of Rorkes Drift.
There were a few spots of rain as we rode on up the canal and several inclines to overcome but the sun reappeared as we reached the Open Hearth PH. We enjoyed lunch sitting at the canal side picnic tables. Our effort made in reaching the Open Hearth was rewarded with a succession of downhill stretches on the return journey.
This ride followed the riverbank to Caerleon and back. We met at the Glebelands car park off Caerleon Road and rode on the footpath down the east bank of the river, passing the new Glan Usk Primary School and the Riverside housing area before emerging at Clarence Place. Then crossed the town bridge and rode up Shaftesbury Street, Lyne Road and Albany Street to join the scenic purpose built cycle track to Caerleon. We stopped off at the amphitheatre, then rode around the corner to a café at the Ffrwm Centre where we sat outside for our lunchtime break watched over by a collection of carved wooden faces. We had our first downpour on the way back and had to take shelter under some trees. However it soon passed and the sun was shining again by the time we reached Newport.
We continued our exploration of the quiet backroads of the Gwent Levels for our July ride, this time starting at the seawall at Goldcliff and following National Cycle Route 4 to Redwick. The weather was ideal for cycling with blue skies and a light breeze. There were a lot of bikes out and about, probably outnumbering cars.
The first lap was a long straight stretch along Clifton Common and Whitson Common. We passed Whitson Court, a splendidly restored Georgian mansion. It's probably best remembered now for housing a private zoo in its grounds in the 1960s and 70s. As we cycled on there were signs of haymaking in many of the fields. Passing one we saw a buzzard, perched on a large bale, no doubt prospecting for its next meal. Redwick is a small well kept village. We stopped outside the church of St Thomas. It has a 1606 flood marker on the wall outside. The interior was quaint and cool which was welcome after the long ride. Just outside the well maintained churchyard is an interesting small building, built I believe as a bus shelter by a local man Hubert Jones. It incorporates many artefacts in its structure that he collected from old farm buildings in the area and is well worth a look.
We then followed a footpath across the fields and down to the sea. The tide was going out, exposing ledges of peat amongst the glistening mud. Traces of an ancient building surrounded by hoof marks have been found preserved in the peat in recent years. It has been dated to the Bronze Age about 1500 BC and is thought to have been used by seasonal cattle herders. The sea level would have been much lower then and what is now the intertidal area was a salt marsh, which has decomposed to form the peat ledges. On our return through the fields, the cattle which had been lying in corners, were now up and about and followed us inquisitively back to the farm gate, probably in expectation of lunch.
Our outing ended back in Goldcliff with tea and cake at the Seawall Tea Rooms. A good end to an enjoyable ride.
Our June ride was along the canal towpath from 14 Locks towards Cwmcarn. It was a ride of just over 10 miles and the bridges were all negotiated without incident. Water lillies were in flower on the canal and this year's hatching of moorhen chicks were dabbling on the pads.
There were a couple of stops at places of interest. From high on the hillside there were many panoramic views across the Ebbw Valley to the hills beyond. At one point we looked down on what is now a recreation ground but which had once been the site of one of the wonders of the South Wales valleys. The Long Bridge, a 32 arch stone viaduct built by the Monmouthshire Canal Company in 1805 crossed the valley floor, taking the horse drawn tram road from Tredegar, on to Newport. However when the age of steam came, a stronger embankment was required for the locomotives and the Long Bridge fell into disuse by the 1850s. All that remains now is the abutment wall alongside the road between Risca and Crosskeys and some nearby terrace housing built from the stones. Photos, paintings and a model of the Bridge form part of the interesting collection of artefacts in Risca's Industrial History Museum at Oxford House.
The second stop was at the Greenmeadow Canal Bridge, where the bikes were parked and the Group walked across a field to take a look at a remote burial ground for some of the victims of a large underground explosion. The Black Vein colliery on the opposite side of the valley was on a thick seam of coal which extends under the valley and eastwards towards Crumlin. It had however a reputation as a dangerous mine due to the presence of firedamp. On December 1st 1860 there was an explosion in which over 140 miners were known to have been killed. About 50 were buried on this small plot of land. There is a large commemorative stone but the passage of time has largely obliterated the inscriptions on the few individual gravestones. It is however a peaceful spot where one can reflect on the hard times these men lived through.
The canal towpath is closed for repairs a short distance from Cwmcarn where it ends. The Group returned to 14 Locks where they enjoyed some excellent refreshments at the 14 Locks Café.
The Cycling Group's outing in May took them on a 12 mile ride on quiet roads and lanes across the Gwent Levels towards Peterstone. Following National Cycle Route 88 from Pencarn Way Duffryn they were soon out in the countryside and heading west towards Marshfield on Percoed Lane. The quiet of the countryside was broken only by the trilling of unseen birds from the hedgerows and reed beds and the occasional rush of a train from the main line across the fields. At Marshfield there was a short climb over the main line bridge. A line of stanchions heading for Cardiff and in the distance some new concrete bridges, signalled the progress being made towards electrification. The next stop was at Peterstone Gout, a large basin that collects water from the reens to prevent inland flooding at high tide. They left the bikes there and they walked along the banks of the inlet out to the sea wall. A peaceful scene with the mud glistening in the sunlight as the tide receded. The only noise coming from birdsong and the occasional click of a well struck ball from nearby Peterstone Golf Course.
The return trip was rounded off with a circuit of the lake at Tredegar House to see the massive rhodedenron bushes in full flower, and ended with a well earned cup of tea at the TeaRooms.
The Cycling Group kicked off their summer season with a pleasant 9 mile ride, taking in the Wetlands Coastal Path and then on through Goldcliff to the seawall. It was a typical April day, cloudy with a light breeze but also occasional bursts of warm sunshine. The first stop was at the East Usk Lighthouse. It was built in 1893 and appears as a somewhat squat building for a lighthouse. The display board shows that it originally stood on a supporting structure and was much higher than the surrounding ground. The supporting legs can no longer be seen. This is because in the years after the Second World War the surrounding ground was used for the disposal of ash from Uskmouth Power Station, raising its level and presumably burying the legs of the light house. The next stop was at the Goldcliff Lagoons just a short distance from Goldcliff Common, where we had a good view of the Avocets from one of the RSPB hides. Once a rarity, these elegant black and white wading birds now regularly return to this part of the Wetlands for their breeding season. Our final destination was the SeaWall Café at Goldcliff where we sat in the garden and relaxed with a cup of tea and a cake, before walking out to the headland, then cycling back to the Wetlands Car Park.
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