There is a place three miles from downtown Swansea where sunlight can struggle to reach the ground and sounds are muffled.
Clyne Valley Country Park west of town is often devoid of human noise.
Forget for a moment the well-maintained city parks that have undoubtedly taken off since the Covid crisis – the woods of Clyne Valley speak of an older landscape.
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Broadleaf trees grow in joyful disarray, wildlife frolic here and there, and the entire 680 acres – sliced in half by the River Clyne – changes with the seasons.
“It’s a huge area and a beautiful valley,” said Barbara Parry, chair of the Clyne Valley Community Project volunteer group.
But it bears the scars of the industry. “To watch it now, it’s just a recreation area, but there’s a lot of history and archeology in there,” Ms. Parry said.
At various times there were coal mines, brickyards, arsenic factories and the long-term rail service from Swansea Victoria to Pontarddulais, which stopped in 1964.
Cyclists, runners, walkers and horse riders now ascend and descend the old railway line on the Blackpill shared-use path to the south, passing Dunvant and emerging at Gowerton.
Not many people know that the woods and common land on either side is the size of almost 300 rugby pitches in total.
It didn’t always look like it is now. Old photos show not only the railroad tracks, but also chimneys and gashes in the landscape.
“Before the 1960s it was probably a very noisy industrial place,” Ms. Parry said.
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Swansea’s waste was also dumped in a large area on the east side of the national park from the 1930s and very occasionally layers of plastic have penetrated the ground.
“It wasn’t until the 1980s that the landfill stopped and was covered with earth,” Ms. Parry said.
Life at the old brickyard was illustrated by former workers who were interviewed for a thesis by Audrey Vincent.
“All agreed that working in the Clyne and Dunvant brickyards was extremely difficult and no one stayed very long because the wages were so low,” she wrote in her article The Brick Industry of the 19th and 20th Century in the Clyne Valley. Swansea region.
A former worker told him accidents were not uncommon and a coworker quit his job after inadvertently leaving two of his fingers in a brick press.
Meanwhile, a former employee told the Clyne Valley Community Project that the night shift was “scary.”
There are remains of a large clay quarry and also brick pigsties belonging to a farmer who bought Pembrokeshire pigs, bringing two of them both in the back of his carriage while his wife spent most of the trip kneeling in the front passenger seat.
The valley was once owned by two wealthy families synonymous with Swansea – the Vivian family, who owned the land west of the River Clyne, and the Morris family, who owned the land to the east.
“The Vivians used their side as a deer yard,” Ms. Parry said.
“The Admiral (Algernon Walker-Heneage Vivian, 1871-1952) was an avid horticulturist and cultivated rhododendrons in what is now Clyne Gardens.
“The Morris family built a mansion to live in and called it Sketty Park. It was demolished, and it’s now Sketty Park (subdivision).”
The national park has varied habitats – open areas of common land, swamps, scrub and a large number of birch, oak and beech trees.
“There is an abundance of wildlife in there,” said Ms. Parry, of Dunvant. “Otters, kingfishers, badgers. Many areas that are not crossed by trails are left to nature.”
Mountain bikers use the trails to the west of the valley, while a new shared-use trail has recently been added on the east side from Olchfa Lane, Killay, to Derwen Fawr and Blackpill in the south.
This program was contentious at the time – Ms Parry said people living nearby didn’t think they had a chance to have a say – but added: “Since it was put up, a lot of people tell me it’s awesome.
“I have a friend with a mobility scooter, and it made his life easier.”
The group of volunteers that Ms. Parry chairs has just over 100 members, who pay dues, help raise funds and perform maintenance work.
They surveyed Japanese knotweed throughout the valley, trails cut in brush, cleared pheasant berries, trampled ferns in a community orchard, and provided muscle for the installation of three new river bridges.
There is much to discover for hikers, cyclists and horse riders.
On an early winter morning, members of the Port Talbot Wheelers Cycling Club are heading along the shared-use path towards Llanelli.
“We come here every two weeks and go to Pwll (Carmarthenshire) or the Wildflower Center Cafe (Gower),” Tony Howell said.
“We see families with children on their bikes – it’s a nice and safe environment for them,” said his wife Shirley.
“We haven’t explored the woods, but we see animals and the colors of the trees change.”
Said the valley spanned 680 acres in total, she said, “It’s telling.”
Riders Amy Vice, Sarah Williams and Fran Hoksbergen loop through the woods of Three Crosses, Gower.
“It’s one of the main routes we use, especially in the winter,” Sarah said. “It’s a little busier now, especially since they put on the new track.”
Amy said the woods were especially nice in late fall, all three agreed the valley was a real plus for Swansea.
On their brown Labradoodle, Cooper, are Steve Waddell and his partner Deborah, from Killay.
“I’ve been here 17 years and still get lost,” Steve said. “A lot of people think there is only one or two ways.”
Deborah said: “A lot of people don’t know this exists. We normally use the smaller paths. You can almost get to Clyne Common.
“It’s a huge asset. It’s wild and free.”
Clyne Valley Country Park, more than a third of which is in the Gower Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is owned by Swansea Council.
The authority has secured £ 175,000 from the Welsh government for new bridges, signs and information boards, as well as to manage biodiversity and improve facilities for visitors.
Public access and enjoyment of the county park must be managed, a council spokesperson said, to help conserve habitats, wildlife and industrial heritage.
Natural Resources Wales (NRW), meanwhile, monitors the River Clyne.
A spokeswoman for NRW said the river had a classification of “poor ecological status”.
“Despite this status, all water quality and biological parameters were rated as high despite mine and landfill water releases,” she said.
“The main problem with mine water pollution is the bright orange iron oxide / hydroxide ocher which settles out of the water and can even suffocate the riverbed.
“Although unsightly, the bright orange ocher is part of our industrial heritage. The Clyne Valley has long been mined, from bells to drifting mines and contains the legacy of other associated industries – and is home to one of the major landfills of Swansea sites. “
She said another problem was poor connections between household waste pipes and the local sewer system.
Natural Resources Wales said they have explored ways to improve industrial heritage.
“However, mine water discharges occur at several locations along the river, making it difficult to manage with a single treatment program using lagoons and reed beds,” the spokesperson said.
“There is certainly room for improvement in the Clyne Valley and we will continue to work with Swansea Council, Welsh Water and the Coal Authority to help the Clyne reach its potential for nature and people.”
She added: “We know the Clyne supports kingfishers and otters which are positive signs.
Ms Parry said the group of volunteers were working with the board on a management plan.
“In an ideal world, we would like to see a paid team take care of the valley, but we know the funds are limited,” she said.
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