The Sunday walk: Vote with your feet in the Welsh referendum

Jeremy Atiyah takes a day trip to the principality on the eve of the poll to decide its political future and finds a route rich in the remains of its industrial past
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The Independent Travel
Is Wales on the way to reclaiming its ancient nationhood? Next week's referendum on whether to set up an assembly for the Welsh might give us a clue, but in the meantime, how about a Sunday afternoon stroll in the Valleys?

Actually Abergavenny, in Gwent, is not strictly in the Valleys, but on their northern fringe. The town lacks the ranked stone cottages of the mining villages, although traces of the vast mining industries, such as old canals and defunct railway lines, still criss-cross the area. I chose it as a rural part of Wales easily accessible on a day trip from England.

The walk started from outside Abergavenny information centre in the Swan Meadow car park, by the bus station and about a mile's walk from the little train station. I crossed the main road, and took a left turn into Mill Street. On the left was an industrial estate, on the right was the mighty ruins of Abergavenny's mediaeval castle, an unloved relic originally built by the English to oppress the Welsh.

The surfaced path dropped down to the left, away from the castle. Crossing a stile I found myself walking across a field towards the rushing River Usk, where I turned right, to walk beside its red collapsing banks. Beyond the river loomed the smooth rump of Blorenge and to my left the unexpectedly sharp peak of Sugar Loaf.

Reaching a bridge and a weir, I crossed the river and immediately took a small lane leading off the busy road to the right. This led up under magnificent trees with Llanfoist cemetery on the left. From now on, it was basically uphill all the way, but shaded by sycamore, horse-chestnut and elm. First I forked left through an underpass under the A465, then passed a nursery, crossed over another main road and puffed by Llanfoist church.

Eventually, as the path turned steep and rocky, a dark stone wall loomed in front of me out of the forest. A forgotten castle perhaps? Climbing up a railed stairway to the right I was astonished suddenly to find myself on a canal towpath - a canal, halfway up a mountainside. This turned out to be part of the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, the first section of which opened in 1812, as part of the network of transport which linked up the mines and ironworks of South Wales and Newport Dock.

Turning right, I set off along the canal, hugging the curves of the hillside and overhung by monumental beech trees on the opposite bank. It was so narrow in places that I could almost have jumped it. Crossing over a humped back bridge, I then carried on into Govilon, along the opposite bank, backed now by posh homes with lawns and landing places, all with private, moored boats.

Suddenly little canal boats were everywhere, pleasure barges with names like Rachel and Edna, creeping along so slowly that I overtook them as I walked. The view down over the valley from the canal comprised smooth green slopes, shining to yellow in a few spots where the sun was piercing the clouds.

Eventually, two miles later, I turned left onto a plank bridge, over the canal and along the driveway to an ivy-clad stately home called Llanwenarth House. Where the drive swung right into the grounds of the house (featuring a sign "Beware Deaf Dog"), I went straight on, over a stile into a field. The idea was to carry on in a straight line across the field, though I had to watch out for massive bulls lurking behind bushes.

At the top of the field, I crossed the stile onto a road, and turned left; a couple of hundred metres up here I was then able to climb down from a bridge onto a defunct railway line. This was the Merthyr, Tredegar and Abergavenny Railway which, from 1862 to 1958, chugged along here carrying coal; now it's a peaceful tree-lined path. I followed the path down (not up) for a couple of miles until I eventually joined the path near Llanfoist, which I recognised as my outward route.

The author travelled to Newport in south-east Wales from London Paddington, courtesy of Great Western Railways, on one of the many daily trains. Regional trains run from Swansea to Manchester, via Newport and Abergavenny.

8 The helpful information centre at Abergavenny (Tel: 01873 857588) can sell booklets of suggested walks, including this one, for pounds 1.80.