In the summer of 2022, I was able to extend my pilgrimage walking in south Wales when I made my way from Tintern Abbey to Neath Abbey. This outward section of my walk made use of part of the Cistercian Way, a long-distance trail which connects the medieval order’s former religious houses. I then returned on foot to the eastern valleys where I live, going through the towns of Aberdare, Merthyr Tydfil and Bargoed.
This two-week long peregrinatio took me through very varied landscapes ranging from the lower reaches of the scenic Wye Valley to what were until recently amongst the most industrialised areas of Britain. It also took in very considerable hills and moorland and eventually brought me to the sea at Port Talbot, famous for its large steelworks but also close to the sandy beaches and dunes of nearby Aberavon.
Along the way, I was able to visit not only several sites associated with the Cistercians such as the shrine to Our Lady of Penrhys in the Rhondda valley but also a few of the ancient churches that remain in use in this region, which has seen so much change since the Industrial Revolution. Other places visited along the route included the fascinating Margam Stones Museum, home to an extensive collection of early Christian incised stones and crosses. On a more sombre note, I also went through the village of Aberfan, scene of the tragic disaster in 1966 in which 144 people, mainly children, were killed when a colliery spoil tip collapsed onto the local school.