In the footsteps of poet Henry Vaughan
A gentle stroll through the landscape that inspired 17th-century poet, author and physician Henry Vaughan, taking in later additions like the 19th-century canal and tramroad.
Need to know
Length: Just under a mile (1½ km)
Time: Around 1½ hours
Start and finish: On the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, Talybont-on-Usk
OS map ref: SO 114226
OS map: Explorer OL12 (1:25 000 series)
Facilities: Refreshments at Talybont-on-Usk (pubs and local shop)
Along the way
Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal
One of the biggest changes to the Usk valley since Vaughan’s day, the ‘Mon and Brec’ was constructed between 1797 and 1812 and originally ran all the way from Brecon to Newport. Nowadays it reaches as far as Pontymoile south of Pontypool. The tranquil waterway’s industrial past as a busy trade route is hard to imagine. In place of barges carrying coal and limestone, the 32-mile (51km) stretch of largely level canal is now a peaceful paradise for pleasure craft.
Look east across the valley from Talybont and you’ll see Allt-yr-Esgair, better known simply as The Allt, a green hill with the village of Llansantffraed at its foot. It was here that Henry Vaughan and his twin brother Thomas were born in 1621. Henry stayed in the area for his entire life and is buried in the churchyard at Llansantffraed. His writing was greatly inspired by his home, particularly in his volume of poetry Olor Iscanus (‘Swan of Usk’ in English). The Allt is crossed by a Roman road and its 393m summit is crowned by a hillfort, possibly Iron Age in origin.
Sown with herbs and other plants Henry would have used in his scientific and medical experiments, the Vaughan Gardens are a fragrant spot to stop and bask in the serenity of the surrounding countryside. Laid out with benches, it’s also the ideal place for a relaxing picnic.
Built in 1815 to carry coal from mines near Tredegar and limestone from Trefil to waiting barges on the canal, the tramroad was once a busy place – a far cry from its peaceful present-day incarnation. Before being superseded by the steam-powered railway, horses hauled half-ton carts uphill – with gravity taking care of the journey back down. Now it’s a popular route with walkers and cyclists, stretching for eight miles (13km) between Talybont-on-Usk and Trefil.
It may not be the longest river in the world, but the Caerfanell has had a pretty eventful life. From its source high in the mountains, it tumbles down a series of beautiful waterfalls before flowing into Talybont reservoir. From there it passes through a hydroelectric turbine before travelling through Talybont and joining the river Usk.