There are many stories to be told in the Dramatic Heart of Wales. Characters throughout history who have played vital roles in the arts, industry and science have called this place home. Delve into the past and follow in their footsteps on a collection of carefully curated self-led walks to discover our rich history and unbeatable natural landscapes.
The Richard Burton Trail
One of our most famous sons is the actor, Richard Burton. Born in Pontrhydyfen, Burton was an award-winning Hollywood actor known for his dramatic Shakespearean performances and equally intense relationship with Elizabeth Taylor. To learn more about Burton’s early life and his influences, follow this easy to navigate three-mile walk. Highlights include a walk along the Pontrhydyfen Aqueduct and Railway Viaduct taking in views of the former mining village and the valleys beyond. You will also visit the Portrait Bench, a memorial created for local heroes who have made a remarkable contribution in their field. The final stop on this walk is the Bethel Chapel where a memorial service was held for Richard Burton after his passing in 1984. Hundreds turned out for the occasion to pay their respects to one of Neath Port Talbot’s finest.
The Turner Trail
Joseph Mallord William Turner, the renowned Romantic artist, visited South Wales in 1795 and captured several sketches of the area’s heavy industry contrasted with our famous waterfalls. This walking trail has been created to show you the landscapes that inspired Turner’s work including a peek at the industrial landscape that has now been reclaimed by nature. The five-mile route takes in both Melincourt and Aberdulais falls. Aberdulais is now part of a National Trust site alongside the Aberdulais Tin Works. You will walk along the Neath canal and cross over Neath River to travel between the two falls. Nature-lovers can spot herons, foxes and a variety of small birds along the way.
Alfred Russel Wallace Trail
Another famous figure from the past, Alfred Russel Wallace was one of Britain’s greatest naturalists. His greatest achievement was in co-publishing the Theory of Evolution alongside Charles Darwin in 1858. Although Wallace only spent five years of his life in Neath, he credits his time here for igniting his fascination with the natural world. You can opt for either a 5-6 mile or 10-11 mile version of this walk which shows off the Vale of Neath’s historic and natural highlights. Start off at Neath Castle, a Norman stronghold which still displays an impressive twin-towered gatehouse. You will visit the Mechanic’s Institute and Neath Town Hall where Wallace attended lectures before heading to Neath Abbey. The Abbey, founded in 1130, is one of South Wales’ most impressive monastic remains. A further exploration of Neath Abbey Iron Works will see you head towards the Neath and Tenant Canals before ending the walk at the Church of St Illtyd on the bank of the River Neath.
The Gilberston Trail
The Gilberston Trail is an easy two-mile circular route around the Gilbertson Estate in Pontardawe in the Swansea Valley. William Gilbertson, a notable industrialist, is credited with founding the famous Port Talbot Steelworks. His company acquired the Pontardawe Tin Plate Works in the 1860s and by the beginning of the First World War, demand for their product was so high that the majority of the working population in Pontardawe were employed there. In 1900 Gilbertson developed a steelworks site in Port Talbot docks which is now the site of the existing TATA Steelworks, one of the largest steel plants in Europe. As well as touring the former estate, amongst the ruins you may find traces of stables, tennis courts and the first outdoor swimming pool in Wales, you will also have the opportunity to take in the stunning views over Swansea Valley from the viewing platform at the top of the estate.
Our Ancestors Trail
The final walk in this collection delves into the very early history of the Dramatic Heart of Wales. Rather than focussing on one individual, it will tell the story of the Cistercian Monks who founded Margam Abbey in the 12th Century and the Talbot family who built the opulent Tudor Gothic-style Margam Castle in 1830. This walk also guides you to the Wales Coast Path, where the stark contrast between nature and industry in this area is the most evident. You will see the bustling Steelworks, Port Talbot and the busy M4 motorway that cuts through the town as well as the stunning coastline beyond.
We would encourage you to explore the area and take in each of these distinct and unique walks. While they have been designed to be self-led, we can offer some experiences that may make your walks more memorable. On selected dates throughout the year you can engage with the services of Carl Gough, a local storyteller, who brings to life the myths and legends from the Dramatic Heart of Wales. You could also request a guided walking tour with local guide Neil Hinds. Please contact us via the website to request more information.
Start the day on the Western boundary of Neath Port Talbot with The Gilbertson Trail. Enjoy lunch in one of Pontardawe’s many independent cafes. In the afternoon head East and pick up the Alfred Russel Wallace Trail in Neath.
Immerse yourself in nature on The Turner Trail. After viewing both falls, drive towards Pontrhydyfen and start the Richard Burton Trail.
Pack a picnic and head to Margam for the Our Ancestors Trail. On your return to Margam Country Park be sure to view the Castle and expansive grounds.
The Dramatic Heart of Wales is a great choice for a socially distanced mini-break. With so many outdoor attractions from country parks and our epic seafront through to our expanse of mountains and natural landscapes, you can relax knowing you are having a ‘safe-cation’. Many of our tourism businesses have achieved ‘Good to Go’ status and made a commitment to maintaining the highest standard of safety and cleanliness.
Protecting our land for future generations while caring for one another is part of what makes us who we are. Visit Wales is inviting you to make your ‘Addo’ (the Welsh word for promise), please join us by making your pledge before you visit. By working together to keep each other safe we can all enjoy what the Dramatic Heart of Wales has to offer.