We had walked across the South Wales valleys from Caerphilly to Pontypridd to Ton Pentre to the top of the Bwlch Mountain. There we had traced an ancient Celtic walking trail over the mountains as it headed West. Now, after a bit of hit and miss navigation on my part, Jeff, Andy and myself had reached the old coal town of Maesteg and an homage to the ghosts of the industry that shaped modern South Wales.
The Spirit of Llynfi Woodland sat just above Maesteg on the site of the old Coegnant Colliery and Maesteg Washery that had closed down in the 1980s. The land was elevated but not really a hill – in Welsh it was called Twmpath Mawr (the big hump). It had been established five years before as part of a 10-year local regeneration project to reintroduce local people to the wealth of green space close by them, to promote biodiversity and to alleviate the likelihood of flooding. By installing a large new woodland space (it encompassed some 75 hectares) the Welsh government also hoped to promote the health benefits of embracing nature and woodlands – and so improve both the physical and mental health of a community where chronic illness and depression is high.
Over 60,000 trees already had been planted by local people including a mixture of broadleaves, fruit and ornamental trees and new walking and cycle paths had been constructed to encourage local people to visit. The project was being funded through a Welsh government grant and also, partly, by the Ford Motor Company as many of the workers at its nearby Bridgend plant lived in the area.
“That’s very corporate citizen of them,” said Andy as we walked through the woodland towards its centrepoint – the Keeper of the Colliery statue of a miner carved out of oak. “But who is sponsoring the cows?”
In front of us, surrounding the bemused looking wooden miner, was a herd of black cows. Some were munching on the grass around where the miner’s feet might have been had he been given any. Others were picking at the plants and bushes lining the paths that spread out through the woodland in straight lines to all points of the compass.
The animals stopped eating and stared at us as we approached – it was like being in a bovine version of the pub scene in An American Werewolf in London.
“Um, I don’t think those are cows,” said Jeff. “Those are young Welsh black bullocks and I’m not sure we want to walk through them.”
We all agreed. “They weren’t kidding when they said this park was all about reconnecting with nature,” said Andy as we rapidly backtracked away from the animals.
So we sought a new route through the woodland, backtracking until we reached a cycle path that ran on its southern perimeter just above Maesteg high school. There we met a man walking in our direction with his dog running a little ahead of him. We gave him a heads up about the bulls he was about to encounter.
“Oh bloody hell, not them again,” he said. “They’re becoming a right menace.”