Running

Raven Trail

6th September 2016

The Raven Walk is a twelve-mile circular walk around the Sirhowy and Ebbw Valleys. Steep climbs through beech woodlands to hilltop commons. With approximately 3,200ft of elevation spread over three climbs, this is a challenging trail both for walking and running. Part of the trail is officially closed although I didn’t know this on the day but still managed to complete it.

Raven Trail Course

Trail Profile

Total distance was a shade under 12 miles and I recorded an elevation gain of 3,110ft. This was using the Strava app on the Apple Watch rather than my Garmin Forerunner 235 so may not have been completely accurate.

Raven Trail Profile

Running the Trail

This was a last minute run, I had woken up with the urge to do a run even though I had run the past two days. I probably should have gone out but I find when the urge hits, I just have to satisfy it. Originally I had planned to run around the Gower but was put of with the distance. A quick search online and I discovered this route which had a handy leaflet complete with OS maps.

There are four points where you can park and start the route with the car park at Cwmcarn Forest Drive being the most accessible and having the most facilities if needed. The route heads back down away from the car park through the village of Cwm towards the River Ebbw before ascending sharply to Mynydd Islwyn. This 900ft climb offered little opportunity to run (at least for me) but was offered great views towards the top.

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Nearing the summit of Mynydd Islwyn I became slightly disorientated but this was largely down to being confused to the noises that wear emanating from just over the horizon. I had heard them for most of the ascent and at first thought it may have been trees being felled but it transpired there was a rifle range right next to the path. Unfortunately in the process of getting disorientated I discovered some large bogs so had soaking wet feet just over a mile into the run.

Heading right behind the rifle range it’s all downhill to through fields, lanes and through a farm until you reach Ynysddu. Leaving Ynysddu you join the Sirhowy Valley Walk which allows you to pick up some speed on the gravel trail before spurring off to join another trail. For the most part the trail is easy to follow but at times I had to refer to the OS Maps app on the iPhone to ensure I was heading in the right direction.

The trail leads up towards the Rhymney Valley Ridgeway Walk which offers views back across to the start of the trail and down to Risca and beyond. The Ridgeway Walk is a little technical in places to run along and can get a little wet and muddy but then turns to a more solid stone trail up to Mynydd Machen, the highest point on the trail. I found the gradient to be perfect for a slow plod up and at the summit, depending on the weather on the day, you can get far-reaching views to the Severn Estuary in the south and Brecon Beacons in the north.

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After a quick snack it was back to the trail and a cracking descent on a wide grassy path that has plenty of rocky outcrops to keep you on your toes but not too many that you have to slow down. The path becomes narrowing the further you descend and transforms into very tight ditch of a path with high ferns on each side. Hidden rocks mean slowing down and eventually you have to walk especially when you encounter a bog that sucks your entire foot up to your shin! Thankfully my shoelaces were well tied.

The town of Risca is at the bottom so a flat run along some roads and then back up to the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. At this point you encounter a gate with a detailed warning sign but also quite ambiguous. It warns about tree felling in the area due to larch disease that has been in operation since 2014 but doesn’t explicitly say that you can’t enter. It does notify you that you should abide by any diversion signs and as I only needed to enter a small portion of the area that was out of bounds I thought I would enter and look for signs.

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Very soon into the section I was wishing that I had not entered and instead took the longer, but much flatter detour along the Mon and Brecon canal back to the start. Apart from being incredibly steep, the paths had essentially disappeared under a carpet of old decaying branches and twigs. I was soon veering off course and having to correct myself by scrambling up steep debris-covered inclines. Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse I found myself at the end of what I thought was a path and at the base of an extremely steep dense section covered in holly.

I managed to clamber up to another path which was covered with yet more felled trees. I eventually reached a remote house where I could finally rejoin the actual path that I originally wanted to be on. Another steep climb was ahead and then it’s an easy descent back to the car park.

I found this run/hike extremely challenging due to some tough terrain, humid conditions and the last difficult section. Until the full route is open again I would recommend skipping the last section and heading back along the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal to the starting point.

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