The best walking routes in and around Neath Port Talbot
For walkers, few places offer the drama and diversity of Neath Port Talbot. Its mountains and valleys, rivers and coastline provide a natural tapestry for the many miles of hiking trails that weave their way through the landscape.
The welcoming communities of Neath Port Talbot, steeped in the heritage of steel and coal, and a passion for poetry and song, take great pride in showcasing their industrial heritage while inviting visitors to revel in the wonderful nature on their doorstep.
Easily accessible by road and rail from the rest of the UK, Neath Port Talbot is an ideal destination for walkers wishing to explore this wonderful part of the UK in more depth.
Where is Neath Port Talbot located?
Wedged between the Brecon Beacons and Swansea Bay, the Neath Port Talbot area is a very accessible part of South Wales. The M4 is the area’s main artery, providing good access to the rest of the UK motorway network. London is 3.5 hours, Birmingham 2.40 hours, Bristol 1.5 hours and the Welsh capital Cardiff 40 minutes.
Both Neath and Port Talbot have mainline stations linking directly to London Paddington. All parts of the UK have frequent connections, either direct or with an easy interchange.
In terms of accommodation, you will find many hotels, motels, luxury chalets and campsites ready to warmly welcome you.
Do an online search at dramaheart.wales to find the perfect place to stay.
Highlights of walking in and around Neath Port Talbot
Whether it’s scaling hills and weaving through valleys, taking easy walks through meadows and woodlands and along quiet canals, traversing sections of the spectacular Wales Coastal Path and Exploring country parks such as Margam – there’s no better way to get to know Neath Port Talbot than on foot.
A few miles up the Vale of Neath, the impressive 80ft high waterfall at Melincourt is at the end of a short wooded path. On the walk to the spectacular Sgwd Gwladys Falls, you will follow a route that horse-drawn drams once traveled to transport silica rock from mines in the early 19th century, one of which can still be seen alongside the path .
Try the Cilybebyll Walk, a gentle circular route through woods and meadows, passing the sleepy hamlet of Cilybebyll with its old parish church, or step back in time and discover the rich industrial heritage and internationally significant geology of the Cwm Geo Trail Gwrelych, just on the edge of the South Wales coalfield. Or how about enjoying the spectacular views over the Afan Valley and the village of Pontrhydyfen on the Penrhys Trail? Other hiking trails will take you past reservoirs, along high ridges, past ruined buildings and into deep valleys and the Afan Forest Park.
Much more information about Neath Port Talbot’s many superb walks can be found on the Dramatic Heart of Wales website, which is a great resource for the area!
Five great historic walking routes to try in Neath Port Talbot
Many figures throughout history who have played vital roles in arts, industry and science have called this region their home. Delve into the past and follow in their footsteps on a collection of carefully curated self-guided walks. You can choose to do one of them separately, but also do all five as one long themed route.
You can find more details and full itineraries downloadable at dramaheart.wales
The Richard Burton Trail
Distance: 3 miles
Time: 1-2 hours
This 3-mile walk, which highlights the life and career of one of Wales’ greatest actors, offers an interesting mix of culture, history and spectacular views. Information panels are located along this route, providing points of interest about Richard Burton, his childhood and his career.
Although he moved to Taibach when he was two years old, Pontrhydyfen is significant as a birthplace and was frequently revisited by the star during his Hollywood career. Highlights include a walk along the Pontrhydyfen aqueduct and railway viaduct taking in views of the former mining village and the valleys beyond.
Pay attention to: The remains of old coal workings, seen all along this walk, have become a refuge for wildlife. Pioneer plant species, especially mosses, can be seen everywhere. Plants of interest include Plowman’s Spike and the Southern Swamp Orchid. In summer, butterflies such as Ringlet can be seen.
Also take time to admire the Portrait Bench which features steel sculptures of local legends Richard Burton, comedian Rob Brydon and retired Afan Forest Park ranger Dick Wagstaff.
The Turner Trail
Distance: 5 miles
Time: 2-3 hours
Famous Romantic artist Joseph Mallord William Turner, visited South Wales in 1795 and captured several sketches of the region’s heavy industry contrasting with its famous waterfalls. This walking trail was created to show visitors the local landscapes that inspired Turner’s work, with an eight-kilometre route passing Melincourt and Aberdulais Falls. Start from either end of the trail and walk along the Neath Canal towpath and cross the River Neath to travel between the two falls.
Aberdulais is now part of a National Trust site alongside the Aberdulais Tin Works and home to the largest electricity-generating waterwheel in the UK. Melincourt, the second highest waterfall in Wales at an impressive 80ft, sits in a stunning 12-acre nature reserve run by the Wildlife Trust
Pay attention to: Herons, foxes and redstart, pied flycatcher or nuthatch in summer.
Alfred Russel Wallace Trail
Distance: 5-6 miles (short route) or 10-11 miles (long route)
Time: 2 hours (short) or 3-4 hours (long)
A series of 16 waypoints, collectively known as the Alfred Russel Wallace Trail, celebrate the life of one of Britain’s greatest naturalists. A great explorer, collector, author, philosopher, anthropologist and spiritualist, he co-edited the theory of evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin in 1858.
Wallace only spent five years of his life in Neath, but he himself attributed his time here to developing his fascination with and knowledge of nature and the natural world.
You can opt for a 5-6 mile or 10-11 mile version of this walk which shows off the historical and natural highlights of the Neath Valley. Start at Neath Castle, visit the Mechanic’s Institute and Neath Town Hall, before heading to Neath Abbey.
The abbey, founded in 1130, is one of the most impressive monastic remains in South Wales. You can explore Neath Abbey Iron Works by heading to the Neath and Tenant canals before ending the walk at the Church of St Illtyd on the bank of the River Neath.
Pay attention to: At Crymlyn Burrows, which is a site of special scientific importance, you may spot the rare tiger beetle, named Wallace.
The Gilbertson Trail
Distance: 2 miles
Time: 1-2 hours
The Gilbertson Trail is an easy two-mile circular route around the Gilbertson Estate at Pontardawe in the Swansea Valley. William Gilbertson, a notable industrialist, is credited with founding the famous steelworks at Port Talbot. His company had previously acquired the Pontardawe Tin Plate Works in the 1860s and by the start of the First World War demand for their product was so high that the majority of Pontardawe’s working population was employed there.
As well as visiting the old estate, among the ruins you will find traces of stables, tennis courts, a walled garden and the first outdoor swimming pool in Wales. You will also no doubt appreciate the panoramic views of the Swansea Valley from the viewing platform at the top of the estate.
Pay attention to: Some great specimen trees in the plantation, including the giant coast redwood. This area is also an excellent habitat for great tits and long-tailed tits.
Path of our ancestors
Distance: 4.5 miles
Time: 1.5 – 2 hours
The final walk in this collection delves into the region’s very ancient history, to tell the story of the Cistercian monks who founded Margam Abbey in the 12th century and the Talbot family who built the opulent Margam Castle in Tudor Gothic style in 1830. Admire the stunning views of the Margam estate, including the historic Capel Mair, a ruined chapel built around 1300, the peaceful fish pond which is a haven for flora and fauna, and vast areas to explore.
This walk also guides you to the Wales Coast Path, where the contrast between nature and industry in this region is most evident. You’ll see the bustling steelworks, Port Talbot and the busy M4 motorway that runs through the town as well as the beautiful coastline beyond.
Pay attention to: Margam is home to hundreds of deer. Three breeds graze freely on about half of the park, including the endangered Pere David deer.