Outdoor adventures in Neath Port Talbot
Welcome to ‘calon ddramatig’ – the dramatic heart of Wales. Neath Port Talbot may be best known for its industrial history, but this corner of South Wales is also full of wild landscapes to explore, with stunning waterfalls to swim in, adrenaline-inducing mountain bike trails and walks in the foothills of the Brecon Beacons all on tap. Come for a long weekend and you might be surprised by how much adventure is on your doorstep in the borough – five unique valleys within Neath Port Talbot mean you can walk, ride, swim or surf a new adventure every day. Explore Afan, home to the Afan Forest Park’s cycling and walking routes, hike waterfall country in the Vale of Neath, wander in the Dulais Valley, where you can follow the eerily beautiful Sarn Helen Roman Road to Banwen, head to Swansea Valley, where walkers will find peaceful routes along Swansea Canal and the wooded valley of Cwm Du Glen, and don’t forget the Upper Amman Valley, the gateway to the dramatic Black Mountain. The hardest part of a trip to Neath Port Talbot might just be choosing which adventure to start with, but these are some of my favourites from my time exploring here.
Afan Forest Park
Miners once dug for coal in the Afan valley – now it’s an outdoor adventure playground for mountain bikers and hikers. The Afan Forest Park is criss-crossed with 130km of forest biking trails for all levels as well as technical trails loved by the local pros. Bike hire facilities and a café are also on site. More of a walker? There are also lovely hikes in and around the Forest Park to follow – try the four mile Penrhys trail, or head out of the forest park to the nearby village of Pontrhydyfen to cross two aqueducts and make your way to the top of Foel Fynyddau mountain, which rewards with panoramic views across to the ocean on clear days.
Walk with waterfalls
Welcome to waterfall country. Neath Port Talbot is home to some seriously dramatic cascades, and they’re all easy to reach on foot. For a taster, head to the Vale of Neath to seek out Melincwrt‘s dramatic 80ft falls. If you fancy more of a hike, grab your boots and make your way to the village of Pontneddfechan. This is the starting point of multiple trails (some easy to access and wheelchair friendly, some more challenging) that wind through miles of falls and gorges – you can even walk behind some of the larger waterfalls, a rather awe-inspiring way to appreciate the power of nature. This is a lovely shorter walk to admire Sgwd Gwladys in all her glory, and this longer nine-mile circular stomp is the perfect big day out of hiking that takes in the finest of the falls.
If you really want to get up close and personal with Neath Port Talbot’s iconic waterfalls, try a spot of canyoning. I donned a very fetching helmet and joined Adventure Britain for a scrambling and swimming expedition in waterfall country – turns out canyoning is just very gnarly wild swimming! My guides, Cynan and Edd, were brilliant at helping me push the limits of my comfort zone as we dove (safely!) under waterfalls, tumbled into pools and even took giant leaps off rocky cliffs. This is an amazing way to learn more about understanding water conditions as well as an adrenaline-fuelled way to explore these dramatic valleys.
Surf Aberavon Beach
Grab your wetsuit – Neath Port Talbot is home to one of Wales’ widest stretches of surfer-friendly beaches. Aberavon boasts three miles of waves home to reliable swell – the designated surfing area is at the east end of the beach, and the cafes that overlook it are perfect for warming up with a cuppa after a sea session. Surf School Wales offer board hire and surf lessons.
Hike Sarn Helen
Walk on 2,000 year-old cobbles first laid by the Romans on this ancient road, which once stretched north to south across Wales. 33 miles of Sarn Helen (which means ‘Helen’s Causeway’ in Welsh) remain in south Wales, linking Neath to Brecon and winding through woodland countryside and the mountains of the Brecon Beacons.
For a taste of the full route, follow the three mile Sarn Helen Circular from Ynysygerwn, and keep your eyes peeled for red kites in the skies above you. Here’s my full piece on hiking Sarn Helen from Neath to Brecon for The Independent.
WHERE TO STAY
Willow Springs Campsite: This eco-friendly campsite is ideal for exploring the Afan Valley, and charming shepherd huts with wood burning stoves are available for when the weather turns chilly.
Swansea Valley Holiday Cottages: A peaceful, cosy cluster of cottages and converted stables just five miles from Neath, and with woodland walks right from the door.
Glyncorrwg Campsite: If you live and breathe mountain biking you’ll love staying right next to the trails at this campsite at Glyncorrwg Mountain Bike Centre, where you can literally wake up and get straight on the trails.
Ivy Cottage: This rather swish stone cottage is in the heart of Margam County Park and free access to the grounds is included in your stay, so you’ve got 1,000 acres of rolling countryside and deer park to wander in to your heart’s content.