Eglwysilan Common is a great lung of open country above the South Wales valleys. I walked here on 4 August with Jay Kynch, local correspondent for the Open Spaces Society, and her husband Mike.
The common is an upturned horseshoe of yellow access-land on the Explorer map, with Abertridwr and Senghenydd (where the 1913 colliery disaster occurred) nestling in the U. On both sides of this hilltop common are the heavily-populated valleys. The common provides physical and metaphorical uplift for those who venture up there. There are rights for the public to walk and ride as it’s an urban common under section 193 of the Law of Property Act 1925.
The common is mostly in Caerphilly with part in Rhondda Cynon Taff. We walked on the west (RCT) side, starting from the dead-end road north of Eglwysilan church.
We followed the eastern boundary of this limb of the common and were soon looking down on Senghenydd.
A bit further on and the towns of Nelson, Quaker’s Yard and Merthyr Tydfil came into view, emphasising the contrast between the valleys and the common. Away to the north we could see the Brecon Beacons.
We stopped by the radio masts and then headed south to the trig point, with a view over Caerphilly to the Bristol Channel and Somerset.
There were not all that many animals grazing the common and I felt that it could have done with more, particularly cattle. The vegetation might then have become more diverse. On our way back we waded through bracken and rushes. It was good to see and hear buzzards, a raven and meadow pipits, with goldfinches around the blowing thistledown.
Later we visited Stuart Huntley, who has lived at Bryn Tail on the south-west side of the common for over 60 years. The farm is not easily accessible; we had to drive round by Rhydfelin, south of Pontypridd, and up a steep hill to get there. Stuart, aged 88, is housebound and was delighted to see us. His son has taken over running the farm, but Stuart knows everything which is going on, nothing gets past him.
I had met Stuart nearly 30 years ago when he gave evidence at the Common Land Forum in January 1985. The forum was established in 1983 and consisted of all the interests in commons; it was charged with agreeing a package of measures to address the many problems concerning commons.
Stuart felt then that there was conflict between the commoners and the public, in particular motorcyclists, and the police were uncooperative in dealing with offenders, the management committee was toothless because it couldn’t reach unanimity, and there was ugly road-widening and a reduction in grazing. Many of these problems are still occurring today, and Stuart is as keen as ever to see them resolved.