Recently, with my good friend Sparhawk (www.blackmountainsite.co.uk), I made a visit to Abernant Tunnel near Merthyr. We found the tunnel on an OS map, took a brief glance at it’s eastern end and decided to come back and take a look a week or so later.
Mainly due to geocaching, and the subesquent visit a while back to the Tidenham tunnel in the Wye Valley (now sadly blocked by a new fence), to pick up a cache (here), I have discovered a new interest in visiting the abandoned railway tunnels and other industrial sites around the area. There’s something fascinating about visiting the long-abandoned relics of the industrial age, especially, like in this case, when they are 2497 yards (about 1.5 miles) long and up to 200m below the surface of the hill!
We started off from Gethin Woodland picnic site, we walked about half to three-quarters of a mile (I’d estimate) to the easternmost portal of the tunnel. This is situated at the end of a cutting I think about 1/2 mile long). The portal itself is actually fenced off, but the fence has been damaged sometime in the past on the right hand side, so there is easy access. Before I go any further, I do not condone putting yourself at risk, and it important that you understand that if you do decide to explore locations such as these, you do so at your own risk. You should NOT do it alone, and you make sure you take adequate lighting (with replacement power) and wear suitable footwear. These sorts of places can be very dangerous if you act like a fool and don’t treat them with the respect they deserve. DON’T take unnecessary risks, and make sure somebody knows you are going, and where you are going. Finally, you should never, ever, ever, commit any kind of damage to get into these places, or once inside (including graffitti). Doing so is criminal damage. Remember, take only photos, leave only footprints. If you can’t get in, then hard luck.
Anyway – lecture over.
A brief bit of history first. Abernant Tunnel (also known as Merthyr Tunnel) formed part of the old route from Merthyr to Neath. The last train passed through the tunnel in 1962 (29th December to be precise!), and the tunnel was blocked up in 1967. In 1998, the walls were removed and replaced with fencing. This tunnel is 2497 yards long, making it the second longest in Wales. The longest is the Rhondda Tunnel, at 3443 yards, but this is now inaccessible, having been buried and re-landscaped at both ends (strictly speaking it IS accessible, but only via a drainage shaft, and not without the massive risk of dying of gas poisoning due to it being adjacent to a coal deposit). Therefore, Abernant is now the longest still-accessible tunnel in Wales. For a nice pic of the tunnel with the last train going through it in 1962, go to www.alangeorge.co.uk/merthyrtunnel.htm. A more full history of the Abernant Tunnel can be found here.
We arrived and entered the tunnel through the already broken fencing. On checking it out, the structure looked fairly sound, with much less in the way of visible deterioration than we expected.
We carried with us much in the way of torches and headlights, meaning that at no time did we have a lack of light. This is something which is vital, and its importance should not be underestimated. The tunnel itself is S-Shaped, which means that you cannot see either end of the tunnel from the central mile. This means BLACK. and I mean PITCH black. The first part (20yds or so) of the tunnel is flooded, but this is only to about 3-4 inches, and is no problem to wade through with walking boots. The floor is covered in the normal aggregate that you find on railway lines, and there is no longer any sign of the tracks or sleepers, so the tunnel looks like it may have been re-floored since closing. The tunnel itself was mostly brick-lined in the sections we saw. However, it is apparently much wider at the western end, and isn’t totally lined. We’re yet to see this however.
This time, we only went to the 89CH mark in the tunnel. This means 84 Chains, which is approx 1.7km. I calculated that the tunnel is 2.28km long, and a chain is 20.11m. Therefore, we went 2.28km – (84*20.11) = Approximately 590m into the tunnel. This was far enough that we could no longer see the eastern portal by which we entered. We decided today not to go any further today, but may return in future to see a bit more.
During our visit, we took some pictures, which you can see in the gallery below, and did a bit of light painting with our torches, by setting the camera to a 30 sec exposure, and walking up the tunnel waving our torches about. Feel a bit silly doing this, but it produces some interesting results!
All-in-all, this was a very interesting visit. Again, visiting these places is entirely at your own risk, and it is good to read up about the risks before you attempt it. It is, however, extremely interesting, as you get to see a fantastic relics of a byegone age. For more information about these sorts of places, and how to visit them as safely as possible, visit www.darkplaces.co.uk. If you do decide to do it, whatever you do, use your best judgement, and be careful!
Enjoy the full range of pics…