River Afan

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The River Afan (generally anglicized as Avon, and sometimes historically as Avan) is a river in southwest Wales whose river valley formed the territory of the medieval Lords of Afan. The town of Aberavon grew up on the banks of the river, and was later subsumed by the larger centre of population known as Port Talbot. The political constituency still retains the name Aberavon (on the Afan) however.

Contents

Geography

The river Afan begins its journey at the village of Cymer (meaning confluence) where the rivers Corrwg and Gwynfi join. The river runs in a more or less south-westerly direction parallel to the River Neath with which it shares its western watershed. In the east it borders the River Kenfig and then the River Llynfi, a tributary of the River Ogmore. At its source, it also shares a watershed with the Rhondda Fach, a tributary of the River Taff.

The River passes the Afan Argoed Country Park in its middle reaches.

A motte and bailey castle stood on the banks of the river as it passed through Aberavon during the medieval period. No remains are now visible above ground, but the site of the castle is commemorated in local street names.

Industrial past

For much of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, the River Afan was severely polluted by the coal and iron industry. With the decline in the coal mining industry, the quality of the river improved in the 1960s and 1970s so that some salmon and sea-trout started to return to the river to spawn. A number of weirs on the river, built to sustain the industrial past, had to be made passable to allow fish to ascend the river. This required the creation of fish passes on some weirs such as on the Dock feeder weir and the demolition of others such as at Corlannau weir.

River Pelena

A major tributary, the River Pelena,which meets the Afan at Pontrhydyfen, suffered more severely from pollution than the main river because of the sulphur-rich coal produced by the mines in that area. As a result, the abandoned coal mines continued to discharge acid mine drainage rich in iron and highly acidic. This turned much of the river orange down to the confluence of the Pelena with the main river Afan. The Orange colour could often be seen as far down stream as Pontrhydyfen (the birthplace of Richard Burton). There were a number of collieries contributing to the pollution although the major source was the Whitworth Colliery[1]. At the height of coal extraction in the valley, there were several deep pits and numerous levels. This pollution is now much mitigated[2] following extensive work promoted by the Environment Agency in the creation of engineered reed beds to treat the mine drainage.

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