Vardre RFC, Venice of the Swansea Valley? Re-visiting old rugby grounds

For over quarter of a century I spent Saturdays playing rugby on many of the pitches across South Wales (all generally in the lower divisions). Unfortunately I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the places I was visiting. Before the match I was usually too anxious and afterwards, well it was usually dark, I was exhausted and occasionally ‘over refreshed’.
Recently I’ve had the joy of accompanying my middle son to rugby games with Pencoed RFC Youth (not a club I ever played for….. it’s a long story).
This has allowed me to see things differently and appreciate some of the interesting quirks and oddities of South Wales Rugby Clubs.
This week was a trip to Vardre RFC, which can be found at Clydach in the Swansea Valley.

Lovely Clydach. This is Vardre RFC, at the confluence of the Lower Clydach and Tawe Rivers. The Club could well be a prototype for the Tardis. You enter a small door off Clydach High Street, pass through the modest bar and then get swallowed up by an enormous function room; not what I was expecting. There are also extensive changing rooms underneath the function room, but nowhere near the pitch.
Listen carefully if you ask anyone in the club for directions to the pitch. Last time I heard anything so complicated, with as many bridges, canals and water, I was in Venice at the Rialto Bridge.


Here’s the first of the bridges. A lovely centuries old cast iron affair over the Clydach to Swansea Canal. You might have noticed the enormous chimney in the background. That’s ‘The Mond‘. The largest Nickel refining plant in Europe, which has a long association with the area. Some local ‘characters’ were sat at the right hand end of the bridge, thoughtfully placing their huge quantity of empty beer cans in a recycling sack.

Bridge number two. Crossing the River Tawe this time. The bridge looks quaint on a sunny day, but I really wouldn’t fancy it at night when the river is in flood. It’s also single file, so if the rugby teams are coming the opposite direction you’ve got a long wait. Don’t look down either. Some of the wooden planks have seen better days.


Waters-Meet. Excuse the self-indulgence here. This is the point where the waters of the River Tawe, Lower Clydach and the overflow from the Canal meet. As a former student of water quality this is a text-book situation. Where is the mixing zone? Where do you collect representative water quality samples? Why are there so many foreign beer cans on the river bank?


Bus Route? This perplexed me. When I eventually found the rugby pitch I encountered a bus shelter. Hugely vandalised, but still a very modern bus shelter with electronics and one of those screens for real-time updates. We don’t even have those in the village where I live and this was in the middle of a field! I can only speculate that it was some creative ‘re-purposing’ as a team dugout by the Vardre RFC, Pitches (sub-committee). Alternatively a cover up for some late night, over enthusiastic e-Bay bidding.


Grandstand View. Continuing the ‘re-purposing’ theme I tried out the grandstand, a single story, lean-too tin-shed affair. In keeping with many other South Wales rugby grounds I think the building materials may have been ‘borrowed’ from the local industrial facility. No picture unfortunately, but you do get a good view of the pitch, and the second ‘re-purposed’ bus shelter (also vandalised).


Rugby Action Shot No1. Our number 7 making a break, just before he got isolated in the tackle and was penalised for not releasing the ball.


Rugby Action Shot No 2. Our number 7 demonstrating the classic line-out overthrow (aka failing to catch the ball). We did actually win the game though.

So, what’s the PONT?
1. Should Vardre RFC be incorporating a Gondola alongside the Magpies on the club badge given that they are the Venice of the Swansea Valley?
2. Where did Vardre RFC Pitches (sub committee) get those bus shelters from?
3. Will the Pencoed No7 be selected for the League match against Mumbles RFC next weekend? (btw, No 7 is my son. He is cool with this).

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

9 Responses

  1. I really enjoyed ‘urban walk,’ guessed at the 1st ‘action shot’ that No 7 must be your offspring, loved the the bridges (I’m always interested in bridges) and the sports architecture.

  2. I enjoyed that. Hadn’t thought of doing a picture blog before the other day when Janet mentioned it but after seeing ours I think I’ll have to give it a bash myself. 🙂

  3. It’s certainly a fascinating area for water quality nerds. My grandfather, who grew up less than a mile away, used to refer to the Fardre RFC playing field as ‘Cae Sewerage’. When he was a lad that big pipe you can see on the ‘Bridge No 2′ photo used to end just where the pitch is now.

    … and the nickel works’ effluent used to discharge just above the point where the Clydach, Tawe and the canal overflow meet, making it all even more deliciously complicated.

    I used to know a Chris who played rugby, had sons, lived near Pencoed, had a motorbike …. could it be?

  4. David O'Leary

    Played scrum half with Vardre in the 1960 to 1962. Great time , went to Dublin with Dan Air and played against Guiness team and visited Brewery ! Remember Pete James and others would be great to hear of others from those days. David O’Leary

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