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The River Neath (Welsh = Afon Nedd) is a river in south Wales running south west from its source in the Brecon Beacons to its mouth at Baglan Bay below Briton Ferry on the east side of Swansea Bay.
Several minor rivers rise on the southern slopes of Fforest Fawr. These include the Afon Hepste, Afon Sychryd, Afon Pyrddin, Nedd Fechan and Afon Mellte, the latter two converging at Pontneddfechan to form the River Neath.
Upstream from these confluences is the area known as Waterfall Country (Welsh = Coed y Rhaeadr), where the rivers plunge over a series of spectacular cataracts.
The river flows through the Vale of Neath, a long straight valley developed along the Neath Disturbance and which carried a major glacier during the ice ages.
Downstream of Pontneddfechan the river has few significant tributaries. Those that do join include the Melincwrt Brook and the Clydach Brook. The only major tributary to join is the River Dulais which has its source north of Seven Sisters. As the Dulais nears the Neath it descends a spectacular waterfall: Dulais Falls, a popular tourist attraction owned and managed by the National Trust and the site of old iron workings.
Close by the river flows past the once grand estate of Ynysygerwn. A smaller tributary, the River Clydach, flows southward through the village of Bryn-coch to join the Neath in the town centre.
The River Neath provides water for the Neath & Tennant Canals, at Aberdulais basin both canals meet, the Tennant Canal crossing the River Neath with a fine 10 arch aqueduct. Also crossing the river here is the Vale of Neath Railway line and the A465 road.
As it approaches the town of Neath the river passes the ancient church of Saint Illtud at Llantwit, further on it loops around the former workhouse at Llety Nedd and skirts Penydre; here it passes close to the Norman castle, visited by King Henry II, King John and King Edward I.
As it meanders around the town of Neath it passes the remains of the Roman fort at Court Herbert and the Cistercian Neath Abbey. Here the monks of the Middle Ages used their access to the river to challenge the trading rights of the burgesses of the town of Neath.
The estuary of the River Neath extends from Neath town down past Briton Ferry to the sea next to Jersey Marine Beach. The estuary is partly industrialised with a ship breaking yard, a large local authority waste disposal site and wharves at Melincryddan, Briton Ferry and Neath Abbey.
Where it remains undisturbed, there are areas of salt marsh stretching from Neath to Baglan Bay and Crymlyn Burrows which are of great ecological value.
The River Neath has been navigable up to the Neath town bridge for sea going ships since Roman times. The river was also navigable up to the bend at Aberdulais at spring tides for smaller craft such as barges and lighters.
In about 1700 a lock was constructed from the river at Aberdulais into the Dulais Forge, which allowed the smaller lighters and barges to bring in raw pig iron and trade in the iron products produced. Fifty years later, in 1751, the leat feeding water from the River Neath to power the forge hammers at Dulais Forge was converted into a navigable channel and ran parallel from the forge to the River Neath for 600 yards to a location above the confluence of the Neath and Dulais rivers. A weir was built across the River Neath below the confluence with the Dulais to allow navigation on the river from the Dulais Forge to the newly established (1751) tinplate works at Ynysgerwen. This navigation was used to transport bar iron to the Ynysgerwen works and finished tinplate from the works through the Dulais Forge site to the port of Neath, and was one of the earliest canal navigation in Wales.