The Cambrian Way 2000

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 4 - Days 8 to 10 - Talsarn to Devil's Bridge

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Day 8 - Wednesday 7th June - 16 miles (+ 3 miles lost) - 1,600 ft ascent - Dinner, B&B & Packed Lunch 27.50

Talsarn to Rhandirmwyn

I had a good night's sleep and was up at 7.45 to make myself breakfast of bacon and a tin of beans with 'plastic' sausages, which I think must be made in a synthetic rubber factory, as they bear no relationship to anything that could be described as a sausage. However, on a walk like this it does not pay to be too fussy about what food is available; you just have to be glad that there is something to keep you going - anything better is a bonus. I even had enough bacon left over to make a bacon sandwich for lunch, so I was well prepared for the day ahead.

After packing and tidying the caravan I made a start at 9.20 on a very pleasant and hot sunny morning. The scenery now was much more gentle, with none of the high mountains of the earlier and later sections of the walk. The first couple of miles were along the road to meet up with the main route near the head of the Usk Reservoir. There are family connections with this reservoir, as my wife's uncle, John Matthews, was its chief engineer when it was built many years ago.

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Not far from source of River Usk
Head of the Usk Reservoir
Much gentler scenery here
N towards Myddfai and Llandovery
Ruins of Llandovery Castle
Ruins of Llandovery Castle

The Carmarthen Fans were very prominent to the south, but are far less impressive from a distance than from up on top. After leaving the road, the route meanders over undulating moorland to give views of the reservoir and of the source of the River Usk before leading down to the road and into Myddfai. As it was so warm, I took off my shirt but decided that I would have to take care that my shoulders didn't get too much sun, as it can be very unpleasant carrying a rucksack on sunburnt shoulders. I stopped for lunch just past Myrtle Hill and lay sunbathing for a while. When I resumed my walk it was not long before I ran into difficulty finding the right route. Despite Tony Drake showing sections of map at six inches to the mile, I still could not find the right path at Pant y Gaseg Farm and I ended up too far west, eventually meeting up with a track that was leading in the opposite direction. Rather than trying to backtrack I decided that it was easier just to follow this track down to a minor road that allowed me to join up with the route half a mile further on.

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North towards Rhandirmwyn
North towards Rhandirmwyn

There is over five miles of road walking from Llandovery, albeit on little used minor roads which gave pleasant views but there were none of the spectacular views of the previous few days. Eventually the road section gave way to tracks over the moor. I got hopelessly lost trying to follow the route and was unable to match it up with the guidebook. What made matters so much worse in this area was the poor signposting of footpaths and bridleways, so it is difficult to know which is a path and which is a farm track. Eventually, after checking with my compass, I found that I had wandered too far east, although I was not quite sure how far. The best thing I could do was to head roughly north to meet up with a road where I could then get my bearings. I did eventually find a road but, by this time, I was about a mile and a half north east of where I should have been.

It was a relief at least, to know where I was, even though it meant that I had added about two and a half miles of walking together with all the frustration that goes with being lost. Even though this day's walk was not excessively long, it was getting rather late because I normally pace myself for the distance I know I have to walk, so if I think I am going to have plenty of time to spare I take it easy along the way and have longer stops. If I had lost my way earlier in the day I could have easily made up for lost time, but doing so near the end of the day meant that I was bound to be rather late getting to my destination. I was, at least, able to press on quickly towards Rhandirmwyn and then to Nant Bai Mill, which was where I was staying for the night, but it was still 7.35 p.m. before I arrived. I had a nice, relaxing bath and a large pot of tea with scones, which I ate outside in the pleasant warmth of the evening. This was followed by a very good home cooked meal of trout with courgettes and tomato with a thick cheese topping and a jacket potato followed by apple pie with ice cream.

My feet were suffering quite a bit, and this had not been helped by the last stretch of rapid road walking trying to make up for some of my lost time. I was not looking forward to doing nearly twenty miles the next day, so I decided against walking down to the pub and, instead, had an early night to get give my feet as much of a rest as possible and a chance to recover, after bursting a few of the blisters.

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Day 9 - Thursday 8th June - 18.3 miles (+ 1 mile lost) - 2,500 ft ascent - Red Lion B&B 18.50

Rhandirmwyn to Pontrhydfendigaid via the Doethie Valley

I had breakfast at 8 a.m. and set off at 8.50 with my feet feeling much improved - it is surprising what a night's rest can do. The main problem with my feet seemed to have come about because of the almost constant saturation that they had undergone since the start of this walk. The thick skin of my soles went into large wrinkles with the wet and this caused some deep-seated blisters to form under the folds. The blister on my right foot, despite having been burst, still seemed very swollen, which probably meant that it had become infected.

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Towy Valley near Dinas Nature Reserve
Towy Valley near Dinas Nature Reserve
The beautiful Doethie Valley
Doethie Valley

The first part of the day's walk was along the River Towy and then along the beautiful Doethie valley, where the river winds its way down a steep sided valley with a number of waterfalls, and with craggy outcrops of rock high up the valley sides. This is one part of the walk where the route has been chosen for the scenery down in the valley rather than mountain top scenery. My feelings are that one of the important things about a long distance walk is a good variety of scenery and, although I tend to prefer seeing things from up high, this is one example of where it is preferable to take a low level route. The easy walking and the marvellous scenery took my mind off the problems with my right foot for a while. Further along I had a short break to doctor my blister by cutting off some of the dead skin and putting antiseptic cream on it to try to counteract any infection.

Further up the valley the route climbs up the valley side and over to a minor road, which is the only right of way for the next four miles. The scenery is less spectacular away from the Doethie valley but still very pleasant. At the point where the path joins the road there is a tiny chapel called Soar y Mynydd which is miles from anywhere, making one wonder where the congregation came from.

As I started walking along the road, I could see a lone walker with a rucksack some way ahead. I gradually caught him up and, when I asked him where he was headed for, he replied "Conwy maybe". He was not walking the whole of the Cambrian Way, as he had walked much of the first section previously, so he had started from Llandovery, but he did hope to get to Conwy. He was taking a year out from work and had walked all over the country doing several National Trails and was also intending, possibly, to walk down through the Pyrenees to Spain. He tended to walk at a fairly steady pace and, as he was carrying camping gear, was able to stop more or less wherever he pleased. If the weather turned bad he would just stay put in his tent until it improved. I eventually went off ahead of him and then stopped for lunch at about the halfway point for the day with a buzzard flying overhead.

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This is buzzard and red kite country
Lake near road towards Nantymaen

I set off again at 1.30 p.m. and stopped again to check the route carefully at 2.40 p.m., when I was surprised to see that I had only about five and a half miles to go to reach Pontrhydfendigaid. I had written down the day's mileage as 19.7 but it was, in fact, only 18.3 measured from Nant Bai Mill, so I had the bonus of being able to take it easy for the rest of the way. All was going well until the descent from Garn Gron towards Pontrhydfendigaid where I wasn't sure which was the right path. I met up with a track, which I could see on the map, but then turned too early and got confused as to where I was. Eventually I to follow it, as I would then know where I was when I reached the road. All of this probably added the mile back on that I thought I had gained but, nevertheless, I got to the Red Lion Hotel at 5.50 p.m., rather footsore and weary, but otherwise alright.

My room was very large with an en-suite shower which I was glad to get into. I washed out a few things, as usual, phoned home, rested my feet for a while and then went down to see about a meal. I had a chilli con carne for 4 and a couple of pints of Hancock's bitter before retiring to my room to watch the news and weather and then had an early night, as I was feeling rather weary.

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Day 10 - Friday 9th June - 15.2 miles - 2,000 ft ascent - B & B 16.50

Pontrhydfendigaid to Devil's Bridge via Strata Florida and Teifi Pools

I woke to the sound of rain dripping outside. I was still feeling weary and footsore and the option of staying in bed all day, or even all week was very tempting. However, a hearty breakfast improved my wellbeing and the rain seemed to have eased off a bit. Fortunately the central heating had come on at 7 a.m., which meant that my wet clothes were almost dry by the time I was ready to set off.

I called at the Post Office to buy a few things for lunch and also to post my fourth map - there were only three more maps to go now! At 9.30 I set off along the minor road to the ruined abbey of Strata Florida, rather than along the footpath as the smooth surface was a bit easier on my poor feet. This was very unusual for me, as I normally prefer a footpath to a road wherever possible, but consideration for my feet made me give way to the easier option. The route followed a road past the abbey for a couple of miles before heading steadily up a track to Teifi Pools. The scenery around about was very good but somewhat diminished by the dreary drizzle, although I was thankful that I was not in the cloud and was still able to see a reasonable distance. There were numerous craggy outcrops interspersed with lakes and the whole landscape gave the feeling of being wild and remote.

I stopped in the shelter of Claerddu, an old shepherd's cottage which has been kept as a refuge hut. By keeping up a steady plod, trying to be as gentle as possible on my feet, I managed about six miles by 11.45. Continuing onwards the walking was a lot rougher with a number of boggy areas and the visibility worsened with mist. However, route finding was not as bad as I expected - by keeping on the high ground it was possible to see some of the lakes as landmarks and then the high point of Domen Milwyn, which looked like a steep sided mountain through the mist but, in fact, only rises about 100 ft above the surrounding land.

Dropping down from Domen Milwyn, which I reached at 1.15 p.m., I joined the track down into Cwmystwyth. From there onwards the route avoids the road to Devil's Bridge by heading up towards a forestry plantation. After a short way it was not easy to see which was the correct route, as footpaths in this area are very badly maintained and signposted. I eventually found the right route over some horribly boggy ground with thick tufted grass before ascending the hillside, with a few broken stiles along the way. The next bit of the route started off well with a signposted path through the forestry, but after a while, I seemed to lose the route and ended up on a forestry track somewhat lower down than I should have been, but still leading in the right direction.

The weather turned wetter and colder as I covered the rest of the way into Devil's Bridge along an easy to follow footpath. I reached my B&B at the Devil's Bridge Stores at 4.40 p.m. This is not in Tony Drake's book, as they had only just started doing bed and breakfast, but I was put in touch with them by another place that was full.

I had not been rushing at all throughout the day, as I was trying to make it as easy as possible on my feet, but I was still early arriving at my destination. Because of the poor weather I had not rested for very long, so had made good progress. The owners of the Stores, which is also a cafe, were very helpful - they dried out my wet things and phoned the local pub to see if they were doing meals - it turned out they weren't because there was a function on. Although their cafe had closed earlier, they made me a meal from their menu, which was only a snack menu, but I was nevertheless very grateful. I had spaghetti on toast and a piece of sponge cake.

Later in the evening I called in at the pub for a couple of pints of Tanner's before returning to doctor my feet and go to bed. The blister on the sole of my right foot had been giving me a lot of problems, as it was very deep seated and had become infected, I think. I cut away a lot of dead skin around it and also cut a hollow in the insole in my boot to try to relieve the pressure. I was hardly able to stand on it, but hoped that it would improve by the morning, as I had a fairly long walk ahead of me.

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