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 6 - Days 14 to 16 - Dinas Mawddwy to Maentwrog

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Day 14 - Tuesday 13th June - 15 miles (+4.5 miles lost) 5,526 ft ascent (+500 ft lost) - Kings Youth Hostel B&B + Packed Lunch 14.95

Dinas Mawddwy to Penmaenpool via Maesglase and Cadair Idris

I got off to a fairly early start with breakfast just after 7.30 and I was off at 8.40. The weather was cloudy but showing signs of brightening up, as I started off up the steep track through the forest, with masses of rhododendrons in bloom. This led to a long track along the steep hillside which was not too easy on the feet due to the angle of the slope. After a mile or more, the head of the valley was reached at Bwlch Siglen, where there was a good view of the waterfalls tumbling hundreds of feet down the opposite side of the valley.

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Ascent through forestry
Rhododendrons above Dinas Mawddwy
From Bwlch Siglen
Waterfall near Craig Maisglase

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Showing the steep sided valleys and higher mountains
Dinas Mawddwy from Maesglase
Marvellous ridge walking
Cadair Idris from Maesglase

I missed the path further along, which meant tramping through thick grass and heather to regain the ridge up to Maesglase. From the ridge there were some magnificent views, if a little bit hazy, of the valleys around Dinas Mawddwy and further on of Cadair Idris and the Rhinogs. I met a couple of chaps who were quite interested that I was doing the Cambrian Way and I chatted to them for a while. There was some fine ridge walking and I was beginning to feel in good form as my feet were improving, enabling me to walk faster than of late. After a period of very good progress, I started dropping down along a ridge and began to look for the path down to the A847 road, only to find that the road was missing. After studying the map for a while, I realised that I had missed the turning to Cribin Fawr and had gone about a mile and a half along Mynydd Dalgoed, which was the ridge running parallel and further south than the one I should have been on. Into the bargain I had also dropped down about 500 feet before I realised my mistake. I toyed with two options - either to drop down into the valley and then try to climb up through a steep forested slope onto the next ridge, or to retrace my steps back to the correct route. Rather than risk struggling where there may not have been a path, I decided on the latter option, but the episode had cost me an extra three miles and 500 ft of climbing on top of the 5,500 that was already on my schedule.

The consolation was that I was feeling fit, my feet were much better and the scenery was fabulous, so I didn't feel too bad about my mistake and I made my way back at a very good pace. I stopped for lunch at 2.15 on the descent towards the road, prior to the ascent of Cadair Idris, with seven miles and 2,500 ft of ascent to go. I was off again at 2.45, soon dropping down to the road, where I started the ascent at the other side. This started off up a steep slope which got even steeper. I met first one couple coming down, and then another couple who had been put off because the ascent looked too difficult. They were very wary of the dangers of the mountains and were concerned as to what may happen if the cloud descended on me if I carried on. I don't think that they could really contemplate that on a walk like this you press on regardless of the weather, otherwise you would never get anywhere.

The steepest part of the slope ran next to a wire fence, so it was possible to hold on to this for stability. Further up there was a rock face, which I think is what had put off the couple I had met, but there was a path skirting around a little so that the ascent was not too difficult, although definitely not one for the faint hearted. After a bit of a scramble over the rock face, it all became straightforward, with a steady ascent towards the summit ridge. The weather was still very good and there were good views all around, limited only by a little haze in the distance. I finally reached the summit at 5 p.m. and, after a short rest, I started to make my way down the stony but easy path, which is one of the most popular routes up the mountain. After about a mile, with some spectacular views down from the ridge, it meets the Pony Path, which drops quite steeply down the hillside. This was undergoing path restoration work and a lot of steps had already been built on the way down.

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Looking North from Penygadair
Summit Shelter on Cadair Idris
A bird's eye view
LLyn-y-Gadair from Cadair Idris
It looks less distinctive from this direction
Cadair Idris from NW

I was so busy following this main route down that I forgot to look out for the turn to the left for a more direct route to Kings Youth Hostel, so I came out on the road about half a mile further east. Rather than walking along the road, I found from the map that it should be possible to take some tracks and footpaths to cut off the corner. All was going well and I was probably within a very short distance of the hostel, when I thought I must be going the wrong way after turning down the river. I was already nearing a wood and the map showed the bridge across to the hostel before the wood, so I turned round and went further upstream only to find there was no bridge that way. After a while I decided to cross the river over a fallen tree so that I would, at least, be on the right side of the river. Eventually, I found the small road to the hostel but I had covered an extra mile and a half coming in a big loop around. I had booked a meal at the hostel but only arrived at 7 p.m., when it was too late, as dinner was already under way.

All was not lost, however, as the hostel had a small shop, so I was able to buy a few things to cook for myself in the members' kitchen. A school party from Shrewsbury were in the hostel on their final night and the teachers were preparing things for a barbecue for them in the kitchen. Unlike many school parties, the children were very well behaved and the teachers were very friendly and pleasant, which made a refreshing change. The hostel had the most superb drying room, which was like a sauna inside, so I washed out everything I had that needed washing, knowing that they would be dry by the morning. The warden was telling me that he had applied for a job at Capel y Ffin hostel, but did not manage to get it. It was a hostel that he really liked, being in such a remote location and I agreed with him that it was a really very good, although Kings is also a good hostel, though not perhaps quite so remote.

Despite having made a few silly mistakes, which had increased the day's walk from 15 miles and 5,500 ft of ascent, to about 19.5 miles and 6,000 ft of ascent, I had still enjoyed a marvellous day's walking. This was particularly due to the good weather, the fine ridge walks, the generally good footpaths and the fact that my feet were not giving me much trouble. This was the sort of walking that makes the whole thing worthwhile and compensates for the periods of mist and rain and the pain from sore feet.

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Day 15 - Wednesday 14th June - 18.1 miles (+1 mile lost) - 4,118 ft ascent (+300 ft lost) - Dinner B&B and Packed Lunch 32?

Penmaenpool to Cwm Nantcol via Rhinog Fach

Breakfast was at 8.15 with the school party and with a cyclist who was sharing my dormitory. The rain was tipping down outside, although it did let up a bit from time to time. I needed to make a fairly early start, as it was going to be a long day, and managed to get off at 9.15 into the rain and low cloud. As I climbed up the path from the hostel and out of the shelter of the trees, I was faced with a very strong headwind driving the rain at me. I seriously started to wonder whether it was wise to carry on beyond Barmouth, as the wind at the top of the mountains would probably be strong enough to blow me over.

I decided to press on and see what it was like when I got to Barmouth. Although I did not want to alter my schedule, it would have been possible to stay at Barmouth for the night and then try to rearrange my accommodation for the rest of the walk, but this would only be a last resort if I thought my safety was in doubt. I battled on past Cregannon Lakes and then down by Arthog waterfalls, which were in full force from the overnight rain. Lower down the wind was not quite so strong although there were some violent gusts from time to time. The path running by the Mawddach estuary was very pleasant with lots of wild flowers including iris. The path crosses the estuary on a footpath beside the railway line and I assumed that I had to get on it at the far end, although it would have been possible to cut off the corner and save about half a mile, as the tide was out. I could see a steam train blowing his whistle across on South Bank but it did not set off. This was not on the main line but was the Fairbourne Railway, and it would have surprised me if there were many passengers.

As I reached the far side of the toll bridge and paid my 50p, the man in the booth was saying how busy it had been the day before and that he doubted whether there would be many people today. In Barmouth the wind was not quite so bad, but whether this was because the wind had dropped, or whether it was because it was more sheltered, I did not know. However, the first part of the route into the Rhinog Mountains was up the sheltered part of the hillside, so I decided to press on and see what it was like when I got further along. The cloud was at about 200 ft, so I was into rather poor visibility straight away, and I didn't seem to be able to find a proper path for much of the way. I just kept heading in the right general direction and eventually reached the ridge, although not without some difficulty. There are a number of huge walls in this area with very few stiles or gates and the usual lack of footpath signs so, in poor visibility, it makes life very difficult if you stray off route. On the ridge, to my relief, the wind, although still strong, was not excessive and there was also a wall along the ridge to provide shelter.

I made quite good progress along the ridge stopping only briefly for snacks and water. Route finding was easy despite the mist, as it was just a matter of following the wall all the way to Y Llethr. From there on it was not clear which route I should take down to Llyn Hywel. The route straight ahead was alright for a while but then seemed to end up at the top of a cliff face with no visible route down. The only alternative seemed to be a very steep hillside to the east and this I managed with difficulty, although I still could not see where I was supposed to be heading. Eventually, after struggling down a steep rocky slope covered in thick heather, I was greatly relieved to see a lake looming ahead through the mist. After a short period studying the map, however, I realised that it was the wrong lake - this was Llyn y Bi, which meant that I had gone half a mile too far east and also dropped a few hundred feet lower down. They say that every cloud has a silver lining, and in this case I found a small path (very rare in these parts), which led up a relatively easy ascent of Rhinog Fach, albeit via a rather indirect route.

From the summit I took the recommended route which was far more difficult than the route I had taken - it was not long before the path petered out and I had a difficult scramble down slippery rocks and through heather until I eventually reached a track which skirted the base of the mountain. Not wishing to sound ungrateful for finding a real path, but the trouble was that it also served as a fast flowing stream because of all the rain earlier. Progress was slow because of the need to avoid slipping on rocks, or stumbling over boulders hidden in the heather. Eventually I reached a stile by a river and this was obviously Bwlch Drws Ardudwy, the pass between Rhinog Fach and Rhinog Fawr, which I needed to take to my B&B at Maes y Garnedd. I looked at either side of the river to see which had the better path and, as I could see none at the other side, and there was a path of sorts at my side, I followed that downstream. The path I was on kept disappearing and led me over some difficult terrain with rocks and boggy patches, but eventually I dropped beneath the cloud and I could clearly see my destination. All seemed fine as I headed towards the farm until I suddenly realised that I was at the wrong side of the river and there was no suitable crossing point anywhere around. The river would have been difficult enough where I first joined it, but now it was a raging torrent and would easily sweep me off my feet if I tried to wade across.

I walked up and down stream to find some way of crossing, and eventually managed to find a place where there were trees with low branches straddling the river. With these to hold onto, I was able to wade across and then make my way through the farmyard. My feet had been completely saturated for most of the day, so the river crossing didn't make much difference to them - it just gave a clean change of water.

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Nearest civilisation to Rhinogs
Maes-y-garnedd in Cwm Nantcol

I eventually arrived at Maes y Garnedd at 7.30 p.m. - only half an hour later than I had estimated. Closer examination of the map showed that I should have crossed the river higher up - the path was a little way above the river, which is why I could not see it in the first place. At least the next day I might have a better route back up than the awful one coming down.

Everything I was wearing was soaking wet, which is the normal state of things in this sort of weather, although it had only been raining lightly in the afternoon. In prolonged wet weather it seems impossible to keep dry, as rain always manages to find a way in through waterproofs, and the sweat from the inside just adds to the problem. I could have done with a nice hot meal after such a bad day but, not being sure what time I was going to arrive, the farmer's wife had decided to give me a cold meal instead. However, at least I was safe and well, and had managed to avoid delaying the walk by a day, so I didn't have to change any of the accommodation bookings I had made for the rest of the walk.

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Day 16 - Thursday 15th June - 14 miles (+1 mile lost) - 4,370 ft ascent - B&B 16?

Cwm Nantcol to Maentwrog via Rhinog Fawr

After a good night's sleep I woke to a far better day, with the cloud much higher, and no rain. I had managed to dry most of my wet clothes by hanging them on an ingenious construction of coat hangers above a slimline electric wall heater. I had breakfast at 8 a.m. and was off by 8.50, putting my nice dry socks into boots which still contained the remnants of the river that I had forgotten to empty out. Still, why not start out the day with wet feet, as they soon end up that way in any case!

I made my way up the proper path to the top of the pass - what a difference from the route I had taken coming down. It was a well constructed path with stones to help through the wet parts and, apart from a few small stretches, allowed rapid progress enabling me to reach the top of the pass in three quarters of an hour. The cloud was just hanging around the summits of the Rhinogs but blue patches started to appear in the sky. After a short rest, I made my way up a path which skirted round the east side of Rhinog Fawr, finally approaching the summit from a less craggy direction. Although it was more circuitous, it was a relatively safe and easy path all the way up. On the way up I could see Llyn Trawsfynydd to the north and this was not far from my destination for the night. The cloud was just hovering around the summit, so I only got half a view, but then half a view was better than no view, as was the case the previous day.

Once again I made an error in navigation as I took the larger lake Gloyw Lyn to be Llyn Du and headed in that direction, along quite a good path through the heather. Fortunately it was quite easy to take the path down from Gloyw Lyn to join the bottom of the Roman steps near Cwm Bychan and it was possibly an easier route. After the previous day, when I would have been quite happily never to see the Rhinogs again, I was now beginning to enjoy the charm of this wild and remote area. I arrived at Cwm Bychan at 12.30 and stopped for lunch overlooking the lake and across at Rhinog Fawr.

Cwm Bychan is the next road access after Cwm Nantcol but there is no accommodation there, only a camp site. It is a very tranquil spot surrounded by rugged mountains. I took the path up towards Clip and went off in the wrong direction for a while because I thought that Clip was the mountain further to the right which looked higher. It was only when I looked back after a while that I realised that Clip was behind me. That wasted about 25 minutes but, as I was making quite good progress, it didn't matter very much.

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Slightly off route but shows the type of terrain
Gloyw Lyn NW of Rhinog Fawr
Next road access to route
Cwm Bychan and Llyn Cwm Bychan
View from Moelfryn
Llyn Trawsfynydd showing dam

A scramble up Clip and a walk over to the summit revealed some very good views of the Rhinogs, of Cwm Bychan and the estuary opening out into Tremadog Bay. To the north could be seen the mountains yet to be climbed - Moel Ysgyfarnagod and Diffwys(2). I made my way along the series of pavements and dips that are characteristic of this area. The guide book warns that it takes some time to find the best routes up and down these pavements, but in practice there is generally a path to follow along the easiest route up and down the huge shelves of rock.

Moel Ysgyfarnagod is much greener than most of the previous mountains and, from the summit, there was an amazing array of mountains going off into the distance to the south. To the north west I could see the full length of the Lleyn Peninsula albeit that much of the higher ground was covered in cloud.

From here onwards the route involves a number of scrambles up and down rock faces and ledges, before finally descending to Llyn Trawsfynydd, of which there were some marvellous views. Just when it seemed that all the hard work was over and that the rest of the way was easy, the route climbed back up again over a common - not a steep climb, but still a strain on the weary legs at the end of a hard day. From there the way goes over the Trawsfynydd dam and eventually joins a minor road into Maentwrog, which I reached at 6.30 p.m., feeling rather parched and weary. The weather had been warm and humid all day with little wind so, despite drinking lots of water, I was still very thirsty and welcomed the pot of tea I was given when I reached my B&B.

The day's walk had been only 16 miles or so with the extra distance added by losing my way but, because of all the scrambling up and down, it felt like 20 miles. However, with the gradually improving weather throughout the day and the fine views to be seen along the way, it was well worthwhile.

The Grapes Hotel was just down the road from my B&B, so I went there for a bar meal of pork rib at 6.50, described as 'black but not burnt'. It was delicious and very filling and went well with some good Director's bitter. I then retired for an early night, as the past three hard days were making themselves felt.

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