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 8 - Days 20 to 21 and Conclusion - Ogwen to Conwy and Home

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Day 20 - Monday 19th June - 18.3 miles - 4,697 ft ascent - B&B 16

Ogwen to Conwy via Carneddau and Tal y Fan

I got up at 7 a.m. and, for once, I didn't have to drag myself out of bed, as the last couple of easier days had recharged my batteries. It says something about the nature of this walk when a day climbing the highest mountain in Wales from near sea level is considered an easy day in which to recoup some energy!

I made breakfast from things I had bought from the YHA shop, and also some sandwiches to take with me, leaving the hostel at 8.30 for the earliest start of the whole walk. There was clear blue sky to the north but a layer of light cloud hanging over the mountains to the south, except for Tryfan which was sticking out majestically in front. The route up to Carnedd Dafydd avoids the very steep ascent opposite the hostel, but follows a path along the north side of Llyn Ogwen, then taking a somewhat less steep route to the summit.

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With mist covering the mountains behind
Tryfan and Llyn Ogwen
Cloud descending into Devil's Kitchen
Llyn Idwal from Pen yr Ole Wen
From here Elidir Fawr looks like a perfect mountain
SW from Garnedd Uchaf to Elidir Fawr

On the way up towards the summit, there were some beautiful views of Devil's Kitchen and Llyn Idwal with cloud rolling down whilst the mountain tops around were poking out of the cloud into the blue sky above. I reached the first summit of Pen yr Ole Wen by 10.30 after making a small detour to get some better photographs of the view. A few people were out walking, but not so many now that the weekend was over. I took shelter in the summit cairn of Carnedd Dafydd for a short break as a vicious wind had sprung up. Fortunately it was coming from behind, otherwise it would have made it very hard work. There were some fine views from the edge, although the visibility was not too good for long distance views. A number of rock-strewn areas along the higher parts of the ridge made progress a little difficult, but otherwise it was possible to maintain a good walking speed. I was a little more conscious of progress, as this was one of the longer stretches of the walk with quite a lot of ascent, so I wanted to make sure I didn't waste too much time.

By 12 noon I had reached Carnedd Llewelyn, the highest point of the day's walk, and from there onwards it was downhill all the way, figuratively speaking. In reality it was like a roller coaster of ever decreasing hills. I made my way steadily along the ridge, much of which is 3,000 ft or more above sea level, assisted on the uphill stretches by the wind. I could almost lean back on the wind and let it carry me up, which was a great bonus. I did, however, reach a point where I had to walk sideways to the wind and it made the going very difficult for a short period of time. Some of the people I met coming the other way were really having a struggle when faced with an uphill climb into this ferocious wind. There were some very good views of the mountains that I was leaving behind, and there was a touch of sadness as I started to drop down from the high part of the ridge with them all behind me.

There is a tendency to think that, once the 3,000 ft mountains are out of the way, that the rest is easy. From way up high, the rest of the mountains look very small, but some of them are over 2,000 ft and can still present a challenge. After the drop down into Bwlch y Ddeufaen there is still a steep climb of several hundred feet to face, up to Foel Lwyd, and then a smaller one again up to Tal y Fan. The high temperature of the day was not so noticeable high up because of the wind, but lower down with more shelter it became very hot indeed. I had run out of water and had hoped to find some along the way, but the recent dry spell meant that there was very little surface water around. It was not until I approached Tal y Fan that I managed to find some, by which time I was getting quite dehydrated.

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On descent of Foel-fras
Llyn Anafon and Coast
View across Conwy Estuary
Conwy from Conwy Mountain
The end of a magnificent walk
Conwy Castle End of Cambrian Way

This final ridge of 2,000 ft mountains was a good vantage point to see across to the final destination of Conwy, with its fine castle coming into sight. After a few more miles the route joins up with the North Wales Path to cross the Sychnant Pass, leaving just a few more small ascents up to Conwy Mountain, the site of an old hill fort, before finally dropping down into Conwy itself. At 810 ft, Conwy Mountain is not very high, and is dwarfed by its 3,000 ft neighbours, but it still has that rugged appearance of a real mountain and gives some good views of Conwy, so is worthy of its name. All that was now left was the final, easy descent into Conwy and then a walk along the road past my B&B to the castle, which made a fine and majestic end to the walk. I phoned home to report my successful completion of the walk at 6.30 p.m. and then made my way back to the B&B for the night.

It was quite strange to be in a busy town after so many days in the wildest parts of Wales, with most of my overnight stops either in remote places or in villages. One of my first priorities was to get money from a cash machine, as I was running very short. The last machine I used was in Abergavenny and I had not seen one since, although I could, no doubt, have found one in Barmouth if I had detoured into town. I had been watching my cash dwindle down to just a few pounds but I calculated that I could just manage until Conwy, which I indeed did.

After showering and changing and having a rest at the B&B, I went into town thinking that I would have a good choice of places to eat. Unfortunately, although there are a lot of places selling food, most of them expect people to eat early. I had a pint in one pub, expecting them to do bar meals but they didn't. I had another pint in another pub that was advertising bar meals, but then found that I was too late and this was before 8 p.m.! The landlord seemed to think that the only place I might find something to eat was in an Italian Restaurant further up town. I generally don't feel at home eating on my own in a restaurant, so I ended up having fish and chips sitting by the town walls, then returning for a few pints to celebrate the completion of the walk. By about 9.30 p.m., I was feeling tired as it had been quite a hard day, particularly with all the heat, so I retired for yet another early night.

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Day 21 - Tuesday 20th June - 5 miles flat walking

Conwy to Llandudno, then Home

As the coach I had booked for my journey back home picked up in Llandudno, I had a little extra walking to do to get there. It was somewhat different from the walking I had become accustomed to, as it was all on the flat, following the coast round the Conwy Estuary. Nevertheless, it was very pleasant with good views back to Conwy and the mountains beyond, and a better option than taking the bus. The coach took an eternity to get me back home, calling in everywhere along the way but, apart from wanting to get back home, I was in no particular rush. With all the talk about the benefits of using public transport, it still made me think that my journey would only take two hours by car but most of the day by public transport.

I arrived back to a warm welcome from the family and would have been very happy to settle down and relax into an easy life for a few weeks to recover from the walk. This was not, however, possible as there were only another two weeks before we had to move out of our house, before taking over the hotel that we were buying in North Wales. After living at the same place for seventeen years, it is amazing how much rubbish one can accumulate, and most of this had to be disposed of and many other jobs done before we moved out. Instead of relaxation I was thrust into the full swing of the move and then, after a couple of weeks of preparation for taking over the hotel, I was flung headlong into the new venture and found that, for the first few months, my feet never seemed to touch the ground. Not surprisingly, I felt permanently exhausted and it was a long time before I had enough rest to feel fully recovered.

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Thought at the End of the Walk

In some ways this is the mountain walk to end all mountain walks, at least as far as Britain is concerned. Most long distance trails do not follow such a high level route, so this walk is fairly unique in that it attempts to keep to the mountains as much as possible. This is what gives this walk the greatest appeal, as far as I was concerned, although this is also what creates most of the difficulties.

In undertaking such a walk it has to be expected that the going will not be easy and that, because of the remoteness of many sections of the walk, paths will often not be well trodden. What did appal me, however, was the total disregard for footpath signposting and maintenance along certain parts of the walk, particularly in Powys. It would appear that the vested interests of farmers and landowners, who control most of the councils, means that their statutory obligations to maintain footpaths are completely ignored. There was a special government initiative to have all footpaths cleared and signposted by the year 2000, and some councils took this very seriously but not, alas, councils in mid Wales where it would seem that they are postponing things until the year 3000 if not later. This does make route finding much harder and generally has the effect of causing more damage to fences and walls, as walkers climb over them when they are lost. The best way to avoid this is to signpost footpaths clearly so that walkers do not get lost and can keep to paths with the minimum of disturbance to the land they are crossing.

If the Cambrian Way were to become a National Trail then many of these problems would be overcome, as the whole route would be better signposted and the increased numbers of walkers using the footpaths would help to make them more clearly defined. I do not like to spend all of my time carefully studying maps, as I prefer to enjoy the scenery as much as possible, so better route marking would add considerably to the enjoyment of the walk. Equally well, I enjoy remoteness and solitude so I would not like to see this walk overused, as evidenced in some parts of Snowdonia. As the route is at the present time, I think that a GPS navigation system would prove extremely useful along certain sections and would take much of the uncertainty out of route finding.

One of my main problems on the walk was caused primarily by the amount of surface water in many sections of the route. This meant that my feet were almost permanently wet, and this considerably increased the problems I had with my feet. The situation was not helped by my well worn boots, which were far less watertight than they could have been, but then I have not yet found any boots that are able to resist constant soaking without eventually letting some of it in.

As a lone walker, it is nice to meet other walkers along the route and with popular walks such as the Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast, there are generally quite a few people doing the walk at the same time, making it a very sociable event. With this walk, though, I was very much on my own. Perhaps during main holiday periods there are enough people walking the route to provide some companionship, but at the time I did the walk this was definitely not the case. It is also rather unfortunate that there are not more youth hostels along the route, as these are places where walkers are more likely to meet similar minded people. It is most regrettable that so many hostels have been closed down in the last few years and also that others suffer from the problems of block bookings by school parties to the exclusion of ordinary members.

Certain parts of the walk were not as enjoyable as they could have been, because of the problems I had with my feet, but this is no reflection on the quality of the walk. Whilst doing a long walk there is often a tendency not to appreciate the quality of the scenery as much as one would on a single day's walk - a phenomena that I refer to as 'appreciation fatigue'. However, the quality of this walk has been brought home to me recently when I started to think of another walk to do in 2001. By comparison, nothing matches up to the Cambrian Way, and I am having great difficulty trying to think of another walk that I could do without being disappointed.

All I can say to Tony Drake, who seems to have devoted so much of his time and energy to the planning and promotion of this walk, is 'Congratulations on putting together such a marvellous route'. Even if there are a few difficulties along the way, Tony has done his utmost to ensure the very best high level routes have been used, and that the whole route is on accepted rights of way. It would be a very fitting tribute to his efforts if, indeed, the Cambrian Way were to achieve the status of a National Trail, and it would then make the route even more enjoyable.

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