The Cambrian Way 2005

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 5 - Days 8 and 9 - Ystradfellte to Rhandirmwyn

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Day 8 - Friday 10th June - 15.6 miles - 3,540 ft ascent

Llyn y Fan Fach and Picws Du

River Neath at Blaen-nedd-isaf Fan Hir from above Penwyllt Cribarth from Penwyllt Llyn y Fan Fawr Llyn y Fan Fach and Picws Du Llyn y Fan Fach from East Llyn y Fan Fach from West Cambrian Way Map Day 8

I arose for a good breakfast at 8.00 - the forecast was for a cloudy day, but there was glorious sunshine outside with a clear blue sky. There was no need for a packed lunch, as I would be passing a pub around lunchtime and I also still had a few things left from before. As I started out at 9.00, I entered the grid reference of the river crossing at Blaen Nedd Isaf into my GPS, as I had found route finding through this area of undulating common and fields a bit difficult last time. Even with my GPS, it was still a little tricky, as I was tempted to follow tracks that led off the route until I decided to go in the direction that the GPS was pointing. By this time, though, I had already drifted off course, so just by heading towards my destination didn't put me onto the right footpath, and I had to detour around a little to find the right stiles and gates to get me to Blaen Nedd Isaf (checkpoint 13B at 10.05). This made me realise that putting in a fairly distant grid reference was not as helpful as I thought, because it was still possible to get some distance off course whilst still appearing to be heading in roughly the right direction. It is better to waymark points at shorter intervals so that any deviation from the route is more easily noticed and corrected.

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River Neath (Afon Nedd) from Bridge at Blaen-nedd-isaf
River Neath

After crossing the river, the route was easy to find and well signposted over towards Penwyllt, as it climbed gradually up over the moorland along a grassy track. I stopped for a rest and a drink of water at 10.30 and it was still warm and sunny with quite a bit of light cloud and a refreshing breeze. Here, there were distant views over the moorland and rolling hills north of Ystradfellte. A steady walk took me to the top of the pass, where Pen y Fan and Corn Du had come into sight again. As I made my way further over, the base of Fan Brycheiniog, the highest mountain of the day, came into view, with cloud covering the summit. However, by the time I had reached the other side of the plateau, where I again caught sight of Fan Brycheiniog, the cloud had already dispersed. I had a little problem finding the right path from the quarry at Penwyllt to Glyntawe and this resulted in me going too far down the hill and having to climb back up again to regain the right route. By now, most of the clouds had cleared from the sky and there were some fine views down into the valley and of the mountains ahead.

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Fan Hir from above Penwyllt
Fan Hir
Cribarth from Penwyllt
Cribarth from Penwyllt
Llyn y Fan Fawr from Fan Brycheiniog
Llyn y Fan Fawr

I noticed some signposts for the Beacons Way around here, signposting a trail set out by the National Park Authority. I had heard that they had refused to sell Tony Drake's Cambrian Way guide in any of their shops because they didn't want to encourage any more walks over the already overwalked Brecon Beacons, but here they were setting out their own trail to do just that. I can only assume that they had come to realise that it is impossible to discourage people from walking where they want to walk, so they had decided to promote the area themselves and live with the consequences. (I later discovered that this came in response to the damage to the local economy caused by the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001). The only effective way of dealing with the footpath erosion problem is to invest in the building of stone pathways and steps in the busiest places, as has been done in other popular walking areas. This way, a large number of walkers can visit the area with the minimum of damage.

I had been looking forward to my lunch stop at the Tafarn y Garreg pub, which was right on my route, by the side of the A4067. It was 12.30 when I reached there and I decided to have a pint of lager shandy, which would be refreshing on this hot sunny day, without having too much alcohol to sap my willpower when it came to the climb ahead. The first pint went down very quickly, so I had another with my ploughman's lunch, sitting in the beer garden. In this lovely weather, it was tempting to stay for longer, but I urged myself up at 1.30, after a good rest, to head off up into the mountains. There was a steep climb to start with up out of the valley onto the ridge, which was hard work on a hot day, so I just plodded slowly upwards with frequent short stops of 20 to 30 seconds just to allow my heartbeat to slow down a little and to allow more blood to circulate into my leg muscles. It was a relief to eventually reach the ridge, where the ascent was much more gentle and where I was able to progress at more than the snail's pace that I had just been doing, without too much effort. Higher up, there was also the advantage of a refreshing breeze again to make climbing easier.

Looking back across the valley, I could see the rounded mass of Fan Gyhirych and, eventually, the distinctive shapes of Pen y Fan and Corn Du came into view over to the left, now looking more distant. The ridge of Fan Hir (meaning long peak) is just as its name suggests and is a grassy slope at first until the craggy edge that characterises the Fans is reached some way further along. Here, the bright blue lake of Llyn Fan Fawr came into view below. At the end of the ridge there was a small dip before the final ascent onto Fan Brycheiniog and this made a very good place to have a rest at 15.00, with some clouds to the east but clear blue sky everywhere else, giving some marvellous views all around. There was a steep climb at first, but this levelled off towards the summit (checkpoint 14 at 15.40), where an even wider range of views greeted me. Further along, Fan Foel gave me an excellent view of Llyn Fan Fach with Picws Du overlooking it on the left. It is a fabulous walk along the ridge, although there is another steep climb up to Picws Du, but the stunning views all the way along more than compensated for any effort involved.

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Llyn y Fan Fach and Picws Du
from Fan Foel
Llyn y Fan Fach & Picws Du
Llyn y Fan Fach from Picws Du
Llyn y Fan Fach from east
Looking back at Llyn y Fan Fach, Cwar-du-mawr and Picws Du
Llyn y Fan Fach from west

The route I was taking for the youth hostel variant goes right round the end of the lake, whereas the main route drops down into the valley from Picws Du. On a day like this it would have been a great pity to miss this magnificent stretch of ridge walking and, had I been following the main route, I would have been tempted to take this route despite the extra distance involved. After looping round Llyn y Fan Fach, the route drops down to the waterworks track near the lake and follows the stream down past the filter beds where lots of fish were leaping up out of the water. Eventually the track joins a minor road for the rest of the way to the hostel, which is on top of a ridge, so there was a little more uphill walking to do before the day was finished.

The hostel is self catering and is run by volunteer wardens, so does not have a shop. It does, however, have a drying room, so I decided to wash all the dirty things I had been accumulating up to now. The only problem with the drying room was that the only heating was from an electric heater on a fairly short timer, so it required regular trips back into there to keep it going for long enough to get anything dry. My next problem was food - I had planned on going to the Cross Inn at Talsarn, which was about a mile away, but the warden said that it had been closed when he passed there at lunch time. However, there wasn't really much option but to go there and see, as it was quite a way further to anywhere else that might serve food. It is not an easy walk to Talsarn, as the road drops steeply down into the valley and then back up the other side, but without a pack to carry it was so much easier and I made it there in 15 minutes. Fortunately, the pub was open and they were serving food, so all was well and I had a very good lasagne and chips sitting outside on this lovely evening with views across to hills I had been walking. The amazing thing about the walk today was that, even though it was a fabulous day for weather and the scenery around the Carmarthen Fans is magnificent, I saw not one other walker out on the hills, not even across on a distant hillside - I had the whole place to myself. When I think of the masses of people on the Brecon Beacons yesterday when the weather was not as good, it is even more surprising. It just shows how much the majority of people miss because they only ever head for the highest mountain in any particular area and ignore all the rest.

The midges eventually got the better of me outside, so I retired to the bar and had another pint of Wye Valley bitter inside. The pub were selling tickets to the red kite feeding station, as this is the area where they have managed to protect and increase some of the population to the point where they are a fairly common sight. From the information around the pub, I gathered that they were quite actively involved in the red kite programme. As I set off back to the hostel, I was joined by a cyclist (on foot), who was staying at the hostel for the weekend. There was another steep climb back up to the hostel, but not quite as much as the climb on the way there. Back at the hostel, I found that the warden had kindly been pressing the button on the heater in the drying room for me, so I gave it one last press for the night and went to bed.

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Day 9 - Saturday 11th June - 17 miles - 2,390 ft ascent

Llanddeusant to Rhandirmwyn

Route towards Myddfai Llandovery Pen y Darren, above Nantybai Cambrian Way Map Day 9

I got up at 7.45 although it was a bit of an effort to force myself out of bed. My washing had dried quite a bit but several things were still quite damp, which is always a problem, as it takes a very good drying room to get everything dry overnight. Much of this is because it is very difficult to squeeze out a lot of the water when washing by hand, and it would be a great help if hostels had a spin drier or even an old fashioned mangle. Some hostels now have a full washer/drier, but often it is not worthwhile when only a small amount of washing needs to be done.

My breakfast consisted of a few oddments I had left - a couple of Welsh cakes, a yoghurt, a piece of fruit cake and water to drink. This is where the lack of a shop in a remote hostel is a letdown. I still had some crisps and some chocolate left for my walk, but there was no problem, as I would be passing through Llandovery by early afternoon. The weather had turned overcast and grey, and was quite cool, but nevertheless I put on some of my damp things so that they would dry as I walked along, and packed the rest away, thinking that I may be able to dry them later by hanging them out around my rucksack.

It was 8.50 as I set off, taking care to find the right path that skirted round the hillside rather than dropping down into the valley, but even then I managed to take a wrong path further on, ending up down by the river and having to climb back up the hillside again to find the correct path. The scenery was now much less mountainous with rolling hills and valleys and not too many steep ascents on today's walk, which would be a bit of a relief. It was very peaceful walking, with only the sound of the birds and sheep until the silence was broken by some loud shouting in the distance, but this was only a farmer calling his sheep dog as they rounded up the sheep.

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Route towards Myddfai, less mountainous but still attractive
Route to Myddfai

As my breakfast had not been very substantial, I stopped for a rest and a snack at 10.30. I had been rather weary when I set off, but after a while I got back into the swing of things, though I was glad that there would not be too much strenuous walking today. The route to Myddfai follows a meandering path along the hillside, with good views across the valley and to the distant hills. I had to check that I was on the right route from time to time, but it was not too difficult to find the right way. The last mile or so to Myddfai was along a minor road, as was the route up to Myrtle Hill, where I had to check carefully where the footpath went. Around this area I was having great difficulty finding my way, so I was making good use of my GPS to double check my position. I passed through a meadow that had obviously been left to revert to its natural state. It was thigh high in buttercups and long grass, with clover and other wild flowers growing in between. It was very good to see this, but it would have been a problem in the wet, as the path was completely overgrown with all of this vegetation.

All was going well, helped by recent waymarking signs put up by the council, but when I came to a lane that was marked in the guide book as the route and on the OS map as a right of way, the waymarks indicated a parallel path along the side of a field. I followed this for a short way until it turned off sharp left up the hillside, at which point I decided that I must have taken the wrong route and reverted back to the lane. A little further on, I met an old farmer in his Landrover coming towards me and he told me that I was on a private road and that I should have taken the other route up the hill. I was positive that I was on the right route from my position on the OS map, but can only assume that there had been a footpath diversion, perhaps after some right-of-way argument between the landowner and the council. It may well be that the alternative route is a better one but, as I was nearly at the end of the section in dispute, I continued along with the farmer's blessing.

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Near the end of the lane, I missed where the track doubled back and had to turn back a little way to find it, at the same time noticing the signs erected by the farmer to say that the lane I had walked along was private. From there on, it was only a matter of looking for the footpath going over the hill into Llandovery. I arrived at 13.15, just in time to catch a fish and chip shop before it closed, but I then had to walk a long way through town, almost out of the other side, before there was anywhere to sit down to eat them. At last, I found a seat opposite the fire station and sat down there. However, I discovered that I had made a mistake with the fish and chips as, rather than being a nice, hot meal to make up for my limited breakfast, they were unappetising, soggy and greasy and I had to throw a lot of them away in the bin. As I rested there, dozens of vintage cars came by, turning down the road to Rhandirmwyn, obviously taking part in a rally. The sun had been shining for a while, but then dark clouds drifted across, so I wasn't sure which way the weather would turn. After a good rest, I was just about to venture on my way when a cyclist came by and said "hello" - he was the one I had met in the hostel last night. He had cycled for about 33 miles and was now returning to the hostel. We chatted for a while before setting off at 14.30 on our respective ways, mine being along the main A483 for a while before going off along a minor road winding its way up Pen y Gaer.

My left ankle had been aching at times, particularly over uneven ground where my foot was twisting from side to side. Despite the fact that I dislike road walking, it did have the advantage that the even surface was less of a strain on my ankle. It was a steady incline up to the top and provided a number of viewpoints over the surrounding countryside which, though not spectacular, was still pleasant with gently rolling hills and valleys, much of the area covered by forestry plantations. After reaching the highest point of the road at 833 ft, close to the summit of Pen y Gaer, there was a steady descent, at first along the road but then following a track for about a mile over undulating ground. At this point, the path was completely missing from my 1:50,000 map though, had I looked on the next map, which overlapped this one, it was clearly marked. However, the route was easy to follow, so its absence from the map was not a problem. Although I had not been pressing on very quickly, I had still made good time, so I stopped for another rest at 16.10 with less than three miles to go. Last time I was around here, I got completely lost and now I could see where I had gone wrong. The guide book shows the route going left at an angle, but the actual path takes a very distinct sharp left, whilst another track runs on ahead, and I had taken the latter.

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Pen y Darren, above Nantybai, from across River Tywi
Near Nantybai

It was not exactly easy finding the right footpaths around here as there had been a lot of temporary footpath signs erected to point out the way, but this assumed that there was only one footpath, which was not the case. I was trying to find the riverside path, but ended up just following the signs for a path some way from the river. It didn't much matter, as I reached the bridge that way by a slightly longer route. At this point I had to decide which way I should go, as I needed to phone home and there was no reception on my mobile phone. I could either stay on the west of the river, going through Rhandirmwyn where there was a phone box on the way to my B&B at Nant-y-Bai, or I could cross to the east side of the river following the guide book route, where there was another phone box near the Towy Bridge Inn, then cross Towy Bridge back over to my B&B from the opposite direction. I decided on the latter, thinking that it would be a better walk by the riverside and would keep more to the route, even though it was a little further. This backfired somewhat, as I was lured away from the river bank by another path which led me back to the road too soon (I missed the note in the guide book saying to keep close to the river). I reached Towy Bridge (checkpoint 15 at 17.50), phoned home, then went up to Nant-y-Bai, where I had a refreshing pot of tea and a shower before returning to the Towy Bridge Inn for a meal. It had turned into a lovely evening; the best part of the day, so I sat outside to have my steak pie and chips until the midges eventually got the better of me and I was driven inside. I returned to the B&B for an early night and was in bed by 9pm, not so much because I was tired, but to rest my legs. Amongst the books in my room was one entitled 500 Mile Walkies, about a man and a dog walking the South West Coast Path, which I read with amusement until I was ready to go to sleep.

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