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 6 - Days 10 and 11 - Rhandirmwyn to Ponterwyd

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Day 10 - Sunday 12th June - 16.4 miles - 2,685 ft ascent

Rhandirmwyn to Pontrhydfendigaid via Doethe Valley and Garn Gron

Lower part of Doethie Valley Middle part of Doethie Valley Doethie Valley (towards hostel) Ty'n-y-cornel Youth Hostel Nant-y-maen road junction Summit of Garn Gron Cambrian Way Map Day 10

There were a few others in for breakfast when I went down at 8.00. One couple had done a 22 mile run yesterday and were planning on doing a 10 mile walk today, but the others looked as if they were there for more leisurely activities. After another good breakfast, I set off at 9.15 together with a large packed lunch costing only 3.

The weather was cool and overcast, as I made my away along by the River Towy, partly by road and partly along a track. The large number of trees in the valley obscure the river somewhat, but stretches of it were visible from time to time, as were the waterfalls where it came down from the Llyn Brianne Reservoir, though I couldn't quite find a position to get a good photograph because of the trees. Eventually, the road became a farm track, then a footpath along the hillside overlooking the Doethe Valley. At first there were lots of trees in the valley, but higher up the trees thin out and the river meanders through a craggy, steep sided valley which is spectacular on a clear, sunny day. However, a fine misty drizzle had set in and this took the edge off the beauty of the scenery. My left ankle was giving me a little trouble, but not enough to stop me walking at a reasonable pace - it was mostly over uneven ground and on steep ascents that I noticed it, but I was more concerned about trying to be gentle with it to stop it getting any worse.

After two hours' walking, I stopped for a rest and put on my fleece to keep warm. My plan had been to hang some of my damp washing on the back of my rucksack as I had done yesterday, but there didn't seem much point even though the drizzle had almost stopped. The midges were out in force again, making it rather uncomfortable whilst I was not moving, so I didn't stop for too long. Further up the valley there was a choice of two routes; the main route, which climbs steeply out of the valley to the east, and the hostel alternative, which continues to follow the river up to Tyn-y-cornel Youth Hostel, meeting up with the main route a few miles further on. There is little difference in distance, but the main route has a long, tedious stretch of road walking with not very good scenery, whilst the hostel route avoids the road and stays with the lovely Doethe Valley. If there is any chance to avoid road walking, then I am inclined to take it, so that plus the better scenery quickly decided the matter.

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Lower part of Doethie Valley
Doethie Valley (lower part)
Doethie Valley at start of hostel alternative route
Doethie Valley (middle section)
Doethie Valley on alternative route, with hostel just in view near trees in far distance
Doethie Valley (towards hostel)

The path was rather boggy in places, despite the lack of rain for about a week, but the walk passed easily and pleasantly. Higher up the valley, the scenery is less dramatic, but is still very good, and I eventually passed by the hostel and started to look for a place to stop for lunch with shelter from the cold northerly wind that was blowing. I managed to find a place and there was even the odd ray of sunshine as the cloud started to break up a little. This was altogether much better, but as soon as I continued on from my sheltered spot, I was hit straight in the face by the cold wind, though it was occasionally relieved with some warmth from the sun when it came out. After a mile or so, the track I was following turned to a path, but it was not long before this deteriorated and it was then a matter of following odd sections of indistinct path or sheep tracks across open moorland, with a lot of uneven, tufty grass to contend with. Earlier on, I had thought this route to be far better than the main route, but now I was not so sure. Basically, the main route is better for speed whereas this one is better for scenery, so it depends whether time is of an essence as to which way to take. The best option appeared to be to follow the ridge of small hills where the ground was not so rough, but it still wasn't easy and progress was slow. As I was walking over there I saw a red kite quite close by. In the past when I have thought I could see a red kite, I was never too sure, because they were always silhouetted and in the far distance. This time, however, there was no mistake as it swooped and dived around near enough for me to see its full colouring and markings as well as its general shape.

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Ty'n-y-cornel Youth Hostel (just passing by)
Ty'n-y-cornel Youth Hostel
Nant-y-maen road junction, where hostel alternative route rejoins main route
Nant-y-maen road junction

The weather took a turn for the worse as I at last reached the Nant-y-maen road junction, so I changed into my waterproofs as I set off up the track for the next leg of the route. After a while, I checked with my GPS to see if I had reached the point where I should turn left, but it looked as if I still had a way to go. Further up the hill I took the next left turning and started to look for the path I should take. There were a couple of posts, which looked as if they could be markers, but then there was nothing, so I checked my GPS again and found that I was about half a mile off route - I should have taken the earlier turning. I don't know why I had got the wrong reading before, but I was probably too hasty in taking a reading before it had finished tracking the satellites. I was only looking at a few of the digits to see how far north I was, so didn't notice that it was an old reading I was looking at. At this point, rather than backtrack, I decided to cut across to pick up the correct route. This was a very definite mistake, as I came through some of the worst walking conditions imaginable, with boggy ground and thick clumps of tall grass. If I put my foot on a tuft of grass, I didn't know whether it would bend over one way or the other, and if I put my foot between tufts it may well sink down into a boggy hole. Consequently, I struggled and stumbled along, being tripped up several times by the long grass. After what seemed like an age, I found my way to the path I should have been on. Even then, it was not straightforward, as it was very easy to pick up a wrong path at times, following it until it became apparent that it was going off route, then having to cut across difficult terrain to regain the correct route.

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Summit of Garn Gron
Garn Gron Summit

The route up to the summit of Garn Gron was equally difficult, with little or no footpath and difficult ground underfoot. I eventually managed to reach the summit (checkpoint 16 at 17.30), with its trig point and large cairn. The weather was still overcast, but there were some reasonably good views from there, though, after the struggle I had to reach there, I wasn't in much of a mood to appreciate them. It had taken me longer than anticipated to get this far, and I still had over three miles to go, so I set the grid reference of my destination at Pontrhydfendigaid into my GPS and was quickly off again over more rough ground from the summit to reach the path leading down. After a while, it became less obvious which path to take and the one I followed seemed to always be heading in roughly the right direction according to my GPS, but I still ended up too far east. This is where I again found that I should not just rely on following the pointer, but should have kept checking the map coordinates to make sure I had not drifted off to one side. Instead of reaching the Afon Fflur river at a footbridge, I reached it further upstream, but managed to get across and onto a track which led to where I should have been. All was well for about a mile when I then had to find the path across to a caravan site near to the road. Again, I had difficulty finding the right path, even by taking careful references from my GPS, and I had to keep cutting across to try to pick up the route again. It appears that, either the path didn't follow the right of way on the map, or it didn't exist, though I may have fared better with the more detailed 1:25,000 map instead of my 1:50,000 one. The guide book does show a more detailed section of the route here, but doesn't show grid lines, so is of little use with a GPS, though it may have been of more use for conventional route finding. In these situations, I am generally inclined to follow the O.S. map but, particularly around this part of Wales, it can be very misleading, as footpaths often do not coincide with the rights of way that are marked on the maps.

All of this trouble with route finding had cost me a lot of time and the rough walking when straying off track had been bad for my feet and for my sore ankle. It was with great relief that I managed to reach the caravan park, half a mile from town and was able to walk on even ground. I was supposed to ring the Red Lion to say what time I would be arriving, as they don't serve meals on Sunday, but had offered to make one for me. I tried to ring on the way down from Garn Gron, but the number was engaged and then I lost reception altogether further down. It was eventually 7.15 pm when I staggered through the door and upstairs to have a welcome shower, followed by some Reverend James back down in the bar, with gammon, egg and chips. I was very tired, so went up to my room to lie down and rest my legs ready for a long day's walk in the morning. It was not long before the good Reverend James rocked me off to sleep.

The big problem with walking in a large area of Mid Wales is that there are not many walkers around, so paths are not well trodden and are often faint and difficult to follow, so are easily confused with sheep tracks, which can lead off in any direction. There is little signposting of footpaths, and stiles are often poorly maintained or non-existent with paths often making use of farm gates instead. As there are many more gates than there are footpaths, it is easy to be confused into thinking that a footpath is being followed when it is merely a route trodden by animals through a field, and it is not until it peters out with no other exit from the field that the mistake becomes apparent. This is a Catch 22 situation, as walkers are deterred from the area by the poor state of the footpaths and the footpaths remain poor because they are not well used. The way out of this would be for the local authorities to waymark paths, but they seem to prefer to discourage walkers anyway, so nothing gets done.

To look at the mileage and ascent for today's walk it would appear not to be too difficult, but these figures do not take into account the difficulty of the terrain. Admittedly, I took a more difficult, if slightly shorter route by Tyn-y-cornel Youth Hostel, and I did stray off the route in places, but it felt like a very hard day's walk, whereas some days that appear to be more arduous on paper, turn out not to be too difficult in practice, especially if they are on good footpaths that are easy to follow.

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Day 11 - Monday 13th June - 20.2 miles - 3,090 ft ascent

Pontrhydfendigaid to Ponterwyd via Teifi Pools and Devil's Bridge

Towards Teifi Pools Teifi Pools Llyn Fyddon Fawr Overlooking Cwmystwyth Arch near Devil's Bridge Overlooking Devil's Bridge Devil's Bridge Gorge Cambrian Way Map Day 11

A good night's sleep left me fully refreshed, and as ready as on any other morning, to start the day - i.e. it would be very nice to carry on lying in bed, but not too much an act of willpower to get up. The weather was looking reasonable for the moment, and I just hoped that it would stay that way. Breakfast was very large with cereals followed by two eggs, 2 pieces of black pudding, sausage, tomato, bacon, hash brown, beans and toast, and it set me up to face the 20 mile walk I had in front of me.

It was 9.00 as I set off and called at the Post Office for some things for lunch. It looked as if they were closing down, as nearly all the shelves were bare, but I managed to get some Welsh cakes and scones to supplement the things I still had left. The route was well signposted along a path near the river to Strata Florida Abbey, then it followed the road for 1.6 miles before following another well marked path up to Teifi Pools. It was a bright and breezy day with patches of sunshine highlighting the craggy hills of this very attractive area. I reached Llyn Egnant Reservoir at 10.35 and stopped for a short break. I could see the problem with my left leg - there was bruising just above my ankle caused by rubbing from my boots, so I tried tying the laces lower down to allow more freedom of movement to my ankle. After a short distance, I found that it made my ankle worse, not better, so reverted back to normal lacing, but not too tight, and would just have to hope for the best.

As I walked along the reservoir access road, I passed a car with a fisherman sorting out his rod. I may well be the only person he would see there all day, but as far as he was concerned, that was one too many and he studiously ignored me as I passed close by. I have noticed this with fishermen before - they just want to get away from everyone and are seldom inclined to pass the time of day with anyone. Further along there were some lovely views back over the lower set of lakes and reservoirs, although the sunshine had now deserted the scene. A path then goes past a bothy, which had been recently renovated and offered "accommodation to considerate users". From there onwards, the path was less well defined, but it was not difficult to find the way, as I just headed for the ridge above, which had landmarks of lakes on either side to show the way, with the small but distinctive peak of Domen Milwyn as the next point to head for. I saw another red kite, but this time it was not so close, and it was difficult to see its markings, but I could still tell that it was one. The path was quite vague in parts, and the uneven walking was not doing my ankle much good, but before long the walking should get easier.

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Route up to Teifi Pools from Tyncwm Farm
Towards Teifi Pools
Llyn Egnant, Llyn Hir and Llyn Teifi
from Waun Claerddu
Teifi Pools
Llyn Fyddon Fawr, above Teifi Pools
Llyn Fyddon Fawr

Domen Milwyn is checkpoint 17, and it made a convenient place to stop for lunch, as it was 12.30. There was a bitterly cold wind blowing, which made me put on my fleece and find the most sheltered side of the hill to the east. The visibility was good, and I could see for miles and miles over wild, open moorland. To the north was a large wind farm with 30 or more turbines, all of them stopped. It always seems ironical that when there is a strong wind with the potential to generate lots of power, the turbine blades have to be locked for safety reasons, and end up generating no power at all.

At 1.15 I set off again towards Cwmystwyth, with the weather brightening up again and the walking becoming easier as the paths improved. This was a great relief to my ankle, as my boot was no longer twisting from side to side and rubbing against it. The extra sunshine brightened up the scenery and there were some good views down into the valley towards Devil's Bridge, and of the hills round about.

Despite the better walking conditions, my ankle was getting worse, so I stopped for a while to see if I could do anything about it. It had now become quite sore and swollen, so I tried what I had done before, tying the laces lower down, but this time pushing some padding into my sock to hold the offending side of my boot away from my ankle. This was a great improvement, and was only painful if I twisted or jarred my foot on uneven ground. Otherwise, by taking care how I put down my foot, I could walk more or less normally without much of a problem. There was a bit of uneven ground on the way up the hill from Cwmystwyth, but then good tracks for the rest of the way to Devil's Bridge.

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The view overlooking Cwmystwyth
The Arch between Cwmystwyth and
Devil's Bridge, built in 1810 to commemorate
George III's accession
The Arch
The view overlooking Devil's Bridge
Devil's Bridge

At the top of the hill was a forest trail. I don't normally like forest walks, but the route soon climbed up out of the forest for part of the way, giving some splendid views of the surrounding hills. After re-entering the forest, it descended back out, and crossed the road by 'The Arch', a stone structure over the road, built in 1810 to commemorate George III's succession. Then followed a track alongside but above the road into Devil's Bridge. By now the sun was shining a lot more, though there was still a cool wind. However, the wind must have dropped somewhat, as all the wind turbines were now running. I entered Devil's Bridge by a footpath, having crossed the road a little way above the village, but then had to go part of the way back up the road again, so would have been better off keeping to the road, as I had no need of anything in Devil's Bridge itself.

Soon the route descended into Devil's Bridge Gorge, so I had a rest before continuing. I had to cross the Devil's Bridge Railway on the way down the gorge, and found the gate to a railway crossing, although it looked rather dilapidated and little used. The path from the gate at the other side of the track down into the gorge was also not very well used, but I continued anyway. After a while, it became indistinct and very steep in places making me wonder if I had taken the wrong route. Not wishing to climb all the way back up again, I made my way with some difficulty to the bottom, hoping to find a path along by the river, but there was no path nor anywhere to cross the river. The only option was to make my way along the riverside until I met up with the proper path. This was easier said than done, although it was obvious that a few others had done the same thing. After a very difficult time scrambling through undergrowth and around obstacles on the steep sided river bank, I eventually came to a point where I could proceed no further, my way being blocked by steep rocks on the riverside. The only way to go was upwards, which would not be a bad idea anyway, as it might meet up with the proper path, which should have descended quite a way down the gorge by this point. The climb was very steep, but there were many small trees and shrubs to provide handholds in my scramble upwards until, with great relief, I eventually reached the path and was able to make easy progress along to the bridge. It was still quite a way before I reached the river crossing, so I would have had a very hard time had I tried to continue lower down. As it was, I had wasted quite a bit of time and suffered several scratches on the way. This was quite an exciting interlude, but one I could well have done without towards the end of a long day.

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Afon Rheidol in Devil's Bridge Gorge
Devil's Bridge Gorge

Having crossed the river, and gone a little way back along the other side, there came the small matter of climbing back up the gorge again. There is a path taking a longer way around which, in theory, gives a view across to the Devil's Bridge Falls, though in practice, the view is rather restricted by all the trees, so I opted for a shorter route directly up to the former youth hostel at Ystumtuen, yet another casualty of the YHA axeman. The track goes unrelentingly up the steep hillside through the forest. It was obviously intended for the use of vehicles, but nothing other than a 4 wheel drive vehicle would have a chance. With several short stops to recover strength, I finally made it to the top, where it levelled out somewhat. Further along I passed the old hostel (checkpoint 18 at 18.05), still displaying its YHA sign despite having been disused for several years. On my way, I was able to see across the gorge to a larger, more recently built, railway crossing, which is obviously the one I should have used. Also, there was a note in the guide book saying not to take the first railway crossing, but this is one of the problems of having notes on a different page from the map section, it is a nuisance to keep pulling out the guide book from the map case to turn over pages just in case there are any useful notes.

Just as I was passing by the old youth hostel, I was met by a flock of sheep being driven towards me along the road. I pulled in to the side to let them by, but the leading ones did an about turn, causing a snarl up in the proceedings. A bit of encouragement from the farmer and his dogs at the other end made them turn again, and they very cautiously edged past me, then ran off down the road. Once they were gone, I was able to continue on the last leg of my day's walk. All that remained was a steady climb up the road, past old mines, to the summit, where there was a great view of Plynlimon and, down below, The George Borrow Hotel, my destination for the night. A path cuts the corner off the road route and comes out right by the hotel, where I arrived at 6.35pm. Pausing for a while to wipe the dried blood from the scratches on my legs from my exploits in the gorge, I checked in. After a shower and some washing, I went down to the bar for a few pints of some very good Buckley's Best bitter and a chilli con carne.

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Ponterwyd at the foot of Plynlimon
Ponterwyd & Plynlimon

Although today's walk was over 20 miles, and considering I had a few problems along the way, I arrived in quite reasonable time, and felt a lot better than I did yesterday with less distance to cover. This was mainly down to easier route finding and less rough walking, though there was still some. Apart from the Devil's Bridge Gorge fiasco, most of today's route was fairly easy to follow and quite well signposted, which was surprising for this part of Wales, whereas yesterday' s route was just the opposite, at least for the latter part. It is surprising how much time and effort is lost by even small errors in navigation, especially when this happens time and time again.

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