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 7 - Days 12 and 13 - Ponterwyd to Commins Coch

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Day 12 - Tuesday 14th June - 13.2 miles - 2,838 ft ascent

Ponterwyd to Dylife via Plynlimon

Wind Farm from Plynlimon Nant-y-moch Reservoir Source of River Severn Bugeilyn Plynlimon from Bugeilyn Star Inn, Dylife Cambrian Way Map Day 12

I was a bit late getting up this morning, as I had gone back into a deep sleep until 8.00, so it was 8.15 before I went down for a very good breakfast. There were a few things to sort out before I set off - I had two maps to post back home, and the washing I did last night was still pretty wet. The shirt I normally walked in would soon dry once I put it on, but I packed the rest of the things away, hoping to hang them out on my rucksack once I got up into the hills. The weather was overcast as I set off at 9.20, but the cloud was quite high, so the hilltops were at least clear of mist.

The first short stretch of the route followed the busy A44 road with no verges, so it was not very pleasant as heavy vehicles rushed past only inches away when there were vehicles coming the other way. It was not long, however, before the route took a path towards the B4343 minor road, avoiding the A44 for most of the way to Dyffryn Castell. I followed the path up to the road, which it joined at an angle and I carried on in that direction, blissfully daydreaming and thinking of the day ahead. I was a little surprised that the wind had changed direction to the east, but continued down the road until it merged again with the A44, and I expected to soon see the Dyffryn Castell Hotel appear further along, but then I realised that things were not quite as I had expected - I had joined the A44 from the wrong direction. It took a bit of studying of the map to realise what had happened - I had followed a footpath up to the B4343 and this emerged onto the road in a southerly direction, whereas I should have taken a bridleway which merges with the road further along after a bend in an easterly direction. I had been walking in the wrong direction for about three quarters of a mile, happily relying upon my innate sense of direction. However, it was not a major problem, as I had a fairly short day's walk of about 12 miles, so a little extra didn't matter too much.

Back along the road I saw where I had gone wrong and where I should have emerged, then it was back to join the A44 again before escaping the traffic as I turned off by the Dyffryn Castell Hotel onto the footpath towards Plynlimon. After a short, steep ascent, the path rose more gently for a while before climbing again up a steep hillside, where I saw another red kite in the distance. I stopped for a rest and put on my fleece, as the wind felt quite cold as soon as I stopped walking. When I set off again, I made a wise decision to leave on my fleece, as the heat generated by the steep climb was quickly carried away by the strong, damp, cold wind. The path was not very well defined but was not too difficult to follow on a diagonal up the hillside until it levelled out somewhat as it reached the edge of a forestry plantation. I am not a great lover of forestry plantations, but I was quite glad of this one for the shelter it gave me from the wind. In the other direction could be seen the large wind farm up above Devil's Bridge, and the nearby hillsides were white with cotton grass. As I came towards the end of the forestry, there suddenly appeared a wide, unsurfaced road cutting an ugly scar right up the hillside towards the distant summit of Plynlimon. In places it was wide enough for two large vehicles to pass with ease, and I wondered just what traffic was going to use this and why a much narrower road would not suffice. However, it did provide me with a more even surface on which to walk, giving relief to my ankle which was still uncomfortable over uneven ground.

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One of many wind farms, looking back on
ascent of Plynlimon from the rather ugly track
Wind Farm from Plynlimon
Nant-y-moch Reservoir from Plynlimon
Nant-y-moch Reservoir
Source of River Severn from a peaty bog
near Carn Fawr
Source of River Severn

A while later, the ridge appeared a little way up from the road, so I decided to take that route for the views it offered on the Nant-y-moch Reservoir and the hills towards the coast. The wind was in full force on the exposed ridge, but the views made it worthwhile, even though the whole scene was very grey. A long, gradual ascent led to the summit, where the wind was even stronger, but where there was a very good circular stone shelter for me to stop for lunch (checkpoint 19 at 12.55). My peace was invaded by jet fighters skimming over the hilltops, one of them right above me, but this is very commonplace around the mountains of Wales. I was also surprised by a sudden patch of sunshine and a number of breaks in the clouds, with some areas starting to look quite sunny. Even the Nany-y-moch Reservoir, that had looked so grey only a short time before, now had patches of sunlight shining on it. The wind farm over Mynydd y Cemaes, which I would pass through the day after next, was lit by sunshine and all the rotors were turning, which meant that the wind, though strong, was not excessive. As I looked around I could see more and more wind farms - I counted seven and there was possibly another one just visible.

After an hour's break, I set off for the next small peak along the ridge, Pen Pumlumon Arwystli, which was not much of a climb, as there was only a small dip in between the two peaks. As I walked along the long summit ridge, I kept seeing large slate slabs erected vertically like tombstones with "WWW 1865" on one side and "1865" and a vertical arrow on the other. I could not work out what significance they had, whether it was to mark the watershed, to mark the sources of rivers, or to point to something, I couldn't think what, as the arrows didn't all point towards the same thing, and it is still a mystery to me as to why they were put there.

I had hung out my washing on my rucksack as I set off from Plynlimon, and it was starting to dry in the sun and the wind. The summit shelter of Pen Pumlumon Arwystli made a convenient place for another short break, with far ranging views in all directions, though there were not many distinctive landmarks to identify, other than a lot of wind farms. Looking north, however, I realised that I could see the Aran Mountains and further to the west, Cader Idris. Along the ridge, it is tempting to follow a whole series of marker posts veering off to the right, but I resisted the temptation to follow them and stayed higher up by the fence. After a while, a path of stone slabs leads off to the right, where a large post marks the source of the River Severn, as it emerges from a murky peat bog, showing that big things can have humble beginnings. From here on, the way is even more undefined, and it was just a matter of heading down from the hills across rough country towards the track leading to the Bugeilyn Lakes. All this rough walking was not doing my ankle much good, so it was with great relief that I eventually reached the track and was able to walk on an even surface. From the track, there is a good view across the lakes, actually a reservoir, with a narrow stretch of water connecting the two parts and a bridge taking the track over it to Bugeilyn.

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Looking back to Plynlimon from Bugeilyn
Plynlimon from Bugeilyn
Overlooking Star Inn, Dylife
Star Inn, Dylife

For the first time since setting off up the hill from Dyffryn Castell, I felt warm enough to take off my fleece. There was quite a bit of sunshine, and the wind lower down was not so biting, as I crossed over the bridge to the old ruined building of Bugeilyn. The climbing for the day was not yet finished, as the path then went off over rough ground, up the hillside, then down to where some of the old mine workings could be seen. At this point, I had reception on my mobile phone, so took the opportunity to call home as, quite often, lower down there is no signal. Further down, I was quite surprised to find a National Trail acorn sign on a gateway, but then realised that this was Glyndwr's Way, which had been made into a National Trail a few years ago, and with that came the waymarking. There was yet another climb up a hillside, but it gave some good views across the valley further down, the site of more mine workings. It was such a novelty to find a waymarked route in this part of Wales, that I stayed on it, even though it didn't follow quite the same route as the Cambrian Way. Instead of dropping down into the valley towards Dylife, Glyndwr's Way followed a ridge overlooking it, with fine views all around. As I came past my destination for the night, the Star Inn, I dropped down the hillside and arrived there at 6.15 pm (checkpoint 20). Considering the relatively small mileage I had covered, I was quite late arriving, but much of this was down to slow progress across considerable stretches of rough ground.

When I checked in, I discovered that the bathroom actually had a bath, not just a shower, so I had the luxury of a good, hot soak, which gave some relief to my swollen ankle. The bar opened at 7 pm but, unfortunately, the Abbot Ale had gone off, so I was only left with Tetley's keg bitter to drink with the very good steak and kidney cobbler, chips, peas and salad. The landlady didn't like early mornings, so we agreed to 9.00 for breakfast, though she would have been happy with it later still. It was only going to be a short day again, but I didn't want to make too late a start. There was a couple from Shropshire staying for a few nights, as the wife had a badly broken arm and she was coming for a rest. I chatted with them for a while, and then the bar started to fill up with locals.

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Day 13 - Wednesday 15th June - 10.5 miles - 1,250 ft ascent

Dylife to Commins Coch

NW from Bwlch Coch NW from near Maesteg Commins Coch Cambrian Way Map Day 13

I awoke to a grey morning following some overnight rain. My ankle, which had swollen up quite a bit by yesterday evening, was looking a lot better now, with just a little swelling and bruising. I was sure it would improve a lot if only I could stay on good, even footpaths but, unfortunately, this part of Wales is not walked very much and, as a result, a lot of paths are poorly defined with uneven surfaces.

My breakfast at 9.00 was of very generous proportions, and I also got a packed lunch, as I would not be passing anywhere where I could buy anything throughout the day. The overnight rain meant that there would be wet grass to contend with, so I waxed my boots. So far, I had managed to keep my feet fairly dry, so I hoped that this would help to keep them that way. Despite the overcast conditions, the weather was fairly mild, the wind having dropped quite a bit. The guide book indicates a lot of the route as being ind (indistinct route) or und (undefined route), which could spell problems both of navigation and for my sore ankle. As there was only about 10 miles to cover, I decided that I would try to tread very gently to help my ankle to improve, even if it did mean I would progress more slowly. Constant checks with my GPS prevented me getting too far off course despite the poorly defined footpaths in places.

It was not long before it started raining, causing me to put on my waterproofs then, as soon as I had got them on, it stopped. Not trusting the weather, I left my waterproofs on as, even if it didn't start raining again, my leggings would help keep the wet grass off my socks. I soon reached a section of ind and und, which was not helped by mist descending onto the hilltops, but I managed to find my way to meet a track at the top of the hill, and I soon came back out of the mist as I descended the other side. Despite the poor weather, there were still some good views of the attractive valleys to either side, even though the distant hills and mountains were in the cloud. A heavy burst of rain came along, but as I looked to the west, some patches of blue sky were heading my way. I stopped for a while, hoping for it to clear up, so that I could take off my waterproofs, which I never like wearing for longer than I really have to. The blue patch came and went, but I decided to tempt providence by taking my waterproofs off anyway. Sure enough, as soon as I had got them off, a shower came along. A section of forestry was close by, so I hastened in that direction for shelter rather than going through the tedious procedure of putting my waterproofs back on. The shower was only short lived anyway, so it was just as well that I left my waterproofs off. As I went through the forestry plantation, I took care that I was following the right tracks by careful use of my GPS which, surprisingly, was not put out of action by the tree cover. As I came out from the trees, I took a slightly incorrect route as I climbed up above the forest, but was soon able to cut across to regain the correct one without any difficulty. It does, however, pay to keep a constant navigation check in areas where the paths are not clearly defined. Another downpour made me stop again to don my waterproofs, as there was nowhere to shelter this time, and I then dropped down to Bwlch Glynmynydd to cross the minor road at its summit there.

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Looking NW towards Machynlleth from
Bwlch Coch
NW from Bwlch Coch

It was now about lunch time, so I decided to take a break in the shelter of the short stretch of forest plantation, as there were still a few showers. With the overcast weather and the thick tree cover, it was very drab and gloomy, but it did at least protect me from the weather. One of the problems of a short day's walk in poor weather is that it is not very comfortable to spend much time sitting around, yet to press on means arriving at the B&B quite early in the afternoon, long before their preferred arrival time. On a good day, there is no problem, as it is possible to spend a lot of time taking in the scenery and having several rest stops in the sunshine. After a short time I was feeling quite cool, but noticed a few rays of sunshine streaming through the trees, so I took a chance by removing my waterproofs again as I set off along the forest track. Before long, the track emerged from the forest to a lovely sunlit view of the valley to the east, with a slight haze rising from the damp ground. Another ten minutes of walking through the rest of the forest brought me out on its northern edge, but my position didn't quite correspond with where I thought I should be, which meant that I must have taken the wrong track through the forest. I wasn't far off course so, with the aid of my GPS, I was able to find my way along the forest boundary to pick up the rather indistinct path round the head of the valley. Fortunately, I was not tempted along the wide track leading down into the valley, as I would then have had to climb back up the other side onto the next ridge. There was some beautiful countryside around here, with lush, green valleys and a backdrop of distant hills and mountains, but few walkers venture around these parts, as every walk becomes a difficult orienteering venture. Paths marked on the map often do not exist, or are obstructed by wire fences without stiles, or have gates tied up with baler twine. I am sure that the local economy could benefit considerably by encouraging more visitors but, in general, the local councils, often run by farmers and landowners, do not want the intrusion of walkers onto their land, so do nothing to help with the footpaths.

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Looking NW from near Maesteg
NW from near Maesteg
Commins Coch from felled forestry plantation
Commins Coch

The weather had taken a brighter turn, although it was still very changeable, so I took the opportunity to pass a little time overlooking a lovely view during one of the brighter spells. After joining up with the road, I nearly missed my turning up a track at Maesteg, but soon realised my mistake and headed through another forestry plantation to Commins Coch. It is in this plantation that the one and only 'Cambrian Way' signpost that I know of was situated, pointing to a footpath from the forest track down the hillside. However, when I reached the point where the path was, the whole hillside had been felled of trees, and the sign had been lost in the process. It wasn't a problem, as the path was now fairly clear to see, but a pity that Tony Drake's bit of handiwork had gone astray. The advantage of the felling was that it revealed a lovely view of Commins Coch in the valley below. I took another break here, again trying to pass some time before making my way to my B&B at Gwalia up the hillside north of Commins Coch. From where I stopped, I could just see the tips of some of the wind turbines on Mynydd y Cemaes near the start of tomorrow's walk.

The weather started to darken, so I set off again at 4 pm, dropping down into Commins Coch and then up the minor road to Gwalia, where I was greeted with a pot of tea. Another couple, Alan and Pam, were staying the night. They worked for a company who operated guided walks of various long distance trails, including the Cambrian Way, but this time they were undertaking a new walk along Glyndwr's Way. They did this by letting members of the party choose their own accommodation of whatever standard they wished in two centres for each half of the eleven day walk, then transport by local taxi firms was arranged to take them to whatever part of the route they were walking. This part of the walk was based in Machynlleth, so transport was arranged from there. As the two of them were vegetarians, they had found Gwalia from their Vegetarian Handbook, so based themselves there rather than in Machynlleth itself, using their own car to meet up with the rest. Although Alan was the guide, this was the first time he had done the walk, as the cost of a trial run would have been excessive. Glyndwr's Way had been made into a National Trail and officially opened three years ago in 2002 amidst considerable publicity. However, although most sections had been opened and were well signposted, there were still some parts that were not opened because of right of way issues. This meant that today, when they came across a barbed wire fence across the route with a sign saying "This section not yet completed", they had to divert along five miles of road to get round the obstructed part.

We had a very interesting evening putting the world to rights regarding footpaths and walking issues, and were served a very good meal of vegetarian spaghetti bolognese with home grown vegetables, followed by apple crumble. The two of them very kindly shared their bottle of wine with me. Although they had been attracted here because of the vegetarian cuisine, I was here merely because it is a very nice B&B which is very close to the route, and avoids a considerable diversion to any other accommodation. Although Alan prides himself on being very good at orienteering, he had considerable difficulty in these parts, as the paths marked on the map just do not correspond to what is on the ground. Harry Chandler, who holds office in the Ramblers' Association, was out this evening doing some work on his daughter's house (sounds familiar!), but he would have added his vociferous comments about the state of footpaths had he been here. As it got cooler, we kept warm round the nice log fire until it was time to retire to bed.

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