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 9 - Days 16 and 17 - Penmaenpool to Llanbedr

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Day 16 - Saturday 18th June - 5.6 miles - 700 ft ascent

Penmaenpool to Barmouth via Cregennen Lakes

Towards Cregennen Lakes Cregennen Lakes Mawddach Estuary and Barmouth Pack Horse Bridge and
Arthog Waterfalls (2 photos) Bank of Mawddach Barmouth Rail and Footbridge Coes-faen from Barmouth Bridge Barmouth Cambrian Way Map Day 16

There were several hostellers in the main hostel, plus a party of 11 year olds who were sleeping in the annexe but using the self catering facilities in the main hostel. The children were very well behaved and not too noisy, which made a pleasant change. Breakfast was at 8.30 and not up to the standard of a B&B breakfast - the bacon had been frozen and the servings were not very large, but it was adequate. I sat with three chaps who worked for the same company and who were heading up Cader Idris. The forecast was not good for the mountains, with cloud expected over the tops all day, although it didn't matter too much for me, as I was only walking down into Barmouth. There was also another chap there with mobility problems, and he was going to some event in Barmouth.

There had been the odd glint of sunshine earlier but, as I set off to a leisurely start at 9.45, it was overcast with cloud half way up the mountain side. I had gone through the familiar ritual of changing into wet walking gear that had only partially dried overnight. Rain wasn't forecast, so my expectation was that the clothes would get drier rather than wetter as the day progressed. Although I had felt very weary last night, I felt fully recovered again by this morning, but was still glad that I was not facing another hard day. On my previous walk of the Cambrian Way, I had walked from King's Youth Hostel to Cwm Nantcol in one day, and had found it hard going after the previous rather strenuous day. This time I could not get accommodation at the head of Cwm Nantcol, so had over two miles further to walk to my B&B, a static caravan, on the road to Llanbedr. I had, therefore, decided to have a short day of less than 6 miles walking down into Barmouth today, then walking to Llanbedr tomorrow.

There was a steady climb from the hostel, which is tucked deep in the valley, up towards the Cregennen Lakes, which lie on a plateau in the foothills of Cader Idris, and are owned by the National Trust. It was an easy walk on good paths and, for the first time in two days, there was something of a view, even though the mountains were in the cloud. It was very calm and quite humid, and it was such a relief not to be squelching along getting soaking wet. I was even able to take a few photographs, which again I had not been able to do over the last two days. I stopped by the lakes and climbed a little way up the hillside to a rock where I rested, with a view over the lakes and across to the coast at Barmouth. The area around the car park was quite busy, and a number of people were out walking around by the lakes and up on the hills, so it was not as tranquil as it might have been, but still a beautiful place for a break.

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Heading towards Cregennen Lakes from
Kings Youth Hostel
Cregennen Lakes
Cregennen Lakes with cloud still low over Cader Idris and its foothills
Cregennen Lakes
Mawddach Estuary and Barmouth from near Cregennen Lakes
Mawddach Estuary & Barmouth

I progressed steadily onwards, along the well marked footpaths with views over the Mawddach estuary, to a lovely little bridge over the stream above the Arthog waterfalls, then down a path which follows the stream as it cascades down the steep hillside. Quite a bit of the valley is obscured by trees, but there are still a lot of the cascades and waterfalls that can be seen. Down near sea level at Arthog, a path leads off round near to the estuary, heading for Barmouth Bridge, the rail and footbridge across to Barmouth. The sun was just starting to come through, which enhanced the lovely views, but it did make it hot and sticky with the high humidity and lack of a breeze, so I was glad I was only walking on the flat. I passed through a field with displays of large foxgloves and lilies, before reaching the bank of the estuary, where I found a little hillock to have my lunch break, with a backdrop of the mountains of tomorrow's walk.

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Pack Horse Bridge crossing river above
Arthog Waterfalls
Bridge above Arthog Falls
One section of the many Arthog Waterfalls
Arthog Waterfalls
Foxgloves and Irises lining path
on banks of Mawddach
Path near
Mawddach Estuary

Although it had been forecast for the cloud to stay low over Cader Idris all day, it had already cleared by 1.30 pm, by which time the sun was out fully and I was able to do some sunbathing and to lay out all my wet washing to dry. From my vantage point, I could look across the estuary and watch the seabirds come and go. Some oystercatchers were demonstrating their low flying capabilities over the water, presumably on the lookout for fish, but they never seemed to find anything and resorted to grubbing about in the sand instead. After a few hours of this decadent luxury, lazing in the sun, enjoying the view and relaxing, I decided it was time to continue on my way. All my clothes were now dry, and even my boots were nearly dry, so I took the opportunity to wax them and pack them in my rucksack, as trainers were more appropriate for the walk into a seaside town on a hot summer's day.

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Barmouth rail and footbridge across
Barmouth Bridge
Coes-faen from Barmouth Bridge
Coes-faen from Barmouth Bridge
Barmouth overlooked by Cader Idris

The old wooden bridge that takes the railway line across the estuary has a footbridge alongside - cars have to go the long way round via Dolgellau. At the toll booth, where I paid my 60p, I was given a ticket and told I could use it on my way back, but I declared that I was definitely using it one way only - there was no turning back! My B&B was very close to the end of the bridge, and I was given a warm welcome and shown to my very nice en-suite room. My first priority was to do a bit of shopping in town and to top up with cash from a cash machine. I bought some things for tomorrow's lunch, but when I found the Barclay's cash machine it had run out of money, presumably because of all the holidaymakers taking advantage of the good weather. There were other machines in town, though, so I was able to get enough cash to last me for the rest of the walk.

After a shower and a change at the B&B, I went back into town for a meal and had an oriental buffet - as much as I wanted to eat - for 8.95 along with a couple of pints of Old Speckled Hen. Although you might imagine that most people in a busy holiday resort would be strangers, the people sitting outside the pub seemed to know each other and quite a few of the passers by as well. It was one of those perfect summer evenings where the sun was still warm at 9 pm, and everyone was enjoying themselves in a good hearted way. Barmouth is a pleasant town, with a good, sandy beach and the majestic backdrop of Cader Idris though, like most seaside towns, some bits are rather tacky. Days like this are what summer is all about, but unfortunately they are few and far between in Britain. It was still very pleasant as I made my way back to the B&B, having spent some time sitting on a bench near the harbour. There was one price I had to pay for my sunbathing earlier in the day - I had taken off my boots and socks, and my feet and ankles, which had not had much previous exposure to the sun, had got rather sunburnt. This was not a good omen for tomorrow's walk, just when I was getting over the problems with my ankle.

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Day 17 - Sunday 19th June - 14.8 miles - 4,118 ft ascent

Barmouth to Llanbedr via Diffwys, Y Llethr and Rhinog Fach

Barmouth Bay East along Mawddach Estuary Ridge towards Diffwys and Y Llethr Cambrian Way Map Day 17

I was up at 7.45 for breakfast at 8.00. It was very good with a wide choice of things, and I chatted over breakfast to an elderly couple who were also staying there. They had walked up the Roman Steps from Cwm Bychan yesterday, which is where I would be on tomorrow's walk. The couple who run the B&B are keen on walking themselves, and give a good welcome to the Cambrian Way walkers and others who come their way - they even have a drying room downstairs, though for once I didn't need one.

I was ready and off at 9.00, setting off up the very steep steps towards the quarry at the start of the walk. The weather was somewhat overcast, with cloud lingering around the mountain tops and a lot of haze around. When the sun came through from time to time, it was very hot and sticky and not the best for steep ascents. Route finding was a little tricky, as there are several paths up the hillside and I went a bit off route on my way to the next landmark of the radio mast, but I soon got back on course again. There were some fine views across the Mawddach estuary, though visibility was limited in the haze. From there on, the route was more open as I followed the right of way marked on my O.S. map, thinking that it was the route shown in the guide book. Some while later, when I stopped for a rest, I realised that I should have been higher up on the ridge, and that I had been following the 'February 15th' route, for use when the path along the ridge is officially closed. This did not present much of a problem, as I could just rejoin the main route at Bwlch y Rhiwgyr, a little way further on. This is one of the problems of following a rather sketchy map in the guide book with no grid lines, and a 1:50,000 O.S. map, which does not show as much detail of footpaths as the 1:25,000 maps.

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Barmouth Bay from the north with low cloud and mist
Barmouth Bay
Looking East along Mawddach Estuary
East along
Mawddach Estuary
Ridge towards Diffwys and Y Llethr, climbing into the mist
Ridge towards Diffwys and Y Llethr

I was glad to find that the sunburn on my feet was not as bad as I expected and, apart from a little tenderness, didn't present me with any major discomfort. With the steady improvement to my ankle over the past few days and none of the problems of sore calf muscles that I had experienced in the early stages of the walk, walking was now much more comfortable and enjoyable.

At 11.00 I was off again, heading up the hillside for about a quarter of a mile to reach the route on top of the ridge. Views from there were rather limited, as there were clouds lower down towards the sea on one side, and a murky haze with patches of drifting mist on the other. Nevertheless, it was good to be up on the ridge, which presented some good views in itself, both ahead and behind. There is a good feeling about ridge walking, even when there isn't a good view, as there is a feeling that the main climb has already been done, and all that remains are the climbs up and down the peaks along the ridge, which are often interspersed with quite long stretches of relatively easy walking. Even on a clear day, I suspect that the views from this ridge are not as good as might be imagined due to the rounded nature of the ridge though, no doubt, there are some good long distance views over to the Lleyn Peninsula, as well as the views inland across to other parts of Snowdonia. The main thing that kept troubling me was the oppressive heat whenever the sun managed to break through, as there was hardly a breath of air, even on the ridge top, and very high humidity. Further along, as I climbed up higher, I started to come into the mist - at first it was just in wisps, which didn't obstruct visibility very much, and at least managed to cool things down a little.

The summit of Diffwys was a little higher, which meant that it was more completely engulfed in the mist, though there was at least a bit more movement of air. This was one of the few occasions when I have actually welcomed the mist, just for the cooling effect it was having, whereas I normally detest it for taking away the view. At 12.50 I stopped for lunch to eat some of the things I had bought in Barmouth. I was very interested to note that the packet of peanuts that I had bought labelled 'Peanuts Roasted and Salted' had a food warning label on it saying 'Contains Nuts'. Having suitably cooled down to a reasonable temperature, and no longer feeling that I was in a Turkish bath, I set off again through the mist towards Y Llethr, the highest point of the day. I reached the summit (checkpoint 25) at 2.25 pm, although it was difficult to tell exactly which bit of the ridge was the summit. On the way I met a few other walkers; four in total in a fairly short space of time. I had become accustomed to meeting hardly anybody whilst out walking for several days, but it was a Sunday, so there were more people about, even though the weather was not very good. Having had difficulty finding the route down from Y Llethr in the mist last time I walked the Cambrian Way, I had taken note of the paths leading down to Llyn Hywel on a recent walk around the Rhinogs. This enabled me to find the gully referred to in the guide book, which was steep and without much of a path, but which brought me down to meet a path leading to Rhinog Fach, which was just as well, as I couldn't see anything much in the mist to help me find my way. I had been running low on water because of the intense heat earlier on, so was glad when I heard the trickle of a little stream running underground. There was a small hole in the ground where I was able to dip in my cup and have a good drink, making me feel a lot better.

A steep scramble took me up to the summit of Rhinog Fach (checkpoint 26 at 3.35 pm). On the way up, I was surprised at how warm the rocks felt - by now it was getting cool, but they had retained the heat from earlier. As this is a very craggy mountain, it is suggested that a descent is made back down the same route as the ascent, then skirting round the base of the mountain to Bwlch Drws Ardudwy, where the path down to Cwm Nantcol can be joined. There was a well trodden path, however, leading straight on in the direction I needed to be, so I decided to take my chances with that. This was fine across the top of the mountain, but when it came to the steep descent to the north, the path just petered out. I didn't fancy walking all the way back, so I was faced with a very steep descent of the heather covered slope. The safest way was to scramble down backwards, but I first took the trouble to pack away my camera and map case so that they weren't dangling in front of me and getting in my way. This way it was not too difficult, though progress was rather slow, both through the heather and over the various rocky sections on the way down. Eventually I reached the bottom of the steep slope and picked up a path for the rest of the way. Most of the paths in this area have to be taken very carefully, as there are lots of stones intermingled with heather making it very easy to twist an ankle or trip over. The only consolation is that the stones are rough and gritty, so provide good grip, even in the wet.

I thought that I had plenty of time, but with the difficult going, it took me about an hour to reach the pass, which was less than a mile from the summit of Rhinog Fach. From then on it was plain sailing, with a relatively good path all the way down to the road. My B&B was over four miles from where I met the pass, so I pressed on at quite a good rate, stopping along the way at a phone box to call home as, needless to say, there was no mobile phone reception down in the valley. There had been oppressively hot weather in the sunshine along the North Wales coast, so I was thankful of the mist that had spared me from that, even though it had deprived me of the views for most of the day. I arrived at my accommodation at 6.15 pm only to find a note stuck on the house door telling me to make myself at home in the static caravan and that they would be back at 8.30. I had been promised a lift to the pub in Llanbedr, two miles further along the road, but if I waited until they returned it was unlikely that I would still be able to get a meal so, after a shower, changing, and washing out a few things, I set off on foot for the pub. It was a pleasant evening, still with a bit of mist around, but generally quite clear down in the valley. It took about 25 minutes of brisk walking to reach the Victoria, which was a large, busy pub with a good beer garden, where I had a Chicken Madras curry and some Robinson's Unicorn bitter.

I returned to the caravan by about 9.30 to find that the couple were still not there, but then about 5 minutes later, there was a knock on my door - they had just returned from a holiday in Portugal and had been delayed. Of course, they had no fresh provisions in the house and there was some confusion as to what would happen for breakfast, and whether I could get the packed lunch I had requested for the day ahead. The caravan was very well equipped, and I settled down for a good night's sleep, hoping that things would work out right in the morning.

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