Part Cambrian Way 2016
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 13 & 14 Cemmaes to Barmouth and Travel Home|
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The GPS mileage figure includes small detours, meandering around, and errors in route finding. In general this is about 5% to 15% greater than the mileage calculated from a map depending upon the type of terrain, but in some cases is considerably more.
My washing was all dry and I had even managed to get my boots dry as well, so I would have dry things to start off with at least. The forecast was for possible heavy showers with flash flooding in some places, but also with some bright spells. The trouble with this sort of weather is that things are so localised that it is difficult to know what to expect. The three Glyndwr's Way walkers were also down for breakfast and it turned out that they were just doing three days of the walk not the whole thing.
I set off at 9.15 into rather damp drizzly weather, though it wasn't too bad, but a bit disappointing after the bright weather when I first got up. The route follows minor roads foe a mile to Twnwtra Farm before heading up to the wind farm on Mynydd y Cemmaes. There have been reports of a few problems with the route around the farm and in reaching the track up the hillside, so I was trying to take stock of the exact situation on the ground. At one time a path went off to the left just before the farm, as early maps showed a right of way there, but for some time that has been blocked off in an attempt to stop people going that way. The latest Ordnance Survey map shows the right of way going between the farm buildings and along the opposite side of the hedge from where it used to go, but there were no signs to this effect. The only footpath sign was one going off to the right, which is not the one in question. I made my way around the buildings trying to see where to go and made my way round to the edge of the field where I saw a newly erected metal gate coming from the farm buildings into the field behind me, obviously on the route shown on the map. As I progressed up the various fields there were more new gates along the map route until I reached the start of the small diamond shaped piece of woodland where there was another new gate on the right giving access to the gravel wind farm access road. There were no signs on anything, but the newness of the gates suggested that this was still work in progress and that signs may be erected in due course.
The route I was following goes to the left of the trees on a narrow shoulder between them and the steep sided valley of the nearby stream. This got increasingly boggy as I progressed until I came to a point where very low branches had grown out so far that they completely covered the area to the steep valley's edge. I then had to try to step between the branches, each time putting my foot into very boggy ground and getting my feet wet in the process. Having struggled over this obstacle, the next one was where I came to a fence ahead. The path goes to the left over what is marked as a ford on the map, but in reality the ford has long since been washed away leaving the steep, eroded bed of the stream in its place. The way to the left, which goes over a old tied up gate involves dropping down several feet into the steep sided valley. The stream is easy to cross but there is then a steep scramble up the other steep side to the bottom of the gate which then has to be climbed. This seemed more like an SAS assault course than a pleasant walk through the countryside.
Coming along the main route is no better as this, in theory, should go through the middle of the diamond shaped woodland to come out at the same point. However, the path through the woodland has long since become impassible, though there is still a track leading into the wood from the south. The only alternative is to go downhill along the wind farm access road to the new gate and come back up the way I had just done. The other option would be to take the wind farm access road to the top instead, though whether there is legal access along this is not clear, as Access Land only starts a little further up the hill. These are some of the problems that need to be resolved so that proper information can be given in the Cambrian Way guidebook and on the website.
After all this it was a great relief to be walking up a fine, grassy track climbing steadily up the hillside with good views across the valley below and to the hills and mountains to the north. There was even some lovely sunshine in the valley, but it was spotting with rain where I was walking. At the top of the track, the route follows the right of way, which runs nearer to the edge of the valley than the wind farm road in a number of places. Although this is not as easy underfoot, it has the advantage of much better views down into and across the valley, weather permitting, so it is well worth the extra effort, as the views can be stunning. Further along the right of way follows almost the same route as the road, so is largely disused and difficult to see on the ground. There is little to be gained by trying to follow it apart from having grass to walk on rather than gravel. Where the access road turns right towards the very last wind turbine, there is a track that goes straight ahead towards higher ground and from there the corner of the forest is reached. This was a convenient place to stop for a lunch break at 12.10. I didn't get a packed lunch, as I had some things left from previous days and, not having a demanding walk today, I didn't need a lot to eat. The sun came out for a while, so I even managed to get 10 minutes of sunbathing until it clouded over again.
From here the way takes a very zigzag route, which was originally necessary, as this was the only route with legal access. In 2005, however, much of this area became Access Land, so it would be legally possible to take other more direct routes. I have been tempted to do so at times, but this area is very boggy with a lot of tufty grass which makes walking very difficult, so shortcuts may end up slower and more difficult than the official paths which can themselves be difficult enough.
I followed the way eastwards down the hillside, which was not always easy and then turned north to enter the forest, where I found that there had been more felling of trees. Although this improved the view, there were some trees that had blown over in the wind and other debris from felling that were obstructing the path in places, making it a bit more difficult. The route is waymarked but is still not easy with boggy paths and tufty grass to contend with, so I resisted the temptation to go across what was obviously even more boggy and difficult ground to cut off the corner, even if it could save about three quarters of a mile.
Coming back up along the other side of the valley, there is a point where the waymarked footpath turns from the track straight up the steep hillside without there even being a visible footpath to follow. Not fancying a steep climb at this point, I have sometimes been tempted to find other routes that take a more gentle ascent, but these don't always end up being any easier. This time I used my GPS to follow what I had plotted as the route intended in the guidebook so that I could check it out on the ground. It actually worked out quite well, even picking up the stile over the fence at the top, though this doesn't really matter as it is over a low fence that is easily crossed at other places without using a stile. I didn't come across too much of the boggy ground that I have often encountered and I found it to be the easiest route I have ever taken.
The scenery started brightening up as the sun came out more and more whilst I made my way down the hill to the old farmhouse below and hence along the track to Mallwyd. This runs along the hillside overlooking the Cleifion Valley with rolling hills and mountains beyond, though the views are restricted somewhat by trees in quite a few places. In Mallwyd, I stopped for a rest and a drink on a seat near the A470 roundabout. I missed another opportunity to buy AA batteries, as there is a filling station with a shop not far from where I stopped but the thought slipped my mind and I carried on towards Dinas Mawddwy. I was just thinking that the weather was doing well when I got caught in a heavy downpour, such was the changeability of the weather.
There have been suggestions of avoiding some of the road walking here by going up the hillside near Pont Mallwyd and taking the footpath that runs above and parallel to the road for about three quarters of a mile, but I didn't feel inclined to try this out at the moment, especially with the weather having deteriorated, so I just followed the road. There was information that the footbridge near the Red Lion (Y Llew Coch) was closed because of flood damage, so instead of taking the path through to Meirion Mill and then through the caravan park, I continued straight on to meet the A470, then took the minor road through the village to get to the Red Lion that way. This wasn't a bad route as the busy A470 has a good pavement and the road through the village, though lacking pavements in parts is quiet anyway. I arrived at the Red Lion at 5.45.
This is a lively pub and a great melting pot of all sorts of characters: local dog walkers calling in for a drink and others calling in from work or for a meal as well as tourists. I was particularly entertained by a small group around the bar, one of whom was expounding conspiracy theories having recently seen a programme about them. This had convinced him that the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers were orchestrated by the Americans themselves because they wanted an excuse to invade Iraq to get control of the oil. The final collapse of the towers, which came about because the temperatures reached double what the building was designed to withstand, according to him was because other explosives had been set off in there by the CIA. The stories went on with more and more implausible tales that he was convinced were true with far fetched theories about other topics as well.
I had a pint in the bar before going up to my room. One of my favourite beers is Reverend James, which is brewed in Cardiff by Brains Brewery. In fact I had walked past there at the beginning of my walk, and I had hoped that, particularly in the South Wales area, I would come across Reverend James in one of the pubs I visited, but I had not found any so far, apart from some Reverend James Original, which is a lighter version aimed at summertime drinking. At last I had found a place here in North Wales where it was served, and it was in very good form. After this I went up to my room and had a good soak in the bath, as this was another place with a bath. In fact it had been made into a suite by combining one of the rooms with what used to be a communal bathroom. I then went back down for something to eat.
There were a number of reasonably priced things on offer, but I saw a list of homemade traditional favourites and ordered the leek and lamb pie with new potatoes and vegetables. When it arrived, it was absolutely delicious and it made a change having new potatoes instead of chips that I nearly always had. A chap who was sitting near me in the bar started chatting and he said he was just having a pint while waiting for his wife, who was the one who cooked the food, so I told him to pass on my compliments to her. I then followed it with blackberry and apple crumble which again was of an extremely high standard, so I passed on my compliments about that as well.
For the last couple of days, despite them being a lot less challenging than many previous ones, I had been feeling rather weary for some reason. It may have just been some of the earlier exertions finally catching up with me once I let myself ease off and relax a bit, but I was hoping to call on some extra reserves of energy for my final day's walk, which was more like a day and a half's walk in one day. I would have to press on to complete it, although it wouldn't matter if I were late arriving, as there was bound to be somewhere in Barmouth to get food and there would be no more walking the next day.
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The GPS mileage figure includes small detours, meandering around, and errors in route finding. In general this is about 5% to 15% greater than the mileage calculated from a map depending upon the type of terrain, but in some cases is considerably more. My GPS batteries ran out on Cadair Idris so the track log calculations are a combination of a partial track log with the remainder from map measurements.
Breakfast was at 8.00 and I had got most things packed and ready for off once I had finished. It was raining outside but the forecast changed every time I saw one. First of all today was going to be good, then there was going to be rain and thunderstorms, so I didn't know what to expect. I mentioned the bridge closure to the barman, who was now serving breakfast and he said that the locals had been using it all along even though the council had posted a closure notice on it. It is a substantial wooden bridge with a central supporting pillar, and heavy rainfall had caused this to shift, though everything else seemed quite sound. Funding was being found to replace the bridge but opinions varied as to whether it would be this year or next before the work was carried out.
After a good breakfast, picking up my packed lunch and paying the bill, I was off at 8.50 heading towards the main road for a short way to pick up the path where it starts to climb up the steep hillside through the forest. Fortunately, I felt refreshed this morning with plenty of energy to face the challenging walk and with my feet in reasonable condition. The early rain eased off as I got going and the mist that was hanging down the hillsides started to lift gradually away. The scenery around here is some of the finest in North Wales; not as rugged as many of the Snowdonian Mountains, but with lovely rounded green mountains with very steep sides and beautiful valleys between them.
It is a long, steep slog up the hillside, but the path is well marked with steps in some of the steepest places. The path isn't in exactly the place shown on Ordnance Survey maps, as the route has been changed a bit with some of the pathwork, but it it is still easy to find the way. After the ascent through the forest, the path levels out and runs along the sloping hillside and this needed a bit of care in places because of the wet conditions. Nearer to Bwlch Siglen the path gets considerably more awkward for a while. In fact, the map shows it entering the forest and coming back out again, but this doesn't quite match what is on the ground where a path of sorts stays to the right of the forest. At this point my wife rang, so I gave her a progress report and I also rang work as there had been some confusion as where my emails to them had been going. As my walk was being sponsored I had been sending daily progress reports but one of the recipients had been unexpectedly off work so had not been passing them on. With all this sorted out, I was free to carry on up towards Maesglase, the first mountain on the ridge. Because of the length of this section, I had decided to take a more direct line than the guidebook route whilst still going past each of the checkpoints, so I missed out Craig Maesglase and the actual summit of Maesglase, which are not checkpoints, taking the more direct route straight upwards. Despite the weather being dull, there were still some fine views all around and the walking was good, becoming easier as I reached the top of the ridge. The clouds started to thicken and there were a few spots of rain, but this didn't spoil my enjoyment of this fine ridge walking.
I managed to miss most of the rain apart from the odd shower and there were now a few patches of sun around, but it was looking very black in the direction of Cadair Idris where I was heading. I stopped at one point when the batteries in my GPS ran out. First of all I had a warning that they were low, which I acknowledged but not long afterwards I noticed that my altitude was steadily decreasing as I was climbing uphill. There is no logical reason why failing batteries should have this effect on altitude readings and I can only assume it is to make people take notice of the battery warning. I still hadn't got any new alkaline batteries, as I forgot to call at the petrol station shop in Mallwyd, so I was left with a pair of standard zinc carbon batteries with a very much shorter life and I just hoped that they would manage to last until the end of the day.
It was now 12.30 so I had some of my packed lunch and rang home again as there was good reception. The packed lunch was very generous with two rounds of sandwiches, one ham and one cheese, so I ate half of them with crisps and drank the can of Pepsi that I had been given. More lovely ridge walking followed with signs of an improvement in the weather coming from the northwest, with large areas of sunshine down on the lower ground. The ascent of Waun-oer is very steep and it was handy to be walking next to the fence to provide hand holds to help in climbing up. Cadair Idris was now looking a lot brighter, though there was still some cloud gathered above the summit. After more fine ridge walking it was time to drop down to the minor road above the A487, and it was hard to believe that a large pipeline had been laid alongside the road just a few years ago, as there was no trace of it now. It was now 2.55 and with a convenient wall to sit on, I had another snack from my packed lunch still leaving a few things to finish off when I reached Cadair Idris summit.
My rest stop was fairly long, as I was gathering my strength for the steep climb ahead, so it was 3.20 by the time I headed down to Bwlch Llyn Bach to cross the main road and start the ascent. This is another steep and tortuous ascent where fence posts and wire fences prove very useful for hand holds. At one point further up it is even too steep for that and the path goes in a loop to avoid the steepest part by the fence. It was a bit of a struggle to reach the top but then it was going to be fairly easy going along the ridge until the next climb up Mynydd Moel, which is only 30 metres lower than Cadair Idris itself. There was still cloud persisting over Cadair, but elsewhere it was a lot brighter.
Another easy walk lead me to the ascent of Cadair Idris itself and I reached the summit at 6.00 where I was quite surprised to see a man coming from the other side at the same time as me, He was also surprised to see me, as we both expected that anyone coming up would have already gone back down by this time. However, this was the best time of the day for weather so this had obviously prompted a few people to come up later in the day. The sun even shone for a brief spell, and a few minutes later a couple also arrived. These were the first walkers I had seen all day. I started working out how far I had to go and it was about 7.5 miles, some of that being down very steep paths, so I reckoned that it would be at least 9.00 before I reached Barmouth and possibly later. I was a bit concerned that the hotel I had booked might worry about my non arrival, so I gave them a call, as there was good reception from the summit. They didn't seem worried about me, as their main business was from tourists, so they probably didn't give much thought about walkers coming over the mountains. I had already paid for the room online, so it was no loss to them even if I didn't arrive at all. They did, however, tell me that I should get food on the way, as they would have stopped serving by the time I arrived, but I had already anticipated this. I also rang my wife to give her a progress report and my estimated arrival time.
After a quick snack of the remaining things from my large packed lunch, I started to head downwards along the Pony Path. It is another one of those occasions when it is easy to think that it is now all downhill, but this is not the case and there were still a few ups and downs to contend with. Just as I got going, my GPS batteries died, so I would have to rely on my map for the rest of the way. This wouldn't be much of a problem except that I couldn't remember exactly where my hotel was, but had it programmed in my GPS which I could no longer use. I then started to get sharp pains from my right knee and occasionally lesser pains from my left knee whilst going downhill, although they were alright when I was walking on the flat or even uphill. I tried various things to see what might avoid the pains and found that it was better if I could keep my right leg as straight as possible whilst walking, which was possible on gentle slopes but not so easy where it was steeper.
This slowed my progress quite a bit when I could have done with some faster walking. After following the Pony Path down to where it starts its way down the steep hillside, my route climbed back up a few hundred feet over Craig-las and it was easier on my knee going up there, but not when I started drop down the other side. I soon had to start my long descent of the very steep hillside so I had to work out how best to avoid my knee getting worse. It was easier walking backwards down the steepest parts, using my hands to steady me and allow me to put my foot down gently whilst keeping my leg straight. This made for slow progress and the descent seemed to go on for ever, but I eventually reached more level ground at the bottom near the road with a great deal of relief. This was by no means the end of the descent, but the remaining descents were not as steep nor as long, so I managed to walk a bit faster but still slower than I would normally be able to walk. After the descent to Hafotty-fach, I deviated from the proper route, taking short cuts to get to Barmouth Bridge. My slower than normal progress was, of course, pushing my arrival time later and later, and I had a call from my wife at 9.00 thinking that I would have finished by then, but I had to tell her that I was still some way from Barmouth Bridge at the time with about another couple of miles to the hotel.
At least the rest of my walk was on the level now, so I was able to manage a more normal walking pace, but I was getting tired and just wishing to get to the end. Having crossed the bridge, there was still some way to where I thought the hotel was near the railway station, but I still wasn't sure, so when I realised that the Coop Supermarket near the station was still open, I went in and bought a Cornish pasty, some Doritos and some AA batteries for my GPS, as I didn't want the bother of having to start looking for somewhere to eat. With the batteries in my GPS it now confirmed that I was in the right area, but I hadn't got the location quite right in my GPS and still couldn't see the hotel. However a quick phone call to them confirmed that I was nearly there and just needed to walk a bit further along the sea front. It was nearly 10.00 and my wife rang again and I was able to report that the hotel was now in sight as I walked along, so she could then go to bed in peace. She congratulated me on finishing and I then rolled up outside the hotel, taking off my boots before going inside. A chap who sitting outside was quite amazed that I had walked from Dinas Mawddwy today and even more amazed that I had started off from Cardiff two weeks ago.
The hotel was a large one with lots of holidaymakers, which was why nobody seemed concerned about my late arrival. The bar was still open until about 11.00 or later, so I went up to my room on the second floor where I found I had a bath again. I was able to have a good soak for a while to ease my aching feet, eat my pasty and Doritos and then go down for a drink. I had to go down the stairs one step at a time because of my bad knee and then got a pint of Abbot Ale in the bar, which was still quite busy. By this time I was feeling weary and quite full from rushing down my pasty, so I didn't even bother with another pint and just went back to bed to try to get some sleep, though my feet were aching all night which didn't help.
This final day's walk is not to be recommended, but it was going to be very difficult to fit in schedule without adding an extra day to the walk, thus adding another night's accommodation in an expensive area. This in turn would have made me have to travel back home on the Sunday when there are very limited transport services and I would have had very little rest before going back to work on the Monday (though I may not have been so tired had I split the walk into two days).
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After a rather fitful night's sleep caused mainly by the tenderness of my feet, I got up and started getting my feet accustomed to bearing my weight again. This had been happening progressively throughout the walk, whereby initial footsteps were taken with a degree of trepidation, but then I would gradually get used to walking and much of the aching and soreness would go away until the next time they had had chance of a long rest. This morning, however, they were in a much more delicate state and this was compounded by my knee problem. All in all, I was very glad that I didn't have to face much walking today and that I would have the whole weekend to take it easy and help things recover.
My train was not until about 11.00 and the railway station was less than half a mile away, so I was in no rush to get going, just taking it easy and, for once, not trying to get an early breakfast. Being on the second floor, I had a lot of steps to negotiate each time I went up or down, but by putting quite a bit of weight on the handrails, I was able to make it easier on my knee, avoiding the need to edge down one step at a time. It was quite busy with holidaymakers, though many leave it until as late as possible to get breakfast when on holiday, so there were still plenty of tables. Once finished, I made my way steadily back up to the second floor only to realise that I had left my room key on the breakfast table, so had to go all the way down again to retrieve it.
There was no need to pack things carefully, so I just bundled everything into my rucksack just making sure I had my tickets and money to hand. After checking out, I ambled down the road to the station, calling in the Coop again to get a couple of things for lunch on my journey. The railway line going north from Barmouth only goes to Pwllheli on the Llyn Peninsula so to get to the North Wales coast, it is necessary to go east to Shrewsbury, then change to go via Chester on the Holyhead train, thus making it a longer journey than the direct line distance would suggest at almost four hours.
The train was a few minutes late and quite busy, but I managed to get a seat and settled down with my newspaper and crossword to pass the time. The train seemed not to be going very fast, but I didn't think much about until there was an announcement apologising for the delay due to a fault which would need everyone to change trains at Machynlleth. This seemed like Déjà vu, as the same thing had happened on my way down to Cardiff at the start of the walk. Again,the change went very smoothly, with the new train already waiting in the station immediately in front of us, and the changeover effected in a short time. This train then picked up a lot more speed but was making some horrible screeching noises whereas the faulty train sounded fine. No wonder so many people complain about the railways if they have so many faulty trains.
Despite travelling at quite high speed, time was progressing and I started to worry that I may be late for my connection in Shrewsbury. We didn't actually arrive there until after my connection was supposed to depart, but I should not have worried because they were holding the other train back until we arrived, and it was waiting there on the platform just in front of us so there was no rushing around wondering where to go as can happen in larger stations. My daughter had offered to pick me up from Rhyl station, so told me to text her when I reached Chester so she would know when to set off.
Once back home, everything went into the washing machine, as the things that I had washed by hand were never very well washed anyway. When she was looking through all the washing, my wife said ?What happened to the shirts you bought for the walk??. I had spent some time looking for polo shirts that would be light and easy to wash and dry, buying three of them online, only to forget all about them in my last minute rush to pack everything. I had taken some others that were heavier and less easy to dry.
When I returned to work on the Monday morning there were cheers from the window of the office upstairs and 'Welcome Back' display in the main entrance.
Welcome back to Work
There were a few good things to come out of the walk, one of which was that I was still capable of this rather demanding schedule despite being over 70. Because of a few different locations for accommodation, some days were actually longer or involved more ascent than I had done in previous walks, yet I didn't find it any more difficult than I had done in the past. Part of this was helped by doing regular day walks around the hills and mountains of North Wales, part was helped by now having a part time job where I spend most of the time on my feet, and part was helped by knowing what to expect and being mentally prepared for the challenges. The only real mistake was by taking on a bit too much on the final day, which could easily have been my downfall, but it all ended well apart from having to take things easy for several weeks to get my knee better. This didn't stop me from doing my job nor taking walks of a few miles along the sea front, but it did keep me away from the mountains for a while. I generally find that a state of lethargy sets in following a demanding walk and this is best dispelled by doing a good day walk over mountains, perhaps a week later, as this seems to kickstart the body's energy levels back into action. However, my knee problem prevented me from doing this, so it took me longer than usual to get back my normal feeling of wellbeing.
The weather was rather disappointing, but this was only to be expected in a year when the Jet Stream was stuck in an unfavourable position for most of the time. To start with it was too hot and my biggest problem was carrying enough water to keep me hydrated. It then turned wetter and cooler making the walking easier in many ways, but resulting in rather disappointing views, though there was only one day when I spent most of the time in rain and mist. On mountain walks periods of bad weather have to be expected, so it is something that you just have to put up with and keep pressing on.
The walk managed to raise over £600 between two charities, so that was a bonus, though it was not the prime motive for doing the walk.
One thing I did find for the first time on this walk is how much easier it is to follow a previously plotted route on a GPS than it is using conventional map reading methods. It doesn't mean maps can be dispensed with altogether, but they tend to be used mainly to identify landmarks and to check progress rather than for actual route finding. Of course, there are now more expensive GPSs with the ability to download full maps as well, but mine is only a basic model. I prefer to spend my time enjoying the walking and the scenery, so the less time I have to spend working out where I am and which way I should be going the better, though some people do actually enjoy the challenges of the orienteering itself.
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