Cambrian Way - An 11 day Schedule in 1971

Author: Stephen Poulton

To recall the enthusiasm of the walk I have used here direct extracts from the report I wrote after the walk and have implanted current reflections, 'hindsight?'

Cambrian Way 1971

Other Links

The following account describes the completion of this 264 miles (approx) route in a period of 11 days, by Stephen Poulton, commencing 28th September 1971.

Planning the Walk

[Top] [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4] [Day 5] [Day 6] [Day 7] [Day 8] [Day 9] [Day 10] [Day 11] [Discussion] [Perspective]

The inspiration to attempt the Cambrian Way in one major effort came as a result of:

  1. Being unemployed, thus having a little more time to myself than normal
  2. The feasibility of reaching the club hut for the 10th Anniversary of the said (Gloucestershire Mountaineering) Club?s ownership of Cefn Goch, Dieniolen
  3. As a result of Mr. Tony Drake?s work ( as Chairman of the Cambrian Way Committee) in preparing a report on the proposed route
  4. Feeling that I was adequately equipped in terms of fitness and mountaineering experience for such a venture. (I had just returned from an Expedition to East Greenland to find I had lost my job)

Conception of the thought to setting off from Cardiff was completed in a remarkable 7 days, cram packed with detailing the route, equipment, food and estimating days travel for an 11 day journey. New boots were bought - Y.H.A. Pinnacle (replica of Hawkin?s Cairngorm), a bivi tent, food for 11 days, and all other equipment assessed.

This comprised:

Clothing Permanent Equipment
Boots 1 Mess Tin
Socks - Several Pairs Plastic Mug
Breeches pint Petrol Primus stove (no case)
Shorts Knife, fork, spoon set
Woollen Shirt 5 tent pegs (3 duplicate as pot stand)
Sweater (White Submarine roll neck) Tube Tent (9 ft long x 5 ft wide plastic tube with peg attachments
Henri Lloyd Pategonia Cagoule Karrimat (cut to 2 ft x 1 ft 6 in)
Leggings Totem Pack Frame (also used as rear tent pole)
  (Farm Fertiliser plastic sack courtesy a certain Mark Richards)
  Redline (ME) Sleeping Bag + inner
  1 Litre alloy water flask
  Gas Lighter

The tent was the lightest available. Today a Goretex bivibag would be my choice and a compact gas stove + a more respectable rucker





4oz Porridge Mix (inc sugar, milk, sultanas)

1oz Coffee Mix (inc milk, sugar)

2oz Rivita, 4oz Cheese or Sardines

2oz Sultanas, 3oz Chocolate, Mars Bar

1 Man Vesta Meal with 1oz extra rice, 1oz coffee mix.


4 packets Dextrosol, 4oz salt, 1lb Margarine, 2pts Petrol, 4 candles, 2 batteries (for Achille torch).

39 years later one could improve on these basic rations eg Muesli, but I could argue not a lot without imposing extra weight or the modern equivalent.

This food was packed in a 6 x man day and x 5 man day bags and effected approximately 2lb reduction in weight carried per day.

The diet was based on Expedition type lightweight rations and preparation of any individual meal was set at a minimum in the expenditure of time, effort, and fuel, as it was realised at the start, that time would be at a premium, and there could be a great deal of it wasted in opening and closing individual containers of milk, sugar, and the like.

As weight would be at a premium only polythene bags and paper containers could be considered (the sardine tins were placed in the first food bag). A separate polythene bag was maintained containing the luncheon requirements for the current day, thus reducing the effort whilst on the move. (My one big regret is not taking a camera but I consciously omitted not to burden myself with even a 10oz Rollie B35). (this was pre-plastic money and my financial state reduced me to taking only 1 cash to cover all contingencies! Furthermore, being self-contained I had no worries waiting for shops to open or arranging food dumps.)

Day 1 (Tuesday 28th September 1971) See Map

[Top] [Planning] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4] [Day 5] [Day 6] [Day 7] [Day 8] [Day 9] [Day 10] [Day 11] [Discussion] [Perspective]

I was very fortunate in that Shirley Hacker (whom I subsequently married) was able to take me to Cardiff early on Tuesday morning. Leaving Cardiff Castle 07.45, a glorious day was just beginning - good progress was made during the morning, luncheon being taken on the col between Machen and Risca ST228898 (13 miles). (The lanes here were plentiful with blackberries, which supplemented well my survival foods).

The boots began to pain my feet during the afternoon and evening, but the remaining daylight forced me on till the end of the day. On ascending the slopes north of Pontypool, and quite prepared to sling my Tube Tent by a tree, I happened upon a dwelling place, which seeming unoccupied, supplied a perfect hostelry SO294011. A water tank here supplemented the litre I had collected in Pontypool and enabled normal supper and breakfast. 21.15hrs to sleep. 24 miles

Day 2 (Wednesday 29th September 1971) See Map

[Top] [Planning] [Day 1] [Day 3] [Day 4] [Day 5] [Day 6] [Day 7] [Day 8] [Day 9] [Day 10] [Day 11] [Discussion] [Perspective]

05.30hrs. started breakfast, 06.30hrs, continued along ridge to Blorenge. The mist had descended and progress was very unpleasant, especially across Mynydd-garn fawr, as I was unable to track down the sheep track through the fern-swept plateau. Abergavenny was gained shortly after noon, my aching feet being released from my boots, and a re-adjustment of sock thicknesses made. Luncheon was taken on the slopes of Sugar Loaf SO276183 (17 miles). My goal for the afternoon section was Capel-y-ffin.

The mist returned for the first section of the Black Mts., but this did not hinder progress. A campsite was found above Blaen Bwch at 19.15hrs, and the tent erected on uncomfortable ground by a stream SO235329, a stick being used for a front tent pole. The meal seemed to take a long time in preparing - the stove had lost its roar! 21.00hrs bed. 28 miles.

Day 3 (Thursday 30th September 1971) See Map

[Top] [Planning] [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 4] [Day 5] [Day 6] [Day 7] [Day 8] [Day 9] [Day 10] [Day 11] [Discussion] [Perspective]

06.30hrs. Away with mist on the tops for the next round of the Black Mts. Although the mist was thick no hitches were experienced, the North - South ridge to Table Mountain proving a very pleasant excursion. Crickhowell was gained shortly after midday (12.30) and luncheon taken just prior to the ascent to Llangattock quarries SO204168 (15 miles). My afternoon target was Talybont, in preparation for the Brecons the following day. The ?Quaking? bog did not, but never mind! The canal towpath proved a very useful way of gaining ground, enabling me to gain my target by dusk, 19.30hrs. SO099233. Unfortunately, a great deal of time was lost here gaining water from a bare ?trickle?, the evening meal proving a fiasco, as the Primus jet (pre-lead free petrol!) was by now completely blocked - I resorted to cold porridge for supper. 24 miles.

Day 4 (Friday 1st October 1971) See Map

[Top] [Planning] [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 5] [Day 6] [Day 7] [Day 8] [Day 9] [Day 10] [Day 11] [Discussion] [Perspective]

0630 hrs. Away having no coffee. The mist was again thick for the Brecons - a mis-turning down Cefn Cyff losing a valuable hr. Storey Arms and lunch at 12.15 hrs. SN989199 (11 miles). Objective for the afternoon being the Llyn y Fan Fawr. The afternoon passed well, the sky having cleared, my object being gained at 19.45 hrs. Here an iron pole provided a tent pole, and cold porridge was enjoyed! 23 miles.

Day 5 (Saturday 2nd October 1971) See Map

[Top] [Planning] [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4] [Day 6] [Day 7] [Day 8] [Day 9] [Day 10] [Day 11] [Discussion] [Perspective]

07.30 hrs. an unfortunate late start - clock error - thoughts for the day to make Llandovery for lunch and post some maps back to Shirley (wt reduction of 10oz). This was accomplished, the memory for the day being the glorious sunrise over Pen-y-Fan and Corn Du, as seen from Bannau Brycheiniog. An hour was spent at Llandovery, and luncheon ( + a pint) was enjoyed. 12 miles. Important purchase - Primus prickers.

From Llandovery the farmer at Tonn prevented me from passing through his land, and a detour was enforced. I thus decided to miss Frorest ridge, and road plod to the Doethi Valley. Along the road I was invited to and accepted a very welcome cuppa from a touring couple, before continuing to camp at SN773472. My target of Ty?n-y-Cornel was not achieved - but I was still about 4 hours ahead of my original schedule. A rice supper was a welcome return to normal. 22 miles.

Day 6 (Sunday 3rd October 1971) See Map

[Top] [Planning] [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4] [Day 5] [Day 7] [Day 8] [Day 9] [Day 10] [Day 11] [Discussion] [Perspective]

06.30 hrs. After a rice breakfast, the start of 2 days bog-trotting. The public path across Nant-y-maen does not really exist, the occasional sheep track providing poor substitute (Correction 2010-bridleway reasonably visible so not too bad). Strata Florida before lunch, and lunch before Teifi Pools at SN764656. 13 miles. The deviation to Domen Milwyn 1817ft SN809719, was considered of no particular interest over peat bogs, when a direct route to Cwmystwyth would have suited. It was a little difficult to estimate a suitable campsite, as I was destined to a night in the forest above Cwmystwyth. I reckoned Blaen Myherin, but my eventual spot was under the bridge of Nant Rhuddnant SN774776. 25 miles.

Day 7 (Monday 4th October 1971) See Map

[Top] [Planning] [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4] [Day 5] [Day 6] [Day 8] [Day 9] [Day 10] [Day 11] [Discussion] [Perspective]

Another rice breakfast to even out the porridge suppers. 06.15 a good start. The public path out of the forest was found to be fairly precipitous at the head of the valley, but odd blue paint marks determined its existence. Plynlimon was followed in mist and bog, with a damp lunch taken after its descent at SN820926. The mist was bad during the afternoon, and a thought to avoid the ridge to Commins Coch was curtailed, though I did drop down to Maesteg from Rhiw-mwyn, a deviation which was thought a suitable alternative. Commins Coch and an excellent campsite at the foot of Moel Eiddew SH862046 (here I lost my lighter, but fortunately I had acquired matches in Commins Coch upon the requirement of a flint). 24 miles.

Day 8 (Tuesday 5th October 1971) See Map

[Top] [Planning] [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4] [Day 5] [Day 6] [Day 7] [Day 9] [Day 10] [Day 11] [Discussion] [Perspective]

To enable Cader Idris to be achieved I envisaged a really early start. This was achieved (05.15 hrs) and the Mynydd y Cemais ridge was walked in semi-moonlight. Mallwyd was gained in good time and I was able to achieve half the Maesglasau range at 12.30 hrs SH810145, 13 miles. I was thus able to gain Cader at 1700 hrs, to drop off the ridge in moonlight to a camp spot at SH635130. 27 miles.

Day 9 (Wednesday 6th October 1971) See Map

[Top] [Planning] [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4] [Day 5] [Day 6] [Day 7] [Day 8] [Day 10] [Day 11] [Discussion] [Perspective]

07.45 - the efforts of the previous day were telling and I was annoyed at the late start, the Rhinog range requiring a long day. It was clear and progress was satisfactory, luncheon taken below Y Llethr, SH666266, 11 miles. The late start eventually meant a moonlight descent off Diffwys. Torch found left on - so moonlight mapwork and a field camp at SH683393. 21 miles.

Day 10 (Thursday 7th October 1971) See Map

[Top] [Planning] [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4] [Day 5] [Day 6] [Day 7] [Day 8] [Day 9] [Day 11] [Discussion] [Perspective]

An attempt at an early start failed - rain prevailed, and the Moelwyns were not to be enjoyed. 07.30 hrs. a rushed start after a lunch replaced breakfast (no stream at campsite).

With dense cloud over the whole route, compass work was enforced, the Moelwyn terrain of slate heaps and steep slopes not offering itself very kindly to this form of navigation. The eventual knowledge that I could be gaining Cnicht was greeted with joy and refreshed determination. As it was raining, I decided on making the Beddgelert tunnels before taking a break. This was not until 16.00 hrs. SH597464. 13 miles. The breakfast lunch and dry-out was very welcome.

Continuing through Beddgelert I reckoned on the descent of Yr Aran for my dusk epic. It was! The mist was still thick, and the eventual protective wall and flattish land below Bwlch Main was welcome for my final bivi SH606520. A big puddle sufficed for water. 17 miles.

Day 11 (Friday 8th October 1971) See Map

[Top] [Planning] [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4] [Day 5] [Day 6] [Day 7] [Day 8] [Day 9] [Day 10] [Discussion] [Perspective]

To reach Conway by dusk probably the hardest day was ahead, so an early start was planned and achieved,

This went superbly, the final 'summit' of Conway Mountain being gained at 19.00 hrs. The relief of the Castle, and boots off followed at 19.45 hrs - after 11 days! A great day to end a somewhat varied route. 25 miles.


[Top] [Planning] [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4] [Day 5] [Day 6] [Day 7] [Day 8] [Day 9] [Day 10] [Day 11] [Perspective]

The rations seemed adequate though I lost a few pounds in weight during the walk. Fitness improved, and the ever reducing pack was a continued reassurance - 40lbs reducing to 20lbs.

All my equipment was adequate in its entirety - my feet gradually hardening to the boots and welcoming them as friends. (they were in fact well worn out after the trip).

I do not recommend 11 days as a time schedule, as full enjoyment of this fine route could not be taken. The moonlight proved essential - full moon occurring at mid-journey - for the time of year only 12 hours of daylight being available.

Distance covered-approx 264 miles
Height ascended-approx 63,600 ft
Pace-approx 2 m/h. (24 miles/day)
Stephen Poulton
October 1971


[Top] [Planning] [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3] [Day 4] [Day 5] [Day 6] [Day 7] [Day 8] [Day 9] [Day 10] [Day 11] [Discussion]

This exped taught me much about my ability to deal with loneliness; I concentrated more on what I was doing, constantly re-planning my targets and calculating arrival times. I was particularly aware of my need for self-reliance in the mountains; as a VS rock leader and having previously led mountain walks, both solo and with groups, I used these skills constantly as re-assurance. Further, a later lesson to think of the overall objective was to think flexibly when meals went wrong. The lack of companions and my early starts enabled maximum time for the task in hand. This lesson of maximising daylight (parallel to alpine start) has been used to good effect on subsequent highly successful expeds and is a doctrine that must be drilled into fellow exped members (at the planning phase!).

I note that 2011 will be the 40th Anniversary of my walk. I am now putting together foundation plans for a repeat walk of the Cambrian Way in late Summer 2011 but in a slightly more relaxed way.

Stephen Poulton
April 2010