Cambrian Way Revisited - An 18 day Schedule in 2011
Author: Stephen Poulton
Cambrian Way Revisited 2011
Steve Poulton started his Mountaineering with School trips to Dartmoor and N Wales, literally burning his boots after a traverse of Tryfan and the Glyders and Snowdon Horseshoe at age 15. This led to serious mountaineering at the Outward Bound Mountaineering School (OBMS) Eskdale Green in 1966 and with London University Mountainerring Club. His first lead climb was Knights Slab on Tryfan, completing the descent in the dark with no torch! He subsequently joined the Gloucestershire Mountainerring Club, climbing and walking extensively in the UK and Europe. In 1974 he led his wife Shirley to the summit of Mt Blanc and they completed walking/climbing the Munros in December 1986. He joined the Bob Graham 24hr Club in 1975 as member No 36. Steve took up serious cycling in 1979 completing Lands' End to John O'Groats. In 1980 he completed the 3 Peaks, cycling the road between the summits (and gained an entry in the Guinness Book of Records). During a 29 yr RAF career, he won several RAF Time Trial events, becoming RAF Cycling Club Chairman and retired as a Squadron Leader in 2001. Steve has concentrated on endurance cycling throughout and achieved many Audax awards, including tricycle champion and record holder.
Cambrian Way Revisited 2011
The Cambrian Way was devised in the late 1960s within the Ramblers Association by Tony Drake MBE when he was Footpath Secretary for Gloucestershire. Tony was also a prominent member of the Gloucestershire Mountaineering Club (GMC). Tony's aim was to create a walk across the mountains of Wales that could rank in popularity and prestige with the Pennine Way. Despite bold attempts to enthuse Welsh Officialdom with the merits of the Walk, there was sufficient opposition to stop progress in its tracks. Meanwhile, Tony developed his Cambrian Way research into his Guidebook, now, and following The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, in its 6th Edition.
My second solo Cambrian Way celebrated 40 years since I walked the route in Sep/Oct 1971. That crossing, at age 24, had the advantage of more youthful fitness. I had carried all my food and camped every night when darkness fell. This time, I planned to use B&B-type accommodation. I also planned to raise funds for HELP for HEROES. Much of this report was written 'on the day'.
Introduction as on the H4H bmycharity website link: (www.bmycharity.com/CambrianWayReVisited)
"A re-walk of a Welsh Classic is a challenge in no way like the first time. But perhaps it is a new first time, for after 40 years, I have a different body and a lifetime of experiences to reflect on and recall.
Times have moved on; equipment has changed; the body has aged; the finances have improved. But the walk is still a marvel of Cambrian countryside and probably enhanced by reputation as a Challenge of a serious nature. That I can claim the first complete continuous traverse in 1971 links to my luck 40+ years ago knowing Tony Drake within the GMC. 40 yrs later I still live close by in Cheltenham and am still a member of the GMC. But I have had a Royal Air Force career and a total hip replacement in the meantime.
That first time, I had just returned from a 6 week Expedition to Greenland and had learnt much about Expedition fitness and rations. I had lost my job and had time to spare. I 'raced' to Conwy in 11 days to the 10th Anniversary party of the GMC Hut.
40 yrs on, I have a pension and a yearning to achieve whatever my body is still capable of. That includes a great deal of endurance cycling but the 40th year after that first CW threw up an obvious challenge."
I wrote the above in April 2011 and in September 2011 'Made it Happen'
If you visit Tony Drake's Cambrian Way website, you can find a link to my 1971 walk, where I back-packed it in 11 days. The 2011 plan evolved to use B&Bs and Youth Hostels and keep the mileage to a more reasonable distance. Tony reckons 21 days to be practical, rather than my radical 11, so my plans moved that way, with a minimum of 16 looking possible, with the Rhinogs holding the biggest challenge.
I selected a start date of 5th September to make use of late summer daylight; but that did not allow for problems I had after I cycled the Paris-Brest-Paris 1200km randonnee, which finished on 25th Aug. I had a tumble, after which I could hardly walk; I had damaged muscles around my left hip, the metal one! Miraculously, walking returned and after a proving 11 mile ramble, I announced a start date of Tuesday 13th September; I noted some horrendous storms on 12th September, so the re-schedule was fortuitous!
A very late night finalising my preparation saw me in bed after 4am; up at 6 for the 6:43 train to Cardiff. Thanks for the lift to the station Shirley (Note, she had driven me to Cardiff 40 yrs earlier!). I slept through the journey, surfacing on the announcement of every station on the route.
I opted on visiting the Bay and to start there. It was a worthwhile excursion, returning by the same route to the station and on past the Millennium Stadium before entering Bute Park, the present official start. But the penalty was expensive in both distance (4m) and time (2hrs).
The Afon Taf and surrounding parkland makes an excellent departure but the weather was variable and called for full waterproofs for a while. The weirs were racing with the swollen river; that indicates wet conditions underfoot later. There were many dog-walkers, one of whom, Rev Steve Jenkins, started my Help for Heroes collection. After the canal Waterwheel I took NCP8, to follow the river, rather than the old canal. This provided easy navigation, though mostly cycle path and passing under the M4 and A470 directly into Tongwynlais. As it was 1pm I bought a pasty, Chelsea bun and pinta (milk) for lunch before Castell Coch.
Steep to Castell Coch and immediately after, then level with no views to the end Car Park and the road crossing. A mountain biker confirmed my next move along a bridlepath but I went far too far and ended up at the top of Rhiwbina Hill, probably an extra mile by the time I had back-tracked the road! After the Golf Course at Thornhill, the signposting appeared not to be (or I missed it). I mud-path slogged in the generally right direction to end up 2km W of Rudry, rather than follow the Ridgeway Footpath directly to the Public House. By this time my Garmin had a flat Battery but the MM2800 GPS gave me a fix for Rudry. From Rudry to Machen my body was rejecting effort and after the hour taken for 3km I had 1½hr of daylight. Machen to Risca is 3 mile but has a big climb of 1022ft. Wisdom suggested B&B in Machen and a meal of sorts from the Spar shop. The Forge B&B was a gentle mile down in Lower Machen. 18.4miles (20.4m total)
Body: Overall aching from 40lb load; shoulders (R more than L) aching from load; shins tender.
To make up for not reaching Risca, I planned up at 6 for a 7am leave B&B. I might make Abergavenny and then have an easier Day 3 to Capel-y-ffin.
After retracing, I left Machen at 07:35 for Mynydd Machen (Radio Mast); a nice climb through woods which could have been awkward near dusk. I made Risca by 09:30, so my stay in Machen was justified. Risca to Pontypool is an absolute gem. Having lost 20mins with a too-early leave Canal, the climb to Twmbarlwm was a steady road leading to a footpath directly to the entry point off a top road. As the summit hove into view, so did the magnificence of the position, 360 degrees of splendour with the Severn Estuary to the East and the Brecons to the West. To the North was the long flat ridge to the pylons, high for 4 miles to the radio mast above Pontypool, a feature (a gentleman who should have been on the Vermont Trail told me) that you pass by, before descending to the Lamb Inn. I followed the open ridge and headed off after the Woods veered away; but I veered too far down near the Blaen Bran Reservoir and, after lunch, spent 5mins gaining the high ground again. The radio mast followed, as did the Lamb Inn, where they had just had a function for Help for Heroes. Down in Pontypool at 15:00, the 24hr filling station attendant could not have been more helpful, putting me right for the turn to the Folly, apparently along a Roman Road. Near the Folly another 15mins was lost talking to a farmer trying a new 4WD buggy and whose 10 year old son is mad about sheep farming.
By 17:00, I made the summit of Garn Wen but Blorenge was still a distant point. I was making good progress, as paths led the right way; even the path to the Radio masts before Blorenge was sign-posted. But time was running out and, though I made Blorenge in 'daylight', my descent would be a problem.
Dusk on the Blorenge was a foretaste of benightment. I chose not to attempt the Cwm descent and opted on traversing round to the West, where the path goes through old quarry workings. Eventually, I dropped through the long bracken and picked up the tramway path, one I knew, and followed it in the dark (near full moon around so some residual light). In the Cwm, I could not locate the footpath leading down to the Tunnel, so continued on a wide footpath, which eventually arrived at the Punchbowl. My arrival here was announced by the ducks leaving the lake. Now 9pm, I opted on bivouacking, as I was carrying the gear. The night was clear and a light wind but no suggestion of rain - a bonus, so I just found a comfy spot. The lake water was too shallow to trust for drinking but I found a discarded angler's box with sufficient clear (rain) water to collect for my (emergency food) muesli. So I prepared the bivvy, had the tuna/mayo sandwich I had bought in Pontypool and nestled in for the night. I was aching, particularly the R shoulder and welcomed the rest. No wonder; my Garmin registered 26.84miles, 6691ft ascent and 13h 49min from 07.10.
The alarm went (set for 6am), so I roused and had a bowl of muesli. A high moon gave excellent light; this had indeed been a super bivvy. As I ate, I was expecting the dawn to break. I packed the ThermaRest; still no dawn. I checked my watch; 02:18!! My Polar was reading a different time; somehow, it had reset and restarted at factory setting. Strangely, I was not feeling tired but I certainly was not doing a moon walk. So, I re-inflated the ThermaRest and settled again.
I reset the alarm but woke naturally just after 6am, so broke camp with day breaking. Sunrise red sky and a light dew. I left at 7am, retracing until I found a footpath that would lead down to the Llanfoist route. I was soon down at the under-Canal Tunnel and into Llanfoist, to pick up the final mile into Abergavenny. I went into the Main St to find a café, for a breakfast bap and 2 cuppas. A lad was there dressed in H4H clothing; he was doing street collecting and I gave him a few of my mini-posters. After breakfast, I dropped one into the Army recruiting office opposite the Café. I phoned The Grange at Capel-y-ffyn to book a room and evening meal.
Tony suggests a start by the Town Clock, so I went to find it by the Market Hall. I had now stripped my pants lower legs and set off in T-shirt, leaving the Clock at 09:40. A lot of paved route, which made the pole rubber tips a boon. Yes, after Avenue Rd, you continue up (Private Road) Chapel Lane to emerge through a kissing gate on the continuing road for Sugar Loaf. The blackberries were a welcome supplement in the hedgerows, as I gained open ground. Somehow, I veered Right but eventually found good paths up the West slope: 2h10m. On the summit I exchanged photo-shoots with a Welsh-Canadian, back enjoying his youth-time home. Descending to Forest Coal Tip the footpath is useful, as I could find fresh water in the stream for the ridge walk to Capel. And what a walk; I know it well; I left the road at 13:30. The only problem was a continuing discomfort from my sack, which at 40lbs is heavy going and straining my shoulders; that is why I had some more muesli at the 1-hour cairn. I made Bal Mawr (607m) at 16:00. The ridge is a fine walk, made better by the warmth and excellent views. An hour later, I reached the Cairn, which prompts the descent to Capel-y-ffin. It is a steep descent, so I was particularly grateful for the poles to maintain balance. The Grange at 17:45 - bliss.
Lucy did a lovely meal, which I enjoyed, having just completed washing 2-days grime out of socks and T-shirt (and body!); and then I discovered heat in the radiator to dry them!! 16 miles
Brenda compromised on breakfast at 07:30. Looks like Crickhowell for overnight and then a 20mile to Storey Arms.
The back really does not like the weight; the only way round it is to rest every hour or so (or reduce something - food/netbook/bivvy gear/charging gear?)
08:20 away to a photocall at the Church. So 08:30 and it is up the lane. Once set on the path, I took a path veering uphill; this conveniently followed paths rising up the flank of Darren Lwyd to meet the ridge at the head of the valley. I could leave the sack, whilst I went lightweight to Twmpa summit. It was windy, so my pertex cycling top provided an excellent wind-stopper, rather than resort to the full jacket. I met a couple and their well-behaved youthful spaniel Maisy; they were keen fund-raisers and had raised £1500 with a party climbing the Welsh 3 Peaks, Pen-y-fan, Cader Idris and Snowdon. Whilst cloudy, the route to Waun Fach 811m is well walked (too well from the state of erosion). I summitted at 12:20. I took a precautionary bearing from the summit, as it is blind even in clear visibility. The ridge now seems to go on forever but it was a further 8 miles to Crickhowell. I took a short Tuna bap (yesterday's) break at the 3ft (toppled) cairn. Pen Allt-mawr 719m has a very steep N face, which I avoided to the right. Still on to Pen Cerrig-calch 701m before the welcome sighting of Table Mountain and Crickhowell beyond. Some light rain came; I had been lucky only to have wind and poor views, rather than the rain that had been forecast. The views descending past Table Mountain really are spectacular and make a fine reward for some of the effort. I decided on the Riverside campsite, so I could make an early start for tomorrow's 20 miler. I bought some food and drink and went for my fish and chips. I phoned Shirley from 'our' Fish & Chippy in Crickhowell, to learn that rain was forecast. My GPS recorded 17.17m, 8h 40min and 3924m ascent.
In the campsite, I discovered their 'Pavilion' by the toilet block. This is their open 'Welsh (rain?)' BBQ site, so it could keep me dry in my bivvy. It even had power points and lighting, so it was just like an open-air office.
Thank you Pavilion. It really did rain hard and long during the night. The rain even delayed my start till 07:50. The main theme for the day was the absolute saturation under foot; I have never known conditions so wet. A secondary theme was the autumnal bracken, which smothered paths. Although it had rained so much in the night and the sky threatened, the rain held off. But the wind held, prompting the jacket. Early on, coming off the Canal Towpath, the exit is stone steps set in the wall, awkward with the heavy pack. Having walked this section with Shirley, I knew the steep incline, much more awkward in the wet and with a heavy pack.
After the Cave, I saw a berry-laden blackthorn??-tree, so I promptly took a seasonal pic; I missed the adjacent footpath and wasted 10 mins. All went well though with a break at the Chartist's Cave. On the Trefil road adjacent to the memory to Anaeran Bevan, I took the Bryn Oer Tramway, a lovely route hugging the fence and certainly well away from the quarry. After the stream bridge and stile (which is probably the Guide exit point) there appeared no natural exit, so when a grass exit seemed feasible by a later stream, I climbed to a fence to gain the open ground and a bearing to cross the plateau to Pant y Creigiau. A cleaner route but the final gully was a touch steep. The heavens opened with hailstones descending to Torpantau. The guide suggests 12.7m but my Garmin read more. I changed the socks on my R foot as I had stepped into a puddle over the boot; I also took on food for this evening session.
I left at 16:00 and, on the paved path, was at the ridge by 17:00. Time suggested I take the contour path to Pen-y-fan, gained at 18:30. I scavenged summit pics in a deluge. On to Corn Du, I phoned home, and arrived to find 3 students had recently arrived. Descending to Storey Arms in the approaching dusk, a party of about 8 were climbing; they were on the final climb of the Welsh 3 Peaks, having started up Snowdon at 5am. Eventually gaining The Storey Arms at 19:32, descending the Taff trail to the Youth Hostel in dusk/dark was off. The students kindly took me to the Youth Hostel. But Saturday night and a 550-strong Mountain Trail event had seen the Youth Hostel pre-booked long ago. I could not even bivvy on the Dining Room floor. But the Youth Hostel Manager took pity, phoned round and took me down the road for the campsite. But we passed the Tai'r Bull in Libanus, which had 'answer-phoned' earlier. They had a room - result. Really pleasant place and folk (NB: BT now 01874 620105; email@example.com £38.50). Normally WiFi but not tonight - pity.
The back is becoming more tolerant to the weight. My R big toe is suffering trench foot. 22.5 miles.
Overnight thoughts: 08:00 breakfast and hope for a thumb back to Storey Arms. Hope for Llanddeusant as light day but may be encouraged to go for Myddfai. Could phone from last Summit.
Am: 07:30: Weather heavy rain (still) though forecast drying. Afon Tawe will be high (not easily fordable?). Should I re-route to Glyntawe (o/n) 12.3m and next days Llandovery (14.7m) Tyn-y-Cornel (15.2m) might make sense. 09.30: Rain stopped still low cloud. Rain re-started. Terry at the Tai'r Bull ferried me back to The Storey Arms, rather than see me stand outside in the rain with my thumb out. Really great help and, Terry, I am truly grateful.
Finally left Storey Arms at 11:00 in full waterproofs; some weather forecast! My mind was set on my redesign to visit Glyntawe after Fan Gyhirych. The cloud was low to prevent decent views of the tops. It was a matter of keeping to a broad compass bearing, while trying to find a decent route underfoot. Many sheep tracks seemed convenient. Near the River 'Nant y Gwair', which feeds Ystradfellte Reservoir, the level at an animal crossing was too high and the flow was too fast to risk. I managed to throw the sack across but 'chickened out' at jumping; I enjoyed the light walk up the stream to find a safer crossing but at a 20min cost. Had it been a wise decision to avoid the Tawe crossing?
The rain and wind persisted to make this a miserable traverse. At the road crossing, I was able to take lunch in the shelter of the wall adjacent to the stile. The Guide route follows a fence flanking Fan Nedd. My MM GPS conveniently guided me to the track that leads conveniently before a branch path to Fan Gyhirich 725m. It was now an easy return to the track followed on a hard surface including the old Tramway down to Penwyllt. From here it was an obvious footpath down to Glyntawe, which looked quite a small village from high up. I noticed the Gwyn Arms, prominent in the Guide. But they no longer do accommodation, nor meals on Sunday (today was Sunday). They mentioned Derri, as the local accommodation.
I checked into the 'Pink Pub' Tafarn-y-Garreg, before the Trecastle turn to Derri; they made me a double sandwich and tried to phone Derri. After a pint and a chat to a young couple, who had just returned from the Hills with tales of swollen waters, I made Derri and a warm welcome.
Washed and clean, I found a large blister under my R big toe, where I had the trench foot. Hope I can sort it. Socks and boots in the warm kitchen, so might start tomorrow with dry boots.
My route recorded 15.31m, 8h 31m and 3575ft ascent. No mobile signal, so no phone home; nor WiFi, so perhaps I can find a signal in Llandovery. 309 Images since Cardiff; Panasonic programme will not show the Upload button on the Netbook; that suggests I will need another SD card if I fill the 2x8GB I am carrying.
Breakfast at 07:45
The bridge opposite the Pink Pub is THE Tawe crossing and only a short walk from Derri. But Aeron shows me the short cut to HIS bridge across his field. Away by 09:00 for a direct climb of Fan Brycheiniog. I was soon in the mist and at ½ way up I put on shell gear to combat the wind and cooler conditions. Where the lower route joins the ridge, large boulder steps have been built and also on to the main summit, with its shelter and Trig point. Whilst Tony recommends exploring the summit region and Llyns, the complete cloud cover and wind smothered any such enthusiasm and I went straight for the N Ridge to the plateau below.
I crossed the embryonic River Usk 3 times whilst holding the bearing across the bleak landscape to the road crossing. That was halfway at 8 miles and a good time for lunch and a sock change, as my boots were quite wet from the bog-trotting. The rain held off, though it was still worth retaining the waterproofs. The route above the deep valley offers splendid views but needs care as the path is fairly overgrown. After Myddfai, the footpath route-marking was good with 2 new Kissing Gates by a farm. I gained Llandovery shortly after 6pm, staying at the Penygawse, sensible price and adjacent to fish and chip shop and local shop. Surprised by a mileage of 17.1m in 9h 26m and 3920ft ascent.
With the Compeed plaster applied to under-big toe and a plaster over R4th toe nail, I was walking with less pain at the end of the day. I was able to 'hot air-dry' my boots in the Guest House.
The day started with heavy rain and a forecast for clearing mid-pm. At breakfast I discovered the Guest House had free WiFi, so decided on a later start to have better weather. So a few emails and update on my Help for Heroes welcome page later, I set off at 11:00. Before losing mobile signal, I phoned Shirley for my Youth Hostel Member Number and to post my Youth Hostel Card to Bryn Gwynant YH for next Tue/Wed. A lot of road and few hills scheduled a fast pace. But when I hit lanes they were water-logged and grass overgrown, so the boots were soon wet again. All was going well until I discovered I had taken a wrong 'lane' at a road junction. So, a Guide book leg of 1.4m turned out at 3.7m - Ouch. That cut into my safety margin. I lunched at the Campsite at Rhandirmwyn, leaving at 4pm and still 7.6m up the River Towey and then the River Doethie Valley.
The Doethie Valley is Tony's favourite part of the Cambrian Way; pity I had to rush it in the gloom. I managed a 2.5mph average pace and made the track to the Hostel well into dusk at 20:10. The Hostel was wardened but is still primitive. I scavenged pasta, rice and tuna for an evening meal. 9hrs20m, 17.6m.
Waking up at the Hostel, I realised that on leaving Llandovery I had a different sense of commitment to the other mornings. Then, it had been 'Llandovery is on the A40 and so is Cheltenham'. Updating the Help for Heroes profile had given me extra inspiration. And I had seen a first e-contribution from Ann (a cycling friend), barely minutes after I had e-mailed her; now I must go on. As you can count down the days, rather than count up, I expect there will be more sense that I must continue. Let's hope my body and the weather will make this possible. I am mentally thinking of 18 days, though an extra 2 would not hinder my home programme too much.
Away around 9am and over the moor, more or less following Quad bike tracks after the track. With the recent rain everything is saturated and water holes await every footstep. Before Nantymaen, I had sunk my L boot, so did a sock change at Nantymaen. I do not like the tussock grass boggy moorland. The route to Garn Gron is pretty featureless; the bridlepath soon becomes rough sheep tracks. Whilst mounting the grass stacks and trying to avoid too much wet ground and occasionally watching my bearing, I ended up with a lovely view of Llyn Crugnan, a bad km off course. The Trig point came soon enough for another Check Point Photo. Nearly 2pm, so I had a lunch break in the shelter of the big Cairn
I found the only Cambrian Way Signpost (I later discovered the 2nd) soon enough by the forest and enjoyed the final descent to Strata Florida.
Despite the slow progress over the moor, I still left Strata Florida around 4pm and through Teifi Pools to make the Bothy by 6pm. Just an hour of useful light and I think an early night for me. Weather had been SW windy and occasional light rain, so OK. My 14.1 mile day turned into 16.85m in 8h51m with 3825ft Ascent.
Slept 9-7, so body well-rested. When I needed to use the outside loo (yes outside loo!) at 3am, I realised how the extra rest is essential to recovery. Also, changed my socks (using the sleep to dry them by wearing them). Bothy was just me and 10+ bunks to choose from. Since April 2011, 5 names in the Bothy Visitors' Book mention Cambrian Way; did they report to Tony? Richard Smith Huddersfield; Dave Body; Geoff Briscoe, Droitwich Spa; Peter Turner, Birmingham (failed?), me. Many Duke of Edinburgh walkers. The Bothy is close to the road (300yds)
Weather OK light wind hint of possible showers, so off around 9am direct bearing for Check Point 17 Domen Milwyn (554m). This followed a very nice ridge line and then alongside Llyn Fyrddon Fawr, where the outflow had convenient steps. This peak just happens to be the central N-S point in Wales. Comfortably to Cwmystwyth, where I took shelter from a shower whilst adjusting clothing for the lower walk and retained my shell gear. Climbing out of the village past Y Fron, I called in at the bungalow, as Shirley and I had met the couple. They advised that the Dyffryn Castell Hotel had been closed for 3 yrs, so the B&B option looks like George Borrows Hotel, which adds 2 mile to the next day. I managed to take pics of the Rheidol train where the footpath crosses the track, then down to cross the River and back very steeply up to Ystumtuen.
As daylight was short, I took the road and noted the B&B at the A44 junction had 'Sorry Full' displayed. But worse news was to come, as the George Borrow also declared they were full when I arrived. Knowing there was nothing else close by, I was desperate and suggested I could bivvy in a garage. They eventually suggested a 'store room' with a Fire Exit route, where there was a bed. Who would have thought that I would be 'camping in the George Borrow Hotel'. This quiet remote Hotel (named after a famous walker) was booked up as a result of Freshers' Week at Aberystwyth Uni; booked by the parents I hasten to add, who have brought their off-spring and modern youth entrails to Uni; not quite when I was a Fresher back in '66. I was offered a room later (no show) but I was settled with my sleeping bag out ready. Usefully, the no show was the room next door, so I at least had a nearby toilet. I managed a soiled clothes wash and the Hotel dried.
Away at 9am after an excellent stay at the George Borrow. Weather dull and overcast but cloud soon cleared for a super day. The Dyffryn Castell Hotel board was still up but the Hotel was well closed. The Footpath was not well defined but a compass bearing kept me on route for Pumlumon summit in 2hrs. Good path connecting high points to start of Severn Way Path, then rough to lake. Ground still wet but drier now, so able to walk the tussocks. Nice finish to Dylife on Glyndwr Way.
Oh dear. The Star Inn in Dylife (**AA) is barely worth 1. Grumpy landlady (she is OK if you do not upset her), no en suite, no TV nor radio, one socket, dirty shelf and sink, one teabag, no spoon, shower in bath the temperature of a swimming pool, early (like 7am on the road after breakfast) does not exist, so it will be a cereal breakfast and a packed meal (breakfast substitute-sorted); problem is there is nothing else around, so you have to be sweet. 16.83 miles, 8h 44m, 4715ft ascent. (Note: New owners in 2014 with good reviews.)
I seem to be having concerns that I can keep up the big mileages, with 2 big days ahead: 22m to Dinas Mawddwy and then 19m over Cader Idris to Barmouth. The pack will make me slow up the big hills. If they work an 18 day schedule is on. Secret must be an early start.
First (well 2nd after Day 2) big day really took all day. Left at 07:20 after home-made breakfast. Guidebook notes say no ascent (not true!). This needed close navigation work but a couple navoops cost a little. Forestry is always a problem and I think I found a better route through one and then found a field gate, which suggests the forest was not necessary at all? Many Bridleways are blocked off, so obviously not ridden and many lack ground definition, which caused more navoops. But the route is well-contrived, though with the wet and bracken, it is hard work making pace. To manage 2mph for the day relied on fast pacing on roads and level/down tracks. The Wind Farm after Commins Goch was atmospheric with the clouds rolling in and the whish of the blades; I even followed a flock of sheep for a while.
I managed a mobile signal, so was able to update Shirley of my Dinas Mawddwy expected stay. But then my mobile was £=empty and signal too weak to top-up. Come in the Brigands Inn in Mallwyd, who had a room at £45 but who also rang the Red Lion in Dinas Mawddwy, where I booked in at £30. The Red Lion proved most hospitable and is a strongly recommended stay. It is also well placed for a direct climb of the Maesglas.
Officially 21.3 miles but my GPS said: 25.77m 12h 10m, 7051ft Ascent.
Really super stay at the Red Lion. Early rain and cloud suggested rainwear. I left soon after 9am, the rain never came and as I was climbing, I de-suited. Soon cleared the forest and the first steep climbs of the walk are here. Again, much clearing of puddles from sodden ground. The wind was light and the views clear. This range is not very much visited but I did encounter a school party having a lunch break. This first range took 5hr, so after a lunch by the A-road, I started up Cader Idris at 14:50.
From the Bwlch, it is a steep scramble/climb and the wind was unpleasantly strong and in my face. Once on the high ridge I put on my jacket. Whilst comfortable against the wind, dressed as I was, a figure coming towards me was dressed in 'athletic gear'. I hope his wee sack had windproofs. The wind on the summit was ferocious and was hindering progress. Following the Pony Track off the summit, I considered my options. It was slow going with the wind and it started to rain; I could not top up my mobile; I had made no reservations in Barmouth; I had 1½hrs of daylight and Barmouth was still a few miles away over a mountain and lower ground. Logic suggested I follow the Pony Track and divert to Kings Youth Hostel, within 2½ miles. The path was heavily engineered, so this is obviously a very popular route. Kings came after a super path/track through the woods. But, is this a curse for Day 13? It is unwardened and you need to know the Code to open the door. I elect to bivvy by the Fire Escape; at least it was dry against the rain. GPS: 17.41 miles in 9h 36m with 9179ft Ascent (5000ft in Maesglas). Whilst I had hoped to climb the Rhinogs tomorrow, an easy walk to Barmouth will be good to recharge the body for a big Rhinogs day.
Hope to stay at 8 Marine Parade; they should have space tonight after the Walking Festival has cleared. I should then be fresh for an early start. Overnight was wet, so not a good night for no shelter. I left the Youth Hostel around 08:30 after a muesli breakfast. The route from Kings Youth Hostel to Barmouth was absolutely majestic and fully recommended for views and path quality and signage. Too many photo stops! Dare I say the sack felt lighter for eating my own reserve food!
Noting that my ascents as per GPS exceeded the guidebook, I checked whilst walking the flat Mawddach Trail, a former rail track. Suspicions confirmed; my cycling GPS (Garmin 705) seems to record ascent with every rise and fall of a walking pace!
In Barmouth, I located a couple of the Guidebook accommodations but sought out the Wavecrest. They were full (as were the listed ones) but helped with a cuppa and use of phone and possible alternatives. Just beyond at (a bargain) £28 the Seacrest was spot-on; I arranged early start breakfast (sandwich substitute). Then, I confirmed accommodation for the final (?) 3 nights in Tues, Maentwrog, Wed, Bryn Gwynant and Thurs, Idwal Cottage. Accom for Sat at all Youth Hostels is full, so I must complete on Friday; talk about incentives! Out of curiosity, I asked about Kings; normally wardened but closed Sun and Mon, useful.
By the end of the day my worst fears were realised. Benighted again. The terrain of the Rhinogs is the slowest I know and despite moving as efficiently as normal, the rocks, boulders, uneven ground with thick bracken, just took time. Whilst I enjoyed the sunset over the estuary, it was only a matter of time when the remaining daylight would end my descent. If I were on a track then progress would have been possible but this is undefined terrain, so I called it a day and again bivvied.
The day had started well. Early breakfast and away by 7am. The early hills were 'normal' for progress but then after Y Llethr, the Rhinogs proper started. I left my sack at the col to climb Rhinog Fach and then it was around Llyn Hywel and the stony path to the Ladder Style to gain the path to Bwlch Drws Ardudwy. Even this path was a problem with so much lying water, with diversions to find a dry(ish) route soaking up time. A recce I had done for Tony really worked here, as the path initially goes straight up a steep boulder field to link up with a cairned route that is just showing ground signs of passage. I arrived on the summit of Rhinog Fawr at 15:30 and phoned home. Descending, I missed the more direct route to the Roman Steps; how much time this lost me could have affected my night outcome. I left Cwm Bychan at 17:00, wishing I could have stayed here but knowing my pre-weekend schedule was sealed for accommodation.
The path to Clip is not the easiest, nor the ascent of Clip once you leave the path to go 'undefined'. That just means 'slow' and on the summit of Moel Ysgyfanogod, I enjoyed the sunset. As night was inevitable, I checked bearings and worked to Diffwys. I worked to the East where the ground was softer and followed Quad tracks in the growing gloom. These were indeterminate and in wet ground. Eventually, I was in heavy gloom and tracking through the darkening stones and bracken could have brought on a slip. I found a flat, dry-ish spot and dumped the sack. I could not phone out, as I was out of signal. Fortunately, while the ground was damp, I had a clear and dry night.
My late night antics had taken me to the wrong side of the mountain. I woke early and was walking by 6:45. Walls and fencing contrived to steer me around the hill and it took 2hrs of bracken, fence and stone bashing to make the path, then another 2hrs to reach Maentwrog. I had phoned Betty at the B&B and she would be out; so I used the Grapes for a big tea and sandwich followed by a wash and change.
Restored, the planned day started at noon. Tony has designed a super route to Dduallt (the Station would make a good Bivvy!) I first rode the Ffestiniog Railway in 1962, so had to take a shot as the train passed under Moelwyn Mawr. The route followed the old track. I missed the path turn up the hill but ended up finding a path, which was an old incline, a very effective way of gaining height to Llyn Stwlan, and then the gentle slope to Bwlch Stwlan. I gained the Moelwyn Mawr peak at 16:00, lingering briefly to take pics and feed. I had an eye to the risk of a late finish. Perfect weather made navigation easier though but I did not gain Llyn Yr Adar until 18:00, leaving the pack made for a dream ascent of Cnicht. On the summit I phoned Shirley and then the Hostel to book a meal. I rushed back to the sack and made good speed down the steep path. Dusk had almost turned too dark when I finally found tarmac and I elected not to use the footpath to the Hostel, which made for an extra mile. That was a whopping meal. Thank you Forrest. On the hill, I had said I would be hungry! No GPS for the Maentwrog-Nant Gwynant section. 18.2 miles.
No WiFi at the Hostel. I wonder if the Snowdon Summit Café has WiFi.
I now feel I am being rewarded for my determination to make up the distance. The weather is perfect and today's route is classic, following the Bwlch Main Ridge to Snowdon summit. This is my favourite ridge, a mix of scrambling and good path, with views to match. The early day was also a nostalgia trip when I noted my school hut by Llyn Gwynant, my 1st rock climb on Gladstone Rock and my 1st Welsh peak, Yr Aran.
With the pack, the Bwlch Main ridge seemed harder than normal; the café was heaving, as was the summit; someone had even driven there! 5hrs to Pen-y-pas, where I had a lunch break in the Café. The route up to Glyder Fawr was steep and contrived, with a very faint path. The summit at 17:00 was just reward for views and a super walk to Glyder Fach. I had forgotten how big and superb to hop, the boulders were. The Cantilever Stone provided a superb 'RAF Hercules' pic with my sack.
The scree slope to Bwlch Cwm Tryfan is rough. Neatly arrived at the Youth Hostel shortly after 7pm with daylight to spare. A memorable 9hr day in superb weather and with spectacular views. I am on schedule to complete tomorrow. 15.37miles, 9h 31m 7554ft.
Left Youth Hostel at 07:30 straight up the NW Ridge of Penyrolewen. Quite stiff with the pack, on the many scrambling sections. The wind became very strong rear to cross on the summit. The Carneddau is a long, high and gentle landscape, especially after the 2 principal peaks. The Refuge under Foel Grach looked immaculate. I wakened to the presence of the N Wales coast, becoming more prominent as the peaks were rolled off. After Drum, Conway and the coast became a constant view and the first glimpse of the Castle brought the end in sight. But, despite it being more down than up, the climbs kept the pace down and I became grateful of the early start, as I could clearly finish in daylight.
Signage around the Sychnant Pass was imprecise but the map definitely suggested the Conway Mountain route started at the top of the steep side and joined the N Wales Path. The path located, Conway Mountain was a pleasure and a worthwhile visit for the views and sense of expectation. I phoned Shirley from the Summit, at last able to relax to the final 1½ mile descent. The Castle found, I next determined train times, secured a pizza at Alfredos, bought some Welsh beers (inc. Conwy Celebration) and headed home. 18.86 miles, 10h 45m, 7134ft ascent.
Ironically, after spending the small hours in Birmingham New St, the train returning me to Cheltenham was the one 40mins before the one I caught to Cardiff. If I had caught this one instead from Cheltenham, I might have had the time to reach Risca, which would have given me time to avoid the Bivvy on the Blorenge. But then...?
Throughout the whole walk, I wondered how each day would pass and how the weather would affect my progress. The early days were fairly discouraging, with heavy rainfall and very wet conditions, including unfordable rivers, underfoot. Using B&B (or equiv) overnight was the decision that ensured I was fresh each morning, with clothing dry, even if boots were still wet. The final days after Cader Idris were like summer and were a blessing. The Rhinogs were the biggest challenge; had the weather been unkind, then this walk could have ended with less cheer.
The Guidebook is a mine of practical information. But it relies on the accurate supplementation of OS mapping. I photocopied each page, so had a day-walking copy and kept the complete guide as well.
My previous knowledge of much of the walk was a comfort. I had little recollection from 1971 but recently have been day-walking the Cambrian Way progressively with Shirley, so my knowledge was good to Devil's Bridge. I had a few nav-oops moments but was able to recover. Understanding the nuances of the Guide and interpreting with the map and ground layout sometimes needed more care than I gave at the time!
Accommodation: I planned to use commercial B&Bs or YHs in order to reduce camping gear.
Food: Relying on B&B and mainly bought meals, I did not carry a stove; I carried non-cooking foods, so hot drinks are out on the hill. I noted where I could top up. Having a full breakfast and evening meal meant my eating on the hill was reduced compared to normal day walks. I carried 2-3 days of emergency dry rations, muesli, biscuits and cheese and mixed dried fruit. I found Welsh Cakes were available and a valuable source of anytime energy.
Boots: Once my boots had shaped to my feet they were superb. Zamberlan Trail Lite are a slim-fit leather boot and good for the mixed terrain of the walk. It might have been easier for my feet if I had soaked/shaped them on a preliminary walk!
Bivvy Kit: For emergency I carried: ME Down S/B, Silk S/B Liner, Goretex single Bivvy bag, ThermaRest mattress. Opting not to carry a tent, this represents a light option for comfort and an 'Emergency' night out, rather than planning to camp every night. I used my bivvy gear in anger twice and by choice (campsite, bothy) twice. So, the weight penalty was worthwhile. I did not want to pre-book accommodation because of uncertainty of arrival. Arriving cold (unbooked) is risky, whereas not turning up is worrying for both parties. Accommodation was a problem at weekends, so you need to be alert to the problems and do what suits you best.
Poles: I have used Walking Poles since my Hip Replacement in 2000. These Pacer-Poles were new, with their unique hand-grip. I certainly found Poles a huge benefit to stability on descent and crossing streams; they even assisted in setting a comfortable rhythm and balance for the sack when striding out. On tarmac, rubber ends made for quiet and comfortable walking. The angle and moulding on the Pacers set the hand at a more natural angle and acted like a 300 mile banister rail. The angle was more comfortable than (conventional) vertical grip, particularly in descent. Whilst I had a Camera mount, it is fiddly to use and I preferred just to rest the camera on the top for monopod stability.
Maps: I had prepared 30 map prints from digital mapping (1:50,000 all + 1:25,000 Cader, Rhinogs, Moelwyns) as back-to-back on waterproof A4 paper and numbered in sequence of use. Folded to A6, these fitted my thigh pocket and were instantly available. Success.
Electronics: I carried 2xGPS, Digital Camera (Lumix Bridge), Netbook, Mobile Phone + recharge cabling; this weighed in at 10lbs and was not part of my 1971 walk! But all was used and I kept a log daily (even under the stars) on the Netbook. Where WiFi was available, I updated the H4H Charity website link with the latest position and update. I am sure the Netbook was a heavy luxury and a more costly lighter phone/pad could have saved 2-3lbs but it's all about technical understanding. The Netbook paralleled my Laptop, so I was within my technical comfort zone.
Rucksack: Karrimor alpiniste 80l+15l + (detachable) Rain Cover. The separate zipped bivvy compartment base proved useful to separate overnight kit from day-use. Also the roomy lid compartments were used for readily available day items. The Rain Cover was regularly wet at end of day and the sack and inners bone dry!
I wore generous-fitting kiwi-style trousers; the shorts option proved invaluable early and in the sunny last week. In the warm but wet, I adopted on the shorts option and wore my shell legs for comfort.
Socks: I wear a thin woollen sock and then a medium walking sock. I kept a dry set in reserve, which was essential when I misjudged sodden ground on 2 occasions and water lapped over the ankle. Both pairs of walking socks were worn out by the end.
I carried a light Pertex cycling top and found this a useful garment to offset the wind, rather than wear the shell jacket, which was only needed when rain was around and on high tops when the better all-weather protection was useful, e.g., on Cader Idris.
Using 'commercial' overnight accommodation, I washed dirty clothing/socks every night and invariably it was dry to walk in next day; this relied on kind landladies. Only when bivvying/bothying was I left with dirty clothes but, even then, I wore the socks to dry overnight.
The Cambrian Way as a continuous walk has a connectivity that cannot be achieved in day walks. Walking on, with no ancillary transport problems has simplicity itself. Both Cardiff and Conwy have YHs and Rail connections for pre- and post- support. As day walks, sections need to be combined with pre-/post- transport and accommodation logistics, so days may need to be quite short; where long days are inevitable, thoughts may lead to a continuous link. This could double (or more) the completion time in days walking and extend the Cambrian Way experience over several months/years. I reserve opinion of 'if and how' I will do Cambrian Way again; save to say that currently, I am supporting my wife, Shirley's CW day walks.
I had printed all my maps from digital OS Memory Map in A4 waterproof sheets at 1:50,000 (+ 1:25,000 for mountains in Snowdonia). I had copied the route and text pages from the Guidebook. So the night before, I checked the next day's route and the appropriate paperwork, which folded to A6 size. Where I could I recharged GPS, camera batteries, mobile phone and netbook. At accommodation, I ensured that I could meet a practical departure time the next morning. All landladies were understanding and we made arrangements to suit.
Compared to 40 yrs ago I realise that this is a hard walk; I certainly do not like the pack weight of 40lbs. Then, I was a fresh mountaineer, still exploring physical limits; now, I am not practising as furtively, so it appears strange to commit this block of time. But I had my reasons and thus have no regrets at this nostalgic journey. I am finding a certain beauty to the route and hopefully carrying a camera will provide the images I was denied in 1971, when I deliberately saved weight; remote comes to mind, as on several days I met no-one. It helped to use B&Bs. With the wetter weather, they provided, not only social intercourse but the opportunity to wash and dry socks and smalls.
There is more to CW than just putting on your boots and sack. Understanding the route, with attention to maps; even your walk strategy of single or multi days or full length. The time of year will provide its share of weather and workable daylight. Late summer/early autumn 2011 proved extremely wet underfoot with swollen rivers; also bracken and grasses were at their worst for walking.
Firstly, it was super to visit the Bay after arriving in Cardiff. What might have been better would have been to arrive the previous afternoon and visit the Bay lightweight and without the pressure to 'Get on with it'. A YH stopover and earlier start would have seen Risca as the first day stop, which would have enabled Abergavenny for Day 2. That would still have been a 20+ mile day!
My Electronics pack up was 10 lbs. Camera, phone, GPS and Chargers yes. Netbook, a big Q for weight penalty, as lighter and more compact gear is probably out there for quick messaging and internetting.
Bivvy kit need not be taken IF you have secure accommodation and shorter days/more daylight. If doing it with vehicle support, this option is very personal and would be over-cautious for most of the walk. However, on long days, the option, despite the weight penalty, should not be dismissed summarily.
Booking accommodation ahead is again subjective and dependent on season, location, alternatives and day of week. Think weekends (Fri/Sat) in Brecons and Snowdonia but also Dylife, where there is ONLY the Star Inn. It is reassuring to have a bed booked but also you have a commitment to arrive (off Rhinogs!).
I walked Solo, which does require considerable self-reliance. It worked and I appreciated the independence to set my pace and all the feeding/stop/starts/decisions that are involved. I have also been on team expeditions, where the character is moulded by the members. For this venture, could I have found a companion, available at the instant planning of my departure and capable of the day schedules and style I maintained? Probably not but if I had, the schedule would have been more tolerant to their abilities and probably around 21 or more days. My start date was compromised by recovery after a 1200km cycling event (Paris-Brest-Paris) I had entered and completed on 25 August.
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