The Cambrian Way 2010

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 4 - Days 6 and 7 - Crickhowell to Ystradfellte


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Day 6 - Sunday 6th June - GPS 15.9 miles - 1,858 ft ascent

Crickhowell to Talybont-on-Usk

The GPS mileage figure is what I recorded from accommodation to accommodation, and includes any 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.

The blister on my left heel had got bigger with yesterday's walk, so I had burst it last night and put on a Compeed dressing this morning. These dressings are quite expensive, but really do work very well, as they act like a second skin and stick very well even if they get wet. They can stay in place for two or three days in most circumstances, giving the blister chance to heal whilst providing a cushioned protective layer to reduce further problems.

I had a good breakfast at eight o'clock along with two other couples. One couple were already down and the other couple came down as I was leaving. I got ready for off by nine o'clock, but didn't have the right change to pay my bill. The landlord didn't have change either, so he had to go off looking for some at various shops up and down the road, which meant that it was 9.20 before I was able to get started, calling in town for a few things for lunch. The weather was beautiful despite rain being forecast, and this made all the scenery look so much better, as I made my way across the River Usk to Llangattock, then alongside the Montgomeryshire and Brecon Canal for a while. This is claimed to be one of the most beautiful stretches of canal in the country, and it certainly looked lovely today.

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Crickhowell
Crickhowell
Bridge over River Usk, Crickhowell with Table Mountain behind
River Usk, Crickhowell
Llangattock Church
Llangattock Church

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Llangattock Escarpment from Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal
Llangattock Escarpment from Canal
Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal at Llangattock
Canal at Llangattock
Llangattock Escarpment near Eglwys Faen Cave
Escarpment near Eglwys Faen Cave

The route up the escarpment follows an old tramway up the steep hillside and is a stiff climb. It was getting hot in the sunshine but there was shade from the trees to help keep me cool. After the tramway is an almost equally steep path for the rest of the way up to a level without any shade, though there was a little more breeze further up. After the steep climb, I stopped for a little while and chatted to a couple of local mountain bikers about the walk before making my way slowly along the escarpment, exploring some of the caves along the way.

There were a number of people about including a school party near the Eglwys Faen cave entrance, which I reached at 11.30 (checkpoint 11). I took a look at the cave, going some way inside. Although I did have a torch with me, I didn't really need it, as there was a reasonable amount of light shining in from the cave entrance. There were two cavers in there already and they seemed to be preparing to take photographs.

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Entrance to Eglwys Faen Cave
Entrance to Eglwys Faen Cave
Craig y Cilau Nature Reserve
Craig y Cilau Nature Reserve
Sugar Loaf from Craig y Cilau
Sugar Loaf from Craig y Cilau

The route then drops down to the bottom of the valley, going through Craig y Cilau Nature Reserve before climbing back up a little way to join a road. I stopped for an early lunch in the valley, as it was a more pleasant and secluded spot than I would be likely to find near the road. Not far away, however, there was a group of about fifteen people who had also stopped for a while. I wasn't sure whether they were ramblers or not, but when they started off again, they looked more like botanists by the way they were scouring the ground. It was twelve o'clock when I stopped and after lunch I settled down to a spot of sunbathing for half an hour before light cloud started to obscure the sun. I couldn't complain, though, as I had had sunshine all morning on the best part of today's walk.

At 13.00 I set off again and trudged steadily up the hill towards the road. Just before reaching the road, however, I found a track that ran parallel to the road but higher up the hillside and decided that that would be better to follow than the road. It was overcast by now but still reasonable walking weather as I gradually climbed uphill. The track eventually turned into a path, which then got fainter and the walking became more difficult, so it became more sensible to drop down to the road and walk along the grassy verge. Even by the road, there were still good views back across to the Black Mountains and there was not a great deal of traffic.

At the T junction near Blaen Onnau (or Onneu, depending on which OS map you look at), there is a cave marked on the OS map near a disused quarry not far off the route, so I decided to take a look at that before heading across to the trig point and Chartists' Cave, turning left along the more major road for a way. The cave was in the rock face of the quarry and must have been unearthed during quarrying operations. There was also a deep hole in the ground leading to a cave underneath the floor of the quarry. From here, there was no definite path across the moorland, so I headed towards the trig point by putting its co-ordinates into my GPS and made my way across the open ground until I picked up the main path that led from the T junction. I could also see the trig point by this time, so it was quite then easy to find my way.

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Cave Entrance in old quarry at Blaen Onnau
Cave Entrance at Blaen Onnau

I reached the summit, a slightly raised mound on the rather featureless landscape, at 14.25 and stopped for the rest of my lunch. Pen y Fan and Corn Du were now in sight in the distance, as well as a whole panorama of distant hills and mountains beyond the rather flat heather moorland that surrounded me. It was quite breezy now, but the sun was coming out again, so it was still warm. There was little sign of other walkers apart from one man with a dog who came past nearby. After 25 minutes I set off again making my way towards the Chartists' Cave. At one time this was quite easy to miss whilst walking over the open moorland, but in recent years it has had sufficient visitors for there to be a fairly well worn path past there from the summit, so there is no longer any need to search for it.

On the way, I met a woman with a girl, and she told me not to miss the cave. She had almost missed it by not realising it was there as she walked by and it was only because she saw other people around that she found it. She was so surprised by how well hidden it was, but I pointed out that that was the purpose of using it in the first place! Without a path to follow, it must have served its purpose of hiding arms and a printing press very well. The path continued past the cave but gradually started turning southwards away from the direction I wanted to go, so it was necessary to turn off across the open moor, though I did manage to pick up on small paths and sheep tracks most of the way to the road.

This road is the wide access road to a very large quarry, Cwar yr Hendre, and was very dusty in the dry weather conditions. After a short way along the road, the main route goes past the quarry, but I was staying at Danywenallt Youth Hostel near Talybont on Usk, followed the alternative route along a disused tramway round the head of the valley. In wet weather, the tramway gets badly flooded and it can be quite difficult to get through without getting wet feet, but today it was almost completely dry and no problem at all. For a while, the way runs through the forest, which is quite dense and dark in places, but then it opens out and I came into beautiful sunshine, the weather having brightened up again.

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Approaching Hendre Quarry with Pen y Fan in distance
Approaching Hendre Quarry
Dyffryn Crawnon near Talybont on Usk
Dyffryn Crawnon near Talybont on Usk
Dam of Talybont Reservoir from near Danywenallt Youth Hostel
Dam of Talybont Reservoir

I was now at the top of a ridge and needed to be down near the dam of the Talybont Reservoir. There are a number of paths and forest tracks leading down in the right general direction, so wherever there was a choice, I kept taking the lowest one. However, this sometimes ended up being rather rough and unpleasant for walking, so I am not sure which route is actually the best one to take. I arrived at the hostel at 17.40 and was greeted by a very chatty and friendly warden who had seen my website. After a shower and calling home on the payphone, there being no reception on my mobile, I went along for a meal. There was only one others chap in the hostel and he had been in all week doing local walks, so I joined him for dinner, having lasagne followed by fruit salad and ice cream as well as a couple of bottles of Red Dragon bitter.

As we were eating, a warden from Llwyn-y-celyn arrived. He was staying overnight and walking back over the Beacons tomorrow, so following much the same route as me as far as the Storey Arms. The hostel was going to be busy again tomorrow with school parties, as it usually is during the week at this time of year. It is only Sunday night that tends to be quiet with weekenders having gone home and school parties still to arrive. The other chap and the visiting warden had both asked for breakfast at 7.30, so I asked for the same to make things easier and to give me an early start.

After dinner I took a stroll along the dam in the lovely evening sunshine, with large swathes of rhododendrons in full bloom below the dam and around the reservoir.

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Dam of Talybont Reservoir
Dam of Talybont Reservoir
Danywenallt Youth Hostel
Danywenallt Youth Hostel

My feet were not doing so well at the moment. I now had a blister on my right heel and the one on my left heel had swelled up under the dressing. I put a Compeed dressing on my right one and punctured the dressing on the left heel to release the fluid. This had not been helped by the amount of uneven walking I had faced today, and it wasn't likely to be any better tomorrow.


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Day 7 - Monday 7th June - GPS 18.1 miles - 4,360 ft ascent

Talybont-on-Usk to Ystradfellte via Brecon Beacons

The GPS mileage figure is what I recorded from accommodation to accommodation, and includes any 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.

I was up at seven o'clock to be ready for breakfast at 7.30. Breakfast was included in the price of 22 and consisted of a nicely cooked full breakfast and a good selection of cold things. There were two of us down plus the visiting warden, who set off to walk over the Beacons at 8.30, whereas it was 8.45 before I managed to get going.

From my map, it appeared that there was a footpath up onto the ridge from the other side of the dam running from the end of a track. However, the track was marked as private, so I went southwards along the road for a way before I could get up to join it. Even then it wasn't all that easy to follow until I got further up the steep slope and joined a more major footpath. The guidebook shows the route going northwards for a way instead and then doubling back to meet the path up the ridge, so my attempt to take a short cut proved to be rather unproductive.

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Danywenallt Youth Hostel and Talybont Reservoir
Danywenallt Youth Hostel and Talybont Reservoir
Talybont Reservoir from Carn Pica on Waun Rydd
Talybont Reservoir from Carn Pica

The weather was cool and overcast with the cloud level at about 2,500ft and clear of many, but not all of the peaks. After the steep climb up onto the ridge, things got easier for a while until the next steep climb to a cairn on Craig y Fan. I was feeling fresher today, either because of the cooler weather or because I was getting more used to the walking. It was still a bit of an effort up the steeper slopes with a full pack including two litres of drink plus bottled water and fruit from the hostel packed lunch, but otherwise, I found it fairly easy. Despite the blisters on my heels and other problems, even my feet didn't feel too bad, at least at this stage of the day's walk.

After the climb up to Craig y Fan, the walking became much easier on paths that were fairly level and good underfoot. The miles were not dragging as much today, as there was great scenery to look at despite the dull conditions, my feet were not hurting, and the going was easy. There was some drizzly rain now, but the cloud base had lifted above Pen y Fan, the highest peak in the Brecon Beacons, so it looked like I would not end up in mist. There was a long line of people walking along the ridge of Craig Fan Las. I counted about 28 of them, which made me think they were from the army out training, but they were too far away to make out whether they were in uniform or not. Otherwise I could see just one or two other walkers in the distance.

I stopped for a rest at 11.15 at the head of Cwm Oergwm and put on my fleece, as it was quite cool now that I had stopped climbing for a while. Whilst I was there I had a phone call from home - once again, the reception was good from the mountaintops with line of sight to Brecon. At 11.40 I set off again and made my way to Fan y Big. I wasn't quite sure which point was the actual summit, but I went along to the end of the ridge anyway and it was worthwhile for the fine view it gave. I often find that, when I am looking for the highest point, I see somewhere else that looks higher, only to find when I get there that my previous position looks higher. I retraced my steps and, on the way back, met an elderly woman who was very chatty. She had done the central and northern sections of the Cambrian Way but not the southern section, though she had done the Beacons Way, which covers part of it.

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Cribyn and Pen y Fan from Fan y Big
Cribyn and Pen y Fan
Bwlch ar y Fan from Fan y Big
Bwlch ar y Fan from Fan y Big

When I reached the main path again and headed towards Cribyn, I realised that I could have taken a more direct route instead and saved a bit of time and effort. In the past, there were a lot of erosion problems along the ridge, but in recent years, much pathway repair work has been undertaken. There are still ongoing problems in a number of places, but at least progress has been made in tackling the issue. It has become increasingly obvious that many popular walking areas cannot sustain the volume of foot traffic to which they are subjected. As more and more people take part in outdoor activities such as walking, and are constantly being encouraged to do so as part of a healthy lifestyle, footpaths are bound to suffer and maintenance is necessary to avoid ugly scars on the landscape. The solution has been known for many years, but unfortunately costs quite a bit of money, so has been put off for a long time in many places. At last the National Park Authority and the National Trust have come to terms with the problem and have managed to allocate funds to tackle it.

Part of the problem is that everyone wants to climb the highest mountain in any area, even if they never climb any others, so most of the erosion is concentrated around these mountains. Not only do you find individuals and groups of walkers who wish to enjoy the scenery, but also there are also large groups of people doing walks as challenges to raise money for charity. Laudable as this may be it means that large numbers of people, who would otherwise not be interested in climbing mountains, take part and add greatly to the erosion problems without necessarily even enjoying the view. In a free country, however, there is no real way of stopping this, other than by trying to encourage the organisers to choose somewhere else that is not so heavily used. The problem is that these other places do not have the same kudos, so may result in less money being raised; hence the organisers are reluctant to do so. Another problem is that the Brecon Beacons are used for military training, so this must contribute a fair amount to the erosion problems.

I reached the summit of Cribyn at 13.00 and stopped for some lunch. A sheep and her lamb were hovering about hoping for food, as often happens in places that a large number of people visit. It may seem harmless to give them things, but past experience has taught me that it is a big mistake, as they can become a nuisance, continuing to press for more, even becoming aggressive at times. After a short time, a sudden patch of low cloud came along accompanied by strong wind and some rain, so I set off again at 13.10 towards Pen y Fan.

The pathway repairs towards the summit were well advanced and not far from completion, with some work still in progress. I reached the summit at 13.45 (checkpoint 12) and found that it was untouched by any of the pathway work and was still bare over much of the area, but then it is difficult to do anything on summits, as people tend to wander about over the whole area rather than sticking to a narrow pathway. Most of the area has been worn down to the bare rock, so there is no need to reinforce this any further unless it starts wearing away, and any attempt to re-establish grass would be doomed to failure. The rain had stopped after a short while, except for a few spots, but the cold wind meant that it was not good for standing around for long, so I carried on towards Corn Du.

There was more pathway work on the way, this time in the form of a gravel path over the flat area between the two summits, rather than the stonework that I had seen so far. Most of the other repairs had been on the slopes, where stone repairs were more suitable, and the final short ascent up Corn Du was also being repaired with stones. I was still in need of a rest, so I took shelter from the wind by the rocks on the north west edge of Corn Du. There were a number of people about on both Pen y Fan and Corn Du, but far less than I have seen on other occasions. Despite the poor weather, the cloud base was still well above the tops and the views were reasonably clear. From where I was sitting I could see the path from the Storey Arms, the shortest and most popular route, with several more people heading towards me.

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Pen y Fan from Corn Du
Pen y Fan from Corn Du
Llyn Cwm Llwch from Tommy Jones Memorial
Llyn Cwm Llwch from Tommy Jones Memorial
Corn Du from path to Storey Arms
Corn Du from path to Storey Arms

The guidebook route down goes away from the main route, visiting the Tommy Jones memorial, erected in memory of a five year old boy who strayed up there in the snow and was only found there a month later despite a widespread search. From there I walked mainly across the open moor and didn't rejoin the main path until I had dropped quite a way down the hillside.

Although I had completed the traverse the main ridge of the Beacons, my journey was by no means completed, as I had been unable to get a bed in the youth hostel at Llwyn y Celyn, so had several more miles of walking to reach my B&B in Ystradfellte. This route is not very well trodden and inevitably means quite a bit of walking over rough moorland. To help with navigation, I entered the grid reference of the lowest point on the rounded ridge ahead into my GPS and started off along a path up the hillside waymarked for the Beacons Way, which runs further north than the route I wanted. After a while, I found a lesser path heading in the direction indicated by my GPS, and was able to follow this for some way, making it a lot easier than walking over open moorland.

The path continued heading west and I decided to keep on following it to see where it led me rather than taking my chances across the untrodden areas of open moorland. It eventually ran along the northern side of Nant Mawr and then along the eastern side of the Ystradfellte Reservoir, whereas previously I had headed north-west, as shown in the guidebook, taking a wide sweep round the edge of Rhos Dringarth to get to western side of the Ystradfellte Reservoir. The path degenerated in places and meandered up and down the hillside a little, but wasn't too bad to follow and was somewhat shorter and easier than the proper route, eventually allowing me to join the access road beyond the reservoir dam.

The rain that had been mainly just occasional drizzle, started to get a bit heavier, but not yet enough to need waterproofs. Now that I was on the road, I thought that the rest of the way would be plain sailing, but after half a mile or so I came to a gate saying 'NO PUBLIC ACCESS' and pointing to a bridleway and a map. The guidebook also points out that the only route off the common is to the west, which is why it takes an approach from that direction in the first place. The bridleway, however, was completely blocked by a huge patch of nettles, but it was possible to get down to the footbridge that it led to from a little way back up the road. There was then a bit of a climb up the hillside before it levelled out and provided some pleasant walking for a while before dropping down to join the public road into Ystradfellte.

I was getting rather weary by this time and was looking forward to reaching my destination so that I could rest my feet. There was a footpath that I recognised from before, cutting off a corner of the road, so I took that again and about half a mile after rejoining the road, the village came into sight and I passed the pub, which now has very limited opening times and doesn't serve food. As there was no mobile reception, I tried to use the phone box to call home as I was passing, but it wouldn't take cash, only cards, with a minimum charge of 1.20 including a 1 handling charge. This seemed rather excessive, so I just carried on to the B&B, which I found not far from the pub, arriving there at 18.15.

I had a welcome pot of tea followed by a relaxing soak in the bath, then a very nice dinner of soup, beef stew with dumplings and two home-made puddings: blackcurrant tart and bread and butter pudding. I found out that the pub was still owned by an elderly couple who had let the trade run right down but still didn't want to let go of it. Opening hours had been reduced more and more until it had almost closed down. Now the son just opens it for a few hours on Saturday evenings and it is only frequented by a few locals, so it is of very little benefit to the village or to visitors.

I was the only one staying at the B&B and, although the bungalow was quite large with space for several guests, the landlady preferred to limit the numbers to avoid having too much work. We chatted for most of the evening about a whole range of things before I retired to bed. The rain, which had been fairly light and intermittent during the day, became very heavy during the evening, with a few rumbles of thunder, making me glad that I was now safely indoors and not on the mountaintops.

My feet had done very well today, with the Compeed blister dressings holding firm. The only minor problem was that the adhesive at the edges of the dressings had stuck to my socks in places, so I had to remove them carefully and they were still left with sticky bits on them for some time, though it did come off eventually with washing. The edges of the dressings had curled over slightly, so I trimmed them with scissors to stop them sticking to whatever they came into contact with. Although today's walk was quite strenuous, I didn't notice it so much. This was due to a number of factors: the weather was cooler and fresher, my feet were feeling better so I wasn't constantly aware of them, the paths were better for much of the way, the scenery was very interesting despite the dull weather conditions and also I was getting fitter and more accustomed to the effort required. When all these things come together it is possible to really enjoy a walk, which is how things should be, but is often not the case.

Although I had packed my usual two litres of drink today, I only drank half a litre plus a 330ml bottle of mineral water that came with my packed lunch, because the weather was so much cooler. It is often difficult to judge how much drink will be needed, especially if the weather is changeable, but it is a mistake to take too little and risk dehydration even if it does mean carrying unnecessary weight.


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