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 7 - Days 12 and 13 - Ponterwyd to Cemmaes


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Day 12 - Saturday 12th June - GPS 16.9 miles - 2,838 ft ascent

Ponterwyd to Dylife via Plynlimon

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 awoke to a lovely morning. My blisters had been weeping overnight and had left marks on the bed sheets, but when I apologised the landlady said that this was quite a common occurrence and didn't matter. My right heel was not too bad, but my left heel, which had been the worst one all along, still had a few problems, so I put new dressings on both of that to be on the safe side. The blister on my left heel had gradually spread out to the extent that a dressing would not cover the whole area, but some of this had already healed over, so I was able to put the dressing over the area that had not fully healed.

I had a large, nicely cooked breakfast with a wide choice of things from a cold buffet as well - cereals, fruit juices, fruit, yoghurts etc. There was not so far to walk today, so after breakfast at eight o'clock, I took a while to get ready and chatted for a while, before setting off at 9.20, walking down the main road past the George Borrow Hotel. The road was very busy with weekend traffic and I was glad to get to the road junction in Ponterwyd, where I turned off onto a smaller road and then onto a bridleway. On the way, I called at the filling station shop to buy a few lunch things for the next couple of days.

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Bryn Bras from Ponterwyd
Bryn Bras from Ponterwyd
Looking back at Ponterwyd
Looking back at Ponterwyd
Dyffryn Castell Hotel undergoing refurbishment
Dyffryn Castell Hotel undergoing refurbishment

The bridleway rejoined the road near the Dyffryn Castell Hotel, which was closed and covered in scaffolding. The refurbishment work was started some time ago and has now ground to a halt, presumably as a result of the recession. A path runs up by the side of the hotel to a plateau, but becomes less clear after that, though I did manage to see a stile half way up the hillside, so I headed for that and was able to follow a small path from there towards the corner of the forest. It was not always easy, as when it started to level off it went along the sloping hillside for a way. The weather was beautifully sunny but with a cool breeze, and I stopped for a rest at 11.25 with a fine view of the valley carrying the busy A44 below and the wind farm beyond. Not many of the wind turbines were turning, as often seems to be the case with other wind farms. I can never understand why they are not pumping electricity into the grid all the time, except for the occasional spell of maintenance. I am told that the latest turbines are 300ft to the tip of the rotor and can generate 5 megawatts each, though the earlier ones like these are much smaller.

I set off again at 11.50, following the path as it ran by the forest and then crossed the fence into the edge of the forest where the hillside was too steep outside. When I was last here, there was a very wide, ugly track leading up near the summit of Plynlimon, but this has now been grassed over again as it was put there without planning permission. There is still another less obtrusive track, but the better route is to climb to the top of the ridge and follow that along to the summit, with views of Nant-y-moch reservoir to the west and Cadair Idris to the northwest. The Arans are also visible; though not on the route of the Cambrian Way, and from this direction, look like three giant steps. The ascent was fairly steady and I reached the summit at 13.00 (checkpoint 19).

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Ridge to Plynlimon Summity
Ridge to Plynlimon Summit
Nant-y-moch Reservoir from Plynlimon
Nant-y-moch Reservoir from Plynlimon
Llyn Llygad Rheidol from Plynlimon
Llyn Llygad Rheidol from Plynlimon

Some cloud had now formed around the summit and with the brisk wind it was quite cool, so I had my lunch in the shelter. I heard a strange sound that I had not encountered much during the last few days of walking - human voices. It sounded like a mother and daughter, though I didn't see them as they didn't come into the shelter and were soon on their way. The cloud cleared again after a while making it warmer, but it was still quite cool in the wind as I set off again at 13.45. On previous occasions I had not seen any views of Llyn Llygad Rheidol, which is at the foot of Plynlimon Fawr, so I decided to try to get a view this time. Instead of heading directly towards Pen Pumlumon Arwystli I veered north towards the steep hillside and, after dropping down a few hundred feet, got a good view of the lake below. The loss of height was not a problem, as I needed to drop down between the two summits anyway. Making my way around the hillside, I rejoined the main path, but then realised that from this point a detour of only about fifty yards would have been enough to get a view of the lake.

I saw one solitary walker heading for Plynlimon as I leisurely made my way along, stopping for a rest whenever I fancied, as I had less distance to cover today. At one resting point, overlooking the valleys to the east, I saw a large trail of dust forming below. A rally car was racing around a circuit consisting of dirt roads made very dusty by the recent dry weather. It resembled a scene from the American mid-west, where there are many dusty dirt roads, or a rocket engine being fired along a test track leaving a large trail of smoke or water vapour behind. The dust gradually drifted upwards and onwards in the wind, but it was about fifteen minutes before it had completely cleared away. This was repeated at intervals later as I made my way along the ridge.

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Rally Car near Plynlimon
Rally Car near Plynlimon
Pen Pumlumon Arwystli with Cotton Grass in the foreground
Pen Pumlumon Arwystli
One of many marker stones around Plynlimon
One of many marker stones around Plynlimon

The next objective, Pen Pumlumon Arwystli, is only nine metres lower than Plynlimon Fawr, though I only had a couple of hundred feet to climb from the dip between the two. Every so often along the ridge, there are a series of stone slabs standing like headstones, some of them marked with an arrow pointing upwards with 1865 underneath. The only explanation that springs to mind is that they must mark the watershed. The route swings round to the north from the summit, roughly following the boundary fence. Beyond the forest to the east were a series of white marker posts going downhill, but these seem to mark a route into the forest further down as far as I could make out. There was another large wind farm ahead, just one of many in this part of Wales. Personally, I much prefer them to be sited offshore, where they are far less obtrusive than on hilltops, but with a drive for more and more green energy, they are something that I will have to learn to live with.

I started drifting too far to the east beyond the forest, as that is the way the ridge appeared to go, but then I realised that I should be following the boundary fence over to the left. I headed across to rejoin it and then passed two small tarns before reaching the turning for the source of the River Severn, which is only a short way off the route and is now well signposted with a good path leading down to it. It is strange to think that this great river starts in a murky peat bog, but then it has to start somewhere before it grows bigger and wider.

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Tarn north of Pen Pumlumon Arwystli
Tarn north of Pen Pumlumon Arwystli
Bugeilyn and Cadair Idris
Bugeilyn and Cadair Idris

Back at the stile opposite the path I had just taken, there was a path leading to a cairn and then another one, but beyond that it soon petered out leaving me to head across open moorland, heading in the right general direction, with Carn Goch ahead. This was not just a cairn, but also a shelter, as there are very few natural places to shelter over this wild moorland. From there, I could see the lake at Bugeilyn and was able to make my way down the steep hillside and across the rough and sometimes boggy ground towards the track south of the lake. There was no obvious route across, but I spotted a marker post and headed for that. When I got to it, I found that it was just marking a concrete inspection chamber and was nothing to do with any marking of the route. However, I was now quite near to the track and was soon on a good, easy surface, which was a relief after all the walking over rough ground.

The weather was now perfect, and there was a view across the lake to Cadair Idris. A solitary fisherman was down by the lakeside and the only other things there were an old, ruined farm building and a large barn further on with rusting corrugated iron, but I felt as if I had reached civilisation again after several miles of wilderness. There is a tendency to think that, once down from Plynlimon, the rest of the way will be easy, but that is not necessarily the case. I turned off, as I had done in the past, along a small footpath leading over towards some old mines. The going was far from easy, with little in the way of a footpath and a lot of rough walking. It was only later when I checked with the guidebook again that I realised to route had been changed to follow the rough road until it meets up with Glyndwr's Way, rather than taking the path. Once I joined up with Glyndwr's Way, which has been upgraded to a National Trail, the going was much better and easier to follow, as it is well signposted with acorn signs. This makes its way along the ridge of Pen Dylife, overlooking Dylife itself, and the Cambrian Way then doubles back to the village.

I arrived at the Star Inn at 18.45 (checkpoint 20). With less distance to walk today, I had expected to arrive quite a bit earlier, but I had been walking at a more leisurely pace and stopping wherever I fancied hoping to make it easier on my feet. When I arrived the bar was empty, possibly because of the Football World Cup on television. A girl was in the bar cleaning the tables, so I told her that I had booked a room and she went off to see the landlady, then came back and asked if I wanted a drink. I really wanted to go to my room but had a pint instead, which the landlady had to serve, presumably because the girl was under 18. When I had finished the pint, I asked if I could go to my room. The girl went off to check with the landlady and came back to say that they were just doing the finishing touches to the room. I was the only one staying that night so I presumed that none of the rooms had been serviced and wondered if they had forgotten that I had booked.

At 19.15 the son, who is the chef, came along to tell me that the room was ready and he recognised me from five years ago. Maintenance is not a strong point here - the bathroom door wouldn't close properly and there was a hole in the ceiling. There were no towels either in my room or in the bathroom, so I had to use my own small sports towel, and the bolt was broken on the toilet door. However, I was able to have a nice, relaxing bath, which was all that really mattered.

When I went down to the bar again there were several people starting to arrive, but I was able to get my food order in before most of them were ready to order theirs. Even so, it was a long time before my meal arrived, as the chef was also spending some of his time in the bar serving drinks. In total, there were nine people plus myself and some of the others had to wait even longer, but none of them seemed to care about the time it took. Most, if not all of them, seemed to be locals and they just sat drinking and chatting across the room.

As I went up to bed, the chef asked me what time I wanted breakfast. I had seen a sign upstairs saying breakfast was served at 8.30, so I suggested that, but he intimated that his mother would appreciate it to be nine o'clock. I didn't have a long walk tomorrow, so it was not a problem, so nine o'clock was agreed.


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Day 13 - Sunday 13th June - GPS 16.6 miles - 1,750 ft ascent

Dylife to Cemmaes via Pennant Valley and Cemmaes Road (by mistake)

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.

After a good night's sleep and a lie in, I tended to my feet. My right heel had been alright without a dressing, but my left heel still had a raw bit that was exposed as it was outside the area covered by the dressing that was already on there. I put on another dressing overlapping the first one went and hoped that it would sort things out. Going down for breakfast, I was greeted by the husband in his dressing gown and carpet slippers. Though I had stayed here twice before, this was the first time I had seen him.

This place made me think that I was in a fifty-year time warp. The whole setup is very laid back and relaxed and is detached from all the pressures of modern life. It is the sort of place that people either love or hate, either coming here as a retreat into a different world where time stands still, or hating the slow pace and lack of efficiency. Judging by some of the glowing praises in the visitors' book, especially from some of the foreign visitors, there were plenty of people who were enchanted by its charm. As far as I was concerned, I had had a hot bath, a comfortable bed and good food and drink, as well as the hospitality of a friendly family, all for a very reasonable price, so I could overlook any shortcomings in maintenance or efficiency and was perfectly satisfied, especially as it is directly on the route of the walk.

The modern world had obviously caught up with them in some ways, as they were in the throes of having a new fire alarm system fitted, with obtrusive red cable running all over the place, as it was presumably not easy to hide the cables in various parts of the old building. The reform of the fire regulations several years ago introduced more stringent rules, especially for establishments with sleeping accommodation. When they were first introduced, all the indications were that buildings already in possession of a fire certificate would need very little doing to comply with the new regulations. This was far from the case, however, as we found to our cost with our hotel, where we were pressured into fitting a complete new fire alarm system with smoke detectors all over the place at a cost of nearly five thousand pounds. Here, they must have managed to put this off for a couple of extra years, but eventually have had to comply. I am not saying that there aren't real improvements in the safety of everyone in the buildings, but these extra costs make it very difficult for places already struggling with the effects of the recession.

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Breakfast in The Star Inn, Dylife
Breakfast in The Star Inn, Dylife
The Star Inn, Dylife
The Star Inn, Dylife
Old Mine Workings, Dylife
Old Mine Workings, Dylife

After a hearty breakfast, I set off at ten o'clock and decided, as I had a shorter day than usual, to take a detour down the road for a view of Pennant and the Twymyn valley, as suggested in the guidebook. The best view was from a car parking area by the side of the road, about a mile from Dylife. I then had to more or less retrace my steps, though I was able to cut off a corner by taking a footpath into the middle of the village, bypassing the Star Inn, but it still added two miles to my day's walk and it was 10.50 before I was back on the route again. The route was quite easy to find at first, but when it started to follow the valley of a stream, it was not so clearly defined. I picked up a path running parallel to the stream, some way up the hillside, but this kept making me drop down into the valley, whereas the proper way was a bridleway higher up the valley side. Further up the valley, I had to follow a fence to reach a very new looking hunting gate on the bridleway, though there was no visible path on the ground near the gate.

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Pennant Valley near Dylife - a diversion from the route
Pennant Valley near Dylife
Entering forest at Nant y Fedw
Entering forest at Nant y Fedw

The rest of the way up the hillside was much the same, with no visible path, but gates in their correct places, though neither of these was visible until the last minute due to the curvature of the hill. Once I reached the top of the hill, there was a well-defined track running down towards the forest. There were some good views on the way down, though Cadair Idris was only just visible in the cloud, as the weather looked considerable worse in that direction. I decided to stop for a rest and a snack at twelve o'clock by Nant y Fedw, just before the forest, as there was shelter from the cold wind provided by the trees, but still a reasonable view. With my bara brith, I tried some cheese singles that I had bought because all the packs of proper cheese were too large. They resembled sheets of soft plastic with very little taste of cheese, which was hardly surprising, as cheese was some way down in the list of ingredients - in fact they were actually called just 'singles', with the cheese merely implied by their colour.

I set off again at 12.30, entering the forest along the forest track. There were several roads and tracks running through the forest, and I have taken different ones on each occasion as, providing they keep on climbing or zigzagging upwards, they all lead out in more or less the right place to pick up footpaths and then a track running along the moor. Further along, this track seemed wider than I remembered, though I wasn't complaining, as it was easy to follow and had some good views of some tarns and a the lakes of Llynau Caeconroi in a nearby valley. In fact, the scenery was very good despite the lack of high mountains nearby, with a number of spectacular valleys along the way. However, I started to think something was wrong when it continued going east instead of turning north towards Bwlch Glynmynydd. I then realised that this track was not the bridleway at all, but followed a very similar route initially, and I had missed the turning point. I doubled back round the edge of the steep hillside along some narrow paths and sheep tracks until I regained the route where it crossed the road, where I stopped in the shelter of the trees for a 20-minute rest at 14.10 to recover from my efforts getting round the hillside. A couple of cyclists came past on the road and said hello - the first people I had seen since Dylife.

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Tarns on Waun Tyisaf
Tarns on Waun Tyisaf
Llynau Caeconroi
Llynau Caeconroi

When I set off through the forest, I took extra care to ensure I was on the right route, as the right of way shown on the OS maps seems to be at variance to what is on the ground. I could see no sign of any route other than the one I was on, but it brought me out to the corner of the forest, rather than cutting off the corner, as shown on maps. When I emerged from the forest and started following the boundary fence, there was no sign of any stile or gate where the right of way should have exited and there appeared to be densely packed trees over the whole area. Though not well defined at first, the next bit of the route stayed high up round the head of the valley, where it joined a clearly defined track going over a ridge into the next valley. I stopped for another rest at 15.15 until I felt a few spots of rain at 15.30, soon followed by quite a lot more. Hastily putting on my waterproofs, I continued on my way. The route became less clearly defined again, but it is easy to head down towards the farm track and road below.

At Maesteg I entered the forest on the way towards Commins Coch. At one time there were no views from here, but areas of clear felling have now opened up good views over Commins Coch and the surrounding area. From the hillside, I could see the busy traffic on the A470 below, as well as a train on the nearby railway line. This time, I wasn't going through Commins Coch as I had done previously, but was heading towards a pub in Cemmaes, so I didn't need to look out for the turning down through the forest. However, I did notice that Tony Drake's Cambrian Way marker post was in position there, a green post with a yellow waymark and the Cambrian Way hat logo at the top, whereas last time I was here it had gone missing because of the felling operations.

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Towards Maesteg
Towards Maesteg
Towards Cemmaes Road
Towards Cemmaes Road

The route to Cemmaes Road carried on along the forest track to its end where it meets the road. At this point lots of blue sky and sunshine appeared, so I stopped to take off my waterproofs and take a fifteen-minute rest at 16.30. I had worked out a route along footpaths shown on the OS map, eventually joining up with Glyndwr's Way. At first it wasn't the easiest route top follow, but I managed to find my way to Glyndwr's Way and the luxury of a well waymarked route. The weather was still unsettled and a bit of rain came my way, but with only about half a mile to where I could see PH (public house) marked on the map, I didn't want to put on waterproofs if I could help it. Hurrying along, I was pleased that the rain eased off a bit and I reached the road and a roundabout. The pub on the map was just down the road, but as I drew closer, it looked rather run-down and derelict and was, in fact, closed down. What is more, the name on the sign was not the Penrhos Arms that I was looking for.

As I paused to take stock of the situation, it started raining more heavily, so I had to put on my waterproof jacket after all. Checking the grid reference of the Penrhos Arms from the guidebook, I found that it was a mile and a half away. What had happened was that I had made my way to Cemmaes Road, whereas I was staying in Cemmaes. On the 1:50,000 maps that I was using, Cemmaes was on the next map up, so it hadn't dawned on me that these were two separate places. In my haste, I had seen the PH marked on the map and assumed that it was the one I was looking for. In fact, if I had checked the guidebook, rather than just working out my own way there, I would have seen that there was a Cemmaes variant that would have led me to the right place on a better route. The walk to Cemmaes was along a busy main road, without a pavement, so I had cars frequently rushing past at high speed. At first it was quite wide, so I didn't need to get out of the way, but further along it was a little narrower, so I had to keep stepping up onto the verge. Eventually, I reached Cemmaes and had the luxury of a pavement for the last quarter of a mile, reaching the Penrhos Arms at 18.15.

A very friendly lady welcomed me, but told me they were unable to do breakfast for me in the morning, as there would be nobody here to cook it. Normally they were directing people to their other hotel three miles away, but without transport that wasn't really an option, so she offered to bring a tray with cereals, sandwiches etc later in the evening so that I wouldn't go without. It was a very nice pub and I went up to my room for a shower and a change of clothes before going down to the bar for a meal. There were several others eating there, and I ordered faggots, new potatoes and peas plus a pint of my favourite beer, Reverend James. The meal was delicious. It came with chips instead of new potatoes but that didn't bother me, as I was relieved to be here and able to get something to eat. After another pint of Reverend James, I went off to my room.

I desperately needed to do some washing, but couldn't chance it as there was little prospect of getting it dry on a cool, wet evening with no heating on. The tray arrived with my breakfast things: two packets of Alpen, two rounds of tuna sandwiches, a Kit Kat bar, a packet of crisps, orange juice and milk. I watched TV for a while and then went to bed.

I had walked about sixteen miles today as opposed to the 10.8 miles on my schedule. This was a lesson in how to make a short day into a moderately long day: first take a detour adding two miles at the start, then make one or two mistakes in route finding and finally realise that the planned mileage was to the wrong place! Had I realised when I was planning things, I could have taken the better route shown in the guidebook to get here in a shorter distance and without as much road walking. My only excuse is that I was rather busy when I was planning the walk, and didn't spend as much time as I should in studying the route.


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