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 8 - Days 14 and 15 - Cemmaes to Dol-ffanog


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Day 14 - Monday 14th June - GPS 14 miles - 1,970 ft ascent

Cemmaes to Dinas Mawddwy via Mynydd y Cemaes

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 had a leisurely start with breakfast in bed and started out at 9.25, with another short day ahead. The forecast was for better weather, but with a chance of showers. The guidebook shows a route variant from Cemmaes up to the wind farm on Mynydd Cemais, and this was fine until I reached Tynwtra farm, where I had difficulty finding a bridleway passing the buildings on the left. I couldn't make out whether it should go through the farmyard, though that didn't seem to have a way out, but then I found a rather overgrown path leading into the field to the left of the farm, but with no obvious path to follow. I headed across the field but then found I was drifting too far north and had to head back across until I met the bridleway further along. In retrospect, I think I should have gone through the farmyard. The going was reasonable for a while but got rather overgrown and awkward just before it joined a more major track up the side of Mynydd Cemais. The latter seemed a better option, as it looked like a good track all the way, though it is presumably not a right of way lower down and hence couldn't be used in the guidebook.

In the past, I have always been in rain or mist over Mynydd Cemais, so found it easier just to walk along the service road by the turbines, but today the weather was quite bright with clear views across the valley, so I took the recommended route on a parallel bridleway to the west, which gives much better views down into the valley because of the curvature of the hillside. The views were glorious, with Cadair Idris and the mountains of tomorrow's walk in full view, as well as the Arans further north. Furthermore, the cloud that was covering Cadair Idris earlier was now clear. In places, the route was not always clearly defined, but it wasn't too difficult to follow a line with the best views across open ground wherever necessary. The going wasn't easy, but the views made it well worth the extra effort.

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Wind Farm on Mynydd Cemais
Wind Farm on Mynydd Cemais
Cadair Idris from Mynydd Cemais
Cadair Idris from Mynydd Cemais
Dovey Valley from Mynydd Cemais
Dovey Valley from Mynydd Cemais

At 10.55, I stopped for a drink and a rest overlooking the view, though it was quite cool in the breeze. Despite what seemed like ideal conditions for a wind farm: a strong enough wind but not so strong that the rotors have to be locked for safety reasons, only bout a quarter of them were running. Some men with a lorry were erecting scaffolding around one of the turbine pillars, but this was hardly a reason for most of the others to be stopped. Though these turbines look large from close by, they are much smaller and produce far less electricity than ones that are currently being erected.

I set off again at 11.10 and it wasn't long before I joined the wind farm road, which made the going a lot easier for a while before I reached the end of the road and then dropped down towards the path through the forest. I was just thinking that I hadn't seen any walkers so far, when I noticed a couple in front of me heading for the same path. I didn't catch up with them and stopped for lunch further down where I found a sheltered spot just beyond the forest. The couple didn't have large packs, so I presumed that they were just day walkers who happened to be walking on this bit of the Cambrian Way. Along the way, I came across a large feather with the colouration of those of a red kite, and I wondered if it had come from one.

It was 12.20 when I stopped for my lunch of bara brith and the remainder of my plastic cheese plus some crisps and a couple of chocolate chip cookies. I was feeling a bit more peckish than usual, having not had a cooked breakfast this morning to set me up for the day. It was getting a bit chilly for sitting around, so I set off again at 12.55. The route here descends some way down the valley, only to do an about turn to come back up again at the other side of a boggy area. I could see the couple of walkers across the valley on their way back up, trying to decide which way the path went over the hillside, whilst I was still going down. The boggy area didn't look too bad at the moment after a lot of dry weather and I wondered if it might be better just to cut across. At one time, the only right of way was to go down and back up again, but now this is access land, so there would be no legal objection to taking a short cut, the only question being how difficult the walking would be.

On the way up the track on the other side, there used to be a waymark pointing straight up the steep hillside on the left, while the track carried on along the gentler slope ahead. Although there was a need to go over the hill, I always wondered whether it needed to be tackled so directly up the steep slope rather than along a gentler line. I had also noted that, although the waymark pointed up the steep slope, there was no visible path and no more waymarks further along where they were needed the most. The waymark was no longer there, and I decided to take my own route over the hill, carrying on further up the track for a while and then on a gentler route up the hill. The rough ground over here is quite hard going, hence my concern about taking an easier and possibly shorter route over the top. To further this aim, I put the grid reference of the point where I needed to be on the other side of the hill into my GPS so that I could take the shortest route there. After ploughing through some of the much loved tufty grass, it wasn't long before I reached a quite well defined path leading downhill to the farm buildings of Craig-For below.

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Descent from Esgair Ddu towards Craig-For
Descent from Esgair Ddu towards Craig-For
Bryn-glas Farmhouse
Bryn-glas Farmhouse
Towards Mallwyd
Towards Mallwyd

As I neared the bottom of the hill, I saw the couple some way below having a rest. It seemed a bit of a coincidence that they were taking this particular route and I hoped I might catch them up to see where they were heading, but just before I reached them, they set off again, still heading along the Cambrian Way. The route then followed a track contouring round the hillside past Bryn-glas farmhouse and, although I saw the couple ahead of me from time to time, I lost them when I stopped for another rest at 14.20. I only had a few more miles to go and, for once, I really did have plenty of time to spare, though in the rather cool and overcast conditions, it wasn't conducive to taking long breaks, so I was off again at 14.40. A couple of miles more along a RUPP (road used as a public path) brought me out at Mallwyd near a filling station by the main road.

The filling station had a shop, the only one on the route for quite a long way. I was running short on cash, having not seen a cash machine since Llandovery, so I was hoping that there might be one here. However, the large display outside spelling out their services had tape stuck over the CASH MACHINE part of the sign, so I was out of luck. The food selection in there was also rather limited, but I managed to get a few things for the next couple of days. I did also ask about cash machines, but was told that the nearest ones were in Machynlleth or Dolgellau, both about eleven miles away, and not much use to a walker. However, I had brought a few cheques with me, so could always use those to pay for my B&Bs if necessary. The shop did also serve as a post office, so I was able to post another two maps back home, leaving me with the last two to carry with me.

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Mynydd Copog and Foel Dugoed from near Mallwyd
Mynydd Copog and Foel Dugoed from near Mallwyd
River Dovey near Mallwyd
River Dovey near Mallwyd
Pont Minllyn over River Dovey
Pont Minllyn over River Dovey

The route soon left the main road behind, following a minor road at the other side of the River Dovey, passing some waterfalls along the way. About a mile further on, a path leads across the river again, this time over a bridge beside Pont Minllyn, a 17th century double arched packhorse bridge, close to where the main road crosses the other way. Before crossing the bridge, the path leads through the garden of someone's house, along the bottom of a steeply sloping lawn. A number of trees including a row of conifers had been planted along there. These had now grown quite large and were beginning to block the footpath, so I had to push through branches to get to the stile, which was hidden behind them.

Rather than following the main road through Dinas Mawddwy, the route takes a loop round a minor road through the caravan park, crossing the river again by a footbridge near to the Red Lion, where I had booked for the night. I arrived at 16.40 (checkpoint 21) and found the pub closed, which was only to be expected at this time of day, so I sat at a bench around the back until I heard someone unlocking the doors at 17.00 and I was then able to get in. After a nice hot bath, I went down the road to the phone box, as there was no mobile reception. The village is fortunate enough to have two phone boxes, one at each end of the village and this, at least, was working and would also accept cash.

I returned to the bar for a very good Welsh beef pie with new potatoes and vegetables plus some Reverend James. There were a number of people in there, mainly from the caravan site that I had passed on the way. The landlord was quite young and had only been there for three and a half years, but was very hospitable. When I mentioned about payment, he told me I could charge everything to my room and pay for it with my card, even offering me cash back as well. Back in my room, I took a chance and did some washing, but only things that weren't too difficult to get dry.


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Day 15 - Tuesday 15th June - GPS 14 miles - 2,883 ft ascent

Dinas Mawddwy to Dol-ffanog via Maesglas and and Waun-oer

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 sunshine streaming in through the windows, always an encouraging sign. My clothes had not dried overnight, much as expected, but I arranged them on the windowsill to catch the sun as much as possible to help them along. My feet were still aching a bit, even after a short day's walk, but they were not as bad as on some days. However, my blisters now had a second skin that was fairly well healed over and had not given me much trouble for a while, so could now manage without dressings.

I had a very nice breakfast at eight o'clock in the large dining room to the rear of the pub, where it was already getting very hot in the sunshine. One other couple were in for breakfast, and they came down just as I was leaving. As arranged last night, I paid for everything on my debit card as well as getting 50 cash back to help me along until I reached Barmouth. Although the Red Lion didn't have many residents at the moment, they had a group of photographers staying next week to take photographs of the low-flying RAF planes that fly regularly around these valleys for training. From the mountaintops, it is often possible to see them flying along the valleys down below and gives the opportunity of some interesting photography.

There was hardly a cloud in the sky as I headed off up to join the main road for a short way to the point where a steep, narrow path climbs up the hillside through the forest. The steep ascent was helped in places by steps and, after a while, I reached a level forest track and went along it for a while following the waymark. At the end of the track I realised that I had missed the next section of steep footpath climbing up further through the forest, so I had to backtrack a little. The path was well waymarked, but I must have been daydreaming as I went past the first time. There was more steep climbing through the forest, which was very dense in places, making it look as if the light had been switched off, with just the odd shaft of sunshine here and there managing to penetrate through.

At the top of the path, the forest started to thin out and there were rhododendrons to add a lovely splash of colour to the view of the mountains that was now appearing. Some people are opposed to rhododendrons growing in the wild and would like to see them removed from the hillsides, as they are not a native species. My response to this would be to ask just how far back in history we should go to get back to what is considered to be a natural state. Should it be pre-Victorian, Middle Ages, Roman times, Iron Age etc. For as long as people have been sailing across the English Channel, there has been the possibility of the spread of other species into the British countryside, and even without that it has been possible for seeds to be carried by the wind or by birds, so we may just as well accept things as they are, unless they threaten to endanger other species in a big way.

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Emerging above forest from Dinas Mawddwy
Emerging above forest from Dinas Mawddwy
Cerist Valley from Foel Dinas
Cerist Valley from Foel Dinas
Craig Maesglase from Foel Dinas
Craig Maesglase from Foel Dinas

Once out of the forest, I was now on the narrow path that follows a contour round the steep hillside. The weather conditions were perfect, with marvellous views of the valley and the surrounding mountains. The only problem - there is always something - I had to keep looking down all the time to see where my feet were going on the narrow path, so only got a proper view if I stopped walking to take it all in, which I kept doing from time to time. The path got even more difficult further along, just before I reached Bwlch Siglen at 10.30 (checkpoint 22), and a strong, fresh wind sprang up. There are two waterfalls at the other side of the valley and these can be quite impressive at times, but with all the recent dry weather, they had only trickles of water today.

From the ridge at the head of the valley, I could see the wind farm on Mynydd Cemais, on the route of yesterday's walk. A bit of cloud had now gathered, as I made my way up the steep path towards Maesglase, but there was still quite a bit of sunshine. Where the path levelled off a bit, there was some shelter from the wind, so I stopped for a rest and a drink at 10.55 and also laid out some of my damp washing to dry in the sun and wind. I was quite surprised to see three walkers coming my way, as I had become so accustomed to being on my own for most of the time recently. The first walker came past, followed by the couple I had seen ahead of me yesterday. It turned out that he, Richard Thomas, was walking the whole of the Cambrian Way and had started off a few days before me, taking more time to complete the earlier stages. A number of friends were joining him for various parts of the walk, whilst his wife was providing backup with a car to drop him off and pick him up from the start and finish of each day's walk. They were staying in B&Bs for a few days at a time before moving on to the next area. It was Richard and some friends who had written in the visitors' book in Claerddu bothy. Richard was with another couple today, but only the lady was with him yesterday.

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Maesglase and Maen Du from Foel Dinas
Maesglase and Maen Du from Foel Dinas
Bwlch Siglen
Bwlch Siglen
Nant Maesglase towards Dinas Mawddwy
Nant Maesglase towards Dinas Mawddwy

For the rest of the way, Richard was following a similar schedule to mine, so I would probably keep meeting him from time to time. It always makes walks more interesting when there are others to meet up with and to share experiences of the walk. After a good, long chat, I set off again at 11.40, with superb views from the ridge on the way to Maesglase giving views of the Arans and Berwyns. Further along near Maen Du, the view opened up to a whole range of the mountains of Snowdonia, with the Rhinogs, the Moelwyns and Snowdon as well as Cadair Idris, which looked somewhat different from this angle. To the south, Plynlimon could also clearly be seen with its two rounded summits. The three others had gone on ahead of me, and I caught up with them again here, where they told me that Richard's wife had dropped them off this morning at Dinas Mawddwy, and she was picking them up again from Bwlch Llyn Bach on the A487.

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Richard and Friends on Craig Maesglase
Richard and Friends on Craig Maesglase
Arans from Maesglase
Arans from Maesglase
Rhinogs from Maesglase
Rhinogs from Maesglase

I was surprised to find that Richard had only got lost a couple of times so far, which was far better than I had done, even though I had done the walk twice before. This could be put down to a number of factors:

  1. He was using the 1:25,000 OS maps, which show more detail than the 1:50,000 ones I was using.
  2. On the first time doing any walk there is more of a tendency to study the route all the way, looking out for any landmarks and turnings, and double checking everything along the way.
  3. Having walking companions, as Richard had for a fair proportion of the way, gives extra pairs of eyes to spot any landmarks or to query any decisions on the route.
  4. Familiarity breeds contempt, and there is a tendency to march ahead with confidence at times, relying on fading memory from previous walks, rather than checking the map and guidebook regularly.
  5. I often get engrossed in the scenery and, in doing so, tend to just keep following the path I am on rather than keeping an eye out for where I should be taking a turning.

On Maen Du, I stopped for lunch at 12.25 and was off again at 13.00, making my way steadily onwards, taking my time and lingering to enjoy the views and stopping from time to time wherever I wanted. My feeling is that, on a day where there is not a high mileage to cover, there is no point in rushing to get to the end of the walk if the weather is fine. It is far better to stay up in the mountains for as long as possible to get maximum enjoyment of the scenery and just head down to my accommodation in time for my evening meal. This generally means getting there by about 18.00. In cold or wet weather, it generally makes more sense to come down from the mountains to the shelter of the valleys sooner, and this can result in arriving somewhat earlier, which is not always convenient for accommodation providers. On short days, it is not uncommon for me to stretch things out a bit too much by setting off late, lingering and stopping too much, and taking diversions from the route, to such an extent that I end up rushing for the last few miles because it is getting late.

There were fine views all the way along to Cribin Fawr. The ridge is broader there, so the views were more limited, but still good in the fine weather. I stopped again at 14.45 just as I was dropping down from Cribin towards Waun-oer. From here, there was a fine view of Cadair Idris just beyond Waun-oer, with the Rhinogs off to the north and the whole length of the Snowdonia Mountains trailing off into the distance. There were some tiny figures at the summit of Waun-oer, which I took to be the other three, as I had seen nobody else out walking all day. It was very warm and there was not much wind, so I decided on a spot of sunbathing. This was all very well for a few minutes, but then some cloud came over and a cool wind sprang up, putting a stop to that.

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Cadair Idris from Craig Portas
Cadair Idris from Craig Portas
Looking back to Maesglase from Craig Portas
Maesglase from Craig Portas
Waun-oer and Cadair Idris from Cribin Fawr
Waun-oer and Cadair Idris from Cribin Fawr

There was now about three miles to go to Bwlch Llyn Bach, where Richard and his friends were being picked up, and about the same distance again to my B&B at Dol-ffanog. A fighter plane came past in the valley below, just one of many I had seen in the last few days. There was a steep drop down to Cribin, then a steep path up to Waun-oer. On the way down, the path seemed to be more well trodden on the forest side of the fence, but when I got to the dip, I had to climb the fence, so I should have taken the ladder stile into the forest on Cribin, rather than a smaller stile that crossed over to the other side. However, coming up Waun-oer, some of the young conifers were starting to overgrow the path and it was better to be outside the forest fence. The fence was not very high and had no barbed wire, so it was quite easy to get from one side to the other wherever the path seemed easiest.

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Rhinogs and Snowdon from Summit of Waun-oer
Rhinogs and Snowdon from Waun-oer
Maesglase from Waun-oer
Maesglase from Waun-oer
Cadair Idris from Waun-oer
Cadair Idris from Waun-oer

I continued along the ridge past Mynydd Ceiswyn, with a few ups and downs on the way, then kept a careful eye open for the turning down towards Bwlch Llyn Bach, which I had missed last time in the mist and rain. I need not have worried too much, as it was quite easy to see today, with a large ladder stile to the left and a waymarked path to the right, which I needed to take. The path was fairly well defined at first, but was not so clear further down near the crossing of a minor road at Cefn y Clawdd. However, I noticed a waymark near a wall and was able to pick up a path again for the rest of the way.

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North from Cefn y Clawdd
North from Cefn y Clawdd
Tal-y-llyn Lake from Bwlch Llyn Bach
Tal-y-llyn Lake from Bwlch Llyn Bach

At Bwlch Llyn Bach, I walked down the busy main road towards Minffordd, but then found that there was a footpath running to the left of the road as far as the car parking area. From there, it was not very far along the road to where the old road runs off parallel to the main road for most of the way to Minffordd. Once I was off the main road, it was far more peaceful, but it started to get quite hot now that I had lost the breeze that had been keeping me cool up in the mountains. I decided that it would be good to call for a pint at the Minffordd Hotel as I was passing, but when I got there I found that it was closed and looked as if it had shut down. However, it must have just been closed for holidays, as I phoned there after my walk and they were still open. There was a phone box nearby, so I thought I would phone home, as there was the usual lack of mobile reception down in the valley. The phone wouldn't take cash calls, but would take cards subject to a 1 connection fee plus the cost of the call. I picked up the receiver and there was no dialling tone, so I had failed in both of my objectives.

From here, I turned onto the minor road to Dol-ffanog, where I had booked my B&B. There was considerably less traffic, but the road was narrower and, as is often the case, there always seem to be vehicles coming in both directions at once. There can be periods of five minutes without anything at all and then two come together just where I am walking.

I arrived at 17.40, and found the place was being looked after by a young couple, who didn't seem to know that I was coming, but they phoned their mother, who confirmed that I was booked. They were very helpful and showed me to my room, which was actually a self-catering apartment in a barn conversion, with its own patio leading into large gardens. These are normally let to groups of people for a few days or a week at a time, but they can be let on a bed and breakfast basis, depending on how busy it is. When I had wanted to book just for one night, they were unsure as to whether to take the booking, not wanting to risk losing a whole week's rent for just one single B&B, though when I wanted dinner and packed lunch as well, they decided that it was worthwhile, especially as June is not a busy time of year.

The young couple, who were the son of the owners and his girlfriend, were looking after things, as the parents had had to rush off in a hurry earlier. They were staying in one of the other apartments in the barn, and made a very nice meal that they served in my room. I had lovage soup, chicken pesto and cheesecake with ice cream, as well as a bottle of cold beer and a jug of juice, which were very much appreciated in the hot weather. They also let me phone home from their landline.

On such a warm and sunny evening, it was an ideal opportunity to do the rest of my washing, which I could put out in the sun to dry. After my meal, I decided to go for a stroll down to Tal-y-llyn Lake, which wasn't far away along a footpath from where I was staying. It was very tranquil, with sheep all around, ducks and geese, and the odd fish leaping out of the water to catch flies. I walked part of the way around the lake by the water's edge, but then had to join a road used as a public path to get to the far end, where I called into the Pen-y-bont Hotel for a pint of Butty Bach bitter from the Wye Valley Brewery, and took it outside to a table overlooking the lake.

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Tal-y-llyn Lake in the evening sunshine
Tal-y-llyn Lake

By this time, most things around were in the shadow of Cadair Idris, so only the tops of the hills were glowing in the evening sun. From certain directions, the lake looked a yellowish green colour from the reflection of the hillsides in the water. The loss of the sun, however, also meant that it started to get quite cold, so I retreated back into the bar to finish off my pint, where a number of people were watching the World Cup football on the television.

I continued on round the lake past the Ty'n-y-cornel Hotel, which was somewhat up market from the bunkhouse of the same name that I had passed some days ago in the Doethie Valley. The remainder of the circuit of the lake was along the road, but I was pleased to find a pavement for about three quarters of the way, though there was not much traffic at this time. As I passed the head of the lake near to Dol-ffanog, I saw a heron fly off with its large wingspan - it is always a wonder watching birds as large as this defying gravity and taking to the air.

Most of my washing had got a head start at drying whilst the sun had been shining, but now it was in the shadow of the mountains, so I took it inside. The walk around the lake was a good three miles, and I had been walking it my trainers without socks, as I had washed most of them. When I took off my trainers the left one had a lot of blood around the left heel, which had managed OK all day in my boots. The rough edges of the hardened skin surrounding the blister area had been catching on the fabric lining of the trainers causing the bleeding. I wore a sock in bed to avoid getting any blood on the sheets, though I didn't think that would happen now that I had stopped walking.


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