Part Cambrian Way 2016

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 5 - Days 7 & 8 YHA Brecon to Rhandirmwyn


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Day 7 - Friday 10th June - 18.3 miles, 6400 ft ascent (Map measurements) - GPS 21.3 miles

The GPS mileage figure includes 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.

YHA Brecon to YHA Llandduesant via Craig Cerrig-gleisiad, Fan Nedd, Fan Gyhirych, Fan Brycheiniog and Pics Du

Breakfast was at 8.00 and I spent quite a bit of time prior to that trying to sort my things out in very cramped conditions whilst also trying not to disturb others too much. A trip to the drying room confirmed what I had expected, that there was no heat on in there, so my things were still wet. My shorts were old ones with several zips that kept breaking one by one, so after a few repair jobs of swapping bits from one zip to another, the final zip had now broken. I had a spare pair of new shorts with me, so the old ones went in the bin, saving me from trying to dry them and also saving a bit of weight to carry. This just left my wet shirts and pants that I could hang on the back of my rucksack to dry. By hunting around the building, I found some of my missing things: near the shower, in the kitchen and even one thing that had been handed in at reception, so at least I wouldn't be delayed any more after breakfast trying to find them, and I managed to get off just before 9.00.

The first thing I found was that my GPS route would not work. I didn't realise at first, as it failed to load, still leaving yesterday's route loaded and this caused me confusion as I was setting off from the hostel. I had had a problem with the route to Talybont where the last few miles were missing, but this time nothing at all would load, so I just had to revert to normal map reading. I started to have my suspicions as to the cause of this and became more convinced as other discrepancies came up. OS Maps, the online mapping program from which I had generated the GPX files, had a new feature in National Park areas whereby it is possible to lock onto a path and follow it for long stretches without having to plot all the intermediate points. I had used GPX files that I had produced for the Cambrian Way website without using this facility but then modified them to go from stage to stage of this particular walk customising them to go between each place of accommodation I was using. In doing so, I had made some modifications using this locking-on facility without thinking any more about it. In this particular file, I had locked onto a long stretch of the the route, whereas on some others it was just for small parts, which caused some minor problems, but in that case the file just failed to load without any indication why.

This is the joy of working with Ordnance Survey software, which is sold as a companion to the Garmin etrex 10 that I was using. Not only does OS Maps fail to cope with a track log from the Garmin if it is more than the duration of a stroll around the park, but some of the files produced by OS Maps are not capable of being used on the Garmin for whatever reason. This is a fine time to find this out, in the middle of a walk, but at least I had a good set of maps to fall back on. I just wish the Ordnance Survey would stick to what they do best, which is making maps, and not venture into areas where they have neither the competence nor the commitment to make things work properly, launching half-developed products and then abandoning development before they are working properly.

This is the first time I had ever walked this part of the route, known as the Cnewr Estate route, as there are a number of options across the Brecon Beacons determined mainly by what accommodation options are being taken. Previously I have stayed in Ystradfellte, which makes the previous day's walk longer but with an easier walk over the Llanddeusant. One of the reasons I wanted to take the Cnewr route was because it goes over a few of the mountains that I had not climbed before. It also passes a few landmarks that I have only seen in photographs, such as Maen Llia and the Cray Tower.

Having got used to the ease of route finding using my GPS, even if some of the route was not exactly as it should be because of minor errors in the GPX files, it took me a while to get back into the map reading mode of navigation, and it took some checking of grid references and landmarks to make sure I was heading in the right direction, but I then found the way up the steep ridge to Craig Cerrig-gleisiad. This was the first of the mountains I had not climbed before, which is why I was taking this route over the mountain top rather than the guidebook route, which omits the summit by either going further south or taking an optional detour through the Nature Reserve to the north. A sign at the start of the ascent warned of the need to be properly equipped and that parts of the route pass close to the cliff edges. Tt was very steep with a bit of climbing and scrambling needed in places, but it offered some good views back down overlooking the nature reserve, down the valley towards Brecon and over to Pen y Fan. After a few short rests I made it to the top where I joined the Beacons Way for while, rejoining the Nature Reserve route at the pass between Craig Cerrig-gleisiad and Fan Frynych. The latter was another mountain I had not climbed before but with an already tough schedule ahead, I had to limit any diversions to the minimum, so this mountain will have to wait until another day.

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Craig Cerrig-gleisiad
Craig Cerrig-gleisiad
Pen y Fan from Craig Cerrig-gleisiad
Pen y Fan from Craig Cerrig-gleisiad

The going was quite easy now and there were a few more people about as I was now on the Beacons Way for a while. It was also the weekend, which brings out more walkers and I saw a group of three women coming the opposite way. Another little diversion I had planned was to a sheltered resting spot that had been pointed out by Richard Tyler, Chairman of the Cambrian Way Trust. It meant only a fairly modest detour, so I started to head over in that direction. A group of several soldiers or cadets were not too far behind me and, when I turned off the Beacons Way over open ground, they followed me. I was a bit concerned that they did so because they thought I was following the same route as them, so I called out to them to say I was heading in a different direction. It turned out that they were also going off across the moorland, but in a slightly different direction and did actually know where they were going.

Before long I reached a place by a stream that I took to be Richard's resting spot, but when I later compared the description, I wasn't so sure. There was no time for any more meandering, so I just took a direct line over the hillside to where I rejoined the Cambrian Way, heading towards Fan Nedd, the next mountain on the route, passing near to Maen Llia, a standing stone. I had intended to go close by Maen Llia, but without my GPS to follow, I ended up bypassing it on my way to Fan Nedd, and only saw it from up above. The route doesn't go to the actual summit, only to a cairn with good views over the surrounding area, which was a good place for a lunch break and it also had a good mobile signal so I was able to call home. Whilst I was there, a chap and his dog came walking up from a different direction and he didn't even know what mountain he was on, having just climbed up from the road below. A young lady also came by a bit later.

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Fan Nedd over field of cotton grass
Fan Nedd over field of cotton grass
Fan Nedd Summit towards Carmarthen Vans
Fan Nedd Summit towards Carmarthen Vans
Cairn on Fan Nedd
Cairn on Fan Nedd

After a rest, I walked the quarter of a mile to the actual summit, which involved very little extra ascent, then back again to resume my way along the route towards Fan Gyhiraych, joining a very wide stony track along the hillside. Further along I realised that there was a fairly faint path with marker posts running parallel, which was over a grassy surface and would have been more pleasant for walking. Before turning off towards the summit of Fan Gyhirych, there was another minor diversion I had decided to take to the south to climb Fan Fraith and this involved only a very gentle ascent although it was over quite rough ground so was not very fast for walking. From the summit, I could see down the hillside to the south where two farmers were rounding up sheep in an area that is otherwise very remote and deserted. I returned by more or less the same route having added a bit over half of a mile to my walk, then headed in a line over the open moorland towards Fan Gyhirych, joining up with a footpath to the summit along the way.

Some of these mountains are quite flat topped, so the best views are obtained away from the summits where the ground drops away more steeply. By now the weather was rather overcast, so the views were not as good as they might have been. The route down from Fan Gyhirych is rather vague, as the direct route down the very steep hillside is not advisable and the general idea is to go in a wide loop trying to take a somewhat gentler descent, but there is no real footpath to follow and the lie of the land and the direction of all the sheep tracks always seem to be heading slightly uphill, so it was just a matter of trying to cut across and head downwards wherever wasn't too steep or difficult underfoot. Eventually I reached a path which joined the road down a steep drop not far from the Cray Tower. There was some speculation as to the purpose of this tower, which was built as a ventilation shaft above the underground waterway from the Cray Reservoir. It makes a good landmark and is close to one of the alternative checkpoints at the road crossing. I reached there by 5.00 and, as there was mobile reception nearby, it was a good time to ring Llanddeusant hostel to warn of my late arrival. A young lady warden answered and said it was no problem, as she was staying there overnight. I told her it would be between eight and nine o'clock before I would reach there, as I still had seven and a half miles to walk over some quite high mountains.

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Cray Tower (Crai in Welsh)
Cray Tower (Crai in Welsh)
Fan Gyhirych back beyond Cray Tower
Fan Gyhirych back beyond Cray Tower

From there the route goes up over the top of another hillside and down to a minor road by the upper reaches of the River Tawe. By now I had already done quite a lot of ups and downs over hills and mountains, but I was feeling in good form, my feet were doing well, and I had quite a bit of energy left, so I pressed on at a good pace, spurred on by the beautiful scenery. It was starting to get misty with some drizzle as I made my way up to Fan Brycheiniog past Llyn y Fan Fawr, where I met a couple on their way down. This surprised me a bit, as this area generally has very few visitors despite its amazing scenery, though now that the Beacons Way follows this route, it has become more popular and not the secret gem that it used to be. I was actually in the cloud for a bit of the way but most of the time I had some views, which still looked stunning even with poor visibility.

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Note: There are many more of my photos taken in better weather conditions on the Cambrian Way website

Waterfall in Nant y Llyn
Waterfall in Nant y Llyn
Llyn y Fan Fawr
Llyn y Fan Fawr

I kept going without having much in the way of a rest, dropping down off the hillside and even jogging for part of the gentle, grassy descent to meet the road leading towards the hostel. This is another one of the places that can come as a shock at the end of a long day, as the road climbs up again to the hostel, which is on a hill. It is only about 160 ft of ascent, but it can seem bad if you are not expecting it. Fortunately, I was prepared on this occasion, so took it all in my stride at quite a fast pace and reached the hostel at 8.15.

There was nobody around at first so I started making use of the kitchen facilities to make a cup of tea and started to think about making a meal from the things I had brought with me. About 10 minutes later the warden came down. It seems that, although this hostel is normally manned by volunteer wardens for a week or more at a time, there was a gap in the diary so wardens had to be shipped in from other hostels. The very pleasant young lady had come from YHA Cardiff, and she was quite surprised when I said that I had stayed at that hostel just a week ago. In fact, she had worked a shift on the evening that I checked in, but had probably finished before I arrived. It would have been quite a coincidence if she had been the one to check me in in both places. She was very chatty and helpful despite there being about half a century difference in our ages, and she made me feel very welcome.

To my benefit, there had been a large group in previously and they had brought a whole lot of milk, butter and other items, and had left what they hadn't used for anyone else to have. After my cup of tea, I had a shower and then came back down to make something to eat. One of the things that had concerned me right from the start when I booked my night here was how I could make a sufficiently nutritious meal without carrying too much weight. I had brought two packets of dried pasta dishes at 500 kcal each that I had carried from the start, plus a packet of oat biscuits that I had bought in Talybont. The pasta dishes could be made in the microwave by just adding some water, but milk and butter were also recommended and I was able to add these from the food that had been left, thus adding more calories and a bit more taste. Four oat biscuits then served as dessert. After walking for over 20 miles with about 6500 ft of ascent, my meal was not very substantial, but it was enough to keep hunger at bay.

This time I checked that there was heating in the drying room before I chanced putting anything in there. It was quite warm, so I was able to dry out the things that were still damp from the day before. I was the only one in the male dormitory, so I had plenty of space for my things and no worries about others disturbing me or me disturbing others, though I didn't sleep all that well as the bed was quite hard and my feet were sore.


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Day 8 - Saturday 11th June - 17.3 miles, 2900 ft ascent (Map measurements) - GPS 18.7 miles

The GPS mileage figure includes 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.

YHA Llanddeusant to Rhandirmwyn (Royal Oak Inn) via Myddfai and Llandovery

I was down for breakfast by 8.00, making my second pasta dish, again with plenty of butter and milk. The lady who was also staying there offered me some of her bread, and there was butter and marmalade left from the group, so I was also able to have a couple of slices of toast and marmalade to help fill me up. I knew I would be able to get food at lunchtime, as I was heading to Llandovery and would be passing through Myddfai where there is a Community Café.

I was off by 9.15, with a bit of drizzle in the air, but it was still fairly bright. The drizzle wasn't enough to need waterproofs, but there was a lot of long, wet grass to go through, so my feet were soon soaking wet. This part of the walk is in an area of more gently rolling hills rather than mountains and is pleasant walking country, though not so dramatic. Unfortunately, after the initial few miles over commons, there are not many suitable footpaths so there is quite a lot of walking on minor roads. As mentioned earlier about the descent of Blorenge, there have been some comments from the Brecon Beacons National Parks Authority (BBNPA) about short sections of the Cambrian Way that are not on public rights of way. There is another of these where the route turns up a lane to reach the common. This is an obvious route up to the common that must have been used by locals for years, but it is shown on Ordnance Survey maps as 'Other road, drive or track' and these are said to be "Not necessarily rights of way", but then this statement applies to all roads and paths. In the absence of anything to say it is a right of way, the BBNPA take this to mean it is not. My faith lies more with Tony Drake, who was very careful about only using routes with access to the public, though this was often based to Common Law rights established after years of continuous access.

After the pleasant walking over moorland paths with views further on over the Usk Reservoir, I dropped down to Sarnau, joining the minor road to Myddfai, and was looking forward to reaching the café there, but when I arrived there was a notice on the door saying "Sorry, closed due to a wedding", so there was nothing to do but carry on to Llandovery. The drizzle turned to rain for a while, so I had to stop to put on my waterproofs, but it only lasted for five minutes and then there was even a little bit of sunshine to brighten things up for a short while.

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Myddfai Community Centre
Myddfai Community Centre
Statue of Llewelyn ap Gruffydd Fychan
Statue of Llewelyn ap Gruffydd Fychan

Note: There are many more of my photos taken in better weather conditions on the Cambrian Way website

It was 2.15 when I reached Llandovery, where I bought some sandwiches, an apple and some yoghurt, and ate them on a seat next to the Tourist Information Centre by the Castle which has a 20 ft high stainless steel statue adjacent to it. The statue was erected in 2001 to commemorate Llewelyn ap Gruffydd Fychan who was executed by Edward IV in 1401 as punishment for his support of Owain Glyndwr's rebellion. It was very busy in the town with a street market and other activities centred around pubs and other businesses. I have long since learned to avoid the temptation of a pint or two in the middle of a walk, as it can very easily lead to a feeling of lethargy, which is not very good when there is still a long way to go. After calling home with a progress report, I headed off out of town at 14.50.

There followed quite a lot of road walking with not a lot of views, but the roads were fairly quiet and the ascent steady. As I was walking, a chap joined me and started chatting. His dog has arthritis now so he couldn't bring it with him for its daily walk any more, but he was keeping up the walking himself to stay fit and active. He wasn't into going right to the top, so turned around when he reached one of the farms. I don't often have anyone to talk to when I am walking, so it helped to pass the time on a less interesting section of the walk.

Although today's walk was not very strenuous, I was starting to feel weary, which was probably due to yesterday's exertions catching up on me, but I just kept plodding on at a steady pace, feeling thankful that I didn't have any serious mountain climbing to do. I felt like having a rest, but there was nowhere to sit down, especially as everywhere was wet. This is quite common when walking along roads and lanes, whereas over the hills and mountains there are often stones or fallen trees to be found. Eventually I reached the point where the route leaves the road to follow a track and I managed, with difficulty, to find a place to sit for a while.

It was now mainly downhill for the rest of the way to Rhandirmwyn, partly on tracks with a bit of road walking in between. Where the road comes to a T junction, there is a track going steeply down opposite and this was very overgrown and badly eroded by past heavy rain. On the Ordnance Survey maps this is shown as a Byway Open to All Traffic (BOAT), but there was also a sign saying that it was now closed to everything except walkers and horse riders, and it was easy to see why. To the casual reader, I apologise for going into a lot of detail at times like this, but this is intended to help other walkers who are coming this way.

For a long time this track has proved difficult to navigate due to a lack of maintenance and signage. The route does a zigzag through the trees and, at the bottom of the hill there is a footpath sign going off to the left. However, this leads towards the riverside footpath going in the opposite direction from Rhandirmwyn, though it would be possible to double back where the river is joined. The route taken by the Cambrian Way follows the BOAT, which runs through a field towards Gwernpwll Farm. There is a tied up gate leading there with a sign saying to keep to the edge of the field, but this is the boggiest part of the field and, in any case, there are no crops being grown there, so it is better to walk further to the right.

The buildings of Gwernpwll Farm are now owned by Coleg Elidyr to house young adults with learning difficulties and disabilities including autism and Down's Syndrome. The lack of signage makes it difficult to find which route to take, coupled with the fact that anyone who is around thinks that it is private and may try to tell people to turn back. One recent walker had someone gesticulating at him and speaking in a language he couldn't understand, making him feel intimidated, and making him take a route that caused him a lot of difficulties. I have walked this way before, so had more idea of what I was looking for, but still found it difficult to find the track going onward, which is somewhat hidden by trees and looks as if it is private. I didn't meet anyone and was able to continue unhindered, finding my way at the bottom of the hill over a gate where I could see a stile to the riverside path at the opposite side of the field.

Further investigation makes it appear that when the BOAT was closed to all but walkers and horse riders, the County Council just marked it as closed on their own definitive maps, but did not pass on any information to the Ordnance Survey, who still continue to show its original status. The track and any signage has obviously been neglected since the closure, and the people in the college assume it is a private track and are rightly concerned when members of the public come through when there are vulnerable young adults around. The matter has been passed on to Carmarthenshire County Council to resolve and they will hopefully put up some signage and also make the college aware of the right of way, though this may take some time. Alternatively, it may be possible to divert the right of way to join the riverside path before reaching the buildings, but we will have to wait and see what is decided.

The riverside path is not the easiest to follow, as there are tree roots and other obstacles, but after so much road walking it was a welcome relief. The Royal Oak Inn is up the steep road from the bridge at Rhandirmwyn, but I cut the the corner off by rejoining the BOAT by the Sewage Works, reaching the pub at 6.15. It was busy in there when I arrived, being a Saturday evening and when I was shown to my room I found that there was a bathroom next door rather than a shower. It is a rare luxury to have a nice soak in a bath when on a walk, but the low ceilings of some of these old inns make showers difficult to install, so the baths are still retained.

This is a CAMRA pub with lots of awards for their real ales displayed on the wall, and their food was up to a high standard as well. I had slow cooked pork in a bun followed by cherry crumble along with a couple of pints of their real ales before going back to my room to rest. There was an oil filled radiator in the room, that was useful for drying out my boots and socks, which had got very wet.


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