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 6 - Days 9 & 10 Rhandirmwyn to Pontrhydfendigaid


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Day 9 - Sunday 12th June - 20.2 miles, 3400 ft ascent (Map measurements) - GPS 23.2 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.

Rhandirmwyn (Royal Oak Inn) to Pontrhydfendigaid (Red Lion Hotel) via Doethie Valley and Garn Gron

I woke up at about 5 o'clock to the sound of torrential rain hammering down. I also felt wet, which means I must have been sweating very heavily. I have noticed this sometimes after having done some strenuous walking and then having a big meal, that my body goes into overdrive trying to use the food to build up muscle and replenish any reserves that have been lost. Because I only had a very light meal the day before, this could have been a delayed reaction following last night's quite large meal. I was beginning to fear the worst for today's walk if the rain continued as it was, but after a while it eased off and stopped, but it was still damp and dingy as I went down to breakfast at 8.30.

Today was going to be another long day, and I would have preferred an earlier start, but this is often not an option at the weekend. There were two couples down at the same time as me and the man who had been running the bar was doing everything on his own and the cooked breakfasts took a long time to arrive, but when it did so, at 9.00, it was delicious. In catering it is quite common practice to part pre-cook things such as sausages that take a long time, but this had all been freshly cooked, which was better from the point of view of the taste. I ate it quickly, then rushed to get everything together and was off at about 9.20. I rang the Red Lion in Pontrhydfendigaid to say I would arrive between 7 and 8 in the evening and enquired about the availability of food, which is sometimes a problem on a Sunday. They said that last orders were at 8.45, so it gave me some time in reserve should it take me longer than anticipated.

The route follows the river for a while after crossing the bridge to avoid some of the road walking. Though not shown on the Ordnance Survey maps, there is a path going further along coming out nearer to the Towy Bridge Inn, and I had noticed this when passing in the car on a recent visit to the area, but it wasn't very obvious going from this direction, so I turned off up to the road following the sign as I had done in the past. When I passed the sign for the other path further along the road, it looked rather overgrown, so I was probably wise in taking the route I did.

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River Towy, Rhandirmwyn
River Towy, Rhandirmwyn

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

The dull weather didn't matter so much, as most of the views are of things that are quite close, and the coolness is better for walking. As I was passing the Towy Bridge Inn, I noticed the new owner outside. I knew it had just changed hands and that the bar had reopened but they were not yet doing meals. I had a chat with him and he said that they had been refurbishing the kitchen and expected to start serving food at the end of June. It is slightly confusing here, as the name of the pub suggests that the bridge should be called Towy Bridge, whereas the maps call it Rhandirmwyn Bridge which would be a more appropriate name for the unnamed bridge at Rhandirmwyn itself.

I continued along the road and must have been daydreaming again, as I suddenly realised that my GPS was showing I was not on the route, having missed the turning some way back, so I had to do an about turn and go back along the road. This added an extra 0.7 miles there and back. This always seems to happen on long days where there is not much time to spare, but it is just one of those things. There is quite a lot of road walking on this section, but by not crossing the river by the Towy Bridge Inn, about a mile of the route is off the road on a track. This is all well and good and a welcome relief, but it wasn't such good news today. The track was very overgrown with long grass, ferns and nettles, all of which were soaking wet from the overnight rain. This meant the my feet soon got soaked and even my shorts got quite wet. Wet nettles tend to droop, making them hang over the path and they are also more virulent when they have had a good watering. It was almost impossible to avoid getting stung without stopping to put on my leggings, which in turn would have needed me to take off my boots, so I just pressed ahead trying to avoid them as much as I could, but ending up with quite a lot of stings. Fortunately, wherever there are nettles, there are generally dock leaves, so I was able to rub the stings with some of these and reduce their effect.

With all the wet grass around it was not easy to find good places to rest, but my legs and feet were doing well and the walking was easy, so I happily continued until 12.50 without a rest, not even for a drink, as I was not so thirsty now that the weather was cool. Despite the dull weather, the views along the Doethie Valley were still lovely, as they didn't rely on long distance visibility. After part of my lunch, I set off again at 1.15 heading for Ty'n-y-cornel Hostel / Bunkhouse. There were problems caused recently when heavy rainfall washed away the track where the route crosses Nant y Rhiw, just before Ty'n-y-cornel causing the route to be closed for some time. This has now been repaired and a new footbridge has been built. There is often somebody at the hostel and they invite walkers to call in for a cup of tea. I also wanted to take a look at the memorial seat that was put there in memory of Tony Drake. There was nobody around when I arrived at 2.30, and the door was locked with a key code lock, so I couldn't venture inside, though there is shelter available in the out buildings if needed. On the door is a list of people to contact for the access code, but there is no mobile reception for a long way, so this is not much help to anyone. It is therefore important for anyone who is expecting to stay, or who has booked at a quiet time, to make sure they have obtained the access code if it is going to be needed before arriving.

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New Footbridge, Ty'n-y-cornel
New Footbridge, Ty'n-y-cornel
Tony Drake Memorial Seat, Ty'n-y-cornel
Tony Drake Memorial Seat, Ty'n-y-cornel

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

The weather was reasonable, so I sat on the Tony Drake seat for a drink and a rest before heading onwards towards the Nantymaen road junction. Where the track ends, this section can be notoriously boggy, so it is better to keep away from the edge of the forest where it is worst and keep on the higher ground a few hundred yards away. I managed to find a fairly reasonable route by following a number of tracks and footpaths, some fairly clear and others intermittent, going over or skirting round some of this higher ground. This made it far better than on the previous occasion I had used this route. I had hoped to keep this track log from my GPS to update the GPX file on the Cambrian Way website, but the log was lost later in the walk due to lack of memory in my GPS, so I just had to adjust the GPX file as best I could using online mapping and aerial photographs.

The Nantymaen road junction is known for its iconic red telephone box, which is one of the most remote in Wales, and this is in an area where there is little or no mobile reception. It was totally vandalised several years ago and has not been repaired since, as BT is trying to opt out of maintaining rural phone boxes. These cost quite a lot to maintain whilst bringing in very little revenue, so it is easy to see why they adopt this stance. The fact it may be a life saver for someone stuck in the snow doesn't seem to come into it. I stopped for the rest of my lunch at 4.30 on a spot overlooking the phone box and the road junction before setting off on the final leg of the walk over Garn Gron to Pontrhydfendigaid. I have often found it difficult to find my way over here without ending up heading over rough, boggy ground, but this time I was following the route using my GPS, which avoided all the problems making it the easiest time I had ever done this part of the walk. Garn Gron summit was overcast, cool and windy, but there was not any rain. This was the first place I had found any mobile reception since early on, so I phoned home, knowing that I may well lose the signal lower down. I had warned my wife that reception would be very poor in the wild area of Wales, so she was prepared for me not being in contact earlier.

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Nant y Maen Phone Box
Nant y Maen Phone Box

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

Although my GPS helped in getting to the summit of Garn Gron, it didn't help all that much on the way down, which was over a lot of rough boggy ground with few paths visible on the satellite images that had been used for plotting the GPX files. I think the advice here would be to keep at a higher level until further round the hillside, as it is less boggy on the higher, sloping ground than on the gentler lower slopes where the water collects more.

The GPS did help again when I came off the common and was finding my way to the road. There is a waymarked footpath, but it is still rather hard to follow in places, as it is obviously not used very much. In one place there was a large tree with low lying branches right next to a broken down stile. The branches had grown so much that it was almost impossible to get to the stile and I had to find a way around it. Finally, I reached the caravan park and then the road into Pontrhydfendigaid, reaching the Red Lion next to the bridge at 8.05, not far off my estimated time window and in good time to get a meal.

There had been some changes since I stayed here before, with a young couple now running things. My room was part of a new loft conversion, with a sloping ceiling and large beams running through the middle of the room, which had a very modern en-suite with bath and shower and an expensive leather easy chair in the bedroom. It was a bit late for me to have a bath, as I needed to be back down to get a meal, so I settled for a shower. I then had fish and chips in the bar followed by Eton mess and a couple of pints of bitter before returning to my room. There was no mobile reception, so it was just as well I called home from the summit of Garn Gron.

I didn't attempt any washing as there was nowhere for it to dry, but this wasn't as much of a problem, as my things didn't get so sweaty in the cool weather. It rained steadily through most of the night and the forecast was for more unsettled weather.


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Day 10 - Monday 13th June - 20.1 miles, 4050 ft ascent (Map measurements) - GPS 22.2 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.

Pontrhydfendigaid (Red Lion Hotel) to Ponterwyd (George Borrow Hotel) via Teifi Pools, Domen Milwen and Devil's Bridge Gorge

The room information said that breakfast was from 8.45 to 10.00, though the girl at the bar said 8.30. There were comments from some of the locals about the chef not liking to get up early. This is often to be expected at weekends, but during the week most places have business people staying wanting an earlier start. I could have done with an early start myself, as I had another long day ahead and was worried about getting there whilst food was still available.

I was down for breakfast at 8.30 just in case breakfast was available, but the chef was only just putting things out on tables and getting things organised in the kitchen. However, when he did get started my breakfast arrived very quickly. I hadn't ordered a packed lunch as I had a few things left from yesterday and I had also been given a pack of Welsh cakes that were close to their sell by date in Rhandirmwyn.

It was raining steadily as I set off at 9.15, so I put on my waterproofs and stored things in my rucksack in the best way I could to keep them dry. However, it reduced to a drizzle as I made my way towards Strata Florida Abbey and thence on the minor road on the way to Teifi Pools. By the time I reached the point where the route turns off the road before Tyncwm Farm, I felt I was getting wetter from perspiration inside my waterproofs than if I didn't have them on, so I took advantage of a conveniently placed bench seat to take them off. It is always a nuisance with my waterproof trousers, as the legs are not wide enough to put them on or take them off without removing my boots, and this is difficult when it is wet and there is usually nowhere to sit. Consequently, it needs to be raining fairly heavily before I decide to wear them.

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New Footbridge near Tyncwm Farm
New Footbridge near Tyncwm Farm

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

Once free of the encumbrance of waterproofs I felt much better and the walking was pleasant even though there was a misty haze everywhere. It was very tranquil, with hardly any breeze, and the path was quite good despite there being a lot of puddles around. The crossing of Nant Egnant half way up to the lakes was rather difficult because of the volume of water flowing, but by following the stream a bit further along it was fairly easy for me to jump across and I then noticed a makeshift bridge a bit further along that would have been even easier.

Up by Teifi Pools there are generally a few fishermen around, but it was deserted today. I knew from a recent visit here by car that there was at least one place with mobile reception, near the turning off the road towards Claerddu Bothy, so I rang home and left a message when there was no answer. The bothy was a convenient place for an early lunch break at 11.55, as it offered somewhere dry to sit, but it was colder inside than out. This is often the case with such places, as the temperature of the stone walls drops overnight and takes a long time to warm back up again as the temperature outside rises. There is a supply of wood to make a fire, and bottled gas for cooking, but this is better left for people who really need it, rather than someone who is just having a lunch break.

My GPS seemed to be having a few hiccups causing me to have to switch it off and on and reload the route file. I noticed that the track log was saying it was 99% full so I suspected that the shortage of memory was causing problems with other functions. It was also apparent that the log, which starts to discard earlier data as it runs out of space, had already lost logs for a number of earlier days in the walk. Reckoning that it could only hold about 5 days of log, I decided that I may as well just delete the whole log now, as the current data would all be lost by the end of the walk anyway. This was a great pity, as I was anticipating using the track logs when I got back home to make accurate corrections to the GPX files of the route. The only way for me to remember things now was by occasional track points that I had saved at some strategic points on the way, but these were no substitute for a continuous record of all of the walk. However, there was nothing I could do about it at this point, but it was something to think about in any future walks. It is possible to reduce the size of track logs by increasing the time interval between recorded points, but I had already done this. The default setting is every 15 seconds and I had changed this to every 30 seconds, but there was no options for it to be any longer than that and, in any case, longer time intervals would reduce its accuracy and usefulness considerably.

I set off again at 12.20 up the ridge above the bothy. At one time there was nothing much of a path here and it was just a matter of heading upwards over rough ground, but now there is quite a clear track forged by quad bikes and walkers, so it is quite easy to find the way, though it can still be quite boggy in wet weather. On the brow of the hill there was mobile reception, so I took the opportunity to call home, not knowing where I might find reception again in this very wild and open part of Wales.

Although it was damp and misty, the walking was still pleasant with some views of nearby hills and lakes. My main concern with dull weather conditions is the disappointing photographs that result, but I have a lot of photographs of most parts of the Cambrian Way taken in good or excellent conditions on previous walks of the route or on day walks in various places including here, so I wasn't too worried about getting good photographs this time.

After passing the moorland lake Llyn Fyrddon Fawr, the next landmark is Domen Milwen, a prominent hill that stands out above the moorland terrain. The route is somewhat uncertain between the two, and I have had problems finding my way across the areas of boggy ground at times. After all the recent rain, this was more of a problem as I just tried to make my way in a straight line and ran into the boggy area. At first sight this doesn't look too bad and the mossy covering looks as if it might not sink too much. The first few steps seemed to confirm this, but as I went a bit further my feet started sinking right down much deeper. The moss was actually floating on water that was underneath and I ended up with water up to my knees as I made a quick dash to reach firmer land. Taking stock of my position, I realised that I was now on a small island in the middle of the floating bog and that my best option was to go back the way I came or face what could be even deeper water. My boots were already full of water, so they couldn't get any wetter as I started to go back, but then the unstable floating moss caused me to lose my balance and I fell forward, so that I was now on my hands and knees in the water and was unable to get back on my feet. The only thing I could do was to flounder along on all fours until the water depth decreased and I was able to stand up again. Fortunately I kept my rucksack and camera, which was attached to me belt, out of the water and the only thing, apart from my boots and shorts that got wet was my GPS that I was holding in my hand. However, the GPS was designed to work in wet conditions and is quite well sealed, so that came to no harm.

The next thing now was to try to find a reasonably dry route around the bogs, and the best way is generally to either stick on higher ground or skirt around the edge of raised ground where it is still firm. This proved to work well as I skirted along the left of the bog until I got to the highest point of the boggy area where there was a reasonable route across to the raised ground approaching Domen Milwen, and I even picked up a bit of a footpath to help me find the best route. In the rather miserable conditions there was not much point in hanging around on the summit, so I just climbed to the trig point, which is one of the checkpoints, and carried on going. Domen Milwen is not the highest point in this area, but it is probably the most distinctive, as it looks like a rocky volcanic outcrop in the midst of a lot of flat topped moorland hills.

The route down to Cymystwyth is not clearly defined at first and it is just a matter of trying to find a reasonable route over rough ground, though this area is less boggy, so not much of a problem and there are some faint paths in places. The idea is to meet up with the track to the north of Nant Milwen, having crossed over the boundary fence, which is not very high and also has stiles every few hundred yards. Having reached the track, it is just a matter of following it down the valley until it turns downhill through Tynewydd Farm to the bridge crossing the River Ystwyth. I was a bit unsure as to which way to go at the farm, but it was just straight down the hillside through a field and not on one of the farm tracks.

After all the recent rain, there was a spectacular cascade of water tumbling under the metal bridge where Nant Milwyn joins the River Ystwyth, though it was difficult to get into a position to get the best photograph because of trees. There was also rain and spray so I was trying to keep this off my camera.

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Nant Milwyn joins River Ystwyth, Cwmystwyth
Nant Milwyn joins River Ystwyth, Cwmystwyth
Waterfall by Nant Cae-glas, Cwmystwyth
Waterfall by Nant Cae-glas, Cwmystwyth

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

Turning north off the road at Cwm Glas, I determined to try and find the proper route past the smallholding Ty'n-y-rhyd. I have always had difficulty here as the route seems to be either difficult to access or deliberately blocked when walking up the left side of the valley. I had noticed a bridge crossing the stream a few hundred yards before on a previous occasion. This is not shown on Ordnance Survey maps but it is possible that it may have been obscured by other legends, so I decided to try out using it to see if it was any better. It leads down into the bottom of the steep sided valley, where the small stream, Nant Cae-glas runs. The stream is quite narrow and is easy to cross without a bridge and I did so a few times as I walked along the valley floor, passing a small waterfall on the right, which was in full force because of the wet weather. A bit further along, a steep scramble brought me back up to rejoin the original path over a second bridge which is shown on the map. However, this did not actually achieve anything, as I still had to get past Ty'n-y-rhyd and the narrow path between a fence and the steep sided valley was obstructed by bushes and what looked like other branches that had been put there deliberately. I went back across the bridge and went a little bit further on the other side until I was past Ty'n-y-rhyd, where a boggy path lead me back onto the route.

On closer scrutiny of maps later, I realised that the first bridge is intended to take the path across to the minor road on to the right of the valley and the second bridge leads from the road back to the other side again. The route I had taken to get around the obstruction is not actually a right of way as this is not access land. This is something that needs to be looked at by the Ramblers Working Groups who are going to survey the route, and it may need the County Council to become involved to either clear the obstruction or make a legal diversion of the footpath.

After the problems lower down, there was no problem going the rest of the way to meet the road at the top apart from the fact is was boggy in places, but my feet were already completely saturated, so it didn't make any difference. The walk through the forest and past Gelmast Farm was easy going. This farm is famous because it is considered to be the place where modern farming methods originated when Thomas Johnes (1748 to 1816) experimented with selective breeding of farm animals and developed new farming methods for crops thus greatly increasing efficiency. Further along, The Arch, built to commemorate King George III's Jubilee in 1810 now stands on its own instead of spanning the road, since the road was widened and diverted around it.

Extensive clear felling has greatly improved the view from the track leading down to Devil's Bridge, and there were some lovely views across the valley despite the dismal conditions. The rain was starting to get heavier as I made my way into Devil's Bridge itself, so I took shelter in the doorway of the ice cream shop that was now closed ? this wasn't exactly the best day to do business and there were very few people around despite it being opposite the Vale of Rheidol Railway Station. I thought that there may be mobile reception around here, but there was none, so it wasn't long before I pressed on once the rain eased off a bit.

Following the route near the railway tracks in the Rheidol Valley, I made a bit of a mistake and ended up going down a very steep slope before realising that there was no way through and that I would either have to scramble back up the wet, slippery slope or clamber over a fence covered in brambles to get onto the railway track. I decided on the latter, and was able to then follow the tracks for a way to the proper crossing point. There were no trains running at this time so there was no danger, though it was technically trespassing with a fine of up to 1000. (If anyone from the Rheidol Valley Railway Railway reads this and wants to issue me with a fine - I was only joking, honest!)

After dropping down to the bottom of the gorge, crossing the bridge and reaching the point where the steep path heads back up the other side, I decided that the rain had eased off enough to no longer require my waterproof jacket which would have made me very sweaty on the ascent. No sooner had I started off on my way up than the heavens opened and I had to quickly put my jacket back on again. The rain eased off a bit, but was still fairly steady for the rest of the way to the George Borrow Hotel where I was staying.

Earlier editions of the guidebook took the roadway up the hill, just cutting across to the George Borrow when it came into sight down to the right, but the 6th Edition guidebook decided on a different route to avoid too much road walking, so I decided to try this out myself for the first time. However, though the route was more interesting and offered better scenery than the road, it was quite tortuous in places where it wound around the hillside along narrow paths through wild bilberries. It was quite well waymarked with posts and signs, so it was not difficult to find the way, but towards the end of a long day's walk it was quite hard going and it would have been a lot easier to take the old route, though I was still glad that I had gone that way to see what it was like.

I arrived at the George Borrow at 8.00 with last food orders at 8.30, so I took a quick shower and rang home from the phone in the hotel room as there was still no mobile phone reception. I had been in the George Borrow before for bar meals and drinks, but never into the hotel part. They have kept the place in two halves to tap into the trade from different quarters. The hotel part is a smart AA two star hotel with 10 rooms, expensive carpets and a restaurant to match, though it is all a bit dated. The bar area has been kept as the sort of basic, rustic place that you would expect to find in a village pub. In this way, people who want to look smart and dress up for dinner use one side and those who prefer more basic things have a bar in keeping with what they like. Apparently there is quite a lot of trade from bikers, who often come in covered in mud, but they spend a lot of money, so it helps the business to keep going, especially in the winter time.

Being a resident, I wasn't sure where I should go to eat and sat at first in the restaurant where a group of about ten smartly dressed people were sitting at a large table. I felt a bit out of place, so wandered through to the bar to get a pint and found that they would serve my meal in there, where I felt much more at home. Although I change from my walking gear in the evening, there is no way I could be described as smart. There were not many people around but the bar staff were very friendly and chatty, so it was much better than being on my own in the restaurant. I had a couple of pints of Double Dragon bitter and steak and ale pie. The barman was telling me about all the work they were having to do in refurbishing the old place, which was built in the 17th century. It was being rewired and having the plumbing replaced and in pulling up all the floorboards, they were pleased to find that the building was still quite sound.

I went back up to sort out all my wet and dirty things and had no option but to wash out quite a lot of them but with little hope of getting them dry.


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