Part Cambrian Way 2017

Author: George Tod

Click on small photo to enlarge in situ. For photos in better weather see Cambrian Way website.
Part 2 - Days 1 & 2 Barmouth to Maentwrog


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Day 1 - Friday 14th July - 17.8 miles, 4820 ft ascent (Map measurements) including 3 miles to pub and back

Barmouth to Cae Gwyn Farm, Bronaber via Diffwys, Y Llethr and Rhinog Fach

Breakfast started at 8.00, so I got down by then in order to get a fairly early start, with quite a long day ahead of me. Most of my things were already packed so, after a very good full breakfast, I was able to set off at 8.25 along the sea front towards the port. It was about half a mile from Marine Parade to where I joined the Cambrian Way by the end of the railway / footbridge on the A496. It was a rather dull and breezy day with cloud at about 2000 ft but with clear visibility lower down so the views over the Mawddach estuary were still good, but the higher mountains such as Cadair Idris were still in the cloud.

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Barmouth Bridge and Mawddach Estuary
Barmouth Bridge and Mawddach Estuary
Looking back towards Barmouth
Looking back towards Barmouth
Barmouth Bay and Fairbourne
Barmouth Bay and Fairbourne

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

There was a steep climb up the hillside with several sets of steps along the way, which was a bit of a challenge on the first day of my walk carrying a full pack, but I generally keep quite fit, so it was not too difficult. With my plan for taking detailed observations of the route for the new guidebook, I started taking photographs at every twist and turn in the route whilst looking carefully at my GPS, which was loaded with the route file. Each photo only required a few seconds to take, as I was not worried about composition, only about showing important features of the path such as stiles, fences, gates, vegetation, views and conditions underfoot. However, each photo required a brief stop, so it did slow me down a little, though on steep ascents this also gave me a brief rest, which was no bad thing.

There were one or two places where there was a bit of confusion, with a number of paths going in slightly different directions, but I didn't want to waste too much time checking these out and decided I could resolve these at a later date. There is a good landmark to head for further up where there is a radio mast, so it is easy to resolve any mistakes in route finding by just heading upwards and then towards the mast once it comes into view. From the radio mast, the route runs steeply up to the top of the ridge beside the wall, although it helps to zigzag in the steepest places. Until now, the views were mainly across the estuary and Barmouth Bay, but once on the top of the ridge, the vista opened up to the west with clear views across Tremadoc Bay and along the Llyn peninsula to Bardsey Island, though the rounded shape of the ridge restricted the view of the nearby coast. The cloud was still obscuring the mountain peaks across the valley, but I was still below the cloud level as I made my way along the ridge. There is a fairly high stone wall all the way along the ridge, so there is no mistake about the route, as it just follows the wall for about five miles. For much of the way it is possible to walk on either side of the wall, as there are stiles over any of the walls that are at right angles to the ridge wall. However, today there was a strong wind blowing from the west, which is often the case, so walking on the eastern side of the wall affords considerable shelter whilst still allowing views to the west from head height.

Further along the ridge, however, I came to one place at SH 6392 2164 where there was an old fashioned stile made of stone steps sticking out of either side of the wall instead of the usual wooden ladder stiles. This would have been fine had it not been for the fact that one of these steps was either broken or missing making it very difficult to make a safe descent down the opposite side. Further along, the path meandered off away from the wall and straight ahead was a wall with no stile at all. At this point I decided that I would be far better off on the western side of the wall, where the path was more well trodden. The ridge wall had a place where people had climbed over previously and it was already in a precarious state of near collapse. If I were to backtrack to where there was a stile over the ridge wall, I would have had the difficult job of climbing back over the stile with the missing step, so I reluctantly ventured over the precarious wall trying to avoid getting caught in the barbed wire at the same time as avoiding further damage to the wall. I just managed, but it was a bit touch and go.

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Broken Stile
Broken Stile

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

Looking more carefully at the map now, I can see that the path that veered off to the right would have met up with a right of way which would presumably have had stiles further along taking it over to the west of the ridge wall. However, I had also been making the mistake of just using my GPS for following and checking the route. This would normally be fine, but when walking close to a wall, the GPS route is often not accurate enough to indicate which side of the wall should be walked unless there has been a deliberate exageration in the distance of the path from the wall to make it more obvious. The ridge path is not shown on the O.S. maps, but the guidebook map shows clearly which side to walk and to change sides at Bwlch y Rhiwgyr (SH 6312 2001).

With the rather poor weather and the fact that this is a remote, little walked area, I was not expecting to see anybody for most of the day, but after a couple of miles I saw three youths in identical sets of navy waterproofs sheltering from the wind on the eastern side of the wall near the next crossing point. At this point I was still wearing shorts and a thin polo shirt and was not feeling too cold so long as I was generating heat by walking, though the wind was quite cool. I continued along, dipping down a little before the moderately steep 400 ft ascent of Diffwys. On the way, I met a larger group of about six or eight youths carrying large backpacks and I stopped to have a short chat with them. They were heading towards Barmouth but camping somewhere along the way. The cloud had lifted to about 2,500 ft, which meant that the summit was just shrouded in mist. As I arrived, there was a young lady by the trig point. She was a teacher who was helping to supervise the youths who were trying to gain their Duke of Edinburgh Awards. This was one of the checkpoints that they had to pass and she would then tick them off on her list. Because she was standing around for a long time she was well wrapped up with a thick padded jacket, and said she was enjoying spending time in the wild away from everyday stress. She was also camping nearby in the wild. The youths I had seen earlier were part of the group she was supervising, though there were quite a lot more of them at various intervals.

Once I stopped walking and was standing by the summit in the mist, the cold started to get through to me, so I decided to go a bit further along where I could drop below the mist and stop for a lunch break. As I started to drop down a few hundred yards further along, there was a convenient place with a lot of rocks where I was both sheltered from the wind and also had somewhere to sit, but I definitely needed to put on my fleece. I could have done with a reasonable rest, but by the time I had had a drink and a quick snack, I was starting to shiver so, rather than dig out more warm clothes from my rucksack, I decided it was better to press on. Just as I was setting of down the rocky slope, I stumbled and got a nasty graze on my right shin from contact with a very rough stone. It was bleeding a bit, but not too badly, so I just ignored it and carried on along the ridge towards Crib-y-rhiw.

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Diffwys Summit in Mist
Diffwys Summit in Mist
Llyn Dulyn and Y Llethr from Diffwys
Llyn Dulyn and Y Llethr from Diffwys
Crib-y-rhyw and Y llethr from Rhinog Fach
Crib-y-rhyw and Y llethr from Rhinog Fach

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

Although the next summit of Y Llethr, the highest point of today's walk, was still in mist, the views lower down were looking brighter with some sunny patches ahead and soon the cloud lifted from Y Llethr which now had some sunshine on it. The whole scene was now so much better in the brighter clear weather and the warmth of the sunshine soon got through to warm me up. Llyn Trawsfynydd with its decommissioned nuclear power station was now clearly visible and the view along the Llyn Peninsular was clearer and brighter than it was earlier. It was, indeed, turning out to be a beautiful day for walking.

Much of the earlier walking had been fairly quick and easy, apart from the steep ascents, but after Diffwys, it became more rough and craggy making it difficult to make good progress without risking falls. This was particularly true in my case, as it takes a few days to get used to the weight of a heavy pack and to adjust to balancing on uneven surfaces. Over the age of about 60, balance gradually deteriorates anyway and I have noticed it in myself, as I am not as confident in balancing as I used to be. Before breathalysers came into use, one test for being drunk was to stand on one leg with eyes closed for 30 seconds. A sober, younger person can do this quite easily but for people in their sixties and seventies it becomes very difficult or impossible.

Y Llethr was not too difficult although it did involve another few hundred feet of ascent, and these steep climbs got more difficult as the day progressed. This was followed by a very steep scramble down a gully to Llyn Hywel before the ascent of Rhinog Fach, the last mountain of the day. Rhinog Fach is very steep from any direction and the guidebook advises against trying to descend from the north, suggesting backtracking down the steep scramble and then skirting round the bottom of the mountain. Surveys of the route by working parties from The Ramblers have suggested that there is a viable route to the north, so I had decided to see if I could follow it, having failed once before.

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Rhinog Fawr from Diffwys
Rhinog Fawr from Diffwys
Rhinog Fach and Fawr from Diffwys
Rhinog Fach and Fawr from Diffwys
Y Llethr and Llyn Hywel from Rhinog Fach
Y Llethr and Llyn Hywel from Rhinog Fach

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

By now there was a lot of sunshine around but still patches of cloud in places making it a warm and very pleasant latter part of the walk, which compensated for the dull start. The scramble up Rhinog Fach is steep, but not too difficult as there are plenty of hand and footholds to help and, after a few hundred feet more, I reached the summit. There were fine views of Y Llethr back to the south and Rhinog Fawr ahead as well as views across the valleys to the coast and distant mountains. The path going towards the north was clear to start with but then got less distinct and started taking a circuitous loop round the eastern side of the mountain before a steep and narrow descent to Bwlch Drws Ardudwy, close to where the guidebook ascent of Rhinog Fawr begins.

My route for the rest of the day was to head east for about five miles to a B&B at Cae Gwyn Farm beside the A470. For an evening meal, the nearest pub is the Rhiw Goch Inn about one and a half miles north of the B&B. Last time I ventured this way I decided to go to the Rhiw Goch Inn first, then to the B&B, but this time I decided to do it the other way round. Even though it meant walking a bit further, I would at least have the chance of a shower and be able to drop off my rucksack before going for my meal.

The track along Bwlch Drws Ardudwy is quite rough in places, but then joins easy forest tracks, then a minor road towards the A470. There are one or two tempting footpaths shown on the O.S. map, cutting off corners, but I was a bit wary of these as they had not been very well trodden on my last visit and were boggy in places. I started along the first one, but gave up almost immediately when I started to hit long reeds and bog. Similarly, the next one very boggy and even more overgrown than the first one, so I just kept to the road, which was quicker and easier despite being a little longer. The only drawback is that the last 0.6 of a mile is along a very fast section of the A470, with busy traffic hurtling by in waves, though there are, at least, grassy verges to jump onto as traffic approaches.

I got to Cae Gwyn at about 7pm and was advised that food was served in the Rhiw Goch Inn until 9 pm, so I didn't have to rush and was able to have a much needed shower and a short rest before setting off. This meant walking back up the A470 to near where I joined it previously and then taking a footpath across to the pub to cut off the corner, thus avoiding further walking along the A470. I had used this path seven years previously and, although it wasn't too good in places, I had managed reasonably well. It was actually waymarked with arrows and marker posts, so had all the indications of being a reasonable path. However, as I progressed along, it became more overgrown with tall reeds and bracken and the markers were no longer visible. I got to the point where the pub was in sight, so I just tried to head in that direction hoping I might pick up the path further along. However, I drifted off course and ended up on the wrong side of a barbed wire fence where the ground was getting boggier and I was getting water into my trainers. Then I stepped on something that looked like fairly firm ground but turned out to be floating bog. This is like a layer of turf that is floating on top of a stream, in this case a deep stream, and I sank in up to my thighs and had to flounder along with my hands in the water until I got to firmer ground. I was then through the worst but still on the wrong side of a barbed wire fence, which I had to climb whilst trying to avoid ripping my trousers in the process.

Fortunately the trousers I was wearing were lightweight walking trousers that didn't soak up too much water and the water itself was clean and not muddy. My trainers had ventilated uppers so by the time I reached the pub, much of the water had dispersed, but it was still not the ideal way to enter a pub for a meal. The pub was quite busy and I got a pint and sat at a table by the bar. The young barman said something about not serving meals in the bar but to give him my table number and a waitress would come for me. I still had the problem of finding a menu, as there were none to be seen on any of the tables nor anywhere in the restaurant. The barman said they were by the bar without indicating exactly where so I kept on hunting around. Eventually, a chap who had come in at the same time as me showed me where they were, on a low table at one end of the bar behind him and his friend, hidden from view. The food was quite reasonably priced and I decided on the lobscouse.

A while later the waitress came and I assumed that she was calling me through to the restaurant to get my meal, so I picked up my beer to take through. What she was actually doing was wanting me to collect my own meal from the serving hatch in the restaurant as the serving staff were not allowed to carry meals into the bar. I now had a pint in one hand and there was a bowl of lobscouse to collect as well as a bread roll on another plate, so I was running short of hands. It seems that the waitress was allowed to carry my bread roll for me so that was at least something, but when we got back to my table some other people had moved onto it and there were no other tables free. There were, however, plenty of tables free in the restaurant where I would have been quite happy to sit in the first place if the serving rules had been explained a bit better. I was now able to start on the lobscouse, which was very tasty, but my problem was that it had quite a lot of liquid and the only cutlery was the knife and fork that were on the table. All of the other tables were laid with only knives and forks and I couldn't see any other cutlery around. Eventually another waitress came to take my plate away and I suggested it would be nice to have a spoon to finish off what was left. She disappeared but there was still no sign of a spoon coming. Then, after quite a while, the first waitress came with a spoon. Presumably the other waitress wasn't allowed to bring a spoon for another waitress's customer and she had to pass on the request.

All in all, it is not the best dining experience I have ever had and it all seems to centre around petty rules and regulations plus a lack of clear information. Bearing in mind that the main trade in there is from the nearby holiday village rather than from regulars, people cannot be expected to know the system unless it is made a lot clearer. A sign on the bar could easily solve the problem. In short, the food and beer were reasonably priced and good, but for organisation it gets about zero out of 10.

Needless to say, I avoided the so called footpath on the way back and took the slightly longer route via the road. When I was about half a mile from the B&B, a 4x4 stopped and a voice said 'Do you want a lift, George? I have kept on passing you all evening.' It was the farmer from Cae Gwyn who had been ferrying campers to and from the pub all night. I had turned down a lift in the first place because I generally prefer to do everything on foot on long distance walks, but by this stage I was glad to accept the ride and avoid more walking on the busy road. By this time my trousers had more or less dried out and I wasn't too worried about my feet, as they would probably stay wet for most of the week, so I may as well just get used to it.

I mentioned the footpath problems to the farmer and he enlightened me on why this was occurring around here. Much of the land on this side of the Rhinogs has been declared a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) because of some rare plants that are unique to the area. Consequently grazing has been severely restricted or stopped completely in order to let the land revert to its natural state, which is blanket bog with long reeds and other bog loving plants. Farmers are severely restricted in what they are allowed to do to the land, so footpaths have suffered badly as a result.


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Day 2 - Saturday 15th July - 17.4 miles, 4675 ft ascent (Map measurements of planned route) - 15.7 miles, 1600 ft ascent actually walked + 8.5 miles by bus

Cae Gwyn Farm, Bronaber to Maentwrog via Bwlch Drws Ardudwy and Llanbedr

Breakfast started at 8am, so I tried once more to get myself ready for a fairly early start, though the weather was very drab and wet as predicted. There was no cooked breakfast (this is indicated on the website), but a well stocked buffet with all sorts of cereals, fruit, yoghurt, fruit juice etc as well as brown and white bread for use in the toaster, so I managed to get enough food inside me to keep me going. There was also a microwave oven for anyone wanting to heat things up.

It was about 8.40 by the time I set off back up the road to where I had left the route yesterday. I had made sure that everything was packed as well as possible to keep them dry and put on my waterproofs to face the bad weather. It wasn't too bad at the start and I was hoping that by the time I had got back to where I had left the Cambrian Way route to start the ascent of Rhinog Fawr it might have improved. However, as I got beyond the road and forest tracks and started to make my way up Bwlch Drws Ardudwy, it was gradually getting worse. Being higher up and more exposed, there was more wind and rain and the heavy overnight rain had made the paths turn into streams for much of the way. In addition, I was nearing the cloud level and, when I reached the top of the pass and looked up at Rhinog Fawr, most of it was in the mist and cloud. The Northern Rhinogs is a notoriously difficult area for walking, with lots of crags and steep scrambles, which can be slippery and dangerous in bad weather. Route finding is also difficult at the best of times and in cloud and mist it is that much worse.

I weighed up my options and decided that there was not much to gain and possibly quite a lot to lose by trying to continue along the route. Had I not done the walk before, I would probably have pressed on, but I had already walked the whole Cambrian Way three times before as well as walking parts of this section on day walks, so there was no great pressure to spend a very miserable and possibly risky day just for the sake of it. If anything happened to me, it is very unlikely that anyone else would be around to help, and if anybody were trying to find me it would be very difficult in such poor visibility. In addition, I would gain little in trying to survey the route as there would be not much to see in any photographs if I were to risk getting my camera wet in the rain. This would be the first time that I would have missed out a section of a walk in a total of 18 long distance walks that I have done over the years.

Had I considered my options a bit better, I might well have decided to backtrack a little way to take the low level alternative route heading over towards Trawsfynydd, making my way to Maentwrog from there. I could have done this on foot, though there are some boggy sections this way. One problem I had was that I had not planned for straying off the route and had only printed map sections of the parts I thought I needed. I could have probably found my way from memory, but instead I decided to continue along Bwlch Drws Ardudwy to cross over to the western side of the Rhinogs. I could then join the minor road to Llanbedr after about two miles and would at least be guaranteed some easier walking for the remaining four miles. Hopefully, I would be able to catch a bus to Maentwrog, which would be a bit too far to walk. If the worst came to the worst and there was no bus I could at least get a taxi.

Even taking this safer route wasn't easy because there was so much water draining off the mountains across the pass. In some places this was flowing across the path in streams underneath floating bog similar to that which I encountered last night and with similar consequence. I went in up to my thighs a couple of times and up to my knees in other places. The difference this time, however, was that I was wearing my waterproof leggings. When I went into deep water, the pressure from outside pressed my waterproofs tight against my bare legs, as I was wearing shorts, and this stopped the water from flowing up my leg inside. This was quite effective so long as I was fairly quick at getting back out of the water again at the other side. Of course, my boots were soaking wet, but that was a foregone conclusion anyway.

Further along, I met the same group of Duke of Edinburgh walkers I had met the day before. They were heading to the forest I had come through at the other side of the pass, where they would be camping. I warned them of the bogs ahead, but they had already got quite wet, so it wouldn't make a lot of difference. Perhaps as a group, they could find better crossing places as, if one of them went into deep water, the rest could try alternatives places to get across.

Eventually, I reached dry land, as it were, when I reached the road at Maes y Garnedd Farm. The first time I walked the Cambrian Way in 2000, I was able to get B&B at the farm with weather conditions similar to those of today. However, the farmer's wife had difficulty fitting this in with a job that she had so she stopped doing B&B, despite pleas from Tony Drake to continue. Since then, there has been nowhere to stay without going much farther off the route. Road walking is generally rather tedious, but I was prepared to put up with that rather than taking my chances on footpaths that would probably be waterlogged. On the way, I passed the phone box that is mentioned in the guidebook, which still appeared to be in working order, but only accepting cards. It had a notice dated 2016 saying that it was sheduled to be removed, but was allowing for objections to be heard before this happened. Lower down, there was not as much rain and it was more sheltered from the wind, so at least it wasn't too bad for the rest of the way and I arrived in Llanbedr at about 2pm. The bus timetables were very badly printed and hard to make out, but there appeared to be a bus going northwards at about 4pm. Just to be sure, I asked a local who said that there were actually two buses that came at almost the same time, an 82, which turned off to Porthmadog and an 83 that went on through Meantwrog.

The rain had almost stopped, so I ate some of my lunch snacks that I had brought from home and waited for the bus to arrive. The one that came must have been the 82, but I was too keen on not missing a bus that I took it anyway and decided that I could walk the rest of the way from where it turned off so long as it got me most of the way to Maentwrog. Having a Welsh bus pass, I was able to ride for free - there are some advantages to getting old! On the quiet roads the bus rattled along at a good speed, going through Harlech on the way, and did the journey of about eight and a half miles in 20 minutes, stopping at the point where it was about to turn left to Porthmadog.

Rather than wait for any other buses, I set off along the road which offered some good views across the Vale of Ffestiniog, especially at the beginning where the river flows though some wide sandy banks. The drawback was that the road had no footpath or verges for most of the way, so I had to keep a good lookout for oncoming traffic and try to squeeze into the side of the road as best I could in the tighter places when any traffic came along. The weather was still dreary with some rain and the cloud was still low, so I was sure I had made the right decision by avoiding the mountains. Even though I had opted out of this section, I still walked nearly 16 miles with 1,600 ft of ascent.

My B&B was just a couple of doors away from the Grapes Hotel, so it was easy to find and I was glad to check in there at about 17.45 and meet Eveline, who is from the Netherlands. Although my room was not en-suite, it was a large one with a beautiful view of the church out of the window. There was nobody else on the first floor so I had exclusive use of the bathroom. Because the weather had turned so bad, the central heating was on so, after a shower, I washed out a few of my walking clothes so I could dry them on the radiators alongside some of my other damp things. My boots were also wet, so I tried to dry them out, though I knew they would soon get wet again in the morning. I noticed that some of the stitching was coming adrift on my left boot and the leather was worn through near where it was attached to the sole, so I was a little concerned as to how it would last out the rest of the walk. At the moment it didn't feel much different from normal when walking and it was still as waterproof as my right boot even though water could easily get through the leather, but this was because the Gore-Tex lining was still intact. There was nothing much I could do about it now and I didn't want to have to go off in search of new boots at this stage, so I would just have to see how things developed.

Eveline warned me that the Grapes Hotel could get very busy, especially on a Saturday evening, so it was better for me to go reasonably early in case I had to wait for a table. It was, indeed, quite busy when I went into the bar, but I got served quite quickly with my pint of beer and was told that they would try to fit me in for a meal if I was happy eating at my table in the bar. The food was a little expensive, as I expected, but I opted for one of the cheaper items, which was sausage and mash at just under 10. Despite the large number of customers who were coming through the bar and then being taken through to the restaurant, everything went very smoothly and nobody was kept waiting for long, and I didn't have to wait very long for my meal either. Despite being one of the cheapest items, there was a large plateful of mash with three very large, tasty sausages on top together with onion gravy, so much so that I had to leave some of the mash because there was too much for me. Compared to last night's disorganised service, this was the complete opposite - customer focussed, well organised and efficient, so full credit to them. After another pint, I went back to get some rest.


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