I knew I wanted to cross the Brecon Beacons, Plynlymon, Cadair Idris, and the Carneddau, which I had not climbed; I was keen to get close to the barely trodden moorland of mid-Wales; and in Snowdonia, was happy to sacrifice Snowdon itself and even the Glyders – all absolutely top-notch, but all ‘ticked off’ – in favour of lesser known areas of that national park.
Start and finish
If the Carneddau are to be crossed, then somewhere between Conwy and the Aber falls are obvious northern finish points. Eventually, this would become Llanfairfechan, though I did not know that when I started. But where in the south? Sale and Gillham choose the Gower, Drake Cardiff, and Cantrell/Rylance Carmarthen. Research found what was then called the Sirhowy Valley Walk – it’s since been renamed the Sirhowy Valley Ridgeway Walk – starting from the first major town of south Wales coming from London, Newport, and it fitted my bill admirably. I did do one little cheat though, by not starting at the sea but a mile inland – not a mistake when finishing, as I cautiously dipped a toe.
The Sirhowy Valley Walk is interesting in many respects, weaving good moorland with evocative industrial and social history. It also points directly towards Brecon via the Beacons. So between them the Valleys and the Beacons made stage one, in 2002. Stage two, across mid-Wales in 2003, gave me hours of map pleasure, working alternatives through barely-frequented drove roads and finding a wonderful but unexpected natural line through the Welsh Lake District to Devil’s Bridge. In part this uses Drake’s route.
Stage three, 2004, combines Drake and Sale across Plynlymon, the often-forgotten Tarrens, and Cadair Idris, but to Dolgellau not Barmouth. Stage four took me through magnificent northern Snowdonia, across hills I did not know. In 2005, I crossed the relatively rarely-walked Arenigs, with my first bothy night included, and the Migneint to Moel Siabod, before reaching Capel Curig. I came back the next year for a short hill-walking break described in my pages on the 3000ft mountains of Wales, which culminated in Sale’s traverse of the Carneddau, down to the sea at Llanfairfechan.
In total, the walk was 213 miles long.