South: to Machynlleth
Friday 14 October 2016. Knighton to Felindre, 15 miles.
My plan in 1992 had been to just do a half-stage, alighting from the train at Llangunllo and walking to Felindre from there. Alas the train broke down at Knighton and by the time anything else got sorted I would have run out of daylight while on one of the trickiest navigational stages, across moorland about 1500ft high. Instead I cadged a lift direct to Felindre and stayed there overnight at the Wharf Inn (which no longer has rooms, I believe).
Tent-equipped in 2016, I had a rather different solution. I parked up at Brandy House Farm in Felindre, which had a wide range of accommodation but crucially for me let you camp in their back garden. The bus service back to Knighton had alas ceased sometime between 1992 and 2016, but the local taxi was hardly any more expensive than the bus would have been, and came with a running commentary from the driver on the foolishness of Powys Council in not taking his tender for running said bus!
There’s a nice café in Knighton, by the clock tower where Glyndŵr’s Way starts, to stoke you up for the day’s walk. Knighton is one of the places on the Way with associations to Owain Glyndŵr, for in 1402 he won a notable battle just south of the town, the Battle of Pilleth. The town left soon behind, the Way very pleasantly contours through woodland around Garth Hill. Later, descent from high farmland leads past a rally school to the village of Llangunllo. Alas, I was a bit too soon to enjoy a pint at the Greyhound Inn, a community-run pub rescued from closure a few years previously (as indeed the Wharf in Felindre had been).
Llangunllo lies just below the headwaters of the River Lugg; Felindre is on the River Teme (as is Knighton). Between them lies Beacon Hill Common. Potentially it’s tough and arduous, at nearly 500m some of the highest ground on the Way, but the Way uses ancient tracks, many of them drove roads once used to transport cattle and sheep to English cities. Navigationally though you need your wits about you, for it would be easy to end up on the wrong track in difficult conditions. No problems today though, and I was soon back at the camp.
Beacon Hill Common
Friday 16 (probably) October 1992. Felindre to Abbeycwmhir, 16 miles.
Despite the annoyance of the train breakdown on the day before, I was in good heart as I set off from Felindre. This was a good-looking day, essentially a couple of up-and-downs separated by the valley of the River Ithon, in which lies the village of Llanbadarn Fynydd. There’s a pub here, the New Inn, conveniently placed for a half-way stop, and I can’t imagine I would have missed the chance to go in. But I only have three distinct memories from the day. It started raining at Llanbadarn Fynydd, but it couldn’t have been for long. Near the Ithon tributary the Bachell Brook not far from the finish, I rested at a path junction, thinking “isn’t this quiet and peaceful, and don’t I feel content” (though wondering why I was a bit puffed). And finally, walking into Abbeycwmhir for my B&B, and seeing a Union flag flying. Nothing wrong in flying one’s flag, but a bit of me would have liked to see a red dragon instead, this far into Wales.
Saturday 17 October 1992. Abbeycwmhir to Llanidloes, 15 miles.
I wonder if I noticed Llandinam wind farm? These days, wind farms are a common occurrence in an area like mid-Wales (not that they spoil Glyndŵr’s Way too much, not yet at least), but in 1992 they were a rarity. Llandinam was one of the first, opening that very year, and at 100 turbines it’s a bit of a monster. It’s also in an area where the Way has plenty of sharp up-and-downs, so maybe I was too busy gritting my teeth to pay attention.
Back then I had a very firm attitude to securing accommodation. I did it in advance, always. But I made an exception for Llanidloes. Outside Knighton / Machynlleth / Welshpool, it’s easily the most important (indeed only other) town on the Way, and I thought it would be rather good to saunter through and take my pick of whatever looked nice, be it B&B, inn or hotel. But as I knocked on doors / enquired at receptions, I kept getting “sorry, full”. I didn’t think it was me. They couldn’t be unused to Glyndŵr’s Way walkers after all. Eventually I found out why. There was a farmer’s wedding that night, and everything was booked solid. I started imploring, and well after dark, back at one of the largest hotels in town, found that they did have one last room, in the attic, but they didn’t recommend it, as they were holding the reception, and it would be very noisy till very late. Did I care? Not really. Did I learn a lesson? Absolutely. Did I sleep? Must have.
Sunday 18 October 1992. Llandiloes to Dylife, 12 miles.
Though not a long stage, it’s a very good one. Llanidloes is on the Severn, and after crossing the river, the trail heads by a loop above its tributary the Clywedog to one of the great lakes of mid-Wales, Llyn Clywedog. It’s one of several reservoirs built to supply England with water – this one is relatively late, finished 1967, and supplies Birmingham; another features later, on the northern half of the trail.
After a forestry interlude the route contours for a while before re-crossing the Clywedog above the village of Staylittle, another possible break point but only if you need a very short day. From here there’s a moorland crossing over the small hill of Penycrocben, with a good view over the former lead mining settlement of Dylife, which is just off route. I remember passing some time taking in the view from the hill as it was way too soon for the village pub, the Star Inn, to be open. I finally pottered down there about 4, still nobody about, but found that nothing was locked.
Monday 19 October 1992. Dylife to Felindulas, then road walk to Machynlleth, 11 miles (five on Glyndŵr’s Way).
The days before, I’d been moving well enough, but not quite as fluently as the year before. Today, something went badly wrong. No hint at the beginning, when I’d climbed back up to the Way and headed over one of its most sensational sections. It passes just above the isolated lake of Glaslyn, its acidic waters supporting little life and hence an important and rare habitat, before a slight rise on the slopes of Foel Fadian, reaching the Way’s highest point at 1640ft. The Way itself does not pass over the hill summit, only a little higher at 1850ft, but I decided to make the detour, a fine spot for the sandwiches I had brought from Staylittle.
Before I made that detour, I knew that things weren’t right, for I was moving stiffly and slowly, but expected they would correct themselves in the miles that followed. They did not, and the long downward stretch to the farm of Nantyfyda, which should have been a romp, became a slow grind. By the time I got to the road junction at Felindulas, I knew that something was seriously wrong. I looked at the hill that rose to Rhiw Goch, and knew it would be madness to go on. The road from here stays close to the Afon Dulas valley much of the way to Machynlleth, so I ground out the last few miles to the town on the tarmac. I returned home the next day, abandoning my plan to walk on further.
One small step in 2016, a hill too far in 1992
Thursday 13 October 2016. Felindulas to Rhiw Goch, three miles (and back again).
Plugging the gap. In fact I drove up from London, parked up at Dyffryn-Dulas, just above the road junction, scampered up the hill and back, had a chat with the bemused lady who lived at Dyffryn-Dulas, and then drove to Felindre ready for stage one, above, and then the section beyond Machynlleth. Logistics. Piece of cake.
The Tarrens from Rhiw Goch
Saturday 23 October 2004. (From Dyffryn Castell inn to) Rhiw Goch and on to Machynlleth, 16 miles (six on GW).
This was a day of my Cross-Wales walk, and very convenient it was to prove. In fact we (Dave Travers was with me) had not intended to use Glyndŵr’s Way, indeed in planning I’d barely noticed that it was there, but after descending the mountain-biker’s nightmare of The Chute to Rhiw Goch, we kept picking up its waymarkers. Even when we got to a direct path for Mach (at SN756994), we stuck with the Way. Perhaps this was to give ourselves some drying out time, for the rain had pelted down on the descent from Plynlimon and had only cleared for the Glyndŵr’s Way stretch, conveniently. Whatever the reason, it made my life in 2016 that little bit easier.
North: from Machynlleth
Sunday 16 October 2016. Machynlleth to Abercegir, five miles.
In between the hill-dash of Rhiw Goch and the belated first stage the day after, I’d attended the annual general meeting of the Mountain Bothies Association in All Stretton. That left me handily placed to drive to my B&B in Welshpool and catch the first Sunday train to Machynlleth. Cunning or what?
There was enough time for a leisurely Sunday roast too, in one of Mach’s many pubs. The walk thereafter was about as simple as it gets for Glyndŵr’s Way, starting with a roadwalk to Forge – this mile must indeed have featured on the roadwalk on that bad day back in ’92. Indeed, it’s only after dropping back down to the main road at Penygoes that the Way really gets into earnest, climbing up to contour round the low moorland of Bryn Wg, with good views of the Tarrens to the north-west. But it’s not long before you’re back down in the hamlet of Abercegir.
Monday 17 October 2016. Abercegir to Nant Nodwydd, 20 miles.
The weather forecast was pretty bad, so though the start was dry it was a case of waterproofs on from the start, just in case – and despite the B&B guy’s promises that it would stay dry. Well those soon turned out to be false, before I’d got properly high onto the moorland of Cefn Coch indeed.
This is a tough stage, with over 4000ft of climbing, essentially three big rises and falls (and a smaller one right at the finish). Cefn Coch, and the descent to the Dyfi tributary Afon Twymyn at Cemmaes Road, formed the first; a steady climb up to forestry before a return to the Twymyn (or strictly, its tributary the Rhiwsaeson) near Llanbrymair, the second: this stretch was not helped by a new gate near Commins Galia that should have had a waymark but didn’t, meaning that I took a seemingly logical descent down a minor road before realising what was wrong. In the rain; it doesn’t help. I’d factored in the possibility of adding a mile to the day by diverting to the cafe at Llanbrynmair, but though I was making good time, couldn’t face having to divest and then return to damp outerwear.
So up it was a third time, steeply at first, onto Cerrig y Tan, and higher still, to moor-top watershed forest. At least though the rain had become showery rather than continual, and by the time I was back in a valley (Nant yr Eira) it had ceased. I was now over the watershed of Wales, the rivers here all heading to the Severn. In early planning I’d thought of pitching tent on the slopes of Pen Coed, the final and smallest rise of the day, but a more detailed look had shown the Nant Nodwydd not far beyond. There was a sheepfold here, and it proved a good and sheltered spot.
Wild camp at Nant Nodwydd
Tuesday 18 October 2016. Nant Nodwydd to Allt Dolanog, 16 miles.
Path-cum-stream in the Dyfnant Forest
A slightly easier day, with a good opportunity tor a half-way break. It’s downhill first, to the Afon Banwy at Llangadfan, before heading up into the dark Dyfnant Forest. Though there were good sunny intervals throughout the morning, yesterday’s wetness was still making itself felt, with one forest path in particular essentially a stream.
But you’re on your way now to Llanwddyn, on the shores of Llyn Efyrnwy, or Lake Vyrnwy if you’re English. The present village replaced one drowned in the 1880s when the present lake ie reservoir was created by the eponymous dam, and today it’s a tourist spot. I’d long marked it out for a lengthy (90 minutes as it happened!) lunch stop – though I had a fright at the first cafe I tried, as it took a Tuesday closure. As well as a long time over a bacon baguette, I had a chance to look round a small exhibition here. The lake, the largest of its kind in Wales, still supplies water to Liverpool, with some diverted into Bombay Sapphire gin.
There’s some steep up-and-down through forest before Pont Llogel, also on the River Vyrnwy. Just beyond, I spent a bit of time bandaging red bits of feet beside the Nant Llwydiarth, though in any case a trick of wild camping in a place it’s not legal is not to arrive too early. From here the going is fairly easy, at least in comparison with the previous day and a bit, through undulating farmland, much of it on good tracks. In time I could see ahead of me the common land of Allt Dolanog, where I found a good spot beside the path, just out of sight of farms. I’d had to carry water for the night the three miles from Nant Llwydiarth, so it was good to take off the weight and settle in.
Wednesday 19 October 2016. Allt Dolanog to Welshpool, 19 miles.
I struck camp early (for me) and was soon down at the village of Dolanog. It’s on the Vyrnwy, and for the next seven miles Glyndŵr’s Way is never far from it, and often riverside. Part of it is coincident with the Ann Griffiths Walk, a short (seven-mile) trail honouring the life of the eponymous hymn-writer (1776-1805). That is not to say all is easy. One farm, Gwern-Fawr, had insisted on driving away the walking hordes by a path diversion which is in a deplorable, slippy state. Over I went, and limped to a woodpile just out of farmer’s sight for the inevitable patching up. At least it was an easy path from there to the big village of Pontrobert, and there were no more alarms through the rolling farmland that followed. Slips aside, it had been an easy morning.
At Meifod, I stocked up at the village shop. Eating their sandwich at the thoughtfully-placed table outside, I saw that the magazine rack stocked several tractor magazines and almost nothing else. From here, the afternoon has some bits of toughness to finish with. Immediately out of Pontrobert, there’s a steep climb over Broniarth Hill, and five miles of switchback follow, with some steep stepped sections through woods. No chance of getting a stride on. Finally, the last moorland, known as Y Golfa, comes into view. Alas to get there there’s a dodgy little path, first through arable farmland where the farmer made no concessions to the walker, and then across a boggy bit of ground that doesn’t seem to be the obvious line up on to the hill. Never mind. It passes. The top is glorious, with wide views into England, and great for tracing back memories of Offa’s Dyke Path, where I had rediscovered my love of walking all those years ago.
Not far now. There is pretty parkland through the grounds of Llanerchydol Hall, then a traffic roundabout whose main claim to fame is the terminus of the narrow-gauge Welshpool & Llanfair Railway, a few paces from the final town of Welshpool. The town itself seemed to be a bit ho-hum – later that evening, maybe my extensive search missed all the good places to eat – but there’s a little park by the canal with the official end-stone for Glyndŵr’s Way, captured nicely in the evening light.