Llanelli Ramblers' Cambrian Way Walk - 2012 to 2015

by John Maudsley - Walk Programme Secretary


1.   Foreword

These notes are made following the recent completion of the Cambrian Way by the Llanelli and Lampeter groups. They chiefly relate to: stage planning, transport, logistics, and signage in lowland areas. They are not comprehensive or contemporaneous, which means that memories of the earlier legs undertaken in 2013 may be sketchy.

It is important to note, that the 5th edition of Tony Drake's Cambrian Way, published in 2000, was the handbook used in the stage planning process. (Henceforth, referred to as the "book route"). The mileage quoted at each stage below also refers to the "book route". However, several participants conversant with GPS technology did call into question these quoted mileages.

2.   The Way

The Way was started on 1st December 2012 and completed on 28th June 2015, with 27 attending the final day's walk into Conwy. This attendance was fairly typical of the later stages of the Way, (only once dropping down to a level where a standard minibus had to be used).

For the earlier sections, numbers were more than sufficient to enable the hire of a 53 seater coach, though, if demand was not sufficient, particularly on the more distant journeys, a 28 seat executive coach would be used instead.

These numbers, the mixed abilities of those attending, and the seasons, all had a bearing on the stage planning process, as did the start date of the project itself, but the chief determining factor was the need for a roadhead at both ends of the walk.

The start date was determined by information received from Ramblers Cymru in 2012, that following Tony Drake's death, it would be a fitting memorial for groups to walk the Cambrian Way with a view to increasing recognition of its existence and assisting attempts for its adoption as a long-distance path.

As far as Llanelli Ramblers were concerned, this meant that the earliest chance for the Way to appear on our programme was Winter 2012/13. Hence the start date. This would also enable the group to be following the Way, when the ceremony to unveil the commemorative bench to Tony Drake at Ty'n y Cornel in June 2013, was planned.

3.   The Stages

(a) Cardiff to Thornhill - 11 m. December 2012.
  Left route at 176 853 to descend to Cefn On.
(b) Thornhill to Cross Keys - 8.5 m. February 2013.
  Bus dropped group at Cefn On. Rejoined route at 176 853. Many fallen trees encountered following storm en route to rejoining Way.
(c) Cross Keys to Pontypool - 8.5 m. February 2013.
  Recollection is that we deviated from the "book route" on Mynydd Maen by drifting too far north and contouring round under the pylons to meet a track at 264 968 and thence descending to rejoin the Way at 267 967.
(d) Pontypool to Abergavenny - 11 m. March 2013.
All the above stages were originally planned specifically with the intent of using trains to complete the legs and were recce?d using such from Llanelli during 2012, and were so advertised on the programme. Hence the start and finish points.
However, subsequently, it became clear that our start date - 1st December 2012 - clashed with a rugby international in Cardiff, necessitating a precautionary switch of transport to private hire coach, although some members did still travel by train on the day.
Perhaps, as a result of this switch, the attendance on that first day was far greater than expected, and together with members from other groups reached over 50.
Given this level of support, it became obvious that a private hire coach could be hired successfully for future legs, and so the pattern was set.
(e) Abergavenny to Capel y Ffin - 13 m. April 2013.
(f) Capel y Ffin to Pengenffordd - 11m. April 2013.
  Left route at 204 286.
(g) Pengenffordd to Crickhowell - 10m. June 2013.
  Rejoined route at 204 286.
It was originally intended to complete the section from Abergavenny to Crickhowell in two stages, during an annual weekend-away that the Llanelli group holds in Crickhowell in April. However, following the recce, the leader assigned to the Capel y Ffin - Crickhowell stage, felt that the length of the stage might prove too much at 16 miles - hence the actual start and finish points listed above and an example of how the stages of the Way were modified to accommodate the mixed abilities of the group.
Given the width of the access roads in the area, local minibuses were hired on stage (e) to ferry walkers back to cars parked in Abergavenny. On stage (f) the same were used to ferry walkers to the start of the walk in Capel y Ffin from Pengenffordd, where cars had been parked in the pub car park on payment of a fee. On stage (g), cars were parked at both ends, followed by a car shuttle on walk completion.
(h) Crickhowell to Torpantau - 13.5 m. July 2013.
  Walk completed in extremely hot conditions on 6th July. In hindsight, perhaps we should have shortened this stage further. Post-walk refreshments in Tal-y-bont.
(i) Torpantau to Storey Arms - 7m. July 2013.
  Post-walk refreshments in Tanners Arms, Defynnog.
(j) Storey Arms to A4067 (near Crai Reservoir) - 8m. September 2013.
  Cnewr variant adopted. Post-walk refreshments in Ancient Briton, Pen-y-cae.
(k) A4067 to Minor Road (Llandeusant to Trecastell) - 7.5 m. October 2013.
  On the day, deviation from the "book route" occurred after the Fan Brycheiniog checkpoint, by then proceeding north to Fan Foel and descending to Tro'r Fan Foel, thus by-passing the descent via Bwlch Blaen Twrch. Otherwise, as per "book route".
All the above stages, (h) to (k), were undertaken using a private hire coach, and so the length of the various stages was determined by the availability of road-heads. As these stages also involved the traverse of higher ground, they were deliberately scheduled for the summer months and better weather!
It was also completion of these sections that provoked the debate about the "book" mileage - see Foreword above.
(l) Minor Road to Llandovery - 7.5 m. November 2013
  On this leg, more agricultural terrain is encountered around Sarnau and Myddfai and from thereon to Llandovery, which best lends itself to signage. Post-walk refreshments in the Castle Hotel. Full-sized private hire coach used.
(m) Llandovery to Towy Bridge - 7.5 m. November 2013
  See note regarding signage above - applicable from Pendrainllwyn. Minor deviation from "book route" at SN780423 - cut straight down to riverside path rather than passing through Gwernpwll Farm to the river. Post walk refreshments in the Towy Bridge.
  There is a suggestion that to avoid the road-walking section from Llandovery, use could be made of "Tir Cymen" land on Fforest. Route could run from the church in Llandovery, across the railway towards Dolauhirion, then via minor road and track to Belli-glas and onto Fforest ridge via Penrhiw yr uchain, rejoining the "book route" near Bwlch yr Rhiw / Pendrainllwyn.
  Even if this is not feasible, then the same R.O.W. from the church, can still be used to cut-off some of the road walking, either by walking east from Allt Dolauhirion to the road, or continuing northwards from Allt Dolauhirion via Cefnnickett and Maes y gwandde, where the road used on the "book route" is regained.
  These two stages (l) and (m) were purposefully scheduled as shorter sections to take account of the time of year and take advantage of the lower terrain. The addition of two new leaders to the team also helped to re-kindle interest in the venture. This carried through to the February when the next tougher sections were tackled.
  Both these sections were undertaken using private-hire coach.
(n) Towy Bridge to Nant-y-maen - 11 m. February 2014.
  Hostel variant used. Signage notes above, apply to this stage between Tan-y-foel and Gallt y bere. This section through the woods to Gallt-y-bere is not marked on the OS maps as a ROW and, on the day, had a wire fence, of sorts, across it at SN764453. Signpost recommended at SN768480 where route leaves track in Doethie valley. Ladder stiles need attention and / or construction on moorland beyond Ty'n y Cornel hostel and before the minor road at Nant-y-maen. Footbridge suggestion over Nant-y-Ffrwd, near phone box at Nant-y-maen. Full-size private hire coach used. Post-walk refreshments in the Castle Hotel, Llandovery.
(o) Nant-y-maen to Strata Florida via Pontrhydfendigaid - 8.5 m. February 2014.
  Signage notes above, apply to route variant in valley of Afon Fflur through the enclosures on the northern flank of Bryngwyn Bach. The variant was chosen in order to make 3 x reasonable length walks out of the section between Towy Bridge and Cwmystwyth, given the need for access to road-heads for the coach. Post-walk refreshments in the Llew Du, Pontrhydfendigaid.
(p) Strata Florida to Cwmystwyth - 9 m. March 2014.
  Need for ladder stile near Nant Milwyn (SN805725) over fence to track. Signage from there on down to Cwmystwyth. Post-walk refreshments in the Llew Du, Pontrhydfendigaid. 28 seater executive coach used.
(q) Cwmystwyth to Dyffryn Castell - 11 m. April 2014.
  Another stage, containing sections which would benefit from signage, e.g., Ystumtuen to George Borrow Hotel. On the day, deviation from the "book route" occurred, when use was made of the ROW heading N.E from Ystumtuen towards Parson's Bridge, which then skirted round Bryn Bras to drop down through the farm of the same name and so to the hotel. This avoided about two miles of road walking. Refreshments afterwards in the Llew Du, Pontrhydfendigaid. Full-sized private hire coach used.
(r) Dyffryn Castell to Dylife - 11.5 m. April 2014.
  Sections of this stage which would benefit from signage are:- footpath from Bugeilyn (SN823930) and the cut-off from Glyndwr's Way at SN845934, Y Grug, and subsequent path into Dylife. 28 seater executive coach used. Post walk refreshments in Llanidloes.
(s) Dylife to Commins Coch - 8.5 m. June 2014.
  This stage of the Way is typified by bridleways on the map not coinciding with tracks on the ground and as such would benefit from signage throughout to avoid straying from the route unnecessarily. The introduction of pedestrian gates / kissing gates / stiles, would also help in this process as many of the gates are rickety and tied up with baler twine. In detail:-
  • The section north of Dylife, following the Nant Brynmoel, (SN862947 to SN858953) is hard to follow because of gorse and vegetation
  • The forest section at Banc Rhoswydol had been felled and the "book route" zig zags, perhaps unnecessarily, when a route along the forestry road would be shorter and more straightforward.
  • The section through the forest at SN866999 doesn't exist and / or is badly overgrown. A gate at a corner of the fence at 865 998 was used instead.
  • At SH864008, new fences have been erected without regard to the bridleway. No gate or stile is available.
  • Erection of signpost recommended at SH851013 as re-assurance of route.
If required, further information / clarification can be made available by the leader on the day.
  Parking extremely difficult in and around Commins Coch. 28 seater executive coach used. Post-walk refreshments in Llanidloes.
(t) Commins Coch to Dinas Mawddwy - 13 m. June 2014.
  Signage appropriate on this stage too. Full-size private hire coach used.
(u) Dinas Mawddwy to A487 (Bwlch Llyn Bach) - 9 m. July 2014.
  Stage (t) ended on the A470 nr. Meirion Mill, from which point, this stage began, heading into the village of Dinas Mawddwy and checkpoint 21. From the village an alternative route was then followed to avoid the steep climb through Coed Foel Dinas.
  This involved following a minor road N.E out of the village up the Dyfi valley as far as Pont Dol-y-bont, where we headed N.W into Park Wood onto a minor road / track past Y Pentre. This eventually crosses the valley and doubles back onto the A470 at SH847155.
  At which point, the A470 was crossed and a track followed via Ffridd-gulcwm along the valley to reach the "book route" at Bwlch Siglen, checkpoint 22.
  Post-walk refreshments in Machynlleth. Full-sized private hire coach used.
(v) A487 to Barmouth. - 11 m. July 2014.
  The above mileage was based on the "book route", but, in the event, after traversing Cadair, we continued beyond Rhiw Gwredydd over Carnedd Lwyd and Tyrrau Mawr, before dropping down to Llynnau Cregennen and on to Barmouth. This avoided the road walking from the foot of the Pony Path westwards, but most certainly added to the mileage covered that day. Post-walk refreshments in Barmouth. 28 seater executive coach used.

Traverse of the Rhinogydd

The original plan was to complete this traverse over two days, starting at Barmouth and finishing at Trawsfynydd. Trawsfynydd was chosen as the finish point, as it had post-walk facilities and ease of access for transport pick-up. The finishing point for the first day was identified as Cwm Nantcol - arrangements being made with a local taxi firm to meet us at a pre-arranged time. Thus the two stages were 12 and 13 miles respectively. A weekend in Barmouth was arranged for 30th & 31st/sup> August 2014. 25 walkers attended the weekend.
The transport firm that was used throughout the weekend was A2B Taxis and they proved to be excellent in all respects.
In the event, the traverse was completed in three stages, for reasons outlined below.
(w) Barmouth to Cwm Nantcol. - 12 m. August 2014.
  Signposting out of Barmouth as far as Bwlch y Llan is poor. Left route in Bwlch Drws Arddudwy and descended pass westwards to rendezvous with pre-arranged taxis at the roadhead at Maes y garnedd in Cwm Nantcol. Returned to Barmouth.
(x) Bwlch Drws Arddudwy to Trawsfynydd. - 13 m. August 2014.
  The approach to Bwlch Drws Arddudwy on the second day, was from the east. Pre-arranged taxis dropped us at the car park at Nant-y-graigddu, near Graigddu-isaf, reached by a minor road off the A470 near Bronaber. This was chosen for ease of access for both vehicles and walkers. (Road access to Maes-y-garnedd is long, poor and narrow). Rejoined "book route" at the head of Bwlch Drws Ardudwy.
  Although numbers were down to 22 on the second day, it was clear, on the descent from Rhinog Fawr, that the previous day's outing had taking its toll on one of the group and they would not be able to complete the walk. Arrangements were therefore made by mobile phone with the taxi firm to pick up the injured party at the roadhead in Cwm Bychan which was en route.
  N.B. Recces undertaken in preparation for the weekend had shown that mobile signals were generally good on the summits of the Rhinogydd, but not so in the valleys.
  However, the delays incurred by this incident on the descent from Rhinog Fawr into Cwm Bychan, had impacted on the ability of the group as a whole to rendezvous in Trawsfynydd with the pre-arranged transport, and, although adjustments were made to timings by mobile phone, this time at the top of Bwlch Gwilym, it was felt that the best decision was to leave the "book route" at the top of the pass and continue eastwards alongside the Afon Crawcwellt and on to Trawsfynydd. This "escape route" had been previously identified and recce'd prior to the weekend.

This achieved several things:

  • Several members of the group had found the Rhinogydd sections testing, by continuing to Trawsfynydd by a different route, they could still carry on with the later stages of the Cambrian Way, even though the Northern Rhinogydd had been circumvented and checkpoints missed.
  • It allowed the re-scheduling of the Northern Rhinogydd as a circular walk from Trawsfynydd in September 2014 for those of the group who were keen to cover all of the "book route" and checkpoints.
  • The walk did not have to be completely abandoned on the day.
  • Support could be given to the injured party.
  NB It is fair to say, that when an undertaking of the Cambrian Way was first considered, it was assumed that by the time Barmouth and the Rhinogydd traverse had been reached, there would only be a handful of diehards who were still participating in the project - hence the original plan to complete the traverse in two days. And it's also fair to say that until the second day of the Barmouth weekend, no consideration / allowance had had to be made for the distance / terrain covered on any previous stage, apart from the availability of roadheads, even though the size of the group undertaking the stages was some three times greater than previously envisaged. The group just accepted the challenge.
  That's not to say that recces had not been undertaken in advance to identify problems or that escape routes had not also been developed - only that the traverse of the Rhinogydd had proved particularly challenging and that perhaps the traverse should have been envisaged originally as a three day not a two day event for the group.
  In the light of the Barmouth weekend events, modifications were subsequently made to plans for the later mountain stages of the Cambrian Way - most noticeably the traverse of the Moelwynion and the Carneddau - to take account of a larger group undertaking the project.
(y) Northern Rhinogydd Circular from Trawsfynydd - 9 m. September 2014.
  This was completed as a day walk from Llanelli using a standard minibus and was devised to cover the missing link from the second day of the Barmouth weekend and so complete the traverse of the Rhinogydd. Start point was alongside Llyn Trawsfynydd at SH700348 and involved re-tracing steps westwards to the top of Bwlch Gwilym to rejoin the Cambrian Way and thence to Moelfryn. Post-walk refreshments in Trawsfynydd.
(z) Trawsfynydd to Tan-y-grisiau - 9 m. March 2015.
  This stage had originally been scheduled for September 2014, but had had to be re-arranged following events on the second day of the Barmouth weekend, (see above). It was completed as a day walk from Llanelli using a private hire executive coach, unfortunately, in March, (outside the tourist season), there are little, if any, refreshment opportunities to be had in Tan-y-grisiau, so post-walk refreshments were delayed until Machynlleth on the journey home. This stage marked the last occasion when sections of the Way were completed in a day's outing from Llanelli. This stage finished at the Ffestiniog Railway cafe in Tan-y-grisiau to make a transport rendezvous, thus leaving the "book route" at SH676437, at the point where the Way leaves the lakeside and ascends to Llyn Stwlan.
  Why the Ffestiniog variant? Seemingly, this variant no longer appears in more up-to-date versions of the handbook, but in planning the traverse of the Rhinogydd from our base in Barmouth, Trawsfynydd had seemed a logical end of stage - pub, food, refreshments, and shelter when awaiting pre-booked transport. It was also shorter than continuing over to Maentwrog. The turn of events of the Barmouth weekend and subsequent re-adjustments only served to reinforce the choice of the Ffestiniog variant as the option to proceed. This variant also offered a longer walk more suited to a day's outing from Llanelli. This choice of route was unexpected but drew many favourable comments. Signage was generally good throughout.
(z) Trawsfynydd to Tan-y-grisiau - 9 m. March 2015.
  This stage had originally been scheduled for September 2014, but had had to be re-arranged following events on the second day of the Barmouth weekend, (see above). It was completed as a day walk from Llanelli using a private hire executive coach, unfortunately, in March, (outside the tourist season), there are little, if any, refreshment opportunities to be had in Tan-y-grisiau, so post-walk refreshments were delayed until Machynlleth on the journey home. This stage marked the last occasion when sections of the Way were completed in a day's outing from Llanelli. This stage finished at the Ffestiniog Railway cafe in Tan-y-grisiau to make a transport rendezvous, thus leaving the "book route" at SH676437, at the point where the Way leaves the lakeside and ascends to Llyn Stwlan.

4.   The Final Stages: Tan-y-grisiau to Conwy.

This final section of the Way was divided up into six stages and plans were made to use three weekends-away to complete the whole project. The following bases were identified:

Beddgelert - March 2015

Two stages were planned for this weekend, both involved car shuttles:

Betws-y-coed - April 2015

Originally, two stages were planned for this weekend:

Given the curtailment of the Moelwyn stage in March, an extra day was tagged onto this weekend on Friday 17th April - to fill in the ?missing link. Arrangements were made for a circular walk to be made from Croesor upto the point where the walk had previously been curtailed, Rhosydd Quarry, and from there to continue the "book route" as planned over Cnicht and back down to Croesor. This was achieved successfully in weather conditions, (it has to be said), that were in complete contrast to the time previous.

(aa) Tan-y-grisiau to Croesor via Moelwyn Mawr and Cnicht - 8 m. Sat. 28th March.
  Following the Barmouth weekend, modifications were made to the finish point of this stage. Originally, Nantmor had been identified, but this was brought back to Croesor, in order to reduce the overall mileage. In addition, a deviation from the "book route" was introduced at the start. From the cafe at Tan-y-grisiau, instead of re-tracing our steps to SH676437, the access road to Llyn Stwlan was used to rejoin the Way at the dam itself.
  This manoeuvre achieved two things:
  • The route from SH676437 upto the dam constitutes a direct ascent over rough ground. In March, it was very wet underfoot. This was avoided.
  • The stage to Croesor traverses both Moelwyn Mawr and Cnicht - this deviation at the start of the stage was intended to save energy for the two big climbs to come.
  In the event, the poor weather which was encountered throughout, led to the decision to return to Tan-y-grisiau from Rhosydd Quarry via Cwmorthin, having only achieved the traverse of Moelwyn Mawr. The use of Cwmorthin as an escape route had been previously identified and recce'd.
  In this instance, the size of the group had no bearing on the decision to curtail the walk.
(bb) Croesor to Bethania via Beddgelert - 7.5 m. Sunday 29th March.
  Despite the curtailment of the previous day's walk, this stage went ahead as planned. Car shuttle employed. The additional mileage made this stage more suitable for a day's walk.
(cc) Bethania to Pen-y-pass via Snowdon - 7 m. Saturday 18th April.
  Cars parked at Pen-y-gwryd, Sherpa Bus to Bethania. One guest walker, who was struggling on the Snowdon ascent, had to turn back and was accompanied off the mountain by the back marker, down to Rhyd Du, without reaching the summit. Internal arrangements were then made to pick them up, whilst the group continued with the walk. Suggestion that signage is used at point on the Watkin's Path where CW route diverges for Bwlch Cwm Llan. Straightforward enough in good conditions, but could present problem in poorer conditions. Post-walk refreshments in the Pen-y-gwryd Hotel.
(dd) Pen-y-pass to Tal-y-Llyn Ogwen via the Glyderau - 7 m. Sunday 19th April.
  Cars parked in Cwm Ogwen. Car shuttle to Pen-y-gwryd. Sherpa Bus to Pen-y-pass for start of walk. As with the Croesor - Bethania leg, this stage had extra mileage allotted, (from Idwal Cottage to Tal-y-llyn Ogwen), to shorten the final traverse of the Carneddau.
Conwy - June 2015.
Two stages were planned for this weekend:
(ee) Tal-y-llyn Ogwen to Bwlch y Ddeufaen - Carneddau Traverse. - 11 m. Sat. 27th June.
(ff) Bwlch y Ddeufaen to Conwy - 7.5 m. Sunday 28th June.
Starting the walk from Tal-y-llyn Ogwen, rather than Idwal Cottage reduced the overall mileage of this stage. Car shuttle employed. However, the limited access to the Bwlch at walk's end, and the restricted parking there, meant that our cars had to be parked in Tal-y-bont. To get walkers down from the Bwlch to Tal-y-bont, a local taxi firm was pre-booked to meet the group at the Bwlch. The arrangement being that selected drivers would be ferried down to Tal-y-bont and the car shuttle would then come into play.
NB This particular weekend also happens to be popular with walkers undertaking the Welsh 3000s Challenge. The Bwlch car park is therefore much in demand. A note of caution - not all taxi drivers know where the Bwlch is, despite what their firms say.
Given the events of the second day of the Rhinogydd traverse and the weather experienced during the Moelwyn traverse, much planning had gone into these stages. In the event, the weather was balmy and passed off uneventfully.
On the second day, local taxi firms delivered us to the Bwlch to complete the Way into Conwy.

5.   Cambrian Way - Journey's End, Conwy.

The finale was reached on Sunday 28th June in Conwy, with 25 members of the Llanelli and Lampeter groups completing the final stage of the CW. In Conwy, we were met by the President, Dennis McAteer and during the evening, a celebratory dinner was held in the Castle Hotel, attended by both the President and Chief Executive of Ramblers Cymru. Certificates were awarded and a celebratory cake cut - courtesy of Lampeter.

The venture started in Cardiff, some 276 miles earlier on 1st December 2012, and was completed over 33 legs. The task of leading the individual legs was shared by 12 different leaders. Throughout, the project had been self-financing.

Apart from the comradeship with the Lampeter Group, which has grown out of this venture, the biggest plus has been the sheer number of individual members who have participated in the project. Yes, the numbers were very high, at the start, (50 plus on day 1), but the level of attendance remained stubbornly high - such that a large bus always had to be used until Cwmystwyth and from there onwards a 28 seater was employed.

The use of transport was key, but an overarching inclusivity in our approach meant that the project remained within the capabilities of many who would consider themselves as just "ordinary walkers". The Cambrian Way never became the preserve of a select few. This was achieved without compromise or avoiding the challenges.

John Maudsley


13th August 2015

Walk Programme Secretary


Llanelli Ramblers