My Cambrian Way

from 2013 to 2015 - by Matthew Hand


I come from a background of fell running and live in mid-Wales (Llanidloes for 25 years and the last 4 years Rhandirmwyn) so know much of the route and mountains as a runner/walker. But I wanted to walk the course and enjoy the scenery at a more normal pace, + I had reached 60 years old so felt I was due a little easement, I also wanted to wild camp it all and be as self sufficient as possible - have an adventure!

August 2nd 2013

I took the bus down to Cardiff (I have a Welsh bus pass, being over 60) and mid-morning left the castle and walked through the gardens up the river Taff on a lovely hot summer day. I planned to walk hard to clear the valleys and reach Pontypool before nightfall. My pack contained a tent, food, stove, map, compass (I don't own a GPS) and other kit as I wanted to wild camp the whole route and enjoy the Welsh mountains at their best; I knew many of them from my years as a fell runner but now wished to link the whole route as a reflective, enjoyable walk.

The day went well and I pushed on to cover the miles, somewhere beside the Taff a cyclist approached, braked and took his helmet off, "Hello Moley, what are you doing here?", an old running friend - I should add Moley is my running nickname. Small world. In the afternoon spasmodic rain storms crossed the valleys close by, but save a few drops I was spared a drenching and reached Pontypool in the late afternoon. With some daylight in hand I carried on over the tower and onto the high ground looking for suitable camping sites, preferably with water. A large storm was brewing in the skies as I hurried on, but suddenly realised I would not be spared this one. As the rain began and thunderclaps grew closer I flung the tent down on a path below Garn Wen, pegged out as best I could and dived inside. The storm was a classic with thunder, lightning and torrential rain through much of the night, but I was ok inside.

The following day there was low cloud across the moorland towards Blorenge requiring careful navigation, on the steep descent from Blorenge I recall my legs going to jelly, which was a concern, so I headed into Waitrose for a cooked breakfast and to buy some supplies. The giant Waitrose breakfast was not for walkers with a giant appetite, pretty on the plate but meagre portions!

Leaving Abergavenny I carried good water supplies, as the day was scorching and I knew water would not be available on the tops of the Black Mountains; it was a long, hard, sweaty slog till mid-afternoon. I found a pleasant camping spot with a little stream above Capel-y-ffin so stopped there to wash myself, relax, cook and dry my kit before nightfall. I called my wife and received some news, my cousin from Australia was visiting us to stay from tomorrow, could I come home? Damn, but yes!

The next morning I walked as fast as I could to reach Crickhowell, but after Lord Herefords Knob the weather closed in and turned foul with driving rain, low cloud and strong winds, by Pen Cerrig I was very wet and cold and desperately needed to get off the tops (tiredness not helping) and drop down lower. I made it to town by lunchtime and went straight to the bus stop, looked at the timetable and realised it was Sunday, no buses! As I sat in a café having a substantial fry-up I phoned home "Can you come and rescue me please."

August 14th 2013

I caught the bus back to Crickhowell and started walking mid-morning, on a dank, misty day. I can't say the walk was enjoyable as visibility was non-existent and the weather was cloying, but I was pleased to navigate well in the mist over Llangynidr through to Yr Allt. With the wind and rain increasing I popped the tent down for the night, beside a stream in the Torpantau Pass, it chucked it down and blew all night. I awoke with a headache, felt awful and with the weather still foul decided to rest up till it cleared, late morning I packed and started the climb. Over Pen y Fan the weather cleared a bit and I dropped into Storey Arms in time for a cup of tea and bacon roll, where I was told the weather was to get worse tonight as a serious storm would hit the UK. None of this was forecast when I left home, no surprise there then.

I cracked on as the weather began to worsen, looking for a dry sheltered camping spot, everywhere was sodden and the galeforce wind didn't help. By the top of Fan Gihirych night was falling, rain lashing, the wind relentless and I was becoming desperate. Just above the A4067 I found a patch of ground on a slope, but with short grass and a small bank as meagre protection from the wind, I put the tent up and got inside exhausted. I would sit it out till morning. Sometime during the night I became aware things were not right, there was water inside the tent. The level rose and all my kit was soaked as the water began to flow over my internal groundsheet, springs had sprung up just above the tent and were flowing through it, at 5am I had no choice but to pitch camp. I was very tired, kit soaked, in need of food, had no idea how long the weather would last and knew I could not go forward far on the route. The streams were in full flood, the ground sodden and the River Tawe would be uncrossable without major detours, enough was enough, this walk was meant to be pleasurable and this no longer was. I walked the road to Sennybridge and phoned my wife "Can you come and rescue me please."

August 20th 2013

My wife dropped me off where I had finished below Gyhirych, it was a lovely clear sunny day and I carried a day sack, to complete the section to our home in Rhandirmwyn. I left out the detour up Fan Brycheiniog and Llanddeusant as I have been over there many times, but not done the low level route. A mixture of walk and jog, I reached home in an uneventful 6½ hours and that was it for year.

September 7th 2014

I walked out of our door at 7am straight onto the route, I was geared up to reach Barmouth and carrying substantial supplies as there is little opportunity to buy food on the way (a couple of garages, if open). As I started up the Doethie valley there was a ground frost forming and my feet and arms were very cold, I only had a short sleeved top and I wear trainers but I hadn't expected this frost, the sun would not touch this side of the valley for another hour, so I pressed on to keep warm. The day went well, though with a couple of silly minor navigational errors. I sat on Tony Drakes seat at Ty'n-y-Cornel and had a sandwich before taking the route over Esgair Cerrig and down to TPBITMON, as we know it (The phone box in the middle of nowhere), sadly vandalised and no longer functioning. An ice cream at Strata Florida, then up through Teifi pools, past the Claerddu bothy and I eventually camped on the dam of Llyn Fyrddon Fawr. A glorious setting and a magical night wild camping in total solitude.

An early start across to Domen Milwyn, not as easy to reach as it looked and then into Devils Bridge for a café stop, where the proprietor kindly gave me a free chocolate bar to help me on my way, did I look that needy already? A hard day in the heat followed and on the drag up from Dyffryn Castell I stopped halfway to the top and unpacked my tent and sleeping bag to dry in the sun, whilst I had a much needed pack of noodles. Over familiar ground I made it to Bugeilyn for the night, a lake I have wild camped at and fished before - and also seen a pair of hen harriers there, if you are interested.

A long slog the next day, I had to stop shortly after Commins Coch due to the heat, strip off and get into a stream to cool down and again further on. I crossed the windfarm and eventually found a perfect spot after the forestry at Waun Llinau, another perfect nights camping with a beautiful moon rising.

The morning walk to Brigands Inn seemed to drag on, but once in the garage café I ordered the "giant, mega, fry-up" (or something like that, it was the biggest breakfast on the menu). This was the polar opposite of Waitrose fare, but I munched my way through the mountain of grease, yummy!

Oh boy did I suffer going up to Bwlch Siglen, I have never felt to sick and dreadful on a walk, I have no idea how I kept that breakfast down. On Craig Maesglase, I had to rest. The tent went up to dry, I stripped off again and washed in the stream above the falls and then stretched out naked on my airbed in the sun and fell asleep. Apologies to the walker that I think went right past me. I awoke refreshed and my stomach settled and cracked on before nightfall, over Waun Oer and then dropped down from Ceiswyn; as it was nearly dark, I put the tent up by the stream (before the A487), cooked more noodles and had a few hours sleep, planning on an early start to climb before the heat became unbearable in the morning.

Early morning and straight up the fence line (this climb always hurts) and along to Cadair Idris on a fine day with hardly a walker in sight, perfect. I took the ridge along Tyrrau Mawr and dropped down to Hafotty-fach and over the bridge to Barmouth. A bottle of coke, a portion of chips (it is the seaside after all) and I started the bus rides down the coast towards home. A hard but very rewarding 4½ days, just how I wanted the walk to be.

After this my knee started to pain me badly, and a few weeks later a trip to the GP followed by a physio consultation and I was told it was worn out and knackered, from now on it was gentle exercise only and absolutely no more hills. I did not want to hear this.

June 3rd 2015

8 months rest and gentle exercise on my knee and it was much better and stronger, there is a weakness but it doesn't trouble me and there is only one way to find out what it can take. I packed my bag and drove to Barmouth for the Rhinogau section, I planned to take this section as it comes and not press too hard or too far, gently does it.

On the first climb up onto the ridge my legs are horribly weak and I feel some doubt as to my fitness levels as I haven't had a heavy sack on my back since last year. The sky is clear and the wind very keen off the sea, but it is rewarding to be back out again on some of my favourite hills. From Bwlch Drws Ardudwy I usually climb and scramble directly up and through a gully onto the top, but decide to take the kinder route contouring around to my right, a route I have never managed correctly. The same as usual, I spend time floundering about over rocks and heather, swearing in the sun as I slowly climb up on random goat tracks, reaching the summit plateau at last. I press on across the Roman steps, I enjoy the Northern Rhinogau and with good visibility decide to walk the full ridge rather than drop down to Cwm Bychan. I would not recommend this route unless you know it and certainly not without good weather and visibility, it can result in much bad language and general despair if it goes wrong.

I camped the night on the path down to Moelfryn, overlooking the lake and power station, it was an atmospheric spot as the dawn broke and the grouse called around me. An early morning start saw me on my way, with my knee not troubling me, good news. From Maentwrog I was on unknown ground and made a few annoying navigational errors around Dduallt and Tanygrisiau which cost me all the time that I was making up by walking hard. By Llyn Stwlan I was knackered, so stopped to cook some food and dry my tent so I would have a slightly lighter pack for the next climbs. Moelwyn Mawr went well, through the quarries and up onto Cnicht, as I gingerly descended Cnicht I recalled that only a few years ago I fell raced this mountain, coming down at full tilt - I must have had a death wish at the time, how on earth did I do it?

By Nantmor my feet were in a bad shape and the last few miles were painful so I stopped twice to bathe my feet in the river Glaslyn. But eventually I reached Beddgelert for an ice cream, bliss. I was in time for a bus to Porthmadog and a train back to my car in Barmouth, a very satisfying section to complete and my confidence was restored.

September 19th 2015

I drove to Beddgelert in the afternoon and started up the Glaslyn at 4pm, trying to make some miles before dark. This time I didn't carry a tent, but rather a bivvy bag (there was a very good weather forecast), but with cold nights I had a heavier sleeping bag so there was no weight saving, plus 3 full days of food. I made good time onto Snowdon on a glorious evening and saw not a sole on the mountain as the sun set to the west, I hurried down the Pyg track as darkness came and camped a mile short of Pen y Pass, a wonderful clear night spent looking directly up into the starlit night sky. A great start making a few miles and a big climb on the first evening.

Down to Pen y pass, I stopped and sorted my bag etc. and a girl runner came up "Hello Matthew, what are you doing here?" a small world, again. I found the red dot path up Glyder Fawr but the climb was tough for me today and then down the other side I found the going slow. I was relieved to reach Ogwen and the café for a mug of coffee and a cold pasty (that's about all they do there) I took all my kit out to dry and had a rest, hoping to find some more energy.

Halfway up Pen yr Ole Wen my energy kicked back in and I felt better, I don't know the Carneddau and had in my mind that once up there it was a straight forward ridge walk. It isn't, there are still considerable 'ups and downs', but I was going well and felt fairly elated though the wind was very sharp along the ridge.

I pushed through to Tal y Fan, now with Conwy castle in sight, it was about 6.30pm but there was no point trying to finish tonight; I would arrive in town after dark, tired, very smelly with nowhere to stay and no buses till morning. I bivvied down in an old stone bothy, without too much sheep poo on the floor, cooked supper and had an early night. Straight to sleep, occasionally waking to look at the stars and enjoy the moment.

The glory leg this morning, to savour and enjoy with no pressure or weather worries. A lovely morning walk towards and over Conwy mountain, then the perfect approach to the town and castle in the morning sun. I reached the castle at 9.15am and 20 minutes later was on the first of my two bus rides back to Beddgelert and then the drive home.

This is the most wonderful walk, but I am biased having lived in mid Wales for 30 years and loving these mountains. There are different ways to tackle it, but whichever way you choose it remains a challenge that should not be underestimated, it is a mountain route with much of it over rough moorland and hills that require careful navigation and the Welsh weather may drive you to despair. A GPS would no doubt be very helpful, but I am a bit of a stuck in the past traditionalist, so I enjoy the challenge of using solely map and compass - I accept my navigational errors as part and parcel of the adventure. I wish you all well on your personal adventure, you will not regret it.

I will add that we have a single room B&B in Rhandirmwyn and any CW walkers will be most hospitably received and I can help with route or other advice if needed, you should find our details on the website (on the CW News Page Item 21.) We could probably arrange to hold/purchase food supplies for your next section if you wanted.

Good walking,
Matthew Hand