My partner dropped me off at Mermaid Quay in Cardiff on June 7th so I could make the walk a coast-to-coast and round up the mileage to a convenient number that rolls of the tongue. I arrived in Conwy on June 29th, so that is 23 days in total. This included two rest days in accommodation in Llandovery and Barmouth to get my clothes and myself clean, so that's 21 days of walking (and thus an average of 14.3 miles per day). The rest was tent-bound, except for an overnight stop at a B&B in Abergavenny.
It was tough. It wasn't just hauling a heavy rucksack up seemingly endless hills that made it so. It was the fact that many parts of the route are pathless, especially in the less visited areas of central Wales and the northern Rhinogs. Although the Cicerone guide book sometimes suggests the existence of 'faint paths', they often couldn't be seen because of the new growth of thigh-high bracken. Couple this with dense fog and navigation was certainly very challenging at times – but then I like a challenge.
It was quite a remote and thus lonely route. I saw very few people, especially during the week. A few more appeared at weekends, but I only saw crowds at places like Pen y Fan and Snowdon. There were places where the non-existent mobile phone reception combined with a lack of other walkers meant that you definitely did not want to break a leg.
I made a few 'personal' adjustments to the official route as follows:
- I started the walk from Mermaid Quay, Cardiff, and walked to the Castle via Butetown, to make it a coast-to-coast.
- I by-passed Capel-y-ffin and continued along the ridge to Twmpa, later wild-camping at Pen Trumau, 1 km SW of Waun Fach.
- I took the 'blue' route (Stage 6A) south of Talybont Reservoir to wild-camp by the woods, and then rejoined the main route at Blaen y Glyn car park via the Taff Trail.
- I by-passed Cribyn (too hot for another climb that day) and descended from Pen y Fan via the Beacons Way route to Pont ar Daf car park because there was a van selling food there. I then rejoined the main route at Storey Arms.
- I took the 'green' route (Stage 7B) directly to Llyn y Fan Fawr, missing out Glyntawe.
- Rather than climb Fan Brycheiniog and Picws Du (swelteringly hot again that day and I have climbed these mountains on a previous occasion), I walked via the Beacons Way to Llyn y Fan Fach dam and the followed the 'blue route' (Stage 8A) to Llanddeusant.
- I skipped Tyrrau Mawr and took the 'green' route (Stage 15B) to Llynau Cregennen, so I could wild-camp at lower altitude.
- I by-passed Rhinog Fach & Fawr as I had climbed them both recently anyway, but still continued down the Roman Steps to Cwm Bychan (annoyingly, no facilities whatsoever at the campsite).
- Dense Fog would have made continuing along the ridge after Clip very time consuming and rather pointless, so I took the escape route down to Wern-fach and rejoined the main route at Moelfryn. I might go back and do the ridge one day as it looked like it would be fun in good weather.
- Having climbed Snowdon many times before by different routes, I decided to get to Pen-y-pass via the Y Lliwedd instead. Scrambling with a heavy rucksack required a bit of concentration, but it was fun.
- Instead of visiting Glyder Fach, which I climbed only recently, I went down to Idwal Cottage via the Devil's Kitchen.
- I by-passed Foel Lwyd and Tal y Fan (feeling that I had already climbed enough mountains that day). The map shows an easy minor road and footpath route from Bwlch y Ddeufaen to rejoin the main route on the flank of Cefn Maen Amor.
- I continued through Conwy and on to Llandudno, where accommodation is much cheaper.
Start at Mermaid Quay, Cardiff - 7/6/2021
Hillfort at Twmbarlwm - 8/6/2021
Tunnel under canal at Llanfoist - 9/6/2021
Strata Florida Abbey – 17/6/2021
Claerddu Bothy – 17/6/2021
Steep route to Cadair Idris - 21/6/2021
Wildcamp below Llyn Stwlan – 26/6/2021
Leave no trace – 26/6/21
Finish in Conwy - 29/06/2021
- Generally, the quality of paths and stiles, especially in central Wales, was much poorer than I am used to in Hampshire. I expected that, of course. It was reassuring to come across the odd Cambrian Way waymarker from time to time, particularly on the more difficult stretches. The only real problem I had was getting through the woods at Waun Llinau. As the book described, there were fallen trees blocking the path, but beyond them, replanted trees have now grown to more-or-less block the path completely. With a large rucksack, it was an act of will to fight my way through. A machette might have been useful. Although the map shows a right of way, it would be good if a local Ramblers group could restore it to a practical walking path.
- Anyway. I made it, although I don't think that I would rush to do it again. I would describe it more as a 'challenge' walk than a 'pleasure' walk, but that was probably because I was doing in one go with a heavy rucksack and a tent. Doing it in sections, more lightly loaded and staying in roofed accommodation each night, might have given me a different experience. Luckily the weather was good - too good on a couple days in the Brecons when the sweltering heat made hill climbing quite exhausting. Mostly, it was cloudy but warm, and I only experienced light rain on one day which, for Wales, was amazingly fortunate. More typical weather might have included a few very wet days, making the walk even more challenging and wild-camping a soggy affair.
- I have done many tough walks, including John O'Groats to Land's End, the HRP (Pyrenean Traverse) and the GR20 in Corsica, but I think that this might have been the toughest, possibly because of the need to wade through so much dew-laden bracken. Alternatively, maybe it's just me getting older (I am 67 this year). However, I hope this proves that you are never too old if you have the will.
Thanks to George Tod for all the hard work in maintaining the Cambrian Way website and helping me to experience something unique and unforgettable.