Planning the Cambrian Way – Part 3: Cardiff to Abergavenny (Stage 1)

It seems no one spotted the “deliberate” mistake in my last planning post – indeed I was even complimented on the reasonableness of my 24 day schedule. Except, if you’d added up the days for each section you’d have come up with 27, making it even more reasonable. It was only sitting down to start looking at the first two stages in detail and pulling all of my scribbled notes together that I spotted this slight chink in my numerical armour.

[The photos in this post are taken from the Cambrian Way website and (c) George Tod, who permits their use for non-commercial purposes]

Now 27 days really isn’t acceptable – that’s practically 4 weeks, and would pretty much ensure that I would have to do the walk in 2 parts, thereby making it just a shade less special and, assuming a successful completion, a slightly less impressive achievement. Whatever, if the schedule stays at that sort of level, that’s the decision that would have to be taken, although if it were to get any bigger then I’d be threatening Bob & Charl’s 31 days just to get to Barmouth! So whilst it’s good to look at breaking the route down based on my usual comfortable day walk distance and ascent parameters, I need to be wary of being over-cautious to the extent that this results in a stupidly long schedule. More account needs to be taken of the fact that (a) I should be in better shape at the start of the walk than I would usually for a multi-day hillwalk, (b) I will get fitter on the walk itself, and (c) the need to not take it too easy on the easier chunks of the walk.

To this end I started reviewing stage 1, from Cardiff to Abergavenny, with increased motivation to get this easiest stage optimized so that I take enough time to break myself into the walk, but do sensible daily distances so that I don’t fritter away time that I’ll need on the next stage. For me, the approach seems to be to set a time limit and plan within that constraint. People typically do the first stage to Abergavenny in 2 days, despite the book recommending that it is done in 3. Since I’ll almost certainly be travelling to Cardiff in the morning of the first day, the obvious thing to do is plan a 2½ day schedule for this stage. If I keep my planned overnight stops flexible for the first two nights, then I have the ability to adjust daily distances to fit how I’m feeling.

Castell Coch (c) George Tod

This seems like the right thing to do until a detailed review of the map for likely camp spots. This is the most inhabited part of the Way and nowhere are you more than a couple of miles from a village, town or city. In many ways it’s a bit like walking the North Downs Way. This means we’re looking at stealth bivvies in woods and away from paths wherever possible. Of course, being only a mile or two from civilisation it would also be quite easy to head there for overnighting, but if I’m going to wild camp the majority of the route, then it seems best to start early on. This needs more thought.

Machen and Mynydd Machen (c) George Tod
Blorenge from Foxhunter’s grave (c) George Tod

Assuming I can find suitable bivvy spots, how does the route break down for this stage ? Well, the crude figures reported in the previous post have now been revised. A distance of 37 miles based on the book is now 41, after allowing for a Cardiff Bay start, a couple of detours for camp spots and an alternative route over Mynydd Twyn-glas (a Marilyn) rather than around its flanks. The ascent estimate has now risen from 1,791m to 2,020m, confirming me in my gut feel that 2 days is too hard a schedule for me. So 2½ days it is, with the option of making one of them a long one if I need to recover some distance. So the stage 1 plan ends up as:

Cambrian Way Stage 1 Plan
Cambrian Way Stage 1 Plan

There are 5 checkpoints on this stage, plus by my Cardiff Bay start I effectively add another. The checkpoints are:

  • CP0 – Cardiff Bay (start)
  • CP1 – Cardiff Castle (“official” start)
  • CP2 – Castell Coch
  • CP3 – Mynydd Machen
  • CP4 – Twmbarlwm
  • CP5 – Blorenge

The route will also pass over the following hills:

  • Mynydd Machen (362m, Marilyn)
  • Mynydd Twyn-glas (472m, Marilyn) – detour by staying high rather than route along flanks
  • Blorenge (561m, HuMP, Dewey)

Whilst not the most exciting stage of the walk, the thrill of being at the start should carry me through, the route profile also matches closely the sort of pattern I need for me to hit optimum vigour for stage 2, and Blorenge has been on my to do list for a while. If my training works out, this should still represent something that’s comfortable. So all in all a quite acceptable first section. And having seen George’s photos, even the bits that look relatively uninspiring on the map don’t look too bad.

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