Recently I decided to make a determined effort to tick off the National Trails, and moreover to thru-hike as many of them as I can. To date I’ve only completed the North Downs Way, and am just over 90% done on the South West Coast Path, but neither of these have been done in one go.
As of this month, I also have a lot more time on my hands, and wanted to get stuck into the project. But I have a limited window before this year’s “main” holiday, so I needed something of a modest length: less than a couple of weeks, but certainly more than 1. There aren’t many of the National Trails that fit into that, and which are also reasonably straightforward logistically.
After not having done a “proper” trip since 2019, other than easy jaunts to Dartmoor in the car, the walk needed to be reasonably easy to get to using off peak travel, ideally with both ends of the trail convenient for that travel.
I finally whittled it down to Glyndŵr’s Way, although did also look at a couple of non-National Trails in the form of the Wye Valley Walk and a repeat of the Cumbria Way – both of which are also on my to do list.
About the Trail
Glyndŵr’s Way is officially 135 miles from its start in Knighton to finish in Welshpool, slicing a giant V through mid-Wales, with the point of that V in Machynlleth. This equates to 217km, although my plot comes out just short of that at 215km, but which will surely exceed the official distance once the usual “where’s the path” fannying around takes place on the walk itself.
Although the walk is based around the historic Prince of Wales Owain Glyndŵr, it’s important to recognise that it doesn’t seek to trace a particular route he travelled or was connected with. Instead it joins up various places associated with him. This left the walk designers with freedom to route the walk through some decent scenery, rather than slavishly follow what might have been an accurate but nevertheless dull route. The result is a walk through some of the best scenery that mid-Wales has to offer.
According to the National Trails website, it typically takes around 9 days to complete the walk.
The terrain is described as “…very hilly, often dropping into valleys and ascending hills several times in a day. You should be aware that it crosses country that is sometimes rough and remote. The ability to navigate by compass will be very welcome if it is misty.”
They’re not joking about the “hills several times in a day”: my plot of the route came out with 7,600m of ascent, an average of 900m or more every day. So this is 9 days of proper hill walk distance and ascent each day. It’ll be a good test of fitness.
The highest point is on Foel Fadian at 510m, so it’s not super high, but there is a lot of open moorland, as well as forest and farmland, with relatively little road walking compared with some walks.
Why I Want to Do the Walk
Apart from the wider aim of doing all the National Trails (of which, at the time of writing there are 16 (if you count the not really fully completed English Coast Path), something has intrigued me about this walk for a while. I recall seeing the waymarks for it to the north of Plynlimon when I was walking that stretch of the Cambrian Way. Having loved the mid-Wales part of that walk, the idea of doing more in that area really appeals. It helps that the area is relatively unfrequented compared with those further north or south.
Given that it is summer, accommodation is likely to be under some pressure, even before factoring in the effect of people unable to go abroad for their holidays. When I add in the inevitability of a certain degree of feral behaviour that current circumstances seem to catalyse, it didn’t take me long to resolve to wild camp as much of the route as I could, staying away from booked accommodation and popular spots as much as possible. This aside, a predominantly wild camped hike is what will bring most satisfaction anyway.
For completeness though, I did look at other options along the route, mainly for awareness in case the plan needs to change. There is a reasonably decent spread of campsites all along the route, but some impractical gaps do exist. most notably towards the point of the “V”. Most of these are ones you need to call to book, rather than doing online. Several are described online as being members only sites, and I came to the conclusion that it was too much hassle.
The plan will be to wild camp, but I may take advantage of the odd campsite if I happen across one that takes walk-up non-member bookings, and which isn’t too busy.
I have decided to book a B&B in Machynlleth, the psychological halfway point of the walk (actually it’s slightly over halfway). This breaks the camping into two segments of 4 days and 3 days which is a good split.
The plan is to travel by train as both Knighton (KNI) and Welshpool (WLP) have stations and connect through Shrewsbury (SHR). The journey takes 4-5 hours, including getting into London from Essex, so offers the option of travelling and walking on the first day, or travelling the day before and starting with a full day. Some extra time to cross London will be needed, as there’s no way I’m using the tube.
Using my routecard template (more about that later), I worked out several alternative itineraries:
|No.||Strategy||Day 1 walk||No. of full middle days||Final day walk||Total days needed (incl travel)||Wild camps||Campsites / B&Bs|
|1||Travel on day 1 / aggressive timetable||1/2||6||1/2||8||4||3|
|2||Travel on day 1 / relaxed timetable||1/2||7||1||10||5||4|
|3||Travel day 0 / aggressive timetable||1||6||1/2||9||2||5|
|4||Travel day 0 / relaxed timetable||1||6||1||10||4||4|
|5||Completely independent strategy (ie whatever needed to maximise wild camps)||1/2||7||1||10||8||1|
|6||Actual plan chosen (mix of 2 and 5)||1/2||7||1||10||7||2|
In the table, if the first or last day show as 1/2 then that means travel out/back also on that day. If first or last day shows as 1, then an extra day before/after is needed to travel out/home. Day 1 is the first day of walking, and so Day 0 is the travel day before that where it applies.
The plan I actually settled on is the one driven by efficient use of wild camping options, but I then forced a stay in Machynlleth to create a break. This meant that the schedule then naturally assumed much of the character of option 2, although with tweaked daily distances to fit where the best wild camp options are.
No, I’m not going to publish the planned wild camp spots, before anyone asks.
Luckily I already had the AZ Maps map for Glyndŵr’s Way, and this covers the whole route in a convenient booklet of OS 1:25k mapping. So I’ll be taking that.
I will supplement this with a self-made routecard, which is essentially an exported routecard from Memory Map, with some formulae to tart it up a bit afterwards. The routecard also enables calculation of daily total distances, so I just play with each day’s stop points until I’m happy with the overall pattern.
All distances are in kilometres and ascent is in metres. Times in hours and minutes (obvs). Day 1 is a “half” day after travelling, with the rest being “full” days. I’m not booking the B&B in Welshpool until I’m sure I’ll finish on Day 9. In my head I also have the contingency of using part of the travel home day (10) if I can’t quite make it – although where I’ll camp is another matter if that situation arises.
This is actually a more flexible plan than it might appear. Most of the wild camp spots identified have backups, and if I happen across a campsite with space for a walk-in, I may take advantage. Much of the detail in the planning is about making a note of what’s out there so I have it all to hand to use for decision making on the trail.
The plan for this walk is to keep it simple. It’s slightly too long a walk to simply carry all my food, but I don’t want the complication of arranging to send a parcel to the Machynlleth B&B.
I should be able to re-provision to some extent in several of the places I travel through, and notably in Llanidloes, Machynlleth and Llangadfan. Machynlleth is a proper town so will obviously be the main re-supply. I’ll use the interim places to just top up as needed/possible, and take advantage of cafes etc on the way.
I plan to take enough dehydrated ingredients to cover 4-5 nights, and will simply use these when I’ve not been able to pig out before reaching camp. Snacks and lunchables should be easy to find along the way.
A bigger concern is water. A lot of the path is not “proper” mountains, and is instead more like farmland, thus making the provenance of any raw water more suspect. I will of course be taking my Sawyer filter, but will as far as possible make sure I’m carrying enough for the next camp at all times, and will buy it from shops along the way if I feel I need to.
Clearly the mantra “Never pass up on an open cafe or a real toilet” applies here. But the route isn’t well supplied, with the main public facilities being at kilometres 43, 74, 119, 156, 173, 186 and 198, as well as the start and end of the trail. They’re spread out fairly well, but it doesn’t take much nous to work out that the number is less than the number of days of the walk, and that a trowel will be needed.
Recording the Walk
I’ll be using my phone for most of the still photographs taken on the walk, but am also planning on taking my DJI Osmo Action camera to take video. Subject to signal, I’ll post periodic updates to Social Media, and do a full write-up when I get home.
The forecast for next week, when I’ll be starting is somewhat cooler than this week, which will be a nice relief after the heatwave. But conditions look a little more unsettled generally. Coupled with the fact that I can’t forecast forward to cover the latter part of the walk, means that I still need to prepare for the possibility of some worse weather.
I’m reasonably confident that I can get shelter any night it’s a bit wild, so it doesn’t have to be the full bad weather set-up. The plan is to go as fast and light as I can, bearing in mind the length of the walk and the size of the food carry.
Night time temperatures look to be no worse than about 10C, so a relatively light summer sleep setup should be all that’s needed.
Ideally, I would take a trekking pole tent (a mid) and save the weight of poles by doing so, but I also have to consider that I’m looking at 7 (or maybe even 8) nights in the same tent, so I may want something with a higher comfort factor. I may also need to consider stealth. I haven’t quite decided yet, but most likely it will either be my Solomid XL or my Pretents Lightrock
Stove set up doesn’t need to be complex either. I don’t think the length of the trip really tips the balance in favour of alcohol or gas, so I will most likely go with whatever I decide on the day I pack.
Clothes system will almost certainly be based around warm summer’s day for walking in, with minimal extra layers to cope with wind/rain/cool temperatures. Sun hoody and sun gloves will be going in the pack.
So, this is all a bit vague until my thoughts come together – most likely when I’m actually packing.
I’m really looking forward to this walk, both for the walk itself, and the chance to get out and do something linear. It should be both a physical and a mental challenge, given where I’m picking up from, but at the same time within my capabilities. It’s a really good length to ease me back into longer backpacks, and to prepare for a walk I have planned in the autumn.
But most of all I’m just looking forward to disappearing into the middle of “nowhere” for a week or so. Roll on Monday.