Glyndŵr’s Way: Afterthoughts

So the walk is done, and as you would expect the experiences of that walk prompted a few thoughts about how it went, what I’d do the same/differently, and generally what were the highs and lows. So here goes….

  • The Plan vs Reality
  • Navigation, Trail Hazards etc
  • Weather
  • Facilities along the Trail
  • Water
  • Accommodation
  • Gear that Worked
  • Gear that Didn’t
  • Finally

The Plan vs Reality

Overall, I felt well-prepared for the walk. I knew it was going to be up and down the whole time, resulting in some big ascent/descent figures for each day. It was nevertheless a bit of a shock to see just how big some of those numbers turned out to be.

Two of the days (day 3 into Llanidloes and day 6 from Machynlleth) make it into my top 10 of furthest distance walked in a day, and in addition day 6 is in the top 10 of daily ascent totals, making it the second hardest day’s walk overall I’ve ever done. It felt it. Indeed, by that measure 3 out of the 9 days (day 3, 4 and 6) work out as in the top 10 hardest day’s walks I’ve ever done.

Glyndŵr’s Way is NOT an easy path.

I knew this before I started though, but it’s worth stating again. What is, in National Trail terms, a fairly innocuous and overlooked path, turns out to be one of the toughest. It possibly wasn’t the ideal choice for a big walk post-lockdown, but having done it, it’s now easy to look back and say that it was a brilliant choice for a workout.

Here’s how my planned and actual schedules compare:

DayPlanned WalkPlanned OvernightActual WalkActual Overnight
0Travel to KnightonCampsite (Panpwnton)Travel to KnightonCampsite (Panpwnton)
1Knighton to Pool Hill
17.16km, 739m ascent
Wild campKnighton to Black Mountain
21.22km, 778m ascent
Wild camp
2Pool Hill to Ysgŵd-ffordd
26.95km, 786m ascent
Wild campBlack Mountain to Ysgŵd-ffordd
27.84km, 734m ascent
Wild camp
3Ysgŵd-ffordd to Moelfre(ish)
23.97km, 895m ascent
Wild campYsgŵd-ffordd to Llanidloes
32.46km, 1042m ascent
B&B (Mount Inn)
4Llanidloes to Nant Goch
29.67km, 1109m ascent
Wild campLlanidloes to Foel Fadian
29.59km, 1230m ascent
(Very) Wild camp
5Nant Goch to Machynlleth
21.39km, 736m ascent
B&B (White Lion)Foel Fadian to Machynlleth
19.89km, 600m ascent
B&B (White Lion)
6Machynlleth to Cerrig y Tan*
28.70km, 1309m ascent
Wild campMachynlleth to Cerrig y Tan
32.48km, 1266m ascent
Wild camp
7Cerrig y Tan to Lake Vyrnwy*
25.49km, 702m ascent
Wild campCerrig y Tan to Abertridwr
28.63km, 682m ascent
Campsite (Lake Vyrnwy)
8Lake Vyrnwy to Meifod*
24.17km, 679m ascent
Campsite (King’s Head or
Pentrego Farm)
Abertridwr to Meifod
25.71km, 624m ascent
Campsite (King’s Head)
9Meifod to Welshpool
17.74km, 659m ascent
? (not planned anything)Meifod to Welshpool
19.47km, 620m ascent
B&B (Old Post Office, Shrewsbury)
10Travel homeTravel home

*For days 6, 7 and 8 I planned two options – a relaxed option with a shorter distance, and an aggressive option with a longer distance. The table shows the aggressive option, as I either met or exceeded that in actuality.

The table also shows that the overall distance was more than the official distance or what my digital mapping told me (unsurprisingly):

PlannedActual
Distance (km)215.24 km237.29 km
Ascent (m)7,614 m 7,576 m

Some of this was due to specific detours (Llanbadarn Fynydd, Llanbrynmair being the obvious ones), but in general the fact that however much detail you plot a route in digital mapping, it will never reflect all of the twists and turns on the ground, nor allow for the margin of error of whatever device you track your real progress on.

Suffice to say that the overall distance variation was about 10% of the planned amount, which is about what I tend to expect.

Navigation, Trail Hazards etc

There were no serious navigational issues on the walk. It is generally well waymarked, and in many cases you can see at least the next waymark after the one you’re at – you get quite used to looking in this way. There were a few instances where posts had become loose, or fallen over or twisted to point not quite right, but generally logic sorted these out, along with the map. It’s always useful to look at the reverse of a marker post to check that if walking the other way, it would have pointed you to where you’ve actually just come from. That gives confidence. There was one notable place where this tactic did not work – the Field of Doom on day 3.

Additionally, there were a few instances where the path goes through or very close to farm buildings, where care was needed to work out where the path was. Several times, I had my retort ready for a farmer that might complain about me trespassing away from the path: it would have gone along the lines of “Tough. If you signed it better, it wouldn’t have happened”. I never actually had to use this tactic though, unlike a couple of times on the Cambrian Way.

There were no bad river crossings like you’d get somewhere wilder like Scotland, or parts of Dartmoor. The wettest I got crossing a river was the shortcut I took through a ford at Llanbadarn Fynydd.

The walk provided a lot of opportunity for being solitary, if that’s your thing. Obviously that also means you need to consider “what if” you hurt yourself, as you can’t rely on someone coming by. I took a Garmin inReach Mini.

For a walk of this length, it seems that the proportion of road walking is pretty low. I haven’t measured that scientifically, it’s just a general impression. The route makes good use of farm tracks and several decent length byways.

In several places the path was overgrown or encroached upon by vegetation, in particular bracken, which had grown to above head height. In some cases this obscured the path itself so I was walking on instinct of where the line of the path was (ie where the bracken seemed to be thinner). The worst places for bracken were to the west of Llyn Clywedog, and on an isolated patch of open access hillside just before Abercegir.

Gates, and what few stiles there were, were in generally good repair, with a few notable exceptions. The prize for worst condition gates/stiles goes to Blowty, just north of Llangadfan. It is worth noting that as this walk goes through a lot of farmland, there are also a lot of gates.

I would add that it is generally straightforward to deduce which farmers embraced the idea of the Path going through their land, and which really didn’t. At the start of the walk, I had some concerns about the practicality of wild camping due to how visible some of the farmers were, but in practice this wasn’t actually a problem at all.

This walk doesn’t really have any difficult terrain – there aren’t any substantial amounts of rock, or steep scree slopes etc to negotiate. There were a few places where I needed to watch my footing due to bumpy fields, rabbit holes – that sort of thing.

Weather

I had generally decent weather:

  • Days 1 and 9 were fine and warm the whole day
  • Days 3 and 5 had a small amount of rain, but nothing to get excited about
  • Days 2, 4, 6, 7 and 8 were dry and comfortable for walking, although not especially bright days.

Overall, my waterproof jacket spent the vast majority of the walk strapped to the top of my pack.

The only significant wind I had was overnight on night 4, and this was largely due to its exposed location.

I wore a sun hoody the whole time, and was never cold enough to put something on over it. I wore shorts the whole time except day 3, but even then I changed into shorts later in the day.

Facilities along the Trail

I knew setting off that logistics and just managing the walk’s parameters would be tougher than on many paths.

Mid-Wales isn’t overburdened with towns and villages to resupply in, and those that are there are small, and likely to have shops open odd hours. In reality I found quite a few closed, especially early in the week. Even where they were open, they are unlikely to be open late – this is what messed me up in Llanbrynmair.

It’s also fair to say that I couldn’t trust that any pub marked on the map would actually be open. There’s so little traffic through some of these areas, that many don’t bother opening at lunchtime, and even if they do it’s almost never on a Monday or Tuesday. A couple of times when I passed a pub at the end of the day, it wasn’t even open then. Just don’t trust them.

I would specifically suggest that starting the walk early in the week (Monday to Wednesday) is worst from a shop/cafe/pub open perspective – as by starting then, a 9 day schedule means you get those particular days twice.

There are public toilets on, or near the trail at:

  • Tynypant (between Moel Dod and Ysgŵd-ffordd) – bit of a detour
  • Llanidloes
  • Llanbrynmair (locked when I was there)
  • Llanwyddyn
  • Pont Llogel (a portaloo)
  • Dolanog (definitely open when I was there)
  • Meifod

Plus of course, in various shops, cafes, pubs and overnight accommodation.

There are no outdoor shops along the trail to stock up on camping essentials or replace failed/lost gear in an emergency.

Water

A few words specifically about water, which was probably the critical determining factor in most of the decisions made during the walk.

I knew from the planning I’d done, and the researching of wild camp spots, that water would not be as easy to come by compared with a walk in Scotland, the Lakes, Dartmoor, or even further north or south in Wales. The patches of high ground which would be the natural places to wild camp were sprinkled about in small pockets, and many of them showed as having, at best, very meagre streams on them.

The only upland area I really found any decent amount of wild water was on Day 4 on the plateau around Glaslyn. I could certainly have drawn water here, but I had already lugged some up from the valley below, and I certainly wasn’t going to discard it in favour of wild water. Of course I needn’t have filled up with water at the hostel, and could have trusted that I would find some, but this ignores the experiences of days 1 to 3 when there was absolutely none at all. Was it worth the risk ?

A commenter on one of the previous posts, suggested I get myself a water filter. I actually carried a Sawyer filter the whole time, but it’s dead weight if (a) there is no water available in the first place, and/or (b) it’s water I wouldn’t take however it was subsequently treated.

For most days on this walk (the evening of day 4 excepted), there was no water – the streams were so dry you couldn’t even tell where the stream would normally have been. At the end of day 1 there was a pool on Pool Hill. It was difficult to get to, stagnant and with animals nearby. It had quite a collection of stuff buzzing above it. It looked like the archetypal fetid swamp. I chose not to risk it.

The one place there was water was in the more major rivers I crossed – the Teme, Ithon, Severn, Clywedog (immediately below the dam), Hengwm, Dulas, Twymyn, Rhiwsaeson, Gam, Banwy, Vyrnwy but these were all at valley level, and running through predominantly farmland, so of questionable provenance – anything could have been washed into them. I wouldn’t drink lowland water in my home area for the same reason.

If it had been life and death, of course I’d have taken these waters, but such extremes were not, and were never likely to be, needed. Many of these rivers fell too early in the day to be useful for wild camps anyway. If carrying extra water mitigated the risk of (a) not finding water, and (b) finding water I wasn’t even prepared to filter, then it was worth doing. The extra weight in itself provided a training boost, if nothing else.

Accommodation

For the 8 nights on the trail, I’d expected 6 wild camps, but in the end only did 4. An extra B&B in Llanidloes and campsite near Lake Vyrnwy accounting for the difference – both were much needed at the time. I don’t regret not having done more wild camps: the water situation was a huge constraint. Indeed, I’d possibly go as far as to propose that under these conditions, wild camping the trail may not be the best method.

If I were doing it again under similar circumstances, I’d probably either pre-book campsites, with the occasional B&B, or maybe even go the luxury route of just B&B-ing the whole way. This latter would enable a much lighter load, whilst the former gives certainty over water supplies, so each day I’d only need to take what I needed for the day’s walk.

This is not to say that wild camping the trail is difficult or a bad idea – it’s just so much harder when water supplies are meagre. I’d have felt happy wild camping on most of the higher terrain I passed over, and if you’re someone used to, and comfortable with, stealth camping lower down, then you’ll be fine with the usual caveats about arriving late, leaving early and leaving no trace. If you pair this approach with using the state of the path and signage to indicate how much of a git the local farmer is, then it’ll be fine.

Gear that Worked

I walked in shorts for all but one day, and even on that day I changed into shorts later on. Paired with the long socks I use for running, this was comfortable and provided enough protection from vegetation. Indeed one of those pairs of socks are specifically aimed at orienteers who typically thrash through a lot of long vegetation in quest of the fastest route between controls. This was so comfortable a system, that I will do it as standard in all but the worst 3-season weather.

What about ticks I hear you ask ? Given that in Scotland once I found 3 ticks on my foot at the end of one day, and that foot was protected by socks, boots, gaitors and long trousers, there is an argument for assuming they’ll get in if they want to. Certainly, I checked myself after all significant thwacks through long vegetation (especially the bracken), as well as thoroughly at the end (and in some case the start) of each day. And when I got home. I probably got lucky, but fear of ticks wouldn’t keep me from my lower body clothing system I used on this trip.

When I was packing for the trip, something made me pack an mp3 player and earphones – something I’d normally not bother with. I think I last used one on a long distance walk on the last day of the Cumbria Way in 2011 – for that last 5 miles through the industrial estates into Carlisle. This time I turned to them more readily, and it made a big difference. It was noticeable how I was able to keep momentum and grind out the more painful stretches. Did it take something away from being out in nature ? Maybe, I missed some sounds that might have made me turn around to see a bird of prey or some such, but it was actually a surprise how much I still felt visually connected to the landscape I was walking through. The music helped the walking rhythm and when the right song combined with the right terrain it gave a big boost. Ultimately, the effect on morale was huge.

My pack, an Atom+ 40L, with customised oversize external pockets (so probably just over 50L in real volume), was great, but I pushed its load limit and it did start to feel uncomfortable towards the end as a result.

My tent, a Pretents Lightrock, which had only had one night’s use beforehand, was absolutely the right choice for this mixture of conditions, and given what it withstood on night 4, did really well. I did start feeling as the trip went on that I’d like a bit more space though – that’s being really picky.

Gear that Didn’t

I was overall happy with my gear strategy, but would probably cut the food I carried. I still had loads left, largely because I already had 5 days meals made up left over from my previous trip, and it was simple to just carry them rather than think about re-supply parcels or shopping. Despite the issues with existence of shops and cafes, I’d probably trim the food for a repeat.

When my inflatable mat (Klymit Inertia Ozone) failed suddenly in the middle of night 2, I was lucky to have a Gramcounter Gear Evazote foam pad underneath it, so still had something I could use, even if it did mean a more austere night’s sleep each night. As a side sleeper, I wasn’t really very comfortable where my shoulders, ribs and hips made contact, even when padded with spare clothing. But I sort of adapted to it. Yes my sleep was clearly impacted, but when I look at the size of the day walks I did, clearly not to a drastic extent in terms of the overall effect. Oddly, this incident did help confirm that the thin foam mat (which could be used as a sit mat or extra rucksack back padding) paired with a short, minimal inflatable mat works for me as a 2-3 season system when insulation from cold ground is not of huge importance.

I got my stove system wrong for this trip – it was driven by smallest overall pack size for the pot capacity I wanted. I used my Stormin Cone with Alpkit 900 pot, but instead of the Stormin burner, I actually took an Alpkit Trangia burner copy, and used Firedragon alcohol (from GoOutdoors) to fuel it. It was noticeable how much longer the boil times were than other combinations I’ve been using recently. The flame went out quite easily too, even in negligible winds. Ultimately, I did cook less than expected due to lack of water, but on at least two occasions I didn’t put a boil on purely because of how long I expected it would take.

Finally

It would be easy to deduce from what I’ve said about this trip, that it wasn’t a good one – but it was. I was looking for something with a bit of challenge – in terms of the physical, mental and decision-making. I got it. I fully expected that a certain proportion of the fun from this trip would be Type 2 rather than Type 1.

It’s fair to say, although I was wary from the start about it, I didn’t expect the water to be as much of a problem as it turned out, but I coped. A couple of times I had to ration; a couple of times I walked into town with next to nothing left; a few times it influenced my overnighting plans. But such challenges and judgements are the stuff of a long distance walk, and part of the attraction.

Looking back, every decision I had to make looks good, and I don’t regret any of them.

The routine of a long day’s backpacking, was once again a reminder of why I like doing longer linear routes. I’m not saying I’m going off to do the PCT tomorrow or anything like that, but I am on a bit of a mission to build the number of days I can stomach doing in one go, so that I can tackle some of the longer UK trails as thru hikes. This hike felt like a definite step forward on that path. Particularly so, when I look back at my record of the Cambrian Way, where I’ve typically bailed well within that time.

The scenery north of Plynlimon was the obvious highlight, and it was a shame that I encountered it at the end of the day when I was tiring.

The scenery became a lot less dramatic past Machynlleth, and was a lot more rolling farmland. For this reason, walking this trail backwards would probably be a decent proposition so that the quality of the walk builds rather than peaking early. I could go further and say that just doing the section between Knighton and Machynlleth would be worthwhile in its own right – the couple I met at the start were doing just that. Did they know something I didn’t ?

Overall, I loved this walk up to the point that it started to run out of variety, and from then on I was looking forward to the end. But even the last 4 days had things that were good – it certainly wasn’t all dull and repetitive.

But would I do it again ? I certainly wouldn’t rule out doing it again, although I’d almost certainly do it backwards on a second go, or do what “Dave” was doing and do the southern bit and divert onto the Cambrian Way. Indeed, as my Cambrian Way didn’t get much further north than Machynlleth (Mallwyd actually), one prime option for resuming that walk is to walk from Machynlleth back along Glyndŵr’s Way to the Glaslyn area to rejoin it, and then repeat the last day and a half of Cambrian Way, before carrying on to Dinas Mawddwy and Barmouth. The more I think about it, the more that seems a sound idea. I did something similar when resuming the southern Beacons section of Cambrian Way (walking from Merthyr up to Pen y Fan and Storey Arms where I’d previously bailed).

But the other factor is the long list of other paths I want to do, and that alone is likely to be the reason that it will be a long time before I consider a repeat hike of Glyndŵr’s Way as a whole.

*For posts about the Cambrian Way go here.

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