…I emerged from the cafe blinking in the afternoon sunlight. Ahead of me lay a lot of work. A climb up to the main road from the village of Dinas Mawddwy, along that a short way and then I was heading up steeply into the woods of Coed Foeldinas. And it carried on steeply, a real workout not suited for immediately after lunch.
As the path levelled out a bit, I saw some scrawls on trees that I wondered whether they were indicating the Cambrian Way. A yellow “C” between lines, along with public footpath signs to reassure me that yes this way, although steep as anything, was actually the right way.
I emerged from the trees to a narrow path clinging on precariously to the hillside.
The trees left behind, the path began to wind around the hill, heading almost inevitably for a big swathe of bracken. Views over the valley opened out, and I could at least see my target – Maesglase.
I had considered going over Foel Dinas itself, but thought better of it when I saw the steep climb needed. And when I got to Bwlch Siglen I was even more glad I’d not done so, looking at the roughness of the descent I’d have had from the hill.
Bwlch Siglen took a long time to arrive. The path, never much more than a boot’s width, wound its way around the hill with occasional obstacles in the form of a particularly thick patch of bracken, or even a fence/stile to get over. At least it was all pretty much at the same level. The roughest part was the final stretch to the bwlch itself, and the fun didn’t stop there.
The path up onto the slopes of Maesglase was choked with bracken and high vegetation and it was with huge relief that I emerged onto scrubbier ground, and a gentler gradient. I kept right to follow the edge of Craig Maesglase for the views. A dip down to cross a stream above the waterfalls also provided water for camp, and some impressive views down into the valley below.
A bit more trudging later, and I was at the fence over what was previously thought to be the summit of Maesglase. It wasn’t a great camp spot, being covered in low vegetation, so I decided to push on for the real/new summit. This involved following the fence and a hop across it to the small summit cairn a little way on.
I now started to look around for a spot to pitch, finding a flat enough spot halfway between the summit and the fence.
The sunset over Cadair Idris, lighting my destination for the next day.
Somehow my phone died in the night. The screen just froze and stayed like that all night long. With my return travel ticket on my phone, booked about 10 minutes before it went tits up, I’d be screwed if it didn’t pull itself together. That would be a worry for the next but one day, but it would also rob me of my camera.
I also woke to a wet tent. Massive amounts of dew on the outside, massive amounts of condensation on the inside. There’d been almost no wind overnight. I was alerted to the problem by a drip on my neck in the early hours. Great.
As troubles come in threes, breakfast time also brought the revelation that I was pretty much out of gas. It was down to a tiny dribble, so a cold dinner was in prospect tonight. Great. That was a brand new canister the day before yesterday.
My phone was still dead. All I could do was instruct it to play music from my smartwatch. My plan now was to run the battery down as much as I could, in the hope that after it ran out I could recharge and reboot and the problem would be cleared. The fact I could play music on my phone meant it was at least working in the background.
I set off in a fairly miserable state. The curse of the Cambrian Way was live and well.
The climb over Craig Portas was one of a rough grassy scramble alongside a fence. I did scoot over the fence to bag the east top though, as it was mere metres away.
Then as I was descending to the cleavage of the two tops of Craig Portas, what did I spy but a tent! As I passed a cheery hello greeted me, and I stopped to chat. Bob was doing the Cambrian Way, having joined the trail in Abergavenny – 19 trail days or 9 years time back on my own quest. We chatted for a while as he packed up.
If I’d had a dew and condensation nightmare, I hate to think how bad it was for him. Nestled in the bosom of Craig Portas, it would have been even worse, plus he was in a Hilleberg Soulo, not known for its condensation-shedding abilities. We had a bit of a laugh about that.
Bob was aiming for Barmouth today, in contrast to my target of Cadair Idris. He asked if I had a weather forecast, keen to be told it would be rain free for him to Conwy. The best I could offer was a half remembered forecast from the day before.
I left him to it and set about the trudge up to Cribin Fawr, detouring first to pick off the main top of Craig Portas. With most of the work done, I found a hollow next to the path for a rest. And here something magic happened.
My phone spontaneously recovered. Gone was the frozen screen. Soon after Bob approached and stopped to continue our chat. I could give him an up to date forecast and on hearing that it should be fine for the next week – all the way to Conwy – he comes up and shakes my hand.
During the conversation he mentioned that he lives in the Lake District and works on a campsite, and on further probing I discovered which one and therefore that he works with my friend Jilly. So not only is he the only person I’ve seen on the hills, but he turns out to be someone with a mutual acquaintance! My luck is truly on the up from the morning’s nadir.
As Bob disappeared to the west while I finished my elevenses, I knew that would be the last I’d see of him due to his more ambitious target for the day which would keep him ahead of me. Up to the top of Cribyn Fawr I headed and then a descent to the next bwlch, where on a stile I found my first ever proper Cambrian Way marker.
I’m not counting the faint painted one from Garn Gron. I knew the trail was undergoing proper waymarking, and it also now has a “proper” guide from Cicerone, but I started this trail under the old regime of Tony Drake’s original guide and a “find your own way between the checkpoints” rule, and that’s the way I’ll finish it.
The side of Waun-oer rose steeply in front of me, accompanied by an internal “ooer”. A rough climb through high vegetation and bracken on a poor path. The summit itself was quite nice though. I almost wished I’d had the energy to make it here the previous day.
I dropped down to the next bwlch and over Mynydd Ceiswyn, where a waymark showed the way straight downhill.
As I descended over grass, I could see people on the ridge opposite, but was puzzled by why they weren’t moving. I just assumed they were moving but there were so many that every time I look over there it looked just the same. I pondered this as I took my lunch perched on a boulder looking across to the final mountain range of the trip – the big one: Cadair Idris.
I reached the A487 and crossed over. The waymarks seemed to take me to the east of the fence running down the ridge and I cut back steeply over grass and bracken to join it. The path was on the other side, and I realised I was on the “old” path. Loads of people on the other (correct) side of the fence. All watching me.
I found a place to climb the fence and hopped over, and then stopped several times on the way up to chat with various people. This horde of people were sat there looking out for low flying planes – I’d seen a couple darting between the hills earlier on. One guy was particularly keen to extol the virtues of Aran Fawddwy and to try to teach me what a bwlch is and how to pronounce it – knowledge I already have, even if it is one of the only Welsh words I can say with much confidence!
I left the people behind and struggled upwards until the gradient eased on Mynydd Gwerngraig. Ahead of me a shear rock face loomed – the fence just appeared to head straight towards it and then stop. Gulp.
The climb onto Gau Graig is a steep scramble up a rocky gully, which was hard work with a sizeable pack on. Then a more gentle stroll alongside the fence before darting off to the right to bag the summit itself.
Next up was Mynydd Moel, which apart from a couple of outcrops to be skirted was a straightforward walk alongside the fence, giving way to a scree climb onto the plateau.
The wind was biting a bit on this exposed summit, and it was just my luck that the direction exactly matched the opening to the summit shelter. No respite there.
Ahead I could see Penygadair itself – too much to do today, and uncertain about how easy it would be to pitch, I resolved instead to simply find a spot as soon as I could and stop there. This turned out to be a short way down the slope of Mynydd Moel, just before the ladder stile. Here I could see all the way to Barmouth. It would do, even though it was a bit breezier than I’d like and a bit nippy as a result.
The wind wasn’t anything the tent couldn’t handle though, even though I wasn’t entirely happy how far I could get my stakes to penetrate the ground.
I spoke too soon, as it was a horrid night. The wind lashed the tent all night, and although everything held it was a fitful night’s sleep. I didn’t quite get to the stage of packing everything ready for an emergency bail out, like I did that time on Foel Fadian on Glyndwr’s Way, but it was far from comfortable.
I packed up very much in the mood of getting the walk done. I had no desire to spin it out for another night, or even to do the overnight journey home I’d planned. No, I’d see if I could get to Barmouth early enough to get home today. I suspected that even if I tried to hang on for my original travel plan, I’d still be in Barmouth early enough that it would make no sense to sit around killing time, just because I had a cheap coach ticket already paid for.
I resolved to see how progress took me.
On the walk over to Penygadair, of course I found loads better sheltered spots, and kicked myself once more for enduring a night I needn’t have suffered.
The summit itself was windy, and I didn’t stay long.
I dropped down for the reascent to Cyfrwy, a fine summit but which proved to be an absolute pig to descend from, being so stony that progress was slow and careful.
Next up was Craig-las (Tyrrau Mawr) which was also quite a nice summit. At the bwlch I looked up at Craig y Llyn, the final mountain on the ridge, and really didn’t feel like doing it. The route I’d intended goes over that hill and sweeps around to join a gentle track down, but suddenly I was confronted with a waymark pointing straight downhill. I’d forgotten that the official route goes straight down here. It didn’t take long to decide to take that short cut. In so doing, I virtually guaranteed myself a finish early enough to get home today.
I headed straight downhill, nice grass giving way to longer grass, then some boggier bits, then a nasty heathery, gorsey gully with added bog at the bottom. Somehow I made it down and over the ladder stile. It was then a straightforward grassy track to the road.
Here I abandoned the official route that goes by way of Cregennan Lakes, in favour of a more direct route to Barmouth. Following the rule of “it doesn’t matter as long as I visit each of the ‘checkpoints'”, this was fine. Lanes took me to the Cross Britain Way running along an old disused railway track. A wrong turning cost me some time, so that I was hammering it across Barmouth Bridge in order to make my
train rail replacement bus.
I made it to the station with 10 minutes to spare – just enough time to buy provisions in the Co-op, get a ticket and pick up a sausage roll for lunch. No fish and chips that I’d promised myself if I made it to Barmouth early.
The final irony was finding out via social media that John, who’s done the Cambrian Way more than once, passed through Barmouth yesterday on his multi-year project to walk the coast. I’d have relished the meet-up and wise words from a veteran of the trail.
Even in successfully reaching Barmouth, my Nemesis has the last laugh.
My thoughts on entering Barmouth were a tumultuous mess. Relief at finally walking over that bridge that had so long been the essence of my vision of walking the Cambrian Way. Concern that the Rhinogs are next, and much harder than what I’ve just been over. A feeling that I’m falling a little bit out of love of climbing mountains, in favour of long distance walking more generally.
I didn’t really enjoy this section that much, at least not as much as I was expecting. Part of the problem is the huge gap of time it’s taken to come back to resume it. But, also the walking was generally hard, and at points it seemed like everything was against me. This trail has long been the one that messes with my head, and which has been the cause of recent work to increase the number of days I can backpack solo without going mad. Once again, it gave me a good kicking. I don’t know yet whether I will bother coming back. I have other projects that I want to do more….