Much to my shame, I had never walked in the Berwyn Mountains, the range that extends south of Llangollen. Particularly remiss of me considering that the major summits rival those in Snowdonia. The highest, Cadair Berwyn, tops out at 832 m (2,730 ft), which puts it up there with Cadair Idris, Arenig Fawr and Moel Siabod. While they might not have the majestic, craggy, grandeur of their rivals I was nevertheless really forward to exploring them today.
This walk is 21 miles long. There is only one climb of any great significance but the total ascent does add up to a little over 4,000 ft. There is a long section of road-walking, though this is on quiet country lanes and passes through charming hamlets and villages. A GPX file of the route can be downloaded here.
I parked in the lay-by (free) just short of the Pistyll Rhaedr visitor centre car park (charged), which lies at the head of Cwm Blowty, about 14 miles due west of Oswestry. I knew the waterfall was nearby but I couldn't see anything it in the dark. Not to worry, as my plan was to pass by it when I returned later in the day.
My only other company was a moped that sat at the far end of the lay-by, red security light blinking. Unusual, I thought, thinking that perhaps an unseen angler was getting ready for some dawn fishing in the river that ran alongside.
Kitted up, I headed back up the lane and picked up the track that starts at the point marked 'sheepfold' on the OS map. This climbs gently northwards and as I reached Cerrig Poethion ("Hot Rocks") I soon found myself near what appeared to be the cloud base. However, the forecast had been excellent and I assumed that these were just early morning mists that would soon clear.
Sure enough, as I neared the head of the valley daylight arrived, the mists vanished and I was treated to the spectacle of Cadair Berwyn shrouded in swirling waves of mist, illuminated by the red glow of dawn.
Passing through a fairly boggy section, I soon arrived at Llyn Lluncaws, the lake that lies below Cadair Berwyn. As I reached the shore, the unmistakable sight of tent's roof came into view. Stood beside it (so it transpired) was the owner of the moped I'd seen back in the lay-by. He'd just had his first solo wild-camping experience and was pleased to discover that his transport was safe; he had to travel all the way back to Stoke-on-Trent on it, carrying a not insubstantial amount of camping gear.
Leaving him to pack up, I made my way up the obvious path towards the summit of Cadair Berwyn. However, within minutes, the clear and still air of the lakeshore was forgotten and I found myself in another world altogether. Dense mists were being pulled up and over the ridge by roaring updraughts, creating almost whiteout conditions and winds that were strong enough to have me struggling to stay on my feet.
The breaks in the swirling mist that I'd seen from below seemed to have gone and despite a frustrating hint of blue above, I didn't break free until I dropped down into the col between Cadair Berwyn and the neighbouring peak of Cadair Bronwen.
The latter was free of both mist and wind and treated me to excellent views back south towards Cadair Berwyn, east to Tomle and Foel Wen and west toward the Aran ridge in southern Snowdonia. To the north west, I could even make out the Snowdon massif.
Continuing my journey north along the only public footpath marked on the map, I met my second human of the day before finding myself at Pen Bwlch Llandrillo and a track running east-west. I went west into the Ceiriog Valley but soon had my peace shattered by a succession of 'off-road' convoys.
First was a group of 4 x 4s of varying size and condition, next were half a dozen trail bikes (twice because they came back again) and then a gang of quad bikes. All this perhaps explains why the surface is so pitted and rutted and why I spent as much time on the bank trying to circumnavigate puddles the size of small lagoons as I did on the track itself.
Reaching the end of the access land, the open moorland began to be populated by trees and I sensed I was back to civilisation and entering the valley proper. After a quick stop for lunch, it was only a short distance before I met a tarmac road.
I soon came to the pleasant hamlet of Pentre, with a chapel that cannot have been long abandoned judging by the intact looking interior that could be spied through the broken windows. Old Welsh chapels always evoke memories for me, having been brought up in a rural community in west Wales where chapel was a feature of everyday life.
Continuing, I was somewhat surprised to meet several people wandering the lane who were clearly tourists rather than locals. Perhaps I wasn't as far away from it all as I thought.
Just beyond the 291 m spot height marked on the OS map, I broke from the road and headed through Dolwen farm before turning south east through Coed Cochion. Rarely have a I seen such a concentration of pheasant feeding and watering paraphernalia. And of course, pheasants. With each step it seemed as though half a dozen them would fly up, squawking and crashing through the trees. Dolwen farm has the best security system in the world; there's no way you sneak unnoticed through these woods.
Taking care to follow the public footpath as it diverted uphill and away from the main track that continues across private land, I passed over some fields and through a gate to join tarmac once more.
Turning downhill, I entered the lovely village of Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog, passing the trial bikes that were now being loaded into vans. At the village centre, which is dominated by two attractive inns, I headed straight over the crossroads and followed the lane south. It soon switches west and starts to climb, seemingly forever.
I had considered avoiding this road section altogether by taking the public footpath that runs almost parallel, passing north of Garneddwen. However, I could see on the map that it terminates at the farm called Maes, just short of rejoining the road in Cwm Maen Gwynedd, where I was headed. With no alternative escape routes that I could see, I didn't want to risk reaching a dead end and having to retrace my steps.
Once I was over the top, the target valley opened up before me, as did a distant view of Cadair Berwyn.
In fact, I became a little concerned that everything looked a lot further away than I had expected and I began to wonder whether there was going to be enough daylight to get back. While I don't mind walking in the dark and I was certainly not in difficult terrain, I could see from the map that I would pass through at least three farmyards en route. I don't really like doing that in the daytime, let alone at night.
Picking up the pace, I headed down to the junction just beyond what is marked on the map as an outdoor centre, although this appears to have been converted to holiday cottages.
Turning south and accompanied by the constant sound of nearby gunshot (I didn't see any pheasants in this valley...), I made my way up to the footpath that starts at spot height 362. This path is, in fact, a green lane that wends its way through pleasant farmland.
I soon reached Bryn-gwyn, the first of the three farms that I had worried about. Although there was plenty of daylight left anyway, I discovered it to be completely abandoned and having lots of potential for a future paining. So I spent a while with my camera.
Moving on, I reached the block of access land that starts at Rhyd-y-gau. Although a bridle path is signposted off the track, there was nothing discernible on the ground so made my over boggy ground towards the forest on the horizon. When I reached it the entry point shown on the map did not exist on the ground.
Tracing the fence line through bogs and streams, I was about to give up and find an alternative route off-piste when I spied an alternative style into the forest and made my way in. Picking my way through stumps and broken branches, I made my way back to the track marked on the map.
I've lost count of the number of times I've followed footpaths into forestry land only to find that they are diverted, missing or completely impassable - usually at the end of a long walk when it is particularly frustrating.
I followed the track downhill, passing the next farm I had fretted about. This one was abandoned too and was just as atmospheric as the last, particularly with the sunset reflecting off the surrounding hills.
Soon, I reached the Cwm Blowty road that I had started on that morning, only a mile from my car. I walked it for short while but then detoured west, taking the path that heads towards the third of my potentially troublesome farms, Ty'n-y-Fedw. Another abandoned one and it was probably the most absorbing of them all. I love a good ruin.
Following the path north west, I passed through old mine workings, through some woods and on to Pistyll Rhaedr, the waterfall that is both the highest and one of the seven wonders of Wales (no comment).
Now, the map appears to show the path running down to the base of the falls. Maybe it does but this was November and I reached a point above them where all I could see was a wet, slippery, rock face coated in wet, slippery leaves.
With little choice, I started to make my down just as a family arrived for a late viewing of the falls. Pretending I meant to crash down through the rocks on my backside at twenty miles an hour, I picked myself up at the bottom (trying to o ignore the pain in my elbow) and discovered that I was on the opposite side of the stream to the way out. I casually took some pictures and then did some more pretending; this time that I had always intended to wade shin deep through the water in my walking boots.
Fortunately, I was only yards from the car now, so I squelched my way through the visitor centre and on to the lay by. The moped was gone.