With a bank holiday approaching and the prospect of three days in the hills I was itching to get away. The only problem being that the rest of the country is probably also itching to get away. It was therefore time to get out the maps and pinpoint an area to stride across that may be empty. Well cross out the National parks then as they will probably be full of hiker types. My eyes and heart settled on the wedge of high ground that lies between Plynlimon (a fine hill) and Machynlleth (a fine town with a hippy vibe). An area that although is not as spectacular as the higher more rugged peaks, always casts a magic spell on me.
Being a bit of a collector of hills I thought I would tick off a couple of Marilyns along the way. Also fancying a bit of Bongo luxury, I decided to leave the backpacking tent at home and take the van instead. Now to search out the most isolated, remote stretch of road to park up undisturbed.
At 11.00am on the Saturday after leaving the house at stupid o’clock and navigating the motorways around Birmingham I finally parked up at the head of a valley which I am not sure of its name. The river that runs though it is called Afon Cyneiniog. In fact I had a bit of a panic driving down the narrow country lane when the tarmac got a bit grassy and the road was covered in debris. Obvious that not many people come down this way. I was reassured that I was still on a road when I spotted a proper road sign.
At the road head I parked up slung on the rucksack and headed into the hills.
Sat 23rd May 09 – 10.7 miles with 790m ascent
An old tramway led away from the ruined mine buildings giving an easy escape to the head of the valley.
A short steep climb took me out of the valley where there were great views westwards towards the coast.
By now it was hot, the first time this year when I could actually feel the strength of the sun burning the back of my neck. I realised that my sun cream was in the glove box of the van. Too late to go back and get it now! A wide track led down to the minor road that follows the western shore of Nant-y-moch reservoir. It was deserted even on a sunny bank holiday. I was soon on a track heading for Drosgol my main objective where I passed the only people I would see all day. A steep descent to Nant y Baracs was followed by a nasty tussle with tussocks from hell. The ground looked pretty even but every steep meant sinking into dead grass hiding water filled ditches. My boots were soon full of water and I was cursing every step, 200 meters of walking seemed to go on forever. I was soon climbing easy grassy slopes with views back down over the reservoir.
The summit of Drosgol is a great viewpoint with the mid Wales hills seeming to roll on forever. To the north the peaks of Snowdonia dominated the horizon with Cadair Idris being particularly prominent. The best views however were to the east where Plynlimon dominates the view, the best being of the wild Hengwm valley as I descended the north east ridge of Drosgol.
The plan was to walk along the track on the other side of the Afon Llechwedd-mawr but the river was too deep and fast flowing to get across without a partial strip. I therefore followed the river north and was soon stumbling my way through water logged tussocks and trying to find the non existent right of way shown on the map.
A few bad words later and I was soon on terra firma and following a forestry road to some old mine workings. I was soon passing Llyn Nantcagl and a short climb brought me back to the minor road north of Nant-y-moch. After a short section of bridleway I made a small navigational error which I blame on having to use two OS maps as I walked from one to another. Not carelessness at all! On the correct track there were great views down into Cwm Ceulan and back to where I had descended from.
The view to the south as I descended back to the van was striking despite the low altitude of the hills.
I spent a pleasant evening in the campervan taking in the last of the sunshine whilst listening to music and eating lots and lots of food. I had picked a great spot and was undisturbed throughout the evening and night. Not a single car or person had passed by the time I left the following morning.
Map of route (click for full size)
Sun 24th May – 12.4 miles with 640m ascent
I was soon up and driving further than anticipated to the nature reserve of Glaslyn which sits just off of the mountain road between Machynlleth and Dylife. A track leaves the highest point on the road and bumps its way acoss giant water filled pot holes to a small car park near the lake. Half of the car park was an nursery for tadpoles in one large puddle. A poor site to live if the hot sunny weather continues!
After curry for breakfast my peace was rudely shattered by 3 off-road motorbikes tearing up the track and onto the open hillside on foel Fadian. I had been watching two walkers ascend the summit and stand by the trig point. I bet they were not too pleased at being joined by 3 noisy motorbikes.
A track leads south from the car park and splits at the ruined cottage of Bugeilyn. I took the fork that leads to llyn Cwm-byr and had a long sit in the hot sun by its shores. The track then climbs the shoulder of Clipyn du before dropping towards the Afon Hyddgen.
As it was too hot to make too much effort I continued down the track to a junction and took another track towards the sheep sheering sheds that sit in the middle of the valley. I noticed a little grassy knoll ahead and decided it would be a good spot for lunch and it may even catch a bit of a breeze. The views south to Plynlimon were stunning with hardly a cloud in the sky.
I sat there debating whether or not to climb Banc llechwedd-mawr another Marilyn, lethargy was in danger of winning the day. I decided to go for it and was soon climbing its grassy northern flanks. The summit was quickly gained where I sat for a while and took in the views whilst watching the skylarks climb and fall whilst singing their hearts out.
A steep but easy descent brought me to more dreaded tussocks and the Afon Hyddgen which I had no option but to cross. Boots and socks off and trousers rolled up and I was sliding my way across slippery rocks. The water was up over my knees and pretty fast flowing, not a river to cross in the middle of winter. Today however after the initial shock it was pretty refreshing. Over the shoulder of Banc Lluestnewydd and I entered the Hengwm valley, which in my eyes is one of the finest in mid Wales. Wild, rugged and often deserted.
A fine grassy path took me the full length of the valley, with just the odd bog with which I could fill my boots with muddy water. At one point I saw a collection of cyclists at the top of one of the hills on the other side of the valley. They spent a while deliberating then decided to cycle straight down the steep hillside. I last saw them heading down into the extensive bogs on that part of the valley.
I was soon near Bugeilyn again and headed up the track towards Glaslyn in the late afternoon sun. It was nice to see that in the far distance I was still the only vehicle in the car park.
Back at the van I spent another great evening relaxing and eating. It was great to have all of the campervan comforts and still be in the middle of nowhere out of site of the nearest road. I slept well that night.
Map of route (click for full size)
Sun 25th May – a short stroll!
After breakfast I did not have the energy for another full day in the hills and my skin had definitely had enough sun. I decided to drive home and climb a small hill on the way. Just past Dylife on the mountain road there was a small car park with this great view of the Dylife gorge with the Afon Twymyn running through it.
A further short drive and I was parked up by the dam of Llyn Clywedog. I had fancied climbing Bryn y Fan for while now but being small and isolated it has never really fitted into a longer walk. Typically it was just off of the maps I had with me, so I took a track and hoped for the best. Luckily this led almost to the summit with its extensive views.