A Elenydd backpack from Rhandirmwyn

by backpackingbongos

It looked like we were going to be weather blessed, the forecast the night before showing temperatures reaching up to 21 C with clear sunny skies.  Not bad for the second weekend in October!

Friday morning we set off for an area which when mentioned makes my heart skip a little bit, that area is called the Elenydd, the green desert of Wales.  The Elenydd covers a vast area, to the north is Pumlumon, whilst to the south is the town of Llandovery.  A huge sprawling mass of upland hills, not the most spectacular you can find in Wales but most definitely the loneliest.  One of those rare places where you can walk all day with the only company being the numerous red kites soaring in the sky above.  Being a misanthropic sort of backpacker this area is right up my street.  This also is not an area for the novice as many of the upland paths exist only in the minds of the map maker and there is rarely anyone around to seek advice.  Plus some of those boggy tussocks can swallow a person whole before spitting them out in a soggy mess!

Day 1 – 4.1 miles with 430 metres ascent

A later start than originally planned and some crappy traffic trying to get around Birmingham on the M42 meant that it was pretty much 3.00pm by the time the Bongo was parked up in Rhandirmwyn.  We left it snuggled up to the bus shelter, shouldered our packs and drooled outside the tea room with plans being made for our return on Sunday.  I paid particular attention to the part of the menu that mentioned ‘chips’.  With lunch already in our bellies courtesy of M&S on the motorway down we set off to find the first footpath that would lead us up into the hills.  Mixed messages were immediately given out with a footpath sign pointing through a gate with a ‘beware of the dog sign’ stuck to it.  The next fence was amply signed by yellow arrow things and we began to think that maybe things are changing in Wales and all paths would be easy to follow.  No such luck as we were then confronted by a solid wall of conifers with a neglected stile being the only evidence that a path once existed.  There was then a very sweaty half hour as we followed a non existent path through deep, steep conifers using a rotting fence as a handrail.  We were eventually spat out into a clearing where bracken had taken over what may once upon a time been a track.  Deeper and higher into the forest we went, slow going and a test of micro navigation until the open ridge line was reached and the navigator (me) sighed with relief.

At this point I feel that I should point out that the cheerful weatherman the night before had been spinning another tale of pure fiction.  The wind was getting up enough courage to call itself a gale and heavy mist and haze covered all views.  All in all under the conditions a rather uninspiring spot.  Inspiration was further relegated as a long trudge followed along a forestry track, enlivened only by myself trying to walk with pacerpoles for the first time.  Not an easy thing to get right for the first few minutes (or hour!).

A trig point was reached at the edge of the forest meaning it was time to off-road and see if we could locate the bridleway which is confidently marked by green dashes on the map.  Don’t look for it as it is not there and be carefull and suspicious of areas on these moors that give way from tussocks to reeds at the heads of valleys.  Realisation that you are in the middle of a bog always comes too late and you just have to put up with muddy water filling your boots.  Extricated to firmer ground we headed for the spot I had identified for a high wild camp, which indeed was flat, sheltered and gave the promise of good views if the mist cleared a bit.  Unfortunately it was a thistle fest, tall, small and those ones that hug the ground.  Not a place to pitch a tent.  We found a flat bit of ground higher up, exposed to the full force of the wind.  Not an ideal spot but darkness was not far away.  It took two people to wrestle one man tents into tent like forms as they tried to launch themselves into the air.

No photos today as to put it simply, the weather was crap.

Day 2 – 11.2 miles with 790 metres ascent

It was a windy night, full of those unpredictable gusts followed by silence before another onslaught crashed into the tent.  You could hear the wind roaring across the moors and you could never be certain whether they would be heading for you.  Dawn brought a heavy persistent mizzle and lower clouds, just skimming the tops of the tents.  With the wind and damp air it took us a while to stir from the comfort of sleeping bags and tents.  Once again it was a two man wrestling match to get each tent back into its bag, any careless mistake and it would become a very expensive kite.  Packed up it was back down to where I originally planned to camp.  Here we left the non existent bridleway and contoured through pastures to come out at a minor road which we followed towards the dam at Llyn Brianne.  The view down to the River Towey was pretty impressive even through the murk.

The public loo’s at the car park are just about hanging on, although in a bit of a state.  The people who use the gents seemingly preoccupied with putting body parts into mouths according to the extensive graffiti.  Signs surrounding the reservoir were also preoccupied, this time with stopping people enjoying themselves on the water in canoes.  CCTV cameras pointing in all directions, it all felt a bit odd and bleak so we crossed the dam which was impressive by its size.

Civilisation was soon left far behind as we followed the reservoir track before a pleasant descent into a valley un-named on the map.  Reaching Troed-rhiw-ruddwen we had to make a decision, follow the planned route up the spectacular Doethie or shorten the day by heading towards the Pysgotwr.  After a very late start we were pretty behind where I had planned us to be by now, so we decided to have a more leisurely day and go for a short cut.

I knew that I was entering an area where the farmer has a reputation for being pretty aggressive towards Hikers, but I was not sure exactly where about we could be made to feel unwelcome.  I have read stories of people being attacked trying to use rights of way, with even the farmers children being set on the unsuspecting public.  I will try to dig it out but I am sure that Jim Perrin has written an article on his experience at the hand of the landowner in this area.

It was therefore with a degree of trepidation that we followed a track that is not a right of way towards the bridge over the river Doethie (the bridleway fords from the other side and the river is pretty substantial).  The scenery began to get ever more spectacular, which was hard to capture in the poor light.

Safely across the bridge and back onto the right of way I started to fret about approaching the buildings at Troed-rhiw-cymmer, which I am sure I had read about hostility.  We managed to bypass on a track round the back and started ascending steeply with splendid views north right up the wild Doethie valley.

The track soon levels out and crossed rugged moorland, full of bogs and deep tussocks, the bridleway being non existent on the ground we stuck to the hard surface.  A standing stone was the only thing to break up the endless flow of wind blown grass.

Descending towards Bryn-ambor we saw a magnificent sight.  Five horses were running up the track a mile or so away, speedily getting closer towards us.  Right at the last minute they exited the track, a foal excitedly leading the way across the moors.  It was pretty much at that moment that shafts of sunlight broke through the gloom, lighting up the autumnal valley of Afon Pysgotwr Fawr.

Approaching the road head we saw what from a distance looked like two elderly women in headscarves, next to a quad bike that soon sped off.  As we approached it became apparent that it was two young teenagers attired in a strange combination of urban hoodie and welly boots.  They were waiting for us and greeted us with a barrage of questions, “where have you been?”, “Where are you going?”.  That sort of thing.  They then went into detail that their dad owned all of this land which appeared to stretch for miles in either direction.  It was an odd sort of encounter, they were not particularly intimidating but I started to feel that it could go either way.  It became apparent that these were those kids I had read about, whose dad had used in the past to scare off unwanted hikers.  If you visit this area make sure that you stick to rights of way or access land and be prepared to be challenged.  We remained polite and made our excuses, crossing the bridge towards Bryn-glas and off their land.

Bryn-glas was tricky as the path went between the farm buildings where we spotted two large sleeping dogs.  Keen to avoid surprising them and the risk of being bitten, we did a bit of climbing over barbed wire fences and fell in a bog in a bid to reach the security of the track on the other side of the farm.  It worked and we were soon descending into another much wilder valley, Afon Pysgotwr Fach, which I have named valley of the tussocks.  These were man eating beasts, almost impossible to walk through without lurching, tripping and falling.  The stream through the valley would be easy to cross if you could find solid ground on either side!

The difficult ground soon gave way to easier grass as we headed for the summit of Carn Nant-yr-ast and its trig point.

After more rough tussocky ground we soon made it to the deserted farm of Blaen-Cothie where after a bit of hunting we found a great flat bit of ground with short cropped grass.  Even the wind which had been howling all day dropped enough to give us a peaceful night.

Day 3 – 11.7 miles with 570 metres ascent

Sunday was meant to be bright and sunny but once again we woke to dull overcast skies, at least packing this time was not an ordeal in tempestuous winds.

The ruins of Blaen-Cothie was a bit of a haunting sight on this bleak October morning, it really is located in the middle of nowhere.  The only concession to modernity being the encroaching plantation and a large corrugated barn across the river.  It must have been a hard life here.

Miles of easy track and a minor lane brought us to the peaceful little hamlet of Cwrt-y-cadno where an old drovers road leads you through high pastures onto the extensive moorland plateau of the Mynydd Mallaen.  For some reason I have always fancied a walk up here, in the end it was nice but not really that exciting!  A boggy track and some off road tussock bashing soon brought us to the huge cairn and summit trig point.  The sky by now was very blue but the haze still hung over the distant hills, taking away any extensive views.  Our eyes were drawn to the badlands to the north and farmers lying in wait for unsuspecting hikers!

It was a pleasant romp across the moors back to Rhandirmwyn and the trusty Bongo.  Once again the vastness of the open grassland being broken up by a solitary standing stone, the only landmark for miles.  As the afternoon progressed it got hotter and hotter until when we hit the valley bottom it felt like mid summer once again.

Possibly the last time we feel the heat of the sun on our faces whilst backpacking for several months now?


30 Comments to “A Elenydd backpack from Rhandirmwyn”

  1. A nice trip report! As we have the everyman’s rights (a general presumption of access to all land, excluding only private gardens etc. – very similar to the situation in Scotland as far as I’ve understood) here in Finland it was interesting and exciting to read about the angry farmers not wanting hikers to cross their land.

  2. One reason why I liike the Lake District so much is there’s very little hassle over access and where you camp, as long as you are sensible.

  3. I have developed a system of taking the initiative in potential confrontations with farmers. You need to start the conversation before they do with something that shows some knowledge and is flattering, ” nice Suffolk crosses” or ” Well what a hay crop and turned just once”, “that dog has a fantastic eye, do you trial it?” You have to be spot on with your observation and the 3 years at agricultural college have helped but it does work. I am joking but just a little,but these are lonely people that just want to be loved. Well that is taking it too far, but it is a method I use.

  4. I makes me thankful for the outdoor legislation were have up here, it’s a shame to have what looks like a great trip marred by a belligerent landowner.

  5. Very interesting report there, I have a half-finished sketchy backpack route filed away including some of that area around Crugiau Merched. Terrain-wise it’s pretty much what I’d expect!.
    Mid-Wales bridleways and footpaths are a standing joke with us. If the map shows no real underlying path I assume there is no trace, sometimes that’s the case even if it does.
    We never had any trouble with GOMLs on our treks around there, including the Doethie valley, but actual confrontations are improbable simply because they are not likely to be around on the hill at that time (buildings are different!).

  6. Disclaimer I am a farmer, so I have an axe to grind. I quite agree that landowners shouldn’t be unpleasant to people who are on rights of way or access land. However, on Friday night we had a hot air balloon land in one of our fields. In the course of recovering it the numpties left a gate open, so the cows all piled into the field with the balloon. We had 16 people climbing over fences and wandering about in a field full of cows. We spent 2 hours herding the cows up and pulling out one of their Landrovers, which they had got stuck, with a tractor.

    After that we went back to carry on milking and feed toe cows. So you can see why farmers get grumpy!


  7. Thanks Maria. we do have the right to roam on alot of open country in England and Wales but not as extensive as in Scotland (or Finland) and don’t have the right to camp which is a shame. Luckily not all farmers are like this lot!

    Robin, can’t argue with you there but what fun can you possibly have following nicely marked paths through spectacular scenery when you can struggle through bogs and tussocks and run into angry farmers instead?

    Good approach Warren but there is more chance in me speaking Welsh such is my knowlege of all things agricultural. I would have hugged the two lads but I think they may have thumped me. I could have complemented them on their wellies?

    Fraser, as I said to Maria you are lucky up there in Scotland.

    Hey Geoff it is an area well worth visiting, especially if you like solitude which I know you do. Mid Wales is a real joke with rights of way, you just have to plough on and be ready to climb obstructions whilst avoiding farm dogs. Camp late and leave early is always the best bet.

    Ian, I have no problem with farmers being grumpy, that is every persons right! There just is no reason for people to be unpleasant though. However I do see your point when having to deal with numpties and unfortunately there are two many of them about. The idiots with the hot air balloon being a case in point. At least you don’t have to share a big city full of them………………….

  8. For a while I had a farm in the Scottish Borders and the group of people that smashed my fences and chased my stock were called the Buccleuch Hunt. So I banned them. I am surprised that a balloon landing party did not come with offers of compensation and a bottle of something – that is the usual deal. I would report them I think as they sound rather inexperienced. When we go walking in the countryside if we do not understand farming then for a great deal of the country we do not know what is around us. Learn a few sheep and cow breeds and if you can go on a farm walk or two. I have had a load of jobs and farming was the hardest by a country mile.

  9. Seems like a nice trip James, but whilst I think there’s no excuse for rudeness (which you didn’t seem to experience) landowners can be rather rude but I suspect this is borne out of frustration for the most part. I can see Ian’s point – so many hikers seem not to give much of their grey matter to the basic consideration for others required to walk in the UK. Most of the UK is owned by someone, often farmers trying to eke out a living in a tough financial climate, but we still have a reasonable amount of access and most landowners seem to have no problem with walkers on their land. There are some, yes, but we have a part to play too. Warren’s attitude is a good one – at least in so far as it is a pleasant and diplomatic one.

    How is the Scarp holding up after your initial problems…?

    • It was a great trip Maz, a really underated area. I think that conflict can often come down to people simply not thinking about their actions. We do seem to live in a society that shouts me me me all the time.

      Two trips in the Scarp so far and it is doing pretty well, when I get time I will do a post on it.

  10. The balloonists did give us a bottle of whiskey. However, they are a commercial operation that charges their passengers at least £150 per trip. If they use my time and assets I think I should have the right to charge them for it. In this case two peoples time for 2 hours plus recovering a vehicle would amount to some £400-500. Even when they land near to the road and don’t get stuck, they still use up an hour or so of my time making sure they recover their balloon without leaving gates open, etc.

    Anyway, back to the walking. You seem to have been unlucky with the weather. It was clear here and over the Llandegla Moors beyond Wrexham. Anit-cyclonic gloom has now descended though.


    • You could send them an invoice Ian? I am often unfortunate with the weather, sunny all week followed by the gloom of the weekend. At least the sun put in an appearance on the Sunday.

  11. Of course you need to be sensible, courteous and considerate to those living and working in the countryside when out walking, mountain biking, hot air balloning or whatever it is you do. It’s obvious to most of us that you don’t interfere with crops, livestock, fences, gates, ground-nesting birds or go stomping across the hill where stalking is on etc. But there’s more than a few landowners, farmers etc who either don’t get or refuse to accept the concept of rights of way. I remember old Nicholas Van Hoogstraten describing ramblers as the ‘scum of the earth’ and employing heavies to stop people using footpaths across his land. Hohoho. It’s a two-way street and while I can appreciate the hassle, annoyance and inconvenience some landowners, farmers etc might experience at marauding bands of ramblers out enjoying THEIR countryside, but when it comes to those intolerant individuals who seem to imagine that the countryside is their private domain I’m inclined to think ‘fuck ’em’.

    Great account James, it seems like you dealt really well with the juniour heavies situation. A question: what are ‘pacer poles’.

    • Nicely put there Pete. And then there are those who buy themselves a nice pile in the country and then complain about the footpath that runs past it………

      Smile and be nice is my moto, to everyone. Who can be nasty to a grinning fool? Pacer poles are hiking poles with odd looking handles, improve posture, give the upper body a good workout and make you look a bit daft on the hill when you fall over them!

  12. Interesting experience you had there! Good thing you knew in advance about the kids. By the way, who decides whether or not it is a publi right of way? The landowners, I assume?

    Otherwise, the area looks nice – very middle earth.

  13. What is a public right of way is through historical use. I worked on a survey of rights of way bordering Exmore. There is held at each county council a definitive map of all paths and roads that people have used. This is where the OS gets it’s information from
    . I surveyed paths that a coffin was taken from church to grave that now was a definitive route or a way to school or work and ended up on the county map. It is great fun to walk every path in a parish and then move to the next. It is very rare for the OS to get it wrong.
    To stop a path you have to prove that it has not been walked for 21 years or you can apply for a diversion. So in conclusion it is history that defines a right of way and make sure that all paths are walked and prove that they are walked.

  14. Hu Mark, indeed it is a very nice area and usually there is no one about. Warren has got it spot on about the rights of way.

  15. Thanks – very interesting. So walking becomes a political act. I like it.

  16. Brilliant walk in a lovely area which I keep coming back to over and over again. Haven’t come across the stroppy farmer yet possibly because I am firmly in the camp late leave early school. Having said that I did have a fantastic night in a hammock in the Pysgotwr gorge.

    I wonder whether the area will get more popular – it was used a lot in S4C’s Pen Talar series which has just finished.

    As for get off my land attitudes I find the worse by far come from golfers who in my experience seem to think they know far more about rights of way than any OS map, let alone anyone who dares to walk on a right of way despite all their shouting

    • Hi steve. Indeed it is a great area and nice and quiet. Lucky you did not come across the stroppy farmer, not sure he would be keen with you hammocking on his land! Not come across golfers yet on my walks although it would be hard to take them seriously if they told me off wearing silly trousers!

  17. Hi, very interesting account of a walk through a wonderful area. I used to live near Cwrt y Cadno and seem to remember that a farmer (I think he was at Bryn Ambor) was murdered by a young man walking the Elenydd. The murderer then spent the night at Tyn Cornel Youth Hostel. This was about 1983 or 1984. Perhaps the memory of that event is what makes the current farmer a bit hostile!

    • Hi Sarah, I agree it is a great area and you are lucky to have lived there. That is a bit of a chilling story with the murder of a farmer, creepy for anyone who had spent the night in the hostel with the murderer as well.

  18. John Hughes Williams, Brynambor, who was shot there in 1983. Anthony Gambrell was given a life sentence in January 1984. I haven’t heard of him staying at T’yn Cornel. I cannot recall any comment about it in the warden’s logbooks and that would have been big news.

  19. I’m pleased to read others have had problems around Troed-rhiw-ruddwen!!

    Five years ago we were “chased” by fairly menacing children, carrying hefty sticks, after a farmer had spotted me literally three metres off the path when I was taking a photo. With us at the time were our two children, then just 4 and 2 years old. We continued past the farm and up the right of way track heading onto the hill, but with some trepidation. They were gathering sheep at the time, but we were being quite sensible, following paths, and would always be senstive to the needs of farmers.

    Prior to this we had enjoyed several great walks in this area, and I have to admit we have more than once trekked down the Pysgotwr gorge – once with my one year old on my back! The first time we discovered this we thought we’d found a hidden lost world and couldn’t wait to go back. But didn’t realise this was such a tricky landowner area to explore, and maybe we have been lucky not to have been caught by an angry farmer somewhere in the gorge. Is it now Open Access?

    I knew about what happened at Bryn Ambor and have always passed there with a solemn feeling – how could this have taken place at such a remote spot, and in the depths of winter too?

    • I think that the gorge is now open access. Not been through it but it looks great on the map. Is it much of a scramble to get through it? It’s a shame about the farmer in the area and his reputation, I have heard his kids can be pretty menacing. An area well worth visiting though.

  20. Just checked the countryside council for wales access map and the gorge is indeed now open access land. However there’s a catch. Troed Rhiw Ruddwen isn’t open access, the open access land only starts to the west of Troed Rhiw Cymmer. You can find the maps on the countryside council for wales maps.

    The link for the map is http://www.ccw.gov.uk/enjoying-the-country/countryside-access-map.aspx

  21. Just be wary. A lot of his land is open access now, but that makes no difference. Recently he was actually seen by a police officer as he was nastily haranguing a woman on a footpath. By the time the officer could walk over to the woman and offer to go after him, she had decided, though very upset, that she didn’t want any more involvement. This guy now lives at Bron byr** SN71625354 so be wary as far west as that. The “kids” are not so little now, and haven’t improved. Just ask dear old Islwyn at Brynglas!

    He now has been claiming he has bought the forest (felled) land at Nant Gwernog, but I don’t know whether there is any truth in it.

    • Thanks for the info Roger. Sadly it’s probably not a place that I will rush back to although I do fancy exploring that gorge.

  22. It’s now 2019! The two boys are grown men and still up to their tricks. But the younger one has a glint in his eye and I think it is little more than fun on their part. I spoke at some length to their father who now owns a smart BMW. I’d say he is justifiably proud of what he has achieved and I bear him no grudge. But still rude, yes.

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