In mid May, a friend and I went on a 3 day circuit of the northern Cambrian mountains. Tim is walking with me a part of the way in the Pyrenees, and wanted to test kit and the water before the off. I wanted to witness a remote and lonely place, before planned industrialisation changes its character even more. We tested, walked and witnessed, it was a wet and wild weekend.
We left the car at Eisteddfa, for which they charged a tenner for 3 nights. As we suited and booted it began to spit, and slowly we ascended the track behind the farm, past old mines, to the blustery cloud shrouded highs of Plynlimon, chatting our usual brand of rubbish. Cold start, warm hearts.
After lunch on the top the weather clears a little and the reservoir is revealed. We head off east in moderate wind, glad of each others company as both of us are amblers of the first order given half the chance, and stop often to take photos. Tim's becoming a bit of a naturalist in his dotage and likes to take pictures of small things - come to think of it, so do I.
After east for a while we follow the broad ridge north, and as cloud swirls fast around our heads huge numbers of wind turbines are revealed on the hills all around us. There are so many installations of all sizes that after a while we lose count. Pylons, access roads and Forestry Commission plantations causing soil acidification mark our view.
This is a place of great symbolic and cultural value to Wales, and ecologically is of untold value. The biodiversity here is just mindblowing - we saw so many different types of mosses, fungi and small plants, and its also the source of several major river systems that flow across the UK - in some sense it's the cradle of the west. It kind of broke my heart this place, so much beauty so little care.
Arwystli is a fine walk to the cairns and here the country opens wide and reveals its true vastness. The wind howls and the cloud breaks. Oh, we are frail and silly. Before us, the sun lights up the land ahead, we follow the boundary down past the source of the Wye to the source of the Severn. Did the last true Prince of Wales fight the English for resources, the same as it ever was? The source of the Severn may be a humble pool, but it seems laden with memory. And water.
From here the weather gets choppy and the going more difficult. Thigh high tussock heads and occasional hail welcome us in. The best weather vane is a half frozen Snickers, so its cold for May. We stumble along our soggy way, cutting across country and then down slowly to our stopping place. Ankle troubling heather and grasses, then rainbows, bogs and marshland.
Day 2, and a late late start. Up to the track and around via a pontoon bridge, boat house and a Victorian? ruin to Glaslyn. Its blustery and the rain threatens but doesn't come yet. Near here we pass 3 walkers, the only others we see all weekend.
We cut west and descend on a steep slippery path to Glyndwrs Way. This valley is heavenly, covered in oak, apple and hawthorn blossom. The sun noses out on the nose of the green hills, on our left eroded gullies on the brown slopes below the suspended lake of Glaslyn.
Down in to the valley proper, and an hour or 2 of finding our way through fields and across streams, up old and little used paths, cut across by gates and barbed wire fences. Not much time for CRoW in Wales, instead a caravan named freedom.
Back up a catenary cut ridge line to the crest near Mawnog, and more bones. Sometimes, death is beautiful, sometimes death is just soup. The climb is steep, windy and cold. As we descend to the tree plantation, the weather comes in again. Soggy trudge through the forest, laughing.
Into the valley of Hyddgen, a soundless hymn to desolation. The bridleway blocked by a sheep transport, the slopes of the hills on both sides broken only by conifer plantations and the occasional large farm building. Rain troubles our way mostly, but the sun briefly lights up Byrn Moel. We continue south past the end of the road into the empty, open heart.
Day 3, another late one. Early on its sunny, but that soon changes. We aim for a path on the map that doesn't exist on the ground, then are forced to double back as the river is too high and fast to cross. Back to the footbridge, we lose an hour or more. Now, some bog trotting.
And the rain. Not regular rain, no but the finest Welsh stuff that gets into everything and persists for decades at a time. No waterproof can match this, it's peerless. Tim is soaked within an hour, I last longer, but eventually water gets in. Slowly, we circumnavigate the northern slopes of Nant y Moch, seeing not a soul. Beautiful, miserable, and we wouldn't have it any other way.
Contouring on Drosgol a few minutes of sublime peace... suddenly quiet in here, between the ears and under hood. Steep path dense mists, Tim concerned about the slope in the wet, its true a slip would not be so nice here. The rain continues.
We stop for lunch. Its cold. We move on quickly, warmer. Eventually we hit track and the going gets easier. Tim empties the gore tex socks I lent him, water shoots out. After a while the rain stops for a little, and we make our way onto higher moorland away from the reservoir. The winds toys with us for a bit before the rain returns again. Then they both take it in turns to tickle us a bit more.
Despite the hopeless dreich, one further moment of peace and clarity at Bwlchystyllen. A lamb shelters in the lee of a ruined farmstead wall, an apple tree stands by the side of the bridleway onward. This track curves round then gently rises above a wide open floodplain, a otherworldly land of signs and wonders, stories of spectres told by warm fires or bible scenes described in sombre pigment by renaissance painters.
Afterwards, we aim for a path that barely exists and head up onto higher moorland still under Disgwylfa Fawr. Visibility is minimal but we decide to cut our losses and navigate between the Fawr and Fach to the valley beyond, and our shelter for the night. The next little while is spent on bearings and map badgering. Forget it, read the land. But it all pays off both ways and we land squarely in bog before reaching the ridge crest track above Afon Rheidol. Dinosaur backed hill/fort stands guard on our right. Its memory lane, full to the brim and over. So, over we go, still in the rain, down to the waterfall and the farmhouse, and over the footbridge. We find shelter above the waterfall in the shade of trees. Late, but we dry off, cook and crash out. Not before we finish the whisky.
Distance: 31.25m or 50.3km
Elevation range: 1550 approx
Basic map below, map in detail here