Llangynog is a small village in mid wales at the edge of the Berwyn mountains. Its got 2 pubs, 2 chapels, a corner shop that hasn't opened its curtains in 10 years and some workshops (which used to be the school, closed in 1971, the year I was born). A friend of a friend has a little cottage there, right at the foot of the range on the outskirts of the village. Leafing through the visitors book, it seems I first came here in 1999, and walked the Snowdon horseshoe using this place as a base, in 2006. Their blurb sweetly reads that 'staying at Tany is like camping indoors'. To regular wild campers, I can assure you it is not! Its more like living in the 1950's: blankets, open fire, creaky immersion heater, spiders. Its great, a really welcoming, slightly old fashioned and fusty place, there's no mobile reception, no TV, and certainly no internet - it was lovely to be back, just as we left it half a decade ago, and with little else to do than unwind.
The area is rich in human history, both earthly and divine. The little village was a base for lead, slate and roadstone mining as early as Roman times - indeed, the cottage sits at the foot of Craig Rhiwarth, surrounded by the refuse of millenia of mineral extraction. This place thrived as an industrial centre between the 16th and 18th century, although the dark matter was exported from the valley for smelting. By the early 20th century it had its own train line and mill generated electrical supply. But that's all gone now, and the debris remains - the scars of previous waves of industrialisation, like in so much of Wales, are now writ large on the land.
Being a refugee from the north of this fair country, I've often wondered - why the sadness? We moved south when I was 6, but that feeling comes back in waves when I return. Like the fickle, showery weather, triggering deep reservoirs of childhood memory. This visit, it occurred to me that the land and the culture might still be in shock - there's an air of grieving, sometimes a numb redundancy, and often (though perhaps not so much here) just your average rural poverty. The landscape still bears the sores, let alone the scars, from all that industrial plunder. Land used up for energy and profit is not new. Don't get me wrong, its still a friendly and beautiful place, but Wales is weeping and no mistake. That is, until you hear the language spoken in Bala co-op! And so it is that I've said more than enough, and we'll begin with the walk...
The top is fairly blowy and shells and hats are donned, but there are fine views off north to the Berwyns, both Moel Sych and Cadair Berwyn visible today. Also over that way is Pistyll Raeadr, but none of that is for us this trip, we've been a few times and have different fish to fry today. Its a broad rocky bowl, with a sheltered hollow that bears up to a craggy southern end, allowing easy grazing for the farmer in the middle.
We walk to a gate, then right down the length of the fence to the northern saddle where our way meets the bridleway. Across the muddy junction and up around on a forestry track by giant conifers, with the skies growing darker and the winds picking up. Past lines of brooding pine trees, old growth on the right, new stumps on the left. Then another gate and we break out onto the ridge above the Tanat valley.
We are by now following the Pererindod Melangell path, which runs for 15 miles from Pont Llogel to our little village. The path partly follows drovers, quarry and pilgrim routes and is waymarked to commemorate Saint Melangell, who legend has it was an Irish Princess who lived in the area as a hermit around 640AD. A wild hare hunted by a local prince and his entourage took shelter under the hem of her gown (!), and the prince was so inspired by this sight of delicate courage that he granted her the use of the valley as a permanent sanctuary.
Very generous of him - actually, I'm sure he was terrified of what would have been considered at the time to be witchery! At any rate, a small place of worship has stood on a pagan burial ground in this valley since around this time. The Christian church was cunning like that, what they couldn't convert they assimilated, or built on top of. More recently a therapeutic healing centre has reignited it as a modern place of pilgrimage. I'm not of any particular religious persuasion myself but we found it on previous visits to be a loaded place, and god only knows we need more sanctuaries.
With the wind in our faces, we move along the lip of the ridge, moorland on our left starting to open out into big country at last. The lines of trees stand behind us or in the distance, and now the going gets harder, moving between flame coloured tussocks and boot sucking sphagnum. The weather has been threatening but in true Welsh style then flips about face, the mid afternoon sun suddenly lighting up the range in all its finery. Now we have some space, some wind in our sails and sun in our eyes it feels a little wilder.
After a good bit of breezy walking, during which my partner berates me for not having brought her enough warm clothes, we turn right and head through the freshly cut forestry land and round on a dull access road. Like many, I loathe these tracks, its too easy to lose orientation and they never bear much resemblance to the map. This is especially the case in Wales, and I have been stumped (pardon the pun) many a time. This one is no exception, but just when I'm starting to feel suspicious all comes good and we end up in front of a small lake and dam, the wind on us once again.
Its a simple job to head past a farmers bin linered mess, who scowls from his buggy as he whizzes by, turn right, and begin the trudge downhill through yet more forest land to the road walk out. Maybe another time we'll come up here and access the waterfall properly, perhaps in summer with a picnic. I'd like to bring students here who've never been out of the city, it would be a easy first trip. Pink light and a ruined croft on the way out, gear talk on the road walk, then mushroom rissoto, a log fire and early to bed.