By car back to Tre’r Ddôl, and coffee and flapjacks in the excellent café in Siop Cynfelin run by Cwmni Cymunedol Cletwr. Today’s guestwalkers converge on the village: D from Aberystwyth, and S, J and Jo from Borth. As we set off up the woodland path we must look like a branch of the North Ceredigion Ramblers – it’s rare for us to be part of a seven-person group.
At the end of the village we pass an old chapel, Capel Soar, now used as a store by Ceredigion Museum. S explains that he comes here once a week to care for the furniture and other contents. American tourists of a religious disposition sometimes turn up there, in search of the Welsh origins of a Wisconsin religious sect.
Once a couple of noisy (and illegal?) off-road bikers have passed us, the path quickly takes us into another, peaceful world. It winds uphill from the village, with ever wider views through the trees across the Dyfi estuary, and then wanders through woods and fields, up and down across a succession of small east-west valleys, most with streams running through them. At times we seem to be walking in the remotest country, even though we’re never far from the main road – a pastoral and kindly landscape in the spring sunshine. Here, as throughout the week, the fields are full of young lambs, uncertain of all humans, let alone strangely clad walkers. Some spring flowers are yet to appear, but anemones, celandines, speedwells, violets and bluebells are all in blossom. Old stone walls have survived intact in these parts, some of them incorporating ancient and twisted tree trunks. One tree, maybe struck by lightning, has split into two, and half its branches lie splayed on the field edge beneath, giving the impression of an exposed system of roots. This is the only day of the week we don’t hear skylarks, there’s so little open high ground.
This looks a benign landscape, but it clearly has its hidden dangers. A neat bilingual sign, posted next to a gap in the hedge on a steep slope to our right, politely informs us that ‘laden tractors crossing the path may be unable to stop’. We pass the gap unharmed.
As we walk Jo uses his penknife to whittle the ends of walking sticks and arrows. Later he finds a rope hanging from a tree in a neighbouring field, and swings high, legs flailing. When we reach Cwm Einion, the finest of all these valleys, S, J and Jo decide to have a picnic by the stream before returning to Tre’r Ddôl. The four of us bid them goodbye, and climb out of the valley.
A long lane climbs gradually alongside an old estate wall, carefully built from local stone, long colonised by mosses and plants. Below us lies a small valley with sheep fields and a hill on the other side leading to higher, unfarmed land. We stop and eat our sandwiches and apples, sitting on a grassy bank with trees behind us. Apart from birdsong it’s a quiet spot. An alien portaloo lies abandoned on its side by the lane. In a field down the valley a farmer drives a quad across a field. Someone rides a horse, without haste, up a lane on the other side of the valley (earlier we saw it standing alone, saddled up, by a farm). The sun shines. Time has slowed.
Eventually we restart, through land that must once have supported a good number of people. It’s now largely depopulated. Some farmsteads we pass look as if they were abandoned half a century ago. Caerhedyn, which still keeps its delicate green paint, has a bell fitted to its exterior, presumably so that the phone would be heard by owners working outside. The only industry here seems to be extreme sports: an alarming notice attached to a pole tells us about the ’51 mile run across Wales barefoot’.
The later stages of the walk climb higher, round the flank of Foel Fawr, and then up through a long forestry track, where many of the coniferous trees have been mechanically and crudely felled, so that the scene has something in common with those photos of First World War battlefields on the western front. It’s a sterile landscape, lacking birdsong and flowers.
At some point we cross the invisible frontier between Ceredigion and Powys, and after more climbing suddenly find ourselves looking down on Machynlleth and the Dyfi below. Then down we drop towards the town, the final stretch along the so-called Roman steps, and tramp through the streets to the railway station to collect car no. 2 and return to Tre’r Ddôl.
At last we’ve completed the Ceredigion coast path, after starting out on it – getting immediately lost in a large field outside Cardigan – exactly two years ago. Today has been its most secretive but most beguiling section, and we agree it deserves revisiting some day. But for now the North – linguistically we’ve already arrived – is calling for our attention.