Glyndŵr’s Way, day 2: Short Ditch to Llanbadarn Fynydd

June 17, 2023 0 Comments
Short Ditch

Another grey morning, with an easterly wind, but again we’re promised sun and heat later.  Sharon appears at the Red Lion to take us back to Short Ditch, where we left off yesterday, along some narrow and winding lanes.  She tells us she’s Knighton born and bred.  She’s not had a holiday for over ten years, but now her husband has persuaded her to go to Las Vegas.  She has no interest in gambling, she says, but it might be fun.

Short Ditch is exactly that: a straight earth bank across the gap at the top of the hill.  No one seems sure who built it or why: could it be a youth employment scheme devised by Offa, King of Mercia, or was it one of Owain Glyndŵr’s guerrilla tactics?

Now we’re striding across high moorland, dominated by heather and bilberries.  So many skylarks are singing around us, it’s like having a chamber orchestra playing on headphones.  The path takes us across the flanks of several hills in turn: Pool Hill, Beacon Hill, Stanky Hill and Black Mountain.  The land, which belongs to the Crown Estate, is treeless except for occasional straggly lines of white hawthorns.  Windmills sail in the distance, and the sheep have given themselves haircuts on posts and fences by the side of the path. 


There’s a gradual descent to Felindre, a small village with an unexpectedly grand football pitch and a hat shop (‘Ginger’s Millinery’).  But the post office (‘prop. W.D. Thomas’) is closed, and last bus, opposite the Wharf Inn, called here on 2 November 2015 (the bus stop is a book swap centre).  On a notice board is an advert for an Open Afternoon at the Black Mountain Chapel, Bettws-y-Crwyn to celebrate ‘Love your Burial Ground’ week.  Bettws is a village across the border in Shropshire, described recently by Mike Parker as ‘Welsh in name and temperament … surgically excised from its motherland by turf wars, treaties and the slow hiss of time’.

We climb up from the village.  We’ve the same uncertainty as yesterday about our taxi lift at the end of the day, but on the higher ground phone reception is better, and we arrange a 4:30 rendezvous.  Field after field goes by, with the odd hawthorn here and there.  An odd metal construction comes into view under a row of trees.  What could it be?  A bird hide, a tŷ un nos?  Closer up, it turns into a mundane animal feeder.  At Rhuvid farm a vicious dog snarls at us, fortunately from behind a wire cage.  The arms of a wind turbine suddenly sail past a hedge we’re passing.  Everywhere, sheep graze and we spend much futile effort steering our boots away from their shit and finding a spot to sit for lunch that isn’t too brown.  The sun’s now strong, and we have apologise to several flocks of sheep sheltering from it under the branches of trees we pass on the path.  Each time, we tell them not to let us disturb them, but they insist on moving on, only to regroup and return after we’ve passed.

Our conversation roams even more widely than it did yesterday.  We debate whether the Romantics’ view of nature is a permanent shift in human perception, why the boss of the National Grid is paid so much for doing such a bad job, how hard it is to buy a hat that doesn’t look ridiculous, and how the Baltic states have prospered since independence.

Garreg Lwyd

Eventually we find ourselves in a wide basin or empty valley, crossed by white tracks.  Some of them lead to a windfarm, Garreg Lwyd, the first we’ve seen at close quarters. There are seventeen turbines, interlocking their circles and making a gentle, swishing symphony.  In a grass field we’re passing through to reach a road I surprise a hare.  It starts away but then slows and stands still in the grass, keeping a steady eye on us from a distance before losing interest.  We walk through what in normal times would be a wet bog of reeds and buttercups.  It hasn’t rained here since the second week in May, and except when wading through fords we almost never have wetness on our boots.

As we leave the turbines behind, a farmer arrives with a large load of manure and dumps it in a pile by the windfarm entrance.  We can’t help noticing that manure is the dominant stuff on Radnorshire farms: the land isn’t rich, and manure (and occasionally lime) are needed to help the grass grow, for the sheep and, in favourable places, cattle.  Manure can be used for other purposes.  In July 1991 an illegal party took place on Llanbister Common; the next summer, the locals, fearing a repeat, spread muck over the site to discourage the ravers’ return.

Apart from the farmer the whole of this area is deserted.  We make our way along a track, through large fields yellowed by buttercups, past the mound of Castell y Blaidd (no sight of wolves: we’ve already discussed George Monbiot’s re-wilding schemes), and then down a narrow lane.  A low wooden roadside says, simply, ‘SIGN’, with a similarly elegant arrow pointing down a side-track.  We debate what this mysterious self-reflexive symbol might mean.  Could the lane lead to a PR company?  Or to the home of a hermit semiologist?  A striking line of pine trees marks the final descent towards Llanbadarn Fynydd.  We pass Abergwenlais.  It used to be a farm, and still calls itself one, but in reality it’s a massive factory for raising hens, with an extension under construction next door. 

Chicken sheds are a plague across the entire drainage basin of the Wye, as we learned when we walked upriver last year.  Not only the Wye itself, but most of its tributaries are slowly being poisoned by the waste leaching from the hundreds of chicken factories on both sides of the border.  It’s hard to blame the farmers.  Profits on the traditional upland farm in Radnorshire must be marginal – as you sense when you pass by farmhouses and through farmyards on the Way – and the chance to make more certain returns from chicken rearing must be hard to resist.  The blame lies with governments, local and national, that have allowed the uncontrolled growth of sheds, and ignored their dire environmental effects.

St Cynllo’s Church, Llanbister

We’re almost exactly on time to be picked up from outside the abandoned New Inn in Llanbadarn Fynydd and taken down the road to The Lion in Llanbister, where we’re staying tonight.  Before we eat there C1 and I take a stroll through the village.  In the past I’ve passed Llanbister many times on the main road below without once stopping here.  The village moves up the hill behind the pub.  It’s an attractive place.  There’s still a primary school, and at the top is a highly unusual church.  It dates mainly from the fourteenth century, acts as the ‘mother-church’ of north Radnorshire, and is our second dedication to St Cynllo in two days.  It’s built like a fortress, its east end, where the tower sits, scooped out of the steep hillside.  Inside, you pass through the porch and immediately have to climb steep steps to get to the nave, past a baptistery that allows full immersion.  There are yet more steps into the chancel.  At the west end is a wooden gallery.  The exterior south wall has an embedded stone inscription in curious mirror lettering, with initials and the year 1657.

Outside the church everything is still.  C1 and I sit in silence on a bench in the churchyard overlooking the village and watch the sun decline.

Next day

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