Glyndŵr’s Way, day 8: Llanbrynmair to Llangadfan

June 9, 2024 0 Comments

Since Wales is hilly, and since its villages are very seldom sited on hilltops, it follows that walks away from them tend to begin with a long climb.  This morning is no exception. After breakfast in the village shop – our host Mr M. runs a shop and café as well as a B&B – we set out in the sun from Llanbrynmair along the road to Pandy, past an eccentric house with a Louise Bourgeois spider and skeleton in the garden.  We turn off on a gentle field path under a row of trees that parallels the railway track.  Two trains pass, one in each direction, always a sign of good luck.  The fields are full of thistles, today’s dominant plant.  So far, so pastoral, but soon the path rises inexorably up, through fields and then moorland towards forest.

There are big views back to the west and north, to the nose-shaped hill we descended the evening before, and, far beyond, the grey outline of Aran Fawddwy.  After the long climb we level off along a broad green path leading along the western shoulder of Cerrig y Tân.  To our right is a bare breast-shaped hill, Banc y Gorlan, that we keep in sight for some time.  An incongruous metal box comes into view ahead.  Could this be the high-end pop-up coffee shop we’re really in need of by now?  It isn’t, so we make do with swigs of water.

We make a turn to the east, on a broad gravelly track.  To our left is an historic sign, ‘Covid-19: do not touch the gate’.  A large forest looms ahead, with an upland peat bog, Cors Fforchog, in front of it to our right.  We stop for elevenses.  We’re looking over cleared forestry: tree trunks, smashed and contorted, and sawn-off stumps laid in neat rows like war graves.  There’s birdsong, but only from the forest’s broadleaf fringe.

We enter the forest proper. First we have to cross a waterlogged section, by balancing precariously on telegraph poles laid end to end; I need to borrow C2’s walking poles to avoid a soaking.  Forests usually mean trouble, but this one isn’t dark and dense, and good signing means we’re in no danger of getting lost.  At last we emerge, at a spot named Panylau Gwynion (‘wild hollows’).  Ahead is an expanse of moorland, signalled as boggy by clumps of white cotton-grass.  We follow a fence that leads in a straight line south-eastwards, with deviations to avoid the wetter sections.  Snagged in the fence are columns of sheep-wool, like some high-level art installation.

The land starts to fall gradually into the broad valley of Cwm Nant yr Eira at Dolau-ceimion. At last, some relief from tussock-jumping.  We follow the tarmac of the quiet valley road north-eastwards, past Neinthirion, with its single house and Beulah chapel, and Dolau, where we wave to a farmer tending sheep in a field, to Dolwen.  In 1936 the writer and politician Ambrose Bebb, escaping the motor car and the modern world, took a walk through Cwm Nant yr Eira, in the opposite direction to us, from Llangadfan to Llanbrynmair.  In his radio talk about the journey, ‘Y cerddwr a’r ffordd’, he paints a lyrical picture of the place, its hills ‘rising up slowly on each side to form closed flanks to the valley, to envelop it, to set it apart from every other part of the world, near and far.’   He extols ‘the warmth of the inhabitants, with their unmistakeable accents’, and receives ‘a princely welcome’ at some of the farms.  Nearly a century later Nant yr Eira is still a tranquil place, and the Welsh language survives here still: at Dolwen, where we stop to have our sandwiches, the walls and signposts bear exuberant decorations greeting the Urdd Eisteddfod that’s just come to an end at Meifod.

After Dolwen the path leaves the valley and climbs between two hills, Moel Ffridd-ddolwen and Moel Ddolwen towards a higher, bleaker hill, Pen Coed.  We pass an abandoned JCB that seems to have died of exhaustion after digging a mysterious ditch by the side of the path, and later on, a deserted tanker containing (or not) some unspecified fluid.  From above, as we climb again, the bright blue tanker looks like a piece from a Lego set. This sets us thinking what a ‘contemporary Britain’ Lego set might contain: presumably, a giant Amazon warehouse, a floating hulk for illegal immigrants and countless food banks.

Pen Coed turns out to be a large bog, fed by numerous small steams falling from the summit.  We make slow progress, trying to keep our feet from sinking into the water, and our eyes fixed on the yellow-capped path signs ahead.  It’s not easy to keep vertical as we bounce from reed clump to reed clump.  At length we escape the wet.  Ahead, a different large view opens up, across Afon Banwy to the hills to the north.  We begin the long descent towards Llangadfan, with an afternoon refreshment stop by a large dead tree overlooking a stream.  The path takes a diversion to avoid a farm and then joins a narrow road into the village.  While the other two walk on through the village to the Cann Office Hotel, our home for the night, I take a diversion to Dolpebyll to visit old friends, Shani Rhys James and Stephen West, and then, on the main road, a third artist, Eleri Mills.  Eleri has converted a disused chapel, Pontgadfan, into a fine community space for concerts and other events.  She tells me that Ambrose Bebb married a girl who lived in the house she herself lives in, next door to the chapel.  Bebb isn’t, then, quite ‘the lonely explorer in unknown territory’ he purports to be in his radio talk.

Next day

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