Wye Valley Walk, day 11: Newbridge-on-Wye to Rhayader

May 13, 2022 0 Comments

Sun and warmth have returned.  We’re taxi’d back from Rhayader to Newbridge for a rather longer walk than yesterday’s.  We wait on the bridge, and immediately spot our first kite of the day.  As well as A we’re joined by a second guest, J.  The four of us start on a minor road below the long low country house of Llysdinam.  We’re so busy chatting with our new walkers that we forget to check map and guidebook, and by the time we do we find that we’re walking well away from the path and the river, having missed a turning to the right.  We correct the mistake, and the way ahead is now clear, even to incompetent navigators like us. 

The path strolls evenly and placidly northwards.  The river is off to the right; on our left are woods, their slopes carpeted with bluebells.  As so often on the Wye, avenues of mature trees, evidence of wise planting over a hundred years ago, run parallel to the bank.  We pass clumps of very tall beeches, their leaves newly uncurled and fresh green, and their branches overarching the path.  At Trembyd, land owned by the National Trust, the woodland on our left gives way to bare open common, covered with a thick matting of dead bracken.  To our right, across the Wye and grassy lawns is a large house, Doldowlod.  It was built for James Watt, the son of the famous engineer, in 1843-45, and is still owned by his descendants, the Gibson-Watt family.  C tells how as a small child he was taken daily to the house by his mother, who taught Julian, the small son of David Gibson-Watt, the Tory grandee and MP.  He would play among the bales of hay on the farm next door to the house.  The latest Gibson-Watt has defected to the LibDems and is standing as a councillor here.

Doldowlod sits just under the A470.  You can just see the pinnacles of its tower and roofs as you rush past.  Today must be National Bikers Day, because the air is thick with the roar and grind of powerful motor bike engines, as they race along the straights and bends between Rhayader and Newbridge. This is not what we came to the Wye to listen to.

Now we come to Llanwrthwl, a hamlet that’s the only settlement between the beginning and end of today’s walk.  The narrow road passing through it goes on to the Elan valley reservoirs.  The village has a small chapel, Peniel, still in use, and a church dedicated to the obscure St Gwrthwl – another complete mid-Victorian rebuild, with no tower, but with interesting features: a Norman font with four protruding heads, a ground-level bell, mounted on two railway sleepers, and a massive boulder, possibly of prehistoric significance, just outside the porch.

On a bench outside the churchyard we eat our sandwiches, watching some more sedate bikers pass through, and then tackle today’s challenge, a long and steady climb uphill towards the north.  We meet an elderly couple coming down: the man has a bandana and is wearing a heavy (non-tartan) kilt.  They assure us we’re tackling the hill in the right direction.  They’re the only obvious Wye Valley Walk hikers we’ve seen since the Two Women several days ago.  At the top of the slope we’re in open country, and pass a lonely farm, with an equally lonely windmill and a group of black cattle.  A lone swift, the first we’ve seen, circles around us, again and again.  Then downhill, and we pass a derelict cottage and wonder how such a remote upland place could ever have yielded any kind of living.  Just as yesterday the path takes us down a wet stony holloway, with many an opportunity to slip or turn an ankle.  We emerge on a lane, with Welsh poppies in flower on a wall along it.  It leads to the Glyn pedestrian bridge across the Elan river.  This is a wobbly suspension bridge, made even wobblier when four people try to cross at once: we’re all glad to reach the other side in safety.  The struts of the bridge have a distinctly Japanese air, and for a moment I imagine myself as a modern Bashō, on our narrow road to the deep north – alas, without the poetic genius.

We’ve noticed this before, in the approaches to Prestatyn, Hay and elsewhere: path planners like nothing more than to postpone arrival.  So, to avoid us getting to Rhayader too quickly, they send us on a long, seemingly pointless diversion along farm lanes with high hedges, before we’re allowed to enter the outskirts of the town and enjoy tea, again at the Lost Arc.  At last we understand the origin of the name: locals pronounce the name not ‘Rhaeadr’ but ‘Raider’, hence ‘Raiders of the Lost Arc’.

J leaves us to go home, but we’re joined in the ancient Triangle Inn by Ch, who’ll be walking with us for the last two days.  At the next table two tall and muscly middle-aged men are bent over a map.  They announced proudly that they’ve just walked twenty kilometers across pathless open country from Abergwesyn, and will be returning the next day.  We think better of telling them about our minor exploits.

Next: Rhayader to Llangurig

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