Wye Valley Walk, day 12: Rhayader to Llangurig

May 13, 2022 0 Comments

We gather at the town clock.  It looks at first sight as if it’s one of the family of Victorian town clocks at the centre of many mid-Wales towns, but the Rhayader example dates from 1924 and acts as a memorial to the dead of the First World War.  On each face are stone relief sculptures, well-lit at night, include a slightly absurd one of a large dragon (Wales) vanquishing an eagle (Germany).

MA and her family, five in all, arrive to join us for today’s longish walk. We stroll up the road towards St Harmon – one of Francis Kilvert’s parishes, briefly, though I’ve never been there – but miss the turning to the left, we’re so busy in conversation.  Back down the road and we’re on the right track, a lane that winds slowly uphill, past a field of alpacas and another decorated with geodesic yurts.  Next we turn off left on a path, and we’re soon struggling with different types of recalcitrant gate technology.  The males having failed to open any of them, MA works out a way through each one, without effort.  All at once a huge prospect opens up: rows of hills to the north, and, immediately below us, a new valley, with Afon Marteg flowing through it.

The second mistake of the morning has us going the wrong way down the slope, until Ch calls us back to a hidden stile, and we follow the approved path towards the valley bottom.  Here, as if by magic, appears the Radnorshire Wildlife Trust’s Gilfach nature reserve.  Even happier is the fact that, inside the old longhouse the Trust has restored, is a DIY coffee bar.  We stop for elevenses, with several other visitors, and admire the way the farm and its surroundings have been preserved. We walk down the valley, surely one of the most beautiful in Wales, with the small river alongside, and pass, in turn, a dipper hide, a derelict rail tunnel – the Mid-Wales Railway Company once ran a line, ruinously expensive to build and run, between Rhayader and Llanidloes – a small but lively waterfall, a group of ageing English birders carrying extravagant viewing equipment, and a procession of wayside stones on which are carved a beetle, a salmon and other local creatures.

On 4 May 1876 Francis Kilvert came through this valley by rail, on his first visit to his new job, vicar of St Harmon:

Soon after leaving Rhayader the railway leaves the valley of the Wye and enters the sweet vale of Marteg by a wild and narrow gorge which soon opens, broadens and settles down into a winding valley shut in by gentle hills about which are dotted lone white cottages and farms.

At Pont Marteg the idyll comes to a sudden end.  We wait for a chance to cross the fast and dangerous A470, the bane of the Wye Valley walker’s life, and then cross the Wye, via a bridge that’s much less stressful than yesterday’s swinging bridge.  The new path runs parallel to the river and road, and the air is still hostile with the roar of motorbike engines (National Biking Day must have been extended).  At one point the hedge – the default field boundary round here – is replaced with a series of large stone slabs, laid on their sides and leaning slightly against a bank of earth.  We’ve been walking steadily for a while and we’re ready for a break.  We decide on a small trespass and sit in a row on the riverbank to eat our sandwiches, like characters in a Cartier-Bresson photo.  The sun is warm, on the water, on the fields opposite, and on the windmill-covered hills opposite.

Next the path takes us away from the Wye, up another secluded valley, with Nant y Dernol flowing through it, past Nantllemysten, Carreg-y-bwla and Nant-y-Dernol.  At Tan-yr-Allt a dog’s bark brings a young woman from the house; she holds us to blame for waking her sleeping baby, and gives us a glare.  Towards the head of the valley the path veers to the right and takes us up a broad grassy track that was clearly an old drovers’ road.  It climbs, and then climbs steeply, so that the adults arrive breathless and sweaty at the top of the slope.  Beyond, in large fields, there’s no clear path and we need to find our way using the OS’s red arrow. By now we’re well strung out, with the twins at the rear, still passing a rugby ball between them (all three boys seem to find the whole twelve or thirteen miles no more than a leisurely amble).

Now we can see Llangurig, but we know from experience that seeing is not arriving.  After dropping down to a ford there’s another hill to climb.  We find ourselves in the wrong field – the third navigational error of the day – and have to descend and start again.  Once on a lane, though, we feel safe, and stroll quietly along to the village.  D walks to meet us and we all gather in the Blue Bell to re-water and celebrate a grand day.

Next: Llangurig to Rhyd-y-Benwch

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