Devil’s Bridge to Dolgellau
I walked this stage across the Dyfi watershed with Dave Travers, rather than solo. Indeed he supplied the pictures, as a car thief decided to make away with my camera before the film (!) had been developed.
Stage 9, Friday 22 October 2004: Devil’s Bridge to Dyffryn Castell inn, 6 miles
The first leg, an afternoon not whole day, was due to follow Drake’s Cambrian Way route, with the morning train from London getting us to Aberystwyth by lunchtime, and the bus for Devil’s Bridge leaving soon after – the Vale of Rheidol train took Fridays off in the autumn. But with a train failure in Shrewsbury we ended up nearly two hours late, well after the last bus of the day, so had to grab a taxi up the Rheidol.
In pouring rain, decision time. Could we reach the Dyffryn Castell inn by nightfall using Drake’s fine route? It was too tight a schedule, so we decided on a plod along the A4120 before rejoining Drake via Parson’s Bridge. Uneventful enough, save that the footpath shown leaving the main road at 750786 petered out in marsh, so we had to take the (very pretty) alternative leaving from the little chapel a few hundred yards further along.
Stage 10, Saturday 23 October 2004: Dyffryn Castell inn to Machynlleth, 16 milesMake no mistake: it’s a big day from the inn to Machynlleth over Plynlimon. The mountain climb is straightforward enough, but there is wild country to the north and we see it at its best.
The valley at Hyddgen has the scale of a Scottish strath, and the ridge above is always interesting, with good views into the valley systems to the east. It’s a popular area with mountain bikers too (though we saw none), and their Mach 3 navigation signs simplified route-finding. There’s a descent into forest at a place called The Chute (770948) which drops sharply down smooth, and on our day very wet, slate; how one takes two wheels down that I do not know; its official mountain bike grading is ‘scary and difficult’!
We had intended to take the path at 756994 directly to Machynlleth, but by then had got used to following the waymarks of the fairly recent Glyndŵr’s Way diversion, so contoured westwards, with fine views over the town tempered by the realisation that it was an extra mile at the end of a long and wet day. This also proved very useful when I came back a few years later to complete the bits of Glyndŵr’s Way that I hadn’t done! We entered the town of Machynlleth through the grounds of Plas Machylleth, rather regretting that our walker’s schedule gave insufficient time to visit its interpretative centre, Celtica. Alas, two years later Celtica closed, a victim of over-optimistic visitor projections.
Tarrenhendre and Cadair Idris
Stage 11, Sunday 24 October 2004: Machynlleth to Eisteddfa, 11 miles
Some years before, Dave and I walked a large part of the Dyfi Valley Way, which traverses a large part of the Tarren range north of Machynlleth. We had taken the opportunity to divert to the summit of Tarren y Gesail, so it made sense now to tick off the other hill in the range, Tarrenhendre. First though was the crossing of the Dyfi. Yes, there is an A-road bridge, but it had been closed the day before due to floods. Thankfully these had subsided a little by the morning, and our first obstacle was the infamous forestry plantations of the Tarrens’ southern slopes.
There are routes through, without as Drake implies having to footslog along A roads. Ours took us by Tywyllnodwydd to Pennal-isaf, where the open hillside beckoned. In fact the forestry tracks were straightforward enough; it was the land around Pennal-isaf’s farmsteads that was difficult, with a lack of stiles to make one doubt one’s route. No difficulties though on the final ridge.
It has to be said that Tarrenhendre summit is uninspiring, made worse by the weather closing in after a pleasant morning. Further down though is the popular tourist area of Dolgoch Falls, through which runs the Tal-y-llyn railway. We were just in time for a round trip up the valley. From Dolgoch station it was just a simple valley walk to our B&B.
Stage 12, Monday 25 October 2004: Eisteddfa to Dolgellau, 13 miles
The final stage is a long west-east traverse of one of the best Welsh hills, and hence a companion piece to the north-south traverse of Plynlimon two days before. Dave had been kept awake by incessant overnight wind and rain, but it was drying as we started out by the high farmland towards Pont Ystumanner. The village of Llanfihangel-y-pennant is a sobering place for the modern hillwalker, Goretexed up and Vibram shod; it was from here in 1800 that one Mari Jones, aged 16, set out to walk 25 miles barefoot to Bala in pusuit of a bible.
Nowadays the village is the starting point for the pony track ascent of Cadair Idris, which while never the most exciting way up the hill gives a sense of the grand sweep of its bulk. It was pretty rough on top and we met one family group who were pretty dispirited and about to turn back before the summit, where we ourselves struggled to grip the summit cairn (Penygadair) in the high wind and were pleased to eat our sandwiches in the shelter just below. Then another family walks in with dog! They had come up from Minfford, in the lee of the hill, and indeed conditions rapidly improved for us, as we sat for a while on Mynydd Moel looking beyond Penygadair to the sea beyond.
The descent of Gau Graig seemed to take ages, but the route was never in real doubt until the very bottom, and lanes led quickly into Dolgellau itself.
Use + and – keys to zoom to toggle between large-scale and 1:50,000 mapping
Dyffryn Castell Inn is an obvious choice, though the George Borrow hotel in Ponterwyd would be an alternative if you don’t mind an extra few miles tagged on to Plynlimon. Machynlleth has a very wide variety of accommodation; we stayed at Maenllwyd B&B, which understood the travails of walkers on wet Welsh days. Eisteddfa is a comfortable farmhouse B&B in the Fathew valley. Dolgellau, like Machynlleth, is a significant town with much accommodation, though we stayed at the very pretty Dolgun Uchaf B&B just outside; Dave’s wife Rachel had journeyed up that day and played taxi.