Honddu and Wye
Brecon’s Welsh name is Aberhonddu, meaning ‘mouth of the River Honddu’. Its valley heads more or less due north from the town, pretty much the direction I wanted to go. The trick was to find ways to avoid the (admittedly quiet) B4520 which follows the valley. Luckily they exist, particularly a wonderful drove road beyond the hamlet of Lower Chapel.
Stage 5, Thursday 9 October 2003: Brecon to Dollynwydd, 15 miles
The route sets off from Brecon along the Honddu’s pleasant wooded banks, soon crossing from its western to eastern side. I missed my footpath (051307) to Pytindu and found myself in Llanddew, where encouraged by locals I cut across pasture, but in retrospect the by-road to Pytindu from 049307 would have been much simpler. Rolling countryside to Lower Chapel was pleasant walking, with views back to the Beacons receding, followed by the drove road from Castle Madoc.
I spent some time on the moor top with the local shepherd before continuing to the head of Cwm Owen. I knew before I passed it that the Griffin Inn, still shown on most maps, had closed the year before; I might have stayed there otherwise, a welcome respite from the rain. The moorland stretch from here to the little lake of Pant y Llyn is confusing, with many paths, and I was quite chuffed to get across it correctly, before descending in gathering gloom to my B&B at Dollynwydd.
Stage 6, Friday 10 October 2003: Dollynwydd to Llanwrthwl, 15 miles
The next day is very straightforward; stay on the Wye Valley Walk apart from a few hundred yards at start and finish and a deviation to the Golden Lion Inn in Newbridge. But it’s a wide and strong river, with plenty of variation as it twists and turns, and there is the market town of Builth Wells to explore. After Newbridge there is an occasional deviation away from the river and the promise of wilder land shown by Dol-y-Fan hill. I left the Wye Valley Walk just after the little village of Llanwrthwl and stayed at the nearby Dyffryn Farm.
The lakes of mid-Wales
Stage 7, Saturday 11 October 2003: Llanwrthwl to Ty’n-y-Cwm Farm, 15 miles
The next day took a deal of planning. Should I head towards Rhyader and take the old road across the moors? Stay on the Claerwen reservoir road? An overnight at Elan Village? Then, bit by bit, it became clear: paths south of the Elan Valley system to the Claerwen dam, stay in the untamed pre-waterworks system west, head up untracked onto the moors to pick up a sketchy path, and then head down after Llyn Gynon to the chapel at Strata Florida, which I remembered from a motorbike tour long ago as one of the most peaceful places in Wales.
It turned out to be a symphonic piece of route planning. A mysterious opening through inversion mist, with the sun burning through past the ruin of Ty’n-y-pant to the restored longhouse of Llanerch-y-Cawr; a huntsman’s scherzo along the Afon Claerwen, meeting a working foxhunt – all walkie-talkies and Land Rovers, not a scarlet jacket in sight; the long slow pull by the heathered Afon Arban, trackless onto Esgair Garthen, with the resolution of finding the sketchy path west to the peaceful resting place of Llyn Gynon; and a return to the ghostly themes of the opening, down the depopulated Afon Mwyro, until the home-key security of meeting the road for the last stretch to the Abbey. One discordant note at the end; in some forest round about, some driver was practising rally turns, so not as quiet as I remembered.
Stage 8, Sunday 12 October 2003: Ty’n-y-Cwm Farm to Devil’s Bridge, 13 miles
The last day that year used Tony Drake’s Cambrian Way. It was very much a walk of two halves. First wild country past the Teifi Pools, the wonderful Claerddu bothy – maintained (in 2014) by the Elan Valley Trust – two Llyns Fyddon, the minor summit of Domen Milwyn, and down to Cwmystwyth; then a shorter, easier section past the historically influential farm at Gelmast to the arch commemorating George III’s accession followed by a simple track to the village of Devil’s Bridge.
Use + and – keys to zoom to toggle between large-scale and 1:50,000 mapping
Dollynwydd was comfortable if horsey, and the apparently fierce landlady was kind enough to drive me to and from Builth Wells for my evening meal. Dyffryn Farm was very different, better class in some ways, full of culture in its books, though in Wales not of Wales. For the last two nights I stayed at the specialist walker’s B&B of Hillscape, further down the Ystwyth valley; they collected me from Strata Florida, returned me to Tyncwm Farm, and collected me from Devil’s Bridge, so I walked the final day with daypack only; highly recommended, not least because it offers a chance to meet people with the same obsessions as you.