To Machynlleth

This southern section of Glyndŵr’s Way is the more remote of the trail’s two halves, with a couple of moorland stages that could prove rough going with the weather against you. My luck held, more or less, but as you’ll see below that didn’t mean all was plain sailing.

14 October 2016. Knighton to Felindre, 15 miles.

My plan in 1992 was to just do a half-stage, alighting from the train at Llangunllo and walking to Felindre from there. Alas the train broke down at Knighton and by the time anything else got sorted I would have run out of daylight while on one of the trickiest navigational stages, across a moorland massif about 1500ft high. Instead I cadged a lift direct to Felindre and stayed there overnight at the Wharf Inn.

Tent-equipped in 2016, I had a rather different solution. I parked up at Brandy House Farm in Felindre, which has a wide range of accommodation but crucially for me lets you camp in their back garden. The bus service back to Knighton had alas ceased sometime between 1992 and 2016, but the local taxi was hardly any more expensive than the bus would have been, and came with a running commentary from the driver on the foolishness of Powys Council in not taking his tender for running said bus!

There’s a nice café in Knighton, by the clock tower where Glyndŵr’s Way starts, to stoke you up for the day’s walk. Knighton is one of the places on the Way with associations to Owain Glyndŵr, for in 1402 he won a notable battle just south of the town, the Battle of Pilleth. The town left soon behind, the Way very pleasantly contours through woodland around Garth Hill.

Knighton from Garth Hill

Looking over Knighton from Garth Hill

Later, descent from high farmland leads past a rally school to the village of Llangunllo. Alas, I was a bit too soon to enjoy a pint at the Greyhound Inn, a community-run pub rescued from closure a few years previously.

The Greyhound Inn at Llangunllo

The Greyhound Inn at Llangunllo

Llangunllo lies just below the headwaters of the River Lugg; Felindre is on the River Teme (as is Knighton). Between them lies Beacon Hill Common.

Beacon Hill Common

Beacon Hill Common

Potentially it’s tough and arduous, at nearly 500m some of the highest ground on the Way, but the Way uses ancient tracks, many of them drove roads once used to transport cattle and sheep to English cities. Navigationally though you need your wits about you, for it would be easy to end up on the wrong track in difficult conditions. No problems for me though, and I was soon back at the camp.

16 (probably) October 1992. Felindre to Abbeycwmhir, 16 miles.

Despite the annoyance of the train breakdown on the day before, I was in good heart as I set off from Felindre. This was a good-looking day, essentially a couple of up-and-downs separated by the valley of the River Ithon, in which lies the village of Llanbadarn Fynydd. There’s a pub here, the New Inn, conveniently placed for a half-way stop, and I can’t imagine I would have missed the chance to go in. But I only have three distinct memories from the day. It started raining at Llanbadarn Fynydd, but it couldn’t have been for long. Near the Ithon tributary the Bachell Brook not far from the finish, I rested at a path junction, thinking “isn’t this quiet and peaceful, and don’t I feel content” (though wondering why I was a bit puffed). And finally, walking into Abbeycwmhir for my B&B, and seeing a Union flag flying. Nothing wrong in flying one’s flag, but a bit of me would have liked to see a red dragon instead, this far into Wales.

17 October 1992. Abbeycwmhir to Llanidloes, 15 miles.

I wonder if I noticed Llandinam wind farm? These days, wind farms are a common occurrence in an area like mid-Wales (not that they spoil Glyndŵr’s Way too much, not yet at least), but in 1992 they were a rarity. Llandinam was one of the first, opening that very year, and at 100 turbines it’s a bit of a monster. It’s also in an area where the Way has plenty of sharp up-and-downs, so maybe I was too busy gritting my teeth to pay attention.

Back then I had a very firm attitude to securing accommodation. I did it in advance, always. But I made an exception for Llanidloes. Outside Knighton / Machynlleth / Welshpool, it’s easily the most important (indeed only other) town on the Way, and I thought it would be rather good to saunter through and take my pick of whatever looked nice, be it B&B, inn or hotel. But as I knocked on doors / enquired at receptions, I kept getting “sorry, full”. I didn’t think it was me. They couldn’t be unused to Glyndŵr’s Way walkers after all. Eventually I found out why. There was a farmer’s wedding that night, and everything was booked solid. I started imploring, and well after dark, back at one of the largest hotels in town, found that they did have one last room, but they didn’t recommend it, as they were holding the reception, and it would be very noisy till very late. Did I care? Not really. Did I learn a lesson? Absolutely. Did I sleep? Must have.

18 October 1992. Llandiloes to Dylife, 12 miles.

Though not a long stage, it’s a very good one. Llanidloes is on the Severn, and after crossing the river, the trail heads by a loop above its tributary the Clywedog to one of the great lakes of mid-Wales, Llyn Clywedog. It’s one of several reservoirs built to supply England with water – this one is relatively late, finished 1967, and supplies Birmingham; another features later, on the northern half of the trail.

After a forestry interlude the route contours for a while before re-crossing the Clywedog above the village of Staylittle, another possible break point but only if you need a very short day. From here there’s a moorland crossing over the small hill of Penycrocben, with a good view over the former lead mining settlement of Dylife, which is just off route. I remember passing some time taking in the view from the hill as it was way too soon for the village pub, the Star Inn, to be open. I finally pottered down there about 4, still nobody about, but found that nothing was locked.

19 October 1992. Dylife to Felindulas, then road walk to Machynlleth, 11 miles (five on Glyndŵr’s Way).

The days before, I’d been moving well enough, but not quite as fluently as the year before. Today, something went badly wrong.

No hint at the beginning, when I’d climbed back up to the Way and headed over one of its most sensational sections. It passes just above the isolated lake of Glaslyn, its acidic waters supporting little life and hence an important and rare habitat, before a slight rise on the slopes of Foel Fadian, reaching the Way’s highest point at 1640ft. The Way itself does not pass over the hill summit, only a little higher at 1850ft, but I decided to make the detour, a fine spot for the sandwiches I had brought from Staylittle.

Before I made that detour, I knew that things weren’t right, for I was moving stiffly and slowly, but expected they would correct themselves in the miles that followed. They did not, and the long downward stretch to the farm of Nantyfyda, which should have been a romp, became a slow grind. By the time I got to the road junction at Felindulas, I knew that something was seriously wrong. I looked at the hill that rose to Rhiw Goch, and knew it would be madness to go on.

At Felindulas

One small step in 2016, a hill too far in 1992

The road from here stays close to the Afon Dulas valley much of the way to Machynlleth, so I ground out the last few miles to the town on the tarmac. I returned home the next day, abandoning my plan to walk on further.

13 October 2016. Felindulas to Rhiw Goch, three miles (and back again).

Plugging the gap. In fact I drove up from London, parked up at Dyffryn-Dulas, just above the road junction, scampered up the hill and back, had a chat with the bemused lady who lived at Dyffryn-Dulas, and then drove to Felindre ready for stage one, above. Logistics. Piece of cake.

The Tarrens from Rhiw Goch

The Tarrens from Rhiw Goch

23 October 2004. (From Dyffryn Castell inn to) Rhiw Goch and on to Machynlleth, 16 miles (six on GW).

This was a day of my Cross-Wales walk, and very convenient it was to prove. In fact we (Dave Travers was with me) had not intended to use Glyndŵr’s Way, indeed in planning I’d barely noticed that it was there, but after descending the mountain-biker’s nightmare of The Chute to Rhiw Goch, we kept picking up its waymarkers. Even when we got to a direct path for Mach (at SN756994), we stuck with the Way. Perhaps this was to give ourselves some drying out time, for the rain had pelted down on the descent from Plynlimon and had only cleared for the Glyndŵr’s Way stretch, conveniently. Whatever the reason, it made my life in 2016 that little bit easier.

It’s right that Machynlleth is the centre piece of Glyndŵr’s Way, for this town saw the apogee of the leader’s influence in Wales; by 1404 he was strong enough to call a national parliament here.

Accommodation

In 1992, my first night was at the Wharf Inn in Felindre. This closed for a while yet reopened in 2015, but no longer has accommodation or serves food. When I came back to the village in 2016, I camped at Brandy House Farm – B&B also available. I don’t recall my B&B in Abbeycwmhir, and can’t be certain about the hotel in Llanidloes, though in Dylife I was definitely at the Star Inn. Our B&B in Machynlleth, 2004, is also lost in the mist of time, but in 1992 I let my seized limbs recover at the White Lion.

The Wharf Inn

The Wharf Inn, Felindre in 2016

Brandy House Farm

Brandy House Farm