The Cambrian Way, had it not been scuppered along with the Cambrian Mountains National Park for rather dodgy reasons (see the link here – http://cambrian-mountains.co.uk/?page_id=326), would surely challenge the Pennine Way for the UK’s premier mountain walk and would win on all counts bar seniority. That said, it languishes in utter obscurity, a missed opportunity for Wales and especially Mid Wales who ended up with the rather less glamorous Glyndwr’s Way.
This article was originally produced on Mud & Routes – July 2015
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The original route set off from Cardiff along the Brecon Beacons along what has now been largely usurped by the Johnny come lately Beacon’s Way, crossing virtually every hill of interest along the way. It’s then across the Cambrian Mountains in Mid Wales before the route becomes a little less clear. While there’s still an ‘official’ route according to the late Tony Drake, who conceived the route (along with a committee: http://www.cambrianway.org.uk/origin.htm for more info) but there’s also an alternative route from Machynlleth to Barmouth according to the “A Cambrian Way” guidebook by Richard Sale. This was an old guide by Constable (remember them?) and while there was a fair bit of local information, the route details themselves were rather sketchy, to the point of wondering if the author had actually walked the route at all*.
The route starts in the Centre of the town of Machynlleth, which has good rail access, but living in the north of Gwynedd you can only get there by a reasonable hour by catching a train via Shrewsbury.
From the railway station, you follow the main road out of the town and toward the Dyfi Bridge. There’s a wide pavement until that point, but not on the bridge itself which needs crossing with care.
Follow the main road left for a couple of 100m and turn right. Incidentally, the first couple of kilometres follows the Coastal Path, and this sudden step ascent must be a shock to the system! This road continues steeply uphill, past the junction to Bron Yr Aur (where Led Zeppelin wrote some songs in 1970 ) where you continue uphill to the left.
The track soon becomes rough and after a boggy ford finally enters the forest. After 400m, you come to a five way junction, with the track being the least obvious track that enters the forest directly ahead.
You start to become dubious as the first section entails a wade through mud, with further 4×4 / Landrover damage becoming much more apparent as you continue along a severely damaged green lane. This section is clearly along a loop for 4×4 users and is damaged to the point of being impassable to walkers in sections. This was under a dry spell, so this 600m section between the junction and SH727037 where the green lane veers right (and is severely eroded) will need care in the wet.
Keep an eye out for the junction mentioned above, taking the less obvious path directly ahead rather than the once-green lane right. After a 100m or so, the track enters open hillside (forestry on the map) and on to an old farmhouse at Pantyspydded that provides an unrivalled viewpoint.
The forestry track hairpins behind the farmhouse and winds it’s way uphill, avoiding the footpaths that tempt you with short cuts until the track ends and is replaced by a footpath. This continues along towards open hillside at SH719054 where you join a good mountain path into the bwlch below Tarren y Gesail.
The going so far is good, but the next section towards Bryn yr Eglwys Quarry has become the victim of forestry work. The initial track from the bwlch along the fence is easy enough to follow and brings you out on a forestry track area that would easily double as a supermarket car park. While it may not be on the map, continue along the forestry motorway, keeping an eye out for a pair of small Cairns either side of the track that denotes the descent to Pont Llaeron.
The path isn’t easy to find, but does lead directly to the ancient packhorse bridge at Pont Llaeron. While the bridge remains, the tracks either side of the river have largely vanished, which includes the route ahead.
While the route down is obvious (along the fence to the left), how you can actually get there is less so. This section is a morass where cattle have churned up the delicate ground into deep pools of mud. With some care you can avoid the worst, but you’ll end up with frustrating diversions all along this section, and you’ll be glad to reach the Bryn Eglwys Quarry. Just to note that we crossed this in exceptionally dry conditions and we wouldn’t like to imagine what it’d be like in wet weather.
It’s a relief to spot a blue boot waymarker here, a sure sign of easy walking, and as you continue along the track the going now becomes good. Keep an eye out for the waymarker for the Station, as this leads you down via an easy path to Abergynolwyn and a well deserved pint at the Railway Inn.
To get to Llanfihangel-y-pennant, you can take a good bridleway along the river, or a rushed route along the Country lane. You’ll pass Castell y Bere as well as a monument to Mary Jones who walked barefoot to Y Bala to buy a bible – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Jones_and_her_Bible.
The lane continues onwards, passing the farms and becoming a track that pulls up towards the bwlch above Rhiw Gwredydd.
It may have been a hard slog, but what a view!! This is what makes all the effort worth it!
The Pony Track leads to the summit of Cadair Idris, and can be followed back down to the Tŷ Nant car park below. There are welcome facilities here!
There’s a bit of a trudge along the minor road, but the high cliffs of Tyrrau Mawr at least provide some interest. Keep an eye out for the footpath at Nant-y-gwyrddail to your right that leads to Llynnau Cregennen. This is one of the most iconic spots on the route, if not all of Snowdonia! There’s also a sneak preview down to Barmouth, around an hour and a half away!
Follow the minor road around towards Arthog, taking the footpath waymarked at SH655 146 which leads you down via the Arthog Waterfalls to the main road at Arthog. Follow the footpath next to the church (though not marked on the map) which crosses the field and continues along the river to join a minor road, and then the Mawddach Trail.
Take the Mawddach Trail left, which can now be followed easily towards Morfa Mawddach station and some more facilities. It’s then only a couple of kilometres across the toll footbridge to Barmouth which is an excellent way to end this section of the walk. We wasted no time settling into the Last Inn (highly recommended!) for sustenance and a couple of hard earned Peronis!
Overall, if you ignore the sections between the 4×4 damaged forestry tracks and Bryn yr Eglwys quarry, this is a highly recommended route. You may also be better off ascending Cadair Idris via this route from Llanfihangel-y-Pennant as it avoids the dog leg aspect of our route.
*There’s a new edition of the book published by Carreg Gwalch, hopefully the explanation for the ascent of the Glyderau from Pen y pass is a bit more informative than the original 1983 Constable edition which merely points the reader to a stile on the opposite side of the road before continuing by heaping praise on the summits. The guidebook is not meant as a step by step guide, but does feel like an excellent history book with a route added as an afterthought.