Mynydd y Betws

Grade C+. 9 miles

Route : 9.2mi. OS Explorer
Date: Sunday, December 27, 2015. Weather: Wind, rain, fog.

Context : OS Landrager

Elevation: 990 ft. 3h 33m moving time. 4h 52m elapsed time. Av. pace 23 mins/mi.

Mynydd y Betws is a mountain located on the border between Swansea and Carmarthenshire, south Wales. It is the highest mountain in Swansea, and the highest land between the River Loughor and the Upper Clydach River.




There was little in the way of views to complement this walk, due to a fine drizzle and fog that enveloped most of our ramble. Even so, the occasion provided a good opportunity to walk off some of the excesses of Christmas and to look forward to the advent of a new year with fellow Ramblers.

It also provided a couple of interesting talking points, including a beautifully reconditioned barn, with excellent tiling and stonework — in particular, the carefully crafted, arrow-straight air vents running vertically either side of the 12ft high barn doors.

Impressively reconditioned barn, with long, vertical air vents

A large oak tree provided some considerable commentary. Discussion centred around the well-known tune, “Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round The Ole Oak Tree” (I think!). I only heard part of it and was left unsure if there is any historical link to the song, but the consensus certainly seemed to be that this was a fine “Ole Oak Tree” and a worthy setting for a group photo…


We also passed through a farmyard exhibiting an “interesting” outbuilding…

A outbuilding that has seen better days!

And observed unseasonably flowering gardens…

I’ve heard of hardy annuals, but flowering in December?

All-in-all a very satisfactory ramble, eked out from amongst a busy Christmas season, amidst some very wet autumnal weather.

Cwm Clydach

Grade B. 11 miles


Route. 10.7 miles. OS Explorer. Encircled numbers, e.g. ②, refer to mile-interval markers, per maps / elevation
Date: Saturday, December 19, 2015. Weather: High winds, steady rain, waterlogged ground.

Elevation. Total climb 1040ft. Elapsed time 5:22 h:m. Moving time 3:50 h:m. Averages: pace 21:26/mi; speed 2.8mph.

Walk begins from RSPB Reserve, in Clydach, accessed via the B4063 (or A4067, B4291), from M4 Jn 45.

Cwm Clydach is a nature reserve on the outskirts of Clydach, run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. It is ancient broadleaved woodland, home to breeding pied flycatchers, redstarts, dippers and buzzards. The Lower Clydach Riverflows through the centre of the reserve.

The Cwm Clydach Walk traverses through a diverse range of landscapes, including sheep pastures, steep uplands, open moorland, deciduous woodlands and river gorges. It also incorporates several places of historical and cultural interest.


Cwm Clydach walk begins from the car park of RSPB nature reserve, in the village of Clydach, accessed via the B4063, from Junction 45 of the M4. After bridging the river, turn left in the centre of the town. Follow the road until leaving the built-up area. Look out for a public house on the right-hand-side of the road, then a narrow stone bridge. Immediately after crossing the bridge the RSPB reserve car park is seen on the right. The walk is mapped and annotated on a notice board at the edge of the car park.

The walk comprises three distinct sections, the first two of which intersect one another.

  1. Fenced pasture uplands ①-③, ④-⑤
  2. Open moorland ③-④, ⑤-⑥
  3. Wooded river gorge ⑦-⑩

Looking across the river valley, as the route ascends

Uplands

The hill walking on this route traverses a patchwork of relatively small fields, typically well grassed, with some marshy, waterlogged patches. This part of the route is characterised by a mixture of solid, traditional and modern gated styles, as well as clear way-marking.

Some gateways are ankle deep mud, trammelled by livestock. At the time of year we undertook the walk, there were no cattle in the fields we crossed, only sheep and several horses, including a couple of miniature “Shetlands.” At one point, the route passes through a farmyard.

The route turns in a south-easterly direction, via a farmyard

There are two steepish sections: between ①-② and ③½ and ④½ miles respectively. The first leads to the smaller summit of Craig yr Allt, the second to Cwm Bryn.

Though the main pathway diverts shy of the actual summit, it is possible to ascend fairly easily to the top of Craig yr Allt, which is marked by a derelict fence protecting what appears to be a small gravestone.②

Moorland

The moorland proved challenging to cross, because at the time we encountered it, mist had descended and visibility was significantly reduced. I suspect it would be considerably easier in normal conditions. Besides a few boggy sections that needed be circumnavigated, the main challenge was that the “beaten path” marking the Cwm Clydach Way was not always distinct from other routes. Even so we encountered a useful waypoint, about half-way across the moors, which was reassuring.


Gorge

The final section of the walk, perhaps four-tenths or even fully half of the distance, was along the river gorge. The route was considerably boggy and outright flooded in places. Indeed, at one location the river bank had evidently been undercut and collapsed during the recent floods, requiring more-than-usual care in traversing that section of the route.


The river bank showing signs of recent flooding and landslip

Conclusion

The Cwm Clydach Way offers a challenging and diverse walk that is likely to be rewarding for the determined walker. Even so, the route is evidently capable of becoming considerably waterlogged during a long wet, autumnal season, such as experienced in 2015. Be warned; be prepared.



Walk completed with Daniel C.

Technology

Port Eynon

Grade C+. 7 miles.

Route. 7.4 miles. OS Explorer
Date: Friday 1 January 2016. Weather: High winds, light rain.
Elevation. Total climb 527ft. Elapsed time 3:04 h:m. Moving time 2:42 h:m. Average pace 21:42/mi.
Context. Encircled numbers, e.g. ②, refer to mile-interval markers, per maps / elevation.

Port Eynon is thought to be named after Prince Einion of Deheubarth or an 11th-century Welsh Prince named Eynon. Eynon is a Welsh surname, evident in the village graveyard. Smuggling is thought to have been a common engagement of the local residents in the 17th century to 19th century. In the second half of the 18th century, through to 1919, a lifeboat was operated from Port Eynon. On several occasions, the lives of lifeboatmen were lost at sea on rescues. A memorial to these men exists in the village churchyard. Port Eynon Point, to the south west of the bay, is the most southerly point of the Gower Peninsula. The bay is part of the designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.


A ramble is an ideal way to begin a New Year. The more so when you’ve set a goal of 100 rambles, as I have done, for 2016. This seven-mile ramble began in the public car park, accessed from the southern end of the bijou Gower village of Port Eynon.

Author, Port Eynon Point trig pillar.

The route begins by traversing the top of Port Eynon Point, ascending to and then from the trig pillar. For the next three miles, it follows the Wales Coastal Path (WCP), passing over the tope of Culver Hole, thought to date from the 13th or 14th century, with connections to smuggling.①

Although Culver Hole itself is not visible from the Coastal Path, the cliffs and coastline generally provide dramatic, engaging views, particularly during blustery conditions, as experienced on this occasion. Further along,② the WCP passes through Long Hole Cliff Nature Reserve (not marked on all OS maps). Along with Port Eynon, this area is considered one of the best places to view significant sea bird colonies. On this occasion my companion and I enjoyed witnessing a noisy pair of oystercatchers, flying and then landing on the rocks below.

At the three-and-a-half mile point, the route turns inland along a footpath marked Pilton Green.④ The remainder of the walk requires careful navigation across farmland, some of which is extremely wet and muddy underfoot. Generally, the way is marked fairly well by footpath signposts and waymarks. There are a number of alternative rights-of-way routes by which to return to Port Eynon.

On this occasion, the road into Overton ⑥ provided a welcome relief from the extremely muddy conditions we had encountered. We continued through the village and then southwards, along a marked footpath that returned us to the Coastal Path just before Port Eynon Point.


This walk is number 1 of 100 I hope to complete in 2016.

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This ramble completed with Andy H.

Tech

Waterfall Country

Grade B. 10 miles.

Route. 9.7 miles. OS Explorer
Date: Saturday 11 December 2015. Weather: High winds, heavy rain.
Elevation. Total climb 1145ft. Elapsed time 5:22 h:m. Moving time 4:03 h:m. Average pace 24:52/mi.
Encircled numbers, e.g. ②, refer to mile-interval markers, per maps / elevation.

Nestled into the southern slopes of the Fforest Fawr massif, west of Merthyr Tydfil, Waterfall Country is one of the most beautiful and popular parts of the Brecon Beacons National Park and the Fforest Fawr Geopark, with steep, tree-lined gorges and an abundance of tumbling water. Known in Welsh as Coed-y-Rhaeadr (Wood of the Water), Waterfall Country lies within the triangle formed by the villages of Hirwaun, Ystradfellte, and Pontneddfechan. Old red sandstone and a long belt of outcrop limestone have created a highly distinctive environment of wooded gorges, caves, swallow holes and waterfalls. The Rivers Mellte, Hepste, Pyrddin and Nedd-Fechan, tributaries of the Afon Nedd (River Neath), their headwaters in the Fans, wind their way south through Waterfall Country via steep-sided, tree-lined gorges. The most famous waterfall is Sgwd-y-Eira, the Snow Waterfall, on the River Hepste, where a natural path leads right behind the curtain of water.


Cwm Senni was our programmed destination for today’s ramble. High winds and heavy rain caused us to abandon that route in favour of one offering relatively sheltered terrain. Our ramble thus began in Pontneddfechan, from a car park near to the Waterfalls Centre.

Fairwell Rock

The ramble proceeded from the car park and through a gateway to the rear of the Angel public house. Shortly after passing through another gateway the route encounters a high rock face consisting of dark, sedimentary sandstone.

Traditionally known as Fairwell Rock, its name is understood to have orginated with coal miners, who identified it as marking the edge of the Coal Measures. Once encountered, it was “Fairwell” to coal—and profit—from that point onwards!

Just after a mile,① the Afon Pyrddin joins the Afon Nedd as a tributary, forming the Pwll Du ar Byrddin (Black Pool of Byrddin). A wooden bridge crosses the tributary. Following the gorge in a north-westerly direction brought us to the Sgwd Gwladus. This dramatic waterfall “falls over a perpendicular face of rock in a broad and nearly unbroken sheet.”

Sgwd Gwladus

Returning to the course of the Afon Nedd, the route continues to ascend, past white water rapids and a series of waterfalls.② At one fall, formed by a narrow entrance cut into a table of millstone, kayakers gamely tested themselves against the demanding conditions.

Rapids. Kayakers. Scwd Ddwli.

At Pont Melin-fach,③ the route parted from the Afon Nedd and travelled up Heol Calch. This tarmac track was chosen in preference to the parallel footpaths because of their muddy condition, identified by the walk leader.

At the top of the hill, we turned left and followed a main road for about half-a-mile.④ At this point we turned down a north-easterly track, signposted to a bunkhouse and, shortly afterwards, to Sgŵd Clun-gwyn (Fall of the White Meadow). We were soon rewarded by seeing these spectacular falls, in full flow.

Having bridged the Afon Mellte, we encountered a signpost warning that the lower Waterfall Links Path was in dangerous condition. Accordingly, we opted to take the higher Four Falls Trail.⑥ As a result, we could only glimpse the powerful falls of Sgŵd Isaf Clun-gwyn, from high above, looking down through the trees. Chatting to other walkers, after the two trails converged again, suggested that, while a conservative approach was warranted in this instance, the path remains safely navigable to experienced walkers.

Sgŵd Isaf Clun-gwyn could only be glimpsed through the trees. Lunch. Conditions: great for waterfalls, atrocious for walkers.

Shortly afterwards, we sheltered beneath some trees, in order to have lunch. Fed and watered (sic), we descended carefully from the higher path, in order to cross behind and beneath the spectacular curtain of water making up Sgŵd yr Eira, fed by the Afon Heptste.

Crossing behind Sgŵd yr Eira.

Though our spirits were never entirely dampened by conditions, most of us were by this time soaked to some degree or another.⑦ Persistent rainfall had been relentless, throughout the day. Spray from Sgŵd yr Eira was the final straw for my waterproof trousers, which until then had done a fairly good job of keeping me dry.

Soon after socks and boots became waterlogged. On the positive side, waterproof jacket, mid- and base-layers did a fine job of keeping my core temperature up. Even so, the remaining two to three miles felt more like a survival course. A fine mist pervaded everywhere, light began to fail and conditions underfoot became constantly boggy, muddy or slippery for most of the route’s remainder.

Conditions deteriorated as the walk drew towards its conclusion.

Having started out adjacent to the Farewell Rock, the route fittingly ended adjacent to the equally foreboding, 45m high limestone face of Craig-y-Ddinas, which is lined with tilting strata.

Five hours and twenty minutes after setting out, we arrived back at Pontreddfechan, where we swiftly removed waterlogged boots and clothing and retired for warmth and refreshments in the Angel Inn, where a vote of thanks was given to the walk leader.


Colophon

Mumbles

Grade C. 8 miles.

Route. 8.3 miles. 1:25k OS Explorer.
Date: Wednesday 9 December 2015. Weather: Gusty winds, mild, cloudy. 

Partial route. 1:10k OS Street
In descriptive text below, encircled numbers, e.g. ②, refer to mile-interval markers, as per maps (above) and elevation (below).

Elevation. Total climb 452ft. Elapsed time 4:41. Moving time 3:05. Average pace 22:17 /mi.

Mwmbwls (Mumbles) today refers to a district covering the electoral wards of Oystermouth, Newton, West Cross and Mayals. The headland is possibly named by French sailors, after the shape of the two anthropomorphic islands comprising the headland. Another possible origin is the Celtic word Mamucium, meaning breast-shaped hill.

Mwmbwls lighthouse was built during the 1790s and converted to solar powered operation in 1995. The pier was opened in 1898 at the terminus of the Mwmbwls Railway. At that time one of the oldest passenger railways in the world, it closed in 1960.


Rambles, at least those conducted by Llanelli Ramblers, are generally a steady, ordered affair. Albeit in an informal kind of a way. They normally begin in a car park. As did this one. Three cars become four, or five; eventually nine or ten, perhaps. As did this one. Ramblers emerge, unwinding like cats limbering up after being curled by a fireplace. Pleasantries are exchanged. Some are pre-prepped: jackets, gloves, boots and gators are on and finely clipped. They are “Ready-to-Ramble.”

Others, though not yet ensconced in full walking regalia, arrive no less prepared. Like bees buzzing around flowers, these individuals perambulate around the vehicles in which they have travelled, in unhurried fashion. Yet still maintaining a suitable air of urgency. They search for an appropriate perch from whence to comfortably attach their outstanding (sic) rambling footwear. And this is just how it was on this occasion.

Apparel on and suitably adjusted, gradually, small groups of two, three or four ramblers begin to gather together, forming small, multi-coloured clusters, seemingly exhibiting innumerable limbs because of the effect of flailing walking poles.

To the accompaniment of audible “blips” and orange winks, cars are locked down. Greetings are exchanged. Final checks are made. After a suitably polite, just-so period of time, a Walk Leader calls firmly for order. Some with volume, others with a quiet air of confidence and expectation of hushed attention. An explanation of varying length follows, setting out how the ramble will proceed. All very gentle and ordered. All very Ramblers-like.


Not so this time!


On this occasion, our designated gathering point was the Bracelet Bay car park. Things initially proceeded quite typically. A few grumbles could be heard that car-parking was a bit pricey. Moreover, that the 50p winter season discount was paltry and hardly worthwhile. To add insult to injury, the ticketing machine serving the top-end of the car park, where we had been asked to gather, was not dispensing tickets.

Like worker bees duly dispatched, individuals representing each vehicle proceeded, in more of a straggle than a stream, towards the lower end of the car park, wherefore to obtain the necessary authorisation. With time ticking on, it was at this point that the normally genteel nature of the start of a Ramble gave way to something else. Even from a distance, it was clear that events were not proceeding in orderly fashion.

Two small groups were, by now, circling agitatedly around the two ticketing machines. Word reached my ears—as I put on my second walking boot—that car registrations were required for the ticket. Realising that my car-sharing colleague would not know the registration of my vehicle, I leapt in and drove the 200 yards or so, down to the ticketing machine.

Frustration was palpable. It was in the air. One machine required vehicle registration…the other did not. This one had eaten a pound coin without any recognition of the deposited funds. Mutterings and sighs abounded. Blood pressure was rising. The air was turning ever so slightly blue.

At the other machine discontent was equally evident. People were edging back and forth. Some got on their knees in desperation. No, not for prayer. To key in their vehicle registration! O’s were confused for 0’s. The ticketing dispenser was silent and unobliging. More ‘smug teenager’ than ‘well-oiled machine.’

A quietly growling Mini—like some sort of left-over from the Italian Job—hovered in the space between the two machines. Ticket finally dispensed, it roared off—almost as though escaping from a bullion robbery. Back to join the chunter of Ramblers, gathered expectantly, if not discernibly impatiently, for a proper start to proceedings.

All in all, a very un-Rambler like start to a Ramble!


Car park authorisations now in place, the planned walk was liberated to proceed apace. It began with a gentle ascent, up Mumbles Hill, now a designated Nature Reserve. From here, we were immediately rewarded with clear, expansive views of Bae Abertawe (Swansea Bay).

Swansea Bay, looking towards our destination of Black Pill

A viewpoint (golygfan) information board helpfully picks out distant sights from across the bay, including Clyne Common, Clyne Gardens and Clyne Valley Country Park, Singleton Hospital and Park, the Lower Swansea Valley, Meridian Tower, Swansea Marina and Docks. It also suggests that llamhidydd yr harbwr (harbour porpoise), common dolphin and basking shark may be spotted by keen-eyed observers.

Close by, along the ridge, we encountered the first piler triongli (trig point) of the walk. Here, the Walk Leader explained the methodology of triangulation and the significance of trigonometric Bench Marks (BMs; no longer maintained by Ordinance Survey, following adoption of GPS survey methods) and the less well-known Fundamental Bench Marks (FBMs; still maintained by OS).

Trig point. A fixed surveying station, used in geodetic surveying. Officially: triangulation or trigonometrical station / pillar / point. Frequently shortened to trig station / beacon / point, or informally, “trig.”

Shortly after this, the walk passes by the defunct Safle Rheoli’r 623edd Fagnelfa Wrthawyrennol Drom (623rd Heavy Anti-Aircraft Command Post) nestled into the hillside.① At its zenith, the 623rd Battery consisted of 76 men of the Royal Artillery, 33 Home Guard and 86 women of the Auxiliary Territorial Service. It operated four 4.5 inch guns, adapted to fire 3.7-inch shells, which could go as high as 45,000 feet. The guns were used significantly during Swansea’s single heaviest air raid on 17 January 1941, forcing enemy aircraft to fly much higher than they would have preferred.

Over the next mile, the route descends from Mumbles Hill, via a maze of streets and lanes formed by tightly-packed houses, before emerging at the site of Oystermouth Castle.② A break for coffee was taken in the shadow of the castle. Before moving on, walk leader David continued the trigonometrical theme, briefly explaining the principles of Pythagoras’s theorem of the hypotenuse and how it could be applied to a calculation of the height of the castle.

Whilst acknowledging the superiority of Pythagoras’s method, a couple of us chose instead to use the well-known Construction Workers’ “rule of thumb”—i.e. “measuring” the walls against a thumb held up in the air, at arms length, first vertically, then horizontally, with one eye shut and the other squinting carefully, in the direction of the raised thumb, aided by a suitable degree of muttering. Using this tried and true method, we felt able to confidently estimate the height of the walls at 35-40 metres. Pythagoras was unavailable for comment.


Oystermouth Castle. Site of a recent ad hoc trigonometry lecture.

For the next two or so miles the walk drops onto the sea-front promenade. A blue plaque, placed besides the pavement, pays homage to one Amy Dillwyn. Considered to be the world’s first female industrialist, she saved her family’s Zinc Spelter Works from massive bankcrupcy and returned it to prosperity. She was also an author, Town Councillor, President of Swansea Hospital, principal fund raiser for Cwmdonkin Convalescent Home, female emancipator, water-polo player and cigar smoker.

Shortly afterwards, the walk arrives at the second trig point of the walk, at Black Pill.④ Here several playground ramps provided our group with a suitable lunchtime perch. The beach and the stream that flows out of the Black Pill area is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, with large numbers of wading birds and a variety of gulls gathering regularly, according to the tide.


Swansea Bay, looking back towards Mumbles Head. Prince’s Fountain, Mumbles Road.

The walk returns along the promenade, with Mumbles Head beckoning tired walkers, from across the bay. The route then turns off to follow the Mumbles Road into the town centre. This brings it to site of a Grade II listed monument, the Prince’s Fountain.⑥ The fountain was originally erected in 1863 to commemorate the marriage of the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward (later Edward VII) and Princess Alexandra. The monument was restored in 1977 by the Mumbles and District Conservation Society.


Our walk then proceeded to encompass two other points of historical interest. Firstly, another Grade II listed “building” quite likely to be overlooked by anyone other than the keenest of observers.

On the junction of 704 Mumbles Road and Clifton Terrace, to the rear of the pavement, set against the wall of the house is a low, triangular boundary stone with a chamfered edge into the spine of which ‘Boundary’ is engraved. The faces are partly legible and read ‘Turnpike Road 1836’. It is a rare surviving Turnpike Trust boundary stone. Turnpike trusts were established to extract tolls from travellers, using the funds for road maintenance and improvement.

After this, we doubled-back for a few hundred metres in order to ascend up some steps and enter the church of All Saints Oystermouth, which in 2011 celebrated its 870th year of Christian worship.⑦ Even so, it is considered probable that a church existed there before the first recorded date of 1141. When the church building was being extended in 1860, workmen excavating the south side of the grounds found a tesselated Roman pavement (mosaic flooring), a sample of which is displayed inside the church.

All Saints is home to a number of beautiful stained glass windows. Perhaps most famous amongst them is the modern Lifeboat Window. Installed in 1977, the window commemorates the lost lives of the eight lifeboat crew who drowned attempting to rescue the stricken ship Samtampa, stranded on the rocks off Sker Point, Porthcawl in 1947 during a hurricane-force gale.



Stained glass windows, including the Lifeboat Window. All Saints Oystermouth.

Another modern stained glass, St Christopher’s window, dedicated in 1982, celebrates the locality’s connection with the Mumbles Railway. It depicts St. Christopher and three different Mumbles trains — horse-powered, steam-driven and electric, as well as Oystermouth Castle and the Lighthouse.

After leaving the Church, the final mile of the walk is completed largely along the promenade, passing the Lifeboat Station and Pier, before ascending a set of steps to the car park where our walk began.


Attributions

Fan Brycheiniog

Grade B+. 7 miles.

Route. 6.8miles. OS Explorer.
Date: 4 December 2015. Weather: Blustery, light rain.
Elevation. Total climb 1734ft. Elapsed time 3:12. Moving time 2:16. Average pace 19:45 mins / mile
Context. Start point: Blaenau, near Llandeusant. OS Landranger.

Fan Brycheiniog is the highest peak at 2633 feet (802.5 m) in Y Mynydd Du (the Black Mountain) region of the Parc Cenedlaethol Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons NP) in southern Wales. Picws Du and Fan Foel are the adjacent fans (peaks, summits, “beacons”). Llyn y Fan Fach is a dammed lake of approximately 10 hectares on the northern margin of Y Mynydd Du. It lies at an altitude of 1660 feet, or 506 metres.


Fforest Fawr information board, car park above Llandeusant.

This walk was an opportunistic reconnaissance, with a future weekend group ramble in mind. A mild, dry weather forecast offered a small opening in a period dominated by rain and high winds. For me, it was the first time I’d ascended a mountain on my own. The occasion provided object lessons in reading the landscape and observing how the weather on top of a mountain can differ markedly from that just a couple of hundred feet below.

The route is accessed from a car park lying down a lengthy track, accessed via the village of Llanddeusant and the hamlet of Blaenau. The walk begins with a steady gradient, with increasingly panoramic views of the fans (peaks, summits) lying ahead. On this occasion, cloud was swirling lightly around the Picws Du. My hope was that I would be upon it in around an hour and a half’s time.

For the first mile, the track follows alongside the fast-flowing Afon Sawdde.The river provides a dramatic, burbling accompaniment, as it descends over a number of weirs. It is fed by numerous tributaries, as well as draining from a set of filter beds which are passed after about a mile. The track is firm and well-drained, all the way to the edge of Llyn-y-Fan-Fach (“the Peak’s Small Lake”).

Shortly, after this the route bridges a drainage channel from the lake, via a small concrete slab. It then crosses the open moorland of Waun Sychlwch, in the immediate shadow of the escarpment of Cefn Twrch (“Boar Ridge”). At this point, the weather was blustery and dry. At the same time the weather atop the mountain was visibly changing. Whilst Picws Du was visible, Fan Brycheiniog (“Brecnock Peak”) and Fan Foel (“Bald, rounded Peak”) were enveloped in cloud.

Llyn-y-Fan-Fach. Crossing the moorland, in the shadow of Cefn Twrch.

At the 2.4 mile distance, the route approaches Pant y Bwlch (“Valley pass”). The pass is narrow and tricky in places, including some overhanging rocks that must be navigated carefully and without haste. At the same time, it provides dramatic views of the escarpment below Fan Foel and, looking backwards, the valley below Twyn yr Esgair (“Down the Long Ridge”).

Traversing Pant y Bwlch, with spectacular views of the escarpment of Fan Foel.

Once through the pass and onto the roof of the mountain, the weather was immediately distinctly less bright and the wind stronger. At this point, cloud had not enveloped the mountain and the top of the Picws Du was visible. My route now ascended 150ft gradually over the course of a mile. This brought it to the edge of the ridgeline of Fan Brycheiniog and the trig point, which marks the highest peak of the Myndd Du (Black Mountain).

During the course of this mile, the weather closed in markedly, with cloud entirely enveloping the moorland atop the mountain. Visibility was reduced to 100–150m. I was conscious that this meant the peat-bog terrain was now considerably more dangerous than on a clear day. I was grateful to discern the trig point coming into view. The presence of the nearby stone shelter offered me welcome refuge from the wind, which was now whipping strongly towards the nearby edge of the ridge.

Before setting out on this walk, I had studied the topography carefully. I knew that there was a clear path along the ridge line of Fan Brycheiniog. Yet the wind had now become sufficiently powerful to be pushing me around and preventing a sure footing. Accordingly, I kept well back from the ridge, which necessitated walking through marshy land, rather than the relatively level limestone pathway of the Beacons Way.

A cairn emerged suddenly out of the cloud, warning me away from the twisty ridge-line of Tŵr y Fan Foel (“Bald Peak Tower”). With the cloud now reducing visibility to less than 50m, I decided to take the shortest route back towards the pass, rather that following the Beacon’s Way around Fan Foel, as I had planned to do.

Although it was a short distance, it was without sight lines, such was the cloud cover and ferocity of the wind. Accordingly, as I crossed potentially treacherous moorland, wind and rain now full in my face, I regularly checked my path and orientation with a GPS tool, the functioning and battery level of which I had assessed repeatedly throughout the walk.

Gratefully, I soon re-encountered the path of the Beacons Way. It was now abundantly clear that the circular route around the ridge-line of Glastir y Picws should not be undertaken. I chose to descend immediately, via Bwlch Blaen-Twrch (“Summit Pass”).

Returning to the pass, cloud covering and clearing from the peak of Picws Du, within minutes.

The pass swiftly took me 120ft down from the summit. Immediately, the weather was again transformed. It became mild, rainfall was light and the wind blustery, rather than fierce. The next mile across moorland provided a gradual descent back to Llyn y Fan Fach. The final mile a rapid descent to the car park.

All in all, a fabulous experience, with useful experience gained.


Attributions

Meidrim

Grade B. 9 miles.

GPX route overlain on 1:25k OS map
Date: Saturday 28 November 2015. Weather: Strong winds; showery.


GPX route overlain on 1:10k and 1:50k OS maps.

N.b. In descriptive text below, square-bracketed numbers , e.g. [2], refer to mile-interval markers, as per maps (above) and elevation (below).

Route elevation. Total climb 930ft. Elapsed time 4:24. Moving time 3:19. Average pace 21:55 mins / mile.

This ramble provides a demanding walk, encircling the village of Meidrim, to the east and north, twice crossing the Afon (River) Dewi Fawr. The diverse route incorporates hills, stiles and tracks, cattle pastures, equine meadows, cropped fields, farmyards, woodlands, streams and springs. The keen-eyed walker can expect to spot red kite and buzzard and glimpses of a small waterfall.

In an area settled since prehistoric times, the village’s origins are thought to lie in the Iron Age. In the early centuries of the second millennium, Meidrim was an important religious centre. Later it had strong connections with the non-conformist movement. In the 17th century, Meidrim’s vicar was known for fervent preaching and publishing texts and translations in the Welsh language.

Information board, Meidrim village.

By the end of our ramble, a theme emerged: if the weather forecast is allowed to determine the course of a day, we may miss some good and unexpected things. On this occasion a drastic forecast, including 40–50mph winds in combination with continuous rain, gave us real pause for thought. Especially when we passed through lashing hail en route to our meeting place!


The day’s forecast … not exactly encouraging!

Setting out, so expectant were we of gale force winds and rain that we considered two way-points where we could opt to prematurely curtail our walk. The first of these was around the two mile mark,[2] the other at about four miles [4].

In the event, as each hour of our day progressed we were increasingly pleasantly surprised. There was no need to “bale out” early; the weather was kind to us throughout the day. Even when squally rain showers blew in suddenly, elements of the landscape repeatedly offered us shelter just as it was needed.

The first experience of this came after a steepish climb (300ft) up the hill to the south-east of the village [1]. We immediately enjoyed a fine view of the village, as well as the attention of a group of frisky ponies.


View of Meidrim and the ponies that took a close interest in our intrusion into their territory.

Within minutes a squally shower blew in. The sky darkened and the rain quickened…

Fortunately, we were able to take advantage of protection offered by a line of trees upon a bank of raised land beside our path. As swiftly as it blew in, the rain blew over and we were on our way again.


Overlooking Meidrim … with rain … without rain … within minutes.

The next mile or so was undertaken via several lanes that followed the contours of the crest of the hill. The route then turned down towards Cefn-crŵth, where we encountered a spring feeding a stone cistern. It drew our attention because it was no longer a drinking station for farmyard animals, but a fish-tank containing a variety of small, ornamental carp [2].

Farmyard cistern, fed by a spring, containing ornamental carp

Sarnau Farm

At Sarnau Farm we encountered the first challenging element of this ramble. At this point, the public right of way passes through the working cattle-yard of Sarnau Farm.

Two sets of 8ft-high gates govern access to and from the yard. On this occasion, ingress and egress was necessarily carried out in close proximity to cattle. Furthermore, the gates are secured in a manner requiring careful attention when it comes to both opening and closure. Clearly, the gates are clearly not intended to facilitate access for walkers, in spite of the right-of-way. The net result is that this part of the route may be intimidating to anyone other than a knowledgeable and determined walker. (Well done, Gill!)

Fortunately, the Sarnau Farm cattle were less imposing than they appear here.

Once through Sarnau Farm, light drizzle turned to heavy rain. We took advantage of shelter offered by a clump of trees, adjacent to a stream and bridge, and enjoyed a break for mid-morning drinks and snacks. From our perspective, we saw no sign of the fortified settlement reported by the OS map to be adjacent to our route [3].

For the next couple of miles we descended gradually, leading to our first crossing of the Afon Dewi Fawr [4]. The route now turned uphill again, with a steady rise of about 150m (45oft), over the course of a mile and half, with gradients varying between 8–13%. This brought us to the highest geographical point of our walk and a suitable location to break for lunch. We briefly exchanged attentions with a red kite. After our lunch stop, we continued along a lane. Passing through Waun-oleu-fach (translation: “small, light, moorland”), we noticed shy calves observing our progress from a barn [6].


Watching red kite and calves… watching us… watching them…

Our route now began a gradual descent (150m / 450ft, over 3 miles), continuing all the way back towards Meidrim. Even so, progress required traversing a number of fields in which conditions were exceptionally cruddy! Fortunately, rainfall remained light and transitory.



At times, conditions were exceptionally cruddy

Over the course of these final three miles of our walk, the landscape varied considerably. One of the tracks we were following appeared to have been hewn directly out of a hard, slate-grey, laminated rock, the appearance of which was pleasantly enhanced by streaks of deep-orange staining.

Another part of our route took us right through the middle of a (harvested) field of corn. Under clear skies, we then passed through open meadows and the partially-coppiced woodland of Coed Pantyrhedyn, before crossing a narrow stream, from nearby which we glimpsed a small waterfall.





Towards the end, the walk presented a variety of landscapes, including: rocky track, cropped field, woodland stream, coppiced woodland, open meadow.

Our nine-mile ramble drew to an end as we re-approached Meidrim. Rather than returning to the car-park by the most direct route, we took a circular route to the north, east and south of the village. This allowed us to appreciate a rarely seen view of the village and to cross the Afon Dewi Fawr for the second time.

Finally, this diversion took us past a large, handsome white house. The right-of-way passed right through its back garden, decorated with intriguingly placed glass fairies and other garden ornaments.



The final approach to Meidrim.

Back at the car-park, we felt the weather had positively exceeded our expectations. We were glad to change into dry footwear, use the conveniences and think about heading home in the light. The village pub was closed, so with an informal vote of thanks to walk leaders, Liz and Gill, we departed directly.


A point of interest

This ramble was labelled on Llanelli Ramblers programme as “Brisk.” For those who like to stretch their legs, it provided a good walk, demanding, but not overly so. There was ample time for stops, including photographing points of interest.

Across the whole walk, the average pace-per-mile was 22 minutes. As a point of interest, this is compared, below, to the average pace of other recent “LR” rambles. The first five are weekend walks; the last four mid-week rambles. All are measured using the same method of GPS tracking.

The first figure is the total length (miles). The second figure is the average pace (mins/mile). Links are provided to the source of my statistics.

On this basis:

  • 23 mins/mi. appears to represent a “typical” speed.
  • At 22 mins/mi., a “brisk” walk is perhaps 4–5% faster than typical.
  • Brisk walks sometimes occur without being labelled as such, e.g. Llyn Brianne, Llangennech.

Attributions

Brechfa

Grade C+. 4 miles.

GPX route overlain on 1:25k OS map
Date: Wednesday, 25 November 2015. 
Weather: Squally winds, light rain.


GPX route overlain on 1:10 and 1:50k OS maps. Click to enlarge.

N.b. In descriptive text below, square-bracketed numbers , e.g. [2], refer to mile-interval markers, as per maps (above) and elevation (below).

Route elevation. Total climb: 842 ft.

This relatively short ramble is a perennial addition to the Llanelli Ramblers calendar for good reason. It provides a variety of topography and some pleasant views. The walk is essentially a circular route, following the contours of Banc-y-Daren—a hill within the Cwm Cothi (Cothi Valley), overlooking the Carmarthenshire village of Brechfa, which has existed since the 6th century.

Brechfa was home to one William Thomas (1834–1879), better known by his bardic name of Gwilym Marles, a Welsh minister, poet and great-uncle to Dylan Thomas. Dylan received his middle name, “Marlais”, in honour of William Thomas, who is believed to have inspired the character of Rev. Eli Jenkins in the play Under Milk Wood.

Our walk began besides the church hall, opposite St Teilo’s church and graveyard, on the B4130 through Brechfa. Heading southwards along the road, we crossed the Pont Newydd, bridging the Afon Pib, before turning left into a pedestrian pathway adjacent to Brechfa Methodist Chapel.

Almost immediately begins a long, quite demanding, uphill track, with relatively steep gradients of 14–20%, i.e. between 1-in-7 and 1-in-5. The tarmac track twists and turns until levelling out, after about one mile.[1] At this point our route turned off the track and crossed a field, to a group of derelict stone buildings. With light rain beginning to fall, we used this sheltered spot to take a welcome “coffee-break.”

From here, we began a gradual descent, paralleling the route of Mill Leat, to our right, at the bottom of a steep, wooded bank. As we emerged from the woodland, the landscape seemed, quite suddenly, to open up. It provided us with a stunning, welcoming vista, particularly when the sun emerged for a minute or two.



Descending and emerging out of light woodland, the landscape opens up quite suddenly, providing a stunning vista — especially as the sun emerged for a minute or two.

Shortly afterwards, we reached the bottom of the valley and turned into and across the farmyard of Ty-Ilwyd.


Ty-Ilwyd.

Our route followed the contours of the valley, before descending slightly again to encounter the swollen Afon Cothi (Cothi River).[2] To this point the weather had been forgiving. Squally winds had brought occasional bursts of rain, but never with sufficient severity to disturb our progress significantly. As we entered the woodland besides the river, the rain became stronger, yet the shelter provided by the woods allowed us to enjoy our lunch without too much disturbance.


A fast-moving, swollen Afon Cothi and a waterlogged footpath.

After lunch, we followed the course of the Afon Cothi, passing a disused quarry. Along this stretch, the pathway became increasingly waterlogged, such that at one point it became a small stream.[3] Crossing a small wooden bridge, fording a tributary of the Cothi, we traversed a wide bog, during which a rainbow briefly brightened the skyline—and our afternoon!



A rainbow encompassing the bog.

All that remained of our journey was a short uphill stretch across a grassy meadow and then back down the hill, along the road into Brechfa.[4] As we completed this final leg, we were treated to a number of delightful views, as sunlight kissed the top of the hills and danced amongst light mists of rain…


Sunlight kissed the top of the hills and danced amongst light mists…

The orange light on the horizon of the road is the base of a rainbow that is just discernible, rising through the trees to the left.

Our day ended, in the charmingly-refurbished Forest Arms, with welcome drinks and a vote of thanks to walk leaders, Rob and Sue.


Attributions

  • Walk led by Rob and Sue, on behalf of Llanelli Ramblers.
  • Online map and GPX available for download here.