It's now two days since I finished the walk and some reflections and thoughts below.
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The trip took me a total of 17 days, the first 2 as day walks as warm up, followed by an overnight circuit of the Black Mountains, followed by an afternoon Day 5 trip to set up the launch of the main trip from Torpantau next to the Brecon Beacons. I expected to 14-15 days to complete the walk, but it only took me 12. There was a couple of times where I thought I was going too quickly, but I was doing the trip to walk and when the weather was good, that is what I focused on.
The warm up days, especially the 2 day trip round the Black Mountains were great as a way of testing kit and making sure I had everything I needed. This was done a week before the main walk at the end of April and gave me a couple of days to change things. I found I didn't need a heavier jacket and that I needed to change the insoles in my boots. I also tested the eBay purchased Rab lightweight sleeping bag and found that it would be up to the job.
There is a full kit list with weights on the site, and in the main I got this right. I wanted to flexibility to camp, which increased the carry weight, but I kept this to below 9kg dry weight. I decided not to take a stove and the longest period I went without a hot meal was around 48 hours (a steak in Barmouth to the hostel evening meal in Bryn Gwynant) but I could have potentially found one if needed.
Adding the stove would have meant another 0.5kg at least (with fuel) and whilst I did miss a cup of tea at Llyn y Fan Fawr it wasn't that bad. My primary focus was keeping the weight down and I though on the steeper ascents in the north (especially the pull up to Maesglase and Cadair Idris) I wish it had been lighter. The Lowe rucsack I'd bought for the trip was excellent and at 65 litre was the right size. Bigger means you end up taking more.
As written elsewhere I printed 104 maps from OS Maps, with the GPX route marked out on them. Apart from nearly get them soaked at Llyn y Fan Fawr they worked really well. I'd bought an Ortlieb A4 waterproof case, based on recommendations on the web, which along with a good old Silva compass was used for 16 of the 17 days as the sole navigation tool.
I decided to grab my daughter's Garmin eTrex 10 that I'd got her for Geocaching a few years ago and decided to load the GPX routes on to it before I left. I used it to record distance and found a set of AA batteries would do 4 days. I really used it only for navigation on the last day in the poor conditions over the Carneddau and there is no doubt it would have a really difficult trip without it. I could have done it with map and compass but I know I would have struggled it a couple of places. Despite it being a basic GPS, it worked really well on the route following.
I made a few mistakes but nothing that cost me more than 300-400m and 5 minutes. I would say that I don't think I am a bad reader of topography and some areas I know quite well, so that the Cambrian Way shouldn't be taken lightly in this regards. The 'undefined' sections are really that, especially in the central section and the Rhinogs and Moelwyns. Don't expect decent trails.
I took the 6th edition guide book, rather than printing a 7th edition PDF I have. Given the changes, especially around distance that was a mistake. I didn't use it much on the day during walking, but used it primarily for planning ahead.
|Type||Number of Nights|
|Hotel / B&B||4|
Given that I was carrying the tent, you'd think I'd camp more but it was a case of getting accommodation, with food and facilities when I needed it. After walking the 18+ miles to Cwmystwyth in the rain, the Old Post Office B&B was superb. Wouldn't have fancied a camp that night.
Of the bothies en route, Claerddu is good and well placed and Grwyne Fawr is pretty close, though small and very basic (max 3 people). As an option you could have a night in the shelter at Foel Grach, so if starting from Pen y Pass you could have a slightly longer day than going to Idwal and then a significantly easier day into Conwy to finish.
For all the wild camps I didn't pitch the tent till around 19h00 and was usually up and gone by 07h00.
Fitness and food
I wasn't unfit when I started, but I would say I was super fit. At over 50 I'm still pretty active and do some sports. The two days to Abergavenny showed that I could do the distance, but I was stiff and pretty knackered after both days and glad I dived into my own bed in the evening.
Feet went well, with compeed blisters working well. I did get some pain in my feet with the distance and possible load, but was part of doing long distance walking.
I lost 5kg in weight during the main part of the trip and when calories were on offer I ate them, including a cooked breakfast when on offer. I didn't each a lot during the day when on the trail, and mainly snacked. I do recommend (as have other walkers) eating welsh cakes and they are compact and provide carbohydrate. I ate very little bread, but usually had a couple of apples each day. For camping food I found cooked sausage, corned beef and joy of tinned sardines great. As well as a longed for tin of fruit cocktail.
What I'd recommend
- don't over plan the trip. I worked 2-3 days ahead at most though I had the tent. The beauty of the Cambrian Way is that you can be flexible, especially out of peak season. Barmouth would be one of the bigger headaches, and also if you are in Snowdonia on a weekend, as the hostels tend to be full on Friday and Saturday nights well in advance.
- walk it as a continuous walk as much as possible, if not end to end. You get a feel for the environment and get really into the walk itself
- walk it solo. You have the choice to be on your own or to mix with other people. It's easier to interact with the environment. You can choose to have guest accompaniment to sections that you may not fancy walking on your own. You can easily make provisions around safety and phone coverage (not always data) was widely available on high ground and the situation is improving all the time.
- make early starts, as even if you have shorter days, you then have time as contingency. Walking in May, June and July gives the maximum daylight. My earliest start was 06h00 and latest finish was 19h00, though not on the same day. If not camping I was typically done walking between 16h00 and 17h00
- camp occassionally. Taking a tent or bivvy bag does provide some flexibility on the route.
What I would do differently
- continue to look at ways of lightening the load. I'd take less food (shop less) which may take 0.5kg off the weight.
- I'd take some business cards, with details, blog, email etc and follow up to conversations
- might take longer and have some shorter days. My pace through the northern section was in part of the impending weather change. Had there been 2 or 3 more nice days I would have done some excursions, including Crib Goch and Tryfan for instance, or headed for Llanberis for a night out.
Some final comments
In terms of a classic walk, the Cambrian Way is excellent and presents a significant challenge. Even if not doing it all as a continuous walk end-to-end, I would recommend doing it at least 4-5 day sessions, so that you can get into the rhythm of the environment. As the blog aludes, there is a 'community' around the Cambrian Way, as well as the scenery and the environment you are walking though. These are all things to be experienced.
Overall, I was lucky with the weather, though did have hail on the first and last day. Two days of poor weather, out of 17 was indeed good, and the last day finish in less than perfect conditions was done as the next 3 days forecast was worse. With poorer weather I would have taken longer and potentially put in a rest day or two to wait for an improvement. Day 17 was as much about finishing, as enjoying the day, but that was probably the only day. No other day did I feel an imperative to get things done. Having a 'short' day (to Ponterwyd for example) is recommended.
As with many people doing longer walks, it's the journey not the destination itself that is important and as the subtitle suggest, this was a journey to the Core of the Poodle not to Conwy. I've reached the latter and will continue of the journey to the former.