An ambitious day ahead as I'd optimistically targeted thd Old Post Office B&B in Cwmystwyth, rather than the shorter distance to the Claerddu bothy I'd phoned on Sunday and thought afterwards that it maybe is was too much. This was 18.5 book miles (6th edition, 18.4 7th edition) and as the GPS batteries were flat there would be no checking of this today. Though I sense it was over recording distance, the 7th edition guidebook distances are higher reflecting GPS measurement. (I had a PDF version but had elected to bring the 6th in book form and not put the PDF on my phone, doh !)
It was nicely raining as I headed up the track that I'd walked last night before heading up across Esgair Cerrig towards the Nantymaen Junction and its famous (and now defunct) phonebox. Given there is no mobile signal it would be good to have a functioning one still ?
The going was for sure 'undefined' with an 1.5 hours of serious bog hopping. The map and guide book show the route sticking to the forest fence but in hindsight I'd recommend sticking to the higher (drier) ground to the east over Esgair Cerrig itself (the 7th Edition also recommends this). After crossing the second fence I headed up to the newly surfaced tarmac of the Tregaron road, though this wasn't straight forward. Wet feet for the day with a over boot incident early on.
Did a map change in the phone box at 08h50, with a certain feeling this was going to be a long day. Many people driving over from Abergwesen seen the lonely phonebox as the epitomy of isolation, whildt coming off the hills its quite welcoming. I'd made a point of getting the recommended Ortlieb A4 map case and it meant my prepared paper sheets were okay, as long as I could change in the dry.
Relatively speaking the route up to Garn Gron was straightforward as there a bridleway in the form of track (with a newish deviation round the farm, shown in Map 24A), though this was still boggy. The rain falling was slowing up and clear enough for me to see the Garn Goch trig point and cairns from the track. 10h35 and I squeezed out socks behind the cairn and though it was relatively warm, I'd gone for the waterproof top and bottoms which seemed to working well.
Descent route mapped out from the top and entered the forestry, seeing the Cambrian Way marker before entering the greenness of the forest. The old farmstead in forest would make a great bivi or overnight campsite. Really mucky in the Great Abbey Wood heading into Strata Florida and though the poles had saved me from treacherous bogs earlier I took a tumble over some tree roots and became mud splattered as well as wet. No one noticed and indeed I'd seen no-one for nearly 24 hours.
The visitor centre at Strata Florida now serves tea and coffee now and had a human being for a chat. So had a quick cuppa and some bara brith before looking at part 2 of the day. The next 9 miles went up to Teifi Pools and then across another undefined section to Cwmystwyth. Didnt have time look round the abbey ruins but have recently read the account of Gerald of Wales travels in 1186 it reminds of what a powerful and important place it was. You also used to get there via train until the early 60s courtesey of the Cambrian Railway.
Up to the pools was familiar ground as walked it a few times when I was working in Lampeter at the University. I'd also gone across here in 2004 with my then new 950 KTM Adventure to the Elan Valley, This was along with Graham on my old Super Tenere which we had already repaired in Lampeter as part of a more epic than planned road and off-road trip.
I'd not been to the Claerddu bothy before though and apart from some pointless graffiti its in good shape. There is a stove and noticed a fair selection of help yourself food also. A comfortable spot for those of the Cambrian Way and a good distance from Ty'n-y-cornel for most walkers including me. I signed the log book and a quick scan I couldn't see any other recent Cambrian Way entries.
I'd describe the next 5+ miles across to Cwmystwyth as the hardest on the route so far. I got the compass out quickly when leaving Claerddu as the clouds were down and I wad having problems getting my bearings from the landscape. The topography draws you more east than north and you to go across the lie of hills. The 3 lakes are helpful guidance, if you can see them. I missed Llyn Du but came directly on Llyn Fyrddon Fach and Fawr. Even without the GPS I was pretty comfortable with the route finding. Having walked on the Black Mountain for a long time, and that's one of the more difficult places to navigate.
The crossing over to Domen Milwyn was by compass in low visability and was pretty boggy and at a couple of points was well over knee level despite some deliberate probing with the trekking poles. With a heavy pack in worse conditions I can imagine this spot being a little intimidating for the lone hiker but probably good fun for the larger group in better conditions.
Up to the cairn with about 10m visability at around 15h30. Quick scoff of some dried fruit and nuts and confident I'd cracked it for the day.
For the last bog crossing I was past caring and just piled on over to the track and dropped down in Cwmystwyth, where the temperature warmed and the clouds parted. My boots and feet were soaked and I could feel some rubbing and soreness with the feet.
I can only highly recommend the Old Post Office as Reg and Marjorie Budd are only listed in the Cambrian Way guidebook after being asked if they would provide accommodation by Tony Drake himself. A great welcome of a cup of tea and some buttered bara brith followed later by a roast dinner and excellent company. They have some great stories about walkers over the years (including Tony himself) and that they feel that numbers seem to be declining. Most visitors are not doing the whole route, but doing it in segments. I think it would be great to spend some time with them to go through stories and history of Cambrian Way walkers.
The day has made me realise a number of things:
The Cambrian Way with its undefined sections is not to be taken lightly and nowhere today could be described as a trail (despite the only waymark on the whole route). This is mentioned in the guidebook but whilst I might have under played it when reading, there is no doubt it is a different challenge to walking the coast path let's say.
That the route has a special atmosphere and community that makes it different. Ty'n-y-cornel is an embodiment of this and rightly has memorial to Tony Drake with his seat and notice about the Cambrian Way. It is interesting they see it as a success thogh you sense from the guidebook intros that he himself saw its failure to become a National Trail as not positive. Doing the journey on your own gives you a chance with people you meet more easily. As a group of two or more and you are more insulated from the surroundings and people that are around you.
That I'd done well with a big day and proved I can tackle some serious days ahead. Tempting though it is to crack on with the 20+ miles to Dylife (could be less but this would involve some taxtical short cuts), both the weather and experience mean that a light day of 10 miles to Ponterwyd with coffee cakes and steam trains is a much better option.
Distance : 18.5 miles per book but possibly higher.
Walking time : 9 hours estimated