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Date: 23 Apr 2004
Radnor circuit: Start / Finish: New Radnor. Easy roadside parking.
Maps: Explorer 200 Elan Valley and Explorer 188 Builth Wells and Explorer 201 Knighton & Presteigne.
Elan Valley circuit: Start / Finish: Rhayader. Free car park, toilets 967678.
Map: Explorer 200 Elan Valley.
|Day 1||Gwaunceste Hill, Glascwm Hill & Llandelio Hill||16 miles / 2450 feet (25.8km / 746m)|
|Day 2||Aberedw Hill, Carneddau & Gilwern Hill||16 miles / 3580 feet (25.8km / 1091m)|
|Day 3||The Radnor Hills & Crugyn Ci||16 miles / 3500 feet (25.8km / 1066m)|
|Day 4||Garreg-ddu & the Afon Arban valley||12 miles / 2230 feet (19.3km / 679m)|
|Day 5||Pen Maen-wern & Caban-coch||11 miles / 1670 feet (17.7km / 509m)|
This was two backpacks in one: having finished the Radnor circuit in early afternoon and a forecast of good weather for a couple of days more, we drove down the road to Rhayader and improvised an Elan Valley circuit.
The Radnor route was based on three Marilyns - Gwaunceste Hill, Aberedw Hill and Carneddau - while revisiting the three Radnor mountains.
As two separate backpacks of 3 days and 2 days, day 3 of the Radnor circuit would be 12 miles / 2200 feet (19.3km / 670m) and day 1 of the Elan circuit would be 16 miles / 3540 feet (25.8km / 1078m).
Crossing the A44 S of the village, a lane leads S to a track heading W through the forest and descending to the edge, where there is a well hidden stile a few yards down the slope. Contouring the fields to the farm track at Pen Shenkin, there is easy walking SW to Llanwentre Pool and the ruins of Black Yatt. A short way beyond after a ford and small copse, we took the track W beneath Gwaunceste Hill and forked L on a grassy swathe climbing the N slopes to an extensive area of mown heather. Turning L, after a short climb the trig point appeared on the right, giving good views.
Heading SSE an easy descent leads to the R of a thin Z-shaped plantation and the route ahead can be clearly seen around Little Hill to the minor road. From here several tracks climb SW up Glascwm Hill, we took the leftmost which curves S then SE on the heathery plateau to the Mawn Pools (160512). The track descends to Pwll Brwynog (where the marked spring was dry) and contours around the W flank of Red Hill to meet another minor road. Climbing beyond in the same direction to the ford at 138489, there was a mere trickle in the main cleft but a few yards lower down a side tributary was flowing well, and even had a collection pipe installed for use lower down - we collected very good water here. The track marches on, flanking Rhulen Hill and crossing a junction to a marked ford, which was almost completely dry.
Shortly after, we forked R on a grassy track that follows the edge to a stone marked 'Twm Tobacco's Grave' and passes Glannau Pool and Farlen Pool. The first pitch was by the most attractive pool of all, unnamed and nestling beneath a rock outcrop above Aberedw.
The track now descends round NW under the rock outcrops and climbs E at the top of a rocky cleft, following a waymark to the farm track which zigzags down to Aberedw. We took the lane E that curves around N to the track to Cefnhinog Farm (090488). Before the buildings a sign indicates the enclosed footpath R, which is overgrown at the start but then climbs easily to a junction a little higher. The correct line from here is a central course through the dense conifers to a stile just a few yards further which is completely obscured by low branches. Fighting our way over it to the open hillside, it was very pleasant walking to Llyn Cawr and the trig point on Aberedw Hill, where a watchful herd of horses looked on from a distance.
The route ahead NW to Pen-waun Pool is clearly seen, and it leads to a quarry track that zigzags down to a byway. Turning L a short way, we roughly followed the line of a bridleway to a gate on the A481 opposite houses (065525). Turning R to the footpath to Graig-ddu Farm, here was another familiar battle with Welsh footpaths. After surveying the situation from above, and to save a lot of headache and fences, follow the farm drive to Hendre-Einon farm and continue on the track to a gate just before Graig-ddu Farm (066531). Through the gate, we turned sharp R steeply up to the wall corner where a good path appeared and followed the wall to a small stream, which gave us some very good water. Climbing on, we skirted a minor top and saw the trig point on the far side of the shallow valley, which at 436m is merely a subsidiary top. Continuing N around the attractive cwm of rocky outcrops, it is an easy climb NE to the true summit of Carneddau at 445m, with good views of the craggy minor tops and outcrops.
Returning SW to the valley, a grassy track descends E beneath the marked hill fort to meet the stream. Stepping across, we joined the footpath on the SE side which contours the slope NE and descends to a small gate at Cwm-berwyn. The drive crosses Colwyn Brook and meets a minor road, where a short way N a footpath leads off through the buildings of Cefnbychan and beneath Castle Bank, meeting an unfenced road at 084568. Ascending W to the brow, a surfaced track heads off N then NE giving easy walking across Gilwern Hill. Rounding the head of a shallow valley, the track bends back R by a small plantation and crosses a stream, where we collected reasonably good water with a slight colouration. Continuing NE to a gate below a cairned minor top, a banked track heads L to join a byway that runs E to a lane. A short distance along the lane where it turns L, the waymarked track on the L of a fence ascends Bwlch-y-cefn Bank where we climbed a little R to make our second pitch.
We continued on the track (rather than the bridleway line shown on the map) to 127608. From here a peaty line crosses a damp area NE to a crossing point in the fence marked by orange string and onwards to a fence corner. The path contours beneath Llandegley Rocks through some gates and crosses to the N side for the descent to the A44, emerging from a drive just W of Llandegley village.
From the church, a surfaced track leads E to Vronlase farm, straight through the buildings and to the R of the plantation. A steady climb on a forest track with good views of Fron-las Dingle brought us to the byway and a gate at 166629. A good track obligingly sets off NE around the head of the valley to a gate and onward towards Great Rhos. As it veered L short of the summit, we left it and bashed through the heather and potholes direct to the trig point. Leaving NW on a fairly good peaty path, we soon saw a grassy track joining on the L which was probably the one we had left!.
Joining the main track, it heads into the forest and turning R, it emerges again at Shepherd's Well. This is where we had planned to replenish water, but descending deep into the cleft, the only sign was an intermittent drip from a few leaves at the spring on the R. The entire cleft was bone dry as far down as we could see and the day was getting quite hot. Pressing on via the distinct track SE, we squelched on to the side path diverging to the trig point and mast on Black Mixen. Heading E on a damp grassy track (not the metalled access track), there were fine views of the valley and Whimble as we approached the forest corner and a second chance of water. Just two static weedy pools - no flowing water to be found. Ascending E by the forest edge to the brow, we turned R and tackled the short but trackless heather climb to Bache Hill, with a trig point on a raised grassy oasis.
A path leads out W to a stile in the fence. Here we turned R back to the pools at the bwlch to follow the route S around Whimble, which crosses a marked stream lower down and is shown as a 'ford'. This too was bone dry, both at that point and much lower. It turned out that the only running water anywhere was very low down in the deepest dingles, not much above village level. Fortunately this was a short day, and we had 1l of water left from the previous day to last until we arrived at the car, where we always carry supplies. Although today was unseasonally hot, there had been a lot of rain in the first weeks of April.
Driving to Rhayader, we restocked supplies and set out on the road NW past Dderw bridge, where a lane branches R leading to the track that climbs NW to Esgair Dderw. Descending to a track junction, a waymark indicates the clear path over the shoulder of the hill that descends to the road. Here we saw a sheep roundup on the far side where the farmer was on horseback and assisted by his three dogs. Emerging on the road by a rocky waterfall, a good track climbs SE and bends R beneath rocky outcrops. Here we climbed R to pitch by the trig point of Crugyn Ci with fine evening views.
Returning to the track, the easy walking continues to Penygarreg above the reservoir with the cliffs of Graig Dolfaenog in view. We followed the bridleway track round to the lane and looped back on the road to the W side of Garreg-ddu reservoir. This waymarked path has very attractive woodland sections with great views of Creigiau Dolfolau opposite. Arriving at the road bridge and tiny church at the S end, we turned R steeply up through the forest to Cefn Llanerchi and descended to the road and Claerwen dam.
A pair of red kites circled above very close to us as we entered the Arban valley on the lower path for a close look at the waterfalls. Walking up the R side of the valley, we forded the river on rocks where the Nant yr lau flows in from the SW through a rocky gorge. There is an easy ascent on the R side, but a much better way is directly through the gorge for an intimate acquaintance with the jade pools and little falls. Further up, another small tributary stream flows in L from the SE. Here we collected water and prepared for a very tough and tussocky crossing. On the L side of the stream, a grassy path sets off and quickly peters out, but a thin flattened line continues through the bleached tussocks with surprising ease all the way to the 540m contour. Crossing the flat top, a shallow rocky ridge appeared ahead. We aimed to the L of it to avoid potentially boggy terrain surrounding the Ffos y Rhestr, which was flowing well and swiftly despite rising near the highest ground. What a contrast to the Radnor Hills - we could have waited and collected water here at the last moment!. Joining the very soggy bridleway, we climbed the short distance SW to the remote and desolate Llyn Carw, then up R to the ridge for the last pitch of the trip, with the cairns of Drygarn Fawr in view beyond the lake.
From the bridleway by the Ffos y Rhestr, a good path forks L to climb to Pen Maen-wern with its standing stone of white quartz, and Claerwen reservoir can now be seen. Descending ESE on sheeptrods to the bwlch, a short climb leads to a lower top and another rougher standing stone. An easy walk E leads to a good grassy track that curves round northwards to the Nant y Car then back E and steeply down to the bridleway track to the minor road at Rhiwnant.
The road goes to Caban-coch reservoir, where a track follows the S side and climbs NE above the forest giving good views. Leaving the forest and descending to a ford, the striking rocky and heathery tops across the valley come into view. Crossing the saddle, the track arrives at the RSPB reserve and becomes a metalled track that descends to a lane at 937638. Turning R on the lane, a short walk leads to the surfaced bridleway track that climbs through Talwrn Wood to the open heathery expanse beyond. At Bwlch Coch we joined the Wye Valley Walk that descends steeply to a suspension bridge over the river. From here we took the lane N to Rhayader.