Glyndŵr’s Way Day 5: Dylife to Machynlleth

Published 7 May 2013

Foel Fadian

Glyndŵr’s Way

Stage: 5 of 9

Distance: 15 miles, 24 km

Walked on: 27 April 2011

“I mean, some people do the Holyhead to Cardiff cycle route in three days,” we were told over breakfast by one of our fellow residents. “But at that speed, well you’d never see anything.”

“Indeed,” I said. “That’s the benefit of walking and cycling. You can take life at a different pace. Normally it’s all rush, rush, rush. Sometimes it’s nice to just slow down.”

Besides the pubs and beer, that was one of the things I liked most about walking. The slow pace; the complete lack of speed. It’s a leisurely way to travel. There’s something wonderful about looking at the map at the end of the day and realising that, in the grand scheme of things, you really really haven’t gone that far, yet you’ve had the chance to see so much.

Although that attitude was only noticeable once my boots hit the path. First thing in the morning I always wanted to be on my way as quickly as possible. 8am breakfast and out on the trail by 8:50. That’s the way to do it.

“Breakfast tomorrow will be at 8:30,” Sue, the Star’s landlady had told us the night before and once she’d said that, well I just knew just getting out of the door was going to be slow.

To be fair, Sue had bad arthritis meaning she shuffled around the pub slowly; her mobility scooter sat in a side room near where we ate breakfast. On our visit she’d been alone, her husband who’d chattered to me enthusiastically for about half an hour as I tried to make the booking by phone, being off somewhere else.

It couldn’t be helped but it was still after ten when we set off. I’ve never liked setting off late because starting late means finishing late. Ideally I like to be finished walking by five. This gives enough time to take a shower, have a rest, enjoy a cup of tea and recover before heading off for a pint at seven and eating the evening meal by eight. But with our late start I knew we’d be behind. Chances were we wouldn’t get to the B&B until at least six. The whole pre-meal drink might even have to be sacrificed; the rest period completely rushed. A whole system spoiled by having to have breakfast half an hour later than normal.


Y Grug

It felt like almost half the day had gone by the time we had climbed up back on to the hill overlooking Dylife; our path a former drovers road towards Penycrobren, which roughly translates as “Gallows Hill”. The spot had been a remote outpost for the Roman Empire, but the hill’s name has a more recent history. In the 18th century local blacksmith Sion y Gof became so convinced his wife had been unfaithful that he murdered her. To provide himself with an alibi he went on to murder his daughter and threw both bodies down a mine shaft; spreading the rumour that the pair had fled the area together to explain their absence.

When the two bodies were later discovered, Sion was tried and convicted, and handed the death penalty for his crime. As per custom at the time he would be executed locally and the body displayed to serve as a warning to others. And as the only local blacksmith, it fell to Sion y Gof to make the gibbet that would hold his own dead body. His final work was hung from the gallows until the gallows eventually rotted away.

Over the years the story passed almost into myth status and would have remained so had it not been for two men who were digging in the area in 1938, and who uncovered the cage and a skull.

Y Grug

A short way on, a series of ruined buildings and spoil heaps marked the long closed Cyfarthfa mine. It was another mine that was never particularly successful, but its demise was not financial and came as a result of a large embankment the mine had built. The embankment had been used to form a dam and a lake, the lake fed by diverting water from the nearby Glaslyn Lake. A lawsuit was filed in 1878 blaming the water diversion for problems powering fulling mills in nearby Machynlleth, the case being found in the favour of the mills and the damn was broken. The mine ultimately closed after producing just 100 tonnes of lead and copper ore in its 36 years of operation.

In its modern incarnation, the area is now a local nature reserve. Glaslyn is now a peaceful and tranquil lake and as we stood admiring it, watching the morning sun shimmer on the water, it was hard to imagine that this had once been a hive of activity. Even more so when you considered that towering over Glaslyn was the sleeping giant of the Foel Fadian mountain.

Foel Fadain


After a morning up on the hills, it was time to head down and the path began to zig-zag down a steep descent which would take us to the valley floor; an amazing panoramic view displayed as we headed gingerly down the rocky path.

Down in the valley, a twisting country lane led us progressively back up hill once more; much of the height we’d lost coming down from Foel Fadien slowly and painfully regained. But at least the weather had improved. After a morning of dull cloud, the sun had finally broken trough and the heat was sweltering.

The map suggested there may be an ideal picnic spot besides a fast moving stream but whilst it was a lovely looking spot, it was also firmly inaccessible sat as it was in a field which seemed to be not only completely devoid of gates, but also chock-full of nervous cows.

Naturally after coming down, we had to go straight back up again.

Wearily we pushed on, seeking shade and grass but getting neither. Struggling our way up another of the Glyndŵr’s Way’s trademark steep climbs we stumbled through a farm and then, high above it, we finally found a tiny amount of shade in which to hide from the sun and eat our packed lunch.

More sheep filled a field behind us, but several of the lambs had escaped on to the track and near our picnic spot a lamb and ewe sat separated by a wire fence. Mum bleated sadly, occasionally trying to nuzzle her offspring through the wire. Neither seemed to have any idea how on earth this had happened, nor what the solution was. To us, the answer was naturally simple. A nearby gate, a short way away had a gap underneath it that was an easy squeeze for a young lamb to get through. It was clearly how the lamb had ended up on the wrong side of the fence, but obviously it couldn’t remember doing so.

The bleating progressively got more and more mournful and eventually I could take it no more. If I could just persuade them both to go downhill a short way to the gate, this whole thing could be quickly sorted out and I could happily eat my crisps in peace! Explaining to them what they needed to do however was not successful – sheep rarely listen to a well thought out and logical argument – so I slowly approached the fence, hoping it would inspire them both to dart downhill a little so that I could herd them to the gate.

The lamb rushed off, terrified, but at least it went in the right direction. Mum however had lost her parental instincts and had wandered off to chew some grass, now totally oblivious to the frantic noise her child was making. Completely stuck, the lamb didn’t have a clue what to do and started making a racket even more frightful than before, and to compound matters further, at one point it even began to head back up hill towards us. Only after much wailing did its mother finally decide that her lunch wasn’t that important after all, and the pair finally made it to the gate where they were re-united. Peace hit the area once more.


Panoramic view from the edge of the forest at Rhiw Goch

“Look, there’s a forest coming up! We’ll get some shade there!” I said to Catherine as we approached the Dyfin Brncynfil forests, but our hopes were in vain.

It took us a matter of minutes to walk through it, and even then there was no shade as the forest demolition squad had recently visited. Felled trees lay haphazardly all over the ground, like someone has just randomly turned up with a chainsaw and gone on some mad, chaotic tree-killing spree. We picked our way over piles of branches strewn over the path which had been rendered almost invisible. This led to us heading incorrectly up to the summit of a nearby hill, whilst the proper route followed a flat and far more sedate looking drovers road down below.

The waymarking on the route had generally been excellent but now things began to get more confusing with a myriad of paths all heading off in subtly different directions, none of them signposted. We were similarly stuck a mile or so on when little on our map seemed to coincide with what we were seeing on the ground, and the route to the top of yet another hill seemed like torture. When we finally made it in to the forest at Ffirdd Rhiwlwyfern, I was near exhaustion. The heat and sheer physical effort of the Glyndŵr’s Way’s many ascents and descents paying their toll. The cool shade and soft paths of the forest were more than welcome.

Machynlleth

Thankfully the path then went through a flat section and having fully recovered we had a spring in our step again. And then, finally, our destination became visible; “Mach”, as the locals call it, was now firmly in sight. Not that the Glyndŵr’s Way would let us get there that easily. The town of Machynlleth may well have been extremely close but the trail still required us to head right round to the other side of the town before finally allowing us to head downhill to walk through it.

With feet throbbing and red sunburned faces we wearily entered into the town, admiring the clock tower and the impressive looking parliament building before staggering wild-eyed into our B&B. Six o’clock, on the dot.

“Did you stay at the Star Inn? I always like it when people come here next,” said the B&B’s owner rather mysteriously as we booked in. Then we saw our room – rather more luxurious than the one we’d shared the night before with its dodgy wardrobes, Formica topped tables and a cracked avocado coloured bathroom suite that looked like it had been in dire need of replacement fifteen years earlier. In contrast, here in Mach, our room had a power shower and everything.

After a hard days walk, what more could we ask for?

Next time: the trail leaves the bright lights of Mach and heads north to a tiny village with a lack of soap.

Walking with the Last Prince: Following Owain on the Glyndwr’s Way

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