Glyndŵr’s Way Day 2: Felindre to Abbeycwmhir

Published 25 April 2013

Fields, a pond and some trees at Bryn Mawr

Glyndŵr’s Way

Stage: 2 of 9

Distance: 16 miles, 26½ km

Walked on: 24 April 2011

“It’s all so lovely out here. The farms look really nice; real, not twee. And the path’s very good too,” eulogised Catherine just moments before we arrived at a large, padlocked gate that could only be passed by climbing over it. “Yes, it really is lovely.”

It was another glorious day. The thunder from the day before had fizzled to nothing, and the sun was out once more. There was a freshness in the air though, and as we’d climbed the steep hill out of Felindre, a rather chilly breeze bounced around us. The morning dew glistened on the fields and the sheep ran off frantically as soon as we got anywhere vaguely near them.

It was as if they’d never seen a human being before, but then maybe they hadn’t. This was a sparsely populated part of Wales and once again, the Glyndŵr’s Way continued its role as a quiet, barely used path. Were it not for a single woman walking her three border collies, we wouldn’t have seen anyone that morning.

The grassy fields led once more to a farm track and on to another valley, and after a short descent the inevitable fine view followed. At a corner, the trail abruptly turned right, heading once more along the edges of fields and past the faintly sinister sight of a battered, weather-worn stuffed toy dog strapped tightly to a wire fence.

Homemade Glyndŵr's Way sign

As up must surely follow down, the path rose again and we exchanging pleasantries as we passed two fellow walkers who had stopped for a rest. We stopped ourselves a mile or so on at Castell-y-blaidd, which translates as “Castle of the Wolf” and which is the site of an unfinished 13th century fort, or so the rumour goes. No one really knows the truth, and there are other, differing explanations for the hill’s horseshoe-shaped ring of earthworks, including that the completed castle was attacked and destroyed, or simply levelled centuries later by local farmers to provide land for grazing. Even the age of the castle can’t be agreed on, with some experts declaring the remains to be from the Norman era, whilst others believe they were even older.

Whatever the story, the summit provided a stunning view of the local scenery, and its soft green grass was a delight to sit on. Not that we did any of that as our guide book had sternly warned us that there was no legal right of way to the top of the hill. It’s just that someone told us it was nice. Honest, guv.

People often tell walkers to be wary of cows with calves, and it’s normally advice I take very seriously. The result is usually that the mother does little more than nonchalantly chew its cud whilst the calf wanders straight towards me to say hello. This was not so in a field a short way on from the Castell where we gingerly took a wide route round a clearly tense and nervous group of bovines. Every step we made was followed by a scurry of hooves and lots of cautious glancing, as if we’d come to steal all the calves away.

“Good job we don’t have a dog, else they’d go berserk,” remarked my travelling companion, and it was hard to disagree.

In sharp contrast, in the next field a young lamb ran up to me and looked expectantly whilst its mum gazed on. It quickly tired of waiting for whatever it was hoping to get whilst its mother watched the lamb’s antics with the sheep equivalent of maternal pride.

The field was full of sheep of a similarly carefree manner. Unusually they barely bothered with us at all, and were clearly following Bowden’s 2nd law of wool-based mammals: those with the least to fear are the ones that will run away the furthest.

A case in point was shown a short way down a nearby road when we passed by a field. Despite the fact that they were already a substantial distance from us, and an absolutely huge hedge was keeping us apart, our mere presence still sent the sheep in to a blind panic, dating off in all directions in order to get away from us.

Near Llanbadarn Fynydd

The village of Llanbadarn Fynydd didn’t exactly present the best of welcomes. For starters, it was sit on the busy A483 with a steady stream of motorbikes thundering doing it. For the walker though, it has an even more serious crime. The River Ithon must be crossed and the most direct route involves wading through a deep ford. So the walker is taken on a lengthy detour down the aforementioned A483 before turning off into a village. It’s a half mile journey all thanks to the absence of one small footbridge.

To make things worse, I was hungry. But one look at the village revealed that would remain the case for some time. Any hopes of eating our lunches on a picturesque village green, or of the local pub inviting walkers to eat their picnics in the beer garden with a pint swiftly faded as we hit the reality of the place. Instead of sitting down on some soft grass, or having a cheeky pint of a fine Welsh ale, we walked past a steady stream of shrill, noisy and rather small dogs, all barking enthusiastically from behind substantial garden gates. Talk about making people feel welcome.

Almost inevitably when you want a sit down, you’re presented with no options to do so, and when we finally made it through the village we were presented with a steep climb up a walled lane instead. It took some time before we found ourselves in a sheep poo filled hillside field where we could finally collapse and eat our lunch. And when we did rest, we spent all our time under the watchful eye of a large sheep who stared at us intently from behind a small mound; the animal standing almost completely still for at least twenty minutes whilst we chomped on our packed lunches. Only when we stood up did we notice the two lambs curled up near it on the other side of the mound.

Down in the valley near Llanbadarn Fynydd

The afternoon followed a familiar theme to the day before. Having spent the morning in fields and on tracks, we spent the rest of the day on moorland; the mossy grass paths surrounded by spiky heather. Every now and then there were signs of what would be boggy and muddy patches in the wrong conditions, but with the sun being hot and the rain absent, there was little to worry about besides the potential for sunstroke on the unsheltered paths.

On occasions views would open up of the valley down below; the River Ithon and the bustling A483 cutting their way along the narrow valley floor, with the birdsong and bleating punctured by another host of motorbikes zooming down the winding road. No sooner had we escaped and the descent down the round hill of Yr Allt offered an alternative in the form of an unprovoked attack on the olfactory senses by the putrid, rotting remains of a deceased sheep.

With a bright sun and little wind, the temperatures were beginning to soar, making walking a bit of a slog, and as the day went on it seemed to get hotter and hotter. Soon it was absolutely baking. Was this really April? Occasionally we’d catch some tiny, refreshing hint of a breeze, but the open moorland offered little in the line of protection as long as we walked over it. Only our descent down through a forest saw things improve, but even in the trees it was hot and dry. Never had warning signs about forest fires seemed so pertinent.

Nice bench, stream and all sorts

It was a babbling brook that finally offered some coolness. Someone had thoughtfully placed a bench next to it, sheltered by a rich green canopy; the running water providing a much appreciated coolness to the area. As we sat and relaxed, we checked our maps. Just two and a half miles to our destination of the tiny village of Abbeycwmhir, reached by a plethora of country lanes and forest paths. It remained sweltering to the end as we traipsed wearily through the village streets to our B&B.

When walking, I always feel a bit at a loose end in the evening if there’s no pub to go to. Sitting in a B&B bedroom with the door shut just doesn’t feel like an appropriate way to end the day.

Not that Abbeycwmhir is pub free. It has one in the shape of The Happy Union, whose name probably is perhaps derived from the Acts of Union which saw England and Wales join together, although no one really knows. Quite where the pub’s unusual sign comes from is an unanswered question too. A man with a leek in his hat may not be that unusual for a pub sign, but the fact that he’s riding a goat with a big grin on his face surely is. The whole pub looked wonderful but it was firmly shut on our arrival. Our guide book had soberly warned us not to expect a drop of alcohol to be available until 9pm at the earliest, and not at all on a Sunday. Guessing the day we were staying in the village is left as an exercise for the reader.

The Happy Union, Abbeycwmhir

Unusual pub opening hours seemed to be a recurring theme in the area. We passed several that didn’t bother opening their doors until 8pm at least, although the lack of Sunday drinking in many of them could no doubt be traced back to the Gladstone government at the end of the 19th century.

Following pressure from the temperance movement and the non-conformist chapels, the Sunday Closing (Wales) Act 1881 banned the sale of alcohol in all pubs in the country on the Sabbath, except, in Monmouthshire which, thanks to various legal quirks, escaped the ban until 1915. A similar act was proposed for England, but was mysteriously rejected by Parliament.

The Act was repealed in 1961, replaced by legislation which allowed local authorities in Wales to hold local referendums about continuing the ban. Many parts of Wales quickly adopted Sunday drinking, but its permanent presence was not guaranteed due to the fact that the local referendum needed to be conducted every seven years if residents petitioned for them. But by 1989 only one part of Wales had voted to ban the booze: Dwyfor in North West Wales re-instated the ban after seven years of “wet” Sundays following a turnout in the referendum of a mere 9%. When, in 1996, the administrative area of Dwyfor disappeared in a local government re-organisation, so too did the ban and the whole system was scrapped by licensing reform in 2003.

Perhaps it was the local tradition based on those now gone laws, or perhaps the landlord just fancied Sundays off, but with nowhere to sit and while away the evening, we pootled around the tiny village and the ruined Abbey which sits just outside the village and gives it its name.

Originally founded in 1143 the Abbey’s grounds were where the headless body of Llywelyn the Great, the last king of Wales, are believed to have been interred. A memorial lay on the ground near the ruined walls, marking his supposed resting place. Meanwhile, his severed head spent at least 15 years at the Tower of London after being taken there by the English army that detached it from his body in 1282 during battles to restore Welsh independence.

The ruins of Abbey Cwmhir

The Abbey was also the first place we’d gone through since Knighton to actually have a link with Owain Glyndŵr. It was attacked and burned by Owain’s army in 1401 with the excuse being that the monks had English sympathies. Given it held Llywelyn’s grave and, as such, was a shrine to Welsh nationalism, the attack may have seemed to be a strange move. But the more likely reason for the attack was to steal the Abbey’s treasure in an attempt to pay for the war effort.

Either way, the true reason is lost in the midsts of time, the Abbey now a picturesque ruin in a field of sheep with a large fish-filled pond at one end; the fish occasionally leaping out to catch the insects hovering above the water as we watched.

Next time: it’s hard work but the views are worth it as the Glyndŵr’s Way heads to the market town of Llanidloes with the sun shining brightly.

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