Glyndŵr’s Way Day 7: Llanbrynmair to Llanwddyn

Published 15 May 2013

Can’t put my finger on what’s wrong…

Glyndŵr’s Way

Stage: 7 of 9

Distance: 17 miles, 27 km

Walked on: 29 April 2011

“So you’ll probably be missing the Royal Wedding then?” the landlady of the Star Inn had commented, with a touch of dismay in her voice, a few days earlier as we ate our breakfast. All four people sat in the pub’s small breakfast room nodded to the affirmative. After all, why spend the day watching a very rich man who you’ve never met, marry a woman wearing an exceedingly expensive dress who you’ve also never met? Exploring the British countryside seemed far more appealing option.

As a card carrying, bona fide republican, I’ve never understood the whole monarchy thing. The fact that many centuries ago, someone’s ancestor killed someone else and became king has never particularly struck me as a good enough reason why, centuries later, one of their distant relatives should be the head of the country I live in. After all, if we told anyone else in the country that “in 1642AD one of your relatives was a serving maid in a manor house, so that means you have to clean toilets for the rest of your life”, there would naturally be uproar. But for the monarchy, such arguments seem to be absolutely fine.

Then there are the arguments that supporters of the monarchy use to justify its existence. They can often be frankly surreal. My favourite is the one about how many tourists the Queen brings to Britain, as if the fact that Liz is on the throne is a key reason why people visit the country. I always have this image of a Japanese tourist staring at a map, trying to choose between Paris and London before finally opting on the latter with a cry of “Well I may be able to see the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but Princess Anne lives in London so that’s sold it for me!” or whatever the Japanese equivalent is.

So here I was in Wales, avoiding the royal wedding of “Wills and Kate” by walking a long distance path dedicated to the last Welsh Prince of Wales. Following one member of the royalty to escape another, well it was perhaps a little illogical.

Still today was certainly the day to escape, because it was the day the wedding was finally happening. Several hundred miles away in London, people would finally get to see “that dress”. Meanwhile I’d get to see some hills, some stunning scenery and a bunch of nettles swaying majestically in the wind. I knew what I’d prefer any day.

“So you stayed at The Star Inn then,” asked a fellow walker over breakfast at the Wynnstay Arms. “Did it live up to its reputation?”

“We weren’t aware it had a reputation until we left the place,” I replied, laughing.

With fellow walkers, our time at the Star always seemed to be a point of interest, leaving us constantly wonder if we’d luckily had a subdued stay there, or if it had just gained a rather unfair reputation. We hadn’t been aware of any reputation when we’d booked the place, and weren’t until after we’d left it. And to be fair, in some respects it wasn’t much different to the Wynnstay. Both had oddly decorated rooms, and a complete lack of soap.

Although breakfast at the Wynnstay was, at least, faster even if the coffee did come last, arriving just as we were finishing, whilst the eggs seemed like twenty of them had been cooked in an incredibly small pan and then sliced up.

That said, having met Paula, the Wynnstay’s landlady, it was hard not to overlook the sparse décor of the rooms and the brown water stains on some of the walls. Like almost all of the B&B and pub owners we saw, she was English rather than Welsh, and had grown up in London. And she was an extremely friendly host; just perhaps not one who’d stayed in many rival B&BS or hotels recently and who hadn’t kept abreast of the latest standards and trends in accommodation. Although that might have been also reflected in the price. At £46 a night, the Wynnstay was by far the cheapest place we stayed.

True forest walking.

The sun may have got his hat on on that Friday morning, but not in Llanbrynmair. Low cloud hugged the valley, clouding the area in a light mist, whilst cold winds blew strongly as we did the now inevitable steep climb up and out of the village. And naturally we spent the time sharing fields with sheep as we climbed the hills of Esgair Fraith and Cerrig y Tan.

Soon though we were into forest, walking along wide but churned paths; respite from the cold winds not even possible despite the endless rows of trees.

When we popped out of the forest a couple of miles on, the landscape had completely changed. The farms and rolling fields remained, but the hills surrounding them had suddenly got squatter and less prominent. The endless panoramic views of the previous days had now disappeared.

There were no hamlets, just farms and, in one case, an isolated chapel. There’d been a number of similar buildings across the route, mostly opened by the relentless march of Methodism across the 18th and 19th centuries, although none of the ones we’d passed had been as remote and isolated as this one. Now it was closed, presumably converted in to accommodation like many similar chapels but even in its heyday, it must have been a lightly used building; the congregation presumably coming from the sprinkling of farms spread over the area.

Pony on Pen Coed

“So instead of watching the biggest Royal Wedding of the decade, we’re watching a clump of nettles swaying in the wind,” noted Catherine as we munched on our sandwiches on the side of a lane near another remote farm.

Her tone made her preferences abundantly clear, but then give Catherine the choice between standing around in a huge, expensive dress and uncomfortable shoes, and walking over some boggy, wild moorland in a waterproof jacket on a cold, misty day, well there was just no contest. Moorland it would be, and she strode on happily as we crossed the slightly boggy expanse of Pen Coed, watching wild ponies run and graze happily in the distance; a rare but enjoyable sight. Whilst on the Pennine Way some years earlier we’d had a similar experience as a group of wild horses ran happily around the spectacular valley of High Cup. It was such a contrast to the normal sight of horses standing stationary in a small field, staring vaguely in your general direction whilst trying to avoid touching an electric fence.

Llangadfan was by far the biggest settlement we’d walk through all day, although that didn’t say much. As we approached we idly wondered if we’d find ourselves strolling through a street party or something; anyone passing through suddenly finding sausage rolls and bowls of jelly thrust into their hands by someone waving a plastic Union flag. However the village was just a silent as most of the villages we’d passed through, and we saw just one woman walking her dog, and a proud dad walking down the street with his young son. That was the extent of the excitement and five minutes later we’d left the place behind as we traversed tracks and fields once again with not a single sausage roll to be had. As ever we saw more animals instead and at one farm a bull eyed us lazily whilst the farm dog had a yapping fit behind a fence, clearly unaware that we were on a legal right of way, and that it couldn’t stop us being there.

Much of the afternoon was spent in a huge forest, busy with mountain bikes and horse riders. The Glyndŵr’s Way picked its way through, initially on a wide, well made road before popping down more subtle paths and tracks to the forest edge. It was easy walking, at least until we thought the end was in sight. With under two miles to go to the village of Llandwddyn we found ourselves staring in disbelief at an insanely steep forest path that would eventually lead us to an insanely boggy field.

First sight of the dam at Llyn Efyrnwy

The reward for our endeavours was, at least, special. A stunning panoramic view of the massive Lake Vynwy; 60,000 mega-litres of water held back by the massive Llyn Efyrnwy dam. Built in the 1880s to supply Liverpool and the surrounding area with fresh, clean water, Llyn Efyrnwy was the first dam to be built out of stone; a design that would later be replicated throughout Wales.

The architecture of the dam was impressive too; a bold, massive statement of intent by the Liverpool Corporation with a series of elegant turrets and towers. In the nearby lake, a Gothic styled water tower sat sedately in the water. Not surprisingly the new lake was quickly marketed as a tourist attraction with hotels springing up nearby. Tourism is a role the lake continues to play to this day, attracting visitors mainly from the West Midlands, whilst the reservoir still provides clean water with some of it even finding its way in to Bombay Sapphire gin.

It all looked even more magnificent that evening as we headed for some food at the nearby hotel which sat grandly on the hillside, overlooking the lake and which, naturally, provided its visitors with a fine view. And as we ate, we could only stare out of the window in wonder as the day ended, and the sun headed to the horizon; the dark silhouette of the water tower and the trees contrasting perfectly with the glowing reds and oranges of the evening sunset. Watching as the sun set, it was hard to conclude anything other than that Wales looked fantastic. And you’d have been hard pressed to find anyone in the area who would have disagreed.

Setting sun over Lake Vyrnwy

Next time: is there actually anyone else in Powys? Why yes! Two very loud dogs.

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