Glyndŵr’s Way Day 4: Llanidloes to Dylife

Published 2 May 2013

Walkers Welcome Here

Leaving the reservoir behind, we entered into the Hafren Forest - or at least the scared remains of where part of the Hafren Forest had been until some of the trees had been lopped down. As we entered in, a sign told us walkers were welcome. When, five minutes later, we left the forest land, I half expected a sign saying "Walkers tolerated, but secretly hated"

Glyndŵr’s Way

Stage: 4 of 9

Distance: 18½ miles, 30 km

Walked on: 26 April 2011

The day started with a steep hill. By now, this statement should not surprise you although in this case it was not entirely the fault of those that created the Glyndŵr’s Way. Footpath repairs meant we were diverted up a particularly steep path climbing through the Allt Goch Woodlands which overlooked the town of Llanidloes.

The diversion then proceeded to head steeply down back to the main path once more, but looking at the route on our map it looked like once we’d rejoined the Glyndŵr’s Way again, it would then head back uphill once more. Yet if we took a short cut we’d save ourselves a bit of effort, and indeed a few metres of walking. Congratulating ourselves on coming up with this cunning plan, we duly made our way over the golf course’s springy grass and promptly got lost trying to find the path after it disappeared behind the club house.

Although marked on our map, there was little on the ground to suggest the path existed, which was a trait shared by many paths in the area. The Glyndŵr’s Way was very well sign posted, bordering almost on the over zealous, but other paths barely got a look in and other signposts were simply non-existent. It was simply as if someone didn’t want to let anyone know about any other right of way than the Glyndŵr’s Way.

After the golf course, it was back to sheep-filled fields, and, of course, more undulating paths that went up, then down, heading up and down, down and then up, once more. From our hillside position one could look across the valley and pick out the old lead mine at Y Fan; a pump house chimney and mine shaft clearly visible in the distance. The mine was once the most productive lead mine in Britain, and by 1876 over 700 people worked there. Additional discoveries of ore meant the mine remained open much longer than anticipated, however by 1878 the global price of lead had fallen, and the richest seems were exhausted. A series of new owners and their subsequent bankruptcies followed. The mine continued to operate but its output began to fall, before it was finally closed in 1921. What few buildings that remain in the village lie silent; a quiet tribute to the men who once toiled there.

Clywedog Dam and the Bryntail Mine

A short distance further along the Glyndŵr’s Way were the remains of a second mine, which was first worked in for a brief period in 1708, before reopening in the 1800s. In contrast to its neighbour Bryntal was never that successful, and the mine went through many changes of ownership before finally closing its doors in 1884.

The remains of the former surface buildings can now be explored, and as the Glyndŵr’s Way goes right by them, that’s exactly what we did. We didn’t find any new lead ore deposits, but did find something a tad more modern; a digital camera sat on the floor near the old pumping room in the process. There was no one around, and a badly framed photograph of three people’s legs on a bridge didn’t exactly reveal much. With a shrug, we left it at the nearby café, probing everyone we saw just in case it was theirs.


The ruins of the mine buildings were rather overshadowed by a slightly newer fixture in the form of the Clywedog Dam. Built in 1963, the giant construction holds back the River Clywedog and the resulting reservoir, Llyn Clywedog, is six miles long and holds around 50,000 mega-litres of water, most of it destined for the English Midlands.

The length of the reservoir meant that the lake dominated the trail for quite some time, leaving us with plenty of time to watch as boats bobbed on its waters and dingy engines roared, all, dramatically surrounded by a wall of heather topped hills. Even on a Tuesday following a Bank Holiday there were plenty of people around and we passed a group of teenage walkers struggling under the weight of heavy rucksacks and camping equipment.

Llyn Clywedog

One lad was carrying two packs, one on his front and one on his back, but whether this was some attempt to show off to the lucky girl whose back was now bare, or whether he was doing some gallant act whilst she recovered from some minor ailment, who could say? She seemed more than happy by the arrangement though. Meanwhile, in a nearby boat, a father rowed into the late, his child sat goggle eyed in a bright orange life jacket. A perfect picture of a wholesome family activity if ever there was one.


After an age of lake side walking, we were eventually guided away from the water and into forestry land, traversing an area where once trees towered high but which the Forestry Commission had recently reduced to mere stumps. A small sign on a gate told us that “Walkers are welcome in the forest”, and on leaving the forest and entering a field a contrasting sign invited us to “Bugger off, you annoying hikers. Who do you think you are, trampling over my grass anyway? Just for that I’m going to padlock a gate.”

At the Afon Biga, a river which would soon flow off and tumble into the reservoir, we rested in a secluded picnic spot before plunging once more in to the trees of Hafren Forest (walkers continuing to be very much welcomed.)

Walking on a firm, flat-ish track we made good progress, quickly ticking off the miles, and even after we returned to farmland our speed was still good. Not even an infuriatingly long and complex detour around a farmyard – as if the path had some deep phobia of it – could slow us down.

Since leaving the reservoir we’d seen not a single soul on foot until, some miles on, we passed a farmer who seemed to be carrying a small bowl of animal feed. We chatted a while, discussing the Glyndŵr’s Way’s route, the weather, where we’d come from, where we were going and all the other people we’d seen. Not once though did I manage to enquire just what was in his bowl, which must have made us seem awfully rude to him.

Llwynygog

Low cloud, boarding on mist, began to sit in the valley; the remote looking farms and houses somehow managing to look even more isolated and solitary despite there being several all clustered around each other. And, after being relatively level for some time, the Glyndŵr’s Way had one final uphill climb for us, taking us along a heather filled ridge, and then over a track where 4×4 vehicles had work two grooves in the grass, exposing the rock below.

Off in the distance of the valley below, the few houses of Dylife slowly came into view; a farm track appearing off to the right would take us down there and to the welcoming embrace of the Star Inn.

Another former lead mining centre, the village of Dylife was once a huge place, boasting a population of 1,000 people in 1864. But as the mines began to close, the last going in 1901, the population went elsewhere. The village school closed in 1925 and the local church finally demolished in 1965. Today the population numbers less than 30. Two of the village’s three pubs closed, but amazingly one, The Star Inn, survives. It does so overlooking the huge, clearly visible scars of the mines; huge craters and grey stones lining the landscape.

A large dog stood outside the pub, wagging its tail enthusiastically as we arrived, and we were pointed in the direction of room 7 and informed that the bar would be open at the time that matched that same number.

A friendly welcome at the Star Inn


“I’ve made a special effort to come out tonight because of the sign,” said a farmer who had just walked in to the pub.

“What sign?” asked Sue, the Star’s landlady, looking a trifle confused.

“The one at the end of the road. Says free beer until nine, then half price!”

“Oh don’t listen to him”, his wife replied as she took her glass of wine, nudging her husband sharply with her elbow. The pair left the bar, and settled at a nearby table to chat in Welsh, with occasional English interjections “phew”, “blimey” and (for reasons unknown) “two or four door?” appearing mid-sentence .

Besides the couple, ourselves and two fellow residents who were cycling, the place was deserted. This wasn’t entirely surprising given there were so few houses nearby, but clearly it wasn’t always like this as the landlady happily recounted the tale of how they’d served forty-five people during their latest Saturday night “chip-shop” night. By all accounts people had come from miles around and everything. Although I did remember the strangely absent landlord telling me pretty much the same thing when I’d phoned up a few months before to book our room, and couldn’t help but idly wonder if the chip shop night was actually real, or just something recounted in earshot of random walkers to make the place sound more popular than it really was. Then I idly wondered where that massive dose of cynicism had come from.

Looking around the deserted pub, a 17th century drovers inn, I wondered how the place had managed to survive all these years. How did it get from the era before the car to now and remain open, despite the closure of the mine and the departure of the local population?

Many rural walks seem to have a pub that fits into that category. The Pennine Way has the rightly famous Tan Hill Inn, famous for being a music venue and for a series of double glazing adverts in the 1970s. And then there is the Coast to Coast which passes by the Lion Inn which, despite sitting alone on empty moorland, is now a popular place to drive to for a meal.

Both those pubs had struggled over the years, kept open only by landlords who kept pushing through despite everything. They could have given up and closed their pubs, but they didn’t and eventually they were reborn when the era of the car arrived. Suddenly people could drive out to the middle of nowhere for fun, and pop in for some refreshment, whilst walkers and cyclists could spend the night. Rural pubs began to make sense again.

But sitting in the empty looking Star Inn that quiet Tuesday night it seemed hard to imagine that the place had ever recovered from the closure of the mines. How did this place survive the winter when no tourists passed by? With the only visitors being the two locals?

The place surely had some potential but was stuck in a time warp; the wallpaper was peeling and the rooms hadn’t been refurbished for decades; all the furniture looked like something out of some sort of 1950s show house. On our return home I wasn’t surprised to find the pub on the market, waiting for someone else to come in with good ideas and the chance to make the place blossom. I confess that a part of me wondered about taking it on, only to baulk at the sheer amount of money that would probably be needed to bring the place up to modern standards. Oh and I’m not sure I would have wanted to live somewhere where the main view was of a giant slag heap.

Maybe I wasn’t the right person for the job but somewhere that person must exist. No doubt at some point I’ll pass by the Star Inn again on a similar day and find it heaving; Wales’s equivalent to the Tan Hill Inn or the Lion.

Well, you never know.

Next time: “Did you stay at the Star Inn? I always like it when people come here next,” is the question as we arrive in Mach.

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

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Your Comments

Don Abbey

3 January 2014 at 2:24 pm

Thanks for the walk info.

But for the record the dam hold back the Clwydog not the Severn, although it joins the Severn at LLanidloes.

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

3 January 2014 at 2:28 pm

Thanks for the correction Don – I’ve updated the text accordingly.

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