Glyndŵr’s Way Day 9: Pontrobert to Welshpool

Published 29 May 2013

A bale of hay in a feeding stand.

Glyndŵr’s Way

Stage: 9 of 9

Distance: 14½ miles, 23 km

Walked on: 1 May 2011

By the time we’d left Machynlleth the Glyndŵr’s Way had pretty much given up trying to come up with any kind of link, no matter how tenuous, to the person the route was named after. Until Welshpool anyway which boasted a whole two. In 1400 the town was attacked by his forces, but ultimately defeated. Another attempt was made to capture the town the following year, but inevitably Welshpool’s position near the English border meant that it would not be lost by the English. Its defences were strengthened and Welshpool’s role in the Welsh rebellion was never to be much more than a footnote in the whole battle. Which is why the town was clearly an ideal place for the ending of the Glyndŵr’s Way. Still, it does have a railway station with train connections to England so that’s far more important.

Looking at the the map our final day of walking didn’t look particularly exciting. Lots of roads and tracks to contend with, and a landscape that had gone distinctly flatter compared to the first half of the Glyndŵr’s Way. And when we arrived near Dolobran Hall to find ourselves about to walk through some sort of HGV graveyard, well eyebrows were certainly raised. This was perhaps not the ending we’d hoped for! It turned out we’d missed a waymark. The sign had been partially obscured by a hedge and easily missed if the walker was, like us, distracted by the sight of three grouse wandering causally through a field.

Another area of sheep filled farmland (boy, there’s a lot of sheep on the Glyndŵr’s Way) led us to a woodland at Gwely Gwyddfarch which we entered to much interest and amusement to a group of cows who watched us with interest from the field edge.

Gwely Gywddfarch (or Gwyddfach’s Bed if you prefer the English version, although I’m not sure that it’s that much easier to pronounce) is a pillow mound, said by some to be the final resting place of St Gydwddfarch who had originally founded the church in the nearby village of Meifod in the 6th century. Our path didn’t take us to the mount itself, preferring to keep us on the other side of the hill with the top hidden by trees. But then what were we going to do if we did see it? Just look at it and go “wow, that’s a big mound”, before wandering off to look at some bluebell or something.

Meifod itself was festooned with banners proclaiming the village’s disapproval of a plan to erect hundreds of pylons in the valley floor; a story which the local press had picked up on. A copy in a shop window told the story well. “2000 people against pylon plan” it screamed, followed underneath by the important message of “Royal Wedding photo special inside!”

On the map the route out of Meifod looked frankly bizarre. The path was heading generally south, but all of a sudden the Glyndŵr’s Way went sharply east for a mile through a forest, before heading sharply south west for a mile and a half down a road before heading south once more. In contrast, the direct route could be done in less than a mile along a footpath. On paper it made no sense at all.

Llyn Du

But the journey through the Broniarth Hill forest was well worth the extra mileage. Wonderfully tranquil and empty, it led to the small lake, Llyn Du, which turned out to be a perfect spot to rest besides whilst eating an apple, before taking in a wonderful view of the Dyffryn Valley. It may have looked bonkers on the map, but in reality it was perfect.

The price for such perfection came however in another trudge on tarmac as we headed along quiet country lanes, before the trail eventually managed to make it on to farmland again. And near a ruined house, its roof precariously held aloft by a rather fragile and warped looking wall, we came across something we hadn’t encountered for some time. The unbudgeable gate.

Despite the waymarks clearly pointing the walker through it, the gate had been clamped shut by someone with a passion. Bright blue plastic baling twine was wrapped round the gate and post in a knot that even a Scout with a rope knotting badge wouldn’t have been able to tie any better. And just in case anyone even dared to try (and succeed) to undo it, a thick metal wire was looped round as well in a highly intricate manner that would require a bolt cutter to undo.

It was a modern looking, recently installed gate; this wasn’t some botch job to keep a rusting piece of metal in place. Whoever had done it had done it deliberately. They were going the extra mile to ensure no walker went through their field, thank you very much.

It wouldn’t work. The fence next to it groaned a little under our weight as we tried to cross to the other side. Someday a walker doing that will break that fence. And all the sheep contained in the field will escape. And as I climbed, I was rather hoping it would be me who managed to accidentally break it.

Big lumpy hill in the distance

With kids running around in the forest, and the sounds of a football game in motion somewhere, we knew we must be somewhere very busy. Not that we could see a soul, but we knew. Sure enough, as we walked up to yet another paved road, the source of the noise was revealed: a large caravan park.

We’d passed quite a few places that were enthralled by the lure of the mighty static caravan, but Hidden Valley Caravan and Chalet took that love to whole new levels. Even seen from the outside it was obviously a massive complex, filled with semi-permanent buildings, complete with their own decking and driveways. It was the perfect picture of hell for me. A mini city of people crammed in to their own green metal and plastic huts, each with their own satellite dish and easy access to the on-site social club. You’d never have to leave. Urgh.

The name of the complex however was highly appropriate. Hidden Valley it certainly was. It was barely noticeable until you were almost on its doorstep and by the time we’d reached the top of its access road, it was completely hidden once more.

Our two different ascent techniques were always evident as we headed up another extremely steep hill. I’d put my best foot forward and stride ahead, determined to try and get the confounded climb done as quickly as possible. Catherine on the other hand would take climbs more slowly, pausing here and there for one of her trademarked “micro-rests” at frequent intervals.

The trade-off for the climbs was usually a good view, but one in Figyn Wood merely gave us a fine view of some more trees. Nearby Graig Wood – a nature reserve owned by the Woodland Trust – gave us something to look at on the ground instead. The entire forest floor was covered with bluebells, violets and primroses; a veritable explosion of purple and yellow to delight a walkers’ eyes. Weaving its way through was an enchanting earthy path which was a delight to walk on.

Attention Glyndwr's Way walkers

“Attention Glyndŵr’s Way Walkers,” shouted a sign as we reluctantly left the trees and headed back to farmland.

It was one of many notices we’d seen whilst walking, which provided details of route changes and diversions. The relative youth of the trail (it had only been opened officially as a National Trail in 2002) often showed as, such as here at Gaer Farm, the walk had been diverted away from it’s original route down a road, and sent instead down a pre-existing footpath through fields. Indeed my only problem with the signs was the rather stiff and formal style they were written in. How much nicer it would have been to see a sign saying “Hi there walkers! Bored of tarmac? Well we’ve got good news for you, thanks to the latest route change to the Glyndŵr’s Way!”

The original routing of parts of the Glyndŵr’s Way down various lanes and roads had been explained to us by a B&B owner a few days earlier. He’d been a farmer at the time the route was being created, and told us that the ranger at Powys Council had tried to create it in consensus with landowners, and that sometimes meant that the route took curious diversions or long trips round farmyards instead of taking a more direct route along a pre-existing footpath or bridleway, in an attempt to pacify landowners. But sometimes an agreement couldn’t be made, and instead the walker was sent down a road instead. The B&B owner told us of one chicken farmer who already had a legal right of way through his farms, but refused point blank to accept the Glyndŵr’s Way going along it. Any walker was clearly free to head through his land – it was a legal right of way already – but clearly having people actually use it, well that was too much. When I spotted what I presumed to be the farm in question, I was more than tempted to make a diversion just to make a point.

Clearly though, the Glyndŵr’s Way’s trail officers hadn’t given up, and had been working hard since the route’s launch to divert the path off roads to improve the experience. No doubt being able to point to usage figures helped; the Glyndŵr’s Way wasn’t exactly heaving whilst we were out there. But the fact is that once you’ve got a legal right of way going through your property, you can’t stop walkers. Not even if you padlock gates. Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk was the ultimate proof. When creating his famous walk, he simply connected up a plethora of existing rights of way and put it in a book. Now it’s the most popular walking route in Britain and completely unofficial. The same landowners who’d battled to keep an official trail off their property could so easily find an “unofficial” one running down it and they’d be powerless.

Trig point at the top of Y Golfa

Andrew’s first rule of an official long distance walking route in Britain is that it should involve a golf course on it somewhere. Almost every National Trail in England and Wales seems to involve at least one somewhere. Some, such as the North Downs Way, feature one every ten miles or so. Only that veritable institution of the Pennine Way seemed to escape the golf course blues, but then it’s hard to play a round when you’ve swamped in murky bog. But as we approached Welshpool I noted that we hadn’t been past a single golf course. Well, apart from that field at Machynlleth that the map said was a golf course, but was actually full of sheep (apparently it’s actually a heathland golf course. So now you know.) As we approached Welshpool I wondered if the Glyndŵr’s Way would actually pass through a proper one, or if I’d be frantically re-writing that golden first rule.

I needn’t have worried. With just a few miles to go before completion, the Glyndŵr’s Way made sure it had fulfilled its golf course quota. The trail’s final hill featured a course at the summit. Indeed even the name of the the 341m high hill had a putting theme. Y Golfa. Okay, so Golfa isn’t the name for golf in Welsh (although it is the French of “golfer”) but it’s close enough.

The path took us up on the north side; the views of the hills and valleys in the distance a reminder of where we’d come from. There were, naturally, high hopes for the summit too, and I climbed eagerly awaiting a cracking view to the south and to England. So imagine my excitement when we reached Y Golfa’s trig point (funnily enough, the only trig point on the entire trail) and gazed off in the distance to see that the lay of the land allowed us to enjoy of a view of… golf course. Just a golf course. Nothing else. No nearby hills, no sweeping panoramic views. Just little orange flags fluttering in the breeze.

There wasn’t even anyone playing any golf. The whole place was deserted with the exception of a couple of sheep who had managed to escape from a neighbouring field and who were happily heading towards a lunch on the hallowed green. Their escape route was a gate partially left open, perhaps by some golf-hating walker who thought that those with metal rods and buggies needed taking down a hole or two.

With Welshpool in our sights we headed towards it on a tarmac lane lined with gnarled oak trees. The occasional hoot of a steam train on the Welshpool and Llanfair railway drifted around the area, but the train had long gone by the time we passed by the heritage railway’s small terminus.

The final straight was a march down a busy road into Welshpool’s town centre, passing newspaper billboards which attempted to entice readers to buy a copy with the thrilling headline of “One Way Rudeness Must End”; surely a story which must instantly provide the images of two people meeting, one being ultra polite, and the other, well, less so.

Walking into Welshpool

The town council had gone to the very welcome effort and expense of putting bunting down the road to celebrate our arrival, and whilst it may have only just gone three o’clock, most of the shops had shut for the afternoon accepting that the crowds would be more interested in us finishing the walk than buying anything. For some reason though, we couldn’t find the expected celebratory party, and we were left to puzzle where the brass band were hiding, playing their triumphant tunes.

Strolling through Welshpool, we made our way down the quiet streets, past the luxurious Royal Oak hotel where we’d be staying in celebration (mainly because I’d got mixed up when booking and had accidentally booked it instead of the decidedly less glamorous Royal Oak in Pontrobert), to the canal side park where the Glyndŵr’s Way officially ends. A large polished stone monument stood, celebrating our 135 mile achievement; a topless man wearing headphones and reading a copy of the Sun at a nearby picnic bench enhancing the view no end.

But nothing could detract from our ending. Nine days of walking through some of Wales’s finest rural countryside done.

We hadn’t really been walking with Owain, that last prince, but the walk in his name had been a cracking one. Amazing views, plenty of sheep and pub accommodation with stunningly bad showers. Frankly, what more could Owain have asked for?


Richard W. Jones

12 June 2013 at 7:31 pm

It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest what you say about PROW being blocked, and farmers doing their damnest to stop people using them. A little distance to the west of your Day 9, a friend of mine was confronted on a PROW by a farmer who levelled a shotgun at him for having the temerity to want to walk it.

A couple of years ago, our local rag – the County Times – had a letter from a couple from the Midlands who’d come to stay in the Llanfair Caereinion area to do some hill walking. Except that pretty much all the PROWs they tried to use had been blocked in one form or another by the farmers. Hence the letter to the paper.

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