GW Day 6 – Machynlleth to Llanbrynmair, Wednesday 6th June

Another tough day in the unrelenting heat of Mid Wales! Is that the first time in history that sentence has been uttered?

I fear it will be a shorter missive than of late though as not an awful lot happened worth writing about!

After leaving the B&B in Machynlleth at about 9:25, after the usual faffing about, it was a gentle enough start, on roads for the first mile or so but very quiet minor ones.

Shortly after turning off the road, the first climb of the day was accomplished to the accompaniment of the Red Arrows who were obviously training in the ‘Mach loop’ but in solo, so no diamonds or hearts I’m afraid. You can just make it out in the photo below (which is probably over cropped so a bit pixellated).

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I was looking for some shade for about an hour to eat my co-op bought sandwiches but there was very little to be found.

I eventually stopped under a sycamore – just glad to be out of the sun. I heard a bird call that I wasn’t sure of. It was like ‘weird, weird’. When I spotted it it was another beautiful Redstart. Of course, I couldn’t get a decent photo…

I was already rationing my water and coke at this point (about 13:30) as I knew I wouldn’t reach the pub I was staying in until at least 6pm.

My hydration bladder (basically like a big polythene water bottle that slots in your rucksack) had started leaking on Saturday morning and, despite me putting it inside a carrier bag, by Wednesday it was pretty much unusable. The beauty of re-using Pepsi bottles however is that you know exactly how much you’ve got left and can ration it accordingly. I find with a bladder hidden away in your rucksack you’ve got no idea how much is left and can be caught out in hot weather.

Viewranger, which is the GPS based mapping software I use, tells you exactly how far you’ve got to go on your pre-loaded route so you can say to yourself ‘OK, I’ve got 5k to go and 500ml of water left so I’ll have 100ml at every km. That’ s what I do anyway…

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Lots of nice views of the Dyfi valley in the earlier parts of the walk today. The second was a bit ‘agricultural’ to be honest . Not just all the sheep but churned up ground that can easily turn an ankle and loads of empty feed bags and broken plastic buckets lying around.

One of the unusual highlights of the day was this tractor graveyard by Commaes Road. A bit of T-Cut and it’ll be like new! Reminds me of the first, scene setting, episode of Minder where Arthur provides Terry with the white Capri – “It’s barely run in Terrence”!

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Both the guide books I’m using, the Kittiwake and the Cicerone one, had promised a walk through forest 2 km from the finish and I was longing for a bit of shade. Unfortunately, said forest had been felled since the books were published and it was a scene of much devastation. It looked like they’d given the contract to Laurel and Hardy.

Anyway, the end was in sight as Llanbrynmair appeared below but you couldn’t get there the straightforward route. Oh no. The farmer had obviously insisted that instead of walking down his access road, as done already umpteen times on the route, they’d have to set up a complex diversion around the farmyard and he’d see to it that the ground was as rough as possible and rock strewn.

The Wynnstay Arms is old school, with basic rooms, but the landlady Pauline is doing a grand job and at least it’s still going. You walk through so many villages and you look at a ‘house’ and think – that used to be the pub.

Onwards and, invariably, upwards. The longest stage tomorrow but I’ve allowed myself the luxury of staying in the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel. Just got to get there first!

GW Day 7 – Llanbrynmair to Lake Vyrnwy, Thursday 7th June

Well, I wasn’t looking forward to it and, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad it’s over but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.

I had ordered an early breakfast (7:30) so I could get some miles in before it got hot and I was on the road before 8:30. I had ordered a packed lunch as, although there was a pub en route that was purportedly open all day, I wasn’t taking any chances.

Would the pub still be in  business?

Would they be open at lunchtime?

Would Geoff’s chocolate mousse set before Jon and Greg call ‘time up’?

Sorry – got a bit carried away with the jeopardy there.

Path

I got the first climb of the day completed and then had the clear, easy green track above to get my teeth into. A forest track followed which was flat, fast and dull. I didn’t mind though – I was just trying to get some decent distance covered whilst it was still cool.

Stan and Ollie had been up to their tricks again. Another fine mess…

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After the forest came a first for the week. I finally met people walking the Glyndwr’s Way. A group of five, a mix of South Africans and English, were walking it the other (wrong) way.

A little further down the hill I was able to tick off another first for the week. I heard a curlew calling really close to the path from some pretty open ground. After a minute or two’s searching I was able to locate the bird in question. It was quite small to be honest, much smaller than the one I’d seen on Stiperstones last month. The other concern I had was the number of sheep in the field. They could easily destroy a nest by walking right over it. Anyway, these are the things that go through my mind as I’m walking…

I’ll put you out of your misery. I made it to the pub,  The Cann Office Hotel and it was open – another first for the week. For a lunchtime anyway… Wasn’t a bad drop either.

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After feeling strong all morning and covered over half the distance for the day, it was a real struggle after lunch. I don’t know if it was the beer or the chips or if it had just got a bit hotter but it took me a good half hour to get properly going again. Fortunately, after an hour of stiles, mud, nettles and general farm detritus, I had a really good forest road to go at before the now traditional nasty climb to finish the day. This one was particularly severe in places as well.

I think knowing that the profile for tomorrow’s stage was much gentler and that it would only be fifteen miles as opposed to the twenty today gave me a bit more encouragement to get to the hotel, a full nine and a half hours after leaving Llanbrynmair. A cool shower and a few pints of Station Bitter on the hotel terrace overlooking Lake Vyrnwy and all was right with the world.

Vyrnwy Pam

 

 

GW Day 8 – Lake Vyrnwy to Meifod, Friday 8th June

My super lightweight Merrell boots, that fitted like a glove, never gave a moment’s trouble and I had considered one of my best outdoor gear purchases, couldn’t take the strain of the Glyndwr’s Way. This less than a year after buying them. I’ll see what Cotswolds have to say about it on my return – clear ‘fitness for purpose’ issue in my mind but I won’t hold my breath.

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I had to have my old Meindl boots, which had served me so well on the Coast to Coast last year, specially couriered over to the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel. Thanks Pam.

It was annoying because I’d done all my training walks in the Merrells and they were, I thought, just nicely broken in. I now had to walk fifteen miles (and eleven on Saturday) in quite tough boots that I hadn’t worn in almost a year. I had priced up  a pair of heel blisters as 4/6 favourite.

No real birds of interest today – saw another cuckoo but remarkably quite other than that.

The first couple of miles were an easy mix of road and field and then a nice forest track, including a set of 169 robustly constructed, wooden steps. These were a great way to quickly gain the required height. A few field, gate, stile combos, led to my first target of the day.

At Pont Llogel there was, apparently, a shop on the route! And would you Adam and Eve it, it was open as well. A real, old fashioned Post Office shop run by the nicest old lady you could wish to meet. I got a coffee, a flapjack and a pack of Eccles cakes as I hadn’t got a packed lunch but I also got a nice warm feeling inside. That might have been the coffee though.

Not only did Pont Llogel have virtually the only shop on the route but, sweet Jesus, public conveniences! There had been a couple of occasions during the week when I thought I may have to do what bears do but I had got through on each occasion… A hundred miles in, not only the first shop but also the first loos. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity. I also put a Compeed blister plaster on my right foot where I could feel a ‘hot-spot’ forming.

It was then back to the familiar field, stile, field scenario and at Llwynhir I had to avoid a major tree felling operation right next to the route. Why do they have to do this in nesting season? Shortly afterwards I had to traverse the meadow below, which was teeming with wildlife.

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An hour or so later of nice moorland terrain led to Dolanog. There was also ANOTHER public loo open but I couldn’t take them up on their kind offer.  I did however adjust my boot laces again, trying in vain to get comfy with them. I also had a couple of Eccles cakes and a can of full sugar coke.

From Dolanog you basically follow the River Vyrnwy for an hour or so and then it’s fields which bring you to Pont Robert. Both my guidebooks describe the Royal Oak pub as being open all day. I’d already heard from a couple of landladies on the route however that the lady running it had had to take another job as well, so it was no surprise to find it closed.

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It was only three miles from Meifod as well so I could have had a guilt free pint (or two) and not had far to go. Such is the way of the modern world sadly.

The final three miles was mostly road and unspectacular but my feet were still blister free and I was led to believe the King’s Head would be open and I hadn’t been misinformed. The pub was open but the customer service school had obviously been closed when the couple running it were booked in. Having said that, at least the Purple Moose ‘Pint of two Halves’ (surely one for Private Eye) was in good condition.

I left the pub with a hearty ‘thanks a lot’ sadly absent. I made my way to the post office to see if I could get a couple of sandwiches for my tea and there experienced customer service at it’s best. There is virtually no mobile signal in Meifod and I was unable to ring the B&B to come and pick me up, as arranged. The nice man rang for me and ten minutes later I was running a bath to soothe my aching limbs.

Only eleven miles to Welshpool tomorrow but I need to keep the pace up to get back to Shrewsbury handy. We are giving a choir concert tomorrow evening… in Welshpool. It’s a good job I love Powys in the spring time.

Congratulations to Mr Howard Key, of Belle Vue, Shrewsbury, who correctly identified the aged tractor from earlier in the week as a David Brown Selectamatic 880. A pint of Twisted Spire to Howard and my deepest sympathy to his partner Sheila.

 

GW Day 9 – Meifod to Welshpool, Saturday 9th June

I was dropped off in Meifod by the B&B owners at 8:50 so I knew I’d be ok for the 14:55 train from Welshpool to Shrewsbury. The Cicerone guide reckoned 5.5 hours for today’s stage and I was usually in and around the time they estimated.

The first of only three proper climbs came early on, as is traditional and having adjusted my ‘new’ boots a couple of times, I was feeling strong after a good night’s sleep and only two pints in Happy Larry’s and two cans of cider in my room the previous evening.

About a mile of road followed, which was fine by me and it was a steady blend of a bit of road and a bit of field / stile work. The chaps below took a bit of an interest but I was able to shoo them away. As I think I’ve often overheard people say, nobody talks bullocks like I do.

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I was making good time and I had a cheeky look at the watch and the route profile. There didn’t seem to be any major obstacles to overcome other than the three climbs. The first I’d flown up and the second was again a mix of track and wooden steps, which make the ascent that much quicker.

There were some very pleasant looking holiday parks in ‘the hidden valley’ and a B&B in an old school building but no birds of note other than quite a few chiffchaff in the woods I passed through.

My ‘heavy’ Meindl boots, that I’d thought were bound to give me blisters, felt a lot more comfortable today. I don’t know if they had ‘softened up’ a bit with a day’s wear or if I’d just tightened them to the optimal level but I’d forgotten all about them, which says everything.

From the distance remaining I knew it was nailed on that I’d make the earlier train unless I got lost or held up badly. I kept the pace up anyway as I was still feeling there was a lot left in the legs and it was only going to get warmer as the day drew on.

After a bit more road, it was the third climb of the day that slowed me down.

It looked like a fairly simple walk up a field by a fence from the guidebook and the OS map and that’s all it should have been. The farmer, however, had decided to sow wheat all over the footpath. In fact, it’s not just a footpath, its also a National Trail. The two photos illustrate the problem.

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I’ll raise it with Powys Council and National Trails but what’s going to happen? Probably not much. Councils have pared back staff to the bone and farmers and landowners know they can get away with being, shall we say, ‘thoughtless’?

After fighting my way through the wheat field I had to apply a decent measure of hydrocortisone cream to my legs, which were red raw. I would have put my long trousers on if I’d foreseen the reaction of my lower limbs to the wheat but hindsight, like the next European Championships, is 2020.

By this stage I was entering the boundaries of Welshpool Golf Club, a course I’d played before with unerring inaccuracy. The waymarking was pretty good, so I spent less time looking for the path than I had for my ball on my previous visit. It was surprisingly boggy in places though and I could see no way of clearing one patch other than to take a run and jump – always my least preferred option.

The golf course included the last climb of Glyndwr’s Way, which was steep in places but zigzagged on a nice grassy path to the tryg point on the summit of Y Golfa. You can just make out the outline of the Breiddens in the background of the photo.

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It was a nice steady descent off the top from here, through one more field then a solid track all the way down through the grounds of Llanerchydol Hall and I was able stride steadily to the edge of Welshpool and the heritage railway station at Raven Square.

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I was on familiar territory now in Welshpool and there was an unavoidable sense of ‘is that it?’ There is a small park with a commemorative stone to mark the finish but there was a young lady eating a sandwich at the picnic table next to it so instead of going down to it I settled for taking a photo.

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I had thought I’d have a pint in one of the pubs in Welshpool high street but from previous visits I had yet to find one that I would go back to, especially on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I decided instead that I’d get the train back to Shrewsbury and have a celebratory pint there.

I had covered the eleven miles of the final stage in four and a half hours so was quite pleased with that. There is no doubt that you start to feel fitter and stronger after the first few days. There had been some really tough parts as well in the heat of the middle of the week but it was all over now.

I decided on a pint of Ludlow Gold in the Admiral Benbow for my celebratory pint. It was, as ever, in great condition and as I savoured it I thought to myself, I might do Offa’s Dyke next….

 

 

 

GW Day 1 – Knighton to Felindre – Finally, Saturday 23rd June

It had been a difficult decision, some three weeks earlier, to duck out of walking stage one with thunderstorms forecast for the afternoon. In retrospect however, given the glorious weather I had enjoyed for the rest of the week, I have no doubt that I did the right thing. I was keen though to complete the stage as soon as possible, while I still had the fitness accrued during the 8 days walking of the other stages.

So it was that a fortnight after ‘finishing’ Glyndwr’s Way in Welshpool, I set out to complete stage 1.

The 09:00 from Shrewsbury on the Heart of Wales line was populated with about a dozen people. Most seemed to be outdoor types equipped with either a rucksack or a mountain bike. We left on time and trundled down the line in our old but perfectly serviceable one carriage train. At Craven Arms however there was an issue with the points and we were sat there for about twenty five minutes and it looked like we might all have to get off but it  was sorted eventually and we arrived in Knighton about half an hour behind schedule.

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It was forecast to get up to about 24 degrees in the afternoon and the slightly later start meant that I’d be walking in the hottest part of the day for slightly longer. I’d also arranged with Pam to be picked up in Felindre at 18:00, with amendments to the ETA via text message once I knew how I was getting on.

It’s quite a nice gentle climb out of Knighton, through deciduous woodland, green lane and then half a mile of road. You then have the first, and most arduous, climb of the day, of about 200 metres, past Ebrandy farm. It pretty much levels off then and it’s mostly fields, with the noisy, neighbouring distraction of the Phil Price rally school, until Llangunllo.

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Llangunllo lost its pub, The Greyhound, for a few years apparently but it was now open again and doing rather well. The only issue was that it didn’t open until 14:00 and I had arrived at 13:00. My guidebook had said that if it was after midday you could ring the bell and if they were around they would serve you. The notice on the door said the same thing. Therefore, more in hope than expectation, I rang the bell. Nothing for about a minute. Then, suddenly, a sash window on the upper floor was opened and a head appeared, a bit like Scrooge at the end of A Christmas Carol. For a moment I thought I was going to be asked if I knew the butchers in the town with the massive turkey outside!

Instead, and perhaps more predictably, the lady asked politely if she could help me. I asked if there was any chance of a pint. She explained that she was just eating her dinner but would serve me if I was happy to sit outside – which I confirmed I was happy to do.  She couldn’t have been nicer and the pint of Otter Ale was superb. I also took the opportunity to replenish one of my water bottles and then tucked in to my packed lunch and my lovely beer on the benches outside. Great Stuff!

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As usual, it’s heavy going after lunch, especially when it has been of the liquid variety. After about half a mile of road and then the same through fields, steadily climbing all the way, you reach a wide grassy path that is easy walking for the next twenty minutes with excellent views to enjoy.

Another short, sharp climb leads to Beacon Hill and the promise of moorland walking for the next five miles around Pool Hill, Stanky Hill and Black Hill – great names. There were lots of Stonechat, a few Wheatear, Meadow Pipits and a noisy, if visually elusive, Curlew.

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I had made good progress and had earlier adjusted my ETA to 17:I0 so I had to keep the pace up but it was superb walking – perhaps the nicest stage of the lot. I arrived at Felindre bang on time and fastidiously made my way to the farm where I had been dropped off three weeks ago to complete the trail!

The sense of achievement, that was notable by its absence in Welshpool a fortnight earlier, was tangible. It felt really rewarding to have completed my first long distance walk. Plans are now afoot to at least progress from Kirkby Stephen to Richmond on the Coast to Coast this summer. I’m also looking at eating into Offa’s Dyke Path in two to three day chunks, starting with Prestatyn to Chirk over a long weekend in the next few months – so watch this space!

 

 

 

 

Post Walk Thoughts

Firstly, thanks to everyone for taking a look at these pages during the last week or so. It was fun to do and kept me busy in the evenings in the various pubs and B&Bs. Some of the comments made me laugh and it was nice to know I wasn’t just talking to myself.

I have some observations I want to make on different aspects of the walk and the countryside that I wanted to record while it was fresh in my mind. Feel free to click back if you want to … this will be a ramble of a different kind.

Pubs

We all know that pubs have been struggling for years now but it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. There were a couple of pubs, like the Royal Oak in Pont Robert, that were open all day until recently only opens inconsistently now apparently. The effect of that is that people won’t make the effort to go to a pub if they don’t know if it will be open or not.

The New Inn has been closed due to ‘staff sickness’ for months and is another one on borrowed time by the looks of things.

The Wynnstay in Llanbrynmair – basically the only accommodation option at this end of stage village – would need a lot of money spending on it to bring it up to be the standard a lot of people seem to expect these days. It’s comfortable and clean if a little tired, but could do with a refurb.

Pauline, who runs it with her husband, is really welcoming and friendly and prepares filling and tasty, if basic, meals but there just doesn’t seem to be the custom any more to enable the necessary investment. They have been there for thirty one years. The community use it, as both a pub and a shop and it seems to be ticking over but who will take over when they retire? If it closes there will be nowhere to stay at the end of stage six and Llanbrynmair will have lost its hub, pub and, I would argue, soul.

The Happy Union in Abbeycwmhir is run by a couple (it’s been in his family for seventy years) who both have other jobs, so it only opens in the evening but is at least well supported by the community and appears sustainable on that basis.

Y Star at Dylife has had some money spent on it (read ramblingman.org.uk’s GW blog to get an idea of what it was like four years ago) and seems to be holding its own but, again, it’s got a ‘monopoly’ for the end of stage accommodation so should be OK.

Machynlleth and Llanidloes will probably lose a couple more pubs each and maintain the rest for now but if the next generation don’t use pubs….

I don’t know the answer to it. People talk about taxation, supermarkets, property values, PubCo’s attitudes, the smoking ban and I think these factors have all combined to disastrous effect for communities and society. I also think culturally we have seen a change and, for whatever reasons, too many people have stopped visiting their local pub. Without that required level of regular support they become unsustainable. They will go for their annual pint on Christmas Eve to find a Tesco Local or a block of flats.

Farming

I have my own opinions on meat eating, obviously, but a thought struck me a few times this week seeing cattle and sheep in the fields – just lying down or running around in the outdoors and interacting with their young.

The increasing industrialization of farming and the threat of more US style units being introduced where pigs, sheep and cattle are kept inside all their lives is obscene.

The bullocks running round the field on Saturday morning were behaving instinctively and running as a herd, as they naturally do.

If we’re going to kill animals to eat them at least let them live a little first.

Facilities

As I mentioned, on several days I was really lucky with the warm, dry weather. It was a bit too warm some days given the effort I was putting in and on some days there was literally nowhere to get any water, short of knocking on a door.

Similarly, there were two shops and only two or three public toilets along the whole route. I guess tranquility and solitude come at a price…

I loved the walk and would probably walk a couple of the stages again. I wouldn’t do the whole thing again – I know, I’ve still got to walk stage 1 – but neither would I put anyone off walking it. My fear would be that in five years time further pubs will have been lost and the viability of the trail will suffer.

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