After a good night’s sleep, the world always feels like a better place. When we left the Crystal Palace just after 10am, it felt like we were stepping out on a different planet.
Overnight Barmouth had transformed itself into a tropical paradise. Despite the early(ish) hour, the sun was hot and the promenade buzzing with activity; after days of grey skies and drizzle, it seemed everyone was in a rush to get outside and into the sunshine.
The resort looked the same as it had when I first set eyes on it back in 2011… absolutely stunning. Right then, I just wanted to abandon our hike and stay here for one night or two, perhaps forever.
I didn’t tell Harri this, of course, just waxed lyrically about how much I loved being near the coast and how sad I’d be to leave the Welsh coastline for good. Couldn’t we shorten O Fon i Fynwy slightly, I wondered? Perhaps change it to O Fon i Barmouth?
And so it was with a heavy heart that I waved Barmouth goodbye.
Unfortunately, yesterday’s epic hike didn’t mean we were going to be taking things easy today; for a start, we had Cadair Idris to climb (though thankfully we weren’t going all the way to the summit) and a lot of climbing before then.
We left Barmouth on the 136-year-old railway viaduct which crosses the Mawddach Estuary (unlike the Dyfi, there’s no need to walk miles inland to cross this one).
The original bridge was built by the Aberystwyth and Welsh Coast Railway in 1867 and was constructed entirely of wood. Thirty-odd years later, the drawbridge section was replaced with a swing bridge with two steel spans. A pedestrian pathway – now part of the Wales Coast Path – runs parallel to the single-track railway line. Until June 2013, there was a 90p toll but the couple who collected it retired so it’s now free.
On the far side, we joined the Mawddach Trail and followed it along the southern edge of the estuary to Arthog where we walked up a steep wooded gorge to the Arthog waterfalls..
We emerged from woodland to be greeted with spectacular distant views of Cadair Idris and the prettiest mountain stream imaginable right there in front of us. We’ve been here before and love this secluded spot, so decided to stop here for our very late elevensies (our first food stop of the day is always called elevensies even if it’s mid afternoon!).
All too soon it was time to push on, although I couldn’t resist pausing occasionally – okay, every minute or two – to admire the views over the Mawddach Estuary and Barmouth, now far below us.
Our next stop was most definitely on the tourist trail. Cregennon Lakes are frequently described as the most photographed expanse of water in Wales – and given the number of lakes and reservoirs in our small country that’s a pretty substantial claim. Cregennon Lakes is a popular tourist spot.
Ten minutes walk from the car park and we found ourselves once again alone in the mountain wilderness. By now there were splendid panoramic views towards Cadair Idris. We passed the late Gwynfor Evans’s summer home, which Harri believes is still owned by his family. It’s a wonderfully isolated spot, the perfect place to escape the madness of politics.
The late Plaid Cymru leader belongs to an exclusive club of people who got the better of Margaret Thatcher. Incensed by her going back on a government commitment to set up S4C in 1980, he threatened to starve himself to death. It provoked a rare u-turn from the ‘Iron Lady’. Good on you, Gwynfor!
The whole afternoon’s route was completely new to us. We’ve walked up Cadair Idris once before (on a clear October day) but ascended from the southern side on the Minffordd Path, which involved some tough scrambling over boulders near the top. I remember being surprised that we’d seen few fellow hikers on our ascent (just one group of men with a small dog) when there were so many enjoying the views from the summit.
Of course, I now realise that the majority of those walkers had probably opted for the more popular Pony Path; at around 5k (3.1 miles) it’s the longest but easiest of the three main trails with an ascent of 2,384ft (727m). By comparison, the Minffordd Path has you climbing 2,585ft (788m) with a much tougher final clamber.
It was 4.30pm by the time we reached Tŷ Nant and were once again plunged into tourist territory. It’s great that Snowdonia attracts so many visitors – every single visitor is a boost to the Welsh economy – but with so many mountains to go around, I can’t help questioning why everyone has to flock to the same few summits? A report from Snowdonia National Park revealed that 2013 was the busiest year on Snowdon since records began – an incredible 449,327 walkers and climbers used the mountain’s main routes (up from 365,943 visitors in 2012). I suppose it’s natural to want to climb Wales’s highest mountain but please, there are other peaks.
According to Welsh legend, Cadair Idris was named after a giant, Idris, who would sit above his kingdom on the rocky crag of Cwm Cau studying the stars, composing poetry and philosophising. It is said that anyone brave enough to sleep on Idris’s bed will awaken as a poet or a madman.
The popularity of the Pony Path has inevitably resulted in erosion and much of the path has now been restored using large slabs of stone, which as well as preventing further damage, makes the climb much easier. The views from these northern slopes are spectacular and although it was quite hazy we could just about make out the ‘spine’ of the Llyn Peninsula.
We descended on the far side via a winding, grassy track. The big mountains were now behind us, yet the scenery remained wonderful with lots of dry stone walls and ruined farmhouses (who wants a house without vehicle access?).
At some point in the valley, we passed a monument to Mary Jones ‘who in the year 1800, at the age of 16 walked from here to Bala to procure from the Revd Thomas Charles, B.A. a copy of the Welsh bible, this incident was the occasion of the formation of the British and Foreign Bible Society’. Phew, the punctuation is theirs by the way.
Two hundred years later and I doubt many young people would walk 30 miles for a new Harry Potter novel let alone a bible. And the inscription fails to mention that Mary undertook her journey barefoot!
A little further down the valley, on a steep, flat-topped hill, lies the ruined Castell y Bere. One of the first sophisticated stone castles in Wales, it was.built by Llywelyn the Great (Llywelyn ab Iorwerth) and its site would have provided an incredible vantage point over the valley below.
More than forty years after Llywellyn’s death, Castell y Bere was taken by the English King Edward I who made alterations in the hope an English frontier town would grow around it. It never happened and the English finally abandoned Castell y Bere in 1294, just 11 years after they’d seized it.
While the scenery was faultless and the terrain perfect for tired feet (we were walking on secluded country lanes by now) we were tiring rapidly.
Llanllwyda Farm lies in the shadow of Craig-yr-Aderyn (Bird’s Rock in English), which must be one of the prettiest locations for a campsite in the world, especially at twilight.
As we approached we could see someone silhouetted against the skyline doing some sort of martial arts workout. Despite our fatigue, it was so tempting to climb this 820 feet (250 metre) hill for the views if nothing else but sanity prevailed.
As is often the case, when we reached the campsite there was no-one around so we decided to set up camp and sort out payment in the morning. We showered, ate and crawled wearily into our sleeping bags. This backpacking malarkey has got to get easier… hasn’t it?
‘Never too old to backpack: O Fôn i Fynwy: a 364-mile walk through Wales’ by Tracy Burton is available from Amazon’s Kindle Store and other online bookstores priced at £2.99.