Wales’s Great Trails

Harri Garrod Roberts

A guest blog by Harri Roberts.

 

National trail waymark on Offa's Dyke Path
National trail waymark on Offa’s Dyke Path

According to the Long Distance Walkers Association, there are over 1,400 long-distance paths and trails in the UK, covering a total of more than 81,000 miles. The vast majority of these routes are maintained and managed by the various local authorities through which they pass, but there is also a select group of paths in England and Wales – sixteen in total – known as National Trails. These are administered by two government agencies, Natural England and Natural Resources Wales, and are maintained to a consistently high standard. They have a high profile and are marked along their route by a distinctive acorn symbol, making them instantly identifiable.

There are currently three National Trails in Wales: Offa’s Dyke Path (about a third of which is in England), Glyndŵr’s Way, and the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. I strongly believe a more comprehensive network of National Trails is needed in Wales, one that can be marketed as distinctively Welsh and which better reflects the country’s geographical diversity. Perhaps Wales should follow Scotland’s example, where the number of national walking routes – now known as Scotland’s Great Trails – has increased from six to twenty-six since the passing of the Land Reform Act in 2003.

But what would this network of ‘Great Trails’ in Wales look like? There are several long-distance walking routes in Wales already worthy of National Trail status (or whatever the Welsh equivalent might be called), as well as numerous opportunities for creating additional routes. Below are some of my favourite contenders, including existing walks and possible new routes.

Wales Coast Path

 

A tight squeeze on the Anglesey section of the Wales Coast Path
A tight squeeze on the Anglesey section of the Wales Coast Path

When is a national trail not a National Trail? The answer is when it’s the Wales Coast Path, which, except for where it coincides with the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, is administered and maintained by each local authority it passes through. The result is inconsistencies in trail standards and route choices (try negotiating Anglesey kissing gates with a fully loaded backpack!), as well as delays in publicizing details of diversions. The situation is all the more anomalous when one considers that the England Coast Path has already been designated a National Trail – and it’s not due to open for another five years.

O Fôn i Fynwy: Wales End to End

 

O Fôn i Fynwy: Wales End to End
Setting off from Holyhead on our end to end walk across Wales

This is another biggie – but not a route you’ll find marked on any Ordnance Survey map. The walk concept was my own and involved devising a walk based on the traditional Welsh idiom ‘O Fôn i Fynwy’ (‘From Anglesey [Ynys Môn] to Monmouthshire’), a phrase still used to describe something affecting the whole of Wales. From Holyhead, the trail keeps company with the Wales Coast Path along the north coast of Anglesey, before winding its way down through Snowdonia and the Cambrian Mountains to Llandovery. After crossing the Brecon Beacons using the Beacons Way (see below), the trail links up with Offa’s Dyke Path and the Wye Valley Walk for the final leg of the journey to Chepstow. If interested, you can buy our guide to the route on the iBooks Store and in a Kindle edition on Amazon. The Walker’s Wife (Tracy Burton) has also published a personal account of our journey – warts and all – called Never too Old to Backpack.

Cambrian Way

Snowdon, Cambrian Way
Approaching Snowdon via the South Ridge, part of the Cambrian Way

The Cambrian Way was conceived by the late Tony Drake in 1968, and there were high hopes at the time that this end to end route through Wales – billed as ‘the mountain connoisseur’s walk’ – would shortly become a designated National Trail. Opposition from landowners and national park authorities put paid to such hopes but failed to prevent the Cambrian Way from becoming the most popular unofficial trail in Wales (similar in many respects to the Cape Wrath Trail in Scotland). Although organizations like the Ramblers still support official recognition of the Cambrian Way, environmental concerns and fears about walkers’ safety make it unlikely that this will ever happen – at least in the route’s current form. A number of Drake’s route choices (though not the relentless peak bagging) were incorporated into my own Welsh end to end walk, O Fôn i Fynwy (see above).

Wye Valley Walk/Severn Way

River Severn, source of River Severn, Severn Way
A helpful sign directing walkers to the source of Britain’s longest river

Starting in Chepstow, the Wye Valley Walk traces the full length of one of Britain’s most beautiful rivers to its source on the slopes of Pumlumon. It then turns to meet the Severn Way in Hafren Forest, where there’s an opportunity to visit the source of Britain’s longest river. Heading east, the Severn Way follows the youthful River Severn downstream to Llanidloes – and all the way back to Chepstow via the Severn Bridge if the urge takes you.

Beacons Way

Carmarthen Fans, Beacons Way, Brecon Beacons
Approaching the Carmarthen Fans from Llanddeusant – one of the biggest challenges on the Beacons Way walk

The Beacons Way is the official trail of the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority and follows a meandering course across the length of the national park. I incorporated most of the trail into my own ‘O Fôn i Fynwy’ walk, but the full length of the Beacons Way makes for a wonderful eight-day hike in its own right.

North Wales Pilgrim’s Way

St Hywyn's Church, North Wales Pilgrim's Way
St Hywyn’s Church, Aberdaron – where pilgrims once prayed for a safe crossing to Ynys Enlli

The North Wales Pilgrim’s Way is one of Wales’s newest waymarked trails and draws inspiration from the ancient pilgrimage routes stretching across north Wales between Basingwerk Abbey in Holywell and Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island) off the tip of the Llŷn Peninsula. Combining the historic with the scenic, the trail visits several ancient churches while also crossing the stunning northern foothills of Snowdonia. The final section of the route follows the Wales Coast Path along the dramatic north coast of Llŷn to Aberdaron.

Cistercian Way

Tintern Abbey, Cistercian Way
The medieval ruins of Tintern Abbey, one of 17 abbeys founded by the Cistercian order in Wales

The North Wales Pilgrim’s Way forms part of a more ambitious project – the Cistercian Way – to link all seventeen Cistercian abbeys in Wales via a continuous long-distance walk. The project was developed by Professor Madeleine Gray of the University of Wales, Newport, and produced a very useful website (now archived) before funding streams ran out. Undaunted, Professor Gray is busy revising the route and hopes to launch a new website by the end of 2015. For the latest news, check out her blog.

Clwydian Way

Moel Famau, Clwydian Way
A blustery spring day on Moel Famau, the highest summit in the Clwydian Range (Custom)

The Clwydian Way is a waymarked circular route exploring the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB, as well as the scenic Hiraethog region to the west. The route is marked on OS maps, and there is also plenty of useful information on the trail on the official website. A connecting path, the Hiraethog Trail, can be used to link the Clwydian Way with Snowdonia National Park.

Eryri Way

Eryri Way, Capel Curig
The Eryri Way on a blustery June day near Capel Curig

The Eryri Way has no official status but was devised by Dave Roberts of Mud and Routes as a mid-level trail through the mountains of Snowdonia. A wonderful walk in its own right, the trail also allows the more experienced backpacker to bolt on some of Wales’s most iconic peaks – weather permitting, of course. The route outlined on Mud and Routes follows a six-day schedule between Penrhyndeudraeth and Caernarfon, but the opening of the new Pont Briwet road bridge makes it possible to link up with the waymarked Ardudwy Way, extending the route south to Barmouth. However, for a full traverse of the national park, why not start in Aberdyfi? From here it looks possible to devise a wonderful mountain walk to Barmouth via Tarrenhendre, Abergynolwyn, and the western slopes of Cadair Idris.

Elenydd Round

Pontrhydfendigaid, Elenydd Round
A dramatic spoil heap near Pontrhydfendigaid in mid Wales

Smack bang in the middle of Wales lies an area of sparsely populated upland containing some of the nation’s most remote countryside. Known in English as the Cambrian Mountains, the region is more accurately described by the historic Welsh name of Elenydd. For a while now, I’ve had the urge to devise a circular long-distance trail connecting the towns and villages surrounding this beautiful landscape but have never found time to try out my proposed route. Maybe next year …

Valleys Way

The Machen Forge Trail, Valleys Way
The Machen Forge Trail (part of the proposed Valleys Way) runs along the top of this former railway viaduct

‘How Green Was My Valley’ asserted Richard Llewellyn in 1939, lamenting the transformation of the beautiful south Wales valleys into an industrial wasteland. Over seventy-five years on, these valleys are green once more, the scars of industry mostly healed. But while local councils have created an enviable network of trails and paths, the Valleys still lack a definitive long-distance trail for walkers to explore the region. My own idea for a route (another project on hold) involves connecting St Illtyd’s Walk, the Glamorgan Ridgeway Walk, and other well-used paths to create a long-distance trail between Pembrey and Pontypool. There’s a southerly bias to this route, so a more northerly option based on the Coed Morgannwg Way may also be worth looking into. The trail could even be made into a circular route, though I’m not quite sure how I’d go about doing this yet.

Black Mountains Round

 Black Mountains Round, Black Mountains
A field of daffodils below the Black Mountains’ northern escarpment

In 2013, I was commissioned by the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority to devise a walk connecting the Walkers are Welcome towns (Abergavenny, Crickhowell, Talgarth, and Hay-on-Wye) surrounding the Black Mountains. The result was a memorable five-day hike through some stunning upland scenery. Unfortunately, the walk has never appeared on the national park website, which is a great pity (I’m not sure of the reason, but it involved changes in personnel). If I were to walk it again, I would probably choose to break up the final leg between Hay-on-Wye and Abergavenny in Longtown rather than Llanthony. This avoids ascending the Hatterrall ridge twice and takes in the best bits of the Monnow Valley Walk in the Herefordshire border country.

 

So that’s twelve new National Trails already, but are there any more I may have missed? Leave a comment below if you can think of any other Welsh walks worthy of National Trail status or have any views on my own choices.

 

 

 

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