Cwmdeuddwr Hills – a walk on the wild side   10 comments

Buried at the back of one of the volumes of my “Hillwalking in Wales” guidebook was a chapter about the Cwmdeuddwr Hills. Where the hell are they? Out came the maps and I discovered they are a range of hills to the south of the Elan Valley in mid-Wales. The general tone was one of tough, yet shy and retiring hills and open moorland with pleasant valley approaches. Just the thing for a quiet day out. The best sounding approach was from the north using the Rhiwnant valley. However it’s orientation would mean that at this time of year it would be in shade for most of the day so I chose to come in from the south near Abergwesyn. I also have an AA walking book with this route in titled “A walk on the wild side” (hence the post title) so armed with both guides and a map printed from Bing maps (I didn’t have the map of this area), I headed out on Sunday a couple of weeks back.

My usual map extract is below but in case anyone wants to follow my route and doesn’t have the guides I’ll be a little more specific than usual with a couple of route descriptions. As you’ll see some of the terrain is pretty wild and untamed so I hope my tips may help out.

Route Map - 11 miles, 1800 feet of ascent

I parked up a short walk down the road from where the route starts outside the local village hall. I got the distinct impression that this area is not frequently visited by walkers and it felt quite a lonely neglected spot as I put my boots on. The weather was reasonably clear although there was a hint that the tops may be cloudy as I set off across the fields.

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Lower Gwesyn Valley

The first section is on a well made track down to the river where there was no bridge and I had to ford it (memo to self – RTFGB – I’ll leave you work out the acronym)

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Wet crossing

As you may be aware I’ve been moaning on a couple of recent posts about my North Face boots with the hole in the rand. I’d tried some Heath Robinson repairs the night before (basically some ultra-strong duct tape over the hole) but the rand had been cleverly manufactured from a Teflon substance and it had already peeled off. The water was ankle-deep and a couple strides across. I just ran across it and ended up with just one very wet foot where the water seeped – sorry, poured – in through the hole. I’ll stop moaning now. 🙂

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Gwesyn Valley

The path then passes a small group of trees and bends left towards the river. You don’t follow this but head up and across the meadow into the next group of trees where you pick up a path that crosses a small stream and then curves left to exit into a meadow below some farm buildings. If you then head up and across this field you pick up the main path that takes you along and into the Gwesyn valley. As you pass under some rocky outcrops the path turns north and you enter a stunning, wild and hidden valley.

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Upper Gwesyn Valley

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Upper Gwesyn Valley

The autumn colours were stunning and the stream had numerous small cascades and deep, dark, brown pools.

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River Gwesyn

Just the sort of valley I love and I had it all to myself. It was a cracking walk up this lonely valley and I wasn’t even aware of any boot prints in the mud, a sure sign that this is not a well walked route. I alternated between sticking to path and trying to follow the river, looking at the cascades and trying to spot small campsites for future reference. After a while the banks became terminally soggy so I just returned to the path. There were several of these pretty fungi near the path but they aren’t in my Collins guide. Anyone know what these are?

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Mystery fungus

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Upper Gwesyn Valley

After a couple of miles you come to an impressive waterfall Sgwd y Ffrwd, a wonderful spot for a summer picnic, with some pools for swimming on a hot day.

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Sgwd y Ffrwd

The path climbs up the waterfall and promptly vanishes into the boggy ground, and I do mean boggy. After a few minutes there is a fairly prominent ridge coming in from the right (for prominent read about 6 feet high) that gives some respite from the bog. Alas you have to cross about 50m of astonishingly deep tussocks and bog to get to it. Several times I found myself up to my waist in tussocks with my feet under water. When I reached the sanctuary of the ridge the fact that my left boot had a hole was somewhat irrelevant – both feet were now wet.

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Out on the moors, Drygarn Fawr in the cloud in the distance

To compensate I coud now see this wild upland area expanding before my eyes. It appears as a huge expanse of brown grassy hills with little in the way of prominent features. It’s absolutely stunning, untamed, untracked and largely untouched if you can forgive the forestry plantations to the west. Looking north I could see that Drygarn Fawr, the highest point was still in the cloud but I reckoned it would clear shortly and so it proved.

Once on this very minor ridge you just follow it upwards for a few hundred metres and pick up one of the sheep-tracks running across the slope and start making tracks for the summit. There are no paths but I had no real problems stringing together a succession of these tracks and it was nothing like as boggy as I’d feared. Drygarn Fawr came out of the cloud as I crossed the huge tussocky expanse below the summit, revealing it’s twin cairns. Once up onto the ridge the going became much easier to the summit.

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Drygarn Fawr

If you can find some water draining the bog there are plenty of spots to throw up a tent on the ridge. The two summit cairns are enormous and well made. Neither of my guidebooks mentioned what they are but they certainly stand out. They seem to be a feature of many of the hills in mid-Wales.

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Drygarn Fawr looking east

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Drygarn Fawr looking west

The views from the top are breathtaking in their wilderness. Just mile after mile of endless wild grassy moorland. The distances between the summits are vast and a walk from here to the other main summit of Gorllwyn across this terrain would be a serious test of navigation and stamina.

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Looking towards the Rhiwnant valley

My route was taking me across the vast trackless wilderness to the summit of Carnau to the south-east.

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The "path" to Carnau

There is a fairly obvious grassy track that heads of eastwards and I followed this with the boundary marker posts to my right for company. At the point where the track completely flattens and makes a turn to the left there is boggy path leading straight on, roughly following the boundary posts and onto the featureless plateau of Bryn Rhudd. They seemed to be scraping the tussocks of the moor for some reason. What’s left when they have I hear you cry? Bog!

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Cleared tussocks

Main problem is the terrain is so flat you can longer see the cairn on Carnau so it’s hard to judge the direction. From here the guide said to simply keep to whatever passes for high ground to stay out of the worst of the bog although compared to the bits by the waterfalls earlier it wasn’t too bad. In essence you just keep vaguely following the boundary posts using whatever sheep tracks to ease progress. Safe to say navigating across this in poor visibility would need a lot a patience and skill with the compass. I was soon approaching Carnau with its little sting in the tail in the form of a swamp that completely surrounded the top. My drying boots were now replenished with a fresh supply of water. As I approached I saw a mountain biker on the summit but he’d gone by the time I got there. Turns out he was the only person I saw all day.

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Drygarn Fawr from Carnau summit

After a brief snack I moved on, there was a pretty cold wind blowing and up here on the moors there is little option to find shelter. I headed down on a very soggy section of path towards an obvious river valley. As is my want when I’m out walking on my own, I was talking out loud to myself. I was halfway through the phrase “this looks like a place where my leg could vanish into a bog” when, well I think you can guess. It was my holed-boot foot as well although when your leg goes into watery bog up to you thighs, the hole in your boot is a tad academic.

The little river gorge of the Nant Gewyn and Esgair Gul was most impressive and the walk along the top edge and across the grass towards the forest was one of the highlights of the day.

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Nant Gewyn and Esgair Gul

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Heading towards the forest

There then follows a mile through the forest itself. I’m not a great fan of forestry road walking so I just pushed on through to the other side for the start of the final stretch down. The first part of this was along a farm track fenced in on both sides, again not my idea of pleasant walking and totally out if keeping with the wild landscapes from the earlier parts of the day. Once past the farm the character changed completely with some stunning views across the east and lovely autumn colours in the trees.

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Evocative sunlight

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Autumn colours

I found a nice sheltered spot in the field near Bryn Clun and lost myself in the landscape, still enjoying the loneliness and isolation this walk had delivered.

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Looking east from near Bryn Clun

Satisfied with my efforts I completed the final couple of miles back to the car. If you’re after crags, rocky ridges and lofty summits then these hills aren’t for you. However if you’re after solitude and a wild untamed landscape with serious effort rewarded by views of hills that most will never have heard of or seen then pay the Cwmdeuddwr Hills a visit, you won’t be disappointed

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10 responses to “Cwmdeuddwr Hills – a walk on the wild side

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  1. Andy great photos. It has been years since I have been in the Elan Valley area, but I have not walked this area. Looks very peaceful. I like the fungi photo – I cannot help you with the name of it !!

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    • Thanks Mark. We used to visit the Elan valley a lot when I was a kid for picnics and I especially used to enjoy it when the water was coming over the dams. This is the first time I’ve ever walked these hills and i hope I conveyed that they are a truly special place.

      Hopefully Mark over at Beating the Bounds might be able to shed some light on the fungus – he’s the resident nature expert

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  2. Simply superb Andy, such a great area that not many people walk. It is also know as the Abergwesyn common (after the tiny hamlet at its foot) and thankfully it is owned by the National Trust who brought it so that it would not be covered in conifers. Hopefully it and the Elan to the north will be safe from Industrialisation. But then who would have predicted what is happening to the hills now only a few years back?

    Keep visiting the wild spots and writing about it!

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    backpackingbongos
    • Lets hope that the NT ownership protects this area. Hills like these seem to be the prime candidates for wind-farms and it would be an absolute travesty if these hills were trashed like so many others. I’m enjoying these secret places, I’m surprised it’s taken me 10 years of living this way to find this one 🙂

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  3. Surfnslide – the blog that reaches the parts that other blogs can’t reach!
    You are a man on a mission to bring to the world stunning views of hills with unpronouncable names which I have hitherto never heard of. Top stuff!
    How big were the toadstools? I’ve got Hygorcybe strangulata (Orangeroter saftling) as a possible, but they are quite small (less than 5cm).
    This is a link:
    http://www.rogersmushrooms.com/gallery/DisplayBlock~bid~6158~gid~~source~gallerydefault.asp
    To the online version of the book I used, and looks like a really useful resource.
    No video of you sinking into the thigh-deep mud? (I have a mental image anyway and am still chuckling.)

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    beatingthebounds
    • I’m after a “Vision Statement” (too much time in the corporate world) for my blog after suggesting one for Ken over at Fatdog Productions. I like yours 🙂

      I’ve typed the name of these hills countless times now and I still have to look it up every time. I also like the fact the name of the waterfall doesn’t have single vowel in it. Smashing route this one although it is boggy and that hole I plopped into was very nasty

      I reckon the one in the middle of the right hand photo on that link clinches it – the slightly upturned edges, although the larger ones were 5-7 cm across. All the local fields and even the churchyard are full of fungi and mushrooms of all types. I have some more to identify from a walk up Hergest Ridge on Sunday. Watch this space!

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  4. how about – “the blog that reaches the bogs that other blogs can’t reach!” 😀

    sounds a lot like Graham country tackling these hills, remote, untouched, unpathed and boggy! looks quite nice walking on the lower reaches though.

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    • Now that staement is much nearer the truth 🙂

      I also like “Thinking outside the bog”

      I don’t the mind the bog all that much to be honest, price worth paying to get access to magificent country like this. These are the anchovy carbonara of hills, don’t look much on paper but once you’ve tried ’em you understand their quality

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  5. Though boggy, these look interesting for those moments when you need to leave civilisation after you. Amazing to think that there are so many unfrequented corners like this in Wales. Thanks for sharing this.

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    • Thanks John, well worth a bit of soggy feet to experience this corner of unknown Wales. I’m trying to seek out the lesser known spots and found another one this week, post to follow later this evening

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