The Cambrian Way (well almost)

For the last two years I’ve had the focus of doing the TGO Challenge for my backpacking year. This year I was vetoed from going again because my wife didn’t want me to be away for two weeks at a time. Over the past couple of months, I’ve been thinking what to do this year.

The Cambrian Way has been on my mind for about three years, but doing it in one go entails too much time. It might well be beyond my physical capabilities as it is probably the toughest long distance walk in the UK, stretching for 291 miles with nearly 24,000m of total ascent.

I started to look at doing it in sections. Tony Drake’s guidebook divides it into three sections: Southern (Cardiff to Llandovery) 108 miles, Central (Llandovery to Dinas Mawddwy) 78 miles, Northern (Dinas Mawddwy to Conwy) 88 miles.

The trouble with trails is they feel like straight jackets, so I started playing around with the route. I didn’t fancy Cardiff to Abergavenny that much, so I decided I would start at Abergavenny (good rail link). Next I decided that I’d skip the Black Mountains and go from Abergavenny to Crickhowell to pick up the Cambrian Way proper there. This gives me a nice introduction of around five days to Llandovery over the Brecon Beacons. Llandovery is a good break point as it has a railway station.

I think I will extend the Central section to Barmouth rather than stop at Dinas Mawddwy. This makes the section about 100 miles. While I’ve mapped it, I’ve not divided it up into days, but expect it to take about 7/8 days. Barmouth is a convenient break point as it has a railway station. It also makes the next section a convenient block.

The Northern section from Barmouth to Conwy is about 68 miles, but is the toughest in terms of terrain and ascent. My rough plan at the moment is to do this in six days, but possibly to add an extra “slack” day. I shall save this for the last of the three sections, probably in August.

If I get the urge to complete the whole Cambrian Way and nothing but the Cambrian Way, then I might do the Cardiff and Black Mountains section in September. I’m not really a box ticker at heart, so I’m not that bothered. On the other hand it would be nice to complete the whole walk.

One significant advantage of doing the Cambrian Way in stages is that it gives me some flexibility in timing. I had pencilled in a couple of trips to Scotland but travel takes more planning. Unfortunately my mother is seriously ill, so I need to be sensitive to what is happening with her.

At the moment my tentative plan is Abergavenny to Llandovery in June, Llandovery to Barmouth in July and Barmouth to Conwy in August. I’m also hoping to camp all the way. I need to do some more detailed planning, particularly on the central section, which looks logistically challenging (8 days food?). I’ll do some more posts later in the year to let you know how I’m getting on.


27 thoughts on “The Cambrian Way (well almost)”

  1. The Cambrian Way (or alternatively Snowdonia to the Gower) is on my list too. Has been since I started it with a bit too much gusto a few years ago. I ended up two days ahead of schedule after only three days. Partly from doing ridiculous mileage through the Black Mountains, but the mileage took the skin clean off my heels so I had to retire in disgrace. Going back to start again is one of my options for this year, but I’ll pace myself this time.

    1. That happened to me on the Pennine Way when I was a lad. Fortunately the skin on my heels hardened enough over night for me to continue. Having read a bit about other people’s experiences on he Cambrian Way, I’m trying to be quite conservative about distances per day. In the central section, I’m going to plan in some flexibility in case I find the going easier than expected.

  2. Family illness is a difficult one to deal with, it’s on target to sabotage many of my plans for this year. Good luck with the Cambrian Way trip, I look forward to reading about it.

  3. I hope your Mother gets better soon. It will be interesting to see your report on this one. I’m currently toying with the idea of doing a walk in the little travelled mid-Wales region, just need to see if I an make a workable plan of it!

    1. Thanks for your best wishes. I bought the OS map for the Elan Valley recently. It looks an interesting area. The main problem with central Wales is public transport.

      1. Yes, there is only one station where I want to go and it’s a request stop only with very infrequent trains. But I do want to take a closer look at the area.

    1. Cadair Idris is at the end of the central section. I’ve done it before but this will be by a different route. As far as possible, the route takes in the significant mountains. The conspicuous miss is Tryfan, but I don’t think I’d want to do Tryfan with a backpacking rucksack. I did Tryfan a long time ago anyway.

  4. We did a heavily modified version of the Cambrian Way in 2012 (memorable for having agreed the sale of our house en route whilst standing in a bog in the middle of nowhere…). As I recall (unless my memory is being selective, which is possible 4 years on) the only resupply issue we had was solved by a Post Restante parcel to Devil’s Bridge.

    1. I’m tempted to carry everything on the central section as it would be a good test for walks where resupply is not an option. It would be interesting to test my Exped Thunder 70 rucksack properly.

  5. The campsites at Rhandirmwyn and Devils Bridge are pretty well stocked and Machynlleth has most things you could need (even the train!). There’s a shop in Tregaron and a little café in Pontrhydfendigaid. There’s a couple of MBA bothies in the central section too. In some ways the central section is better served than the high-level section from Abergavenny to Llandovery. I’ve done the route piecemeal but I’m saving the end-to-end for when I get rejected from TGOC. With a bit of discretion wild camping is quite feasible.

    1. I was a little surprised the route doesn’t go through Machynlleth. A detour is a possibility but it’s not that far from the end of the central section. I also noted the station. I’m sure there’s some possibilities especially for some lunches at pubs along the way. The Abergavenny to Llandovery section is not that long for carrying supplies for the whole stretch.

  6. It may be worth plotting the Coast to Coast:Snowdonia to the Gower route and overlay it on the Cambrian Way route. It follows a different line in the central section so may suggest a few options. I seem to remember that this latter route does go via Machynlleth. Another end to end route called O Fôn i Fynwy would also give some low level FWA options.

    1. If you can get hold of it there’s a book by Showell Styles, ‘Backpacking in Wales’, published in 1977 that has a north to south route giving yet more options as well as John Gilham’s ‘Snowdonia to the Gower’. In reality there is no single definitive route and the tourist board, national parks and mountain rescue folk are happy for it to remain that way. There’s particular reluctance to promote the Rhinogiau.

      1. Thanks. I’ll have a look. I’ve also had a good idea for a walk across mid Wales. I’ve even thought of a name for it 😇

  7. i walked the snowdonia to the gower in 1997 and loved it. its well work considering as said above. im going to do it again this year, i was going to wait til next year so its a clean 20 but think thats just being rather pedantic !!

  8. Robin – I totally get your wish not to be straightjacketed by Drake’s wonderful route as there are so many excellent variations. Mine was from Port Eynon to Conway in 2 weeks in 2010. Good shop and pub accom in Pontrhydfendigaid. I went directly N from Plynlimon through Hyddgen to Machynlleth over the Tarens and Idris to Barmouth – lovely country. Sorry you will not be on the TGOC this year.

  9. I have been thinking along the same lines. Your blog and plan has kept me dreaming of UK routes as I’m reading this from Rothera Research Station Antarctica. Looking forward to camping on grass.

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