Walking in the Cambrian Mountains and Mid Wales
About Walking in the Cambrian Mountains and Mid Wales
Mid Wales is the Cinderella of welsh wildernesses. Overlooked due to vested interest for National Park status in the early 70s, most of wild Mid Wales is offered no protection as is given to Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons that border the north and south of the area respectively. The Cambrian Mountains Society now fly the flag on protecting the Cambrian Mountains, which include the Elenydd and Pumlumon areas, and are campaigning for the area to be recognised as an AONB. This wilderness makes Mid Wales a good place for dark skies and stargazing, so there’s plenty to do if you visit Mid Wales.
Defining Mid Wales is rather difficult – so we’ve decided to include the counties of Powys and Ceredigion. We’ve excluded parts of South Snowdonia and the Berwyn hills that border the very northern end of this area as well as the Brecon Beacons to the south. South Snowdonia is often included as part of Mid Wales, with the mountains of Cader Idris and Aran Fawddwy being the two main peaks in this area, the latter being the highest mountain in Mid Wales. Cader Idris is the more popular of the two, and one of the most popular mountains in Wales often climbed via the Minffordd Path.
Mid Wales boasts three official Long Distance Footpaths – The Wales Coast Path, Offa’s Dyke and Glyndwr’s Way which is entirely contained in Mid Wales. There are also a selection of routes such as the Severn Way that start in the area and the Cambrian Way that crosses the best of the Cambrian Mountains.
To the northernmost part of Mid Wales, we find the Berwyn Hills which have their own section on Mud and Routes. Llyn Efyrynwy (anglicised Vyrynwy) is a reservoir, to the south of the Berwyn hills near Llanwddyn, that has some walking trails and especially popular for bird watching.
The Ceredigion Coast offers more variation to the walker visiting Mid Wales. Along the Ceredigion Coast Path, now a section of the all Wales Coast Path. This starts from Machynlleth (yes, that’s in Powys) and along to Borth, Aberystwyth and onward south through to Aberaeron and beyond.
The first part of the Cambrian Mountains proper is Pumlumon (meaning five peaks or summits) to the south of Machynlleth. Pumlumon, or more correctly Pumlumon Fawr is the highest summit in the Cambrian Mountains at 752m. Sometimes anglicised as Plynlimon – even Wikipedia is behind the curve on this one – you’ll only find place names that respect local language on Mud and Routes. Pumlumon is an expansive upland area that boasts the sources of the Afon Hafren (River Severn) , Afon Gwy (River Wye) and the Rheidiol. Pumlumon boasts some real wilderness areas, rarely visited. To the west there’s a reservoir, Nant-y-moch. The flooding of welsh valleys and the forced displacement of the local population to provide the industrial cities of Birmingham and Liverpool with water has long been controversial and a spark for welsh nationalism. One of the valleys to the north was the site of the Battle of Hyddgen – Glyndŵr’s most famous victorious battle, and another link to the tenuous independence of Wales which Glyndŵr aspired to and succeeded, if only for a few brief years. Pumlumon can be approached from all directions –with the direct approach from Eisteddfa Gurig being the most popular. From the North, it is a boggy drudge. From the Hafren Forest in the East you can visit the sources of the Severn first. However, the best approach is from Nant-y-Moch via Llyn Llygad Rheidol to the west, which at least provides some views that makes Pumlumon look like a mountain!
The other main area of the Cambrian Mountains is the Elenydd, which includes the Elan Valley. The highest point is Drygarn Fawr at 645m, which makes up for the lack of altitude with bags of remoteness and people often walk up Drygarn Fawr from Caban Coch Reservoir. Rhaeadr makes a practical base for visting the Elan Valley, sometimes known as the “Welsh Lake District” – though they are a chain of reservoirs rather than natural lakes. These are in no particular order; Caban Coch, Garreg-ddu, Penygarreg, Craig Goch, Claerwen and the tiny Dolymynach Reservoir. Large sections of the uplands here is run by the Elenydd Estate, as well as the visitor centre at Elan Village.
You could base yourself towards the western side of the Elenydd– in the Tywi Forest. There’s a cople of excellent wilderness hostels run by the Elenydd Wilderness Hostels here ar Dolgoch and Ty’n Cornel. Elenydd Wilderness Hostels are keeping the original ethos of youth hostelling alive by providing good accommodation and a base for outdoor activities in more remote and less commercially viable areas. Their website has a number of walks – which we’ll be adding to our database over time.
The Radnor Forest is is the final section of Mid Wales that has what we’d call a mountain – that is over 600m in height. Black Mixen is the highest point at 650m in height, which is included on this walk starting in Maesyfed (New Radnor) covering most of these summits. With more in common with the hills of Shropshire than Snowdonia, the hills of the Radnor Forest provide good walking nevertheless.
The Marches form the border area between Wales and England. Offa’s Dyke passes through the area and a number of border towns such as Kington and Knighton serve as bases for more sedate rambles as opposed to the rampant wilderness of Pumlumon and Elenydd.
Mid Wales offers a wide range of excellent walking – take your pick below.