Cistercian Way – On to Ceredigion!

Having decided last summer that the Cistercian Way project had finally run out of steam, I was a bit disconcerted to find it the subject of questions in the Senedd! Peter Black, Lib. Dem. spokesperson on heritage, had found the web site and been quite fired with enthusiasm for the idea. So we are back on track and looking for funding. (Again.)

I did spend a few days last year thinking about how the Cistercian Way might link with Andrew Dugmore’s Cultural Olympiad route across south Wales to St David’s (see the blog at https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2013/08/09/cistercian-way-rip/). This summer we found ourselves on Cardigan Bay and I did a bit more thinking. An inland route over the Preselis or Carn Ingli would be a great walk but would need a lot of work on footpaths. The coast path is lovely though it does take a long time to get anywhere. There’s scope to cut across some of the headlands and go inland to cross estuaries – in particular you can avoid the road section around Gwbert (just north of Cardigan). Leave Cardigan by the coast path but when you reach the B4548 turn right then take the waymarked path to the left through the garden of Aberdare Farm. Go to the left of the first house and the right of the second house then take the waymarked track which becomes a footpath up the stream to Ferwig. (I walked this in the opposite direction and went along the bridleway west of Ferwig. In the farmyard at Bryn Pedr the footpath is waymarked straight on through the yard and gated at the far side of the next field. I didn’t have time to explore further but it looks as though it should go through to Ferwig village.) In Ferwig take the minor road past Bolafron and several other farms (this is still in 2014 the route of the coast path as Ceredigion CC still has work to do on the coast route). The metalled road becomes a bridleway between Ty’r Yet and Nantycroy and the bridleway continues to Mwnt.

Mwnt is one of Wales’s most archetypal churches, a little whitewashed building tucked into the lee of the actual Mwnt, the steep hill on the headland. Inside the church is some remarkable medieval woodwork, carvings from the old rood screen which probably depict the Twelve Apostles. You can continue up the coast to Aberaeron then take the Aeron Valley Trail as far as Llanllyr (there used to be a guide to this at www.tourism.ceredigion.gov.uk/pdf/aber-lamp.pdf but it seems to have vanished – when we contact Ceredigion CC footpaths service we will have to check this.) After Llanllyr you are back on the main Cistercian Way.

It may in the future be possible to cut inland from Cardigan. Pembrokeshire, Carmarthen and Ceredigion footpaths teams were in 2004 working on ideas for a Teifi Valley Way. This seems to have been sidelined by the Wales Coast Path project but it might be revived. The path from Cardigan to Newcastle Emlyn is pretty much there on the ground and some of it is described in the circular trails in http://www.ceredigioncoastpath.org.uk/pdf/teifi_estuary_walks.pdf. You would probably want to visit Cardigan from the coast path, but you could simply continue on the south bank of the river along the cycle path. Alternatively, leave town by the new bridge (the Priory Bridge) and turn immediately left along the Cardi Bach cycleway (Sustrans route 82) through the nature reserve.

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(More about the wildlife centre at http://www.welshwildlife.org/visitor-centres/the-welsh-wildlife-centre/ .)

You can stick to the cycleway or take the path to the right through the wetland area. This rejoins Route 82 just after the cycleway leaves the nature reserve. Take the track up to Rhiwlas Farm (left off the cycleway, or straight on across the cycleway for the wetland path) then turn right and follow the footpath through the woods past Forest Lodge. At the car park turn right on the roughly metalled road

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then left on another track.

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When you reach the metalled road at Cilgerran go straight across and take the footpath down Cwm Plysgog and up to the castle. Cilgerran Castle is looked after by Cadw – here it is on their web site http://cadw.wales.gov.uk/daysout/cilgerran-castle/?lang=en .

From the castle take the track to the Cilgerran Coracle Centre and continue upstream past quarries and salmon traps.

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Eventually you reach the main road south of Llechrhyd. Cross the road and take the very minor road ahead of you along the river bank. The route in the Teifi Estuary Walks leaflet takes you up to the right along tracks and minor roads but

(a)    This means going UP

(b)   There’s still a fair bit of road walking and it’s on slightly busier roads than the one along the river

(c)    It gets you away from the river bank.

The road along the river is very quiet (3 vehicles in total when I walked it) and is nice and shady for much of its length. As I was walking on the hottest day of the year so far, this was quite an advantage. Eventually you bear left on a slightly busier minor road and follow the signpost to Abercych. Just before the house called Glynwell turn left down a no through road marked Ford.

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At the ford, go through the kissing gate to your right and cross the footbridge a little upstream. Turn left after the bridge then bear right round the garden wall of Penrhyn Uchaf. When the track divides, bear right and walk uphill.At the top of the hill, ignore the forest track to your left but when you go through a gate and see the track to Penlan-cenarth farm ahead of you, turn left. After a couple of hundred yards the track straight on is marked Private Road. Turn right here and walk downhill. The track becomes a metalled road which joins the B road to Cenarth. This is the only difficult section: turn left and walk about ¼ mile along a rather busy road. There is a stile in the hedge to the left but no waymark: this might be a possible candidate for a permissive right of way.

Cenarth has pubs and cafes, shops, another coracle centre and a church with a very early carved stone in the churchyard. Turn right on the main road to Newcastle Emlyn and left almost immediately through the car park of the Four Horseshoes. The footpath hugs the church wall, up the slope from the car park.

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Take the waymarked path on up the hill through a gate. Follow the hedge to your right (this is clearly an old hollow way) and through gates to the track past Old Vicarage Farm. Cross the main road and take the track straight on passing Gillo Farm to the left.

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When the track divides go left on a very rough track and uphill through a gate. Cross a stile

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and continue on the same line but with the fence to your right. The hollow way continues uphill along the edge of the woods,

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over a stile

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and down through the farmyard at Gelligatti. The track becomes a metalled road. When you reach the side road to Newcastle Emlyn you could settle for walking downhill and taking the main road into the town centre. If you still feel energetic, turn right and walk uphill into the trees then take the lane (not waymarked in 2014) down to cross the Nant Sarah and back up hill and down again to the outskirts of the town.

From Newcastle Emlyn there is no obvious footpath. There is however the track bed of the disused Teifi Valley railway. Most of this is in private hands and a short section near Henllan is in use as a heritage steam railway, but if the rest of the track could be reclaimed it would make an excellent cycle route and would link Newcastle Emlyn to Lampeter. This would go past Llangeler and provide an alternative route for the main Cistercian Way from Llangeler to Lampeter, though it would be a pity to miss out on the Brechfa Forest

The next Cistercian site on the route is Llanllyr, one of only two Cistercian houses for women in Wales. The women’s houses are often ignored by Cistercian historians but they are an important part of the story. Jemma Bezant’s recent excavations at Llanllyr are adding immensely to our understanding of the layout of the precinct and its water management systems.

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It’s an enormous pity that these excavations are not being properly funded, by her university or by anyone else. The important work is being done by volunteers, and academics working in their ‘spare’ time. This means that there is no money for radiocarbon dating and precious little for anything else. Wales gets left out of a lot of the serious research funding, and bodies like the Heritage Lottery Fund are often reluctant to give to academic-led projects because they fear we are elitist. There has been some recent money for projects linking academics and the ‘real world’ of creative and heritage industries, but most of the money seems to be going on events and network-building with hardly anything left for the actual projects. We seem to be breeding a whole new level of funding and networking managers, while the actual primary research is being done on scrimps and written up on Sunday afternoons. If there’s no money, there’s no money: but if there is a bit of money, for goodness sake give it to the people who are actually DOING something.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Wooding (formerly of Lampeter, now the Sir Warwick Fairfax Professor of Celtic Studies at Sydney – our loss, their gain) has been working on Llanllyr’s early history and decoding an early medieval inscribed stone from the site to suggest a complex history of earlier foundations. He hasn’t written this up yet and I’m a bit vague on the details but it is all very exciting. Cistercian houses were supposed to be on unsettled and uncultivated land, but the more we look at the Welsh sites, the more we realise that many of them were on sites with earlier ‘Celtic’ foundations.

Llanllyr is now a private house and there’s no public access, though the gardens are sometimes open under the National Gardens Scheme. The family market water from the nuns’ well as Llanllyr Source Water (http://www.llanllyrwater.com/httpdocs/ ). They have been very supportive of the excavation and research, and would probably be open to requests to visit the site from serious students.

From Lampeter, you can follow the Ceredigion CC’s Aeron Valley trail in reverse to Llanllyr. We did this in 2005 and it worked very well (apart from some difficulty finding the starting point in the back streets of Lampeter). From Llanllyr we walked along side roads to Llanddewi-brefi then up the ridge to the east and along tracks and minor roads down to Tregaron. This wasn’t really satisfactory. We made repeated attempts to work out through routes off road but all were blocked at some point, and there was too much walking on busy side roads. As part of an EC-funded rural development project, Ceredigion Council and the Ramblers have cleared and waymarked paths in south-west Ceredigion as a ‘Paths for People ‘ project. One of these goes from Tregaron to Llangeitho, and could be walked in reverse. Llanllyr to Llangeitho would be mainly minor roads but there are some possible paths through the woods between Abermeurig and Capel Betws Lleucu.

Missing Llanddewi-brefi would be a pity, but Llangeitho is another key point in Welsh history. The Welsh Methodist pioneer Daniel Rowland was born here in 1713, the son of the vicar, and for some years he was himself curate there. His powerful preaching attracted huge crowds but his ideas were unpopular with the Anglican establishment. He was forced to leave the church in 1763 and his followers built a new chapel whose successor can still be seen in the village.

Llangeitho has a café, shop and pub. Walk through the middle of the village to Gwynfil Chapel and the statue of Daniel Rowlands.

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Go up the steps to the right of the chapel, up the grassy slope behind it and over a stile which seems to have lost its waymark. The next bit is VERY overgrown

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(I have a feeling that the Ramblers enjoyed clearing the route but don’t now walk it with the same enthusiasm!) – persevere and keep the hedge to your right as best you can. Go through a gate, along a short section of very overgrown track, through a double gate and left on a stony track. Just before the cottage, bear right and walk up to a gate.

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Walk diagonally up the next field to a gate and stile in the top left corner. Bear slightly left across the next field to cross a stile in the top hedge. Follow the line of trees to your right and go through the gate at the top right corner of the field. Turn left on the track to Birch Hill farm.

Just before the farm, the footpath has very sensibly been diverted to bypass the farm yard. Go through a pedestrian gate to your left and walk to the left of the farmyard wall.

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Continue on the same line down the field with the hedge to your right. (The old lane from the farm is still there as a hollow way to your right but impassable in places.) At the bottom right corner of the field, go through the gate and bear left across the next field. This takes you to a stony track and a causeway over a little stream.

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Follow the track but don’t go through the gate to the left. Keep the hedge to your left and walk up hill, then go through the gate at the top left corner of the field. Continue up hill with the hedge to your left and go through the gate at the top right of the next field.

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Turn left and follow the hedge on your left to another gate. Through the gate, turn right on the track to Llanbadarn Odyn church. You can see the church below you on the track – a typical little Welsh stone box, as plain inside as any chapel, witness to a millennium and a half of devotion since Padarn’s disciples brought his mission to these hills.

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At the end of the track, you can turn left and walk down to the church. When I was there, a local farmer was strimming the grass and his wife was raking it into windrows: it has been a good year for hay. The views from the churchyard over the upper Aeron valley are stunning. Retrace your steps along the road. In a little over half a mile, you cross the famous Roman road known as Sarn Helen after Helen the mother of Constantine, who became a figure in Welsh legend. Continue straight on along a metalled lane which becomes a farm track. Ignore the turnings to Trewain and Glangors farms. After half a mile, the track turns left then right to go through the farmyard at Tan-y-bryn.

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Pass to the left of the bungalow then turn left through the old farmyard. Just after the old farmhouse, a bridle gate to the right leads to a heavily overgrown track. (You can if necessary bypass this by going along the lane and through the next gate to the right.) Follow the hedge to your right round the field to a bridle gate at the far side.

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Walk along the stony track round the right of the next field

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then through another gate in the far hedge.

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Follow the hedge to your right round the next field,

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past a waymarking post, along a fence and up to a gate. Walk up the hedge to your right,

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then when it bends to the right walk straight on across the last part of the field. Go through the gateand turn right on a stony track. When another track joins from the right, turn left

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and walk through three gates. The track becomes a metalled lane and bends sharply to the right. When the lane turns sharply left, follow the waymarked track to the right through the farmyard

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marked as Derlwyn on the OS map but named as Brynderi in the ‘Paths for People’ booklet (oddly, the footpath here seems to have been diverted to run through the farmyard). Turn left in front of the farmhouse and go down a stony track. When this bears right into a field, take the grassy track ahead of you.

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Bear left across the next field, down to the Teifi

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and cross the footbridge. Walk up the far bank and along the hedge to your left. Go through a gate into the farmyard at Bryn and turn left to walk along the farm lane. Bear right into the farmyard at Ystrad Caron then left on a metalled track past the school to the main road. The chapel on the corner, Capel Bwlch-gwynt, is another key place in the story of Welsh nonconformity.

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Turn left and walk over the bridge into Tregaron. Here you have your second statue of the day. Henry Richard, the peace campaigner, was born in Tregaron (the son of another Calvinistic Methodist minister) and went on to serve as MP for the Merthyr Boroughs.

From Tregaron the route is the one we walked in 2005: up the minor road to Blaencaron and over the hills to Strata Florida, through the grounds of Hafod, past Pumlumon and along the line of the Roman road to Snowdonia. So all we need to do is find some off-road sections from Llanllyr to Llangeitho and that’s Ceredigion sorted…

Oh, and we also discovered the Ceredigion on Horseback project (more on this on http://ceredigionbridlewaysgroup1.webs.com/home.htm). Robin Hanbury-Tenison (‘doyen of British explorers’ according to the Spectator) is keen to ride some of the Cistercian Way on his Camargue horses. Ceredigion’s bridleways could be just the thing.

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One thought on “Cistercian Way – On to Ceredigion!

  1. Pingback: Getting back on track | heritagetortoise

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