Sometimes you need someone else to revive your belief in your own projects. Out of the blue, I had an email from Roger Haggar of Llandre in Ceredigion. He has been working on a trail round some of north Ceredigion’s churches (http://www.peaceful-places.com/ ), came across the Cistercian Way, realised it actually linked several of his churches (Hafod, Cwmystwyth, Ysbyty Cynfyn, Ystumtuen and Strata Florida itself). Could we work together to develop plans for pilgrimage trails?
We were planning to get away for a bit after our rather muted Christmas. Ceredigion looked good. There was a cottage available in Clarach Bay. We got there without too much difficulty and planned a couple of days’ walking round the meeting with Roger Haggar. While I was revisiting the route north from Ponterwyd to Machynlleth (a glorious ridge route above steep wooded valleys, the hills powdered with snow)
Steve spent the day exploring the lead and silver mines around Goginan and Cwm Symlog. This is Wales’s Potosi (literally – the silver mines at Esgair Hir and Esgair Fraith were run by the Welsh Potosi Company) with lead producing up to 50 ounces of silver per ton. There was even a mint in Aberystwyth for a while. But eventually it all fizzled out. Until you look in detail at the ruined buildings and the spoil tips under the bracken, you wouldn’t realise you were walking through an industrial landscape.
We did Ponterwyd-Machynlleth in 1998 following the Cambrian Way route over Pumlumon. In 2005 Andrew Dugmore and I walked up the valley to the ford at Hyddgen and up the ridge from there but in heavy mist – I really don’t know which way we went. The walk along the ridge now picks up the Glyndwr Way. Natural Resources Wales has adopted this as a national trail and done a lot of development work and it now looks like the route to follow. (I did try some alternatives, ran out of time and ended up on the road – next time I’ll stick with Glyndwr.)
The meeting with Roger Haggar was everything we’d hoped for. The Peaceful Places project is pretty much complete and ties in with other local projects – a poetry trail above the churchyard at Llanfihangel Genau’r glyn,
research on monuments in the churchyards, local stories, guides to places to stay and other things to do. Roger now wants to link the project with other schemes and the Cistercian Way seems like a good way of doing this. He was enthusiastic about the Cistercian Way, we were enthusiastic about what he has been doing, and he is now pushing me forward. After all, what else can a professor of agronomy do in retirement? We are going to meet with Ramblers, Ceredigion CC footpaths officers and other local people interested in walking. Better get a move on.
At Cwmsymlog Steve saw a waymark for a Ceredigion County Council trail from Borth to Pontarfynach (Devil’s Bridge to the English). This looked like an epic walk and one which would link some more of Roger Haggar’s Peaceful Places churches. Why hadn’t I heard of it? We couldn’t get hold of leaflets but I managed to walk most of it from Bwlch Nant-yr-arian to the coast following the waymarks. It’s been splendidly designed with stiles, footbridges and waymarks all in place – all it needs now is some people to walk it. Then I went to re-walk my own route from Hafod to Ysbyty Cynfyn (two of the Peaceful Places churches) and found that much of the way I was walking along another Ceredigion CC waymarked route from Pontrhydfendigaid to Pontarfynach. We did manage to extract some leaflets when the tourist office reopened on the Friday. The route goes to Pontrhydfendigaid rather than Strata Florida but apart from that it’s very close to what we walked in 2005.
So what we have (courtesy of CCC) is a good route from Llangeitho to Tregaron (see https://cistercianway.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/cistercian-way-on-to-ceredigion/ and scroll down), from Tregaron up over the moors to join the Cambrian Way to Strata Florida, across to Ffair-rhos, follow the CCC paths through Pont rhyd-y-groes to Cwmystwyth and up through the forest.
Siloam Chapel in Cwmystwyth is part of the Peaceful Places trail and has a local history archive in the vestry. (Only open occasionally – details on peaceful-places.com.) The Cambrian Way goes up the footpath opposite the chapel, along a little stream and across the moors, but it is very wet and boggy underfoot. For the Pontrhydfendigaid-Pontarfynach route go back up the valley a little way and take the very minor road to the left. Ignore the first 2 footpaths to the left then near the top of the hill at Tynyffordd take the waymarked path across the angle of the roads. When you reach the next road turn right then left immediately and follow the waymarks across the moor and into the forest. The path is very wet and boggy underfoot but well stiled and waymarked with footbridges across most of the streams (much of the work done by students of the Institute of Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University).
Cross two forest roads then turn right on the forest road from Gelmast. In about ½ km follow the waymarked track up to the left. This climbs quite steeply and cuts across more forest roads then down a steep and very boggy slope. The section from about 774 770 to 772 775 has been badly damaged by logging.
Continue on the same line across another forest road and down to a clearing.
Here you leave the Pontrhydfendigaid-Pontarfynach route which goes down the Mynach valley. Cross the footbridge, walk up the far bank then head for the far left corner of the field.
Down in the dip is a bridge, then steep steps up the far bank. Turn right on the forest road then left almost immediately up a VERY steep stony path.
This is a punishing climb but you are rewarded as the views open up. (You can take an easier climb by continuing along the forest road and cutting back, but you have to make the climb eventually and it adds a mile to the day.)
At the top of the ridge you leave the forest and follow the track down through Tymawr farm. Turn left on the main road (care needed here – the road is fast and quite narrow) and Ysbyty Cynfyn church is on your right. There’s a good interpretation board in the churchyard which (among other things) points you to the tragic memorial to a family of quads plus two siblings and their father, killed in a typhoid epidemic.
From the church go down into the valley and cross Pontbren Offeiriad (Parson’s Bridge) and walk up the far bank then turn right to head for Ponterwyd.
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Ceredigion CC’s waymarked footpaths open up all sorts of other possibilities. From Aberystwyth head up the coast path to Borth, follow the waymarked paths to Pontarfynach and on towards Pontrhydfendigaid, divert inland to Strata Florida, back to Tregaron and the link to the Ystwyth Trail. That would make a wonderful week’s walking. Or there are shorter trails round the Peaceful Places churches: Hafod, Cwmystwyth and back via Pontarfynach; Pontarfynach to Ysbyty Cynfyn and Ystum Tuen; Hafod to Pontrhydygroes and Ysbyty Ystwyth and back over the moors; and walks round the lead mines.
And the wonderful Bishop Wyn of St David’s has agreed to be our patron. This is all very heartening. At this rate we may actually get our web site covering all of Wales’s pilgrimage routes, and even something plotting all the promoted paths in Wales. Ymlaen a ni.