June 28, 1989: Llandegla to Llanbedr-Dyffryn-Clwyd
The Lees were still asleep when I tiptoed through their room on the way to the loo early on the morning of Wednesday, June 28. The Herefordshire farmer and his son, with over sixteen miles to go today, were just about to leave – having had an early breakfast. I said goodbye to them and went to shave in the pumpkin-colored loo.
Having only nine and a half miles to go today we could eat a leisurely breakfast at 8:30. The weather was grey and lowering and Mr. Newell predicted a wet day for us before he took off for his work in Chester. A few drops were actually falling already as we packed up. I could see from the dining room window four walkers in shorts heading south along our street. There had been a party of ODP walkers in the pub last night (one wearing a “Save the Cambridge Vet School” sweatshirt) and perhaps this was the same group. We made our farewells at 9:30 and headed north. Of course we got no further than the village store.
I stood outside in the mist while the Lees stocked up on candy and drinks. Villagers came by on canes and in cars. So much of Llandegla seemed new it was a relief to find a few whitewashed cottages. At the north end of the village we encountered the burned out hulk of the other town pub, the Hand Inn. Its sign still welcomed children and promised entertainment but there were no plans to rebuild it as a pub – which will mean a few more hundred yards of thirst for southbound walkers.
We left the village on a narrow lane between the pub and the church and we were soon in a flat agricultural country characterized by fences, meandering streams, hedgerows, and stiles. Our farmer friend had mentioned that there were supposed to be 700 stiles on the Dyke Path (he had met an old man who had complained that it took him a minute to get across each one) and to test the likelihood of his theory I appointed Tosh the stile census taker. She was practicing her French on this trip and counted them in French. It wasn’t long before we began to disagree on just how many we had mounted.
I used the ODA route notes carefully in this section and they were very useful. Occasionally the route would change direction after you had entered a new field and if you had not paid close attention to the arrow on the other side of your stile you could get confused. This happened as we crossed the little River Alun. The escape from this bovine wilderness came with an overgrown and muddy cart track that brought us out to the Llanarmon road. “Sept,” Tosh said as we dropped down to tarmac.” “That was at least neuf,” I replied.
We continued in a westerly direction, following the lane to Chweieriog farm. The farmers themselves passed us in a truck as we completed the twists and turns of this well-drained road, abandoning it for a thin trod in high grass that bypassed the farm by heading steeply uphill south of its buildings. In fact we were now about to make our first ascent to the summit ridge, the backbone of the Clywdian range that would be our chief means of progress for several days. We did not have to climb all the way to the top of Moel y Waun but there was enough exertion in the steep scramble up through three fields. Near the top we turned left along a hedgerow and passed just above Tyddyntiodion farm before reaching another motor road. Our party got a bit separated here. Tosh was far ahead and Harold, who had paused to take off a layer, was well behind.
When we were all dumped out on the road we began looking for a place to have a sit-down. There was only a little moisture in the air here but there was a wind and we eventually found some relief by sprawling on the verge beneath some trees. The Lees had their first snack.
When we had been on the ground for ten minutes we readjusted our packs and headed due north, descending to a crossing lane and coming up to the bottom of our next peak, Moel y Gelli. I sent the Lees ahead of me here so I could have a quiet pee just at the beginning of the forestry plantation on our right. I found them waiting for me next to a radio mast, near the top of our climb and they did not look very comfortable because there was a real lashing of rain just at this point.
Fortunately we did not have to reach the summit (this was the usual pattern on these hills). A brief descent took us to the foot of Moel y Plas and here we again faced a steep climb. The rain eased off again. I could see a small lake (perhaps man-made) hidden in the forestry plantation to our right. We headed up to a stile that seemed to lead directly to the heavens above. These continued to be a bit brighter than before. When we climbed over the stile we had our first uninterrupted view of the Vale of Clwyd on our left. This beautiful valley with its checkerboard of trees, hedges, fields, and villages, proved to be a constant visual delight for the next three days.
Again we did not have to climb to a summit. Instead we were able to contour along the western flank of Moel y Plas on a good path in heather that was just beginning to show its magenta blooms. A descent brought us down to a crossing lane – which headed to Llanarmon. (Had we done this trip in four days we would have had to turn off here at the end of day two – and continue for another mile and a half down to Llanarmon village.) From here another long western contour brought us around the flank of Moel Llanfair. Winds were very high on this side of the range today and I was having a battle with my rain cape. In spite of the occasional moisture, however, visibility was still very good and we were all enjoying this high level ramble very much.
We reached a track and headed back, east, to the top of the ridge. A charging Tosh walked right by our turnoff stile and I had to call her back. She wanted to know why I hadn’t used my whistle. The answer was obvious. It was buried by too many layers of raingear.
We turned north into the heather again, following the gentle undulations of the footpath until we rounded the top of a forestry plantation. Here we had to follow the occasional arrow and useful hints from the guidebook as we made our way west over pathless hilltops before beginning a very steep descent on grass to Pen-yr-allt’s farm lane.
We could now see our goal, the Clwyd Gate Cafe, on the highway ahead of us. One solution of how to slow things down today was to spend a good deal of time in the friendly confines of this roadhouse. It was 12:45 and the place was obviously open – though upgraded, we soon saw, to “Inn” status. We entered its sheltering doors, passed through a party of handicappers at lunch, and selected a table in the glassed-in-terrace. Then it was off with all the wet gear and into the ale. Well, as a matter of fact, Harold usually had a whiskey.
Three orders of plaice, peas and chips followed as we had a most leisurely lunch. I finished up with a banana shake. A Scandinavian mother and her son sat down at a table nearby and quizzed us about the route we had just completed. They were about to head south on the path (using only the OS map and carrying no packs) and needed advice on how to get started. It was fun seeing them start off for they had to climb the hill we had just descended and we had a good view of their struggles from our vantage point. Once or twice we could see brighter patches in the Vale of Clwyd, but when it was time for us to move off at last it was still raining.
At 2:30 or so we returned to the highway and headed east for a few hundred yards, turning off on a little lane where someone was clearing garden debris. “You haven’t picked a very nice day for it,” he said. We continued ahead on northerly paths and tracks, without much variation in elevation, passing through the lower margins of a larch plantation above Moel-eithinen farm. At last we reached a wall where our route switched abruptly uphill to the west. Thus we began the last major elevation rise for the day.
Another plantation appeared on our right as we reached the ridge crest. The wind was howling powerfully here and we couldn’t find any decent shelter. With my rain cape on it was as if I were sailing into the wind and encountering twice the resistance I might otherwise have felt. We were now at the foot of Foel-Fenlli and a very steep stretch up toward this hill fort began. It was like the worst of the Devon coast scrambles all over again. Once I found the Lees seated next to a direction post, waiting for me. We were not, it now appeared, supposed to go over the top of this summit either – though this is the way the route is pictured on Wright’s map. Instead (so a footnote in the ODA guide confirmed) a new route intended to counter summit erosion had been engineered around the western flank of the peak.
This proved to be fantastic path through the heather, level, and full of wonderful valley views. None of us, now that we had our breath back, regretted much the lost opportunity to reach the top of Foel-Fenlli. The wind was initially severe but this slackened as we began our descent to the pass of Bwlch-Pen-Barras. There were more and more bright patches over the Vale and we could clearly see Ruthin and the roofs of our village, Llanbedr.
When we reached the motor road I had a brief look around at the start of the next day’s route in the Moel Famau car park. I took off my rain cape for the descent to Llanbedr. There was still occasional mist but it was so slight that although my glasses were speckled no moisture settled on my blue sweatshirt. The road got steeper and steeper as we reached lower elevations. The prospect of having to climb back up on this road the next day was not a welcome one, however. “I have a project for Tosh,” I said, “Why doesn’t she see if she can get a taxi to take us back up to the top tomorrow.” Harold concurred and the lady agreed. After all, none of this stretch was the Dyke Path; doing it again tomorrow would amount to a mile and a half of empty gesture.
There were several cars on the road, necessitating our retreat to the verge. Once, after a car had passed us from the rear, a second one, right behind, stopped so the driver could lecture Harold, “I always told my children that the second car is always the real danger.” The unlucky Mr. Lee had stepped back onto the road without hearing the second vehicle.
After several twists and turns the road straightened out and headed for the valley floor steeply. A road sign in heavily wooded surroundings indicated the route to Llanbedr Hall and I knew this was our turnoff. We passed the beautiful Millstream Cottage, which also does b&b, and just inside the Hall’s gate found our house, Carneddi, a modern structure set back from the road with a steep lawn and windows overlooking the Vale. Mrs. Pauline Hughes, our hostess, showed us to two rooms enjoying such views. It was 5:00.
Mrs. Hughes, an attractive and friendly woman in her forties, served tea to us in the Lees’ room. We also had a gin and tonic. Mr. Hughes left for a game of golf and several teenage daughters ran in and out. The Lees then had a bath and I followed. They were serving bar meals at the Hall but we decided to walk into the village at 7:00 in order to eat at the town pub, the Griffin. By this time there was wet in the air again so we had to take our rain gear.
It was about a ten-minute walk down to the village – with much of the route following the stream down from Millstream Cottage and there was a wonderful smell of wet in all the foliage. After we had ordered drinks at the Griffin from our host, an Englishman in a pink striped shirt and white collar, I had another five-minute walk to the telephone call box opposite the council houses. I had a nice chat with Dorothy while looking out at the allotments and the old pensioners walking their Corgis. Most of Llanbedr seemed to be new, like Llandegla.
The soup, which changed its flavor once after we had ordered it, was watercress. It was very fresh, as the rubber band and the staple discovered by the Lees in their portions proved. I had the scampi. None of us had dessert. The place seemed to be a favorite for local eaters but there weren’t any other walkers in the Griffin tonight.
It was getting dark when we left for the return hike back up to Llanbedr Hall Road. It wasn’t raining so I was carrying all my gear – rain trousers, cape, and hat. When we were half way up the hill I discovered the loss of the hat. This object, purchased as another weapon against the sun, was by now thoroughly soaked and, I supposed, lying on the floor next to my place back at the pub. But just after Tosh and I decided to go back and look for it the hat fell out of my other gear and we could all return together.
As we were entering we had a nice chat with the Hughes family. They were walkers too, and had completed many of the sections of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and the SWPCP that we had. Their old dog rolled at our feet, seeking attention, while a bobbed tail kitten darted about. Ironically, this is one place where our missing Toby would have been welcome. With the last light fading from the Vale below us we drew the curtains after another successful day.
To continue with the next stage of our walk you need: