GREAT JOURNEYS: Crossing the Cambrian Mountains

Here’s a wonderful blog on the ‘hidden gems’ of the Cambrian Mountains by guide expert business Cambrian Safaris.  Richard Smith is one of the areas most experienced tour operators and knows everything there is to know about where to take visitors to the area.  So whether you’re looking for the most haunted spot in the hills or the most historic hot spot Cambrian Safaris will know where to take you…

“Recently I (Cambrian Safaris) was asked to suggest some examples of ‘hidden gems’ along the boundary of Powys / Ceredigion in the Cambrian Mountains.  So here’s what I think…

Living to the west of the Cambrian Mountains, I often have to persuade people that Ceredigion really isn’t as far away from the English centres of population as it may seem to many. Historicity the mountains were quite a barrier to communication, I used to talk at Llywernog Silver-Lead Mine about how it would have been a bit like the ‘Wild West’ for people coming here for the fist time, hundreds of years ago. I think its still like that now for some, unpronounceable place names, narrow roads they dare not venture along, – the great unknown.

Heading out of the mountains towards Tregaron, here the Drovers would be nearly home. By Cambrian Safari ©

Heading out of the mountains towards Tregaron, here the Drovers would be nearly home. By Cambrian Safari ©


Convenient Location…

All the lines of communication in to Wales, both historical and modern, are along the north and south coasts. To get to Aberystwyth from Shrewsbury, for example, involves no fewer than 5 different ‘A’ road numbers in a distance of about 70 miles.

If you travel from England into Wales and across Powys, there is a great change in the landscape. Wherever you enter Wales you are suddenly surrounded by Hills, but to travel from Powys into Ceredigion you really have to mount an expedition across the mountains.

Surrounded by beauty… 

The western boundary of Powys – certainly where it borders Ceredigion, is very much hidden in the heart of the hills. Where it comes down to the coast near Machynlleth, people travelling along the A487 must be aware they are squeezed between the mountains and the sea. If you turn in land anywhere along that stretch, the roads are tiny.

Travelling the A44 to Aberystwyth, you climb as high as the mountain passes in the Lake district. Crossing from the upper Wye valley at Eisteddfa Gurig, the road passes through a narrow gap (Bwlch) as if into another world, the bends on the way down to Dyffryn Castell giving dramatic views of a new valley, then on through Ponterwyd and past Bwlch Nant Y Arian where there is a fabulous view to the coast.

If you take the old coach road from Kington to Aberystwyth, between Rhayader and Devils Bridge you climb to 1600 feet with views of the Arans and much of Northern Powys, you drop into the upper wilderness of the Elan Valley with its unusual upland meandering river and again, there is a tight pass into the upper Ystwyth Valley as you enter Ceredigion. The Ystwyth changes character at almost every turn in the road, magic around every corner. Over the hill and past ‘The Arch’ there are views of the characterful hills of the northern half of Ceredigion, to the sea and Aberystwyth.

Special routes of interest… 

Heading west from Builth Wells on the Main Trunk road which heads for Llandovery, only a few people will turn off at Beulah and follow in the footsteps of the Drovers returning to Ceredigion. The Abergwesyn Mountain road is 20 miles or so of single track road, starting off up the beautiful Irfon Valley with Oak woodlands typical of many steep sided valleys in mid Wales and then climbing the ‘Devils staircase” into the forestry, and plunging down in to the mighty Towi valley, turn left here for the spectacular Llyn Brianne reservoir, or right – if you have a very capable 4×4 – to follow the famous ‘Strata Florida’ green lane (rough track) to the monastery of that name. The regular road climbs 2 more summits, reaching over 1,500 feet, with views to the Brecon Beacons, before plunging down to Tregaron in the Teifi Vally.

Skirting the south of the Cambrian Mountains, roads from Llandovery and Llanwrda head for Lampeter, passing the Dolaucothi Gold Mines. Its possible to explore the lower Towi valley up to Llyn Brianne and a variety of roads from the upper Cothi valley over to Llanddewi Brefi and the Teifi Valley.

DSCN1939For me then, the greatest ‘hidden gem’ is the diversity of Landscape and the regularity with which the view changes, the appearance of the Landscape changes. For those who venture west, the reward is the surprise around the next corner.

Its never just about specific places, there are favourite spots of course, but visitors could waste a lot of time trying to find specific locations and miss some of the hidden gems along the way and the stories to go with the drama of the scenery.

The Cambrian Mountains have a huge amount to offer, and in crossing the Cambrian Mountains, perhaps Ceredigion its self is the greatest hidden gem of them all, with 50 miles of unspoilt, varied coastline, several major river valleys leading inland to the hills, a surprising array of specialist food producers and the most welcoming holiday accommodation you could find anywhere.

Cambrian Safaris offers tours of the Cambrian Mountains, with the option of collection from accommodation anywhere in Mid Wales. ”

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