Elenydd Wilderness Hostels Hosteli Unigeddau'r Elenydd
Cycling in the Elenydd

© (h) Janet Hollins, 2011





The Elenydd in 1968

a letter written by George Powell, a member of the Rough Stuff Fellowship


April 10th 1968

Dear Norman and Sue,

How pleasant to hear from you once again. I am sorry to hear that you are not going to Peebles, but I quite understand - in fact I probably should not be going but for the fact that John Sullivan is going up in his Cortina with a big roofrack and has invited me to go up with him. He is staying here for the Thursday night and again on the way back, which knocks 100 miles off the total Journey each way, which is quite a consideration when going from Bournemouth to Peebles! It also means that I can travel light as far as the cycle is concerned, and stick my weekend kit in the back of the car. Getting quite soft, aren't we!

Now re- your query. I can give you the latest gen, as Bill Williams did this area this last summer and had fine weather for once. By the way, poor Bill has just had a nasty smash - brake failure on a steep hill in the Gower - bike a total write off and Bill with a cut head and bruised back, and would have doubtless been more severely damaged had he not thrown himself off.

The Doethie Valley route is a poor footpath throughout. Part is very overgrown, part marshy, and in one or two places it goes over rocky outcrops and also skirts rather crumbling edges. We walked it from (and back to) Tyn-y-Cornel, but a fellow member brought his bike up that way, and found it hard work. Doubtless a tandem could be got through, but I personally should not care for the job. You do not say whether Catherine is going - but if so the Doethie is out.

The easy way is from Tregaron via Llandewi-Brefi hilly but good road except the last half mile. If you two are on your own, there is an alternative road - up Towy beyond Rhandir-mwyn, following the now improved road as far as it goes, and then the very rough track as far as Trawsnant farm (now ruinous) and down to the ford over a side stream Just beyond. This is bridged by a 'bridge' made of two poles and a hand rail, over which we found it difficult to get even a cycle - the tandem would have to go unless you are experts -very- through the water, usually not deep. Just beyond this point there is a bridge over Towy itself, then turning right you will come to the new Forestry road up the Camddwr, a shelf road cut out on the edge of the gorge, and although the main gate is kept locked there is a little side gate which will allow walkers and cyclists to get through. At the other end of this road, with a similar pair of gates, you find yourself close by Soar-y-Mynydd the little Chapel-cum-school which is well worth a visit. Here is a footbridge over Camddwr which takes you by a mostly green track over Cam-Saith- Wraig to the ford of Doethie Fach and so to Tyn-y-Cornel. The slope up from Soar-y-Mynydd is very steep, but the pair of you could get the tandem up, and then the opposite slope is not too bad, though the last drop to the ford is a bit steep for riding. Incidentally, as you drop to the ford, at the last hairpin bend, just by a writhen thorn, you will see the beginning of the path down the Doethie Valley, of which I have already spoken, and can judge what sort of going it would be. If Doethie should happen to be in spate, one of you will have to wade through with the tandem, but the other can get across by means of a pole and wire a few yards upstream (it is really part of a fence, but can be used as a bridge if really vital). From the ford it is only _ of a mile to the hostel, which is quite luxurious, though 7 hard miles from the nearest shops at Llandewi-Brefi, which has two or three where plenty of food supplies can be had. The church there is quite interesting, including very ancient inscribed stones inside the building itself.

Of course, if you do not fancy the Carn-saith-wraig track, you can go on up the Camddwr road from Soar-y-Mynydd till you strike the Abergwesyn-Tregaron road, and so via Tregaron and Llandewi-Brefi, but it adds a lot of miles - and hills. The road from Ffair-Rhos is good going till you are nearly past the five Teifi Pools (two are now reservoirs, alas!) and then goes really rough, but rideable in places, with really wild scenery, then you drop to ford the Claerddu (quite shallow, usually) After this ford the track is less rocky and in parts rather boggy, and if you keep to the plainer right hand track you will come to the wooden bridge over the Claerwen near Claerwen Farm, and so down the eastern side of the Claerwen reservoir to Join the Elan valley road and so to Rhayader. All rideable after the wooden bridge. Should you desire something rougher, keep left-handed and you will come to the old ford over the Claerwen, and then up on the ridge again and after crossing a rather marshy patch you will come to Carn Ricet - a cairn of stones with a white top -though the white stones we replaced some years ago may again have been dislodged by sheep, and then by a green turfy track emerge on the tarmac at the point where the Elan Valley road joins the old Coach road to Aberystwyth by an extremely steep hairpin bend. The ford over Claerwen may be too deep, in which case you can take the wooden bridge crossing and then rejoin the old track by cutting straight up the green slope N.E. just beyond the farm, and will soon see your track coming up from the ford on your left. And the best of luck, I may say. I took a fourteen-year-old boy from Ffair Rhos to the wooden bridge and he enjoyed himself, while the Cam Ricet track was done by Wilf Cooper and myself and two others on the morning of our Easter Meet at Rhayader several years ago. (As far as Pont-ar-Elan)

Warning:- Book in good time for Tyn-y-Cornel. Though lonely, it bids fair to be a popular hostel. Also, the Warden, Mr Lewis, though quite friendly, (especially if you can rustle up a few words of Welsh) is a bit too optimistic and will recommend you to tracks which, while quite passable to a farmer mounted on a hill pony, will prove a bit much for a couple on a tandem!! He told Bill and me of a track via Broribyrfe and Draen-Llwyn-du to the Twrch valley, which Dennis [Dennis Veasey of Birmingham] and I had already found to be unspeakably bad, but Bill wanted to try it, so we did and again and got involved in miles of bog and those deep gullies full of black mud and water at the bottom which are a cyclist's nightmare and which took us two hours to do three miles and would have quite beaten the hardiest tandemons! (pardon the term,) What a pity that the projected new hostel up in the hills N.E. of Rhandir-mwyn has not yet materialised as it would prove very useful for a start to Towy exploration. By the way, did you read Bill Paul's effusion in the C.T.C. magazine this time? He spoke of the two fords at Llanerch-erfa which have ceased to be fords for the last four or five years, being replaced by a concrete pipe-raft. Moreover, if you ford a river twice it is an indisputable fact that you will find yourself back on the bank on which you started, no matter how winding the river may be. Of course it is the three fords of Irfon that he meant, but I wish when he announces himself so loudly as our Founder he would take a little more pains to verify his facts and not make us a public laughing-stock! But doubtless you have sampled the fords in question, on the Abergwesyn-Tregaron road. Glad to hear that you are getting on well with your extension plans. I am relieved that our little bit of annexe is well and truly off hand, so that I can turn to other matters. I am committed to giving two or three weeks to an archaeological dig on a Neolithic Long Barrow near Burford in June-July, and a further two weeks on the Iron Age hill-fort on the Malverns in Aug. But have still found time to plan a trip down into Dorset along the Ackling Dyke and other ancient tracks. Bill Williams was to have come too, but now I shall have to do it on my own.

Well, if I do not stop I shall have to pay extra postage on this packet! So here is wishing you all the best in health and happiness, and especially a good trip in the Towy valley and indeed the whole of the Elenith!

Yours sincerely,


The Upper Towy in 1978

an article written by H H Willis, a member of the CTC and RSF
(comments by Steve Griffiths)


I first saw the Upper Towy in 1929. It was a Sunday at Abergwesyn so we were not surprised that the Grouse Inn (now the large farmhouse on the corner where the Devil's Staircase road starts) would not serve even a pot of tea. Near the triple ford (now the three bridges) we spoke to a Welshman whose English was somewhat rusty - in such a place he could have little need of it. No farmer then owned a tractor or car, transport being by pony, on which the postman made his round, or the high-built two-wheeled cart. The only road bridge for miles was at Nant-y-Stalwyn (the farm just above Dolgoch hostel, the building still being there), where the river is crossed by the road from Abergwesyn to Tregaron, and most of the footbridges by fords were just a single tree-trunk of no great diameter, one side cut to give a flat surface on which turves were laid. Sometimes there was one handrail, of moral rather than physical support, being always wobbly. I crossed these with the fingers just touching the rail and the bike, suspended from the other hand, beside me.

Above Nant-y-Stalwyn the road certainly dwindled considerably in places and crossed the stream, which thank goodness also dwindled, about six times, without benefit of bridges. However I never found more than one obligatory ford, about twenty feet wide and one deep, with a rough uneven bottom and a strong current. I must here salute the man who told me that, with his artificial leg slung round his neck, and a cycle laden with camping gear, he had crossed this ford, taking about forty-five minutes. Just think out the difficulties! Most cyclists seem to have waded every ford - either there had been heavy rain or they didn't trouble to look round, as I did. The valley had a life and interest then, with the farms all occupied, that it now lacks. The same very sad change (from a tourist's point of view) is evident in parts of Italy and France, not from afforestation as in Wales but from an unwillingness to work by hand the steep terraced hillsides there. I shall not visit the area again - at least, not the Towy, for even nine years ago the young plantations were covering the varied colour and contours with their dull carpet - and that was before the Dreadful Dam.


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