First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The weatherman had threatened rainstorms over Wales, but enormous clouds of grey and silver were sailing in a patchy blue sky as we set off from Llandrillo up the old drover’s route into the heart of the Berwyn hills. This lonely range of high country sprawls across the borderlands of northern Wales, little walked and seldom ridden these days, but in times past crossed by a network of rough roads and tracks that brought mountain cattle and sheep east to the markets of the Welsh Marches.
The old drovers’ road from Llandrillo rose steadily eastwards, floored with rock, flanked by walls of slender split stones. Every so often, big lumps of quartz had been positioned among the dull green wall stones, their white glimmer a useful waymark for a benighted drover or late-working shepherd. Gradually the views opened out, north across the lush valley of the River Dee, ahead to where the great olive-coloured shoulders of Moel Pearce and Cadair Bronwen began to loom across the south-east skyline.
The wind rushed in the sycamore leaves and tossed the bright orange rowan berries around. A bunch of jackdaws went skeltering down the wind above the old road, whose numerous sheep gates separated the various flocks along these hillsides. Each barrier had its own ingenious home-made closing mechanism, slung with heavy weights – a cast-iron cylinder head, a baulk of timber, a necklace of heavy old ploughshares that clinked together as the gate swung to behind us.
From the little stone bridge of Pont Rhyd-yr-hŷdd the drove road snaked about to wind itself up for the last mile’s climb to the pass of Bwlch Nant Rhyd Wilym, where it tipped up and wriggled away through sombre moorlands towards the valley of the Afon Ceiriog. A shiny metal memorial lay beside the pass, inscribed to the memory of ‘Wayfarer’ – Walter Robinson, a cycling writer of the 1920s who enticed off-roaders in their thousands to explore these wild uplands of Wales.
We sat by the cairn, watching sun-splashes chase cloud shadows across the flanks of Cadair Bronwen and telling ourselves we’d come back one day, better equipped and with more time in hand, to tackle the whole glorious ridge. Then we turned back down the old road and along a quiet forest track, wind and rain showers in our faces and a prospect of sunlit mountains far in the west to lift the heart and the weary legs.
Start: Village car park, Llandrillo, near Corwen, Denbighshire LL21 0TG (OS ref SJ 035372)
Getting there: Bus – service T3 (Lloyds Coaches) from Wrexham.
Road: Llandrillo is on B4401 between Corwen and Bala.
Walk (9 miles; a long, steady climb; OS Explorer 255. Online map, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): From car park, left along B4401; right at chapel; climb country lane (‘Tegid Way’/TW’) for 3½ miles. At sheepfold (083366) TW turns left, but keep ahead to Wayfarer’s Memorial at saddle (091366). Return down lane. In 1¼ miles, at TW post just before Pont Rhyd-yr-hŷdd, right (073368) on hillside path, to gate onto forest track (069375). Follow track for 1¾ miles to cross bridge; up to road at Melyn y Glyn (046382). Cross road; down lane to Ty Uchaf. Down left side of barn; stile beyond (yellow arrow/YA); along fence to gate (044378) above Ty-Nant. Cross footbridge and stile beyond. Follow succession of gates, stiles and YAs past Moel-is-y-goedwig-isaf to reach drive at Ty’n-y-cae-mawr (041373). Right to lane; right to Llandrillo.
Accommodation: Tyddyn Llan, Llandrillo LL21 0ST (01490-440264, tyddynllan.co.uk) – comfortable restaurant-with-rooms.
Info: Llangollen TIC (01978-860828)
Britain’s Best Walks: 200 Classic Walks from The Times by Christopher Somerville (HarperCollins, £30). To receive 30 per cent off plus free p&p visit harpercollins.co.uk and enter code TIMES30, or call 0844 5768122
visitwales.co.uk; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk