First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A sunny midday with steamy clouds lifting over the hills of mid-Wales. The slopes around Aberllefenni were littered with screes of broken stone, evidence of the former occupation of this village where the dark blue slate has been mined since medieval times.
Slate is still processed here – slate from as far away as China – but Aberllefenni lies as quiet as can be these days. In the neighbouring valley of Cwm Ratgoed, once the scene of intense quarrying activity, sheep cropped the slopes among the mine levels. Each tunnel mouth spouted a fan of spoil, as though giant rabbits had been burrowing.
The trackbed of an old tramway led past slate workshops, cottages and a chapel, all in ruins, all of black slate blocks. The mine manager’s house, Ratgoed Hall, overlooked the workings from its garden eminence. There was a tremendous poignancy to these stark mementoes of vanished industry in the peaceful green valley.
From Cwm Ratgoed we started on a long, steady climb through the forestry of Ffridd Newydd. The path led steeply up between larch and pine, the banks either side thick with star mosses, lichens and the green platelets of liverworts kept moist by the trickling hill streams.
Sunlight filtered through the tall bare trunks of the conifers and fell in bars across the path, but there were no far views until we’d reached the ridge above the forest. There one of the finest panoramas in Wales burst on us all of a sudden, many scores of miles of hills and mountain peaks, with the centrepiece immediately to the south-west, a wonderful prospect of Cadair Idris in full sunlight.
The mountain lay so big and so close it came as a physical shock after being so long enclosed among the trees. Its two shadowed corries gave it the aspect of a blunt-headed creature peeking over its shoulder. It was an awe-inspiring sight, one that commanded attention until the path dipped, the forestry rose and Cadair Idris lay hidden once more.
The old Roman marching road of Sarn Helen dropped us by easy degrees back down to Aberllefenni’s rubbly slopes, its stone slides and spoil banks, and a great square cave mouth that led into the old slate mine, a dark door into the hillside high above.
How hard is it? 8 miles; demanding walk, with long upward climb on forest path
Start: Bus stop/layby at crossroads on north edge of Aberllefenni, near Corris, SY20 9RU approx. (OS ref SH 771100)
Getting there: Bus 34 (Machynlleth)
Aberllefenni is signed from A487 (Machynlleth – Dolgellau) at Corris
Walk (OS Explorer OL23): Uphill on lane (‘Unsuitable for caravans’). In 150m, left up stony track (yellow arrow/YA, fern carving). In 500m round left bend (775104); in 400m, fork right down to valley road (774107). Dogleg right/left (YA); follow YAs along track. In 1 mile pass Ratgoed Hall (730121). In 400m track bends left towards Dolgoed (779125). Don’t go through gate, but bear left along fence to another gate; down to ford river opposite Ceiswyn (778125). Left (YA); follow track to enter forest (777123). In 400m, hairpin back right up path (777119) past fire-beater stand. In 200m cross rough forest roadway; on up track, then path to cross another forest track (775124). On up steep path. In ¾ mile, at top of climb, you reach open grassy area. Steeply up left on faint zigzag path to fence and ladder stile (768134). Ahead (waymark post) downhill for ⅔ mile to moor road (758134). Left for 2¾ miles to Aberllefenni.
Accommodation: Gwesty Minffordd Hotel, Tal-y-llyn, Tywyn LL36 9AJ (01654-761665, minffordd.com)