Aug 262023

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
looking north from Esgair Hill 1 looking back down Cwm Hir from top of Monks Way dog rose looking north from Esgair Hill 2 looking up the Monks Way in Cwm Hir 1 looking up the Monks Way in Cwm Hir descending towards Abbeycwmhir from Esgair Hill

I hadn’t been to Abbeycwmhir since 1979, the year I walked the newly opened Glyndŵr’s Way long-distance path with my Dad. The stages were long, the waymarking abysmal, the flies persistent. What a treat it was on that long-ago summer evening to trudge on sore feet up the long steep valley, past the abbey ruins and in at the door of the Happy Union Inn.

Nowadays Glyndŵr’s Way is a lot better waymarked. The Happy Union is open in the evenings only, and the tiny village tucked away in its forested cleft in the Radnorshire hills has a few new builds to add to its tally of old stone cottages. The Abbey Cwmhir Heritage Trust is very active, and has laid out a network of colour-coded walks based on the village. I chose the orange circuit, and set out under a windy sky that tossed grey and silver clouds about a field of china blue.

The Cistercian monks who built the abbey in the 1170s in this remote fastness picked a perfect site for the contemplative life – secluded, well wooded and watered, with beautiful hills on every hand. Today the valley road was edged with pink and white dog roses in hedges alive with noisy chaffinches.

I turned off the road onto a stony track that rose gradually to the crest of the hills – the Monks Way, an old highway from Abbeycwmhir to its sister abbey of Strata Florida away to the west. At the top I crossed a broad undulating upland of pastures where the sheep sprinted towards me in vain hopes of a hand-out.

Up in the spruce forest of Cefn-crin the air was hot, dark and heavy among the trees. The wind sighed among a million pine needles, and countless insects hummed their great discordant chorus. Coming out the other side of the trees I found myself on the crest of the hills with miles of rolling and tumbling green country ahead and behind.

Here I hooked up again with Glyndŵr’s Way and followed it back down to Abbeycwmhir, marvelling at the improvement in its waymarking and relishing the dip of the path among knee-high grasses and in among the trees again for a last cool mile into the village.

How hard is it? 7¼ miles; moderate; well waymarked paths

Start: Phillips Hall (village hall), Abbeycwmhir, Llandrindod Wells LD1 6PH (OS ref SO 054712)

Getting there: Abbeycwmhir is signed off A483 (Llandrindod Wells – Newtown) between Crossgates and Llandewi Ystradenni

Walk (OS Explorer 214; downloadable map/instructions at From Phillips Hall, right along road. Left at fork (049708, orange arrow/OA, ‘Rhayader’). In ⅔ mile opposite red brick Cwmhir Cottages, fork right (039705, kissing gate/KG, fingerpost); follow track. By blue container keep ahead through gate (OA, yellow arrow/YA). At Upper Cwmhir house, track bears left, then through right-hand gate of two (031713, OA). In ½ mile at top of Monks Way lane, through gate (025716, OA), along fence; left-hand gate of two (OA); ahead over hill; stile into woodland (022717, OA). Path to forest road; dogleg right/left across (OA); path to road junction (018719). Fork right uphill for ½ mile (tarmac becoming gravel) into Cefn-crin forest (017728). At far edge of trees, on hairpin right bend, ahead (021734, gate, OA) on hillside track. 100m beyond next gate, right (025740, yellow topped post, ‘Glyndŵr’s Way’/GW) between tree clump (left) and fence (right). Follow well-marked GW for 3 miles back to Abbeycwmhir.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Ty Morgans, East Street, Rhayader LD6 5BH (01597-811666,


Walking the Bones of Britain – a 3 Billion Year Journey by Christopher Somerville is published by Doubleday.

 Posted by at 03:26

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