This year was supposed to be all about the camping. We had plans for several weekends away, a couple of longer trips plus perhaps our first wild camp somewhere up in the Brecons. If you’ve been following this blog since January then you may have noticed that, thus far, we have fallen well short of those seemingly reasonable goals and with wind and rain battering South Wales for the second week in succession I think it’s fair to say that any further opportunities are pretty much none existent. As ever life has a rather nasty habit of springing surprises on you and 2015 has sadly had its fair share. That’s not stopped me from dreaming however and one particularly tedious September day in the office I was gripped by a sudden desire to head to mid Wales, Abergynolywn in particular, and walk to Castell y Bere. A slightly random choice you might think but the route was once a favourite of mine as a child and I wanted to share it with Emma. Must be getting soppy in my old age. The only problem was that given the distances involved we would only be able to drive up on the Saturday morning and with work again on Monday that meant a one night camp. Ah. Now I’ve always maintained, rightly or wrongly, that it simply wasn’t worth the effort to pitch the tent for such a brief stay but having lost so many other opportunities this year I was not going to forgo another. As it turned out we had an absolutely brilliant time despite the weather being a tad damp on our arrival. Just like I remembered it from family holidays of yore.
We parked the car in Abergynolwyn station on the Talyllyn Railway and were soon in amongst the forestry which once dominated the hillsides here. Deforestation has opened the views up considerably during the intervening years but where the trees still stand we were treated to a real mixed bunch of birds including a couple of Spotted Flycatchers, Goldcrests, Nuthatches, Bullfinches, a Siskin and, perhaps most surprisingly, a Twite! Now this was not a species I’d have expected to see here but we got great views, checked off the main characteristics and were left in no doubt as to our identification. Looking at the NBN distribution maps there are a few records from the area which at least satisfies me that we haven’t made a terrible error. Smaller groups of mixed Tits accompanied us down to Nant Gwernol where handily we were just in time for the first train of the morning. It would have been rude not to wait for its arrival especially seeing as the Talyllyn is celebrating 150 years of preservation this year. Dolgoch looked particularly resplendent in her celebration livery.
Moving on the Nant Gwernol gorge was a crashing crescendo of noise with the river in full spate but surprisingly it didn’t hold a single Dipper. There was however a Red Kite soaring overhead whilst good numbers of Swallows flitted this way and that. We passed through Abergynolwyn village and were soon eating up the route as we headed East towards Cedris Farm. The heavy drizzle that had been falling up until now finally ceased, at last opening up the views along the valley. There’s good reasons why I’ve visited this place so many times over the years.
Before long it was time to start climbing steeply as we left the gentle valley floor behind and headed up towards the pass at Nant-yr-eira. A Whitethroat, Stonechats and twenty or so Goldfinches provided the avian interest but in still dull conditions it was the landscape which really did it for me.
Better was to come as we rounded the hump of Foel Cae’rberllan, opening up views back down the Dysynni Valley for the first time. Sitting front and centre were the remains of Castell y Bere, our ultimate destination, whilst off to the left stood the unmistakeable shape of Birds Rock. Located a good six miles from the sea it is famous for its nesting Cormorants which despite receding water levels have steadfastly refused to abandon their traditional breeding site. It’s one of the great landmarks in this part of the world and a must see if you ever visit.
To make things even better the sun decided to put in an appearance meaning that by the time we’d descended to the village of Llanfihangel-y-pennant we were basking in warming rays. Families of Swallows lined up along the overhead cables and I couldn’t help but cast a longing glance up in the direction of Cadair Idris. Next year, next year.
There were a couple of ruins here that I’d have liked to explore a little deeper if there hadn’t been other people around (I wasn’t entirely sure if they were open to the pubic or not) so instead we walked the short distance up to Castell y Bere. Built by Llywelyn the Great in the thirteenth century it occupies an enviable position and makes it into my top five all time best Welsh castles. Despite not being the tallest structure these days it does have a character all of its own which is best appreciated from what remains of the North Tower. Of course the castles ultimate ruin came at the hands of the English who invaded in April 1283, but please don’t hold that against us.
One of the beauties of this route is that to make it a full loop one need only walk a little further along the Dysynni before a short valley cuts across the hills we’d already climbed to arrive back in the heart of Abergynolwyn. With the sun now at full strength the misty damp start seemed like a lifetime away and we were happily soaking it all up when a familiar call greeted our ears. Immediately I thought of Chough but hang on, we were a good seven or eight miles inland. Given that we usually only see these birds along cliffs it seemed highly unlikely that any would be found here. Nevertheless I scanned the hillside above and would you believe it but five Chough popped into view. I could scarcely believe it and rattled off a couple of record shots to capture the moment for prosperity. It seems that Cormorants aren’t the only species out of place around here.
Rolling into Abergynolwyn to complete the walk I’m happy to report that the route and scenery had been just as good as I remembered them. All that was left for us to do was drive the short distance into Tywyn, pitch our tent and get stuck into some fish and chips. Nice.