Section 5 - Aberdyfi (Aberdovey) to Machynlleth
Around 12 miles (19km) Generally moderate walking through forest and hillside trails with one long strenuous ascent - What these grades mean
It’s difficult to leave the harbour at Aberdyfi – it’s such a pleasant spot and the way on confirms it’s going to be a long steep climb out this morning…time for one more coffee in the harbour first?
When it’s time to go, there’s a steep climb past houses that cling to the hillside with great views over the rooftops to the other side of the estuary and Borth.
Zigzag up impressive flights of steps, then gorse lined track and heathland to the slopes of Cefn Rhos. If the tide is racing into the estuary behind you, you’ll still hear its roar up here as you track through a high sided valley, thick with bracken above and ancient woodland below. Crossing the head of an infant stream, make a final push through some high pastures and you reach the ridge summit – time for a last look at the ocean as you are heading inland now and won’t be meeting it again for at least 2 days.
Up on the ridge, you have new distractions – the aptly named Cwm Maethlon or Happy Valley appears on your left far below – a scattering of tiny farms and patches of woodland appearing as specks below the high peaks on the other side of the valley that stare across at you.
Follow a well-made farm track along the upper lip of Happy Valley, with huge sloping drops on your left into the pastoral scenery far below. Ahead, the hills close in and after a remote farmstead, take an ancient track across the moorland. On a narrow ridge you are now spoilt for choice with Happy Valley to the left and the wide Dyfi estuary laid out below you on your right, glistening as it snakes its way inland.
You are now on the appropriately named Panorama Walk. This is high sheep-country, and these are your only company as the ridge gets rougher, with rocky outcrops poking up from swathes of heather and peat marsh, replacing the bracken and pasture of the lower slopes. Suddenly out of nowhere a stone appears.
Although it looks like a gravestone, the carved slate stone marks the place known as ‘Carn March Arthur’, a rock with an indentation close to the track. A short distance from here is the Llyn Barfog or the Beaded Lake where a hairy monster was dragged from the lake by King Arthur’s horse straining on a chain. The marks in the rock are said to be those of his horses’ hoof print.
Well, of course, who could pass on without going to look for the Bearded Lake which lies around 10 minutes wander from the stone across the peaty mountaintop? Once there, it’s a special place where the higher peaks are reflected in the mirror-like, still lake. Here, for the first time on this walk, you can see no farms, no fences and no signs of humans – just mountains…and sheep.
Back on the Wales Coast Path – there’s no coast here, of course, and the only way is down; the trackway dropping quickly from the heights through small plantations, gorse and heather until farms appear as you approach the valley floor where, in contrast to an hour ago, you find yourself in a rich arable area.
The route diverts in a circle past small, wooded knolls of ancient oaks, beech and ash, interspersed by lush green fields.
Trek past impressive manor houses whilst enjoying stunning close-range views of the Dyfi, narrower here but still impressive, as it crawls up the flat valley floor, sandwiched by the hills on either side. Pass the 13th century castle, Motte of Tomen Las, an ancient, wooded mound just before you reach the only significant settlement today at the pretty village of Pennal.
All who pass through Pennal should seek out the Church of St Peter ad Vincula founded around 6th century…and then the riverside inn (not necessarily in that order!). The church is hugely significant as it was here that Owain Glyndwr, the last leader of an independent Wales, wrote the Pennal Letter in March 1406, shortly after presiding over the last free Welsh parliament in nearby Machynlleth.
There, in the presence of envoys from France and Scotland, he was crowned Prince of Wales, claiming he had been appointed by God to release the Welsh from bondage to their English Enemies. The Pennal letter that followed was an attempt to engage armed support from the King of France against the English, who were making determined progress in destroying Owain’s new Wales Nation.
To Nationalist Welsh supporters, the letter is hugely significant as it laid out Owain’s plans for Wales, including the foundation of a Welsh Church and Welsh University. While these things happened in part hundreds of years later, the dream was born here at Pennal and a copy of the letter is on display along with some impressive murals. In the churchyard you will find faithfully tended gardens for Owain and a magnificent statue of the Welsh Leader who stares wistfully at the mountains above him…
It’s time for one more climb, up through the big dark forests above Machynlleth, to a height of 800 feet, with fine views all the way of the huge distinctive crags and bowl of Tarrenhendre Mountain, one of the most significant peaks in this range.
As you climb, the forest comes up to meet you from the left and you are quickly consumed by it, with occasional views over a patchwork of forested hills and valleys as you near the summit. Just before the top, in an amphitheatre of huge pines, you head into the forest for a short but well-signed final climb on a narrow path to the ridge.
On the other side, the end of the Snowdonia trail is revealed.
More rolling hills and plantations drop away at your feet but below you can clearly see the Dyfi Estuary as it follows you inland, and beyond the welcoming market town of Machynlleth, capital of this area of Wales.
There follows a final steep drop to the valley floor on sheep tracks and then farm track, which brings you out of the woodlands to the crossing of the upper estuary at the pretty bridge at Pen-Y-Bont.
CLICK HERE for information on your overnight in Machynlleth on The Snowdonia and Meirionnydd Coast Path.
At this point – no doubt with some sadness - you leave Snowdonia National Park and enter mid- Wales. For some this signals the end of the road as you take the train out from Machynlleth. For the rest, who are continuing, it’s time to head back to the ocean and the dramatic cliffs and crags of the Ceredigion Coast Path.
CLICK HERE for information on continuing your walk on the next section of coast path through the mighty cliffs of the Ceredigion Coast Path.