WYE

Llandegley Rocks

Mid Wales Wye

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On top the sprawling plateau arouses an excitement equal to the vistas. The vast heather moorland co-exists beside mysterious pools, the incredible Aberedw Rocks, caves, and, at lower elevations among established tree cover, green fields, crumbling old out buildings and an isolated gorge where the Edw eventually finds its way into the Wye. However, as remarkable as it was up there we hadn’t got time to appreciate the environment fully, which meant we couldn’t locate Llewellyn's Cave where the Welsh freedom fighter was said to have hidden out centuries ago so we made a mental note to return if only to walk the incredible moorland plateau again.

Descending a campsite was needed before darkness fell so after a good root round we found a secluded space surrounded by broad leaf trees growing erect from the steep and almost impenetrable slopes leading down to the river a few hundred feet below. It was a great spot that meant we could rest in peace and enjoy the Edw surrounds without intrusion. (Grid Ref: 092-472 Landranger Map 148). Come morning the full immersion in stillness and calm had relaxed our minds and damp earth had aroused our senses rallying our energies for the early hours and subsequent day ahead. This simply was a lovely camp. No fire, just a tent and, in Mark’s case a poncho, tea and basic provisions. A stone’s throw away was the Edw’s confluence, which is where we were heading prior to a six mile walk into Builth Wells before our return to Cwm Edw and Franks Bridge later that evening.

On reflection, a number of things stood out about the campsite; the air was clean and the earth fresh, which was reflected by the haunting sounds of an owl, in addition the site was flat and green with good tree cover providing a wind break coupled with stimulating lines of sight of the surrounding valley. It was also protected from livestock and other disturbances whilst at one end of the field a low-key track took you down to river level and the narrow road we’d meandered along the previous day, so there was ease of departure and no confusion. As free camping goes this has to have been one of the healthier sites and on top of it all there was no rain so restfulness came in more ways than one.

In breaking camp, we head for the road, leading to Aberedw Village and the River Edw respectively that passes its outer edge becoming increasingly rapid as it flows over uneven bedrock and large stone before greeting the Wye at its confluence. Indeed, just before entering the village we take the opportunity to branch off towards the water’s edge sidling down a slipway on the margins of someone’s property. There we gazed at the gorge up above (Grid Ref: 081-473 Landranger Map 147) and appreciated the sound of the river cascading over rock in its latter stages, a quality that attracts canoeists in high water and fisherman eager for Brown Trout. We take film and photographs exhilarated by what looks like by now a grand mountain river making its way towards the Wye via ominous tree covered cliffs. What a location for the people who have homes here! Of course, our homes are on our back, which we have to carry to Builth Wells six miles away but first we have an invigorating interlude with more white water at the farthest end of the gorge.

The confluence is close and the excitement builds so any new or unexpected challenge that presents itself is going to be met head on and that goes for a vertical rail embankment, which we clamber down like commandos through vegetation and trees in order to reach the bottom where the B 4567 to Builth Wells awaits. However, to reach the confluence we now have to negotiate the road, which is on a dodgy blind spot but no problem, we straddle the fence confidently, leap onto the road then dart across to a gate on the opposite side. Now the confluence!

Through a metal gate and nondescript field our goal awaits. The River Edw arrives at its ultimate destination, the larger, slower moving River Wye a mere 50 meters away. Indeed, charged by our manoeuvres we head through a thin line of trees down a small bank and onto a beach formed by the swirling waters of both rivers as they conjoin to make the confluence. It’s a true force of nature (Grid Ref: 077-469 Landranger Map 147).

The River Wye looks powerful as it accommodates the many migratory waters, which have joined it from further upstream and like all migrations you know there’s something significant taking place naturally, the Wye’s girth is wide here and its waters move with subtle strength and unstoppable drive like a river on a mission. Indeed, to witness the Edw enter this immersive body is magnificent and of course the only way you can experience such phenomena is by tapping into its source then tracking its progress to such a point. Engulfed it’s a true revelation. We are filled with awe and for a while fatigue fades away yet there’s still a six-mile hike to Builth Wells and then a taxi back to Cwm Edw cottage before we can rest so, without delay, we document the scene through photography and film then don our sacks and set off taking one last admiring look as we do.

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When scanning the landscape from the very top of Llandegley Rocks you get a sense of big country through a virtual 360-degree view of both known and unknown landmarks offering a new appreciation of Mid-Wales. The region opens up dramatically and the whole space has this epic and liberating feeling. to it, which is one of the reasons why we immerse ourselves in such environments. Indeed, we love the adventure and of course, seen from the car along the A44 from Penybont to Kington, the rocks have always captured our imagination, so it’s great to be here standing on their highest point appreciating the spectacle (Grid Ref: 132-618 OS Explorer Map 200).

Looking East from the Rocks the slopes of Radnor Forest serve as the valley view's backdrop. Look South East and you see the bulbous shape of Gwaunceste Hill where the source of the River Arrow was located the previous year and looking West there’s another rocky outcrop extending into the distance. It’s a feature known in the area as (The Builth Inlier); a series of rocks that together with Llandegley Rocks and other hills and ridgelines in the area forms a broad valley plain and there, down below, we see the River Edw source (Grid Ref: 135-612 OS Explorer Map 200). Out of sight at the confluence is the village of Aberedw where Aberedw Rocks are found, another rugged outcrop overlooking the River Wye and Wye valley respectively. Small though it may be the Edw is punctuated at either end by these impressive rock formations that remind us of the inexplicable forces that shaped the land we see today.

Llandegley and Aberedw Rocks bring to the fore a fascinating geographical story found throughout the Edw’s fourteen-mile length, which is without doubt packed with vistas as awe inspiring as any celebrated landscape in Britain. Both outcrops span hundreds of millions of years starting with Llandegley Rocks, which three to four hundred million years ago were still being formed by massive volcanic activity. Indeed, Stand or walk about the rocks today and you can find trilobites and other smaller microbes. Signs of life fossilized within the strata and now of course, the area is said to be amongst some of the best places in Europe for palaeontological study. The space is scattered with boulder and scree.

It’s a great place to walk around but, that said, we only have a certain amount of time to play with in order to appreciate the environment. However, before the walk got underway we did spend a night in the warmth of a log cabin at Mellow Croft, said to be an eco-retreat a mere half a mile away from the river’s source below Llandegley Rocks itself. The retreat is right in the thick of things run by Kim and Eddie Eloise who built the place on what was originally unproductive ground, with the idea of creating a place of peace and tranquillity away from the rush of modern life. There is no electricity in the cabins, only a burner and some candles for illumination so the feeling is one of being off grid and in harmony with nature. The couple spent many an hour constructing the huts for guests to make use of and then, of course, there’s the home for themselves and their daughter Ellie. It’s something else this place and at the heart of the home is their kitchen where Mark, Erica (who gave us a lift here) and I sat drinking tea around a living tree with three branches spanning out equidistantly in several directions. It’s certainly a beguiling experience and this is just one facet of the house.

Away from the hobbit like existence in the house is the piece de resistance, a classroom or round house structure that Eddie built from scratch and the result is this wondrous creation with a grand timber roof set at a 45-degree angle, steered into a central point similar to that of a giant yurt or wigwam. It’s enchanting and before bedding down for the night we enjoyed an hour of relaxing music listening to a couple of local musicians rehearsing a song they’d composed called Water.
It was powerful stuff and when listened to it had this organic authenticity synonymous of travel, story-telling and the discovery of unknown worlds. Naturally, it was entrancing and the longer it went on the more it became like an incantation setting the scene and mood for the River Edw walk. The spirits have been called, the scene is set and the journey’s in motion.

The following morning signalled the walk/trek proper starting at the River Edw’s source low down on the southernmost flank of Llandegley Rocks, which sit there motionless as though a doorway into the nether world. Accompanied by buzzard, sheep, and a couple of black and white ponies, we acknowledge the environment before setting off from the source, which disappeared under soggy ground to reappear as a stream along the edge of a nondescript conifer plantation a few hundred yards away. Of course, not sure whether it was the Edw or not we hovered around looking for other streams as though on a treasure hunt but for sure this was it, a tiny embryonic flowing river moving along a dyke beside pine trees (Grid Ref: 134-611 OS Explorer Map 200). An unremarkable space we’d located the Edw and the promise of a great journey with only one way to go that being the direction the water course and on through the landscape distinguished by the hills and ridgelines surrounding the (The Builth Inlier).

This is the UK and you’ll find a gritty landscape farmed throughout, which is proved no different here in Mid Wales as we now find ourselves walking along a hard-core track half a kilometre away from the aforementioned plantation. Indeed, near to us is a lone farm warehouse that exemplifies a remote and isolated farming existence on the unmanicured exposed hill tops. However, the further we get from the source Llandegley Rocks grows with increasing grandeur and as we advance into the valley following the river’s course other landmarks identified from up high become increasingly significant. The whole scene makes for a rugged and raw impression in a beautiful way and as the unfolding of the trail weaves its way up and down, along and throughout it causes you to continually anticipate what might be round the next corner. It’s already a good adventure.

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This is the UK and you’ll find a gritty landscape farmed throughout, which is proved no different here in Mid Wales as we now find ourselves walking along a hard-core track half a kilometre away from the aforementioned plantation. Indeed, near to us is a lone farm warehouse that exemplifies a remote and isolated farming existence on the unmanicured exposed hill tops. However, the further we get from the source Llandegley Rocks grows with increasing grandeur and as we advance into the valley following the river’s course other landmarks identified from up high become increasingly significant. The whole scene makes for a rugged and raw impression in a beautiful way and as the unfolding of the trail weaves its way up and down, along and throughout it causes you to continually anticipate what might be round the next corner. It’s already a good adventure.

Yes, it was a pleasure to be out roaming again, something confirmed later by a massive ridgeline that emerged in the distance that we knew from the map was one of the main groups of hills that formed part of a chain of hills that eventually reached the Wye Valley beyond. These were Rhulen Hill, Llanbedr Hill, Llandeilo Hill and Aberedw Rocks that combined are seven kilometres in length and approximately two and half to three kilometres wide with an elevation of four hundred and fifty metres plus. Not a great elevation but together they dominate the landscape. The heather clad plateaus on top reveal space enough to view the whole of the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains to the South and East without hindrance, which is a dynamic window into the region that’s yet to be revealed as the week unfolds. It’s one of the UK’s most wondrous views, which we have ever had the good fortune to see (Grid Ref: 094-463 OS Explorer Map 200). It’s awesome and of course as is the case with all rivers it’s the land mass that largely dictate their course or character as something the River Edw demonstrates as it meanders its way between the aforementioned hills and those opposite Wylfre, Aberedw, Llan Fraitt and the huge Aberedw massif itself.

There’s plenty to come and with the first day completed night is upon us as we arrive at our base for the week, a cottage in the quiet village of Franks Bridge, which is half way between the river’s source and our intended goal of the River Wye and confluence. Indeed, the first river walk of the year was to be different and so we hired a cottage to explore the area whereupon during mid-week we’d set off on a one day and night exploration of the Edw’s confluence, camping in usual style, with a return to the cottage towards the end of the week. A full investigation was called for and with a cosy cottage as base the mood was buoyant, what with our wood panelled interior, cable TV, fire, and fully equipped kitchen etc.

Over the course of a few days Mark and I would enjoy a number of excursions over the high hills and we would also mosey off on our own to investigate some features in the area that caught our own particular attention. On day one I headed for a standing stone a few miles up-stream (Grid Ref: 142-588 OS Explorer Map 200) and Mark gravitated towards a valley that showed promise identified on the map.

Snuggled by the river itself (Cwm Edw) the cottage was owned by a wonderful elderly lady who lived in the house next door. Occasionally throughout the week we’d chat out back or on the quiet road at the front of the cottage making for some simple but memorable moments. She shared advice on where to walk, spoke of some of the farmers we’d come across and generally expounded her knowledge and love of the area. For sure the area was a big inspiration to her and it had everything hidden waterfalls, incredible vistas, quiet lanes to mosey through, hamlets, ancient sites, friendly farmers, animals, wildlife, isolation to sharpen the mind and of course helpful villagers.

After a few days at the cottage it was time to pack our gear and set of for the Edw’s confluence passing through some of the back lanes trodden in the preceding days, then it was through and on towards the extraordinary ridgeline seen in the distance on the first day. It feels great to be on the trail again and as we begin to relax we take time to create stone balances on one of the rivers rock clad beaches leaving a few offerings for the water spirits before moving on downstream where the river gets wilder and the human touch quintessentially beautiful. Imagine if you will ancient and old bridges or even churches reminiscent of the Peak District, Dartmoor, Lake District or even Pembrokeshire and there you have it. Indeed, there’s an old hump back bridge ‘’Hergest Bridge’’ built on the river’s bedrock (Grid Ref: 123-495 Landranger Map 148) that we discover and an ancient church close to another hump back bridge that’s been its companion for 700 years or so (Grid Ref: 112-487 Landranger Map 148). In regards to the church situated amid a small river flat there’s no doubting its age. A white washed structure with solid walls and a Norman looking bell tower with no spire of which to speak of so there’s no question it’s medieval and of course its survival makes it all the more powerful. Interestingly it’s Good Friday, an occasion we don’t celebrate ourselves, so had no inkling that we were there on such a day. It sure was a turn up for the books when a group of parishioners came to worship and sing songs of praise. They were pleasant enough and one woman invited us to take part but we naturally declined saying thank you all the same. So following a brief lowdown of the churches history by the convivial congregation, we hastened a move and set off towards the expansive ridge. All is good.

From the road we begin our ascent of the ridge towards Pentwyn Farm (Grid Ref: 106-487 Landranger Map 148), which is steep but as we climb out of the valley and start cresting the ridgeline our exertions pay off as the landscape opens up to reveal that stirring view of the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains. As hinted at before its one of the finest landscape scenes in Britain (Grid Ref: 094-461 Landranger Map 148) and as it manifests with extraordinary effect we begin to sense that the aim of revealing the Wye catchment via the Wye Explorer project is indeed being fulfilled.

Pen Y Fan, Corn Du, and Fan Y Big in the central Beacons stand proud whilst Hay Bluff, Twmpa, Rhos Dirion, Pen Y Gadair, Waun Fach and Pen Alt Mawr in the Black Mountains to the East emerge as one big snow-capped massif and or escarpment to rival any. Not to be outdone the Wye Valley snakes its way East below as though knitting it altogether. These hills are proving to be magnificent and because this is the border of Wales, England, Herefordshire and Powys, an area you don’t normally associate with such epic scenery, it augments our passion for the area because, after all, it is our own backyard that just keeps giving. What a great moment .

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Soon we’re back at the cottage where we’re able to stand down with a warm brew and food, followed by TV in front the fire and yes, it feels good to be back indoors but then it’s only ever really appreciated by being outdoors. A good night’s rest and the following morning we are up early anticipating the arrival of Erica, a friend from Hereford who dropped us off at Mellow Croft at the beginning of the week. Before that and more exploration however, Paul has time to venture out and replenish the supplies of wood for the fire by scouring the roadside verges for bits and bods not realizing the cellar beneath the cottage has ample firewood in perfect sized chunks. Naturally we’d been using firewood from a basket on the hearth until now. The oversight though leads to a chance meeting with Erica roadside whilst searching for useful pieces of wood to burn, which was comical as she rounded a corner in the car only to see this chap foraging around like a badger. There’s a reason for everything! Paul was able to guide Erica into Franks Bridge via some good old resourcefulness.

Back at Cwm Edw Pail leads Erica through the small cottage door and up the stairs to the living quarters where it’s a case of ‘’Come on in and make yourself at home’’. indeed, the wood panelled cottage is a welcome retreat almost resembling an alpine chalet with the aura of a bothy what with our kit and boots kicked off, stacked and hung near the backdoor porch. So, with fire and coffee soon in hand the three of us were relaxed enough to start considering an itinerary for the remainder of our time here in back country of Wales. We sit cozied up in the cottage and as we go off in the morning we reflect upon our time at Cwm Edw as being warm, inviting and safe yet active with adventure. There’s no hanging back, the mettle is grasped, and so we are exploring the back lanes and hillsides around and about eventually travelling through the stupendous Abergwesyn Valley prior to a later brew in the Nant Rhys Bothy high up in the Cambrian Mountains near to the Wye Source.

First though we speak with farmers like Mr Waters who stopped in his truck, telling of how his family had farmed these hills since the 14th century. Of course, out here much revolves around farming communities and some have resolved to generate renewable energy employing the hills and windy conditions to profit but in so doing, they have caused some consternation in the local area.

Transition though, as we know, is an inevitable part of life but despite the modern worlds advancements you can see it’s the place names that seem to have some sort of permanence. What’s apparent are that place names were originally named according to landscape features, which is perhaps one reason why they withstand the passages of time and it’s just as well because they evoke an ancient tongue, which evidently speaks of the land we love.

In studying place names then and their mysterious origins we turn to the science of Toponymy and here in the Edw Valley and with slight variation many do, as mentioned, continue to echo with the sound of a bygone world. Names such as Rhulan, Cregrina, Llanbedr, Llandeilo, Llandeilo Graban, Gilfach, Cwmole, Glascwm, Bryn Llwyd, Llandegley, Blaen Gwenddwr, Llanstephan, Cefn Hirwaun and last but not least Aberedw, which literally means (Mouth of the River Edw).

Total Distance not including Cwm Edw forays: 17.6 miles. Imperial !!!
Elevation not including Cwm Edw forays: approximately 557 metres. Metric !!! one or the other or both for both!!

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In remberence of Paul.
You Will Flow Always In My Heart & Your Frends

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