Source Section Hike
Back in 2014 we were excited to get up to the source of the Wye in the Plynlimon massif. We had hiked 3 of the Wye rivers already namely the Lugg, The Frome and the Arrow but now it was time to fuel our passion for the river by getting up to the source. This is the story of that section hike starting 10 miles away in the village of Llangurig and finishing at Rhayader some days later.
Left: Paul in the giant Wye Cwm at source
Far Side of the Wye Part 1
Far Side of the Wye Part 2
There are heaps of energizing times to be experienced upon or near the river Wye (Welsh - Afon Gwy) none more so than sunset at source. In August 2014 we hiked up to the source as part of a planned 650 - mile hike amid its waters, valleys, mountains and settlements. Constituting an embryonic channel with three gullies running into it the source was a case of take your pick as to which you thought it to be. Here at the very base of that embryonic channel we discovered a campsite on the inside bend of the infant Wye that was.......
surrounded by bog. It was a level dry spot and somewhat of a satisfying feeling to be marooned in this way 120 miles into our long distance hike on Pumlumon (meaning 5) Wales's largest watershed.
The sound of water would abound throughout the night as the Wye trickled past in its perennial move towards the Severn, which given the size of the watershed also rises in the Pumlumon massif not 3 miles North West from where we were. The next morning as we prepared for our hike up to the source Pumlumon, despite offering up some rain in the night, would welcome us with a fantastic sunrise.
The scent in the air was typically that of a welsh mountain. To us it always brings forth images of the sea because of the subtle detection of salt in the air. It might be the acid grass land or the fact that these mountains were at the bottom of a sea bed a very long time ago. Whatever the reason for the invigorating salty smell we are urged to express a huge smile within. We're exploring again, there is a brew on in the dawn, flasks are being filled, the camp is being put away, the Wye is being observed as it meanders by and the mountain beckons to reveal its secrets and the source of the Wye we have come here to find and feel. As we ready ourselves we take a look up to our objective Pumlumon and for one last time we survey the river in our immediate vicinity. With its ongoing sound and the 'rock balancing' piece we created the night before we appreciate the waters and set off over the blanket bog onto a service track above.
Reading the map and contours we deduce that if we remain on the track below Bryn Daith we'll eventually be brought to the River Wye viewing point to the West of where we are. We continue towards Cerrig Yr Wyn and for a moment overshoot a track left at the base of Hore Fach. Not to worry talking is good - we gather our thoughts and retrace our steps and after a stimulating view of the Hafron Forest, which the Severn flows through we are back on track.
Casting our minds back we ponder the mountain and the lives it once sustained. It's not all been farming up here for their lay the ruins of a lead mine enroute to the source that looked to be hard work on the Wye tributary Nant Lago. Today the area is the scene of Raleigh motor sport in addition to farming raising the question: Just how wild do we think this place is? It's remote but evidence of human activity is everywhere. Indeed, you get the sense of wilderness through the silence, space, blanket bog and distant forest but in truth wild nature is like seeing a frog - it's now micro and in the detail. Never the less we love the open space, the sound and the mountains.
Rounding a bend on Cerrig Yr Wyn we get our first view of the Wye source proper. Fantastic, enlivening, magic, moving, sunlit, broody, inviting and legend are some of the words and or thoughts that arise.
So it's this massif where the water is coming from, this lump of a mountain, this wind swept remote place, this place of work and fascination for many. The Romans revered the Wye and called it the Vaga and people throughout the centuries have dreamt upon it, written about it, forged new ideas in its midst, sang songs upon its banks, painted it, hiked it, camped it, swam it, kayaked its waters, farmed it, protected it and preserved it. It's a wonder of our nation and looking at the Cambrian Mountains in which it begins there is no confusion as to why. Put simply it is a magnificent start and for the Wye its magnificence does not end here high up on the Eastern slopes of Pumlumon.
Descending down off Cerrig Yr Wyn into the Wye head waters we negotiate some more of the infamous blanket bog, which is covered in elephant grass acid in content. You need your gaiters here unless you want soaking wet strides. Ours do the job and after about 10/15 minutes we reach the Wye again, which is turbulent and heading down the mountain at speed.
We head up the mountain hugging the banks of this embryonic river. At times, besides the bog we've already encountered, we come across what can be considered 'pure water bog' as a result of land that's managed to flatten out on the slopes. The volume of the water in the ground gives us a thrill because this is what we are made up of and without it we do not survive. Feelings are once again uninhibited for in these moments we sense wilderness upon observing water that's not controlled or manipulated. It comes from the sky, falls and resides for a while before evaporation or permeation. This natural cycle is all pervasive on Pumlumon, which is one of the key European and world sites in catchment science. The Wye truly is a natural wonder despite the humans.
We have been going for a few hours taking in this amazing natural system and we are nearing the source. Having said this we remark that the mountain is the entire source and not one point can be designated due to the fact that water is coming in from all directions. However, above us we site three gullies that meet with the embryonic channel of the Wye below the summit. We choose one to the right and decide that this will be our source. After passing a few sheep, listening to common buzzard and siting a frog high up we rest for a while, observe a turboprop aircraft overhead, admire the
land below, identify where we have come from and with a brief final ascent we reach the source. Elated we contemplate a small pool of water enclosed by dripping peat bog. We would like to say that it was pristine but in truth metal debris was left rusting in the very womb of the source. We removed it and took the time to listen, sense the place and the journey of the Wye from where we were stood. A major part of its essence from source was unfolding.
It was an all-encompassing and stimulating adventure. Not yet over we continued to the summit of Pumlumon where we sat in the wind break awaiting a brief encounter with chaps from South Wales. A wonderful exchange we all headed off into different directions. They went off to meet their wives having snuck a peak in and as for us we headed off to walk the Upper Wye and contemplate the knowledge of its birth.
Article - Mark Jickells