The Big Welsh Walk (Taith Gerdded Fawr Cymru) took place in Ceredigion on Saturday 6 May. I joined the 200 people taking part. We could choose from walks of 15, 10 or six miles and I went for the 15-mile one.
We stayed at the Tynrhyd Retreat, a mile west of Devil’s Bridge which is a Walkers Are Welcome town. I can thoroughly recommend Tynrhyd which was extremely welcoming and comfortable, and I was looked after by Ramblers Cymru staff who were organising the event.
I arrived on Friday evening and went out with volunteers Karl and Maxine to do some final waymarking for the walks, with signs to slow the traffic on the narrow lanes. We ended up doing it in the dark.
The next morning walkers began to gather from 7.30 am. There were 80 people signed up for the 15-mile walk and we had to set off between 8 and 9 am. I had never done a challenge walk of this kind before, I prefer to walk alone and at my own pace, but this was fun and different. I started walking with three people from Llanelli, then we were joined by another group from Aberystwyth—and more. In time some went ahead and others dropped back, so I walked with a variety of people through the day.
We were given a map, and there were four checkpoints on our route where we were ticked off. The Brecon Mountain Rescue were on hand. They stayed at Tynrhyd the night before and were great company. They are amazing volunteers who devote all their spare time to rescuing people, and it takes over their lives. They are entirely funded by donations.
It was cold and grey when I set off at 8.15 am. Ceredigion Council and the Ramblers had done a fantastic job getting the paths in order for the event. Ceredigion, being a rural area with a small population, has only a tiny paths budget and struggles to keep all the routes maintained.
We walked down into the Mynach valley where I saw a tree pipit.
Then we followed the river upstream.
We turned up a hill past the first checkpoint, through forestry and then into an area where trees had been felled. It was a steep climb up and we failed to notice that the footpath went off to the right, so when we got to the top we were confused—as is so often the case with forestry. Luckily Karl was on hand to explain our mistake and we put it right.
A bit further on we came to a fallen tree under which we had to crawl, the only obstruction of the day.
Then we were out in the open again, and walked around the side of a hill with good views. I noticed that there was a much Molinia grass, looking very pale perhaps because of the lack of rain.
This brought us to the rim of Cwm Ystwyth, with a steep drop down to the valley which contains ancient silver, lead and zinc mines.
I discovered later that at this point I was overtaken by Ramblers Cymru vice-president Huw Irranca Davies, Labour AM for Ogmore, and his wife Joanna. They had taken a day off canvassing to be with us, but I was concentrating on getting down the hill and didn’t recognise them as they flashed past. Suzy Davies, Conservative AM for South Wales West, joined one of the other walks.
We came to the village of Cwmystwyth with a good view down the valley which was the next stage of our walk.
We stopped for lunch by the river as we had by now been walking for nearly five hours.
A bit further on we came to a patch of beech wood and I heard, then saw, a wood warbler singing. Consequently, because I had stopped, I was separated from most of those with whom I had been walking, but Paul Johnson from Hertfordshire stuck with me and was pleased to see the wood warbler.
The footpath by the river took us past the ruins of the old mansion at Hafod, and into the village of Pont-rhyd-y-groes and checkpoint 3. Here we crossed the river and climbed another hill. By now the sun was out and it was a glorious, warm afternoon.
After more ups and downs we climbed the last hill and I could look back the way we had come
and ahead to the conical Tyn-y-castell rocks close to our destination, with the slopes of Plynlimon on the right.
We arrived back at Tynyrhyd soon after 4pm, so the whole 15.2-mile walk took just under eight hours.
A couple of days later I wrote to Ceredigion Council to thank them for all their work on the paths and to report the obstructed footpath at grid reference SN785 755. I also pointed out that at GR745 763 at Rhos-tyddny the route was shown on the Ordnance Survey map as a dead-end restricted byway which becomes a footpath. We had been OK because we joined the road at a stile, but the track goes on to a locked gate which would leave riders and cyclists stranded.
I had a prompt response from Eifion Jones the public rights of way officer, saying that they would sort the obstruction asap. The restricted byway problem was long standing, dating back to a Town and Country planning Act diversion in the 1980s which left no route for riders. The council has it on a list of anomalies to sort out in the medium to long term.
The Big Welsh Walk was a great success. It has made many people feel happy at their personal achievement. But its legacy is even more important. It has shown the value of getting paths reopened and maintained so that people can enjoy them with benefit to local communities. I am sure that many of those who came on the walks will return to Ceredigion. The walks themselves should be published on websites, such as those of the Devil’s Bridge Walkers Are Welcome town and Tynrhyd Retreat, to encourage people to walk those routes and keep them in good order.
The event can be repeated in future years in other part of Wales which struggle to get their paths in order, to help make that difference.
Five days later Huw Irranca-Davies secured a 90-second slot in the Senedd to speak most eloquently and concisely of all that is good about the Big Welsh Walk. You can listen to him here.