From Tre’r-ddol the Wales Coast Path follows the main A487, before turning off and leading uphill through woodland. From here the path follows a route just inland and running vaguely parallel to the road.
By now I’m nowhere near the coast, and getting further away with each step. Normally this forced deviation would fill me with aggravation – but I decide to relax and simply accept the route I’ve been given.
In fact, today will turn into one of the best day’s of walking I’ve ever had.
Uphill I go, and the roar of traffic from the A487 gradually fades away. I reach a field where the footpath has been diverted, creating a long and unnecessary slog around the edge of a field.
Later, I will be spurred to write an angry blog post about footpath deviations, but now I’m just worrying about reaching Machynlleth before sunset.
The path has become a bridleway. I stop and sit on the moss-covered wall at the side of the path for a quick drink and a snack. Sunlight is dappling the path, the birds are singing, it’s unusually warm for October, and I feel completely at peace with the world.
At the top of the path I come across a country lane, where a woman has just parked her car and is getting her dog out for a walk. He is a big, fierce creature, who barks aggressively at me. I call him a ‘good doggie’, but he fails to respond to my friendly overtures.
Unfortunately, for the next 1/2 hour or so, my route coincides with hers, which means I’m never far away from the hound, and my peaceful walk is punctuated by the sound of distant barking.
Still, the views are wonderful. I can see right across the estuary. Tomorrow I will be walking along the slopes on the other side.
With my camera on full zoom I take a photograph looking back over the mouth of the estuary, and at the exposed sands (the tip of Ynyslas) where I walked yesterday.
My path seems to suffer another diversion around the edge of a field, but this is poorly signposted and I lose my way several times. By the time I reach a little river (the Afon Einion), I’m really worried about reaching Machynlleth before dark.
I stop on the bridge to take photographs of the river.
By now I have shaken off the woman with the big dog, and the rest of my walk is spent in blissful solitude.
From the river valley the path climbs again and joins a track…
… before emerging onto open hillside. I am on the shoulder of a hill, called Foel Fawr (meaning a large, bare hill) and the views are stunning.
My progress becomes even slower as I keep stopping to take photographs. It’s a wonderful place.
I decide I should give up coast walking and take up hill walking instead.
The bracken around me has turned into its autumn colours of bronze and gold. but the leaves on the trees in the valley are only just beginning to turn. In a few more weeks the colours will be wonderful.
After following the shoulder of the hill for about a mile – a glorious mile of light and air – the path dips down the slope, ending in a knee-jarring scramble to meet a lane at a place called Melindwr.
Here I come across a footpath sign that provides some helpful mileage numbers. I’ve come 9 miles from Borth. But still have 6 miles to go before I reach Machynlleth.
It’s 4pm. Just over two hours of daylight left. I should make it, but will have to get a move on. My normal average walking speed over rough ground is only 2 mph. I need to aim for 3 mph.
Unfortunately, the next mile or so is relentlessly uphill along a tiny road. I meet a school minibus, and some mothers collecting their children in cars. One lady stops and asks me if I am lost. I explain I’m looking for the coast path. She points me in the right direction.
Near the top of the hill the path leaves the lane and climbs up through bracken to the shoulder of another hill. Craig Caerhedyn, says my map. The way is passable but rough and overgrown…
… before widening out into a clearer track. There are more lovely views. I think I am looking at Machynlleth across the valley, but when I check my map I realise it’s probably the village of Pennal.
As I come down off the hill I pass a gate with a sign advertising a barefoot run. 51 miles! And with no shoes! Are these people crazy?
Albutt Shoes must be a footwear company. I wonder why it’s sponsoring a barefoot run? It seems counter productive. But, I can’t stand here all day wondering about it. Onwards.
I’ve reached a place called Caerhedyn. I’ve realised that even two-house no-places appear on the Wales OS maps. There is really not much here at all.
It’s nearly 5 o’clock. The sun is low in the sky and the valley has fallen into shadow. I hesitate and reassess my plans for the day.
If I carry on down the road I can reach the A487 in 10 minutes or so. From there I could walk on pavements (if there are any) towards Machynlleth. The alternative is to continue following the official Wales Coast Path and run the risk of getting caught in the dark.
But I can’t bear the thought of the busy road. And I remember I have a torch in my rucksack. Yes. I’m going to carry on.
I walk along a track and head up the Llyfnant Valley. A couple of teenage boys are coming down the path and clearly heading home for tea. Otherwise, I meet nobody. It’s a beautiful solitary walk, climbing steadily among trees, following the banks of a pretty river.
Further uphill and the nature of the path changes. This is a logging area. Great machines have cut swathes across the hillside. The trunks have been gathered up, but smaller branches, roots and debris lay strewn across the route.
I walk quickly, almost jogging now. The ravaged landscape and the darkening sky combine to create a sense of urgency.
At last I reach the top. Forty minutes until sunset. Perhaps an hour of reasonable light left. Only 2 miles to go before I reach the lamp-lit streets of Machynlleth. I should make it.
The path takes a right-angled turn and heads down another valley.
I’ve left the forestry industry behind and now I’m in sheep country. They seem startled to see me, and I start a minor stampede.
I make progress at a brisk trot, grateful to be going downhill. My path joins a lane and I’m walking on easy tarmac.
I meet a jogger wearing a fluorescent yellow jacket. And I remember I have day-glow armbands in my rucksack. I stop to put them on. There is no traffic on the road, but it’s still a road.
A few minutes later and I realise I needn’t have bothered. The road double back on itself, and the footpath heads off across a field to my left. Actually, not across the field. More like straight up!
It’s a long hard climb. Too steep to go faster than a crawl speed. The photograph below does not do justice to the cruelty of the slope.
At this point I feel the Wales Coast Path is having a good laugh at my expense. But, when I reach the top of the climb, I find I’m back on a quiet road. There’s still a further uphill climb to make – but at least the ground is firm underfoot.
Near the top of the hill there is a footpath junction, where another National Trail – Glyndwr’s Way – joins up with the Wales Coast Path.
A few hundred yards further along and the footpath turns off the road. The river valley is open below me and there is Machynlleth, with the last rays of the setting sun lighting up the hillside. It’s a beautiful sight.
I decide I should time every walk to finish at sunset. There is a wonderful feeling about coming down out of the countryside with dusk falling and the sky darkening.
The path becomes a sunken lane and is stony underfoot, the surface slippery beneath a layer of autumn leaves.
I watch my step, anxious not to fall. And, as the path gets steeper, I realise I am walking down a set of steps
It’s a pity the light is too dim for further photographs, because when I reach the end of the path I see a sign.
Roman steps? How wonderful. Yes, very old indeed.
In the town the street lights are coming on and traffic is heavy with people coming home from work.
Tomorrow I will cross the estuary and head back towards the sea. But I can’t complain about today. It’s been a fantastic walk. Full of variety. Full of challenges. Wonderful.
Notes: Later I learn that Allbuttshoes is not the name of a shoe company, but the name of a blog run by a lady called Lynne Allbutt, who has run 51 miles across Wales, barefoot.
Miles walked today from Borth: 16 miles
Total along Wales Coast Path = 603 miles
Total distance around the coast: 2,210 miles
Route this afternoon: