The Cambrian Way

Updated: Jan 29

"We can do that easy mate" were my exact words to my friend Karl back in 2018, for years i had an obsession with The Cambrian Way, initially an unofficial long distance trail running from Cardiff to Conwy, and was officially recognised in 2019, it runs over many of the highest and most scenically beautiful areas of Wales. It was pioneered in the 1960s and 1970s by Tony Drake, after decades of opposition from landowners, the BMC, along with local councils and national parks it was left without the support, however Mr Drake later produced a guidebook of the walk, which in time gained some sort of 'cult status' amongst walkers who dreamed of completing the ultimate Welsh adventure, popularity for the trail gained momentum when in the 90s the BBC documented tv presenter Janet Street Porter walking along the Cambrian Way (much to the annoyance to those opposed to the Cambrian Way being recognised)

The Cambrian Way Route

The main route originally ran for 291 miles (468 km), with approximately 78,025 feet (23,782 m) of ascent using the latest digital measurements from the Ordnance Survey's 'OS Maps' website. Previous estimates were 275 miles (443 km) and 60,795 feet (18,530 m) of ascent using paper maps and counting contours in 2008, and 288 miles (463 km) and 67,100 feet (20,500 m) of ascent using Ordnance Survey 'Getamap' website in 2012. The latest measurements of ascent take into account the extra ascent of undulations between plotted points and are, therefore, considerably greater than previous estimates and probably more accurate, though they are still subject to a margin of error.

Following a number of changes to the route that are incorporated in the latest Cicerone guide, the main route has increased to approximately 479 km (298 miles) with a total ascent of 22,460 m (73,700 ft).

It traverses Wales from Cardiff Castle near the south coast to Conwy Castle on the north coast and is purposely routed over the highest upland and mountainous terrain including the Black Mountains, Central Beacons and Black Mountain (all within the Brecon Beacons National Park), the Cambrian Mountains, Cadair Idris, and Snowdon, the work done by the Ramblers Cymru in marking the trail over recent years and promoting has been brilliant.

Planning the walk started almost a year before, with 11 different OS maps needed and a whole array of kit required, with both of us coming from our hometown, Port Talbot in South Wales we decided to start in Conwy and finish in Cardiff so our friends and families could meet us at the finish line, in the months leading up to the walk we prepared by hiking as much as we could on weekends and plenty of night walks.

With everything in place and our kit packed it was time to hit the road, we set up base in North Wales and got ourselves an early night before setting off from Conwy the next day.

Conwy Castle in the distance

The first day was a shock to the system to say the least, some 26 miles from Conwy to Ogwen Yha, over the main peaks of the Carneddau, stunning but brutal is the most accurate analysis of the first day, we were both carrying all of our gear, Tent, Food, Water along with a whole world of bits and bobs.

Reaching the Summit of Tal Y Fan, blessed with a nice day

Tryfan was a welcome sight

Once we reached Ogwen we stayed at the YHA Ogwen, which itself has a long connection with the Cambrian Way, the lady who worked there remembered Tony Drake visiting regurlarly to survey the route, she spoke very fondly of the gentleman, a shower, good feed and sleep was in order.. to say my legs were shaking like a shitting dog would be an understatment, i remember Karl turning to me and saying what the f#%k have you signed us up for.

You okay hun?

After a good night's rest we woke to the sound of the rain hammering the window and it suddenly dawned on me I had not checked the weather for the day ahead, with heavy storms and lightning coming in we decided to cut the day in half and just get over the Glyderau and down into Llanberis getting some last minute accomodation,

(the plan was to camp but dont ever mess about with lightning, it's a no brainer) that being said we set off with high spirits and was treated to a cracking morning hike..

The landscape of the Glydau can only be described like being on the moon.

With the weather coming in we made it to our checkpoint safe and sound, with half a day to make up. We had to be up early the next morning and up and at em so to speak.

We left llanberris and headed up to the summit of the tallest mountain in Wales, Snowdon. Again, the rain was being true to form and our brand new shiny waterproofs being tested to the maximum.

Feeling all nice on top of Wales

We still had to get down into Beddgelert and over the Moelwyn range and into Ffestiniog for our checkpoint that day. One thing that will always stay with me is going down that Watkin Path, stunning and probably the finest way up to the top of the tallest mountain in Wales. It is also one of the toughest, walking down that scree with a heavy load on your back is emotional to say the least.

Making my way down from Snowdon

After a very long and tough 12 hours we finally made it to our checkpoint, our accomodation that night was in Llan Ffestiniog where we stayed in Treks Bunkhouse, a fantastic location if you are exploring the moelwyns or the Rhinogs.

Day four was the longest we had attempted so far, from Ffestiniog to Barmouth, over the notorious Rhinogs mountain range. The Rhinogydd are far less well known than the areas in the north of the Snowdonia national park. Most of the day we had no path to follow and our navigational skills had to be spot on.

It was a long old slog to Barmouth that day, after getting to our checkpoint that evening, we celebrated with a slap up meal, pint and a shower, the locals were brilliant and we had the warmest of welcomes.

Again we woke to the sound of rain hammering against the window, only this time the wind was howling, the forecast had predicted 70 mph winds that day, we had 27 miles to get from Barmouth to Dinas Mawddy over Cadair Idris, we left and set off over Barmouth Bridge with spirits high and head down.

The wind that day was strong and it was a tough old slog to our checkpoint that evening, we decided to book some accomodation after being hammered by the wind and rain for 12 hours, we arrived at our hotel The Bridgands Inn looking like two drowned donkeys, the owner asked what we were doing and once we said we were walking across Wales he immediately upgraded us to the penthouse - which had a bath, a huge four poster bed and an award winning restaurant downstairs, i remember having the most amazing feed that evening.

After setting off the next morning and the weather being kind we set off on day five, we had now left Snowdonia and was now deep into mid Wales.. tiredness was a real issue now as the strain of carrying the weight over the long distances was really starting to show..