4 Day Circuit of the Elenydd - the Welsh Lake District

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Wild Camping
May 17
2024

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Event booking closes on May 16 at 10:00:00
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Four days carrying a 12 kg rucksack, approx 14 miles (22.5 km) and 2000 ft (600m) of ascent per day. Some boggy ground

This is a challenging four day circuit through the wilderness of the Elenydd in mid-Wales. This area is sometimes called the “Welsh Lake District” in reference to large number of lakes and reservoirs in the area. On the first night we’ll wild camp above the Elan Valley. On the second night we’ll aim for Claerddu Bothy, sleeping inside if it’s unoccupied, otherwise we’ll camp outside. On the third night we’ll camp by Ty’n Cornel Hostel (https://elenydd-hostels.co.uk/en/our/tyn-cornel), the most remote hostel in Wales. The hostel facilities, including showers, self-catering kitchen and lounge, will be available to us. Our route (see OS Maps) will visit the Abergwesyn Common, the Elan Valley reservoirs, Claerwen National Nature Reserve, the Teifi Pools, Strata Florida and Llyn Brianne. This is an enchanting area of rolling moors and hidden valleys, giving a real sense of solitude; one of Wales' best kept secrets.

This event is only suitable for those with previous wild camping and multi-day trekking experience, who are prepared to be self-sufficient for four days. Wild camping equipment must be tried & tested in advance, waterproof & broken in boots are essential, and participants must be fit enough to carry a rucksack of around 12 kg, for approximately 14 miles (22.5 km) per day. All food must be carried, as there are no shops, pubs or cafes on the way. The route is rarely far from public roads, however options for aborting and returning early to the starting point are limited, due to the remoteness and minimal public transport links in the area. The route has been designed to stick to the driest ground, however some boggy areas are unavoidable, and after heavy rain it will be wet underfoot.

We’ll meet in the village of Abergwesyn and start by ascending Cwm Gwesyn, climbing up to the impressive pair of ancient beehive cairns on Drygarn Fawr (645m), the highest point in this area. From here we’re follow a good path (not shown on the map), eventually descending to into the Elan Valley. Here there’s a series of reservoirs, created by damming the Elan and Claerwen rivers. Four reservoirs were constructed along the Elan Valley from 1893–1904, with a fifth, Claerwen, constructed from 1946–1952 in an adjacent valley. Water from these reservoirs is carried by gravity to provide drinking water for Birmingham.

To construct the reservoirs, the catchment area of the Elan and Claerwen valleys was compulsorily purchased under powers granted by an Act of Parliament. The Act gave powers to displace more than 100 people living in the Elan Valley. All the buildings were demolished; only the landowners we compensated, the displaced tenants received nothing. No expense was spared in the construction of the dams, bridges and towers. Facing stone was imported and ornate copper domes cap the towers. The design of the dams allows excess water to flow across them, creating impressive waterfall-like cascades at times of high rainfall. The architectural style is sometimes jokingly referred to as “Birmingham Baroque”!

Our route follows a bridleway along the south side of Caban-coch Reservoir, then after crossing the dam, we’ll take the easy Elan Valley Trail cycle path that runs northwards up the valley, along the shores of the reservoirs. The cycle path follows the trackbed of the old Elan Valley Railway, which was used for transporting materials and workers when constructing the dams. At at a suitable point at the end of the day, we’ll divert uphill away from the reservoirs and find somewhere discrete to camp for the night.

On the second day, we have the option of visiting Lluest-cwm-bach bothy, on the shore of the uppermost reservoir, Craig Goch. The building is a former shepherd’s cottage, and was restored in 2013 by the Elan Valley Trust in partnership with the Mountain Bothies Association. Beyond the bothy, we’ll cross a road bridge over the Afon Elan, then turn west to follow the Monk’s Trod. This is an ancient path used by 12th century Cistercian monks to walk between the abbeys of Cwm-Hir (near Llandrindod Wells) and Strata Florida. We’ll stop for the night at Claerddu Bothy, a large bothy maintained by the Elan Valley Trust.

Day three starts with a wander through a picturesque cluster of small lakes and reservoirs called the Teifi Pools. We’ll descend to Strata Florida (Latin for 'Vale of Flowers', Ystrad Fflur in Welsh) and visit the atmospheric ruins of the Cistercian abbey. There are carved gravestones marking the burial places of 12th and 13th century Welsh princes. From Strata Florida, we’ll follow the Cambrian Way along a corridor of open moorland, hemmed in by forestry plantations on either side. This will bring us to Ty’n Cornel Hostel, where we’ll camp for the night.

On the last day, we’ll continue following the Cambrian Way south, into the Doethie Valley. Writer Jim Perrin described this valley as being “a high contender for the most beautiful in Wales”. At the foot of the valley we’ll leave the Cambrian Way and ascend to Llyn Brianne. This reservoir was constructed in late 1960s and early 1970s, to provide water for Swansea and its surrounding area. It has the tallest dam in the UK, which is the world's largest clay core dam. We’ll cross the dam and bridge over the spillway, then follow a minor road around the shores of the reservoir for a few miles. A final section of bridleway will take us back to our starting point at Abergwesyn.

Please note that Ty’n Cornel Hostel do not permit dogs anywhere on site, therefore unfortunately it will not be possible to bring dogs on this event.

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Spring and Summer walks mean lots of new and existing members excited to be getting out more. Please only book if you know you can make it. Should your plans change please free up the space immediately for someone else who could attend.

Image / photo credits: 

Photos 1, 2, 4, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20 © Patrick Revell, used with permission

All other photos cc-by-sa/2.0:

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