Are you an adventurous and experienced walker looking to discover Wales in a whole new way? Here's an introduction to the Cambrian Way - a challenging but equally rewarding long-distance route from Cardiff to Conwy.
Where is the Cambrian Way?
Cambrian means ‘relating to Wales’ so the Cambrian Way is simply a way to walk through Wales. It’s also referred to as the mountain connoisseurs’ walk as it showcases some of the best mountainous scenery that Wales has to offer.
The Cambrian Way starts in the south of Wales at Cardiff Castle in the centre of the country’s capital city and ends at Conwy, the mighty northern fortress of a town. Between the two lies glorious verdant countryside featuring steep-sided valleys with streams and waterfalls, picturesque rolling hills, an abundance of high ridges and, in the north, rugged, cragged and challenging mountains. Much of the route runs through two national parks – Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia – as well as most of the areas in Wales that have been designated as wilderness.
Tempting as it may be, the Cambrian Way should not be the first outing attempted by the novice trekker. It is nearly 300 miles long and much of the route is in open access country, requiring good navigational skills. Some sections are long and remote, and accommodation can be rudimentary. While the mountains are not high, reaching a little over 1000m, the isolation and the challenge of the highest peaks require good mountain walking experience.
How long is the Cambrian Way?
The Cambrian Way is 479km (298 miles) in total with around 22,500m (73,700ft) of ascent. It starts in the middle of Cardiff at the main entrance to the impressive castle. After leaving the city it passes through the Brecon Beacons National Park, traversing the iconic Pen y Fan mountain. It then leads through the Carmarthen Fans with their legendary Llyn y Fan Fach lake. Beyond Llandovery the countryside becomes more remote and wild as the route enters the Elenydd region and crosses Pumlumon. There is a challenging traverse of Cadair Idris, and a brief glimpse of the sea when crossing the Barmouth viaduct. A stiff ascent leads to Rhinog Fach and Rhinog Fawr where there are views north to Snowdon. The route ends with a descent to the coast at Conwy Castle.
Where can I stay?
There is a wide range of accommodation along the Cambrian Way, from youth hostels, bunkhouses, bothies and campsites to expensive hotels. There are many bed-and-breakfast establishments on the route. Wild camping in Wales is only allowed with the landowner’s permission. There is a detailed accommodation list on the Cambrian Way website (www.cambrianway.org.uk),
With often quite long distances between accommodation it is unwise to arrive without booking in advance. It is safest to book for the whole route or the part of the route you’re walking before setting off so that you can be assured of a bed for the night.
Did you know?
Before it acquired its current meaning, the term ‘Briton’ was originally used to describe someone who spoke Welsh or one of its sister dialects. Today around half a million people in Wales – 19% of the population – speak Welsh.
Is it well waymarked?
Much of the Cambrian Way is waymarked with the Welsh hat symbol or on marked public rights of way. Substantial parts of it are over open access country and mountain ridges and peaks where paths are not always clear. Often there can be a confusion of paths, many of which may be sheep tracks. For these reasons it is necessary to have good map-reading skills, particularly if visibility is bad.
Is the Cambrian Way a National Trail?
No, the Cambrian Way is not a National Trail – although that doesn’t mean it’s not a brilliant route! The official route has its origins in the 1960s when a small group of members of Ramblers (formerly The Ramblers Association) decided to look at the formation of a south–north trail running through the upland areas of Wales. Agreement could not be reached and the project would have failed without the determination of Tony Drake, a rambler with a passion for wild Wales. His work is carried on by the Cambrian Way Trust and Ramblers Cambrian Way Working Group.
Being an upland route, there are long sections on which food and drink are not easily available without making detours off-route. The detours are not generally very long but a few remote sections require enough food to be carried for a few days.
When is the best time to go?
Wales is renowned for its rainfall so walkers should always be prepared for wet weather. The route can be attempted at any time of the year but the higher mountains of the Snowdonia area are best avoided in the middle of winter due to wind, ice and snow and some of the longer sections would be difficult to complete during the winter months. Some hostels close for the winter, but it is possible to find B&B accommodation throughout the year – although this of course should be checked in advance.
Getting to the Cambrian Way
There are good bus services in the urban districts and on main roads in the countryside, should you want to leave the route in order to take advantage of wider accommodation options. If walking the route in sections rather than in one go, railways can be used to reach many spots along the Way.
How can you choose a best bit when the Cambrian Way passes through the Brecon Beacons with the marvellous Pen y Fan, crosses the formidable Cadair Idris and then runs through Snowdonia past the highest peaks in Wales?