Tyncornel, mid-Wales

Present: Dan (organiser), Richard S, Martin B, Alan, Claire, Sarah, Martin L, Marion, Alison, Paul H

Tyncornel (or Ty’n-y-Cornel, depending on your language preference) bunkhouse was booked on a last minute whim for the same weekend last year, and proved to be a surprise outside contender for the Trip of the Year award. So we booked it again. Ten people set off for the depths of Wales on Friday evening, a journey which progresses from motorway to A roads to country lanes to farm tracks. The occupants of Richard’s and Dan’s cars met up at the last outpost of civilisation (Llandovery) for a meal – and for Sarah and Claire, a swift bottle of red which went down far too easily. On arrival at the hostel, we discovered two wardens in residence, which at least meant the fire was well established and we could all crowd into a nice warm room for more red wine and a few beers. The traditional late night ensued for several people – well, if you stoke up the fire at close to 3am, you have to make the most of it…

On Saturday morning, we almost achieved the miracle of a 9am start. It was just ten minutes later when we set off down the track with a full day’s circuit in mind: across country, around the western end of the Llyn Brianne reservoir, and then back past Craig Ddu and Foel Fraith. Shortly after reaching Soar y Mynydd the track branched, and there was a lot of discussion over which route to take – Dan and Martin L eventually settled it by stating firmly “We’re going this way”. Not ten minutes later, they were battling their way through some hefty undergrowth on a precipitous slope, trying to work out if the river was crossable. Only one mutter of “…told you so” was heard as the rest of us watched and then tried to locate a better path down. Dan, Paul and Martin L got across the river first, and then waited, camera at the ready, as everyone else faffed, swore and in some cases started removing boots and socks. Claire and Sarah went for the “trust the gaiters and wade” route, while Alan was last across having considered all his options several times, finally plunging into the water with a cry of “For England!”.

Map faff 1…

… and 180 degrees around, map faff 2.

Paul makes the slippery stones look easy…

… but Sarah takes the wading option.

Richard’s expression suggests the water was cold.

Alan contemplates the stepping stones…

… before taking it at a run.

Our lunch stop gave us a lovely view of the reservoir framed by autumnal trees, a good excuse for Martin B to get his tripod out. The sun came out properly for the first time as well, which made us wonder if it was actually possible to get sunburned in Wales in November. Most of the rest of the walk was on clear tracks, but we saw no other walkers all day, only two mountain bikers who seemed to be doing the opposite circuit to us as we passed them twice. We got back to the hostel at 5pm, just as it was beginning to get dark, having done somewhere in the region of 12-13 miles.

The evening basically involved food, drink and firewood – Dan had forgotten his MP3 player, so no eclectic music collection this year. In a fine example of teamwork, Alan produced vats of mulled wine to his own special secret recipe, Dan served up carrot and cashew nut soup without grating his fingers into the pot as well, Sarah and her excellent sous-chefs cooked chilli con carne (with an extremely spicy veggie option which also went down well), and Claire provided treacle tart and custard. Everyone else washed up, and we were far too full for the After Eights and chocolate orange which were then produced… although we had a damn good try at polishing those off as well. As the evening wore on we entertained ourselves by taking photos of Richard when he fell asleep in front of the fire, and the last people went to bed at about 1am, when the alcohol supplies were running out.

On Sunday we were ready to go before 10am, which is another near-miracle (OK, only five minutes before 10am, but still worthy of a mention). Again, we decided to walk straight from the hostel, and after more adventures in barbed wire and river crossing, embarked on the sort of uphill that almost requires you to grab onto the grass to haul yourself up. It certainly got the circulation going: on reaching the top, Alan announced that he was sweating red wine. At that point the last of the morning mist cleared and the sun came out… and we realised that actually, we should have been on the next hill over – but no matter, we did our best to pick up the path (on the map, if not in actuality) past Bryn Gwyddel. Although a much shorter distance than the day before, the terrain was more challenging: a lot of knee-deep grass and those infamous tussocks. Richard nearly had to take a compass bearing on a number of occasions.

Up the hill from the hostel

Battling the tussocks

Horse? Mammoth?

A bit of extra weight

We stopped for lunch at the standing stone at Cefn Cnwcheithinog, which also had a large skull and several other bones balanced on a nearby cairn – outsized horse or woolly mammoth, we couldn’t decide. More tussock- and bog-hopping then ensued before we found the path into the forest, which was gloriously gloomy and atmospheric. The logging track, with its two-foot-deep muddy tyre tracks, was less so, although Dan picked up a large slice of tree trunk which he carried for the remainder of the walk. The final descent at the edge of the forest was the one we’d been trying to avoid because Claire and Alan did it last year and didn’t recommend it, but we missed the turn and ended up skidding down a grassy, muddy drop. At least half the group fell, some several times (was Dan encumbered by the weight of tree trunk in his rucksack?) and gained varying marks for artistic impression and technical merit. After that it was a short distance back to the hostel for tea and clean clothes. Again, we’d seen no other walkers all day, just four muddy quad bikers who we’d encountered three times.

We set off for home in the late afternoon, once again having thoroughly enjoyed our stay in the Welsh wilderness. No doubt we shall return…

Sarah Davies (words), Dan Unwin and Claire White (pictures)

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