River Llynfi - Wye Tributary
23 miles total 11th, 12th, 13th April 2015
2.5 Days Brecon Beacons
Source Grid Ref: 145 - 229. 4 interactive map click right. 4 OS Explorer 13 Click
Were on Standard Street (Crickhowell) in the Brecon Beacons National Park linking up with Chris Lone-Wolf an outdoors enthusiast from South Wales, who, it’s fair to say, loves the challenge of outdoor living Link. Indeed, come what may he’s out doing something and today he’s with us walking the mountain sides. However, our time together will be short because Chris is here for a one-night wild camp before we go on our way the following day. Regardless of the brief time spent together it’s good to share the outdoors and a little Wye Explorer spirit before locating the River Llynfi so as to track its course to the River Wye at Glasebury 15.5 miles away, 24 including the Crickhowell approach.
So were on the trail with panoramas of the Usk Valley stretching out before us, which makes for an impressive vista prior to reaching our first wild campsite at Grid Ref: (189 - 225) OS Explorer 13. Still on Cwm Mawr we descend 100 meters to cross Cwm Gu Brook where we would stop for a brew.......
in the plantation above admiring as we did so the raptors circling further overhead. Satisfied Bryniog mountain would follow (500 Meters 1,640 feet) overlooking Glanusk where the Green Man Festival is held and the next day’s destination Bwlch where a standing stone and the Lynfi source is to be found. The weather is good lending an optimistic air for what will become a night’s windy camp. Throughout Chris is laid back and unassuming yet ready to converse at any time setting the stage for what stands to be an interesting few days.
Come the morning we were greeted by good all-round light and the freshness of the Black Mountains. Conversation flowed as easily as the night before, which carried us effortlessly down the mountain, past a lamb bleating outside of its field that Paul duly put back prior to our departure with Chris at the foot of Bryniog above us. With handshakes and a hearty goodbye for now it was onto Bwlch and the Llynfi source.
In relation to the source of the river we discovered it’s not a pretty sacred spring or small fissure in the Earth but is in fact an area of bog covered in a layer of rich, green vegetation, situated at the base of the Blaenllynfi Castle ruin a stone’s throw from Bwlch Grid Ref: (145-229). It’s day two now and around 3 hours since we left Chris at Felindre and we’ve found what we came looking for, which we carefully consider and appreciate before moving on. Indeed, the bog we observe arrests our attention because instinctively we know it’s the Lynfi source yet rather than a spring, as mentioned, it’s more like seepage, a marsh or mire holding within a strange captivating power due to it being almost motionless beside the castle motte. In addition, there’s the unstoppable advance of nature eating away at the castle walls and it’s this mix of source, decline and plant life finding a strong hold amid the castles rock that invokes an earthly and eerie presence of both death and or life.
Its wild and untamed energy the time-honoured spirit of which we reflect upon by inspecting the castles nooks and crannies in addition before calmly moving on as though put into some kind of daze by the potent mix of history and hydrology. Out of the trance we realize there is no time to spare so we make headway following the river via narrow back lanes populated by cart and farmer through to Llangorse Lake, which the river enters at its southern most part and exits on the far North side at which point, after a mile or so, it hugs a former railway line until reaching Trefecca village. A hidden gem the old Brecon line is characterized firstly by a long stretch of thick dung and then by overhanging trees and a carpet of effervescent grass running its full length, which we mosey along nonchalantly savouring what is, a forgotten thoroughfare distinguished from field, road and even designated trail.
Mooching around the perimeter of Llangorse lake is where were at for now though. It’s the largest natural lake in Wales, which owes its existence to the last ice age that today a few thousand years on, provides space for 20th century activities like sailing, birdwatching, open water swimming, photography, and so on. On a good sunny weekend, it’s considered a veritable paradise, which it is for us we think albeit overcast with drizzles of rain. A quieter day than normal it allows for a more subtle and timeless side of the lake to shine through even through the bleakness of the pre -spring lake, which laps and chops up the water amid the shifting of cloud and wind. Here we sense its true spirit for its seen many epochs of time. Despite being out of season though the rhythms of this natural wonder still thrive, which we notice are being transmitted all the time and will do so even during the usual tourist clamour, which will shortly dominate the surface.
Meanwhile the need for a moments confab and rest before our walk around the Lake would lead us into the early Celtic church (St Gastyn) at the lakes Southern end followed by the Llangasty bird hide closer to its Southern shore. Once inside the beautifully constructed natural wood hide we were able to brew up whilst gazing out at the Crannog and boathouse to the North accompanied that is by the imposing Mynydd Llangorse (515 Meters 1,689 Feet) to our right. With a brew inside us we continued alongside the lake Shore and came upon a group of 3 consisting of a mother and two daughters one of which was studying at Cardiff University. She went onto explain that she was conducting a study of water voles whereupon Mark resonated with his sighting of vole traps amid the brook they were heading for.
As a prized eco system the lake is an SSI situated between the River Wye and Usk basins and is surrounded by high hill watersheds holding vast amounts of water, which eventually works its way to the lake before being distributed to the River Wye making Llangorse somewhat of a holding tank for this magnificent river all of which provides an essential breathing space a place, which the 19th century naturalist John Muir recognised saying; keep close to nature’s heart and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean! Well it’s not the Trail of Light or ‘Yosemite’ but it definitely serves the same purpose.
Having greeted another group or family post our conversation with the Cardiff University naturalists we head off around the lake proper, meet with the Llynfi again briefly on the other side and head off out for a few miles before locating the aforementioned rail line, which later provides a twist in our journey in the form of shelter.
Can it be empty we think as we gaze upon a small building site and caravan beyond what’s supposed to be a secure gate and fence. It’s on the old line but something has ground to a halt here. Looking like a knacker's yard it’s a project that’s ran out of funds and we see an opportunity of sheltering for the night without having to build a full-blown basher. Investigations ensue and to our delight a dry if not slightly slime covered shelter made itself available.
Of course, inside we found an accumulation of dirt and discarded stuff left scattered on the floor and surfaces but a flurry of cleaning and sorting made it good enough to inhabit. At one end a large window was smashed but with curtains drawn you didn’t notice and any how we were wild campers. With sleeping bags and cooking gear laid out on the table night began to fall, which is where the candles we discovered came in handy providing ambient light to brew and cook food in. It sure did make for a homely feel, which imbued us with a satisfaction akin to finding something luxury. It was an unplanned treat and apart from our own presence that night we were captivated by an owl’s haunting sound as it manoeuvred around it’s domain in the vicinity.
Come morning there isn’t a whisper of sound apart from our own breathing. Indeed, inside our bodies and minds the sense of satisfaction continues unabated at what was, quite simply, good fortune. A good rest therefore was all pervasive, which enabled us to happily calculate the day ahead as we scanned home from inside our sleeping bags. Arising cheerfully from our luxurious night spent a brew became priority as did a bite to eat followed by the packing of gear and a casual exit of a cleaner much smarter looking caravan. We know not to leave no trace but we’re just not accustomed to making a mess to disguise our presence so the owners when they return will have to make do with a more sparkly looking mobile home. With a smile we close the door behind us and a bright new day begins.
Looking back at the caravan we make our way down the old track enveloped by tree cover once again. So, with the trees and the gratitude of the shelter still lingering the walk proceeds slowly whilst the River Lynfi serves as our telling companion. It emerges that amid the damp earth a wonderful ecosystem flourishes alongside the old embankment, causing the environment to be charged with the scent of life. Opportunities to explore present themselves in the form of an old station house, waterfall and gorge a place it appears is haven enough for a number of dwellings above to preserve through the trails and solitary bridge provided.
At the end of the line Trefecca comes as a transitional phase with the most conspicuous thing being the 16th century Trefecca College Farm along with its ancient stud door in situ and of course a friendly farmer on hand for historical fact. Once it was a commune where its members practiced sixty trades or more with the most important being agriculture and weaving. Catch the word; if ever you pass through Trefecca be aware of its name, which it’s said derives from the old English name Treveckke or Trevek meaning Becca’s settlement. It was a pleasant interlude and from here on the trail towards the Wye is characterized by field hopping; small sections of road, views of the epic Twmpa (690 meters or 2,263 feet) and of course those fascinating twists and turns you get when exploring the land this way. What remains’ then is 9 or 10 kilometres of this topography with the Lynfi is never far from sight.
Before the confluence though it perpetually flows beneath the shadow of the 11th century Bronlyss Castle near Talgarth, said to have been partly constructed by Walter De Clifford one of the Norman Marcher Lords who held a seat at Clifford Castle in Herefordshire next to the River Wye. The fortifications appeared quite impressive but there on the opposite side of the bank across from Bronlyss Castle an even more impressive site emerged in the form of the River Ennig as it entered the River Lynfi creating its own timeless impression Grid Ref: (156-341). Upon seeing it we became animated especially since it was walked only weeks prior where on that occasion, due to time constraints, we were unable to complete its full length. But here it was a vision of the Wye system and mountains appearing as if from no-where.
Epic and inspiring sites did indeed abound on this trip. There were the central Brecon Beacons appearing majestically from the side of Cwm Mawr and Bryniog, the Mynydd Troed at 609 meters 1,198 feet offered up an evening vision akin to Shangri-La from our first campsite with Chris and unable to shake off its sudden majestic impression as we walked there was Twmpa or Lord Herefords Knob. Who could shake it off given the way it appeared at the end of the road? Not many and neither could we as we fixed our gaze towards Three Cocks where the straight road narrowed to a fine point revealing the imposing Twmpa as if waiting to be seen in all its glory. It was inspiring, energetic, proud and an image of the Black Mountains rarely seen. The mountain was most certainly one to remember, infinitely strong and magnificent.
A short distance ahead the Llynfi discharged into the Wye, which had become significantly wider amid a bow or bend in its own course. There was less than a K to go here until we reached the bridge and bus at Glasebury and with the walk presenting few obstacles we slowed down to an amble savouring our amazing 2-3 days’ hike through some of the finest country to be found anywhere in the UK. Glasebury is rightly proud of the Wye and surrounding country and makes use of it by way of the River Café and canoe trips launched from here. With a bus to catch though we don’t stop to enjoy their hospitality but instead enter the garage somewhat comically yards away having spent a few wild days amid the Llynfi. The lightness of humour though emanated from our bedraggled appearance covering over, as it did so, our reason for being there, which in reality was dedicated to the discovery of what makes the River Wye so significant in our lives. Of course, this has yet to be fully realized but still the journey endures inspired by the river that wonders.