River Bachawy - to Wye Confluence
14 miles total Sat 23 rd March - 25th
Source Grid Ref: SO 151 - 482. 4 interactive map click right. 4 OS Explorer 148 Click
My friend Keith and I had stopped off at the New Inn Brilley a Wye Valley camp site alternative in nature as it was festooned in Tibetan peace flags. A wonderful lady called Daphne with interesting thoughts answered the door whereupon we stood chatting about life before continuing on our way to Painscastle but not before a brew at the foot of the Begwns range of hills.
At Painscastle we visited the chapel to look for the grave stone of Rosa Blanche a local farmer from Rhulen Hill who died in a snow storm in 1925 at the top of Llanbedr Hill not far from the source of the river I had come to find the Bachawy.
I left Keith at Painscastle and hiked up to the top of the hill to the source. Deliberating its exact location, I saw a lady a short distance away with a bucket in hand walking off the hill towards the road. Maggy and I stopped to chat about the frog spawn she was collecting all of which came from what she called the ‘Bachawey Pools.’ In my research they were called the ‘Bachawy Springs’ a series of pools that constituted the source of the river. Without any effort it seemed I had found the source in the company of a friendly local happy to talk on camera. We parted in fine spirits, which later saw me call out my twin brother’s name as I stood in the midst of a boggy hill top peppered with pools and streams the kind of which Paul would relish. “Paaauuuul the Bachawy mate.’ I had to remind myself that it was pronounced ‘Bahowey’ and not ‘Bashowey’ as kindly pointed out by Maggy only moments earlier. I was on my way to walk the river in the company of friendly spirits and my brother Paul the start of which I was loving similarly to that of other river adventures that I had experienced with him when he was alive.
Enjoying the pools and the views of the moorland afforded me there I moved on to the dilapidated Ireland Farm not spitting distance away where I would remember Rasa Blanche. Every week she would ride 12 miles to Hay on Wye and pick up supplies to take back home 2 miles North on Rhulen Hill. On one particular December day in 1925, however, she would not return on account of a blizzard that forced her horse to collapse breaking her ankle in the process. She called out but apparently nobody heard that is if you ignore a little girl sleeping fitfully inside Ireland Farm. She awoke her Aunty and Uncle and said she could hear cries but they assured her it was just the wind. The following morning though revealed to them the truth of the ghostly sound it was Rosa who could not move for the horse and or injury.
Stood there at the farm I could sense the lives of all that had come before me including that of a backpacking 13-year-old who actually rolled out a sleeping bag and slept in the farm before the damp got in eventually reducing it to rubble some 50 years later. His account can be read on the Guardians Country Diary by Jim Perrin (see link), which provides an interesting angle through which to see the life of this obscure farm on top of Llanbedr Hill right beside the Bachawy source.
Further on down the hill I descend into and out of the gully formed by the embryonic river. As I walk I’m struck by a potential photograph of a lone tree providing the foreground for Alt Dderw and Bryngwyn Hill, which reach heights of almost 500 Meters. ‘Click,’ it’s a cool photo that’s testament to my admiration of the surrounding Radnorshire Hills that’s home to generations of farming folk and the catchment for the river I’ve come to explore. Indeed, later in the valley below I would pass just such a farming family and ask how their establishment was pronounced. ‘hhhhLlettycoyed’ and not ‘Llettycoewed,’ as one might expect looking at the correct spelling of ‘Llettycoed.’
I walk the back lane peacefully in a kind of mesmeric meander that befits lanes such as these. At Rhosgoch I spend no time really and move on through to Painscastle. There I sit at the old Black Ox Inn a former Drovers Inn now called the Roast Ox Inn. I think of the drovers, there hardy life and their little-known entrepreneurial spirit, which involved cash transactions and moving other people’s money around the catalysts for setting up the first ever banks. It’s one of them dimensions to life that’s surprising but understandable when thought of because in making these transactions and transporting money about it meant they were prone to robbery and so therefore security was paramount. This is why in 1799 David Jones set up the first bank in Llandovery known as the Black Ox Bank.
It might have been a hard life even a painful life but pain isn’t what gave Painscastle its name. It’s name actually came from a Norman nobleman called ‘Pain Fitz John,’ who was a supporter of King Henry the 1st of England who happened to be the forth son of William the Conqueror. He laid down the castle in the early 11th century as a means of subjugating the Welsh Princes and tribes who still held sway over this part of the mainland. As you can imagine it saw its fair share of action but not the kind of action you might expect of such a marginal fortification made up of a wooden keep, motte, baily and outer palisade for it played host to one of the bloodiest battles ever to take place on Welsh soil. In fact, the ‘Battle of Painscastle’ saw the single biggest loss of Welsh life anywhere on Welsh soil during them violent skirmishes with the Norman Lords. 3,700 Welshman and princes lost their lives in the battle, which emerged out of a 3-week siege held by the Welsh ruler Gwenwynwyn. Geoffrey Fitz Peter the 1st Earl of Essex who defeated him went onto become the new administrative ruler of the district although with that kind of loss it would have been a tenuous command amid Welsh disgust and pain.
After contemplating the battle scene in the valley below that’s overlooked by the Begwns beyond I traverse the course of the river West/South-West through to Llanbedr Chapel where I contemplate an equally intriguing local story concerning John Price the ‘Hermit of Llanbedr,’ who happened to be the Clergymen to Llanbedr, Painscastle and Rhos-Goch in the 1860’s-70’s. In the summer of 1872, he was visited by the clergyman Francis Kilvert who was then based in the village of Clyro some 5 miles South East of Llanbedr Hill where the Hermit John Price lived. Alongside his Clergyman friend Thomas Williams, they located his whereabouts amid a small Cwm on the side of the hill, which at the time overlooked a fine pastoral scene of farming folk gathering hay in the rolling Radnorshire hills all the way through to the Black Mountains standing resplendent beyond the Wye Valley below.
He was a greasy untidy man with a long grey beard who, knowing of his rental duties, went off with Thomas Williams to collect peat it was said in Leu of payment to his landlord. This left Francis Kilvert to explore the home that was thinly thatched and built
of stone without mortar. His description in one of his famous diaries read:
'The house' was a sight when once seen never to be forgotten. I sat in amazement taking mental notes of the strangest interior I ever saw. Inside the hut there was a wild confusion of litter and rubbish almost choking and filling up every available space. The floor had once been of stone but was covered thick and deep with an accumulation of the dirt and peat dust of years. The furniture consisted of two wooden saddle-seated chairs polished smooth by the friction of continual sessions, and one of them without a back. A four-legged dressing table littered with broken bread and meat, crumbs, dirty knives and forks, glasses, plates, cups and saucers in squalid hugger-mugger confusion. No table cloth. No grate. The hearth foul with cold peat ashes, broken bricks and dust, under the great wide-open chimney through which stole down a faint ghastly sickly light. In heaps and piles upon the floor were old books, large Bibles, commentaries, old-fashioned religious disputations, CMS Reports and odd books of all sorts, Luther on the Galatians, etc. The floor was further encumbered with beams and logs of wood, flour pans covered over, and old chests. All the other articles of food were hung up on pot hooks some from the ceiling, some in the chimney out of the way of the rats. The squalor, the dirt, the dust, the foulness and wretchedness of the place were indescribable, almost inconceivable. And in this cabin, this lives the Solitary of Llanbedr, the Revd John Price, Master of Arts of Cambridge University and Vicar of Llanbedr Painscastle.
Sat beside the chapel it struck me that the world’s still full of such depression, which is what John Price must have been despite his religious disputations. I myself have suffered depression in life but through hiking and the outdoors I manage to ascend them realms to find a much lighter place than that of the hovels that exist in our midst. It’s only sad that John price wasn’t touched in the same way although he no doubt had his moments. With these thoughts I perceive the fading light and contemplate my own shelter for I must find a pitch before it gets to dark to select a good one. So, with plans in my head for a good night’s rest in a beautiful place I crack on towards Llanbachowey and the Westerly fringe of the Begwns range of hills.
Passing through Llanbachowey I explore an old house empty, tree enveloped and unsafe. To the front the windows were broken and the shelves covered in damp dust but with a curious artefact just sat there waiting to be admired by an outdoorsman such as myself. It was an old vintage stove possibly going back 50 years or so complete with the mystery of what exactly it was doing there. It was odd but it had an allure that saw me get excited for the prospect of collecting. I’ll have to come back for it but not before checking with the locals next door.
Up on top of the hill I digest deep within views of the Bachawey valley below, which funnels the river towards the Wye not 3 KM to the South/West. ‘Just over this brow there will be a pitch,’ I say to myself. I get there and chose another brow until I finally reach a small wooded copse that provides a perfect flat spot within as well as a wind break much needed at 300 meters.
I set up quickly and get food on the go. As I sit in peace having photographed the sunset and I am compelled to remain quite on account of dogs below that keep barking every time I speak normally to myself. They can hear and sense my presence so now it’s all about Stealth because I don’t want the people from the farm below being alerted to my presence. It’s actually very pleasant to be forced into this quite as I get the chance to feel the copse and the dark night that now becomes it. Despite the barks that continue on intermittently I get a great night’s sleep awaking to a morning that would put a smile on any river rambler intent on knowing his fluid companion more deeply.
The light festoons the copse with sparkle and the inspiration to photograph it whilst later contemplating a spot of land art in memory of Paul. On a natural stone plinth jutting out from the ground a spiral made of twigs emerges on top of it the centre of which is completed by placing a stone with the engraving PJ MJ. I name the camp ’The Infinity Camp.’ Yes, you are with me always Paul – till the end of my days. I love you my twin brother!
Packed up and on the trail, I meet Mike the local farmer who is busy tending to his sheep and lambs that now dance about the hillsides. He tells me his family have been here since 1948 and that his sister lives in Hereford. We chat merrily for life and the camera, which he does not mind. Further down the hill I would reflect back on our meeting and 1948. ‘That’s interesting,’ I said to myself. ‘Paul died aged 48.’ I’m receptive to little things like this, which speak to me on a higher-level affirming Pauls presence as I head for the confluence of the Bachawy with the Wye.
A quick friendly passage through Ty’ n-y banal and a mole moment in a field beside Pwllperran and I find myself at the head of the Bachowey gorge a deep 40-meter gorge that harbours within a secret waterfall 20 foot high. I want to find it having read a forum article that describes it as spectacular but dangerous to get to. After observing a loud frantic intersection of streams feeding the river I descend into the valley and find myself amid some deciduous trees clung to the hillside as if to prevent a slide down towards the ledge before entering the rushing waters. It is steep with deadfall littering the slope, which means clambering about a debris strewn 45-degree angle that’s not the norm on a Sunday afternoon. It’s hard going, which invokes a decision to abandon the search for I have ran out of map to on account of a printing era back home. I shall have to come back and locate it on another day because my pack wanted to greet the waters below to besides that of the trees encouraged by gravity.
Enjoying the last KM or so of the hike without a means of navigating the rights of way I come across the ancient Hall House of Ciliau. Dating back to 1552/53 it’s a magnificent example of how life once was. You can just hear sounds and activity unencumbered by large swathes of people as it tucks itself away into the hill side beside the Bachawy with the Wye below. It still stands as still today apart from the 2 geese that came out with all guns blazing to protect what was clearly their territory. With numerous barks and hisses I pressed on passed 2 horses contrastingly more peaceful so as not to invite any further disturbance.
Now on the road, which was formerly the old Cambrian Rail line I step down off the road to the Bachawey below. With the bridge looming over head I’m reminded of how fleeting things can be in a fast-paced changing world. The one constant it seems is the Bachawy, which has been here since the melting of the last ice age that enabled it to emerge. Nearing the confluence, a former camp in 2015 is brought back to me. Then I had been looking for an elusive Wye view with the Black Mountains behind. I found a view but not the one I was looking for. Still, I was happy to be camping beside this stretch of the Wye a section I’d not returned to until now. How things have changed I thought yet they have remained the same. I mean here I am without my twin still walking the rivers and relishing standing beside the merging of two distinct streams of water that symbolize to me thee oneness of all things as the Backawy now flows into the Wye without protest. The merging of the two waters is a beautiful sight one that my twin Paul and I understood well. It wasn’t always smooth but is life ever like that? Is a river ever like that with it’s twists and turns? I don’t think so. There are many surprises as it finds its way back to the place from whence it came.