At last spring is well underway and the long, miserable wet winter can be confined to Room 101. I don’t know about you but to me the winters seem to go on forever these days whilst the summers in contrast seem to last for about a month. When I say summer, of course, I mean the marginally milder but still very wet season. Oh for the days of baking hot temperatures and a hosepipe ban like the summer of ’76 this unbelievably, is 41 years ago now. But come on, poor weather shouldn’t bother us hardy lovers of the countryside, because as the doyen of hill walkers the late Alfred Wainwright once wrote, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”.
So, after spending the last two walks in the relative familiarity and comfort of Gower, we’re going to be brave this month and spread our wings a little by heading north for a walk centred on Carreg Cennen Castle, near Trap between Llandeilo and Glanamman.
The circular walk is around 13 miles long and starts from the castle car park taking in the beautiful Carmarthenshire countryside. The landscape you pass through is varied and often spectacular. Those with a fertile imagination could probably conjure up visions of strolling through Middle Earth or Camelot even as they take in lush valleys, remote barren wastelands and a dark forest. Without the volcanoes and dragons of course. I strongly recommend however, that you tackle this in fine weather to really appreciate the views that the walk affords (so don’t listen to Alfred – I jthink he was just glad to get out of the house). However, a word of warning, the route is quite tough and you really need to know your way around a map because there are a few places where it’s easy to take the wrong path. It’s not really suitable for the very young and you have to be quite fit and be able to climb stiles and gates. Dogs also need to be on a lead. There is a shorter option of around 5 1/2 miles, details of which can be found on the Weatherman Walking website. It centres around the castle and it takes in the source of the River Llwchwr. Not quite the source of the River Nile I know, but it’s the best the area can do. I’d imagine this will be a far more child friendly route.
I’m often surprised that some people have never heard of Carreg Cennen Castle let alone visited. I first encountered it as a child and I genuinely couldn’t believe this was just over the mountain from me, because it‘s quite a spectacular and other worldly sight. It commands an imposing position perched high on a precipitous limestone crag overlooking the surrounding farmland, with equal amounts of majesty and menace. It transported me to a time of heroic battles between knights and marauders (probably from Glanamman) and it was no doubt a stunning place to have a game of war with your mates. I also remember that day there was an American chap touring the castle alongside us and he couldn’t believe his eyes, coming from a country that obviously doesn’t do castles. I’m pretty sure I heard him say to his wife as he looked around at the ruins, “Gee, Martha, this place is gonna be really awesome when it’s finished”.
The castle dates back to the 13th century and had a chequered life during the medieval period until it met its end in 1462, when it was taken by the Yorkists after it became a Lancastrian stronghold in the War of the Roses. Those troublesome Yorkshiremen came brandishing picks and other destructive devices and proceeded to wreck the place in a gross act of vandalism. How very rude. Having said that it’s pretty well preserved and a visit is recommended.
In an interesting and remarkable development in the 60s the tenant of the farm on which the castle stood, the Morris family, bought the freehold from their landlords, the Dynevor estate. Incredibly the lawyers overlooked the fact that the castle came with the farm and once the deeds were signed suddenly Mr & Mrs Morris unwittingly became the bemused owners of a ruined castle! Imagine that. They told them they were leaving the carpets but forgot to tell them they were leaving the castle! Bonkers.
Anyway, enough of this frivolity, let’s get going. The walk starts in the car park of the castle and from there you walk past the cafe/visitor centre and towards the castle. Ignoring the gate leading to it, you go through the one just to the left which takes you down a grassy path towards the valley below. Be careful here because it gets slippery when wet. The path takes you over a bridge at the bottom where it then ascends taking you over a few stiles. Over the second, ignore the track going left and go straight on up the hill. Taking the next gate enter a field where you keep the fence to your right. Just take a while along this path to view the castle on your right. It’s magnificent. If you like castles then this is castle porn. Come to the brow of a hill taking the gate slightly to your left and head for the gate at the opposite end of the field. Over the stile and through a farm yard, you’ll eventually come to a road where you turn left.
This takes you through weird limestone country comprising of rectangular grassy mounds, an area known as Beddau’r Derwyddon (translated as Druids’ Graves) which upon further research turn out to be artificial warrens for breeding rabbits in medieval times (Thanks to Weatherman Walking for that snippet of information). Follow this road for a mile or so until just before the road bears sharp left and on the right you’ll see two (or maybe 3) boulders. Take the path to the right of these and then at the fork a little way along, you bear right again. Now, from here the path becomes quite indistinct so you’re going to have to wing it a bit. The area to your right comprises of old quarry workings and forms the northern ridge of the Black Mountain. Characterised by rough, craggy, bare limestone it could easily be mistaken for the location of a 1970’s episode of Dr Who featuring the Daleks (probably with Tom Baker). To ensure that you’re going in the right direction, keep the ravine to your left and a couple of small weather beaten hawthorn bushes to your right (to be honest I have no idea what bushes they are, but hawthorn sounds a reasonable guess). Also, keeping the limestone ridge to your right and head for the distinct slope of the end of the ridge in the near distance. A road will (or should) come into view and that’s your target.
Hopefully, if the Daleks haven’t got you, you’ll pick up a path which leads you onto the road. Follow it to the right and after a mile or so you’ll need to keep a careful eye out for a culvert under the tarmac which diverts a small stream and a distinctive cream coloured rock (pictured left) to the right which I can only assume has been calcified over time (apologies to any geologists out there if this is incorrect). On the map it’s marked as Clogau Bach. From here take the path to the left which is just about noticeable. It follows a sunken path and if it’s been raining will be a stream which starts to descend, zig-zagging all the while.
You need to be careful as you descend because you need to look out for a very distinct deep gully, evidently gouged out by the stream (you might have already passed one, but the one you need to look out for is close to a line of trees to your left and must be about 5’ deep). When you reach here you need to be looking to your left for a gate in the trees which leads you to a path between two fields which eventually morphs into a farm track. Go through a farm yard and a derelict barn will soon come into view and then take the path through the gate to your right. A short distance later, take the path to your left through a gate, ignoring the wooden gate on your right. You need to be walking up this field diagonally heading for the line of trees to your right and eventually to the top corner where you exit via a gate leading onto a track. This takes you past a bungalow on your right and an old school to your left where the remains of the tiny yard and toilets are still evident.
At the main road turn left and look for a signposted path about 100m along to the right taking you into a field. Find the kissing gate at the other end and enter another field that looks more like a marsh with no obvious path. But have faith and just head for the house straight ahead in the near distance and in the far left corner and you’ll eventually come across a small gate. Enter the downward sloping field which leads onto a road turning right and in about 50 yards you’ll see a sign also to the right directing you to Llwyn y Neuadd (pictured right) along a tarmac road.
You’ll cross a ford via a little footbridge and the path ascends until you come to the cottage where you follow the road around the house. About 50 yards after the second gate come off the track and take the gate to your right and follow the fence line which is on your left. Go through yet another gate until you come to, yes you guessed, two more gates. Take the one to your left and up an ascending path. There’ll be a steep climb for about 75/100 metres and look out for a post on the left with white direction arrows. Opposite to the right is a path which you take and through a gate. Follow the tree line into the next field and head to the right of the derelict barn ahead of you. Straight across the next field and look out for a stile leading you into the forest.
There is an obvious path, albeit rather overgrown, which takes you past a house to your right called Lletty and onto a track which bears left. Just as you come to the next house, Pen Arthur, there’s a path signposted left which you follow through the trees. After a short while you’ll emerge into a small clearing and take the left fork where the path ascends through the trees. It’s a bit spooky along here and one thing that occured to me as I walked alone was that if I keeled over for any reason I’d be in big trouble. A bit like space – there’s no one around to hear you scream!
You’ll exit the forest shortly, you’ll be pleased to learn, and you take the gate immediately to your left. Follow the track straight ahead so that the fence is to your right. After scaling a stile or two (and probably a gate,) you’ll be faced with a junction of paths but carry on straight ahead.
Go across the field and look out for a gap in the dry stone wall ahead of you which leads you into another forest. Emerge from the forest and go straight ahead. It would be worthwhile pausing around here as the view is superb (pic left). Over your right shoulder is Llangadog and panning left to the Iron Age hillfort of Garn Goch, the Dyffryn valley towards Talley and the beautiful green pastures of the lush Towy valley below, meandering off into the distance with Llandeilo nestling along its banks and Carmarthen just out of view in the far distance.
Come to a main road and at the junction take the road straight ahead. After about a mile or so, you’ll come to a turning left and just after this there’s a stile taking you into a field. Not long to go now.
Take this path through the long grass and head for a signpost about 75m away. Follow the direction of the marker heading left and skirt a dry stone wall on your left but bearing right. Follow the direction of the next marker post left, over a stile and into a field keeping the fence and wall to the right. Cross the next stile and follow the sign directing you left. You exit this field over a stile which is directly in line with the castle which is now in view. Take the track and follow it back to the road and return to the castle and car park.
You now have two choices for refreshment in the immediate vicinity (believe me, you’ll need it). The castle cafe is very nice or you could go to the Cennen Arms in Trap. The last time I was in the pub, many years ago, there was a large framed photo of Tom Jones on the wall – manspreading, as Tom is inclined to do, on the bonnet of his car – seemingly taken in the pub car park. Intrigued as to the story behind the photo, it turned out that he visited the pub back in the 80s, in the days when they closed at 3.30pm and opened again at 5.30pm. At around 3.45 on the day in question, a few of the locals were sitting quietly in the pub, finishing off their pints, when the door swung open and amazingly, in walked Tom. The boys’ jaws dropped to the floor and their gazes followed him in silent and stunned amazement as he made his way to the bar. Inexplicably, the only person not to recognize the perma-tanned, curly haired, hairy chested, medallion wearing superstar, mate of Elvis and probably the most famous person Wales has EVER produced (other than Richard Burton and Shakin Stevens, I suppose), was the landlord himself who was serving.
“Sorry bach, you’re too late. We stop serving here at half past”, he said, nodding towards the clock on the wall. (I can hear you all say, well It’s Not Unusual)
By all accounts Tom didn’t try to go all “ Las Vegas ” on him by hitting him with the “Don’t you know who I am ? ” line. He took the rejection in good spirit, smiled graciously, thanked him, turned around and walked out.
Now, the astonished drinkers, turned to the landlord and asked disbelievingly, “Dai, what you doin’ mun? Did you see who that was? ” Obviously Dai didn’t. “That was Tom bloody Jones, you dull bugger!!”
Frantically, they all scrambled out of the pub probably falling over each other as they did so managing to catch Tom before he drove away inviting him back into the pub, where they gave him a warm welcome, a free pint and a packet of pork scratchings for his trouble.
So there you go, a tough challenging walk but if the conditions are good a very rewarding one, and besides, you never know who you might bump into.
OS Map: Brecon Bacons Western Area OL12 (and a very small portion on the neighbouring Explorer 186)
Start and Finish: Car Park of Carreg Cennen Castle, Trapp, Near Llandeilo SN66697 19337
Child friendly: Not suitable for young children and dogs must be kept on a lead
Distance: About 13 miles
Pubs/Cafe: Cafe at the Castle (guide dogs only) or Cennen Arms in Trapp
As a postscript, a new feature this month is a music playlist, the theme being some connection, however tenuous, with this month’s walk, reflecting the area, the season or anything remotely to do with walking in the count-ry. So please indulge me. Here we go:-
It’s Not Unusual Sir Tom
Poison Arrow ABC
The King Will Come Wishbone Ash
The Lark Ascending Ralph Vaughan Williams
Kings Steely Dan
Here Comes the Sun Beatles
Castles in the Air Don Maclean
Battle of Evermore Led Zeppelin
Guinnevere Crosby Stills and Nash
Blossom Nick Drake
Johnny Go a Boom Boom Imelda May
May You Never John Martyn