The Cambrian Mountains should really be a tourist hotspot. Situated midway between the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia, and not far form the coast of mid-Wales, the region is blessed with spectacular, remarkably unspoilt scenery that's perfect for hiking, wild camping and a touch of dreamy stargazing. Yet it remains firmly off the beaten track and is dubbed the “Green Desert of Wales” due to the sparseness of its population.
Aled, my guide from Expeditions Wales, meets me off the train at Aberystwyth, a 3-hour ride from Birmingham. We stop off at his HQ, just beyond Devil’s Bridge Falls, to pack up our camping gear, and see a pair of red kites circling above us. A twenty-minute drive away, a small herd of stately Highland Longhorn cattle languidly enjoy the views over the glistening Nant y Moch reservoir. Our aim for the day is to ascend the 752-metre Pen Pumlumon Fawr, the highest point in the Cambrian Mountains.
We squelch steeply uphill, passing clumps of sphagnum moss, patches of frogspawn and large chunks of quartz that appear to have dropped from the sky. Buzzards appear overheard. It is perfectly quiet and still. On the summit we hunker down behind a cairn. Aled points south towards the Brecon Beacons, north to the peak of Cadair Idris at the southern edge of Snowdonia National Park, and across to the sources of the Wye and Severn rivers. On a really clear day, you can see Ireland. Below us is an undulating landscape of gurgling streams and waterfalls, lakes and reservoirs, green-tinged peaks and lush valleys. The only obvious signs of humans – beyond the man-made reservoirs, which merge seamlessly into the landscape – are a field of distant wind turbines and some wonderfully isolated abandoned farm buildings.
Refreshed with coffee we hike up our second mountain of the day, the slightly lower Pen Pumlumon Arwystli, tramping through thick, soft grass and the occasional knee-deep hole. Hiking through this landscape burns some 500-600 calories an hour, apparently, and it feels perfectly possible. A glorious sunset arrives, accompanied by a great example of “dragon’s breath”, as a cloud of wispy mist swirls up the mountainside below us, briefly turning the peak we’re standing on into an island.
The Cambrian Mountains are wonderfully unaffected by artificial light, making them ideal for gazing at the night sky. One section, the Elan Valley estate, near Rhayader, enjoys international dark sky status. Sadly, after setting up our tents in an idyllic valley, beside a bracingly cold stream, the clouds descend. The perfect excuse for a return trip to one of the UK’s most beautiful landscapes!
Shafik Meghji blogs about travel at www.unmappedroutes.com and tweets @ShafikMeghji. Expeditions Wales offer a range of guided walks, wild camping and survival skills in the Cambrian Mountains. Photos are by Shafik and Aled Davies.
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