As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to the Dyfi Biosphere, Paul Bloomfield spots kites, a Roman fort and soaring peaks on a 15-mile stretch of the Glyndŵr’s Way, a glorious National Trail linking Welshpool and Knighton via Machynlleth.
One kite. Two kites. A buzzard on a gatepost. Three kites. Four kites. Meadow pipits, or larks, perhaps. Five kites. Six. Any day in which I see more birds than people counts as a good one – so my first hours walking Glyndŵr’s Way were blissful indeed. When the number of red kites I spotted got into double figures, I became almost blasé about seeing these magnificent predators circling on the thermals above the rolling hills of mid-Wales. Almost – but not quite. It’s impossible to be anything but captivated by the natural wonders of this route, whether airborne or at eye level.
The 135-mile-long national trail named after Wales’ near-mythical 15th-century revolutionary hero Owain Glyndŵr traces a meandering loop across the middle of the country, from Knighton to Welshpool, through the Dyfi Biosphere Reserve. As the path links at both ends with the Offa’s Dyke Path, it would be possible (and pretty spectacular) to complete a circuit over a couple of weeks of wonderful walking.
But if you don’t have that much time, it’s also straightforward to do as I did – pack a microadventure into a long-ish weekend, using the hub of Machynlleth, with its train station and ample facilities, as a launchpad for a two-day taster. One of the glories of the trail is that it traverses remote stretches of mid-Wales, often with fair distances between accommodation and other services, so a bit of planning is required – but just a bit.
I’d caught a taxi from Mach (as the locals thankfully abbreviate the town’s name) to Dylife – pronounced ‘Duh-lee-va’ – for a night at the newly reinvigorated Star Inn, a 17th-century drovers’ hostelry brought up to date with comfy beds, wholesome fodder and even a sauna to ease the bones of weary walkers. After a slap-up Welsh breakfast graced by excellent local sausages and laver bread, I was hiking up through the hazy sunshine to the lonely moors above, where that first red kite welcomed me to the trail.
Evidence of human occupation lay scattered sparsely around, from distant farmhouses glimpsed on the surrounding hillsides to the faint outline of a Roman fortlet at Penycrocben and the ruins of abandoned mineworkings. This section of moorland trail is almost eerie in its isolation, such that the bleating of lambs came as a reassuring reminder that I hadn’t tripped back in time. To the south lay the wind-scoured slopes of Pumlumon, where in 1401 the recently proclaimed Prince of Wales Owain Glyndŵr claimed his first major victory at Hyddgen.
My path, though, led west to the mirror-like waters of Glaslyn and the scree-clad slopes of Foel Fadian, at 564m the highest peak on the trail. At each turn new vistas were revealed, first heather-clad moorland, then patchwork fields grazed by ewes and their mini-me lambs learning the art of gambolling.
The 15 miles of trail to Machynlleth provided plenty of climbs and descents to work up an appetite, along farm tracks and quiet backroads, through forestry plantations and across the high common above Mach where, just a mile or two before the end of my day’s walk, I came across the only other hikers I met all day. In Mach I sated hunger for history at the compact Owain Glyndŵr Centre, a lively exhibition housed in the 15th-century stone building on the site of the rebel’s first Welsh parliament.
Then I stocked up with ingredients and headed for my base that night, the wonderful converted stables at Yr Hen Stablau, a mile or so out of the centre. With the woodburner roaring and dinner steaming on the kitchen table (made from one of the old stable doors!), I raised a glass of Cwrw Glyndŵr (Glyndŵr Ale, brewed on the nearby Llŷn Peninsula) to the man who’d inspired the trail. Owain disappeared after his rebellion fizzled out, reputedly dying 600 years ago this year, though nobody knows for sure where or when. Legends persisted that he lived on, and lives still. But even if his body lies in the ground, his spirit surely imbues this glorious trail that reveals the beauty of the Powys countryside he so loved.
Plan your Glyndŵr’s Way microadventure
Information on the trail and planning tips are on the Glyndŵr Way National Trail website.
The Star Inn, a drovers’ inn dating from 1640, has been recently refurbished with four fresh, bright en-suite bedrooms, a welcoming bar and wholesome, locally sourced food. It’s just a couple of hundred metres from the Glyndŵr’s Way. Single/double occupancy from £48/72. Luggage transfers can be arranged.
Yr Hen Stablau is a charming, cosy self-catering cottage sleeping six converted from a 19th-century stable, using slate and other materials from the original stalls. It has a strong green ethos, with solar-heated water and many other eco elements, and is also wheelchair-accessible. Short breaks from £275 for four nights.
Owain Glyndŵr Centre is worth visiting to learn about the rebellion that harried Henry IV’s men in Wales. The next-door café and gift-shop Siop Alys is a fine place to relax with a coffee; it sells Cwrw Glyndŵr beer, from which a proportion of profits helps fund the centre.