Rilgrimages to Raise Funds
THE MONK’S TROD – AUGUST 2021
The Monk’s Trod is a track that runs between the two Cistercian abbeys of Strata Florida and Abbeycwmhir, two of seventeen such abbeys in Wales. A group of friends decided to walk the route and having been advised to walk it in dry weather they chose to set out from Strata Florida on Monday 9th August. First, we had to assemble our group of six walkers near the start point so we agreed to meet at the Red Lion Inn in Pontrhydfendigaid and spend the night there ready for an early start on Monday.
The Romanesque arch of Strata Florida
The next morning, we were up early so that we could walk the mile or so to Strata Florida. Strata Florida is a Latinisation of the Welsh Ystrad Fflur; ‘Valley of Flowers’. It was established by white-robed Cistercian monks as part of a movement that spread like a tidal wave across the whole of western Europe in the early Middle Ages.
On leaving the abbey we walked east, which would be our direction of travel for the next two days. The land ahead of us immediately looked hilly as we wound our way along a tarmac road for the first mile or so. As the road came to an end, we saw a sign to Teifi Pools and soon we were climbing up towards the six pools or reservoirs that belong to Welsh Water. The well-trodden path led us to Llyn Egnant and the dam at its south end where the silence was shattered by the noise of two men strimming the vegetation around the dam and sluice.
Although we had thought of stopping at the dam for lunch the noise drove us onto the small hill of Bryn Llyn Egnant where we sat on the Eastside and out of the wind to eat our sandwiches. As we walked on we had to descend to the very wet and marshy plain but happily, there was a footbridge over the river and we soon reached the road beneath the farm buildings. We stopped in a small quarry for a snack but with a wall of rain coming from the west and knowing that we had a long way to go we soon pressed on and up the hill of Esgair Cywion.
The track to the Teifi Pools
We were now in the Claerwen Nature Reserve which is an expanse of mountain upland lying halfway between Rhayader in Powys and Pontrhydfendigaid in Ceredigion. The mainly peaty and acidic soil provides an environment home for many species of plants and animals which thrive in these conditions. Grazing has been reduced on the reserve to protect species like bog mosses, bog rosemary, cotton grasses and heather. This bleak upland provides breeding or feeding ground for scarce birds like the dunlin, golden plover and merlin. We were now at the highest point on our first day and the drizzle turned to heavy wind-blown rain. On a positive note it was at least coming from the West and onto our backs.
From the high point of Bryn Eithinog (542m) we continued northeast for 6 long kilometres. This broad ridge was very wet and boggy with tussock grass, peat and mud making the going very tedious and difficult. All six walkers had wet feet by this stage despite wearing overtrousers and gaiters. The ridge descended gradually until we saw some prominent metal signs and uprooted fencing erected to try to keep vehicles off the “ancient road”. Soon after this, we hit a well-made track which led us down towards Pont ar Elan where Max (my son was our support party – having driven up from Cardiff) was waiting with his VW Camper and our overnight stores.
The Bothy of Lleust Cwm Bach
To his great credit, Max had already hiked up to the bothy at Lluest-Cwm-Bach with some of our stores and found that it was deserted. This good news was given to us over the small radios we carried, as there is no mobile phone coverage in the area. It meant that we did not have to carry tents up to the bothy and that we could all sleep in the building. Max had even bought us firewood and in no time at all, we had carried our stores up to the bothy and the fire was lit. We were all soaking wet, but the flames gave a living soul to the bleak bothy and soon we were warming ourselves by the cast iron stove and drying clothes in front of it. We had carried up two gas stoves and they were quickly put to good use with one boiling a kettle for hot drinks while the other was heating our boil-in-the-bag meals for supper.
After changing into dry clothes, we pumped up our air mattresses and unrolled our sleeping bags. Some wrote up their diaries while others brewed more tea. A small bottle of whisky was produced which some drank with water to ensure a good night’s sleep! As the flames and heat of the fire died down we climbed into sleeping bags and settled down to sleep, leaving a small lamp lit for those who might get up in the night.
The next morning was altogether a better day, as forecast. It was not particularly sunny but at least the lashing rain had stopped. We gathered all our gear, swept and cleaned and then set off for the road, which is a kilometre away as the red kite flies. The land between the bothy and the road starts with a big marsh and to our surprise, we managed to cross it without getting wet feet again. Max was waiting for us. We loaded our stores onto his camper van and set off up the road which leads to Rhayader.
Laden with gear leaving the bothy
Our next obstacle was the river Wye which, given the recent rains, was in full spate. Happily, there is a pedestrian bridge tucked in the woods at Pont Marteg which we found and soon we were across the Wye. Hiking up above the bridge we came to Gilfach Farm which is now the base of the Gilfach Nature Reserve. It was good to see the splendid old building being put to good use today. Gilfach is a special place, well known for its pied flycatchers, dippers, redstarts and leaping salmon with the River Marteg running through. The variety of wildlife to be found here is what makes Gilfach different. Over a quarter of the total number of lichens in Wales can be found growing here! As we left the farm a family had arrived for a picnic in the old farmyard. We continued up steeply for one of the longer climbs on the route and on reaching the top there was a splendid view in every direction. Looking West we could see the farms we had passed hours before and to the East, we saw the vast forests that surround our destination of Abbey cwm Hir.
Passing a farm called “Labour in Vain” we embarked on our last steep hill which led us up to point 417. From here we could look down to the valley and Upper Cwm Hir and the stream that soon joins the Clywedog brook, which in turn runs into the river Ithon which flows through Llandrindod Wells. We soon arrived at Abbey cwm Hir. With little energy left we settled into the excellent Laurelbank B&B where we were given a good supper by the owner. After supper, we walked the short distance to the village pub The Happy Union Inn – which has a large sign of a man riding a goat with leeks adorning his hat!
Pilgrim with staff and scallop shell
This was my second of 4 pilgrimages to raise funds for the charity Housing Justice Cymru which works to alleviate homelessness in Wales. I am grateful to those who have given already and would welcome any further donations to