Toasted in Felingwmuchaf ...
Once again, I was woken by spring birdsong. It was damned rude of them actually, since it was only six o’clock and too early for me to be considering leaving the cosy warmth of my sleeping bag. I dozed on until eight-thirty and then finally roused myself. It was another sunny morning – although this wasn’t to last – so I packed my gear away in a leisurely manner. I wondered if I’d see Dai make an appearance, farmers apparently being the early birds they are. He didn’t and has thrown the whole claim up into the air, as far as I’m concerned. Shaking my head in disappointment and townie ignorance, I made my way off his land and back onto the lane at about nine forty-five.
I was due to arrive at a village called Felingwmuchaf and in order to do this I had to journey along a connective network of lanes. As I was pacing along, it occurred to me that it had been a week since I had set out on this walk. I worked out that I had broken the hundred miles walked achievement, probably during the last hour of yesterday’s effort and reflected that I had endured some tough walking. However, I had also seen some fabulous sights and met some fine people and hoped that the next five days would bring me more of the same. I strode through the tiny settlement of Ffern Nantymah-Isaf as clouds began to smear the skyline and I then passed by a disused quarry, before the lane bent to the left to join another. At a T-junction, I turned right and re-joined my official route soon after, as I also joined the I followed its course, beginning to be taken through light woodland that was a wonderful, fresh green and had wild flowers peppering the verges with prettiness on both sides.
On track to Dolybont
“The toast will be cold and there may be a few half-eaten pieces, but you’re welcome to what’s left,” she told me.
Any port in a storm, I thanked them and accepted gladly. So it was, that I retired back to the bus-stop with a paper plate heaped with limp, partly-chewed offerings which nevertheless tasted wonderful, such was my appetite. I munched my way through them as I sat on a bench, watching as the rain pattered down to make the road sleek and the day glum. It was about another forty-five minutes before the shower passed by and I was able to hoist my rucksack back on and head out of Felingwmuchaf.
Like a bull at a gate ...
Straight away, my route was to send me across country although I had the choice of sticking to the lane on a wayward, less-than-merry-go-round trip. With some misgivings, I decided against this and left the security of the lane to set out raggedly across and up a flank of a hill, near a house called Llethrgele. I climbed upwards and then I was pitched downwards again, descending on a slimy track made trickier by a further shower of rain. I was brought to an area of muddy pasture and a line of wire and barbed-wire fencing. I was immediately grateful of this barrier, because staring intently at me from the other side of it was a huge black bull. He began to show far too much interest in me, which wasn’t something I was generally used to. Other bulls I’d come across in the past had been mostly docile creatures, barely moved enough by my presence to even look at me. Lofty disdain would be how I could best describe them (another notable exception was an enormous and irascible chap my brother and I met whilst walking The Heart of England Way). Not this character, though. He tramped up and down his side of the fence, churning up what was already a quagmire of a track and being fairly vocal and opinionated on
The Afon Cothi
“Okay, I’m just going to leave you to it, so don’t get over-excited.”
I said this quietly and (I hoped) soothingly as I hastened upwards, darting a glance backwards to see him standing and glaring morosely after me. It was a relief when a belt of trees hid him from view. I reckoned I was probably off-route a little because of this hasty retreat, but right then I didn’t care. It was only as I struggled up hilly fields and over a few fences that I realised that I was lost once more. To celebrate this, the heavens opened and it rained on me again. I stood for a few moments to contemplate this, staring down over the village of Felingwmuchaf that I had recently left as the current weather pattered against the hood of my coat. Then, I used my map and the local landscape to gauge where I thought I could be and walked accordingly, aiming for the corner of another field, where I hoped to climb over the latest fence and find myself back on a lane. As I paced forward, the ground became soggier and soon I was squelching through water and mud. Abruptly, I realised that it wasn’t just mud and that a whole bunch of cows had used this corner of the field as a latrine. I tried to pick my way through gingerly and had almost made it, when I stepped onto an innocuous and solid-looking piece of ground and sank up to my shin in liquid cow shit. I had fallen for it again. Oh how I raged at that empty field and glanced around murderously for cows, calling the whole species out to fight me. What maddened me the most is that it was my final step in that particular minefield. After that, it was firm springy grass; a lot of which I now tainted by wiping my boot and trouser leg up and down to rid myself of the filth and stench.
The hills and valleys of Carmarthenshire ...
It was a while before I gained enough composure to walk on, though I was still muttering to myself. I re-joined a lane exactly back on route, as luck would have it (well, they say it’s lucky to tread in poo). I was supposed to almost immediately leave this road again to begin a fresh foray across rustic Wales, but I was in no mood and opted for the longer and safer route on the lane. I walked north and then west, taking a left at a fork and then being taken sharply downwards into a small valley and passing a couple of farms on the way. I did consider a short-cut I saw on the map at this point, which would bring me out near a burial ground of some type and cut out a bit of the twisting and turning, but it was no good and I couldn’t make any headway on it, coming to a halt by the side of a dilapidated stone house with no roof and a couple of walls missing. Ivy was slowly throttling the remains and a few saplings had sprung up where the main living quarters had once been. Defeated and wondering about the demise of such a building, I returned to the lane. The burial ground had been a dead-end,
The bridge at Dolybont
There was a right turn and an additional descent into another valley and then a left turn along it. It was a wonder I wasn’t becoming dizzy, but I was making progress and passed a farm called Black Bush at ten to three in the afternoon, stopping to take a photograph of a strange (to me) piece of farming apparatus on a brick block. Not long after this, I did dare to use a horse track as a short-cut at Pant yr ystrad fawr. This turned out to be a wet, boggy affair that was an effort to move along and led me to a further problem that was actually pretty disgusting. I hate to go on about the doings of cows, but I also have to write it as it happened. A tongue of woodland lay inside the ravine I now found myself in. It was precipitous all about me and I had somehow to negotiate a twisty track upwards. A farm track and gate came down from somewhere higher up and a small stream ran alongside it and along the edge of the wood. It had pooled out over the track in front of me and as I examined the scene, I was fairly appalled to see that what had dammed the stream was a huge mound of cow manure. A large proportion of this had then been turned into a disgusting porridge by the trapped waters and it had poured out onto the path before me, where it sat in a deep, coagulated puddle. There was no way that I could get through this ravine on the path. I was sick and tired of cow shit on this trip and now I had a lake of it to get past. Looking at the prospect before me, I realised that if I climbed the nearside bank along the edge of the wood and used the trees to hang on to, I might be able to make my way past. What worried me was that if I slipped or a branch broke, there would be one obvious outcome and I would land straight into the whole mess of it. Slowly, carefully, it took me twenty minutes to negotiate this part of the walk. My rucksack constantly snagged on branches, or was brought up hard against something unyielding. This resulted in me having to yank away from the obstruction and risk a tumble, or the snapping sound of a branch that would signal the end of me ever being accepted into human company again. I was revolted the whole time by the sight and smell of what was directly below me and between clenched teeth, I once more began loudly cursing all cows and then the farmer for good measure. I promised myself a large, vengeful steak wherever I ended up that evening. As I reached the farm gate, I had to use it as a climbing frame to progress over the waste and turn the corner in the track. Not long afterwards I was clear of it and able to step down. Looking back at the mess I had just navigated, I enjoyed a peculiar sense of triumph. Those bastardly cows hadn’t beaten me yet, I thought. I was in danger of taking it all way too personally.
A race for a room ...
I walked on, up a steep track until I was connected with another lane and the going got easier. There was to be a long trek down into the village of Peniel after a hard day amongst the hills and valleys, but the end was in sight. Having said this I was tired, footsore and hungry and was hoping for a shop or garage in Peniel that could help me out with the last of these problems. The road I was on was halfway up a hill, so that I had a view down into a valley with a stream running through it on my left and fields climbing upwards to my right. I hiked by more smallholdings and junctions of lanes and at last began to head downwards, taking a right turn to approach the village. As I began to enter its fringes, I was surprised at how modern and clean the streets and houses looked. It appeared to be a swanky, new estate that was devoid of people other than a few workmen. I walked for quite a way through the centre of Peniel and wasn’t able to find anything resembling a shop, garage or even a roadside peddler. Chagrined, I chose a house at random and knocked on the door to ask where the nearest shop was. An elderly man answered and told me that there was a garage further on, about a mile along an A-road and out of town. Splendidly, the way he pointed went uphill again. I thought it was a bit ridiculous, really. What was the point of having a nice, modern estate but not bothering to provide local shops? As I began the trek up the slope, I did a local search on my iPhone and managed to find a listing for a bed and breakfast. I rang them and the guy at the other end told me without any preamble that they were fully-booked. However, he then recommended a place called The Hollybrook Inn about two miles north of Bronwydd. A further phone call and the patron of the Hollybrook said that if I could get to them fairly quickly a room was mine but if I dallied too long, the room wouldn’t be available. Why this was the case, I never found out. With a bit of a race now on,
The Cothi from Dolybont bridge
Entering the place was strange as it looked just like a regular house, although sunken below road level and reached by going down some steps and entering through the ‘front door’. Inside, it was a convenience store cramped with provisions and shelves and even a tiny post office. There were three blokes on duty and I bought myself some food and drinks, including two huge pasties that notched the weight of my rucksack back up again such was their size. I asked the guy who served me if he knew where the Hollybrook Inn was and if there was a local taxi firm that could get me there. He answered in the affirmative to both questions. They asked where I was walking to and where I had come from and somehow, during the ensuing chat, one of the guys who were due off duty soon said that he would drive me to the place himself. See what I mean? There are top people, everywhere. I was able to phone the Hollybrook and tell them that I’d be with them shortly. I was seated around a corner in their minuscule store; rucksack off, perched on a stool and reading the labels of cleaning products on the shelves in front of me. I supped on a can of fizzy drink while I waited. After ten minutes or so, the guy finishing his shift beckoned me through the back of their shop to the car park and we got into his tatty Land Rover. It looked to be a veteran of many winters and maybe a couple of stock car races. The inside was no different and I swept aside several empty cartons of food and drink in the foot-well, before I could get comfortable. My companion was as worn as his vehicle with long, straggly hair, a profuse beard and gaps where teeth had once resided. He was genial and chatty and loved the idea behind my walk. He was kick-started into telling me of his own adventures over the years as we drove along, a fresh rain shower spattering across the windscreen. It was a short drive along the B4301 and we soon reached the I was wished good luck for the rest of my walk and waved him off as he pulled away. It was still raining lightly, so I quickly made my way inside.
The Hollybrook Inn was opened on Easter Monday 1980 by locals Glyn and Maureen Evans. The site is known to have housed a pub in 1851 by the name of 'Clothiers Arms' but by 1871 it was no longer open. Within its walls, I introduced myself to the staff at the bar as the guy on the phone and was relieved to discover that the room was still available and mine for the night. I was given the usual tour and settled quickly into a sizeable and very comfortable room. My clothes were in a state and in need of cleaning requiring industrial strength detergents, given what they had been doused in that day and with three days accumulation of sweat. I was, therefore, a little dejected to learn that the Hollybrook didn’t offer a laundry service. Come morning, it was going to be something of a trial to force myself back into my clothing after a shower and I mentally cringed at the prospect, but that’s the way it was going to have to be. On a better note, the shower itself was excellent; powerful and hot and I luxuriated in a steamy cubicle of bliss for a good while.
The quite famous Mr. Thomas ...
Refreshed and dressed in my snappy evening gear of tracksuit bottoms and a shirt, I made my way downstairs to the bar at about seven o’clock and ordered a pint of taking it to a table where I could cast an eye over the menu. I smiled, grimly – they did indeed do a steak meal, so that was that sorted. I ate and ordered another beer whilst listening to the casual chat of the few people around me. A large man (presumably Glyn) occasionally walked ponderously by, chest wheezing with each breath. I then went out into the car park; the only spot with half a reliable phone signal, as local knowledge had it. Darkness had already sunk over the land, as it was now nearly nine o’clock, so I sat on a wall and managed to send off a few tweets as the midges came out in force. Once my face and ears had been declared on the menu by enough of them, I retired back to the warmth and safety of the bar; a fresh burst of rain hastening my steps. I’d bought my maps and notebook down with me and had these on the table, perusing an open map and looking ahead to the following day’s route, when I was approached by a man who asked me where I was walking. We fell into discussion and it became obvious that he had enjoyed walking as well. During the course of our conversation, he pointed me in the direction of the traveller, adventurer and writer who I’ve since looked up online and who was an extraordinary man indeed. It was a pleasant few minute’s chat and then he bid me a good evening and left and I thought no more about it. Then, another man came up to my table and asked me if I knew who I had been talking to. I was a bit surprised by this and admitted that I hadn’t known him and was then told that this gentleman was quite famous locally and had written a book about the area around Bronwydd amongst other works. I was given the gentleman’s name and the man talking to me pointed to a shelf in front of my table.
“That’s his book,” he told me.
I got it from the shelf and looked at it. BRONWYDD: A History of the Area by Arwyn Thomas. I spent a while reading snatches of it. I have since looked up details about the author and now wish that I had taken greater notice and talked longer with him, as he is an interesting individual. Arwyn Thomas was brought up on Pantglas farm, which lies between the villages of Bronwydd and Llanpumsaint and so naturally, Mr. Thomas knows the area well. After attending Llanpumsaint school and Carmarthen Grammar he graduated from Swansea University with an honours degree in History. Whilst pursuing a teaching career at Ysgol Gruffydd Jones Saint Clears, he ran a series of local history evening classes. Following his retirement after 25 years as Headmaster of Maesyryrfa Bilingual School in Cefneithin, Arwyn returned to his subject to publish books and articles on local history. His other interests are varied. At Caernarfon National Eisteddfod in 1979 he won the best actor award for his performance in “Waiting for Godot”. A founder member of Bronwydd Cricket Club he has served the game widely as player, coach, umpire, trainer and grounds man. A member of Carmarthen Golf Club for 35 years he also enjoyed walking and has travelled widely abroad. History, cricket, travel and walking – I could have spent all evening in pleasurable conversation with this man, yet he was so quiet and humble I never found out about his accomplishments until he had gone. It’s a pity, but yet another example on the extraordinary folk I have met whilst walking.
I ordered a couple more pints of Reverend and sat for a while, busily writing up notes and using my maps as reference points now and then. Once I was up to date, I fell into discussion with Glyn (the wheezing owner of the Hollybrook) and a couple of lads, who fitted artificial cricket pitches for a living and were back in the area to do a bit of work on one they had put down some years before. Eventually, tiredness drew a heavy cloak around me. I ordered a double whiskey to take up to my room and bid my bar companions a good night. The TV reception in the room was bloody awful, so I read my book for a while as I finished the whiskey and then settled happily down under the covers of a proper bed. It felt wonderful and I was asleep within minutes.
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