I returned home quite late on Thursday evening from four arduous days horse riding across the breadth of Wales. An adventure well worth the effort and you are going to hear about it in detail I’m afraid! (I want to diary my journey for my own sake, as well as sharing with you, so I record the detail before it slips away ……) It will be quite a long tale – “bare with”…….
This trip was something a friend and I had planned to do for a while. We signed up with a company that provide horses, (rather than use our own) a guide, back up and have your luggage transported on ahead. Brilliant. Nice accommodation, good food en route and the company of 5 other adventurers. (Now friends for life).
Day 1: Introduced to out mounts – mine was a sturdy and surefooted little dun named “Cobweb” and my mate was on his brother “Bob”. I was soon to discover Cobweb knew the route back to front and anticipated every gallop well in advance. He really liked to be at the front if at all possible! ! We set off in clearing drizzle not far from the English Border and Offas Dyke, near the small town of Talgarth, in the Black Mountains. The stables is just below Castel Dinas a 11th/12th century Norman stronghold which now boasts only a few ruins atop the earthworks. We were headed for our first night’s stop at Builth Wells about 25 miles away. Once through Talgarth and a few more lanes we were soon on open rolling moorland. The pace quickened to what our guide called “interval training mode” where we would gallop for a spell and then slow the pace for an equal distance. Cobweb jumping every ditch very enthusiastically! The skies had cleared and the views across to the Eppynt were glorious. After a splendid picnic lunch carried in saddlebags and a short break at the edge of a forest we were off again at speed until we started our descent off the hills to the town of Builth, nestled below us, on the edge of the river Wye. We did have one unscheduled stop when my pony lost a shoe in a boggy patch, but it was quickly replaced by our multi-talented guide! Our little party soon reached the outskirts of town where we trotted on smartly to the far side and our accommodation for the night.(Builth has a very organic statue of a Welsh Black Bull in the park at its centre. ) The horses were corralled for the night in the gardens of quite a smart hotel! (It must have surprised the other guests especially when one horse went AWOL next morning). Once we had fed and seen to the horses and cleaned all the tack we headed inside for a welcome drink, bath and dinner.
Day 2: After a splendid and leisurely breakfast we gathered the horses and hit the trail again on a glorious clear and sunny autumn morning. We had a bit of road work to start the day; running not far from the Wye heading today for the next stop of Rhayader. We crossed a couple of commons and once up a short lane hit the village of Llanafan and the Red Lion pub.
Lunch stop over we headed out again up the road, then onto a pretty tree-lined track, across a river, then trotted alongside it, heading into the south east side of the Cambrian mountains. Suddenly we were in a mountain sided valley the trees along the track becoming more sparse. Red kite circled above us and the numerous sheep either ignored us or bounced hurriedly out of the way. Eventually we arrived at a wide, flat, boggy plain covered in rough grass and sedge; mountains both sides. The track fizzled out into a vague path with boggy ruts which needed to be followed with care especially when the speed quickened! Another shoeing stop ensued following our guide’s encounter with a deep canter. At the far side of the “plain” we met steep lanes and ancient woodland and descended to a pretty village and back into the Wye valley. We trotted north glimpsing the river from time to time till there was the full beauty of the River Wye before us. Only a little further and we waded the Elan at its confluence with the Wye on the outskirts of Rhayader. The colours of the trees and river reflections were stunning in the late afternoon sunshine.
Following a well used track, we made our way to the farm where the horses were to stop the night. We did our chores, fed and cleaned the horses and kit and only then could we walk the half mile or so into town to our hotel.( All was well until the middle of the night when the wall mounted TV in my room switched itself on very loudly and I had to climb on a chair in the dark to switch it off at the ceiling height plug as there was no remote control! My friend slept through it all!)
Day 3: Our little group procrastinated over a hearty cooked breakfast next morning – no-one in a hurry to hit the road as the weather had changed dramatically. We were to be battered by the tale end of an Atlantic hurricane. Wrapped in heavy wet weather gear we managed to catch the horses and start the day in a blowy drizzle but as we climbed the long road up towards Cwmystwyth the wind and rain started to build. It was deemed too dangerous to take the mountain shortcut to the forest so we zig-zaggged along the the lower hills adjacent to the road barely able to see at it was with the wind and rain straight into our faces. Coming down into Cwmystwyth itself the gale seemed to be funnelled full bore at us and we were all pretty well wet through to our underwear! In the hamlet we took a right up an old steeply climbing (as I learnt later) monastic path through the mountains heading for the forests above Llangurig (geographically supposed to be the highest located village in Wales).
For a short while we had a respite in the weather, but it wasn’t to last long. We had a quick break in pouring rain at the edge of the trees; a sandwich and a drink and then headed, at considerable speed, through the forest. High above us we occasionally glimpsed the tops of the huge wind turbines that line the hills in this area. The forest tracks started to descend and before too long we dropped down to the cross the Wye again and find our farm for the horses. Apparently, we had made our destination in record time. After chores, undertaken in the dry of a huge modern farm building, the horses were turned away outside and the taxi -driver( chef and the landlord of our accommodation) came and picked us up and took us to his pub for the night. After a hot bath, a large scotch and a coffee I was settled in for a very cosy evening with the rest of the party.
Day 4: The party had been advised well in advance this would be the longest and most arduous part of our ride. We made an earlier start in the morning which was thankfully clear and bright. The ride had to be through the farming estate were the horses were as it was a “shooting” morning and we had to be clear of the guns in good time. Off we headed up the main farm track past little stands of conifer trees, surrounded by pheasant pens, climbing all the while. The track became steeper and we bore off at an angle on to the very wet mountain itself. “Aphro” immediately threw a shoe and we had another unscheduled shoeing stop. However, it gave me time to gaze around at the seemingly unending mountains. Up and up we went slowly, picking our way, carefully following our guide around bogs and gullies headed, with no visible path, for the highest part of Plynlimon source of the rivers Wye and Severn. Eventually we reached the ridge, the estate boundary and a gate. A short burst of speed following the ridge – black mud flying everywhere; a lot of it hitting me being on the smallest horse! We topped the ridge and started downward. Not a word; everyone concentrating on the precipitous route down the mountain; a small lake way below us to the left and beyond that the Nant Moch reservoir. After what seemed an age we reached the valley bottom, crossed a river and hit a defined track. Then low and behold three farmers hove into view on quad bikes- sheep gathering. One of the most inhospitable places I could imagine to farm! Our guide informed us this was the scene of the ferocious battle of Hyddgen in 1401 between Owen Glyndwr and Henry II.
After another hour of unforgiving terrain we forded a couple of small rivers and reached the Nant Moch forest and our lunch stop. Everyone was pleased to jump out of the saddle and stretch their legs. Horses tied to the forestry fence we sat in the cool sunshine and devoured our sandwiches. The horses dined on apples and carrots; thoughtfully brought by one of our party each day.
Off again not far through the forest tracks , down past old mine workings in the moorland and headed for farmland either side a steep lane.
Way, way off in the distance the Irish Sea. In view at last! Gradually the fields became greener as we trotted down the lane and the trees more frequent. Then suddenly we took a right past a farm and up a track; the last mountain before our destination! We followed a well defined path now through fields of sheep and welsh black cattle and as we bridged the top of the ridge we were treated to extensive and spectacular views of the sea and the Dovey Estuary. All bathed in hazy late afternoon sunshine. Stunning.
Down again now- steep, steep paths through stunted ancient oak woods; all the dazzling colours of autumn – down to the Vale of Cletwr . Another brief stop in Cletwr itself (civilsation!). Then off again at a steady trot : down a ruler straight road, headed for the sea. The ground changed here to marshland and ditches with the cries of gulls replacing that of the kite and buzzard of the last three days. Following a track at the back of some boats yards we hit the sand dunes at Ynyslas about 5.30 in the afternoon with the tide well out. We had all made it – we were euphoric.The Dovey estuary at Ynyslas
My little horses, despite the 26 miles or more of difficult terrain earlier in the day , anticipating the beach gallop, was trotting sideways along the headland, pulling my arms from their sockets. One word from our guide and he knew it was time – he was off, like the “pocket rocket” he was, for an unrestricted gallop on the wet sand.
Phew! What a four days!
Horses washed off and fed, loaded into their transport we climbed wearily into the company land rover. As darkness set in we were driven back to our starting point of four days ago 90 miles east.
Thanks for sticking with my “meanderings” ……. perhaps it will inspire you to visit Wales if you have never been …..