Roger Bray goes walking around the Berwyn Mountains and the Ceiriog Valley
The Ceiriog Valley, towards its upper end, is among the loveliest places on earth. The village of Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog, where narrow roads rise to the moorlands of the Berwyn mountains, lies in a green, sheep cropped bowl. One of these roads leads the hiker to a long, high ridge, a switchback route of vast views where curlews call. Another follows the Ceiriog river to the start of paths up steep gorges where it tumbles in a series of falls.
There are two pubs in the village but the nearest shop is five miles away in the larger settlement of Glyn Ceiriog. St Garmon’s church is dedicated to the travelling French Saint Germanus of Auxerre who brought Christianity here. Its yew shaded churchyard contains what is believed to be an ancient preaching mound.
Hill farmers drive down to the pubs, The Hand and the West Arms, in their 4x4s with trailers. My wife and I have stayed in both. This time we self-cater, sometimes drinking and dining at the former, where talk at the bar on a Sunday night is of sheep shearing contests. We eat wonderful Welsh lamb there, served pink, and drink an excellent blonde ale from Weetwood brewery and distillery, across the border in Cheshire.
The valley road to Llanarmon DC (to shorthand its name) starts some ten miles south of Wrexham, near Chirk, a small Shropshire town overlooked by an imposing castle. Offa’s Dyke runs nearby and the Llangollen Canal passes on a two centuries old aqueduct. Straddling the border between Wales and England it was designed by William Jessop and Thomas Telford and built 70 feet above the Ceiriog.
Llanarmon DC is about 40 minutes by car from Chirk. The speed limit is 50mph on repeated stretches but only a lunatic would take full advantage.
The Berwyns are close to Snowdonia but less walked. Even on a pleasant summer’s day you may encounter only a handful of other hikers. Deep rain puddles form on tracks eroded by farm vehicles and trail bikes, so boots, or at least good walking shoes, are essential. The landscape lacks the drama of the Alps, but it has seen its fair share of blood, misery and environmental threat. On that long ridge mentioned earlier, Henry II’s Anglo-Norman army trudged back to Chester in foul weather after succumbing to ambushes by the combined forces of Welsh princes in 1165. There is a track up from Rhyd y Gad bridge (now anglicised as Pontricket), where the King’s soldiers are thought to have abandoned their invasion. The track is known to history conscious locals as the English road.
IN n 1923, Llanarmon DC and nearby villages were threatened by a proposal from Warrington Corporation to created two big reservoirs that would supply the town’s major brewing industry. While the schemes proponents cited benefits to the working class many over those of the rural few, outrage swelled across Wales and Lloyd George attacked the scheme in Parliament. It was rejected.
Meanwhile slate had been quarried in the valley and, from 1873 at Hendre, dolerite, used for road building. A tramway had been extended there, first horse drawn, later steam powered. In Pontfadog there is a waiting room once used by its passengers. The small structure was restored by enthusiasts hoping to bring steam trains, which last ran in 1935, back to the valley. For those who can resist the lure of the airy moorlands part of the track is now a public footpath.
We climb from Pontfadog for a good two hours, following a guidebook itinerary*. The views are glorious. From its highest point they take in Cheshire in one direction and Ruabon Mountain, north east of Llangollen. We amble down on grassy paths brightened by campanula and honeysuckle but serene progress was eventually jarred by a steep, nasty section of sunken track where deep, awkwardly cambered ruts, loose earth and stones took away the pleasure**.
Back at our rented cottage, dirt washed from an elbow grazed after a slip on mud, it seemed a diminishingly minor disadvantage of what had been a superb day.
In his much-quoted speech to Parliament Lloyd George, railing against the reservoir, described the valley as exquisite and “a little bit of heaven on earth”. Few would disagree.
Find out more
* Walks around the Berwyn Mountains and the Ceiriog Valley, Kittiwake Books £5,95.
** Though this stretch may be improved, for the time being best use OS map 255, stay on the road, first towards Llyidiarth, the keep turning left until you are walking just above the B4500, before again taking up guidebook instructions.
Our accommodation, The Coach House, was booked via Cottages.com.
For further information go to Visit Wales