The Cambrian Way is an epic coast-to-coast hike through the rugged heart of Wales that explores the highest, wildest and most stunning landscapes the country has to offer.
Hailed as the ‘Mountain Connoisseur's Walk’, the long-distance trail snakes along the mountainous spine of Wales from south to north. The 309 mile (497 km) walk begins in Cardiff and takes you over the Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons, Carmarthen Fan, Plynlimon, Cadair Idris, the Rhinogs, the Snowdon massif, the best of the Glyderau mountain group, and the Carneddau range to Conwy, on the north coast.
With 57,000 feet (17,374 m) of ascent along the trail, combined with extreme terrain, unpredictable weather, heart-pounding scrambles, many technical sections, and some long hikes through unexplored landscapes, the Cambrian Way is definitely an expert hike. This is a route for seasoned long-distance hikers with high levels of fitness and stamina, good technical ability and excellent navigational skills.
The rewards are unrivalled, though. Expect spellbinding views around every corner, solitude, serenity, wildlife, waterfalls, mountain lakes, crumbling castles, stone circles, Iron Age forts, exhilarating trails, and a warm Welsh welcome in countless cosy pubs along the way.
The Cambrian Way was conceived by Tony Drake MBE (1925 - 2012) in 1967. Drake had hoped to create a National Trail but opposition from landowners and authorities prevented it. Undeterred, in 1984 he published the first edition of his guidebook ‘Cambrian Way — A Mountain Connoisseur's Walk’. Further editions continued to be published until 2008.
This Collection follows the seventh edition of the route, which was published by the Cambrian Way Trust in 2016. The route is only partially waymarked and requires advanced map reading and seasoned navigational experience in some sections.
You might notice that there are a few sections of this route that are off-grid. By way of reassurance, all stages follow the official route from the Cambrian Way Trust and are cross referenced against different maps to ensure there is always a footpath. However, as some of the off-grid sections traverse wild and unexplored areas, the path might not be clear and it is paramount that you use your initiative and navigational experience.
Whilst it might be obvious, ensuring you have the correct clothing, enough food and water, navigational equipment, first aid, torch, and so on, is vital. Civilisation can be a long way away on this trail. You must be prepared.
In this Collection, I split the Cambrian Way into 21 stages, following the official itinerary exactly. The stages range from 7 miles (11 km) to 21 miles (34 km), averaging around 15 miles (24 km). However, due to the mountainous landscape and varied terrain, mileage isn’t always a reliable indicator of how tough the hike is. The choice of which direction to walk is entirely yours.
Despite how remote it is on parts of this route, the vast majority of stages finish close to accommodation, even if there is only one option. There are a few stages, however, where you will need to arrange a pick-up.
Getting to the start and finish of the trail is fairly easy as both Cardiff and Conwy have train stations and good public transport links.
NOTE: Network Rail is set to restore the historic Barmouth Viaduct, which the trail crosses, and plan to close it for periods of time over the next two years. Presently, it is expected that the bridge will be closed September 12 - December 12, 2021, and between October - December, 2022. Replacement train services around the estuary will be run throughout the closures.
The first stage of the Cambrian Way begins as a leisurely hike through Cardiff before rising above the city and then descending to finish by the Rhymney River.
The main points of interest along this route are the castles. Right at the start, you stand in the shadow of Cardiff Castle, which has a 2,000-year history, and pass the 19th-century Castell Coch at roughly the midway point.
Accommodation and places to eat and drink are limited in Machen. However, the 50 bus runs regular services from the village into Newport and Caerphilly, which both have more choice.
This stage takes you high into the hills for epic views over Newport, Cardiff and the Bristol Channel.
With over 1,000 feet (305 m) more climbing than Stage 1, this hike certainly ups the ante. However, the views from Mynydd Machen and Twmbarlwm alone are worth it. The latter peak is topped with an Iron Age hill fort, too.
Within the town of Pontypool, you find places to stay, options for food and drink, and shops.
Get recommendations on the best single tracks, peaks, & plenty of other exciting outdoor places.
You step into the Brecon Beacons National Park on this stage and climb the first mountain on the Cambrian Way, the Blorenge.
From Pontypool, the trail rises steadily north for the majority of the route and eventually summits the Blorenge, which affords glorious views over the Usk Valley. The trail then descends steeply to finish in Abergavenny, where you find the beautiful ruins of Abergavenny Castle.
Within the market town you find a good choice of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
Expect breathtaking panoramas and challenging climbs on this hike through the Black Mountains.
The testing 3,450 feet (1,052 m) of ascent on this stage leads you up two of the most iconic peaks in the Black Mountains: Sugar Loaf, a neat conical hill with one of the best vistas in the Brecon Beacons; and Chwarel Y Fan, the high point of a long northwest-southeast ridge in the Black Mountains.
Accommodation is limited in Capel-y-ffin. However, there are options in nearby Llanthony and Hay-on-Wye.
Stage 5 takes you to the highest peak in the Black Mountains, Waun Fach, and visits plenty more spellbinding summits.
You begin with a steep climb out of Capel-y-ffin and soon summit Twmpa. Here, the trail near-u-turns and takes you south over the peaks of Rhos Dirion, Waun Fach, Pen Allt-mawr, Pen Cerrig Calch, and Crug Hywel (Table Mountain).
This stage finishes in the town of Crickhowell, where you find an excellent choice of accommodation, places to eat and drink, shops and other attractions.
This challenging hike takes you deep into the Brecon Beacons where peaceful peaks, technical trails and endless views await.
With 21.3 miles (34.3 km) of distance, 4,425 feet (1,349 m) of uphill and 3,250 feet (991 m) of downhill, this stage is the toughest in the itinerary and will really test your mettle. The rewards for your efforts come thick and fast, though. The summits of Cribyn, Pen y Fan and Corn Du afford breathtaking views over the rugged mountainous terrain.
There is no accommodation at the end of the stage. However, YHA Brecon Beacons is 3 miles (4.8 km) north along the A470 and there is another hotel a similar distance south along the road.
This stage takes you to the summits of Fan Fawr and Fan Gyhirych and passes Ogof Ffynnon Ddu, the deepest cave in the United Kingdom.
After a seriously tough previous hike, Stage 7 is more leisurely with almost half as much distance and climbing. However, the glorious mountain scenery is unabating and interesting trails are par for the course.
Whilst facilities are not abundant at the finish line, the village of Glyntawe has a few places to stay and a pub that serves food.
Classic ridgewalking, rugged summits, beautiful views and abundant wildlife combine on this hike
Upon the completion of this stage, the Brecon Beacons chapter of your adventure is over. However, you depart in characteristic fine form. The summits of Fan Hir, Fan Brycheiniog, Picws Du and Waun Lefrith afford excellent views and fantastic walking. Amid the remote landscape, keep a look out for birds including red kite, common buzzard, kestrel, carrion crow, raven and skylark.
Within the market town of Llandovery you find a good choice of accommodation, places for food and drink, shops and other attractions.
You visit a nature reserve that is home to all manner of birdlife and see a cave that was home to the ‘Robin Hood of Wales’ on this hike.
RSPB Gwenffrwd Dinas provides a habitat for many bird species including red kites, pied flycatchers, redstarts, common sandpipers, dippers and grey wagtails. Whilst you are exploring the nature reserve, be sure to check out the cave where Welsh folklore hero Twm Siôn Cati lived and admire the carvings therein.
This stage finishes at Ty’n Cornel hostel, which is the only accommodation for miles around.
This stage takes you to a medieval monastery where generations of Welsh princes are buried and winds past stunning llyns nestling in remote scenery.
From Ty’n Cornel, the trail heads north through wild upland scenery, over the peaks of Esgair Cerrig and Garn Gron, before dropping into the greener lowlands surrounding Strata Florida Abbey. You then rise into rugged highland terrain once again.
Accommodation is very limited at the end of this stage. The nearest place with facilities is Pontrhydfendigaid village, which is 6 miles (10 km) away. Arranging a pick-up in advance is your best bet on this stage.
You explore breathtaking waterfalls in the heart of the Cambrian Mountains on this hike and pass plenty more pretty llyns.
The trail takes you past Llyn Du, Llyn Fryddon fach and Llyn Fryddon fawr and over the summit of Domen Milwyn before dropping to Afon Ystwyth. You then hike through farmland and woodland to Devil’s Bridge Waterfalls and then continue to see more falls on Afon Rheidol.
Facilities are not abundant in Ponterwyd village. The best bet for food and a bed for the night is the George Borrow Hotel.
Stage 12 takes you to the highest point in the Cambrian Mountains, a wild landscape that is perfect for the solitude-seeking hillwalker.
At 2,467 feet (752 m) above sea level, Pumlumon Fawr is the highest point of the Cambrian Mountains and the highest point in Mid Wales. From the summit, you are afforded magical views. This stage also summits Pumlumon, a fine mountain where the Rivers Wye, Rheidol, and Britain’s longest, the Severn, begin their journeys to the sea.
At the end, you find a couple of places to stay within the former mining settlement of Dylife.
This stage takes you into the southern tip of Snowdonia National Park, a wonderfully-diverse landscape of river gorges, green valleys, woodlands, coastline and, of course, mountains.
From Dylife, the trail zig-zags north through rugged upland, farmland and woodland. At 23.2 miles (37.3 km) long, and with 2,975 feet (907 m) of climbing, this is the longest hike in the itinerary. Due to how remote the landscape is, splitting this stage is not easily done. Your best best would be to pre-arrange a pick-up from Cummins Coch.
When you arrive in the village of Dinas Mawddwy, there is accommodation and places for food and drink.
You wind through the deep south of Snowdonia on this stage to experience a landscape of glacier-cut valleys, contours and hanging cwms.
This might be one of the shortest stages at 9.7 miles (15.6 km). However, in that distance you cram in 2,800 feet (853 m) of climbing as you traverse the peaks of Foel Dinas, Maesglase, Craig Portas, Waun-Oer and Mynydd Ceiswyn.
There is not much at Mach Loop. However, if you head 2 miles (3.2 km) east on the road (or arrange a pick-up), there are options in Minffordd village.
Stage 15 traverses Cadair Idris, a magnificent mountain reserve composed of rugged peaks, glacial lakes and a wooded gorge, to the Welsh coastline.
Legendary among hikers for commanding cliffs, enticing ridges and pretty tarns, Cadair Idris is a place that is rich in myths, legends, folklore, beauty and wildlife. Expect great views, technical hiking and a whole lot of fun on this stage.
You finish on the Welsh coastline in the town of Barmouth. Here, you find an excellent range of accommodation, places for food and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
You climb over the Rhinog mountains on this stage, a place where staggering beauty and exhilarating hiking go hand-in-hand.
With a whopping 4,550 feet (1,387 m) of uphill, Stage 16 has the most amount of climbing of any in this Collection. The rewards are abundant, though; breathtaking panoramic views, abundant wildlife, technical trails, and an utterly-enchanting off-the-beaten track vibe.
Facilities are few and far between at the end of this stage. There is a campsite at Cwm Bychan. However, if you prefer something more luxurious you will have to arrange a pick-up. Harlech is a 20-minute drive away and has plenty of choice.
Action-packed scrambling over some of Snowdonia’s rockiest peaks combines with sublime views and stone circles on this stage.
A steep climb from Cwm Bychan eventually levels for some scrambles over Craig Ddrwg, Moel Ysgyfarnogod, and Foel Penolau. You then drop to Moel Y Gyrafolen, descend to Llyn Trawsfynydd, and continue north.
Within the village of Maentwrog, your final stop, you find accommodation and places for food and drink.
Stage 18 explores perfectly-formed peaks with enchanting views over Snowdonia National Park.
You begin with a steady ascent from Maentwrog before a steep climb to Moelwyn Mawr, a surprisingly little-visited peak that affords views over Cnicht’s ridge, Snowdon, Yr Aran, Lliwedd, and 15 lakes. The trail then snakes northwards to Cnicht, known as the ‘Welsh Matterhorn’. A long and gradual descent takes you to Beddgelert village.
Within Beddgelert, you find a good choice of accommodation, places for food and drink, and shops.
You summit the highest mountain in Wales and the namesake of the national park on this stage, Snowdon, via a particularly fun scramble.
From Beddgelert, you follow the course of the Afon Glaslyn to Lyn Dinas, a picturesque lake surrounded by mountains. You then ascend Snowdon from the south via Allt Maenderyn, an airy ridge walk that avoids the crowds. When you reach Snowdon, glorious views await if conditions are clear.
It is then a steady descent to Pen y Pass. There is not much in the way of facilities here but you find Pen y Pas Youth Hostel at the finish and other accommodation a short drive away.
The penultimate stage is packed with technical ascents, rocky scrambles, rugged scenery and spellbinding views.
Stage 20 might be the shortest in the Collection. But with 2,775 feet (846 m) of climbing packed into its 7.1 miles (11.4 km), don’t expect an easy ride. Scrambles to the summits of Glyder Fawr, Glyder Fach and Tryfan are among the most challenging in Snowdonia. Your reward is a whole lot of fun and enchanting views.
Facilities are not abundant at the finish. However, you do find YHA Idwal Cottage and limited alternative accommodation nearby.