Walk a week in Wales

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Long distance walker Tim Ryan has pioneered a version of the Cambrian Way on 19 consecutive Slow Ways, across spectacular landscape from Cardiff to Aberystwyth

A glance at the progress map shows that we in Wales might need to get a wriggle on. There’s some good excuses. The sheer length of many of our Slow Ways for one – our settlements are far apart and many of the routes in my own local web will take more than a day to walk. Transport is another issue – where routes go over mountain ranges getting back home can be tricky, and even between towns buses can be scarce. Excuses, excuses!

Luckily, I know for certain that 19 consecutive Welsh Slow Ways will soon be appearing as reviewed on the progress map, many for the first time, thanks to long-distance walker Tim Ryan. Tim got around the transport issue by camping, and is a long-time member of the Long Distance Walkers’ Association, so that sorted out that issue. Long routes do not trouble him.

Not (quite) the Cambrian Way!

I met Tim on the prom in Aberystwyth, where he finished his week’s purposeful holiday, having made a satisfying diagonal northwest from Cardiff. It’s no coincidence that his own line reminded me of the southern half of the Cambrian Way – a notoriously full-on walking route from south to north Wales that deliberately takes on every summit in its way. Friends who’ve done it tell me that it’s mentally as well as physically tough, to spot the highest point in the landscape and head for it, summit after summit after summit.

Tim’s transwales route – see the live waylist page here

Yes, said Tim, he was originally intending to do the Cambrian Way, but changed his plans after tearing a calf muscle recently. A Slow Ways version was perfect. In fact a kind of opposite mission, as Slow Ways deliberately avoid the summits, prioritising directness between towns. “I’ve been up Pen y Fan many times, so I didn’t miss the scenic viewpoints. Walking Slow Ways is a different priority – the satisfaction comes from reviewing the route for the next person, looking at the walk in that way.”

“The first day out of Cardiff was a definite five-star route. I was surprised – it was all on roads – but they had pavements, and it was just a really nice walk.” Tim walked four Slow Ways on the first day, five on the second, but by the time he got the middle of the Cambrian Mountains he needed two days to walk the gorgeous 34km/21-mile Trerha. One of the remote nodes (Slow-Ways-speak for a settlement hub) was just a single farm.

In any case, he pointed out, the Slow Ways version of the Cambrian Way was far from watered down. “Crossing the Black Mountain I thought, I’m really having to concentrate here! I’m in perfect clear visibility, navigating with a map and compass – it was a classic mountain leaders’ qualification environment. Spotting every rocky outcrop, knowing exactly where I was at all times; it was really tricky. I’ll have to advise in the review that this is only undertaken with a map and compass.”

Accessibility is relative, he points out – any route has to be “accessible within your capabilities, and your capabilities might be that you can’t read a map, or don’t like walking on roads or whatever – it’s not just about wheelchair access. It’s not up to me to say what someone can and can’t do, but to be honest about what they’ll find. I’ll write that there are step-stiles, or tussocks, or whatever, and then let them make up their own mind.”

Tim is clearly really motivated by walking recces. As well as reviewing for Slow Ways he tests out social walks for LDWA and the Ramblers, and all three have different requirements. “You have to think about the competence of the people who will follow you. For those social group walks I need to find a lunch-spot with a view etc, and I hate to take groups on roads. Sometimes I have to throw in a big loop to avoid it, but it doesn’t matter because they’ll only be out for a walk anyway. For Slow Ways it’s a completely different thing.

“Day two was the worst – so many blockages! The open land between the Welsh Valleys – I was walking from 7am to 5pm, and often had to climb fences where I knew I should be able to get through. There wasn’t time to go back and check out whole new alternatives, so I’ll just have to share what I found and leave it for the next person to amend. I had to think, what’s my priority here? And I’d booked campsites, so I had to keep going. It was a week’s holiday!”

I asked Tim what made him want to review Slow Ways. “It’s a good thing. And it has enthusiasm, and momentum, as a project, and thanks to Dan.” Tim thought for a moment. “Also, if you think about it, the walking parts of the Queen’s Highway should be given the same priority as the driving parts. It’s a legal entity. As a walker you shouldn’t be skulking around trying not to be seen from the farmhouse – you should be seen from the farmhouse! Can you imagine someone just closing a road?”

“The walking parts of the Queen’s Highway should be given the same priority as the driving parts. It’s a legal entity. Can you imagine someone just closing a road?”

“That said, if I am seen I often get invited in to the farmhouse for coffee. Often the guy will rabbit on and I’ll think – you’ve not had anyone to talk to for weeks!” I suggest to Tim that maybe there’s a social duty in walking all over the country – a kind of anti-loneliness drive – and he agrees. “And I was of course grateful for the welcome, and their interest in what I was doing!”

Day seven, Llandovery to Ty’n Cornel

I take some finish line photos of Tim on the Aberystwyth prom before he heads off to get the first of a series of buses and trains back home to Tiverton, Devon where, he drops in, he designed all of the Tiverton web. So, if you’re ever in the area you can be sure of an expertly recce’d route. Failing that, Cardiff to Aberystwyth will soon be all reviewed and ready for its second walker.

Tim’s top three routes

  1. Ystradfellte to Llandeusant, Llayst one, for its mountain beauty and genuine wilderness feel. A bit of a challenge but with great rewards over the Black Mountain; the countryside paths and quiet country lanes to Llandeusant were also a pleasure
  2. Nanabe three from Abercynafon to Nant Ddu with a beautiful walk up alongside scenic waterfalls followed by a pleasant forest walk above Pentwyn Reservoir and then a nice moorland hike and forest trails to Nant Ddu
  3. The long but rewarding hike from Rhandirmwyn to Tregaron, Trerah. This walk I certainly would like to return and spend more time on. The climb up the valley to the remote hostel at Ty’n Cornel was a delight
Day six, between Llandovery and Ty’n Cornel
Tim at the finish line in Aberystwyth
Hannah Engelkamphttp://www.seasidedonkey.co.uk
Hannah is a writer and editor whose great love is slow, resourceful, human-powered home travel. She once walked around Wales with a handsome and opinionated donkey called Chico, and now has two children who also make going for a good walk really hard. She is the Culture, Imagination and Story Lead for Slow Ways. // Mae Hannah yn awdur ac yn olygydd a'i chariad mawr yw teithio araf, dyfeisgar, ar ei liwt ei hun, heb injan. Cherddodd 1000 o filltiroedd o amgylch Cymru, asyn golygus a phengaled o’r enw Chico, ac erbyn hyn mae ganddi ddau o blant sydd hefyd yn ei gwneud hi'n anodd iawn mynd am dro. Hi yw Arweinydd Diwylliant, Dychymyg a Stori ar gyfer Slow Ways.