I have been a voluntary hostel warden for several years now and, last week, I did another stint at Ty’n Cornel, perhaps the most remote hostel in Wales. I am very grateful that a number of friends took the opportunity to visit me during my stay and had the chance to sample the surrounding countryside. They helped lift my tally of overnight visitors to 42 people nights – a personal best for a week’s stay.
It was a week of wildly contrasting weather. At the start there was very heavy rain and on Sunday, on a walk to Soar y Mynydd – a delightful chapel built in 1820 – we sheltered for nearly an hour while the rain did its worst outside. Eventually it eased and we left to resume our walk; perhaps a divine intervention because the service was due to start within the hour. I have visited this chapel many times before but I find it always evocative and not a little sad, because it seems to have been left behind, almost purposeless, with the crash in local population. The chapel is the subject of a famous painting by Ogywn Davies
Next day was similarly wet in the morning and we took a walk down the Doethie valley. By the time we reached the bridge at Troed-Rhiw-Cymmer the rain had stopped and the sun was slowly appearing. We had our picnic lunch there then took the track over the moor in the direction of Bryn Ambor, past the standing stones and then up the old forestry track into the now felled plantation. When the trees were there this path was often difficult to find and follow. Since the trees have gone the remaining debris is hazardous to walk over and the undergrowth has grown so much that the path is just about obscured and the grass is beyond waist high. The party I was leading lost confidence in me, and I was doubting myself when the hostel came into view and we made a bee-line for the gate out of the plantation, on the path or not. Apart from the boots, wet from the boggy ground, we had dried off by the time we arrived back.
On Tuesday, with low morning mist and drizzle, two of my friends left. I took the remaining three to the Chapel at Soar (this trio did not arrive until Sunday so missed the previous trip) and returned via the trig point at Pen y Gurnos (456m). We arrived at the trig point just in time for lunch and just in time for the rain to restart. The views from this trig are glorious even with low cloud and rain. This picture gives a flavour of the view but this was taken later in the week in another location near the hostel.
We returned via the Doethie valley. This was to be my busiest night with two campers, a motor cyclist arriving around 4pm and, a bit later, 3 riders with horses, 9 guests in all, only 3 pre-booked. There was plenty of wet gear around and a great demand for the fire to be lit. Then there were bookings to be made, money collected, sleeping bags to be delivered, kitchen to be tidied…busy busy.
The next day was gloomy and my remaining friends decided to depart. The horse riders collected their horses from a paddock about 1.5km away and discovered one had injured itself on a barbed wire fence overnight. Luckily, one of the campers was a vet and he diagnosed that the cut needed stitches so the riders had to cut short their intended tour. After all the guests had left I did a mega-clean of the hostel; mop, vacuum cleaner, brushes were all called into play and the drying up cloths were washed. It dried up in the afternoon and a smart clean Landrover appeared with 6 passengers. They said they had seen there was a hostel at the end of the track and came to take a look. I made them all a cup of tea and showed them around. I explained how the hostel had been saved by a charitable trust and how it was being run by volunteers like myself. They offered to leave a donation for the hostel, but had no change. I thought a payment for 6 cups of tea and a voluntary donation might not need change! but in the end one of them gave me a £20 note and asked for £15 change. This seemed a trifle mean to me but perhaps I should be less mercenary. Later I took a short walk past the nearest farm, about 2km away, and chatted with the owners for a while.
That evening, a young motor cyclist arrived. He had taken a fall on the gravel track. He was unhurt but his bike was bent in a few places and we undertook some bike DIY. A cyclist arrived later, puffing after the long climb along the track. The two campers arrived back much later that evening.
Thursday was a brilliantly hot day. Unfortunately, the midges arrived also. Opposite the hostel there is a bridleway marked on the map. I have often looked for the hostel end of this track without success but the other end is clearly marked on the road side so I set out to walk it from that end, a round trip of about 7kms. The bridleway marker post could not be clearer pointing its way uphill confidently into the green yonder. However, underfoot I was unable to discover a single trace of the track. Instead, everything was boggy ground, giant tussock grass and bracken. After about 1km, nearer the tops, the going got easier with shorter grass. There are several hill tops but I think the highest is known as Llethr Llwyd (465m). From here there are wonderful views to the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountain and a glorious feeling of remoteness, almost no signs of human development apart from some old fencing.
Coming down and back to the hostel became quickly difficult underfoot and very soggy. In parts, it was possible to walk along the top of old field boundary walls around an old settlement in the Coli valley. According to notes in the Hostel there are still people in Llanddewi Brefi who remember the widow and her sister who were the last inhabitants of this remote spot. The last part of the walk involved chest high bracken on a very steep slope with no sign of any track or path. It was quite a relief to finally see a gate in the fence by the river that marked the bridleway river crossing point. Finally I had a “boots-off” wade across the Doethie river. It was very satisfying to have finally completed a walk I had often considered, but possibly one I will not be repeating too soon.
That night was the quietest, with just the cyclist staying. The campers had left their tent and gone overnight fishing.
Friday was a day of chores. The waste and recycling has to be delivered 2 miles to the collection spot, sheet sleeping bags have to be taken for laundering and clean ones collected from 7 miles away, and I also needed to collect some food and some recycling bags from Tregaron. So, there was no alternative but to take my car. While out I decided to visit Strata Florida (Latin for Vale of Flowers), the remains of an abbey first established in 1164. Although, little remains of the Abbey the location is beautiful and the nearby church of St Mary is also worth a visit.
On my way back to the hostel I passed a group of motor cyclists taking a photo break by the side of the Llandewi Brefi village sign, no doubt “Little Britain” fans. At least they left the sign behind them, unlike some in recent years!
On my last night, Friday, a host of hostel volunteers arrived. Grass needed strimming, hedges clipping and water tanks de-sludged. The midges were out in force that evening and the next morning which made the hard work just a bit more demanding. But the six volunteers got stuck in with commendable drive. I had to leave them to it and drove home, absent-mindedly with the hostel keys still in my pocket, after an excellent week of wardenning.