It was intention to walk the new Ceiriog Valley Walk, as mentioned recently in 'Rambler' magazine, and to continue over the Berwyns, to Llandrillo in the Upper Dee Valley, a distance of about 30 kilometers.
Previously, my main interest in the Ceiriog Valley was reading about the Glyn Valley Tramway, a mainly-roadside version of those ubiquitous slate-carrying narrow-gauge railways of Wales. This shut in 1934, and I knew there was comparatively little to be seen of its remains, due to its roadside location.
Nevertheless, transport is a feature right from the beginning of the walk. Officially the walk starts either from Chirk town center, or from the Railway Station. I myself would suggest starting from Chirk Aqueduct, 20 meters above the River Dee.
This aqueduct was built around 1800 by Telford (allegedly - although William Jessop was actually the Senoir Engineer on the canal), and was a precursor of the more-famous and longer Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which was completed a couple of years later, on the same canal – the Llangollen Canal. Construction of both aqueducts was similar, with a mortar consisting of, among other things, bulls’ blood, and a cast-iron trough to carry the water (this trough is covered in stone at Chirk and is not as obvious as in the ‘other’ viaduct). I have always read that cast-iron is brittle (in the material-science sense of the word) and not too strong, which tends to make me a bit nervous walking over these aqueducts.
Nowadays the aqueduct shares its location with a later railway viaduct (of 1852), which is built at a slightly higher level. From this location, you walk almost immediately into a 400 meter long canal tunnel, which is very atmospheric when a boat passes through, bringing you out adjacent to the Railway Station, one of the official starts.
Skirting Chirk Castle we turn down towards the valley road. Adjacent to the road is the remains of the Pontfaen Bank, which is definite remnant of the Tramway. There is also an adjacent information board telling us about transport in the area. It tells us that the A5 (which goes thru Chirk) was built by Telford (again) and, apparently, was the only major road-building project carried out by the government between the Roman Occupation and the opening of the M1.
We now pass over the Ceiriog via the bridge at Pontfaen (which once apparently carried the Cardiff-Chester road, although hard to visualize that nowadays) and enter England, as well as joining the western extremity of the Maelor Way. The Chirk aqueduct still dominates the view to the west, but we turn east and the path soon strts to climb, and we know when we are re-entering Wales, when we cross Offa’s Dyke. Reaching the peak, we receive not only a magnificent view of Chirk Castle (the Marcher castle turned stately home) sitting on the opposite side of the valley, but also a view for miles back into England. A long stretch of road takes us into Pontfadog, where a tangible reminder of the Tramway exist in the form of a Waiting Room, fitted out as a small exhibition centre.
From Pontfadog, we climb the other side of the valley – the northern side, which gives us good views along the valley to Glyn Ceiriog, the next village. For those who have the time, the pub in Glyn Ceiriog also houses a museum of the Tramway (open during licensing hours !). Two slate quarries used to dominate the village, producing a close-knit and cultured Welsh-speaking community, the cultural aspect being reflected by the opening of the Memorial Institute in 1911, which is still functioning. In the village, you see mention of the poet Ceiriog (John Hughes), who was born in Llanarmon. The information here and elsewhere, including the ‘official’ walk guidebook, is actually quite sparse – what they don’t seem to tell you is that he spent his early life working in Manchester, but from the 1860’s he published volumes of verse which became the most widely-sold books in Wales behind the Bible, while simultaneously working as a stationmaster and superintendent on the Railway at places like Llanidloes, Tywyn and Caersws.
The next stage promises us excellent views from the top of the ‘Pandy Hump’ at 350 meters.. After reaching the top mostly by means of a sunken path, I must admit to being a bit disappointed at the promised ‘views’ – maybe I had strayed a bit far from the official path, which seemed to be an easy thing to do at the top. We descend from the ‘Hump’ to Pandy itself. I should add that the Hump is a potential RIG (Regional Important Geological ) site, and many of its minerals were mined – however none of this is evident on the official path itself, although apparently old workings are quite visible from the valley road.
At Pandy, we do walk along the Tramway itself. This stretch is owned by the National Trust and leads directly to one of the most important of the former quarries, Hendre, which produced not slate, but dolerite, used for road construction, dolerite being similar to granite. After passing the Quarry, the path itself still continues for quite a distance before encountering the final section - The Pheasant Strut’. passing many of these said birds, and also the ‘Pheasant Hotel’ when approaching the Path’s end at Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog, at the top of the valley.
The 20 kilometers had taken me just over five hours. I now wanted to extend this by a further 10 kilometers, but this time with a straightforward march along what now seems to be often referred to as the ‘Wayfarers Cycle Track’, Wayfarer being W.M. Robinson who publicized the route originally (in the 50s, I believe).
A three kilometer walk along a road, encountering more flocks of pheasants (this time also some squashed ones), lead me to the sign - Llandrillo 6 miles, Cynwyd 7 miles - at the start of a low-level pass thru the Berwyns. At the peak of the route, there is a memorial to ‘Wayfarer’, who in the 1950’s publicized this route as an off-road cycle route between Llanarmon and Cynwyd (with its Youth Hostel).
There is actually more of a history to the place. In 1165, a multi-national army under Henry II (at the time, the largest army ever to be used against Wales) probably came to grief in this area, prior to the battle of Crogen.
The Welsh had made use of the periods of English unrest as Stephen fought Matilda, and Henry II fought Thomas a Beckett, to reclaim territory, and furthermore there appeared to be a new unity between the North under Owain Gwynedd and the South under Rhys ap Grufydd. In August 1165, the Norman army passed up the Ceiriog Valley to meet the Welsh army in the Upper Dee Valley, near Corwen, in order to restore the previous state of affairs.
Details are a bit sketchy, to say the least - historians assume the Battle took place in the Ceiriog valley somewhere, some report that the Normans did at least try and traverse the Berwyns. The weather was inclement, and the boggy moorland on the Berwyns would have made things worse - these were ideal conditions for the Welsh to fend off the Normans with guerrilla tactics. Forcing the Normans back, the main Welsh army could have trounced them as they retreated, at Crogen.
Back in Shrewsbury, Henry II took reprisals and blinded some Welsh hostage (some reports say Rhys’ son(s) suffered, and some reports say Owain’s son(s) were treated in a like manner – either way, you come across comparisons with his treatment of Beckett), In reprisal, Rhys slaughtered the inhabitants of Cardigan and its Castle (an offshoot of the Norman colony in Pembrokeshire) and torched the town.
The Normans, if they reached the Berwyns, must presumably have come this way - later the Drovers definitely did. Long before cattle drives took place in America, the Welsh were driving not only their cattle, but also their pigs and geese, on the long trek to England. Like in America, they also became purveyors of news and money, and money produced crime. This crime was, I believe responsible for altering the face of fairly large districts of Wales, as certain areas were cleared to reduce hiding-places for thieves.
Descending to the Dee Valley, you have the broad flank of Cadair Bronwen on your left, beyond which lies Cadair Berwyn. It was on one or other of these two mountains (reports vary) that in, January 1974, a massive Flying Saucer crashed.
I have known Llandrillo since before 1974 and have only just heard about this incident, but it is of more than just curiosity value. I get the impression that this incident is fast becoming a major event in the UFO world, 30 years after it ‘took place’ - at least one book is due out soon dedicated to the incident.
There was definitely an earth tremor at the time. Probably what happened was that several people in Llandrillo rang the police who, very naturally, assumed that a plane had crashed. They sent a local nurse, Pat Evans, up to have a look, but she saw nothing (or nothing conclusive, anyway).
The story now (consult the internet) is that Pat Evans saw a UFO as ‘big as the Albert Hall’, and even more startlingly, several bodies which were not of human form. For starters, the Berwyns offer few points of reference to indicate how big a far-away object actually is. Most reports seem to suggest that Pat Evans disappeared, never to be seen again, which is ridiculous.
I think we could be hearing more about the ‘Berwyn Incident’. The mountains, with their isolated position in a lightly-populated area (and surprisingly few visitors), seems ready-made for such stories.
Journey’s end is the sleepy village of Llandrillo. Sleepy nowadays anyway - I have read that the fact that a small, isolated village like Llanarmon has two pubs is a sure sign that it was once a droving centre:- well Llandrillo only has one pub nowadays, but it used to have seven - enough said.