Elan Valley and the Teifi Pools

Elan Valley and the Teifi Pools

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There is a track of our journey, and a suggested route and RD for a full QMD under Teifi Pools Circular. The GPS files are also on the GPS Routes and Tracks page

I’m pleased to see the the Mountain Training Dlog now lists all of the mountains in Mid-Wales. But as well as the summits there is fantastic remote country with four bothys in the Elan Valley. This is a brief take on a wander around the Teifi Pools. In my earlier days I would certainly have logged this as a QMD. Now, with more experience, I logged it as a QHD. But the country should not be underestimated, and neither should the route finding challenges across rough ground.

The country around the Teifi Pools is bleak, charming, and a welcome change for the Disneyfied country of North Wales and the Brecon Beacons. It’s not the sort of country that attracts the adventure-in-a-bun crowds, thankfully, as you need to have at least some decent mountaineering skills and be prepared to work for your day out. Amazing views, vast open spaces, plenty of wildlife, and, best of all, no people. This is the land of dinosaurs. We saw frogs, a nest with eggs, and the fossilised backbone of a dragon. In the harsh depths of winter and/or bad weather this country will test your mettle as much as any other mountain country.

Our day was very much a spontaneous look around. We camped on Friday night in a strange little campsite on the edge of a council estate in Pontrhydfendigaid. In the morning we drove up to the Coed Troed-y-rhiw Car Park and wandered up the valley then went for height and summitted the 459m Disgwylfa and took the tops around to the trig point on Llan Ddu Fawr. The original plan was to head north past Domen Milwyn and circle back round to pick up the path at CLaerwen where the river enters Claerwen Reservoir. However, we cut it short due to slow going over rough ground and the bogs. Besides, this was a mini adventure and a quick look round. We weren’t looking for a big day, just getting a feel for the country.

Consider that we had an 11-mile wander and achieved 770m of height gain, which is decent. A little bit of a longer route and we could have doubled that height gain. There isn’t quite the height as available elsewhere, but we spent a good part of the day between 400m and 500m, which isn’t bad. A lot of rough ground and route finding. Not much steep ground or rocky ground.

It’s straightforward with good visibility but in the mist, dark, and rain this would be challenging navigation indeed. A huge mess of contour features gives you plenty to work with but there is an awful lot of them. It’s a ring contour and re-entrant theme park with every possible variation you could ever hope to imagine all liberally interspersed with difficult, boggy, ground and small crags. The boggy ground can be avoided by staying high and making use of the watersheds, if you know how to do that. There’s also plenty of quadbike tracks – too many if anything and they become seductive paths for the unwary. Nestled deep inside the country is the Claerddu bothy opening up the possibility of a solid two-day QMD exped with an overnight at the bothy, which has a flush toilet! (Or even a multi-bothy day across the four bothys in the area.)

The key thing with this country is keeping the height and finding the watersheds in order to avoid the bogs. Descending is generally good alongside the streams but you need to find the right distance from them. That is, if you are handrailing a stream to descend you need to keep a certain distance from it to stay on the drier ground. Spurs are generally good for descents as well.

It takes a particular mindset to get the real value from this country. It doesn’t come pre-packaged, over-hyped, and crawling with people shouting to each other and dropping litter everywhere. It’s a quiet, gentle beauty, desolate and magnificent. There is truly a sense of being alone in open space that is at once benign and challenging. There is little protection from the elements, whether that be sun, wind, or rain. The ground underfoot can change rapidly with little solidity at times. Thankfully the grass is only a little twmpy but there is a fair bit of bracken later in the year. The lower fences do have barbed wire tops but the higher fences seemed not to. That having been said, with a little effort and thought most the fences are avoidable. Within the expanse of the Elan Valley, taken from it’s southernmost post around the Drygarn Fawr and Gorllwyn, all the way up to Y Garn, there is probably 5-8 QMDs to be had with ample scope for two-day expeditions and real wild camping, to say nothing of the bothys. (Although you wouldn’t really want to try and squeeze more than 2-3 QMDs out of the area if you were going for an ML Award.)

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