Bryneglwys, Ponderosa, Carrog and back (14 miles)
The Ponderosa Cafe, a popular destination for day-trippers, bikers and cyclists, sits at the top of the Horseshoe Pass between Llandegla and Llangollen. As well as providing food and drinks for those who come to take in the views and show off their cars and bikes, it is also the perfect place to grab a morning cuppa part-way through a long walk.
Seven miles away on the sunny side of the River Dee, lies the small village of Carrog, with its heritage steam railway station and the Grouse Inn, the nearest pub and restaurant to Bryneg. This traditional Welsh inn is run by a tutor at an award-winning catering college, so the food is always plentiful and tasty - the ideal lunchtime stop for a day's walking in the Welsh hills.
This article describes a 14 mile walk that starts and finishes in Bryneglwys, stopping off at the Ponderosa Cafe for breakfast or a drink, then the Grouse Inn for a late-lunch and a pint - all depending on what time you start, of course. The walk between these two stops exactly follows nearly a quarter of the route of the Llangollen Round Challenge, a 33-mile walk undertaken in a single day by walkers who raise money for Cancer Research UK. In 2015 they raised over £45,500 between them! Because the walk to the Grouse Inn follows part of the Llangollen Round, you can use the event's waymarkers to help keep on track. They are white discs with black arrows, inside of which is the Llangollen Round event badge/logo.
Whilst this article explains tricky parts of the walk in detail, it assumes that you have a proper Ordnance Survey map of the area, and that you are experienced enough to follow both waymarked and non-waymarked tracks across fields and open ground. If you are unsure about clothing and kit, you might like to read this article about what to wear and carry when hillwalking.
The starting point: Bryneg War Memorial
Walk north-east past the Parish Room and old shop (shown above), and turn right into the narrow road just before the stone bus shelter that was built in 2009 with a level of craftsmanship that is rarely seen these days. Walk up the hill, past the white cottage, Bryn Tirion (pleasant hill), and carry on along and down to the t-junction. Turn right up the hill, then left at the next junction by the solitary farmhouse, Plas Newydd. Less than a minute or so down the road, and you're looking for the entrance to Pen Bedw Farm on your right (shown below). Go through or over the black gate and up the long, twisty drive (also shown below, in the distance).
Please respect the fact that you are approaching someone's home, as the landowner has had problems in the past with trespassers. Just before you reach the farm buildings, break left, down a path and round to the corner of the field, which will be out-of-sight before you round the bend. Go through or over the gate, follow the track ahead, through or over the next gate, then head for the stile that should be visible on the far side of the field before you, under some trees. Climb over the stile, down the bank, and then head uphill into the upper-left corner of the field, to the left of the ruined out-building (shown below).
You are now looking for a modern gate on your right, which you should go through and head south-east (left), following the gully side with the fence on your left. This path will eventually lead you down to the gully floor, from where you then need to cross and head north-east up the other side. You are now back on open land, by the way. Stay on a north-easterly track with a boundary wall on your left, until you see the path shown in the picture below, by the last tree next to the wall.
Take this path and you will end up walking over a low fence and around the top of a small disused quarry (visible in the picture above). If you missed it and end up at the entrance to the quarry, track right up the hill and rejoin the intended route. Keep heading north-east along a sometimes-faint path until you are looking down onto a road and a house called Plas Norway. Climb over the low fence, down the bank to your right, and follow the road all the way east(ish) to the Ponderosa for breakfast, a cup of tea, or lunch, depending on how early you left Bryneg 90 minutes ago.
The first stop: Ponderosa Cafe
At 400m above sea level, the Ponderosa Cafe is already considerably high up, so enjoy the views while you have a drink and whatever else takes your fancy. When you’re ready, we’ll continue our walk with a short, 148m climb in a south westerly direction to the top of Moel y Faen, where the fabulous views take in Snowdonia to the west, Rhyl and the Irish Sea to the north-west (shown below), the Dee Estuary to the north, Staffordshire to the east, and historic LLangollen nestled in the Dee Valley to the south. Lots of day-trippers make the short climb to this scenic viewpoint, but we're now going to leave them behind and push on over the Llantysilio peaks lined up before us, waiting to be conquered for the marvel of their panoramic views.
The Llantysilio peaks are the toughest part of this walk but you can't get lost because peak-to-peak paths have been torn into the hills by off-road bikers, few of which are seen these days, I am pleased to add. These thoughtless joy-seekers have even carved an ugly race-circuit into the side of the archaeologically important Moel y Gaer hill fort, which you will see when you negotiate these proud hill-tops.
The last of the four main peaks you'll traverse is Moel Morfydd (shown above is Llangollen from Moel Morfydd), and as you descend the scree on the western side of the peak (shown below), the main path bends off to the left, but you need to follow the tractor path dead ahead (yellow arrow below). Marked with two white Llangollen Round waymarkers on a small post, this shallow track leads to the narrow, tarmac Glyndyfrdwy-to-Bryneglwys road. Turn right onto this road and follow it a short distance to a gate and cattle grid.
That's the tough bit over with!
Do not pass over the cattle grid. Instead, walk to the left of it and head west, following the Clwydian Way, keeping next to, or within sight of, the boundary fencing between the private and open lands. After about a mile from the cattle-grid, having crossed a low stream and passed through a few gates, the path splits ahead of you. It doesn't matter which way you go, as long as you end up at a modern gate which is either to the right of the left path (shown below), or to the left of the right path.
Look for the white Llangollen Round waymarker disc on the gate's hinge-post. Go through this gate and head round and down to the right, to the Brynelglwys/Carrog road. Turn left and walk a few metres along the road, then left again at the bridleway sign, through a lovely new gate and into a large hill-side field which is still part of the modern Clwydian Way. Walk up and to your right, aiming for the middle of the row of trees and hedges on the horizon.
The ancient drover's path
A wooden gate and stile marks the start of the ancient part of the Clwydian Way drover's path, with trees lining the trail all the way to Bwlch Coch (red gap). Just keep within the two lines of trees and you can't go wrong. The path can become a little overgrown in the summer, and patches of tall nettles are best negotiated in trousers, not shorts, but a regular footfall of walkers ensures that a visible path through the overgrown parts of the trail can always be found. As you pass the stone ruins of drover's huts and overnight sheep pens, you'll realise that you're treading a route that pre-dates most of the roads that make up the modern highway system. The peace and tranquility of nature envelops you as buzzards circle overhead and kites swoop low down in the valley to your right; for you are in the heart of the North Wales countryside now, far from busy roads and towns.
As you emerge from the ancient tree-lined section of the Clwydian Way, go through or over the gate ahead and keep to the left of the dilapidated dry-stone wall as it bends round to the left. Go though or over the first gate that you come to on your right, and walk towards the Dee Valley that should be opening up before you. If the weather is calm, stop and take in the silence for a moment - few places we know are quite this quiet. You'll likely hear the whistle of a steam train every now and then, and buzzards calling to each other across the valley sides, but other than that the silence is deafening. Look for the top of a Chestnut tree poking up from the field's horizon, and head towards it (shown below). Note the naturally-formed seat of rock below this tree, for this is where you'll take a break in a few hour's time. For now though, walk past the tree and down the path to the stile on the edge of the forest before you.
If this part of the hillside had a name, it would be called Silver-Oak Down, for growing out of the lush ferns all around you are hundreds of silver birch and oak trees, forming a high canopy and offering tantalising glimpses of the River Dee below and to your left. As you descend down the soft, loamy path, know that lunch and a cool pint of lager or Guinness is only minutes away now. Take care during the last short downhill section as it is steep and slippy underfoot where so many people have climbed before you in search of the views by the Chestnut tree. As you emerge from the path, the beer garden of the Grouse Inn invites you to stop and take in the majestic River Dee in all its glory (shown below). Enjoy your lunch/tea/dinner/whatever.
Before you leave the Grouse, psyche yourself up for the climb back up through the forest, and buy a bar of chocolate as an incentive to enjoy when you reach the top. You do have the option of returning to Bryneg via the Bryneg/Carrog road, in which case follow the main road west through Carrog until you come to the church and school, then follow the road to the right of the church and left of the school, through what seems to be a farmer's yard, and onwards to Bryneg. However, whilst the climb is not as challenging, the route is longer, there are still plenty of smaller climbs, and since when has walking on a road been anything like as good as a peaceful hilltop with a fantastic view?
Assuming you've bitten the bullet and chosen the shorter route, retrace your steps up the hill and find the rock-seat by the Chestnut tree. Enjoy the views and your chocolate treat - you've earned it. At this point you'll be wondering how you can possibly find the energy to make it back to Bryneg, but worry not, for after the next short climb through the field behind you, it's all more-or-less gently downhill to Bryneglwys, which is far more easy-going in its entirety than the steep climb you just made.
Retrace your route through the ancient Clwydian Way, and head on down the hill to the Bryneg/Carrog road. But from here, stay on the road all the way to Bryneglwys (shown below). This road is only used by residents and farm traffic, so on a weekend it is quite normal not to see a single vehicle or person all the way to the village, only sheep, horses, cattle and buzzards.
If you complete this walk, please let us know what you think of it in the comments section below.