I fall foul of BHSM (Big Hand Small Map), whereby a clumsy finger waved casually over the map yields a totally skewed and always optimistic assessment of the distance of the route. Said analysis – if indeed you can call it that -fundamentally fails to consider the route’s many twists and turns, not to mention the bumps. Based on these flawed assumptions I plan to leave myself just enough daylight to get round and back to the car by nightfall. Luckily experience has bestowed upon me at least one valuable lesson: always, always pack a head torch.
Planning the route
From the comfort of home I run a paw over the obvious route, consign it to memory and hit the road. Arriving in Llangollen I turn off up a steep lane behind the Bridge End Hotel, parking on a small housing estate where I discretely change.
A short trot back down the lane towards the school brings me to the start of a footpath. It’s part of the Clwydian Way, one of two long distance trails that this route follows. Climbing steeply away from the town, the trail quickly breaks out into rich, green fields. It skirts the base of the mount upon which the ruins of Castell Dinas Bran are dramatically poised. Then it descends left, joining a lane that runs past Dinbren Hall.
Beyond this I pass a turning on my right and flirt with navigational failure as I start to descend. But it doesn’t feel right. I rack my brain for that snapshot image of the map on the wall of the study back at home. I turn about, head back up the hill, take the turning and feel mildly smug when after a short distance I am gratifyingly reacquainted with Clwydian Way signposts.
The West flanks for Fron Fawr
A beautiful gentle descent of the West flanks of Fron Fawr allows me to open my stride, relax and find a rhythm. The open hillside gives way to a fine deciduous wood, the base of which the trail skirts before steadily climbing past a few houses and joining another lane at Tan-y-Fron.
At this point I should have turned left and picked up a footpath descending to the Eglwyseg River but my map-memory is incomplete and I am instead forced to follow my nose. I know that the break in the hills created by the river is the point at which I want to cut through them and that thereafter, I join the World’s End valley and skirt its left flank. The lane to the right goes in that general direction, so I follow it, scanning hedgerows and fence lines as I trot along, looking for footpath signs that don’t exist.
At Ty Newydd the lane meets that which runs North right the way up the valley to World’s End. Helpfully there are some maps on a sort of parish notice board. I take the opportunity to study them and dial in the next sequence of trails.
There is a simple option: follow the lane to World’s End. But this cuts out several layers of challenge: distance, hills and navigation. Not wishing to sell myself short I trot down the lane to the farm, turn left and resume on the Clwydian Way.
It climbs up a small side valley and enters the gloom of a conifer forest. Although emerging from the forest into a boggy, sheep-bitten upland it gets lighter again, I am nonetheless aware that daylight is already fading. I remain a long way from World’s End, my turn around point. This acknowledgement drives me on. Frustrated by the merry wiggle of circuitous sheep tracks I am relieved when towards the head of the valley, I once more pick up the marked trail.
Against a headwind and towards World’s End
Breaking out onto an open top the wind chills my bare forearms. Recognising that this will sap my energy, I lose little time in pulling on my jacket and plugging the leak. Pushing on against the headwind, I climb to the 400m contour where the trail splits, with neither appearing to head in anything like the right direction. I turn about and drop towards the end of a spur. From here I can see down into the World’s End valley but the convex slope drops steeply away beneath me and I struggle to pick out any direct means of getting there. To my North however, some hope: there is a series of small but steep sided spurs running down towards World’s End. Beyond the furthest of these, I can just see the rooftop of Fron-Iwyd. On the basis that this must be linked to the valley by a vehicle track, I make it my target and start traversing on tiny sheep tracks which cling to the side of steep spurs. No room for error here, I remind myself.
The most obvious contouring sheep trail leads me into a gorse thicket; passable only if you have a thick coat of wool or a bizarre penchant for being lacerated. Having neither, I once more turn about, break trail entirely and run directly up the bracken topped spur.
I am happy to see a stronger trail running perpendicular to my current trajectory. Happier yet, this one features boot prints: a path useful to humans as well as sheep! Before I know it I am again full of confidence, buoyant and flying down a steady descent to the cottage. A footpath sign assures me that no one is likely to start yelling or shooting as I cut through their back garden and pick up the vehicle track – their umbilical cord to the real world.
Towards Offa’s Dyke Path
Where the track meets the lane on the valley floor a farmer is occupied herding sheep by quad bike. Hardly ‘One Man And His Dog’ but I expect pragmatism beats rural idealism when it’s your daily business. As he guns the quad bike over steep terrain the tranquility of the valley is momentarily punctuated by angry engine. If ovine misbehaviour was on the agenda, it’s quickly dismissed in the face of this mechanical shepherdry and the sheep huddle submissively.
At the lane I turn left. As it steepens I break into a long, walking stride, sling my pack off and dig into some semi-rehydrated figs. I also strip off my jacket now that I’m down in the valley and expecting to maintain a fair lick back towards Llangollen.
Under the cleft of rock that is World’s End passes Offa’s Dyke Path, our second long distance trail. Although it’s now a grey half-light I’m confident that the navigation will be easy compared to the first half of the route … and so it proves.
For three glorious kilometres the trail transects steep scree slopes, which sweep down from the base of the cliffs above, to the lane below. Although I am now undoubtedly somewhat tired, the magic of the terrain lifts me. The trail rises and falls but the general trajectory is gently downwards. The detail of the rocky trail gets lost in the grey half-light; nothing for it but to loosen up, lighten up, speed up, and glide over it. With gravity on my side, the incentive to cover ground before darkness and the magic of the scene, running assumes a gliding effortlessness. It was all worth it for this!
The trail joins the lane and I trot along the soft verge as night’s dark cloak descends. I’m oblivious even of the cliffs looming above. My sole focus is efficient movement. At a Y junction a short cut is offered back to Llangollen but darkness or not, my initial intention was to finish by running up and over Castell Dinas Bran – so I resolve to do just that. The shapes of the ruins are now visible. I just hope I can pick up the trail as it breaks from the Offa’s Dyke Path.
Having marginally overshot it, I drop onto the correct trail, through a farmyard and then out onto the spine of the hill. The climb is steep; much too steep to run; so I take the opportunity to call basecamp and call off the search parties. Basecamp does just that and then calls for an Indian Takeaway instead: all the incentive I need to get a hustle on, get off this dark hill and make tracks for home.
Total Distance: 20.50km
Total Time: 2hr:12mins
Technical difficulty of terrain: Moderate
Route flexibility: Very Good. Many options to adjust route for length and difficulty of terrain and navigation.
By Mark Brightwell