The traditional pilgrims’ route north from Strata Florida almost certainly went up what is now the B4343 and the A4120, past Ysbyty Ystwyth and Ysbyty Cynfyn (both names suggesting pilgrim hostels) and the monks’ bridge at Pontarfynach (Devil’s Bridge). This would be both unpleasant and dangerous to walk. The alternatives take you some way to the east, through wild and desolate but beautiful country.
The Cambrian Way leaves Strata Florida by the Monks’ Trod, then goes over the moors past Llyn Fyrddon Fach and Llyn Fyrddon Fawr to Cwmystwyth. This is a beautiful route but bleak and desolate. It is certainly not a good idea in poor visibility. You need excellent map-reading and compass skills, and you can still be thrown off course by any detour to avoid bad going underfoot.
Leaving the abbey, turn right and walk along the road for a mile. Turn left at the disused chapel, up a steep track past Ty’n-cwm Farm and up the Nant Egnant towards the Llyn Egnant reservoir. The bridle path to Claerwen goes east across the stream just below the dam, but the Cambrian Way turns left to join a roughly-metalled track up past the reservoir. This track meets the Ffair-rhos road just where the metalling runs out. Ahead of you is a five mile stretch of boggy and featureless moorland before you reach Cwmystwyth. This is a strange, desolate landscape of small lakes, vicious peat hags and faint tracks which vanish in the heather. The only obvious sign of human activity is the ruined farmstead of Claerddu and the disintegrating fences of its few fields.
The monks of Strata Florida had sheepwalks here, and the higher ground was common for the cattle of their tenants. In about 1540 the traveller John Leland noticed ‘two very poor cottages for summer days for cattle’. These were the traditional Welsh hafodau, summer shelters like those to be found in the Swiss Alps.
There is no path to Cwmystwyth and, strictly speaking, there is no right of way across the moors, but public access was guaranteed when the Birmingham Waterworks was given permission to construct its reservoirs in the Elan Valley to the east.
As one of our group remarked while negotiating our fifth peat hag of the afternoon, it is worth bearing in mind that rights of way tend to be where people have traditionally gone. A stretch of moorland with no rights of way may suggest that you should not go there either. We had already seen a reminder of what can happen to travellers in these bleak uplands. The graveyard at Strata Florida contains a memorial to an old tramp who was walking from Ffair-rhos to Claerwen in the winter of 1929. He was caught in a blizzard and died: the body was not found until the snow melted, several weeks later.
Nevertheless, this is the line of the Cambrian Way, and it provides a straightforward off-road route to Cwmystwyth and Pontarfynach. The secret is not to cut straight across at the end of the metalled road from the Teifi Pools but to turn right along the track to Claerwen and follow it until it bends to the right. Then you turn off it to the left and go north to cross the Claerddu stream. Ignore the faint traces of Land Rover tracks, which lead nowhere and are probably connected with the use of the area for shooting. Go round the fenced-off area and head for the higher ground slightly to your left: the lower ground is extremely boggy. Set a compass bearing slightly east of north to pass between Llyn Fyrddon Fach and Llyn Ddu (the east side of Llyn Ddu is a series of peat hags) then over the dam to the east of Llyn Fyrddon Fawr.
This little reservoir was obviously constructed some time ago - but for what purpose? The monks of Strata Florida had the right to fish for eels and trout in the lakes, but the dam must be later than that. It may have provided a head of water for a leat down to one of the many little lead mines in this area.
Head for a point just left of Domen Milwyn, which is the cairn on the horizon ahead of you, then contour round the shoulder to the left, cross the stream and walk up to a stile with a painted surround which should be clearly visible in the fence ahead. Once over the stile, cut up and to the left to join a path which becomes a track past several ruined farmsteads and down the Nant Milwyn to Cwmystwyth.People and Places