Uncommonly good common land.
This moderately strenuous circular walk from the National Park Visitor Centre (also known as the Mountain Centre) to an out-of-the-way common features unspoilt landscapes alongside vivid reminders of the area’s human history.
Need to know
Length: 7½ miles (12km)
Time: Around 4 hours
Start and Finish: National Park Visitor Centre, near Libanus
OS map ref: SO 977263
OS map: Explorer OL12 (1:25 000 series)
Facilities: Toilets, parking and refreshments at National Park Visitor Centre
Along the way
Traeth Mawr and Traeth Bach
The neighbouring marshlands of Traeth Mawr (‘Great Mire’) and Traeth Bach (‘Little Mire’) are bursting with nature, forming part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest. They provide a habitat for fascinating bog and fen plants like sundews and butterworts, which feed off insects trapped by their specially adapted leaves. You may also see birds like snipes, curlews and lapwings, as well as colourful dragonflies and rare damselflies.
A network of drovers’ roads, used to move cattle to market before the advent of cheap rail travel, once crisscrossed the countryside. This one brought livestock such as cows, sheep, pigs and even turkeys to feed the workforce in industrial South Wales. Teams of men would use corgis to help herd the animals, travelling at an average speed of just two miles per hour – not exactly fast food.
Believed to have been built by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the native Prince of Wales in the 11th century, the remains of Blaencamlais Castle stand on private land close to the drovers’ road. Now no more than a grassy mound with a few crumbling walls, little is known about the fortified tower’s original purpose, though some believe it was a hunting lodge. The mystery surrounding the structure’s past extends to its name – over the years it has been known as Cwm Camlais, Maescar and Defynoch Castle.
The ancient enclosure of Llanilltud is home to fascinating remnants from the National Park’s religious past. St Illtud’s Church fell out of regular use in the 1920s and was demolished in 1995, but weathered gravestones still stand in the former churchyard – their inscriptions offer a vivid glimpse into the often short lives of previous generations. The church was built on top of a much older site of worship dating back to the Iron Age. Visit on the winter solstice and you’ll be treated to the sight of the sun rising directly between the twin summits of Pen-y-Fan and Corn Du.
Way to go
From the Visitor Centre car park follow the entrance road back to the T-junction. Cross the road and walk straight ahead on a rutted grassy track with the boundary fence of the moorland on your left. Continue beside the common for 900m before following the well-worn path leading off to the right towards the gorse-covered ridge. This path becomes a rutted track along the ridge in a north-westerly direction with the wetlands of Traeth Mawr and Traeth Bach on either side. Don’t stray into the bogs and keep a close eye on any dogs to ensure they don’t disturb nesting birds.
At the end of the ridge, the track drops into a shallow dip. As it rises, bear gently to the right. Follow the clearly defined track to the road, close to the northern boundary of the common. To the left the road runs towards a cattle grid near Felin Camlais pond. Cross the road to the waymark post, bearing right along a wide grassy track – formerly a drovers’ road – bounded by derelict walls, wire fences and an intermittent hawthorn hedge. To the left is a grassy mound, the site of the ruined Blaencamlais Castle.
After about 150m go through a gate to continue along a track with earth banks on the right and hawthorns on the left. Go through a second gate with the corner of a plantation on the right. Before you arrive at a third gate, follow a narrow waymarked trail through a gate to the left and begin your descent into Cwm Camlais. The grassy track steepens and becomes a sunken lane with high tree-topped banks on each side,
At the end of the lane turn left to follow a minor road uphill. After a short distance the road swings right and descends steeply to cross a bridge over the Nant Camlais-fawr river. Follow the road up and around Blaencamlais-fawr Farm, then bear left to follow the lane for 600m turning right through a gate onto a bridleway that you’ll see a few metres before the lane joins the A4215 road.
Follow the track for a mile (1.6km), ascending through a series of gates. On reaching Cefn Llechid common, walk straight ahead heading roughly northwards on a grassy track across bracken-covered moorland. Pass a large pool on your left and bear left to follow a grassy track to the trig point at the top of the hill (great views).
Head downhill towards a second smaller pool and bear left back onto the track until the common boundary wall and fence are immediately to your right. Continue on through the gate on the corner of the wall ahead and descend a grassy track to a Tarmac lane. Turn right onto the lane and descend, keeping left at a triangular junction. Continue ahead to Cwm-Camlais-uchaf Farm, crossing the farmyard to a gate at the far end leading to a winding track into the river valley below.
Cross the wooden footbridge over Nant Camlais-fawr just above the confluence with Nant Camlais-fach and bear right to a metal gate leading into the woodlands. Follow an old sunken track ascending parallel to the stream on your left until you reach an open field. Turn right, following the track around the western edge of the field. As it climbs, the track swings left and continues between trees across the middle of the field to a small gate.
Continue upwards and then turn right through a gate. Follow the path uphill through a series of gates to rejoin the drovers’ road and complete your circuit of the Camlais valley. Follow the track back to the edge of Mynydd Illtud common, turning left to follow the road until it descends to cross a stream. Carry on until a lane joins from the left and bear right to follow a narrow sheep track across the moor to a conifer plantation. Follow the farm fence left towards the cattle gird and road and turn right to go around Llanilltyd Farm and past the demolished St Illtud’s Church.
Retrace your steps past the farmhouse and cattle grid, turning right to follow the farm’s boundary fence. The fence soon turns sharply right and a standing stone is visible on the right. Turn tight and follow the track which leads past the standing stone back to the Visitor Centre.