Upper Cwm Cyneiniog is something of a ‘hidden valley’, a small triangle of green ringed with steep craggy hills and forests, with only a tiny lane leading up to it, and this walk is one of superb contrasts and variety. You start in the craggy splendour of the cwm, and emerge suddenly onto a wide open windy plateau of rough grassland, surrounded by distant peaks…giving a real feel of semi-wilderness. A lakeside path gives way to a slightly vertiginous and exciting scramble to the top of Esgair Goch, finishing with an easy, downhill, magnificent track to the starting point. The walk is on good paths or tracks almost all the way. If you would rather miss out the short section of scrambling, a detour can be taken from Point 11 below.
To arrive at the starting point, turn off the A487 at the green in Talybont, and take the narrow lane (with passing places) signposted to ‘Bontgoch’. After about 3km, at Pontbren-geifr, turn left towards Tynant, and follow the very narrow lane until it arrives at a ruined mine, and a flat, wide turning/parking space.
There are actually two possibilities for starting this walk up the cwm….either the lower Public Right of Way, or a higher old miners’ track higher up. They converge further on, anyway. For the latter, take the path rising up to the level track on the far side of the mine ruins, and then simply follow this gently ascending higher-level path.
You soon enter a forested area. An apparent early blockage of a wall and wire across the way can be bypassed (as an alternative to clambering over it) by following a small path up to the left and down the other side before resuming. From then on, the path is easy to follow, but gets a little overgrown in high summer.
The trees end at another wire fence which is easy to climb over, and the path continues beyond with great open views of the surrounding hills all round.
Look out for the point where the alternative lower path joins from the left, and a wide but grassy path diverges uphill to the right, which you take. The ‘straight ahead’ option heads towards the 'inclined plane' rising up the front of Carn Owen.
Ascend on this right hand path uphill, making sure you look back at the view down the cwm, admire the glowering crags of Craig yr Allt-ddu to your right, and the remains of an inclined plane and mining levels on the face of Carn Owen (482m) to your left.
You will find that the path zig-zags as it ascends the side of the hill…keep to it, even if it diverges from the map route to some extent, and gradually you will feel the gradient easing, and the view ahead changing radically...
Now the easy-to-follow track continues across the plateau of grassland, with the prominent ‘unnamed peak’ at 444m over to the right... you will have a chance to visit this landmark later.
The track curves round towards a lone tree and runs alongside an adjacent area of fenced-in grazing, until you arrive at a t-junction of tracks.
Here turn left for a short distance, then turn right, and choose the right-hand fork, keeping on the wider track, rather than taking the smaller path rising more uphill.
The track twists and turns for a while, with distant views of the Pumlumon range over to the east, before arriving at an obvious ‘meeting of the ways’ where there is a sturdy metal gate and a ford across the stream called Nant Melyn.
Here, turn right without passing through the gate, and walk along the path that heads towards the unmistakable rounded profile of Esgair Goch, and the lake, called Llyn Craig y Pistyll. This isolated lake is a reservoir with a dam at the far end, and is (or was) the Aberystwyth town water supply. At an inlet of the lake, arrive at a stile and flat footbridge.
At this point, you make the decision about whether to go in for a short stretch of somewhat exposed and loose semi-scrambling ahead, or get to the top of Esgair Goch by simply following the obvious fence line on your right that leads straight to the summit. (See notes at Point 15). The highest point is very obvious, and it is fine for a party to split up here, and meet at the summit. This option is hard work through low gorse and heather, and gets increasingly steep, but there is something of a path higher up across to the right.
The scrambling alternative has wonderful views and is quite exciting. Carry on along the lakeside until the dam is almost reached, and a metal post is seen over to the right.
There is a very faint path leading up to the metal post, and then beyond…carry straight on, following the sheep path as best you can. Keep going straight up until you get fairly close to the fenceline ahead, the path now veers left, heading towards a very visible boulder that serves as a marker for the beginning of the ‘hard section’.
From the boulder, the tiny path becomes more visible on the ground, and you can see its line ahead ascending on the side of the steep slope.
Don’t forget to stop and look at the view, dominated by Disgwylfa Fawr across the lake below. Looking back down the way you have come, Pumlumon Fawr and Y Garn form the skyline.
You will see that the line of your tiny path heads towards a somewhat craggy skyline, and care is needed where the path is falling away a little…the heather holds it all together! As you arrive at the rocky bit, veer right somewhat, and scramble up on the very steep and loose shale and tussocks, trying not to think about the very steep slope into the gorge behind you!
It doesn’t last long, or get any more difficult, and suddenly you emerge onto the grassy skyline, with all the difficulties overcome!
From here to the summit, go right and keep as close to the edge on your right as you can, as this is grassy and not hard going…you will see a faint path, and very quickly the drop to the right becomes less steep and worrisome, too. The top of Esgair Goch (455m/ 1,493ft) is eventually reached without much further struggle.
There used to be a stile at the summit, but the fence is easy to climb over, and the way ahead towards the next summit is obvious and easy on a clear track. This is now leisurely walking, dropping down a little, then ascending to the far end of the broad Pen Craig y Pistyll ridge. There is one more (new) wire fence to cross just before the next summit. Despite being a few metres lower than Esgair Goch, there is a proper cairn here (Waun Llechwedd Llyfn) at 452m.
Now follow the broad ridge down to the right somewhat, on a path which heads straight for the unmistakable ‘unnamed peak’.
There is an eroded path right to the top of the ‘unnamed peak’, at 444m; it is very steep, but short, and you probably won’t be able to resist giving it a go. There are fantastic views all around from the top. It is not required if you want a more relaxing time this far into the walk, and once again the party can divide at this point. The ‘bwlch’ here (Bwlch Yr Adwy) is a ‘meeting of the ways’, and it is important to take the right hand fork to descend on the very good track down the cwm of Nant Bwlch-glas.
Take a moment to look back at where you have come from as you descend the cwm, then continue on the track which bends round right under the crags of Cripiau Bwlch-glas, arriving at a metal gate.
There are a few ups and downs in the track to go before it descends towards another meeting of the ways. You will see the (initially) rather muddy track leading to the right and down into Cwm Cyneiniog well before you arrive at the junction.
It would seem admissible to cut this corner off a bit, and descend quickly on an increasingly dry and comfortable track towards our starting point.
Half way down, it might be worth stopping for a breather and a last view of this lovely valley, with its old lead mining works which are being increasingly taken over by encroaching nature!