The Caio Forest: the forest that foiled an English king

Discovering the truly undiscovered inevitably entails sometimes opening up the OS map, scouting out the sort of terrain you love, hedging your bets and just going there. So it was with the Caio forest for us: it had expanses of trees, some thrillingly close-together contour lines, a promising little network of marked paths and a proper parking place. So off we went. (The marked paths and parking place, I should add, became requirements following a series of adventures where we had neither, with a fair degree of bog and fence traversing to boot).

Caio the forest is named after Caio the village, a tightly-bunched hamlet quite close to the Dolaucothi Gold Mines (that some Roman Gold Mines should be the closest point of reference is testimony to its isolation, but these are signposted from the main Llandovery-Llandeilo stretch of the A40, whereas Caio village is only signposted from a couple of miles away, and then by drunkenly-leaning signs overgrown by foliage).

The yellow trail ©Kerry Walker

This place certainly sets the tone for an adventure: it’s a remote spot, but still has a pub (the Brunant Arms, cash only) and quite a striking church. Once the village was on an important drover’s road (and, originally, a Roman road) between Llandovery, once a Roman stronghold, and Dolaucothi. Now there are only two roads in and out. From Dolaucothi Gold Mines (northwest), it’s about one mile, from Porthryd  (southeast) it’s about three miles, and from the junction of these roads in the village a handwritten signpost points up the dead-end lane to Caio Forest.

The lane quickly gives up by a farm and it’s a rutted but drivable track that descends to the parking place for Caio Forest.

Wild today, a wild goose chase in the past!

On each of the four times Undiscovered Wales have visited, we were amazed no one else on a weekend of decent walking weather was here, locals or holiday makers. Equivalent forest areas with good trail networks in Mid Wales (like Brechfa Forest) can get quite busy because of the combo of hikers and mountain-bikers, but not so Caio Forest: despite having decent parking, three signed trails and an inviting wooden bridge crossing a stream to a small picnic area, we had the whole huge expanse of forest to ourselves on every occasion (OK, once a car turned up as we were leaving, but that really was it!)

The forest is a resplendent mix of conifer, including Norwegian spruce and larch, and deciduous which means the colour palette is pretty rich even in winter. It occupies a steep-sided valley, with the trees spreading up both sides and, two or three miles in, up in front of you as well. It adds to the thrill that at the top the forest gives way to Mynydd Mallaen, one of the legendary upland moors of Mid Wales, with many more walking trails to explore. Welsh nobleman Llywelyn ap Gruffyd Fychan was once landowner of these forests back in the day of the last-ever uprising to attempt placing a Welsh king on the throne of Wales, led by Owain Glyndwr. Llywelyn supported the uprising and once led King Henry IV and his men on an intended wild goose chase through this area to prevent them from finding Glyndwr’s forces.  Llywelyn was ultimately executed for supporting Glyndwr; a monument by the castle in Llandovery remembers this ultimate martyr for the cause of Welsh independence. But as you will see, this is a place where pulling off a wild goose chase is quite easy!

The start of the red trail ©Kerry Walker

What to do: the trails

The easiest trail, blue, heads northeast along the main forest track into an open area and then cuts down to the left on a path that first crosses a stream then ascends on steps via a pretty forest path to join the upper forest track heading in the opposite direction (southwest). The path turns left on the upper track to descend back to the wooden bridge over the river at the picnic area/start. This trail is about one mile of easy walking.

Another easier but longer trail is the yellow trail which continues on the main forest track all the way northeast along the valley before curving to join the upper forest track and then following the route, as per the blue trail, back along the other valley side. This trail is about two miles of easy walking.

The red trail is the best, heading first over the afore-mentioned bridge, passed the picnic area and then up on an initially well-marked narrow path which corkscrews up through to the top of the forest. This section is prone to fallen trees. At the top a broader forest track curves along and down to descend back to the picnic area. This trail is about 1.25 miles of moderate walking. Along the way, another track (about half a mile from the point where the path reconnects with the picnic area) leads on up onto Mynydd Mallaen.

There are 13 other areas of forest in this part of Mid Wales for discovering, but the Caio Forest is certainly one of the remotest. After all, there are not so many places anymore which have almost nothing about them online. Except for Undiscovered-Wales, of course!

At a glance

How to get there: From the Dolaucothi Gold Mines, turn right out of the car park to the next crossroads. Here, rather than turn right/ straight on to rejoin the A482 turn left on a narrow lane than ascends through woods and then drops to Caio (1 mile). From Llandovery, take A40 to Llanwrda then take A482 towards Dolaucothi Gold Mines. After 3 miles pass Hafod Bridge and after a further half mile take right hand turn to Porthryd. Almost immediately after a bridge, turn left to Caio. Keep on this lane all the way three miles to Caio village.

Parking: There is room for a good dozen or so cars in the upper and lower level car parks, where there are also information boards. The parking is down a fairly rough but drivable track.

Refreshments: The Brynant Arms in Caio village, one mile from the forest.

Best time to visit: Autumn for the colours in the forest.