Gentle wilderness along Abergwesyn Common

It can be a wild, stark place, Mid Wales: sometimes too much so for day-trippers who prefer Snowdonia’s more Instagram-able blockbuster beauty. At Undiscovered Wales we love the wildness and the starkness. But sometimes, we crave a lazy, languid day out too: the pootling drive out to a jaw-dropping beauty spot to picnic, cool off in a river and dreamily look at the view. Abergwesyn Common is for those times. Indeed, it seems tailor-made for those times.

Perhaps it is the allure the next valley over holds (and has held since time immemorial) – the next valley in Mid Wales to that we usually hang out in, that is. And whilst the hamlet of Abergwesyn is only a matter of miles from the Upper Tywi Valley as the crow flies, the yellow-green ridges of the Cambrians and the expanses of upland forest in-between render it twenty very slow miles by road and thus a place we associate with a weekend trip rather than a day-in-day-out stomping ground.

So whilst we might have reason to be a little bit biassed in this remote beauty spot’s favour, whichever angle we look at Abergwesyn and its serene common from, we can’t see how anyone could deny its right to be a finalist in a prettiest-place-in-Mid-Wales contest.

Abergwesyn’s ‘centre’ is a matter of two or three houses in an especially verdant part of the River Irfon valley, about five miles up northwest from that fabulous capital of quirk Llanwrtyd Wells (which you can access by train on the scenic Heart of Wales railway line). You might think you have taken a wrong turn when you reach there and see such an absence of, well, anything besides of course the sleepy beauty of the valley, but take the left-hand fork in Abergwesyn ‘centre’ towards Llyn Brianne and Tregaron and you embark on one of Wales’ very best driving routes – of which Abergwesyn Common is only the beginning.

The beautiful road through the common ©Luke Waterson

You ascend through a thick grove of ancient oakwoods to whet your appetite and then you hit the open ground of the common: with a vista unfolding before you which is anything but. Now you’re headed along tussocky moor with a sheer flank of rocky crags on the right and grassy bracken sloping down to the gorgeously bending River Irfon on the left. And an undulating narrow lane somehow threads through all this, bound for the forest on the far side several miles up, the access point for the climb up Drygarn Fawr, the subsequent famous Devil’s Staircase section of the road (hands down, some of the hairiest public road driving in Wales), the Dolgoch wilderness hostel (Wales’ most isolated), Soar y Mynydd Chapel, the northern end of Llyn Brianne and to Tregaron beyond that. Seriously, a tract of Wales of such unsurpassed secluded beauty that what with the places to see along the way, it has inspired us to create the first in our series of Great Welsh Road Trips (coming very soon on the site). Of course the prospect of all this dramatic scenery just beyond makes Abergwesyn Common all the more exciting. But a word of warning to those passing through on a longer drive: you could proceed a couple of hours further along these thrilling little lanes and not find a nicer point to stop.

The River Irfon wends for several miles through this landscape, but for nearly all of it remains several minutes’ walk down from the road across moor where there is not always any clear path down. This is to the Common’s advantage: it deters many, as does the limited parking spaces along the road. And this is good, too, because the area is a National Trust-run wildlife sanctuary with Bronze Age and medieval sites of interest. But bag one of the few that there are (so seldom-plied and even more seldom-stopped-on is this route that even on a busy day you should be fine) and you can start appreciating one of the most tranquil picnicking, paddling and wild swimming spots that we know. The best-known is Wolf’s Leap, near the end of the common. Here the road passes close to a cliff that juts out over the river to yield impressive views of the way you have come. But you can pick and choose your place: throughout are sections with rapids, meanders, small waterfalls and pools, bounded by grass and rocks conducive to spreading out that picnic rug, kicking back and relishing how Mid Wales can be gentle, rugged and ridiculously beautiful all at once.

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At a glance

How to get there: 5 miles northwest of Llanwrtyd Wells. Follow Dolecoed Road west and then northwest alongside the River Irfon to Abergwesyn. Cross the river bridge, turn left in the village centre and continue along the lane towards Llyn Brianne and Tregaron for about a mile to reach the start of Abergwesyn Common.

Parking: A few lay-by’s alongside the lane.

Refreshments: Llanwrtyd Wells, seven miles southeast, has a few options.

Best time to visit: Summer – the most likely weather warm enough for swimming!

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