Let me take you on a journey, igam-ogam (or zig-zagging) through the Cambrian Mountains. Our trip goes from southern Llanllawddog across the region to Dylife in the north, one of the most spectacular locations to watch a sunset in the whole country.
We have some of the darkest night skies in Europe, and with nine Milky Way Class Dark Sky Discovery Sites and an International Dark Sky Park, you're spoilt for choice for places to enjoy our pristine night skies!
Hit the road
If you're driving west towards Carmarthen on the M4 then the A48, you'll notice the land rising in front of you to the north. Those little hills and valleys are your sign that you've arrived in the Cambrian Mountains! I've pulled out a suggested route with stops to cover all interests.
Llanllawddog. This small village is named to reflect its heritage - that of local saint, Llawddog. In the village you'll find a 12th century church, surrounded by woodland that was originally decreed a royal forest.
Brechfa. Pick up supplies and information at the volunteer-run community shop. Those interested in shinrin-yoku (or forest bathing) should spend some time in Brechfa Fforest, where you can discover waterfalls and enjoy nature. Alternatively, oil the chain on your mountain bike and whizz around some of the forest trails on offer.
For sunset, head to the community-built peace cairn at the summit of Mynydd Llanfihangel Rhos-Y-Corn. As night falls, look up for an incredible view of the stars. Nearby Llanllwni Mountain is the first of our Dark Sky Discovery Sites - an incredible stargazing venue.
Talyllychau village is home to the iconic ruins of Talley Abbey, which you can enjoy on the way to the town of Lampeter. The university grounds are open to the public and perfect for a leisurely stroll. Welsh poet Dylan Thomas often visited Lampeter, and keen fans can follow his trail around the town. Cae Hir Gardens is recommended for refreshments and more walking – grown on a slope, this attraction has an interesting Dutch history and is full of plants, flowers and trees.
Pumsaint is next, named after the five saints that came to the area many years ago, but today's visitors are most likely to come for a tour of the Dolaucothi Gold Mines. Take a step back in time and imagine the Romans who were here looking for gold nearly two thousand years ago.
Llandovery. This is a wonderful town, but I might be biased in that opinion as it is where I'm from originally! This colourful market town has boutique shops and great places to stay (don’t just take my word for it, even Lord Nelson stayed in one of the hotels here!). The glistening steel statue of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd Fychan towers over the town, in memory of this Welsh resistance hero, making an ideal photo opportunity.
Make sure to use the Heart of Wales Railway, with its community-run station that's looked after by local volunteers. Take the train up to Cynghordy viaduct, which is more than 150 years old. I like to look out of the window here and pretend I'm Harry Potter, going to Hogwarts (it's an uncannily similar landscape!).
Llanwrtyd Wells. At some point in life you'll probably have heard of the World Alternative Games, which are held here. Brave souls battle for titles like World Bog Snorkelling champion, arguably the most coveted title in world sports. Although it's a small place, there are plenty of places to stay, eat and things to do in Llanwrtyd Wells.
Abergwesyn Pass. Driving towards Tregaron you'll head through this pass, an epic u-shaped valley carved out of the landscape by glaciers. The steep section is known locally as the ‘Devil's Staircase’, a challenge for many road vehicles over the years, let alone the many cyclists who use it! The summit gives magnificent views of the Abergwesyn Valley.
Llyn Brianne Reservoir and Dam. Near Cilycwm and Rhandirmwyn, this is another Dark Sky Discovery Site - perfect for star gazing, with barely any light pollution. It's also a lovely place for a walk or a cycle during the day.
RSPB Gwenffrwd-Dinas Nature Reserve. Home to many birds, mammals and plants, this reserve also has one the most famous caves in Wales, where local legend Twm Siôn Cati hid from authorities. My favourite time to visit is May and June, when the carpets of bluebells are in blossom.
Tregaron. Keeping on the trail of Twm Siôn Cati, here in his birthplace you will find a wooden statue commemorating the local highwayman, poet, and rascal. There's plenty more to do here - marvel at some Welsh gold at the Rhiannon Centre, enjoy wildlife at Cors Caron Nature Reserve, and walk or bike along the Ystwyth Trail, following the track of the old Great Western Railway line.
Pontrhydfendigaid is a small community village known locally as Bont. It's the birthplace of the first Welsh man to climb Everest, Caradoc Jones. Looking around, you can probably see his love of mountains started from a young age.
Strata Florida Abbey. If you're after a relaxing mountain walk, go from Strata Florida to the source of the River Teifi. Pop into the abbey's visitor centre to learn about its history and the spiritual and cultural significance of the surrounding area.
Coed y Bont. Another Dark Sky Discovery Site, and a great location for spotting the Milky Way in the night sky - perfect views with no light pollution. There are also wonderful woodland walks proudly looked after by the local community.
Pont-rhyd-y-groes has a history and heritage of lead mining, and you can still see the water wheel turning in the village. From here you can visit the picturesque Hafod Estate, full of walks and cycle trails, waterfalls and caverns, and even a place where you can stroll through a cave and see and the water tumbling down on the other side.
Devil's Bridge. So-called after the devil visited the site and tried to fool a local woman into giving her soul. She got the better of him, and in return he had to build her a bridge. Today, you can walk across one of three bridges at the site, enjoy the amazing waterfalls and even watch the local chocolatier, Sarah Bunton, making her chocolate.
Ponterwyd. You can reach the small market town via another National Forest for Wales site, Bwlch Nant yr Arian Forest. Enjoy mountain bike and walking trails, little ponds and lakes, plus the very popular Red Kite Feeding Centre. Stand by to watch as flocks of up to 200 kites swoop in the sky above you, looking for their lunch. It's an incredible experience that must be seen to be believed!
Pumlumon Fawr. At 752 metres (2,468 feet), this is the highest peak in the Cambrian Mountains. From the summit, you can see Snowdon and Cader Idris to the north, Pen Y Fan in the south and the full sweep of Cardigan Bay to the west.
Cwmystwyth Valley. Another tremendous u-shaped valley that heralds your arrival into a new landscape. Continue along the scenic route to the Elan Valley, full of amazing reservoirs, dam walls and natural features. Make sure to stop and admire the view!
Elan Valley. Head for the Elan Valley visitor centre for refreshments and information about the International Dark Skies Park (the only one in Wales). It's incredibly popular with astronomers, astro-photographers and anyone who wants a good view of stars, planets, and constellations. The Northern Lights have even been viewed here. A dark sky observing hut has recently been built so people can view the stars at organised events.
Rhayader is a lovely place to browse shops, walk along the River Wye, or pop into a coffee house or tea rooms to refuel. For the more adventurous, check out the BMX pump track (even if you don’t fancy jumping on the back of a bike yourself, it’s good viewing).
Gilfach Nature Reserve. Travel north west on the A470 along The Cambrian Way to get here. You can be walking quietly along the River Marteg, when suddenly a huge salmon leaps from the water! November is the best time to see this.
Llanidloes, the first town on the River Severn. Stop for a walk around Hafren Forest, the fourth National Forest for Wales here in the Cambrian Mountains. If you fancy a spot of fishing or boating, the nearby Llyn Clywedog Reservoir is a lovely peaceful setting. Make sure to stop by the Wynford Vaughan-Thomas look out point. Thomas was a well-loved Welsh broadcaster and loved nature. From his viewpoint you can see the whole of Snowdonia National Park.
Dylife and Staylittle. Perfectly positioned for the National Trail Glyndwr’s Way and the challenging Cambrian Way long distance trail, this northern community of the Cambrian Mountains oozes local industrial heritage and local legends. Nearby, visit the impressive peak of Foel Fadian (564 meters / 1850 feet) and the Glaslyn Nature Reserve.
Always check the weather forecast and prepare your clothing and kit carefully. Mountains can be dangerous in fog, winds and storms. On hot days you’ll need sunblock and plenty of water.
- Adventure Smart Wales has plenty of advice on how to ‘make a good day better’, and we recommend you read it before planning your days out.