Planning the Cambrian Way – Part 2: The First Rough Plan

I’ve now had a chance to walk through the route on Anquet, referring to the Cambrian Way book and the various blog accounts of the walk I’m using to assist in the planning. Not wanting to plunge into the detailed working out of daily walks and where to stop overnight at this stage – it’s far too early and there are just too many moving parts – my aim right now is to carve the walk up into a series of smaller sections which will be easier to plan.

The choice of staging points is relatively straightforward for this walk, as it makes sense to chop the route up at those larger towns with more facilities and which also happen to be the most logical places to bail out if needed. This is always how I try to plan a long walk – as a series of shorter walks between places that are well-connected. Only these points I regard as fixed – everything in between is flexible.

So I looked at the resources and came up with the logical section start/end points, noted down the mileage and ascent for each and then used a rough rule of thumb to guesstimate the number of days needed for each section. This rule of thumb tries to turn ascent into an equivalent number of flat miles which I then simply divide by my comfortable limit for daily distance to come up with the number of days. The conversion factor is based upon an article about training for the hills in Trail a few years ago which suggested that if you live somewhere flat (like I do) then to replicate the effect of climbing 500ft (150m) you need to walk an extra mile. It’s really just a version of Naismith’s Rule, but one that seems to work well for me. I simply invert this conversion factor to equate each 500ft or 150m to a mile on the flat, add this to the measured distance and come up with what I call a Flat Equivalent Distance (FED). My comfortable limit for a day’s walk over “terrain” is 15-17 miles if I’m doing it day after day, so I get the number of days by dividing the FED by 17 and rounding up to the nearest whole number. This conversion rate has proved to be remarkably accurate for estimating walks (if anything it tends to give a slightly conservative estimate so that I am more likely to beat it than go over).

For example, the first stage from Cardiff to Abergavenny is about 37 miles with 5,875ft of ascent. Converting the ascent to flat mileage adds 12, making a FED of 49 miles. Dividing by 17 gives 2.9, which we’ll call 3 days.

The first iteration of the schedule therefore looks like this:

Section Miles Ascent (ft) FED Est. Days
 1. Cardiff to Abergavenny 37 5,875 49 3
 2. Abergavenny to Llandovery 74 16,640 107 7
 3. Llandovery to Devil’s Bridge 41 6,540 54 3
 4. Devil’s Bridge to Dinas Mawddwy 42 8,355 59 4
 5. Dinas Mawddwy to Barmouth 21 6,035 33 2
 6. Barmouth to Beddgelert 37 12,305 62 4
 7. Beddgelert to Conwy 35 11,350 58 4
Totals 287 67,100 422 24

CambWayPhase1Plan

The distances and ascent figures used here are taken from Tony Drake’s Cambrian Way book, and reflecting the most recent updates published on the website. At this stage I haven’t adjusted any of the figures for the planned extra walking at the start from Cardiff Bay to Cardiff Castle (looks about a mile and a bit) and at the end from Conwy Castle to Llandudno. Neither of these will have a significant bearing on the planning, so for now I’ve gone with the easily accessible published figures to kick things off.

Stage 1: the book recommends doing this stage in 3 days rather than 2 so as to help break yourself into the walk. My calculations support this, as does my experience of multi-day walking when there is always a slight dip in performance after the first decent length day. This will definitely be planned as nearer 3 than 2 and this will also reflect the likelihood that the first walking day will be the day of travelling to the start. I guess I’m really saying that this will be either a 2.5 day section if I overnight in Abergavenny itself, or a 3 day section if I pass through Abergavenny in the morning having camped somewhere before.

Stage 2: the only thing I’m not happy with at this moment is the length of this stage – ideally I’d like to break this into two, but haven’t yet found an obvious and suitable staging point. A 5 mile detour to Brecon would give this if I want somewhere bigger, but more likely I will have to be creative with any hostels and villages along the way. I’m sure I’ll crack this but my training for the walk is going to be on the worst case assumption that I may have to do this second section as a single section for re-supply purposes. I’m sure it won’t come to this in the end though.

Stages 3-5: these all look reasonable to me, but the estimates will obviously be refined as the detailed planning continues. This is all unknown territory to me.

Stage 6: the controversial Rhinogs section looks like it can be split in half if needed using facilities in the Trawsfynnyd/Maentwrog area. Other people who have done this walk find the accommodation challenge of doing the 2 day Rhinogs walk a problem – overnighting on the hill should sort this out, although clearly the terrain itself is quite rough.

Stage 7: probably the stage I am most confident about in terms of judging the planning because it’s the part I know best. With three mountain ranges to be traversed (Snowdon, Glyders and Carneddau) it works out crudely as a day per range, but in reality the Carneddau will take a bit more and the Glyders a bit less.

Overall, this looks like a reasonably prudent schedule to work from at this stage. It is likely that in some cases some of the days calculated may only turn out to be half days, which is fine. I also haven’t yet allowed for any reduction that may be achieved by camping high and avoiding the need for valley-level accommodation.

At this stage I also haven’t really thought about which, if any, of the alternative routes allowed might be taken – that will come as I look at each section in more detail.

What I have done though is to compare my first cut of a schedule with the schedules of those who have done the walk before so as to get a feel for whether my estimates are reasonable both at an individual section level and overall.

Section Stephen Poulton (1971) Pete Lockey (2008) George Tod (2000) George Tod (2005) George Tod (2010) Me (2013) Bob & Charl (2003)
 1. Cardiff to Abergavenny 2 2 2 2 3 5
2. Abergavenny to Llandovery 4 5.5 5.5 5.5 7 11
3. Llandovery to Devil’s Bridge 2 2.5 2.5 2.5 3 5
4. Devil’s Bridge to Dinas Mawddwy 2 3 3.5 3.5 4 6
5. Dinas Mawddwy to Barmouth 1 2 2 2 2 4
6. Barmouth to Beddgelert 2 2 3 3 4
7. Beddgelert to Conwy 2 3 3 3 4
Totals 11 15 20 21 21 24 31

In short, my crude 24 day schedule doesn’t look particularly aggressive. Of the other people’s schedules included here, only George’s is of much use to me, the others being at the extreme ends of the spectrum. Poulton and Lockey are clearly a bit more hardcore than me (you only have to read Poulton’s gear list to see that) and I wouldn’t contemplate a schedule under 20 days. Additionally, because Poulton slept anywhere and everywhere, his daily walks don’t correspond too closely to my sections so I didn’t try to make them fit, especially as I knew his schedule would be unrealsitic for me however it was cut. The Bob & Charl schedule is on the other hand ridiculously laid back for me, and it should be noted that the 31 days is only to get to Beddgelert – if they’d done the full route it would probably be more like 43-44 days.

What this comparison has done is give me a sense that I’m in the right ballpark (21-24 days) and that with a bit more detailed planning work I’ll probably get closer to George’s schedule, which is remarkably consistent considering the ten years gap between his first and last walk.

Other aspects:

Accommodation

I’m assuming that each of the stage ends will be B&Bs or hostels, with an additional one somewhere in the middle of section 2. That will give something like 6-7 hostel/B&B nights and 17-18 nights in the tent. That’s about what I originally envisaged. I might up the number of hostels by 1 or 2, or leave them to the whims of late availability.

Travel

This doesn’t need much thought other than finding the best date and fare combinations. Great Western from Paddington to Cardiff for the outward journey and Conwy or Llandudno Junction to Euston for the return. If prices are stupid I might look into whether I can make use of the line between Chester and Cardiff so that I can use a return between Euston and Chester, but that’s likely to cost me in travel time what I save in fare.

Dates

I’m looking at sometime in late April, a week to 10 days after returning from the family and friends Easter break. If I can’t reduce the schedule to 3 weeks then I may be looking at doing it in two.

Gear

It’s too early to think much about gear, but some things have occurred to me:

  • My shoes might not be up to the whole walk, so I need to think about whether to risk it or replace them beforehand.
  • For a walk of this duration where I will want some extra comforts, I’m going to struggle using the Golite Jam and may need a little extra capacity. But by Lowe Alpine 65/80 litre rucksack weighs a whopping 2.3kg – a kilo and a half more than the Jam. Should I look for something lighter but which can still carry a decent load?
  • If I’m going to be in the middle of nowhere for such a while, maybe I should look at investing in a tracking device like a Spot. This would enable me to communicate my location and that I’m ok even when I can’t get a mobile signal, as well as enable me to track the route on a site such as social hiking.
  • I’m happy with most of the rest of my gear.

Training

A 3 week walk is a serious undertaking, even before factoring in the amount of ascent and descent that the walk will involve. I can’t simply rock up in Cardiff and expect to get through the walk without any prior preparation. Of course some fitness will be gained during the walk, but I know from experience that will only begin after a couple of low patches where I’m struggling for energy. The key to being ready for this is the ability to do good distances with significant ascent day after day. So the training needs to be geared to this.

This is where living in one of the flattest counties in the UK becomes an issue. The ideal training would be quite simply long walks up and down hills, but unless I want to do 50 local circuits every day there’s no way I can achieve the sort of ascent that a day’s hillwalking involves. So I will have to use the gym to build general cardiovascular fitness and get in what walks locally I can, substituting extra distance in the place of ascent. This will also be a good motivator to finish off the North Downs Way. And I’ve got a copy of Hillfit, so best look at that too. Even with these measures, true readiness for the walk can only really be achieved with some proper multi-day hillwalks, so I’m going to aim for a couple of trips before Easter.

Training for me is not just about the physical preparation, but training in the sense of skills and usage of my gear. So I need to use these opportunities to iron out any gear issues, help crystallise the gear choices and to get familiar with anything new that I acquire for the trip.

Budget

Based on my assumptions on accommodation, I reckon I’m looking at around £170 for accommodation, £140 for trains and about £240 for food etc. So a total of about £550. I reckon that would have been the accommodation bill alone if not wild camping. This too will get refined.

The next stage

Next comes the slower and more methodical process of looking at each section in detail, researching accommodation where I want it and starting to build a table of planned daily walk distances/ascents. And also plenty of training and planning a training trip.

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