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OM Orchid Meadows. 1  Cambrian Mountains route. 2 Hafod Estate. 3 Devil's Bridge.

4 Bryn Nant yr Arian Forest Visitor Centre. 5 Elan Valley. 6 Cors Caron National Nature Reserve.

Cambrian Mountains route

Cambrian Mountains day out from Orchid Meadows holiday cottage and glamping site in West Wales

The Cambrian Mountains are definitely the unsung hero of Wales. The scenery is dramatic and austere but is over-shadowed in terms of popularity by Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons National Parks. Think of this upland area as the neglected child sandwiched between two more admired siblings. The Cambrians were actually proposed as a National Park themselves in the 1960s but it came to nothing. 


What all this does mean is that few people bother to visit this part of mid-Wales and as a result you can find what perhaps you cannot easily find today in Snowdonia or the Brecon Beacons: peace and solitude.


The only slight nods towards visitor attractions here are the Elan Valley and, somewhat surprisingly, a phone box and a postbox. It is true. On the road up into the mountains from Tregaron, there is a lonely spot where at some point in the past someone decided it was just the right place for some communications facilities. The slightly bizarre sight of a bright red phone box and postbox in a wide, deserted green landscape attracts the attention of people who come to take pictures of themselves at this far-flung place. You could hardly call the visitors thrill-seekers but nevertheless this location has a fan club and has become iconic. Perhaps you had better go there is see what all the fuss is about.


For the notebook, the Cambrian Mountains include the sources of the River Severn and River Wye - actually surprisingly close to each other - and the highest point is Plynlimon at 2467 feet (752 metres).

Hafod Estate

Hafod Estate day out from Orchid Meadows holiday cottage and glamping site in West Wales

The Hafod Estate, also known as Hafod Uchtryd (uchtryd meaning summer mansion) is a stunning forested landscape in the Ystwych Valley. It was originally the site of a hunting lodge for Welsh chieftains and was once part of the Strata Florida Cistercian Abbey estate before becoming home to landed gentry.


In the late 18th century a celebrated designer landscape was created under the ownership of Thomas Johnes and a huge Gothic mansion was built in 1785. It was rebuilt in 1810 after being destroyed by fire.


Johnes was an innovative landowner and during his time on the estate oversaw the planting of 3 million trees. His plantations won awards from the Society of Silviculture for their design. He also set up an experimental farm, which became a successful dairy business despite the limitations placed by climate and soil. In 1800 4 tons of cheese was produced and half a ton of butter.


By the middle of the 20tth century, however, the mansion had become derelict and it was demolished in 1958. Today only the stables and isolated buildings remains. But the estate is the perfect place for a walk in fine scenery covering 500 acres. There are a number of routes to explore, including the Gentleman’s Walk and the Alpine Bridge Walk.

Devil's Bridge

Devil's Bridge day out from Orchid Meadows holiday cottage and glamping site in West Wales

Devil’s Bridge is a well known tourist attraction north of Orchid Meadows. The waterfalls here have attracted many thousands of visitors since the 18th century, including William Wordsworth who wrote about “the torrent at the Devil’s Bridge”. Today the Falls Nature Trail provides a great opportunity to see this impressive natural feature in the Rheidol Gorge. And you can arrive in style by taking the Vale of Rheidol Steam Railway from Aberystwyth to the very place itself.


There are actually three bridges at Devil’s Bridge, more or less built in a stack. It is thought that the first or lowest of the three bridges was built by the monks of Strata Florida to shave a few minutes off the journey time to their abbey in Pontrhyfendigaid.


But there is another theory.


Around the time of the 11th century, the Devil visited Wales as he had never been there before and had heard that the scenery was breath-taking. He came across an old lady who seemed upset. “What’s the matter?” he asked but only out of curiosity because obviously he was not known to be nice to old ladies.


“Oh, I’m in such a terrible muddle and I don’t know what to do!” she replied. “My cow has wandered across the river and I can’t get her back.”

“Ah!” said the Devil, “What you need, My Dear, is a bridge and I am just the man to build you one! Why don’t you go home and in the morning there will be a bridge waiting for you. All I ask in return is to keep the first living thing to cross the bridge!”

“Okay then,” she said. “It’s a bargain. I’ll see you in the morning. Nos da (goodnight).” That night she wondered about this stranger who would build her a bridge. “What a strange request! Why should I cross the bridge to get my cow back if he gets to keep me in exchange? Mind you, I won't say it's not a tempting offer.”


The next day she got up and called for her faithful dog. Together they went down to the river. She could not believe her eyes. In front of her was the best bridge that she had ever seen!


“I told you I would build you a bridge,” said the Devil, appearing from nowhere. “Now it’s your turn to keep your side of the bargain.”

She replied: “I know, you get to keep the first living thing to cross the bridge.” She started to walk towards the bridge. But just when she got to the start of it, she stopped, took out a loaf of bread from her apron pocket and hurled it across the bridge. As quick as a flash and before the Devil could stop it, the dog chased after it.


“Aaaaaaagh!” screeched the Devil. “You stupid old woman. I don’t believe it! Your smelly, hairy farm dog has become the first living thing to cross my bridge. A dog’s no good to me.” With that, he vanished and was never seen in Wales again as he was so embarrassed at being outwitted by the old lady.


This all seems entirely plausible until you learn that this legend is very similar to another in Switzerland where the Devil built a bridge so that a lost goat could safely cross the ravine. Maybe it is not true at all and simply a marketing stunt. What is true is that the Devil has not been seen in Wales since but only because he was driven out by the Manic Street Preachers.

Red kite feeding centre day out from Orchid Meadows holiday cottage and glamping site in West Wales

At the western edge of the Cambrian Mountains, just off the A44, is the Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre. It is well-known for its long-established tradition of feeding red kites daily.


By the mid-1980s, the red kite population had crashed to a handful of pairs in southern and mid-Wales, the result of a long history of pointless persecution. In 1989 a re-introduction programme was set up by the RSPB and the Nature Conservancy Council due to concerns about the slow rate of population expansion in Wales, and the improbability of natural re-colonisation of other suitable parts of the UK by red kites from Wales or the continent. Red kites were re-introduced to four areas in England: the Chilterns, the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the North-east. And in 1999, Bwlch Nant yr Arian became a red kite feeding station as part of a programme to protect the small number of red kites in the area at that time.


Since then the red kite has become an unparalleled conservation success story. Fast forward to 2022 and the bird is a familiar site in many parts of Britain, including nearly all Wales. At Orchid Meadows, we see red kites most days.

At Bwlch Nant yr Arian daily feeding nevertheless continues at 3pm during the summer months and 2pm in winter. As many as 150 come in to feed from a radius of 10 miles. Here you can also find a range of waymarked trails for walkers, mountain bikers and runners.

Elan Valley

Elan Valley day out from Orchid Meadows holiday cottage and glamping site in West Wales

The Elan Valley is a beautiful area, striking in terms of its scenery, rich in wildlife and given an additional focus by the engineering wonder of the Victorian dams and reservoirs. Elan is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of the Cambrian Mountains.


The 70 square miles of moorland, bog, woodland, river and reservoir are of national importance for their diversity of lower plants (mosses, liverworts and lichens) in particular and the Elan Estate is said to be the most important area for land birds in Wales.


To date, 180 species of bird have been recorded here. These include meadow pipet, linnet, skylark, stonechat, reed bunting, whinchat, golden plover, dunlin, hen harrier, merlin, short-eared owl, dipper and grey wagtail. Other animals include badgers, otters, polecats, stoats and weasels, glow worms and nine species of bat.


And that is not all. Ten species of orchid  have been recorded growing here: fragrant orchid, early marsh orchid, lesser twayblade, common spotted orchid, heath spotted orchid, early purple orchid, bog orchid, lesser and greater butterfly orchid and recently a new record of a single small white orchid. At Orchid Meadows we are very jealous!


A visit might seem essential and a good place to start is the visitor centre below Caban Coch Dam. There you can find out about the building of the dams and all the ways to explore this remarkable place. There is a gift shop and a café.

Scenic days out from Orchid Meadows holiday cottage and glamping site in West Wales

Cors Caron National Nature Reserve

Cors Caron National Nature Reserve day out from Orchid Meadows holiday cottage and glamping site in West Wales

Cors Caron National Nature Reserve is a vast area of wetland filling the broad valley of the River Teifi literally just over the road from Orchid Meadows. It is underlain by three areas of raised bog with millions of cubic metres of peat up to 10 metres deep. They are some of the most intact examples of raised peat bog in Britain, having built up over the past 12,000 years. 


The list of wildlife species to be found here is extensive. Among birdlife are peregrine falcon, merlin, sparrowhawk, hen harrier, Montagu’s harrier, red kite, buzzard, teal, curlew and grasshopper warbler. Of the 170 or so bird species that have been recorded at Cors Caron, more than 40 breed there. Otters, polecats and adders are rare but rewarding sights and the plant community includes bog asphodel, bog rosemary, heather, heath spotted orchids, bogbean and sundew. 


The raised boardwalk provides a great opportunity to experience the most interesting part of the reserve and there are also the longer riverside walk and old railway line trail to explore. There are parking, toilet and information facilities.

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