RSF - The Off Road Cycling Club

The Adventure Starts Here

The Delightful Doethie

by Steve Griffith
(Finchley, London)

Doethie sketchThe Doethie is, I would argue, one the most scenic river valleys in Wales. Its length is less than 8 miles flowing from two sources just south of the Tregaron to Abergwesyn mountain road (of Devil's Staircase fame) into the Pysgotwr and shortly afterwards that it turn flows into the Towy a couple of miles south of Llyn Brianne reservoir.

How to describe the attraction? Deep sided valley, waterfalls, and rock outcrops all add to the magnificence of the valley. Not forgetting that magic element remoteness! For much of its length it passes through a steep sided valley, mercifully with an only a couple of small plantations, free of the regimented forestry conifers that are the curse of much of Mid Wales. Ty'n-y-Cornel youth hostel is situation above the upper reaches of the Doethie Fawr. In the course of numerous visits I have explored practically every inch of its length. There is a bridleway almost its entire length.

At 756543 there is a ford and footbridge where a track climbs steeply eastward towards Soar y Mynydd chapel. Just below here the river divides in to the Doethie Fawr and Fach (big and little branches). The former flows north-west below the hostel and the farm of Blaendoethie crossing the track to Llandewi Brefi where there is an impressive waterfall. The source is in Llyn Berwyn a small lake accessible on the Tregaron road in the midst of recently felled conifers. The Fach follows north for a shorter distance rising on the flanks of the hill Esgair Cerrig. It is an interesting feature of this and several other rivers in this part of Wales that the upper reaches are far more pastoral than the lower reaches.

After the confluence of the two branches a path runs on down the east bank all the way to the meeting with the Pysgotwr. From the ford mentioned above you climb steeply up about 200 metres and turn right through a newly erected wooden gate. Opposite is a 'writhen' thorn tree referred to many years ago by the late George Powell, one of our longest serving members, who knew the area very well. Initially the path is rideable and is quite high above the river at about 767522 it starts to drop down towards the river and you pass the first remains of a building. At one time this must have been quite a populated valley I have counted and seen reference to ten dwellings. Many of these were hafods (summer dwellings), others were one night houses built within 24 hours which gave the builder squatters right in the nineteenth century.

Two buildings are now left: Blaendoethie, which at the head of the valley commands a superb view of practically the entire length. Its lights also provided me with a guiding beacon when I decided rather foolishly to go up the valley one November evening after dark. A very helpful couple, who are semi- retired farmers from Kent, now occupy it. They have supported the re-planting of native trees below the farm something, which was initiated by one of the volunteer wardens - the fruits of his labours can also be seen around the hostel. The other building is of course the youth hostel, Ty'n-y-cornel, which is hidden from view when coming in either direct until the last minute (not so surprising when you consider the name means house on the corner).

Reading the note on the inside of the common room door provides an insight into what life must have been like here. Someone has researched the census details of everyone who lived in the building since 1821. The building ceased to be used in the 1950's when the owner Will Lewis moved to Blaendoethie. In the mid 1960's a group of passing cyclist suggested to him it would make a great hostel. He did much of the conversion work himself and was for many years the warden. I can well recall in the late 1970's him selling fresh milk and eggs. In the late 1980's he sold the building to the YHA for £3000. It would have closed at the end of 2006 but for the efforts of a number of people who love the area and who set up a charitable trust, one of whom has purchased it to continue as a hostel.

On the track past the hostel towards the ford is a memorial to a local shepherd; do not be tempted to take the 'bridleway' signed posted further down, as the push up the other side and through the conifers is sheer hell. Certainly not a short cut to the Bryn Amber track by any means.

As you continue down stream you pass through several delightful copses of ancient woodland. Great spots for lunch etc. At 772514 the path meets another track which drops steeping down over the north flank of Pen y Gurnos (unfortunately the summit which must have been a superb view point has been lost due to insensitive forestry planting) coming through the farm at Nant Llwyd, which must be one of the last working farms in the area. Crossing a boggy section the valley becomes far steeper and the track is only about 50 metres above the river. It can be mostly ridden but with care. The major hazard are the ferns within a couple of miles of the end. Riding through shoulder high ferns one summer I lost the track and was plunged some way down the hillside to land with bike on top of me. Apart from injured pride and some scratches I was fine. Pity the same couldn't be said for the bike - fractured seat pin being the biggest problem. A year later on another trip I met someone from Brecon Mountain Rescue who was preparing training exercise with the scenario of someone falling off the track … I kept quiet!

Once you reach another newly erected wooden gate I'm afraid the finish is close. However there are a couple of options; you could do a circular ride back to the hostel by turning right and following the track up and over to Bryn Amber, but be warned the initial push up is back breaking. Or you could pick up the track at Troed-rhiw-ruddwen farm north over the col and follow the track around the west side of the Llyn Brianne reservoir. So a glance at the map will reveal plenty of rough stuff options. I recommend allowing 2½ to 3 hours for a trip from the mouth of the river to the hostel its too good to take quickly. Remember, even if you are not staying at the hostel refreshments are always available - providing a donation is left.

Red Kites are now common in the area, identifiable by their forked tails. Other birds include yellowhammers, woodpeckers, and cuckoos are frequently sighted.

1:50 000 OS 147 or for more detail 1:25 000 Explorer 187
David Ing: "Hill Walking in Mid Wales", Sigma 1995. A guide, but with useful background.
Shirley Toulson and Fay Goodwin: "The Drovers Roads of Wales" 1977 re- printed by Wildwood; history, walking routes and great photography.
Richard Colyer: "Welsh Cattle Drovers" reprinted by Landmark, an academic work of general interest, even features the Doethie on the cover.
Hostel logbooks at Ty'n-y-cornel contain a great deal of useful info gathered over the years.
Rough Stuff Journal 1964, Vol 9 pages 70 to 72 "Rough Journeys In the Elenith" by Denis Veasey. Useful account, but not as a modern guide.
"Cycle-Touring" CTC magazine Dec 1966 "Twixt Towy and Teifi" pages 20 to 22. Well written article illustrated with a rare Patterson sketch of the Doethie.