The Cambrian Mountains are one of the few remote wilderness areas left in Southern Britain. The main settlements lie on the edges of a wild open moorland and although there are only few roads across the mountains they are acknowledged as some of the most scenic routes in Britain.
The Cambrian Mountains - a wilderness alive with wildlife
The vast plateau of rolling moorland ridges, jewelled with small lakes were described by the 19th century traveller and writer George Borrow in his book ‘Wild Wales’
‘a lofty mountain in the far distance, a hill right before me,
and on my left, a meadow overhung by the southern hill’.
Largely unchanged, the mountains are equally beautiful in the green cloak of summer, autumnal purple and gold of sedges and heather, or the crisp white of untouched winter snow.
The Cambrian Mountains may have few distinct peaks, but climb Pumlumon - to the highest of its five summits ('five' in Welsh is 'pump') - for unbroken views as far as the mountains of Snowdonia and Llyn Peninsula to the north, and the Brecon Beacons and Pembrokeshire to the south. The remotest part of the mountains are probably the area called Elenydd - an area of internationally important blanket bog blanket and breeding site for the red kite, merlin and peregrine falcon.
The best place to see red kites close up is when they come in to feed at Bwlch Nant yr Arian, just inland of Aberystwyth.
Pumlumon and the silver mountains
Mining for precious metals was an important part of the economy of the Cambrian Mountains from ancient times. The alternative spelling - Plynlymon - hints at the silver and lead - the Welsh for lead is 'plwm'- that attracted miners to the area.
Now eerily quiet, broken only by the song of skylarks or the cry of red kites, the dramatic remains of an industrial past are scattered across the landscape, from restored waterwheels and chimneys at Pontrhydygroes and Cwmsymlog, the abandoned mills of Cwm Ystwyth, and the unusual mine spoil heap known as 'the stag' seen in the wood on the hillside of Cwm Rheidol.
Travel on the Vale of Rheidol Railway to spot the hidden mining remains in the woods.
Visit the Silver Mountain Experience to learn about the history and folklore of the miners and their industry
Today, the isolated farmsteads and chapels are providing fertile ground for the producers of TV drama Hinterland.
Elenydd - haven of peace and tranquillity in the Cambrian Mountains
The Cistercian monks of Strata Florida abbey farmed vast estates in the Cambrian Mountains, and the tracks used by them were later developed by the drovers to take livestock to markets in England.
The monks not only copied manuscripts of poetry, and guarded what may be the Holy Grail, but also mined for minerals in the surrounding hills. Recent archaeological studies have revealed the massive extent of the abbey's precincts, including industrial remains.
Capel Soar y Mynydd, often called the most remote chapel in Wales, is a Welsh Calvinist Methodist Chapel which was built in 1822 to serve the hill farmers of the remote upper valleys.
Today Soar y Mynydd chapel is still a site of active worship and visitors continue to make their pilgrimage to this hauntingly beautiful site from all over the world. It is reached along a single track metalled mountain road from Tregaron that continues over to Abergwesyn in Powys, or by or skirting the Brianne Reservoir from Rhandirmwyn in Carmarthenshire. An ancient mountain track, used by the drovers leads from Llanddewi Brefi.
The Cambrian Mountains area extends over parts of three neigbouring counties: Ceredigion, Powys and Carmarthenshire. Get a copy of the new guide to the area and its attractions locally, or download a PDF copy.
The Cambrian Mountains Initiative seeks to help sustain traditional upland farms and communities by promoting craft and produce from the area, and by protecting the environment in which they are produced. HRH The Prince of Wales established his Welsh home in 2008 at Llwynywermod, in the southern hills of the Cambrian Mountains. Inspired by the landscape and pursuing a favourite hobby he painted a watercolour of Cwm Berwyn, near Tregaron, which is now used as part of the Cambrian Mountains local produce beef brand.