Back in October last year I was invited to join my lovely friend Chelsea and a couple of other friends for a weekend hiking adventure in North Wales. Chelsea was keen to walk the Brenig Way, a 32 mile route from Corwen to Llyn Brenig in Denbigshire, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get outside for a few days and spend some quality time with some lovely people and in nature.
The four of us met up at Chelsea’s house in North Wales with our camping and hiking gear, with a plan to hike the 32 miles in three days of around 10-11 miles a day depending on nothing more than our legs and camping options. The intention was to wild camp and be self-sufficient, and so our packs contained everything we needed for the trip including food and tents and the rest.
Of course, I was coming at this hike with less fitness than I would have liked, and a pack that was heavier than was probably ideal, but then that’s nothing new. My body and gear would both prove themselves to be perfectly capable of this three-day, two-night hiking trip, and I would end the weekend grateful for it all.
The Brenig Way
The Brenig Way is a 32-mile hiking route meandering from Corwen to Llyn Brenig. It starts at Corwen in the Dee Valley, and heads through what are said to be some of the quietest parts of Denbighshire. The paths were hugely varied, snaking through peaceful farmland, through natural ancient woodlands, and along winding rivers. There is a drovers road, ancient cairns, the rather magnificent Clocaenog Forest, and, of course, Llyn Brenig.
The route has been marked with posts and labels denoting a stone cairn typical of those found along the way. Navigation was therefore easy, most of the time, although our paper and GPS maps did get quite a bit of use (I followed this version of the route on OS Maps). There were a couple of times where paths appeared missing, which lead to a bit of bushwhacking and climbing a fence, but nothing too awful of difficult.
There were four of us heading off on this adventure. I love spending time outdoors on my own, but it is always a pleasure to hike and camp with friends. As an introvert, and a HSP (read about that here), I find hiking is the perfect social activity, it has the perfect way to combine doing something I love with spending time with other people.
This weekend’s adventure friends were Chelsea, Leanne and Jenni. You’ll have seen Chelsea and Jenni in my West Highland Way posts (this one is a good one to check out), and I’ve known Leanne through blogging and camped with her previously. If you like the kinds of adventures I share here on Splodz Blogz you’ll definitely want to check out these three lovely ladies on Instagram – Leanne, Jenni, Chelsea – all three are doing amazing things with their lives and will inspire you in yours, I am sure.
We started our day reasonably leisurely with a hearty cooked breakfast before packing up three-days worth of stuff and heading to Corwen for the start of our walk.
We started hiking at around 11am, had a quick stop in the Visitor’s Centre in the centre of Corwen to see if they had any physical copies of the maps we’d downloaded from the website (they did, we took a couple for reference, just in case), and got straight onto the trail. It felt like we were in the countryside almost straight away, heading up and over a hill and along the very high and fast flowing River Dee.
Along the way we chatted about all things. A lot about the outdoors and nature, work and everyday life, and our hopes and dreams. These are all ladies I love and admire, and it was so good to have this opportunity to catch up and natter, while enjoying this lovely hike.
Navigation was reasonably easy thanks to the way markers, although the path was not always straight forward. The hill at Pen y Gelli was steep and waterlogged, and we had a number of unofficial water crossings where recent heavy rain had created ponds and rivers out of springs and little brooks. Pen y Bryn was another steep climb, causing much panting, but even with the mud and hills we were loving being out in the middle of rural Wales. The woodland at Craig Arthbry, which comes just after crossing the River Alwen, was particularly beautiful.
After about 11 miles, having been looking out for a suitable camping spot for the last half-an-hour or so, we wandered into a farmyard at Bodynlliw. A quick chat about whether or not we might borrow some space behind one of the walls in the corner a field, Chelsea asked the farmer if he would mind us pitching up, and not only did he kindly oblige, he also offered us the use of his toilet and tap for our stay. I admit I would never have had the courage to ask if it was just me, but I am very grateful that Chelsea did, and that the farmer and his wife were so kind and welcoming.
This was to be my first wild camping experience and I’m not sure having an actual toilet made it a “real” one, but it was certainly nice and very welcome. Wild camping is not technically legal in Wales, and so being very discrete and practicing Leave No Trace is hugely important, as is getting the permission of the landowner where possible. Of course, even with the farmer’s kindness we were still responsible campers; we pitched up out of the way so we weren’t visible from the farm house, were clean and tidy, and when we left in the morning ensured we left nothing but patches of slightly flattened grass.
We dined on expedition meals and chocolate, drank tea, and enjoyed a cold evening overlooking the valley. The simplicity of evenings under canvas is one of my favourite things about camping, I enjoy the basics of cooking with boiled water and watching the clouds move across the sky as the sun goes down.
I wrote in my (very short) journal entry that evening that the walk had been much harder than I thought it would be. The previous few weeks had been utterly full-on, my head was full and my body ready for everything that nature could offer. But in all that I’d not prepared for how hilly – or muddy – this was going to be. Nothing we couldn’t handle, it was more about getting into the right mindset for carrying a heavy pack and navigating water crossings.
It rained in the night but I slept reasonably well, getting up at around 7am to a silent and very peaceful camp. Unfortunately, Chelsea had not had such a good night, the rain decided it wanted to make her night as uncomfortable as possible, and she had wet gear. This is always sad, because it makes the next day much less exciting, and anyone would be forgiven for wanting to give up. Thankfully Chelsea is hugely strong willed and was determined to continue anyway – we’re all glad she did.
I’m not ashamed to say it took us ages to get going; I mean, we were in no rush, so we had breakfast, drank tea, and packed up at a lovely pace – knowing we had permission to be there meant we didn’t feel any urgency to move on as we would have done if we’d been camping just off the trail in the woods.
After thanking the farmer for his kindness, and accepting a suggested detour to avoid a series of fields with cows and their calves in the next farm along, we set off for our second day. Todays ten miles was even more varied than the first, with all kinds of terrain between us and our dinner. And it was hilly – very hilly, with yet more muddy fields and water crossings to navigate. The section through woodland along the River Clywd was particularly beautiful, the hill at Glyn-back was particularly steep, and the Clocaenog Forest was just the most stunning forest I think I have ever had the pleasure of walking through.
We found an amazing spot for lunch in the forest. Our surroundings were covered in bright green spongy moss and a plethora of different fungi, it was like sitting in a fairy wonderland. I talk a lot about having lunch with a view, and while there was no “big view” on this occasion, it was just so good to be sat in the splendour (and shelter) of tall trees and in amongst the green ground cover. This is without a doubt my favourite memory of the hike; that moment sat resting in beautiful woodland was so pleasing, picnic spots since then have had a lot to live up to.
Clocaenog Forest was made even more wonderful thanks to being with Jenni and Leanne, who can identify pretty much everything flora and fauna between them. I wish I could hold onto the knowledge they were providing, it was genuinely interesting stuff, but sadly this stuff tends to find the leaks in my brain.
We had a mostly dry day, just a couple of short showers to contend with, which was good. The only issue – we had was empty water bottles. Normally when hiking you can easily get water from pubs, cafes and petrol stations on the route, but the only pub we came across was closed and there was no outdoor tap as far as we could find. But a lovely lady kindly filled up our bottles from her kitchen tap; if I learned nothing else in these three days, I definitely learnt that it pays to ask nicely and people will be kind.
For the second night in a row, our wild camp was courtesy of a kind farmer, this time at Rhwng-y-ddy-afon who allowed us to pitch up in the corner of a field. We found a nice flat spot by a river, and sat and enjoyed the most amazing pink sunset over the hills with the sound of running water behind us. If this is wild camping, then I’m all in for more of that; my first experience was definitely a successful one.
We knew it was going to rain, and it did, it really did. I don’t think it stopped all day, but as it was our last day on the trail, it didn’t matter so much. It was so wet I didn’t even bother with a hot breakfast, choosing to munch on my snacks on the trail instead. This is the biggest problem with hiking in the rain; stopping for food and drink breaks takes much more willpower, and I end up low on energy and bordering on dehydration because I just keep trudging on. However, with the promise of hot food on offer at the Llyn Brenig Visitor’s Centre, the official end of the Brenig Way, I knew that in 10 miles and a few hours I’d be well fed and watered so it was all good.
I think it’s fair to say we were all tired and aching a bit, but helped keep each other positive even with the weather doing its thing, and with the trail being as hilly as it had been the last couple of days. We headed along the River Clywedog first, before heading up (and up), back into the Clocaenog Forest at Fron Ddu. I’d definitely hoped that this part of the forest would be as stunningly beautiful as day two’s section, but alas that was not the case.
While still lovely, this part of the forest was being worked, and so there were signs of industry everywhere. There is also a large wind farm here, and while I’m not against these, it wasn’t exactly a fairy wonderland. Having said that, they did look very mysterious as they poked out of the very low cloud; apparently on a nice day you can see Snowdonia from here… no such luck for us on this occasion.
As we came out of the forest we caught our first glimpses of Llyn Brenig and our finish point, the other side of the reservoir. We passed a couple of cairns and archaeological features before dropping down to the edge of the reservoir to follow the track along the waters edge right around to the other side.
The final mile of our walk was across the dam which regulates the River Dee and helps to provide backup water to much of North Wales and North West England during periods of drought. I found this long straight stretch of manmade wall a very strange end to our primarily rural hike across Denbigshire. After 30-miles of being on our own in the peace and quiet of the countryside, we ended our walk with lots of other people out for blustery walk on concrete path. Walks like this have to end in civilisation to allow for transport options, of course, and did mean that we were greeted with cups of tea and portions of chips, which were very welcome indeed.
I loved walking the Brenig Way with Chelsea, Leanne and Jenni, it was an excellent way to spend the weekend. It was good to be outside, having a hiking adventure and popping my wild camping cherry. As I mentioned nearer the top, I might have been a little less fit than I’d have liked, and my pack might have been heavier than was perhaps ideal, but body and gear did their job just perfectly, and I had a very fulfilling and happy weekend. Sometimes you just need to grab some friends and your pack and go hiking for a few days.
If you are looking for a very long day-hike, a weekend hiking trip, or a series of shorter day hikes, I would absolutely recommend the Brenig Way. It was reasonably challenging, had such varied terrain, and was such a good way to explore one of the lesser trodden areas of North Wales. I would absolutely do it again, especially the section through Clocaenog Forest, it is a good one to add to your list.
The route is being promoted by Denbigshire Countryside Service. If you’d like to know more about the Brenig Way, or to download a copy of the route for your own hiking pleasure, start here on the Denbigshire Countryside Service website. I also plotted the (approximate) route in OS Maps, which you can view here.