The Four Saints Rides
This ride takes you across much of the medieval kingdom of Arwystli (Highlights 1: Arwystli) and to the churches originally founded by Celtic "saints" (Highlights 2: Saints) possibly in the 7th century. It also takes in a Roman fortress and goes close to two medieval castle mounds and several hill fort sites (on private land). You will get great views of the Pumlumon (Plynlimon) mountains, the reservoir Llyn Clywedog and the Hafren (Severn) valley. It will also take in fantastic hill views as you cross between vallies. This ride will give you a wonderful introduction to the area's scenery and history.
Dividing up the Saints ride
This ride can also be split into a series of circular rides radiating from Llanidloes:
Option 1: Llanidloes - Llangurig- Hafren Valley-Llanidloes
Option 2: Llanidloes - Llangurig- Cwmbiga - Llyn Clywedog - Glan-y-nant - Llanidloes
Option 3: Llanidloes - Llangurig- Staylittle - Lyn Clywedog (east side) - Llanidloes
Option 4: Llanidloes - Trefeglwys - Llanwnog - Caersws - Llanidloes
Option 5: Llanidloes - Trefeglwys - Llandinam - Llanidloes
Llanidloes Market Hall OR at any of the following points:
Full ride: 42 miles
Fairly challenging. Some of the sections are very hilly. It is probably equivalent to about 70 miles on the flat. If you are sightseeing as well (highly recommended) this would make a wonderful 2 or even 3 day tour. It can also be divided up into shorter circular trips (see options below). All parts are hard surfaces, except for a short stretch after Llangurig.
Mostly on back roads although the route does touch on the A 44 for 1.5 miles and some B roads for short distances. Some options do feature B roads a little more. There is one short stretch off road after Llangurig which is a good quality track which may puddle after heavy rain. At times this is very hilly so low gears will be needed.
Llanidloes: Variety of food and drink, including 2 organic food shops. Post Office. Pubs (9), toilets (in the Gro) and shop with some cycling spares (Llani Leisure, Shortbridge Street (near the Market Hall)
We recommend you consult Explorer 214 (Ordnance Survey 1:25,000) (Recommended) Alternatively: Landranger 136 (OS 1:50,000), Sustrans Lon Cambria & Lon Teifi (Routes 81, 82; 1: 100,000)
Llanidloes to Llangurig. Llanidloes Church is dedicated to the first saint, St Idloes. (Highlight 2)
1. From the Market Hall head down Shortbridge Street Cross the Bridge and turn left.
2. After about half a mile go LEFT on at the junction. This is signposted as Sustrans routes 8 and 81. Go down the hill and across Felindre Bridge. The route is now marked with Sustrans signposts until Llangurig. Follow the road sharp left and then right. (Do NOT take the right turn posted for the Severn Way). The road undulates for the next 3 miles with two fairly steep climbs.
3. After 1.5 miles is a motte and bailey castle. Please note this is on private land and cannot be seen from the road. Approaching Llangurig there are fine views of the Pumlumon Mountains in the distance. (Highlights C) These were the limit of the medieval kingdom of Arwystli.
Llangurig to Staylittle
4. At Llangurig is the first of the Saints' churches, that of St Curig. (Highlights D: St Curig). Turn RIGHT (heading East) and ride up the A 44 for about a mile. Do not follow Sustrans signs.
5. Your turn RIGHT will be the second right turn out of Llangurig. (Highlights E: Wye Valley) Follow this road for about three quarters of a mile until you come to a gate marked as a bridle path. Go through the gate and cycle along by the river. Carry on along by the river until you pass through another gate. Turn RIGHT up a steep hill which will lead you to a scenic descent into the Hafren (Severn) Valley.
6. Continue down (mostly!) to the houses in the valley and at the junction turn LEFT. (Route Option 1: Turn RIGHT back to Llanidloes)
Continue for about a quarter of a mile and turn LEFT at the GIVE WAY sign. This road is signed to Old Hall and Staylittle (9 miles). You are now joining Sustrans route 8 and will follow it as far as Staylittle. For the next 9 miles the route is signed by Sustrans.
Staylittle to Caersws
7. Follow the route into the Hafren forest and after 3 miles you come to a car park and picnic spot called Rhyd y Benwch. TOILETS can be found here although there is no drinking water. (Highlights F: Hafren Forest) Follow the road, ignoring all Forestry Commission gated tracks and roads.
8. Two miles after Rhyd y Benwch (and half a mile after passing Cwmbiga) you will meet a junction. Go straight on (signed for Machynlleth) ignoring the right turn.
(Route option 2: Turn right; choice of scenic routes back to Llanidloes)
10. Climb out of the valley and after about a mile a short, sharp hill will indicate your LEFT turn. Carry on over the hills.
11. Descend into the valley, crossing the stone bridge and turning RIGHT to reach the Trannon Valley.
12. Turn LEFT at the junction and follow the road through Llawr-y-Glyn to Trefeglwys.
13. At Trefeglwys turn LEFT on the B4569. (Route Options 4 and 5 join here.)
14. After about a mile take a RIGHT turn just before the "Blind Summit" sign, which is clearly in view. (Route Option 5) Follow this road until it rejoins the B4569 and turn RIGHT.
15. Continue for about a mile. At the bottom of the hill take a LEFT opposite a brick house. The left turn is intriguingly signed with a steam train above an articulated lorry breaking itself on a big bump! This is Wig Lane. Carry on until you go over the railway crossing which brings you to the A470 for a very short spell.
16. Turn LEFT on to the A470 and after a few hundred yards take the next road right (signed for Talk House and opposite railway bridge 173). At the next junction turn RIGHT.
17. You will shortly arrive at Llanwnog, and the church of the third Celtic saint. Benches can be found around the church but there are no other facilities. (Highlights I: Llanwnog)
When you finish at Llanwnog continue along the road (east) until the signed turning RIGHT for Caersws. This will shortly bring you into Caersws. Shops, pubs and toilet facilities are available here. (Highlights J: Caersws)
Caersws to Llandinam
18. Continue across the junction into a one way street and at the end turn left, past the station (which intersects with one of the Roman forts). You are now following Sustrans route 81 for most of the route to Llanidloes. (The one exception to this is the diversion into Llandinam.) The route is now signposted for most of the way. Where junctions have no signs do not turn off the route across junction lines or on to unsigned right angle junctions. (In practice it should be obvious.)
Out of Caersws turn LEFT immediately after the bridge over the river.
Continue up to the white house and follow the signed LEFT turn. Climb the hill up to the next junction. (Sustrans sign low and to your right.)
19. Ignore the Sustrans sign for now and turn LEFT to head for Llandinam. Ignore junction and follow the road all the way to Llandinam. (Highlight K: Llandinam / St Lonio)
Llandinam to Llanidloes
Retrace your route back to the last junction and this time do follow the Sustrans sign.
(If you are starting at Caersws cross the iron bridge by the statue of David Davies and follow the road up for about a mile, ignoring any road off marked with white lines, until you come to the Sustrans sign and follow it straight on.)
Ignore a 'nearly straight' right turn that goes steeply uphill. (It is marked off with white lines.)
20. At Oakley Park follow the signs RIGHT. Follow the signs into Llanidloes, turning LEFT as you meet the B4569.
Arrive back in Llanidloes. (Highlights L and M)
Options for shorter routes
Suggestions for Shorter Rides (Based on Llanidloes) Options 2 and 3 can be easily combined with option 4 to complete the whole saints route.
Option 1 : Two saints and the Hafren
(Llanidloes, Llangurig, Old Hall and back via Hafren Valley - 14 miles)
Follow the route description until point 6. Where it says option 1 you must turn RIGHT (instead of left). Follow the valley road, which is also part of the Severn Way for walkers. At the junction at the end of the road turn LEFT, go up the hill and turn RIGHT as signposted for Llanidloes.
Option 2: Two saints and a big lake
(Llanidloes, Llangurig, Cwmbiga then back along Lyn Clywedog dam to Llanidloes - 25 miles)
Follow the route description until point 8. Instead of going straight turn RIGHT down the hill towards the lake. Cycle along the side of the lake until the junction where you can take EITHER the LEFT road to the Bryntail mine (follow road signs back to Llanidloes) or the RIGHT road to Glan-y-nant, turning LEFT when you get there to reach Llanidloes.
Stops at the lake, the dam (WC and refreshments - seasonal) and the Bryntail mine are worthwhile.
Option 3: Two saints and Staylittle
(Llanidloes, Llangurig, Staylittle then back on B4518 to Llanidloes - 27 miles)
Follow the route description until point 9 but do not turn left. Instead continue down the B4518 which is signed to Llanidloes. Great views across the lake.
Retrace the route to Staylittle to continue the second leg of the full route.
Option 4: Three saints and a Roman site
(Llanidloes, Trefeglwys, Llanwnog, Caersws, Llandinam, Llanidloes - 20 miles)
Cycle from the Market hall down Longbridge Street (north-east) and at the roundabout take the first turn left, go over the bridge and turn left, following the signs to Lyn Clywedog and Staylittle. CHECK THIS Follow the B4569 up to Trefeglwys. As you enter Trefeglwys return to instructions at point 13.
Option 5: Two saints and Trefeglwys
(Llanidloes, Trefeglwys, Llandinam, Llanidloes - 15 miles)
As option 4 up toTrefeglwys. At the end of Trefeglwys take a RIGHT turn and at the next junction go straight past the white house, picking up on the Sustrans signed route at that point. Follow from description point 19 (white house is in point 18).
From the 11th to the 13th century the lands at the head of the Hafren (Severn) and Gwy (Wye) valleys were dominated by the lordship of Arwystli. It stretched from the Pumlumon hills, just beyond Llangurig and followed the valley down past Llandinam and most of the way to Caersws (finishing at little Penstrowed). Its centre was at Trefeglwys. Both of its big neighbours, Gwynedd and Powys, laid claim to Arwystli but it managed to maintain varying degrees of independence for about 200 years, which was surprising for an area only 20 miles long. It was even more surprising when the 'turbulent history' of Arwystli is considered. For example, in the period from 1128-1131 seven members of the ruling families were murdered and another 4 blinded and castrated.
Arwystli, like many areas in Wales, could not resist the Normans. The layout of Llanidloes shows a Norman planned town (although its origins are certainly earlier than the 1280 date of its market charter) and the large motte and baileys near Caersws (Grid ref 046 907 - on private land but can be viewed from footpath) probably saw the end of independent Arwystli.
(Most information courtesy of David Stephenson, local historian)
There are four churches dedicated to Celtic saints in the area. They are:
St Idloes at Llanidloes
St Curig at Llangurig
St Gwynog at Llanwnog
St Llonio at Llandinam
Gwynog (?) at Llanwnog
Llonio and Llandinam
They were often well-travelled and names can be picked up in Ireland, Cornwall and Brittany. (not Scotland)
St Idloes at Llanidloes
We don't know much about Idloes. The Llanidloes church dedication in the 13th century was to Idloes. Like some other churches they could have chosen a more famous and prestigious name but instead chose Idloes so the name was presumably well-established locally. This does indictate that there probably really was an Idloes.
His church probably at Llanidloes was probably established in the early C7th, a wood hut in a forest clearing above the river where the present church stands.
He is famous for his piety and his most famous saying is: "The best custom is to preserve morality/standards." A comment on change and fashion, perhaps.
St Curing was bishop of Lanbadarn Fawr, near Aberystwyth and came from Ireland. He established a monastery at Llangurig, in the 6th or 7th century.
Giraldus Cambrensis (early 1190s) talked of Curig's staff encased in gold and silver at St Germans (St Harmons, near Rhayader) which could heal swellings and tumours on payment of one penny. Giraldus seems to have been a little sceptical of the staff's veracity and its powers, however.
Curig was very popular and there are still places associated with his name in North Wales (Capel Curig) and also in Brittany.
Gwynog (or Gunog) of Llanwnog
We know next to nothing about Gwynog. However there is some suggestion he may be the son of Gildas, a very major figure. Gildas the monk was the principal Welsh historian for both 6th and 7th century. He wrote a history we still have: "On the Ruins of Britain" which gives us most of what we know about Britain in those largely lost centuries. In particular he berates his contemporaries for unleashing the Angles and Saxons, leaving the British (to be called Welsh, foreigners, by the Anglo-Saxons) caught, as he said, between the invaders and the sea. There is no way to be sure of the Gildas link but to have links with such an important figure has great appeal.
Llonio of Llanidloes
The dedication of the church here is very early, perhaps 6th century. There was also an important celtic monastery at Llandinam. The Abbot there was a layman with a deputy and a team of priests.
He may have been the son of a Breton. We are told he was buried on Bardsey Island, the island of "20,000 saints". Were all 20,000 buried there, one wonders?
The view is of the Pumlumon (Plynlimon) mountains where in the medieval tale "How Culhwch won Olwen" (part of the books collected as the Mabinogion) both Kei and Bedwyr sat "in the greatest wind in the world." On stormy days up here you can almost believe it. Somewhere in the Pumlumon is the site of Owain Glyndwr's victory in 1401, after which he went off to sack Montgomery and burn Welshpool. These mountains, boggy and bleak, give rise to two great rivers; the Gwy (Wye) and the Hafren (Severn). Robert Gibbing, in "Coming Down the Wye (1942) compared a night spent on the Pumlumon to Sibelius' second symphony. Perhaps you are humming it now!
D. St Curig - church
The original church probably dates fron the 6th or 7h century and began as a monastery. The tower dates from about 1350 and would have been used to house the priest and as a place of defence in an often troubled area. The hills to the south west were at times notorious for bandits, who were not above raiding local settlements.
The present church is largely 19th century, although a fragment of a 13th century lancet (narrow window) still survives to the west of the south door.
E. Gwy (Wye) Valley
F. Hafren Forest
G. Llyn Clywedog
H. Staylittle; name and legend
K. Llandinam town and church, hills and bandits, nature reserve and Afon Hafren
L. St Idloes Church