Miriam Cooke meanders through the mystic majesty of mid Wales, starting at the UK's tallest single drop waterfall, and walking along a section of the Cambrian Way.
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Today, I'm in beautiful mid-Wales,
land of music, song and mystery.
It's home to Celtic tradition, the odd dragon
and the UK's tallest single-drop waterfall, Pistyll Rhaeadr.
My journey begins at this mystical spot close to Llanrhaeadr...
..and then continues to Ponterwyd,
to walk a section of "the mountain connoisseur's route",
the Cambrian Way.
At Cwmystwyth, I'll learn to find my way in the wild
by looking at trees,
with the help of natural navigator, Tristan Gooley.
What I love about this beech tree is it's giving me great clues to direction.
Near Rhayader, I'll learn about a fearsome raptor
that has transformed its image
from persecuted pest to lucrative tourist attraction.
And my journey ends at Tregaron, where I'll trot against the clock
in a harnessed race against time.
-So they will go a little bit faster, then?
-Yes, you can.
Along the way, I'll be looking back
at some of the best of the BBC's programmes
from this part of the country.
Croeso i Gymru, and welcome to Country Tracks.
Wales is a culturally rich nation,
famous for its art, music and literature.
With a legacy of colourful mythology
influenced by Celtic folklore, traditions and legends.
Welsh is one of the oldest surviving languages in Europe
and the people of Wales
are passionate, expressive and creative.
No wonder then, that here at Pistyll Rhaeadr,
the waterfall is surrounded by myths and even tales of dragons.
The falls collect water from the heather and bog moors of the Berwyn Mountains,
which feed into the little river, Afon Disgynfa,
meaning descent, or landing place.
Powerful places, waterfalls,
and it's no surprise that they've long been associated
with prehistoric ritual and religion.
If you listen to the pounding, the thundering of that water,
it strips your emotions to their raw state.
After tumbling over a series of rapids
formed over bands of volcanic rock, the water eventually reaches
the 450 million year-old cliff
before plummeting down the 240-foot drop into the Afon Rhaeadr.
This dramatic waterfall is known as one of the seven wonders of Wales,
but it's also a spiritual place.
Phil Facey, who lives at its foot, is constantly inspired by it.
-What brought you to this place?
Well, I was living in Norwich
and I decided to come on a long weekend to do a bit of walking.
Came up the lane, never been before...
Eight weeks later,
I was living here.
The place has a very special gift.
When you enter into this little valley,
you begin to sense within yourself a quietening.
I'll use the word "sacredness",
it has touched thousands of people in their heart.
'In wintertime, the waterfall can freeze.
'This dramatic picture was taken in 1969,
'and local legend says images can be seen within,
'one of which is a dragon.'
You see where the bridge is, and the eye,
the whole of that is formed into the face, the side face, of a dragon.
'There's a story of how the dragon would attack local villages
'until it was slain by cunning means.
'Nevertheless, dragon energy apparently still flows
'within these waters.
'Another legend is attached to these boulders
'in a nearby field at the foot of the waterfall.
'The story goes that a giant and giantess
'were sheltering in the mountains,
'building a house below the waterfall.
'One night, they were interrupted by a cock crowing
'and had to throw down their stones and leave.
'The stones, and their stories, remain.
'The myths and legends may or may not be true,
'but what cannot be denied
'is the beauty of the waterfall and its surrounding mountains,
'which have been designated as sites of special scientific interest.'
It's such an evocative place.
You can really understand why people come here,
why Phil came here and stayed here.
It's like a little oasis of peace in a busy world.
Not far from here, near Aberystwyth,
Jimmy Doherty met Welsh farmers Rachel and Gareth Rowlands,
who want to change the world by changing what cows eat.
Most animals, including humans, give off methane by burping and farting.
Too much methane damages the world's atmosphere.
Cows are serious polluters.
Each one gives off 300 litres of methane or more every day.
Rachel and her husband Gareth want to see if a change of diet
could reduce the amount of methane cows produce.
-This was, I thought, a novel thing to be doing.
-Measuring output from animals.
-Science is a wonderful thing.
They've installed a police crime scene tent
to track the amount of methane produced by their cows.
-And this is it.
-This is the tent.
-This is the fart and burp tent.
The fart and burp tent, yes. The jokes are flying on this.
You wouldn't be smoking in there, would you?
You'd just go up!
The sealed tent collects and measures the methane
given off by Rachel's cows.
-It's quite gassy in there, isn't it?
-That's another word for smelly.
I think one of my eyebrows dropped off when I put my head in there.
'They've teamed up with scientist, Professor Jamie Newbold, from Aberystwyth University.'
-How are you doing?
-Hello, how are you?
-Good, good, good.
-So you are the man who designed this experiment?
'Firstly, Professor Newbold will measure how much methane the cows produce when fed their normal diet.'
So we take this out and test it.
So, the methane is running through here?
The methane's coming through here... and being detected over here.
All the way here, to this technical bit of kit.
To this methane analyser, which is picking up the methane,
pumping in through these into bags.
So we're collecting the gas.
Cattle produce methane, most organisms produce methane - animals.
Well, no. It's quite variable. About half of people produce methane.
Half do, half don't?
-Do you want to see if you do?
-I'll have a test to see...
Blow into this bag, please, sir.
A lot of people will say that I am a methane producer...
Quick, get it.
OK. So we've now connected that.
-We put that in there.
This is parts per million of methane.
So you can see, unlike the cow, it's not going up.
-A non-methane producer.
-I'm a non-methane producer?
So I'm not adding to the global warming effect?
So methane producers, the 50% that are methane producers,
what causes them to produce methane when other people don't?
We have the same methanogenic bacteria in our gut as cattle does,
but some of us don't pick it up from our mothers,
our mothers didn't have it.
Maybe you've had surgery or a fairly serious dose of antibiotics in your life and you've lost the bacteria.
-It's all about bacteria.
-Bacteria in the gut that forms the methane.
In you and in the cows.
-Are you a methane producer?
-I unfortunately am.
Right, you're a methane producer. Shame on you.
-We have a clear conscience.
-We're all right.
I won't sit next to you on the bus.
The scientists want to test the idea
that they can reduce the methane output of Rachel's cows by changing their diet.
-Go on, go on.
In you go, ladies. Wonderful.
Pleased to be home, aren't they?
-This is it.
-Great relief, I should think.
-It's nice to be out of that tent with all that methane.
-That was not a happy environment.
Like being stuck under the duvet.
'There's a few surprise ingredients in the new feed.'
Right, this is the magic stuff.
'Including a healthy dose of garlic.'
-Yes, it's fairly potent, isn't it?
-That is something else.
Would you like to do a split of 50-50?
-If it gets on your hands I'll feel happier about it.
I already know what's in here now because of the smell.
They can smell it. Look, they're coming looking for it.
It's like a bag of Frenchmen!
You've got one hell of a smell in there, so you know.
-You're not a garlic lover, are you?
-I can't stand the stuff.
There's a sophisticate.
It reminds me of when the cows got into the wild garlic.
That's it! When you walk through a wood of wild garlic, that's what it smells like.
-I'll give it a good mix-up.
-I'm doing the same.
-And you reckon this will work?
-Look, I reckon nothing, right?
-I leave this to the scientists, OK?
-Here we go.
Let's leave them to it and see what happens.
'The cows will eat this new diet for two weeks,
'then they'll go back in the crime tent for two days to be measured again.'
They're going for it, aren't they?
'When cows eat grass and plants, they produce hydrogen in the gut.
'This is bad for digestion.'
Bacteria in the stomach converts some of this hydrogen gas to methane
which the cows can more easily deal with.
When the scientists add garlic to the cows' diet,
they expect it to kill off some of the methane-producing bacteria.
This will not harm the animal, but the scientists believe
it reduces the amount of methane gas the cows pump into the atmosphere.
'It seems incredible to me that a simple change of diet might have such an effect.'
I'm quite excited because I love getting surprises
and I love getting results of things.
Being away, I want to see what's happened with the cows.
Have they eaten the food? Are they producing less methane, more methane? What are the variables?
Who knows? That's what exciting about an experiment.
-So what are the results?
-If you remember last time,
we had about 347 metres of methane from the animals.
Yesterday we had 292 metres.
-So about 10% to 15% less.
-So there has been a reduction?
COWS MOO LOUDLY
They've just released the two girls back into the herd,
so from the inflatable shed there,
and now they're running around. There's all this excitement.
They're sniffing them because these girls...
Listen to it! These two girls must reek of garlic.
There is a worry that the garlic might taint the cows' meat or milk.
Eh, garlic breath?
But this experiment is amazing.
Of course it's just the first step in a lengthy process,
but if all farmers in Wales fed their cattle this new diet,
then livestock methane emissions could be cut by 15%.
Wouldn't it be great if this idea spread around the world?
It could seriously help tackle global warming.
My journey now continues to Ponterwyd where I've joined what is known as
the mountain connoisseur's walk, the Cambrian Way.
What exactly is the Cambrian Way?
You've probably heard of the Pennine Way and the West Highland Way,
but the Cambrian Way isn't very familiar to a lot of people.
Although it's not recognised as a national trial,
it's a mountain walking route that goes from Cardiff to Conway
and it crosses some of the wildest, highest, most beautifully scenic parts of Wales.
The walk takes in the Black Mountains in Southeast Wales,
the Brecon Beacons, Snowdonia
and the Carneddau Mountains,
which include some of the very highest peaks in the country.
It's very rarely flat and therein lies the challenge.
It's a strenuous walk, 20 miles longer than the Pennine Way.
At 275 miles long, the total amount of uphill-walking that you do
adds up to 60,500 feet, more than twice the height of Mount Everest.
'The walk is one of the finest in Europe,
'and the scenery on a good day is tremendous.
'But with today's weather, I am glad I have my waterproofs on,
'as I am tackling a small part of the route
'in the company of rambler George Tod,
'who has walked the entire trail three times.'
So, George, tell me a bit about the history of the Cambrian Way.
Well, it was started with a man called Tony Drake, who had
a vision of making a route across all the mountaintops of Wales.
It started off about 40 years ago,
and he has pioneered the route ever since.
He has been very active in trying to get it as a National Trail.
Unfortunately, that has not been succeeded up to now.
But you've walked it quite a number of times,
-do you still love it as much?
-I do, it never loses its appeal.
A lot depends on the weather, of course.
Days like today, it is not quite as inspiring as on nice and sunny days.
Approximately 200 hardy souls tackle the walk every year,
but it does require some serious navigational skills.
-You need lots of maps.
-You do indeed.
Because it is not an official National Trail or anything,
there is virtually no way marking along the route.
So it does mean a set of OS maps are required for the whole way.
But over the years, Tony's vision has not been without difficulties.
When he applied for National Trail status, many organisations
and local councils along the route raised objections.
The councils had a number of concerns.
They included the fact there was erosion on parts of the route,
the safety of the route and also
whether public rights were along all of the route.
Has the Countryside Act changed any of the objections?
It has in many ways, in that now the access has got a legal footing,
whereas, before it was based on custom
and practice that people could walk in the mountains.
It didn't have any real legal standing.
Unfortunately, there are still many other objections
which have not been overcome.
One of the practical challenges is the day-to-day
maintenance of such a long and tough walk.
The funding to develop the route,
we would need to do an assessment to see how much work was required
in terms of things like pack furniture, signage,
surfacing of the route.
It would be hard to say at the moment,
but if you take an example, we are currently developing
the Wales coast path, which is a much longer route.
That is a £15 million programme, but that is for an 840-mile path.
It gives you an idea of the scale of the costs involved.
The National Trail campaign may not be as high profile now as it was,
but there are still a few passionate walkers,
including George, trying to keep Tony's vision alive.
So far, the last 40 years of Tony Drake's life have been dedicated to
promoting the walk and maintaining the walk and the guidebook.
Unfortunately, Tony is now rather frail at the age of 88,
and needs some assistance.
The longer term future he has envisaged as a charitable trust
administered by three of us initially.
There is myself, a close friend of Tony's
and another walking companion of Tony's.
Between the three of us, we will try to maintain the walk as best we can,
and keep the guide books continued as far as possible.
The problem is, none of us are very young, so, in the longer term,
it'd be nice to have some new, young blood
to carry the thing onwards.
-Fresh blood to keep going.
-That is the way, yes.
Whether or not the Cambrian Way ever becomes a National Trail
is a moot point.
But it will always remain a mountain connoisseur's walk.
To the west of here, the little town of Llanwrtyd Wells plays host to
one of Britain's most eccentric races, pitting man against horse.
Back in 2001, Ben Fogle pulled on his lucky socks and joined in.
Well, you may be wondering what I'm doing in the smallest
town in Wales, limbering up.
Well, the answer is a very unusual race indeed.
This is the Man Versus Horse Marathon,
run over 22 miles of hard terrain.
Normally held in June, the annual race was postponed
until this month due to foot and mouth.
Is it going to be really muddy?
I have heard it is going to be extremely muddy.
We have had monsoon conditions for a few weeks running up to it.
So, yes, it could be really deep and quite treacherous.
Great(!) Looking forward to that(!)
The question I really want to know is has a man
ever beaten a horse in this race?
This will be the 22nd running of the race,
and it has never yet been done.
But with conditions on top being so deep and muddy,
and more hazardous for horses,
I think it is a damn good bet this year.
There is a very big money prize,
they have upped it by £1,000 every year the race has run.
So if a man wins the race, he gets £22,000.
-Is that worth the deal? Should I meet the men?
-Yes, that is it.
Even if I'm absolutely about to collapse, I'm going to keep going.
John, John. Hi there, nice to meet you.
You're in my relay team, or I'm in your relay team. I'm a bit nervous.
I was actually looking at the map here, and it looks...
Because I was thinking that you'd given me the worst leg,
as it was the longest one.
Because I have to do from here to here, don't I?
And then you do this bit.
And then you will finish us off and beat the horse
and win all our money.
-I'm running about seven miles, am I?
And how long do you think I should be doing this in?
I think you'll probably do it in just over an hour.
'Nearly time to go.
'For safety reasons, the individual runners and relay teams
'go 15 minutes before the horses.
-'As I lined up, seven miles seemed a very long way indeed.'
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
INDISTINCT TANNOY ANNOUNCEMENT
And with the runners safely on their way,
it was the horses turn for the off.
TANNOY: 'Five, four, three, two, one.
'Come on, then, let's cheer them away!'
MUSIC: "Have A Nice Day" by Stereophonics
# Have a nice day
# Have a nice day
# Have a nice day
# Have a nice day
# Lie around all day
# Have a drink to chase
# Yourself and tourists, yeah
# That's what I hate
# He said we're going wrong We've all become the same
# We dress the same ways Only our accents change... #
I beat some horses!
I've done it. Am I here now?
I made it. Put that straight on. Good luck. Good luck.
I beat a horse!
That was my main mission,
but I have to say I have the greatest admiration now for the horses.
Not for the people, because anybody who takes part is completely bonkers.
Well, I might have finished, but the race goes on,
and halfway round, the horses are vet checked once again.
That's lovely, that's fine. Whenever you want to go out, just go.
-How are the horses?
-Yeah, they are mostly going on pretty well.
The first bunch were fighting fit with enthusiasm.
-One or two, a wee bit tired.
-A bit like me, I think!
-You look cleaner than they do.
-I don't know how.
We're still not convinced you actually ran around.
I can assure you I did!
-Come on, John! How are you doing, you doing OK?
See you in a bit.
That way, John.
We don't stand a chance!
# What have you done today to make you feel right? #
TANNOY: 'There they go, over the line, the individual winner.'
Individual winner he was, but when all the timings were worked out,
he was not quite fast enough to beat the first horse.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
-I am so impressed with that. Excellent. Are you exhausted?
I'm not as exhausted as my horse is. I think he might want a drink.
Well done. Well run. How was that?
-Not bad for the first-time.
-Are there many people behind you?
There weren't many behind us from the start!
It's the taking part that counts.
And there are horses still coming through,
so the fact is we beat the horses.
-We did beat some of the horses.
-That's the most important part.
So much for my lucky socks. Well, that was absolutely amazing.
I am totally exhausted, but at least I have my little trophy that
proves I did it - and some very big blisters.
And I think I will start training for next year.
I think I'll do it on a horse next time.
Still following the route of the Cambrian Way,
I have arrived at the arch near Devil's Bridge.
The area takes its name from the old masonry arch
which used to span the road.
It was erected in 1810 by Thomas Johnes,
formerly the owner of the nearby Hafod Estate,
to mark King George III's golden jubilee.
The arch itself is quite a good landmark
when walking the Cambrian Way, as some of it is not
very well signposted and that can cause difficulties for walkers.
So you have to keep referring to Tony's guidebook or your OS map.
But there is another way of finding your way,
and I'm not talking about maps or compasses.
There are a whole host of clues to finding our way that surround us
when we are out in the wild, if only we learn where to look.
It is a lost art that natural navigator Tristan Gooley believes can
enhance our time in the countryside.
Hey, Tristan. What are you doing here wandering around trees?
I am loving this beech tree,
that's why I was having a good wander round it.
I was trying to get to know it.
The more we walk around a tree, the better we get to know one.
What I love about this is it is giving me
some great clues to direction.
It is really reaching for the southern sun.
We can see these branches here reaching out to the south,
and it has given me a good feel for the way we're walking.
How does natural navigation work?
Well, at its simplest, it is about sun, wind and water,
and these three elements acting on the earth.
Wherever we walk, we will find clues,
because the sun doesn't move overhead.
People think it is directly overhead in the middle of the day,
but it's not. In this country, it's in the south.
So it makes all the plants behave differently,
even puddles on paths behave differently.
The wind is sculpting the landscape around us.
I think of the sun, wind and water leaving big footsteps
in the land wherever we go.
Can you tell which way we are facing now?
Yeah, this beech is a really strong clue, and that is telling me
that way's south, which means this way must be west.
'It might sound vague,
'but Tristan is actually used it for real navigation in real situations.'
I have used it very practically. I have used it in Dartmoor.
I walked across half of Dartmoor in thick fog,
just using the way the grasses were bent by the wind.
-And it worked.
-That is pretty impressive.
Natural navigation is all about observation and deduction.
Tristan wanted to show me some more clues to help me find my way.
Looks like we have got a great example here.
Can you see these trees which have all come down in the same direction?
Yes, loads of them.
What has happened is a storm has blown in and uprooted
all of these trees and pushed them all down in the same direction.
Once you've tuned into the direction of a storm's winds have blown,
you can then use that for the rest of your walk.
You really have to keep your eyes open.
That's what natural navigation is all about -
staying tuned to these clues
and using them to connect to something.
Earlier, we used the sun and its relationship with the trees.
Here, it's the wind and one storm in particular. A south-westerly storm
has pushed these trees over towards the north-east
and that is going to help us on the rest of our walk.
'It's clear trees can establish direction in many ways,
'but what if there are no trees around?'
We find ourselves in heather country here, a small piece of it.
Heather hates shady spots.
So if we find some heather, we can be pretty sure it is a sunny place.
It could be a sunny slope,
in which case it is most likely to be a south-facing slope.
-There is a spider's web, can you see here?
And a little spider there.
Spiders have learned, if we can call it that, that it is a waste
of time to spin webs somewhere where the wind is going to blow them away.
So what they tend to do is spin their webs in nice sheltered spots.
Since the wind tends to come from the south-west in this country,
you'll find more spiders' webs on the North East of gateposts, trees,
or indeed heather, as in this case.
Where do you get this information from?
To be honest, it took me a long time.
I have been learning about it for many years
and I had to find bits of information in strange places.
I met people and interviewed people, I went to the desert
and I spoke to the Tuareg and lots of people in this country.
Little pieces of information came together.
I had to look back to ancient Greece for some of the myths.
I'm delighted to say there is a small renaissance of interest
in this strange subject now.
Fantastic. And the spider's telling us to go this way, north east,
so let's head off.
Every second we spend looking at maps, compasses or GPS,
is a second we're not looking at the world around us.
So if we put them away and spend more time immersing ourselves
in the world around us, we have a much richer journey.
It's been typical Cambrian weather today,
but I think it's added to the beauty of the walk.
And Tristan's opened my eyes to the greater experience of the outdoors.
But I think I'll have to polish my observation skills
a little before I use them to find my way around.
But it's definitely food for thought.
For now at least, it's back to the sat nav for me.
The Royal Welsh Show in Builth Wells
is the biggest event in the Welsh agricultural calendar.
In summer 2009, Julia Bradbury and Matt Baker paid a visit.
Right, it's time to get our hands dirty and Matt,
you chose something for us both to try.
As you know, my passion is border collies. Anything to do with border collies.
But this is herding with a bit of a difference. It's duck herding.
-I've never tried it...
-..But here's the gang!
-Here we are, we've got Kenny, we've got Glenn, Tim,
and a wonderful little gang of ducks.
So, these dogs and us are going to herd these fellows?
This course behind us, the idea is to get round it. So we'll have a go, see what happens.
And it's the ducks doing the course, not us?
-Well, whatever you fancy. I don't know if you can get through that tube!
-I'll have a go!
Meirion Owen is a third generation sheepdog handler
and a former Welsh champion.
He uses ducks as a starting point for training dogs and dog handlers.
There we go. And they're lovely Indian Runner Ducks?
Yes. Not your normal table bird, they're ornamental ducks.
-Quite light on their feet, as you can see.
It's up to Matt now really to work them.
-He has to be authoritative.
-They're not listening!
Come by! Come by! By, by.
Quite positive, the tone of his voice.
-But Glenn is working them towards me now!
-Those ducks are on the run!
-Stand! West Wales accent!
Matt'll be very frustrated now, Meirion,
he loves his border collie, and Meg does what...
To be fair, with the dogs, it's a different tone of voice and everything.
It's one man and his dog, that's why the programme's called it.
-Oh, he's whistling, what's the whistling?
-Look, look, look!
-What's the whistle?
-Well, he's whistling those commands in whistle form.
-Oh, I see.
-Stand! Stand! Stand!
-Not listening to a word I'm saying!
Stand. Away! Away!
Away! Stand. Stand!
The tone of voice is good!
Walk. By! By! By! By! Stand. Stand. Stand.
-First obstacle! Doing well!
-They're Indian Runners, these ducks, and they can't half move!
Away! Away! Away! Away! Away!
-Ah, so close!
Glenn, walk. Glenn, walk.
-What do you reckon?
-I won one!
I think it definitely helped having him next door, didn't it?!
It's lovely, isn't it?
-That connection with the dog, all the herding.
Matt Baker and Julia Bradbury taking a gander at duck herding.
My journey, which started at the beautiful Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall
and continued to the Cambrian Way at Ponterwyd
and Cwmystwyth, has now reached Rhayader,
where there is a feeding station for a magnificent bird of prey.
The conservation of the red kite has been a huge success story.
Feeding stations have provided excellent diversification opportunities for Welsh farmers.
They've sprung up around the country, and have now become big business.
The red kite is a magnificent sight.
These beautiful birds of prey with their chestnut colour,
their striking patches of white, and their grey heads,
were at the point of extinction in 1933.
There were only two known nests still existing in the UK.
And both of them were in Wales.
But now, numbers are rising again and in Wales currently there are about
1,000 breeding pairs and another 1,500 birds who have not yet mated.
Wiggin Farm was the first feeding station to be set up in Wales, in 1992.
Every day at 3pm, farmer Chris Powell throws fresh meat to the birds,
providing the nutrition they need to thrive. And thrive they do.
Chris! That was amazing. How many birds are out there?
I thought there were only going to be about 20 or 30?
-There could be anything up to 300 today.
-Is that normal?
It varies from day to day, depending on the weather
and we've also got a rolling population of kites during the week.
-So it's not the same ones coming every day?
-Well, they might do.
Some days you see odd kites you recognise,
but the population moves round because they're coming from different valleys.
What kind of people come here to watch the birds?
Oh, from all walks of life.
We've got professional photographers here today,
and we've got people taking film with their phones.
And families and individuals.
In fact, the farm has approximately 20,000 visitors every year.
It's good for the economy and for tourism,
and good for the birds, of course.
This feeding station is one of the first that started this feeding of the red kites,
so it's good to keep it going and show we're supporting it.
When I saw the kites feeding it was absolutely out of this world.
Hundreds upon hundreds. You just didn't know where to look.
There's a big build-up. It's a 3 o'clock start.
It all happens pretty fast. We must admit we like to hang back.
We stay till later because they go away and come back again.
It's not just one big swoop. They come down now and again.
But are they at risk of becoming a victim of their own success?
Is it a business that's going to grow and grow
or, as the kite becomes more common, do you think
there just won't be the want or need for this kind of tourist activity?
Well, it's more than just a tourist attraction.
The reason we introduced a fee in the beginning was to pay for the food.
-The first thing, the kites come first.
All through last winter when nobody could get here, we still fed the kites.
What would happen to the kites if you stopped feeding them?
Well, this last winter a great percentage would have died
because the ground was frozen
and then you'd got six or 10 inches of snow on top of it,
so they could find no food at all.
Every year the kites spread out a bit further,
nesting in Shropshire and Herefordshire.
I'd get e-mails from farms in Devon at harvest time seeing red kites.
So as the populations grow, they push out further and further.
It will get to a point when the furthest birds won't come here.
They'll go somewhere else. There are other feeding stations.
There are now five official commercial sites in Wales
and a few unofficial ones, too.
It seems that the future of the kite is now interwoven
with the continued success of places like Gigrin Farm.
The feeding stations can only be a good thing,
not only for tourism but also for bird numbers
and increasing people's knowledge of these magnificent creatures.
Let's hope it continues to be good business for the countryside.
The final stage of my journey is leading me to Tregaron,
where weatherman Derek Brockway followed in the footsteps
of the 15th century Welsh Robin Hood, Twm Sion Cati.
Of course Twm Sion Cati was a real person
who roamed these hills and roads about four centuries ago.
But over the years, so many legends have grown up around him
that I need a guide who can tell the difference between fact and fiction,
and who knows this place like the back of his hands.
Dafydd Morgan is a former teacher and a total Twm Sion Cati fan.
He designed this walk and has been known to dress up as Twm
to promote the area and the outlaw.
I met him at Soar y Mynydd Chapel,
the spiritual starting point for our outlaw trail.
Well, Daf, Soar y Mynydd Chapel. This is the start of the walk.
I've been here a couple of times before.
-It's the most remote chapel in Wales, isn't it?
-Yes, a wonderful location for a religious service.
Built in the 1820s on the banks of the River Camddwr,
just off the main road to Llyn Brianne,
it was also the local school up until the 1940s.
The walk we're doing is from chapel to chapel, isn't it?
Yes, going from Capel Soar y Mynydd to Capel Bwlchgwynt in Tregaron.
This part of the world is big and empty.
It really does specialise in what I'd like to call attractive loneliness.
For example, not only does it boast Wales's most remote chapel,
but just a mile away is Wales's most remote phone-box. Ah!
We'll also be heading in the direction
of Wales's most remote youth hostel, too.
This valley only got mains electricity in 2003.
That farm down there still isn't connected to the National Grid.
Hasn't harmed the place though, has it?
It's very wild and desolate up here, Dafydd,
-but at the same time really beautiful as well.
-Yes, it is.
A wonderful place to lose yourself and get out to the countryside.
Lots of our walks are through National Parks.
This is a collection of bridleways and footpaths.
There's no overall body in charge of it all.
I think the area nearly got the status of National Park in 1971.
It's a beautiful area of Wales and the beauty is probably
as a result of nobody else being here,
which is different to National Parks where people go in hordes.
You can't go to National Parks without meeting people.
Well, you could go all day and not meet anyone out here.
And that's not a bad thing, is it?
So it never got made a National Park? Big deal.
I know I feel very privileged to be out here,
walking a well-kept secret with nothing to disturb me
except a lone red kite hovering overhead. Fabulous.
The landscape's beginning to change now.
Yes, in 47 seconds' time we'll come to my favourite view on this walk,
where we'll see the Doethie Valley and the Doethie River,
winding its way to the River Twyi which goes to the sea in Carmarthen.
-That is awesome.
Or as we say down here, bendigedig.
Couldn't agree more.
Now, be honest, aren't you glad I've brought you out here?
At this point, you drop down into the tree-lined valleys
where Twm and the other outlaws used to operate,
although the masked man of Tregaron was more than a simple highwayman.
Some people say he was the Welsh Robin Hood, but was he a real person?
Yes, his real name was Thomas Jones.
Born in Tregaron in 1530 and died in 1609.
So this part of Wales was pretty lawless back then?
Yes, it was every man for himself
and Twm stood up for the oppressed and victimised of the area
and made sure that the poor people had a fair play in the town.
-So he was a bit of a local hero, then?
-Oh, yes, and still is.
When Twm went straight, he became a bard
and some of his writing has survived
and can be found in the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.
An even more significant piece of paperwork, his will,
is on display in Tregaron's museum and Welsh kite centre.
'That's still a couple of hours from here, so I'll push on.
'This is gorgeous walking country,
'But if I'm truthful, I'm struggling a bit here.'
It's like being in the army.
'The Twm trail has robbed me of my energy
'but I'm keeping on trucking as we head up the bare-headed hills
'and on to an old and well-worn path.'
Well, we've just walked through the most amazing river valley, lovely interlocking spurs.
-And now the path has changed.
-Yeah, it's slightly different.
This is a route from Llanddewi Brefi, for the drovers,
many years ago and they would to travel along this route to London.
-And the drovers used to bring their cattle and sheep through?
-They certainly would.
And we're heading now to Ty'n Cornel youth hostel where, at one point,
the drovers themselves would have stopped there for respite.
I could do with a rest myself!
So this is the Ty'n Cornel youth hostel.
Yeah, it's a wonderful location for a hostel.
Can we pop in for a cup of tea and Welsh cake?
No, no time to stop today. We'll have a Welsh cake in Tregaron.
I'll look forward to that.
Now, there's a lot of walking between the hostel
and our next big view, the trig point on Garn Fawr.
To get there, you have to hammer down the path for a mile or two,
then cut across the forestry before ascending the big hill.
At which point you're rewarded with this fantastic view.
Or you should be.
Of course, when we got there, low cloud, mist and rain
had robbed us of our just reward. Typical!
Well, we've come a long way for not much of a view.
Just look at all this mist and low cloud.
But here we are, the top of Garn Fawr. Here's the proof.
This is the trig point. Shame about the view.
On a good day, you'd see Pen Y Fan in the Brecon Beacons over there.
Snowdonia over there.
And down there is the wonderful town of Tregaron.
-Right, I think we should get going.
Derek Brockway, walking in the footsteps of Welsh highwayman Twm Sion Cati.
My journey has also brought me to Tregaron,
where I am about to change my mode of transport.
Trotting is an equestrian sport very popular in the centre of Wales.
It's racing in light two-wheeled buggies called sulkies
on a half-mile long oval track. And just look at them go!
Also known as harness racing,
trotting is thought to have begun in the mid-18th century,
with a bet between the Earl of March and the Earl of Eglintowne
that four horses could pull a four-wheeled chaise,
carrying one person 19 miles in under an hour.
This led to the earliest recorded race on Newmarket Heath
on 29th August 1750.
Tregaron is home to an annual festival of harness racing.
In amongst the competitors, you can see local businessman Huw Evans,
who has invited me to learn the ropes, with a visit to his stables.
I'm here at Huw's home, where he keeps and trains his horses
and all the family is involved. I can't wait to see these horses.
Hello, Miriam. I see you've found Cati, one of our youngsters here.
I have, Huw. She's very friendly.
Yeah. She hasn't had much experience yet.
Due to race for the first time next week, hopefully.
So tell me a bit about the racing itself, as a sport.
The sport is very, very popular in this area.
It's certainly cheaper than thoroughbred racing, in terms of getting involved initially,
and you can do the training and even the driving yourself.
I can tell you really love it. What is it that you really love about it?
I think it's something that we, as a family, can get involved with.
This one, we've actually bred. We've broken this one in.
We'll take it to the races. My son will drive her.
You really get that feeling of exhilaration,
just seeing the horses doing well, to be quite honest.
It's lovely to win, we all want to win.
But it's to see them running at their best.
Do you have to have a certain type of horse? What breed of horse?
The breed is a standardbred.
They started off probably from the thoroughbred breed,
but somebody obviously realised they could trot faster,
or as fast as they could gallop, some of them.
Their temperament is excellent, to be honest. They make even good riding horses.
People take them on to show jumping and stuff afterwards, because of the temperament.
Now, I'm relatively new to horse riding,
but Huw has promised me a go.
So who am I going to be riding, then?
This one's too inexperienced for you to take out.
So we'll put you on Jazz, one of our older mares.
she is seven years old and she really is a good example of the breed.
She is calm... I hope so anyway!
We just put her in forward in fact, so this will be her last season.
I'm really thinking she'll make a good brood mare because of her good temperament.
Excellent. Do I need to get kitted up, then?
Yes, you'll need some safety equipment. We'll put your body protector on and a hat, just in case.
We're dealing with horses and they're not machines.
They will do funny things sometimes, so we'll definitely need to take care of you.
-And a good pair of wellies.
-Oh, definitely, that might be an idea as well!
The whole family helped to get Jazz tacked up and ready to trot...
including the dog.
The track we're going to train on is literally in Huw's back garden,
which is very handy.
I'm going to be getting in there with Huw
and going around the track in the jog cart with my lovely Jazz
and I'm going to have my first go at trotting.
And for those of you that are going out into the country this week,
here's the Country Tracks weather for the week ahead.
Today, I've been travelling through beautiful mid-Wales.
I enjoyed the majesty of Pistyll Rhaeadr Waterfall,
walked part of the Cambrian Way at Ponterwyd and Cwmystwyth
and saw some beautiful red kites at Rhayader.
Now I'm at Tregaron, a trotting hot spot.
In Wales, harness racing, or trotting,
began in the late-19th century and has been a popular sport ever since.
During the 20th century, standardbred horses were imported,
mainly from America, and driven in purpose-built sulkies,
which is what you see today. Now it's my turn.
Round you come.
-I'm going to get close and personal!
-That's OK. Well done.
Even though it's centuries old,
harness driving is still run on amateur lines
and the main emphasis is just fun and enjoyment.
-Yeah, it's our hobby.
-So, we're going to have a go.
Off we go!
'It may look like a gentle start, but I'm holding on for dear life!'
-Sorry, I've got my hand on your leg!
-That's all right, you hang on wherever you can hang on.
You might regret saying that!
'Now, Huw's track is just for training but I was surprised when we started to climb.'
-This is a bit of a hill, isn't it?
-Well, it is.
The training for her is more difficult.
She wouldn't normally race on here like this.
To have to go up a hill like this means harder work for her.
How many circuits is in a normal race?
We normally race over a mile. Some races are a mile and a quarter,
some a mile and a half. Very, very rare, a two-mile race.
'Huw has fitted hobbles to Jazz's legs,
'which are thin, looped straps attached to the harness.'
There are two gaits in harness racing.
By gait, I mean the way that the horses actually move.
There is a pacer and a trotter.
A trotter moves in the conventional way that the horse would move,
the diagonal legs move together,
when a horse is trotting naturally.
With the pacers, it's a lateral movement,
the two legs the same side move together.
There are very few animals that do this.
Camels are one that do it.
We just put the hobbles on, mainly for racing, to be quite honest.
I wouldn't normally put the hobbles on for training like this.
'Pacing horses generally run faster than trotters,
'with the world record for over a mile being 1 minute 46 seconds,
'as opposed to 1 minute 50 for a trotter.'
What speed are we going at now? Is this training speed?
Yes, they would normally race over a mile.
We're now jogging over four and a half, five miles, to build up stamina.
We're only doing about 15 miles an hour now,
compared to when they're racing,
where they would be doing anything up to 40 miles an hour.
-Am I going to have a go, then?
-Well, I don't see why not.
You're doing pretty well at the moment.
-You've stayed on a couple of laps, so now you're going to be in charge.
-Now is the test!
So, here we are, hands in, into those loops.
Fingers loose, is it?
Yes, just keep a bit of contact with her.
Send her on a bit now. She's just finding it difficult going up the hill.
Oh, she's seen some cattle in the field next door.
'Trotting is a competitive sport,
'and as I can't race against anyone else, Huw's suggested a race against the clock.'
OK, I'm going to time you this lap. We'll go past the gate there
and we'll see how well you will do compared to the times I was doing.
-Shall I now go a bit faster?
-Yes, you can.
-Go on then, Jazz!
'So my first circuit took me 1 minute and 43 seconds.
That's not bad for a training speed - 15 miles an hour.
But I'm not stopping there, I'm sure I can go faster.
My journey today has been one of contrasts.
I felt the power of nature at Pistyll Rhaeadr Waterfall.
I met a mountain connoisseur on the Cambrian Way.
And I've learnt to use nature's signpost to find my way.
I've marvelled at the magnificence of red kites.
Now all I need to do is find out whether I've improved my lap time.
Yes, that's the fastest you have been, I think.
Go on then, Jazz!
OK, you just have to think about bringing her back a bit coming down the hill.
Did you see what time was on there?
-Let's see. Wow, is that 1 minute 32?
-There we go.
I beat my record. Woo-hoo!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Miriam Cooke meanders through the mystic majesty of mid Wales.
Miriam's journey begins at Pistyll Rheadr, the UK's tallest single drop waterfall at 240ft (80m). She walks a section of "the mountain connoisseur's" route, the Cambrian Way, in the company of rambler George Tod.
With the help of natural navigator Tristan Gooley, Miriam learns to find her way in the wild by looking at trees and meets a fearsome raptor that has transformed its image from persecuted pest to lucrative tourist attraction.
Journey's end finds Miriam at Tregaron, where she takes the reigns for a go at harness racing.