On the station platform at Craven Arms, a useful aged girl asks the place I’m going.
“I’m on the lookout for the Coronary heart of Wales?”
She factors to a railway monitor, quite rusty and overgrown, which disappears into the bushes on the foot of some close by hills. It doesn’t look very similar to an aortic trunk connection to the pulsating centre of something. “It’ll be alongside quickly,” she says. “Don’t fear: they received’t go with out you.”
She makes it sound just like the prepare is aware of I’m ready. At that second, a sparrowhawk comes clear by way of the railings at ankle peak, twists within the air subsequent to my kneecaps, and streaks away down platform two.
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There’s, it appears, a bit of little bit of magic in regards to the Coronary heart of Wales railway line, which begins in Shrewsbury, leaves the primary Cardiff line at Craven Arms, then units out on a courageously spectacular journey throughout the mountains to Swansea. The 121-mile route was constructed within the 1860s and has survived authorities cuts, bridge and tunnel collapses, and even the theft of rails – at all times managing, someway, to remain open. The tales about it are legion: how a fox, pursued by hounds, leapt to its dying from one viaduct; how the German Kaiser used it, incognito, in 1912; and the way a lot it’s beloved by the locals. Now the love extends to a footpath, the Coronary heart of Wales Line Path, totally open for springtime adventures from 28 March. The path loosely stitches the assorted stations collectively right into a long-distance path that can be utilized along side the railway: good for day walks or for multi-day, short-break adventures, just like the one I’m about to embark on.
A single diesel wagon pulls in. The conductor sees me aboard. We depart the primary line and enter the hills at a delicate, unhurried tempo, bashing branches apart and battering by way of the inter-rail grass earlier than rising in an emerald panorama of rolling hills with magnificent views. The Coronary heart of Wales route, I shortly realise, is a gem.

Kevin Rushby on the route of the railway from Craven Arms in Shropshire to Swansea. {Photograph}: Andrew Fox/The Observer
The conductor comes alongside, checking for request stops. “All of the stations are cared for by the locals,” he tells me. “Flower bins, handmade cushions on seats… that form of factor.” My plan is to get off at a request cease known as Cynghordy, stroll to Llandovery, keep in a pub, stroll a day to Llangadog, then catch the prepare again to my automobile in Craven Arms – however it could be straightforward to tailor a break to nevertheless lengthy you may have free.
At Cynghordy, I get down and there’s a cat ready on the platform. There are a number of extra lining the footpath. In truth, so far as I can see, Cynghordy is occupied solely by cats. My first human encounter is with a farmer on a quad bike. His canine has pushed a big flock of sheep up a steep hill, however one extremely aggressive ewe is refusing to maneuver. It chases the canine across the bike. The farmer grabs the sheep, throws it on the bike, and sits on it. The abruptly compliant sheep will get a raise up the hill. As they go previous me, I swear it offers me a wink.
Not for the primary time on this stroll I ponder if I’m absorbing mind-altering substances by way of my boots: in any case, the hill pastures are generally seasoned with magic mushrooms (the one mushroom that’s unlawful to choose). I’m a bit of early for the spring flowers, however within the weeks to return there will likely be wild ramsons, vetches, orchids and bluebells – round half of the world’s bluebells are in Britain and plenty of are discovered right here.

Llandovery’s market sq.

The farmer grabs the sheep, throws it on the bike, and sits on it. As they go previous me, I swear the ewe offers me a wink

I head south-west with the brooding purple shadow of the Brecon Beacons at all times on the horizon to my left. Finally, I drop down into the valley of the River Towy and spot the bridge at Dolauhirion, as soon as a marvel of engineering, now a forgotten by-way. It was inbuilt 1773, with a 30-metre single span over the raging river under.
A number of hours’ tramping brings me into Llandovery, the form of city that manages to look, concurrently, to be booming and going bust: there are sensible cafes and empty outlets, there may be each contemporary and peeling paint, empty home windows and people stuffed with notices of occasions. In all places you’ll be able to spot indicators of former agricultural prosperity: the massive barn close to the centre of city marked, memorably, “manure sellers”; the market sq. with its fantastic clock tower, and the sturdy classical strains of the Fort Lodge – which fortunately continues to be in enterprise, as I’m staying in it tonight. The room is comfy, the meals wonderful: Welsh lamb, naturally.
After breakfast, I stride out of city into the hills. The oak and beech woods are stuffed with springtime promise, branches stippled with inexperienced buds about to burst open. A number of miles up the trail there’s a cafe at Myddfai, the place there may be extra dialog and excellent meals, too. There’s loads of data right here in regards to the crops you would possibly spot in your stroll: Myddfai has a terrific custom of herbalist healers relationship again to the center ages.

Ramblers at Craven Arms station. {Photograph}: Les Lumsdon
On the finish of the day, I attain my vacation spot, the Crimson Lion in Llangadog, the place they revive me with a pint of a scrumptious beer known as Jemima’s Pitchfork. I eat effectively on the pub subsequent door, the Goose and Cuckoo, which is reverse one other pub. Llangadog does effectively for a tiny village and is a spot you would linger, and savour being away from the remainder of the world.
Subsequent morning, I make my strategy to the station and wave down the prepare. The guard greets me like an outdated pal. I journey again to Craven Arms with a heavy coronary heart. How am I to clarify to my household? – I’ve fallen in love with a railway. Not solely that, a railway with out attractive steam locos or cuddly nostalgia, only a plain trendy railway operated – for heaven’s sake! – by Arriva trains.
My automobile is the place I left it, in Craven Arms. An ideal strolling weekend is over, however I’m planning the following instalment: perhaps the loop across the castles of Stokesay, Hopton and Hopesay, ranging from Craven Arms itself and leaping on the prepare again at Bucknell? Or maybe do the Sugar Loaf hill from Llanwrtyd Wells? My love affair is certainly set to proceed.
The journey was offered by Uncover Carmarthenshire and the Coronary heart of Wales Line. Go to heart-of-wales.co.uk, the place you’ll find additional data on strolling and tickets, and plan an itinerary. Doubles at The Fort Lodge, Llandovery from £70 B&B; doubles at The Crimson Lion, Llangadog, from £50 B&B (on Fb)
Stroll on: extra strolling festivals

Borrowdale Valley close to Kendal. {Photograph}: Alamy
Kendal Strolling FestivalThe lovely Lake District city is the bottom for exploring the realm with a programme of guided walks for all ranges, 10-12 Might, kendalwalkingfestival.co.uk
Suffolk Strolling FestivalFrom a daybreak stroll to a twilight hike, the Suffolk Strolling Competition has an enormous selection of brief strolls and lengthy yomps, 11 Might-2 June, suffolkwalkingfestival.co.uk
IoW Strolling FestivalEnjoy spring on the Isle of Wight with over 100 walks over two weeks, taking in surroundings from the chalky east cliffs to the rolling hills, 4-19 Might, isleofwightwalkingfestival.co.uk