All posts by roddy

Food for thought

Lunch on working days tends to be a sandwich, or something cold grabbed from the fridge, so the idea of hot lunch on the hill is always appealing. But I hate the usual dehydrated stuff. Yes, it’s lighter, but you’ve got to carry more water, and the end result for me is usually almost – but not quite – totally unlike the picture on the packet. So, I’m a great fan of the Look What We Found! range of packet “ready meals”. Great tasting, great local ingredients, and minimal faff. Better still, for some, they have a wide range of gluten-free meals.

There are a couple of drawbacks, though. If you ‘boil in the bag’, the ink can leach out of the labels making the water less palatable for a brew. They suggest soaking off the labels first, but the idea of unlabelled food packets seems a bit like playing Russian Roulette with unlabelled food tins: “Today’s surprise breakfast is… Whiskas!” (or maybe worse, tinned peaches…)

The other catch is the calorie content. The Rose Veal and Wild Mushroom Stroganoff sounds delicious, but you’ll only pick up 231 Kcals from a 300g pack. My favourite, the Gloucester Old Spot Meatballs are a better bet at 354 Kcals, but with either you’ll really want to pack some more carbs in as well. Wayfarer food (which PTC is a recent convert to) is usually in the high 300s for an identically sized pack. For extra carbs, I find Naan bread is suitably indestructible, but haven’t found a way to easily heat it…

Under the food pack in the photo you can see a corner of a self-heating pack poking out. LWWF used to sell these too, but I’ve just used the last of my batch and can’t find them on their shiny new website. Basically, a plastic bag with a chemical pouch inside: Pop the sealed food pouch in the bag, add a small amount of water, and it sets off a strongly exothermic reaction. Leave it for about 10 mins, then remove and eat hot(-ish) tasty food. For best results wait at least 10 mins, keep the pack well insulated while it’s doing its magic, and give the pouch a quick stir to even out any cold spots. The pack takes a while to cool, so you could also remove the pouch and use as a hand/pocket warmer. While these are fine for hot meals on a day walk, I’d pack a stove for anything longer.

I have a love-hate relationship with sporks. Yes, they’re a design classic, and there are buckets of the blasted things on the counter in every outdoors shop. But… actually, all I want is a spoon: I’ve taken sporks everywhere, and never used the fork/knife end at all (apart from poking holes in things that didn’t need holes poking in them).  And worse, as a spoon, they are just too short to allow you get to the very bottom of a pack without getting tomatoey fingers. It seems there’s a longer one available, so I went to ask the friendly staff in Marches Outdoors if they had one. They didn’t, but L’s eyes lit up on seeing this one in pink. At least it hasn’t got unicorns on it.

Last Chance to See…

Plynlimon was the first proper hill that I climbed on my own. It’s also the first hill I camped on. My first visit was in near-zero visibility, and the sense of achievement compensated for the total lack of summit views. I’ve been back a lot since then, and it’s an area I love. It’s the feeling of space, the silence, and the sense of being in wilderness.  

Except it’s not. There are signs of man everywhere. Some, millennia old, like the bronze age burial cairns that sit atop most of the peaks here. Others, mere centuries old, like the remains of the Lead Mine on the track from Eisteddfa Gurig, and Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn’s boundary markers.

And there are newer intrusions, like the Nant-y-Moch reservoir and the useful navigational handrails of sheep fences.

But as you reach the lead mine, take the time to turn and look behind you. Across the road, you’ll see some of the Cefn Croes wind turbines peeping over the hillside. The 39 turbines here were installed in 2005, despite vociferous opposition.

Now there are plans for a new and bigger wind farm on the hills south and west of the reservoir. 64 turbines, up to 145m high, and significantly closer than Cefn Croes.

Both sides of the wind energy debate seem to be able to produce reams of misleading figures, maps and other propaganda, but it all boils down to emotion or money at the end. And yet… the environment and landscape here will be changed significantly, permanently, and for the worse – more by the concrete foundations and access roads than by the turbines perched on top. The Cefn Croes turbine bases required over 600 tons of concrete each. These ones won’t be smaller. And the concrete here is permanent. It will not be removed when the wind farm is decommissioned.

Looking at the remains of the lead mine, we don’t have a good record in this country of clearing up industrial sites in the hills when they become economically unviable – and wind turbines don’t last forever. Nant-y-moch has  a planned lifespan of only 25 years. If we do have to tolerate wind farms in our hills, how do we ensure that we’re not left with a forest of fallen, rusting turbines in a concrete desert in a hundred or so years time?

Mystery guests

When I was in the Berwyns last week, I saw a couple of plants that weren’t familiar. The first was just some broad crinkly leaves poking out of the usual ling and bilberry mix as I headed up the ridge path to Foel Wen. They were spread over quite a large area – several hundred metres at least.

I’m pretty sure they’re Cloudberry, and the Berwyns is one of the few places in Wales where you’ll find them. Unfortunately, they don’t give much fruit in the UK. Richard Mabey’s excellent book Food for Free has this wonderful bit of trivia:

In the Berwyn Mountains an unusual tradition commemorated this scarcity…  Shepherds from Llanrhaiadr believed that a quart of cloudberries was the wage that St. Dogfan was due for his spiritual ministry, and anyone who could bring such a quantity to the parson on St. Dogfan’s Day had his tithes remitted for the year.

The second unknown was a spread of these beautiful little yellow flowers in some sheep pastures on the lower slopes. Mountain Pansies

Berwyns without Tears

I’ve been meaning to spend some time in the Berwyns, as it’s one of the closest mountain areas to home. Unfortunately, it’s also on the way to Snowdonia, so the urge to drive straight past is hard to resist.

The Berwyn Hills have a reputation for trackless waist-high heather, and as I’m still recovering fitness this seemed a Bad Idea. But when you actually read the guidebooks, it seems there’s only a few outliers where this is an issue – the central peaks mostly have well established trails. After reading up in Peter Hermon’s Hillwalking in Wales, I decided on a circular route starting at Tan-y-Ffridd, taking in Cadair Bronwen, Cadair Berwyn and Moel Sych as well as a number of the smaller tops along the way.

The recommended start is at by the ‘phone box in Tan-y-Ffridd, but that junction now sports a large “No Parking” sign, so I drove about 500m further up the road to a section with a wide and mostly flat verge. After walking back along the road, you follow a track up through a farmyard towards Mynydd Tarw. The weather was just about hanging on. Hilltops on the other side of the valley were in and out of cloud, and I was guessing that I’d need my compass in earnest later. However, as I walked up the conditions slowly improved.

After a short snack in the windshelter, I headed on up the ridge towards Foel Wen and Tomle. There’s the usual peat moorland mix here of bilberry, ling and grass, but with some oddities thrown in. More anon.

After reaching the bwlch, the path right to Cadair Bronwen is straightforward, with a raised path built of railway sleepers preventing further erosion for much of the way. After a quick lunch, it was back down, and onwards to Cadair Berwyn. This is without a doubt the best part of the walk – and possibly one of the best walks in Wales outside Snowdonia. Keep as close to the cliff edge as possible, and the ground to your left just falls away to the valley floor, with incredible views.

The trig point isn’t really worth a visit, as it’s not the true summit, which lies a few hundred meters further on at an impressive spiky jumble of rocks. On to Moel Sych, and then drop down on the path towards Llyn Llunclaws, which is a great spot to rest and take in the views back to the summit.

From here, I wanted to reach Moel yr Ewig, and that did involve some off-path wading through heather. Luckily only a few hundred meters, but I was glad to find an indistinct path snaking along the fenceline on the ridge. The path onwards to Godor is straightforward, although the fence lines don’t match the OS maps any more. Curiously the path was ‘waymarked’ by a significant amount of cottongrass, There’s a couple of peaty groughs to negotiate, and the second one made a good grab for one of my legs. Only up to mid-calf, luckily.

After reaching the top of Godor, you’re left with the tricky task of finding a route back to the start. You can do it by staying on access land and footpaths, but it’s a very long way round. I followed the fenceline straight down to a small spinney, then down through some sheep pasture and across the stream, hitting the road about 100m from the car. By the time I’d got boots off and in the car, the heavens opened. Perfect timing…

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Cold Boot

Cefns ridge, winter

Yes, I finally got round to it…

I’ve been meaning to collate my trip reports and other outdoors-related bumf on a blog for a while. Content may start to appear in a topsy-turvy manner, with old reports deeply interwingled with new ones. I’m sure you can sort it all out.

Oh – and thanks for reading!

Cold and Wild

Carneddau, 18-April-2011

After a couple of trial pitches of the Scarp 1 in the garden, it was time to take it into the hills. I’d walked in the southern Carneddau above the Ogwen Valley a few times, but never ventured further north, so the parking by Trasbwll at the end of Llyn Eigiau seemed a natural place to start. Llyn Eigiau has a sad history – in 1925 the dam gave way  (poor foundations, allegedly) – taking a torrent of water and rocks down the valley to Dolgarrog, killing sixteen.

Driving through Dolgarrog, you can see the huge water pipes bringing water from the remaining reservoirs above to the hydro-electric plant. The drive up the narrow lane to Trasbwll gives great views into the cwm, but you’re forever opening and closing gates, or praying you don’t meet another vehicle on the hairpin bends.

I headed round the spur of Clogwynreryr and up to Melynllyn, the higher of the two reservoirs below Foel Grach. The idea of a going to the bothy at Dulyn crossed my mind, but I wasn’t going to get much experience with the tent by doing that. There was one pitch right by the reservoir that looked great, but instead I climbed higher to get some better views. I found a soft and  flat spot on the tongue between Melynllyn and Llyn Dulyn, and pitched the tent and settled down to eat. The Scarp was easy to pitch, even on the tussocky spot that I’d chosen. The Easton pegs provided are brilliant in this ground, and the tent felt rock solid, even without the crossing poles. The space inside is just amazing for a one person tent.


The weather had seemed pretty warm, so I’d packed the Marmot Atom sleeping bag rather than my heavier (and warmer) PHD one, but after getting sorted for the night, I realised this hadn’t been a great call. The temperature was only around +5, but I needed most of my spare clothes – including a synthetic gilet – to keep warm. I woke early, and after breakfast and a quick coffee was shivering as I packed up the tent. Once on the move I warmed up quickly, and the morning light was a great reward for the early start.

Sunrise over Craig Eigiau, Carneddau

Foel Grach in early morning light

I headed to the summit of Foel Grach, where there was a tent pitched next to the refuge – other than that hills were empty of walkers all day. From there, the route is easy to the rocky summit of Carnedd Uchaf (aka Carnedd Gwenllian now, thanks to the Princess Gwenllian Society) and on along the wall to Foel Fras. A group of Carneddau ponies were at the col between the summits, looking distinctly unkempt and the worse for wear after winter in the hills.

A quick diversion northwest from here reaches the top of Llwytmor, returning by contouring around the beautiful cwm above Llyn Anafon to reach Drum, and lunch in the windshelter.

Cwm Anafon, Carneddau

After Drum it was time to head home, but not before visiting the rocky top of Pen y Castell on the way. Heading back, I was buzzed several times by an AW-139 from the Defence Helicopter Flying School, doing circuits in Cwm Bychan.

The only spanner in the works was the flat tyre on the car when I reached it – a nail picked up on the road in, I guess. Luckily the spare was easy to fit, but driving home at 50 mph on a spacesaver wheel stretched my patience…

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