Category Archives: Wales

Moel Siabod and the Red Route to Glyder Fawr

Snowdonia, 31-Aug-2013

After a month of inactivity, I finally planned a overnight camp, and a visit to Moel Siabod and the Glyderau seemed long overdue. Overnight parking around Ogwen can always be a worry, but the NT car park behind Joe Brown’s in Capel Curig is usually a good start. The loos here have been significantly ‘upgraded’ since my last visit – the downside is that you have to pay 20p for the privilege of using them, and there’s a singularly pointless combined soap/water/air-blower thing which does all three jobs badly. If your hands are still soaked after the blower has given you 5 seconds of cold air, do not put them back under it. It will then just cover them with soap again…

Sense of humour was restored once I was on my way, cutting across the river opposite the excellent Moel Siabod Cafe and following the path along the bank to Pont Cyfyng. I’d been up Siabod from this side a couple of times before, each time scrambling the Ddear Ddu ridge which drop you out by the trig point. Today, armed with a heavier pack I headed up the long northwestern ridge instead. There’s plenty of easy scrambling and rock-hopping, and occasional views straight down the south face to Llyn y Foel.

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The rocky ridge continues a long way, before joining into the boulder fields that surround the summit. I ducked into the windshelter for a snack, and to consider my plan for the rest of the day. I was going to head down the west ridge, and look for a suitable camp spot, but hadn’t really planned where. Llynau Diwaunedd had looked appealing on the map, but from the ridge it looked dark, cold and unwelcoming. Arriving a Bwlch y Maen I could see the glimmer of a small llyn, and while the water didn’t look suitable for drinking I still had plenty with me, and there was an inviting and well-sheltered pitch nearby on a knoll in the lee of the ridge. Couscous, coffee and flapjack consumed, I wandered around the ridge watching the sun go down in the Llanberis pass.

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The next morning I was up early and heading down towards the road near the Pen Y Gwyrd hotel. The flat plateau above the road showed the marks of grazing by cattle – grass grazed much higher than wooly lawnmowers would do, and the ground churned up in places with ankle-twisting postholes where cattle had walked.  The forecast cloud was high, but still touching the peaks of Lliwedd and Snowdon.

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Lichenomphalia Umbellifera in sphagnum moss

wpid-P1020410.jpgI planned to just pop into Pen y Pass to check the weather forecast for the day. Ducking through the full car park and streams of three-peakers, I found the cafe was open, and I miraculously had enough loose change in my pockets for an excellent breakfast and an espresso. Fortified, I set out on the climb up towards Glyder Fawr, leaving the crowds on the other side of the road. The route isn’t marked on maps, but I’d read about it in Peter Hermon’s Hillwalking In Wales. Red dots daubed on rocks mark the route, which – apart from a few short loose sections, is mostly on grass from Pen y Pass to the summit of Gylder Fawr.

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I’d asked one of the wardens (Helen Pye) if the route was still marked in this way, and she seemed to think not, so I was surprised when a red dot on a rock about 100m up from Pen Y Pass loomed into view. The dots are mostly small and usually faint, and in most places you won’t see the mark ahead until you’ve left the previous one behind. Useful in good visibility, and very comforting in mist as long as you stay on track. Between Pen Y Pass and Glyder Fawr, I saw just one person – a fell-runner descending at speed to the east of me. Cloud was covering the Glyder Fawr summit tors when I reached them,  and after a snack break and a chat with a couple who’d come via the Devils Kitchen, I set off for Glyder Fach.

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With the cloud, this was like a moonscape, but as soon as I ‘d lost a small amount of height I was below it, with stunning views to Cwm Cneifion, Tryfan, and the Gribin ridge.

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Approaching Castell Y Gwynt, I made the mistake of thinking that the top could be reached by scrambling from the western side. I’m sure it could, but not by me: I reached the edge of my comfort zone just below the summit rocks, and retreated. I was followed in my failed attempt by the couple I’d been talking to earlier. In hindsight I have a feeling that they thought this was Glyder Fach at first…

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I headed past the summit of Glyder Fach to the Cantilever stone, for once without anybody posing on it. From here, my route was an easy, sunny walk down the long spine of the Glyderau back to Capel Curig, via the two tops of Y Foel Goch and Gallt yr Ogof.

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Vale of Ewyas

Black Mountains, 7/9/2013

The imminent prospect of a week spent in the mountainous terrain of Amsterdam meant that I leapt at the chance of a quick day out today, despite a fairly dire forecast. As the worst weather was in the north, a quick drive south to the Black Mountains fitted the bill, and I was parked below Hay Bluff before mid-day.

The climb up Hay Bluff isn’t long but it’s a rude wake-up to legs that haven’t got into the swing of things, and I was able to grab a couple of minutes at the Trig point to relax and enjoy the views over the escarpment. The trig point is painted white, and decorated with red Welsh dragons, The English border is just a couple of hundred metres away, and the next section south follows the Offa’s Dyke path.

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The path south over Black Mountain is well paved with stone for much of the way, and the dry weather had made the unpaved sections fast and easy too. A few spits of drizzle. and ominous clouds in the west, but everything stayed dry. After a minor navigational faff where I’d made the classic mistake of trying to walk down a county boundary, I was losing all my hard-gained height and heading down to Capel y FFin. There’s a good path all the way that weaves down through the bracken, and luckily the start is marked with a small cairn on the Dyke path. After the wide -but dull – views from the ridge, dropping down into the lush valley was a joy.

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After crossing the stream I walked down the road towards the chapel, admiring the antics of drivers on the single track road. When a 4WD that wouldn’t reverse met an oncoming driver that couldn’t, I was able to walk round them both while they attempted to resolve matters.  My plan from here was to head onto the ridge that would take me – eventually- back to the car, via Twmpa (AKA Lord Hereford’s thingamabob). The escarpment is almost vertical in places, but a good rocky path zigzags though the steepest sections, with good views back over the valley to the Black Mountain ridge.

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On reaching the ridge, I turned south towards Chwarel y Fan – another of those indistinct tops that are really just local high points on a ridge. I arrived at the cairn, and any prospect of a leisurely lunch was ruined as the black clouds finally started delivering the rain they’d been promising all day. Waterproofs on, and a grabbed sandwich and I was heading back to the North. For about 10 minutes the rain was torrential, and freezing cold. It then cleared almost as suddenly as it had started, leaving a briefly gorgeous rainbow over the Vale of Ewyas.

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The long slog north to Twmpa is finally rewarded with great views over the escarpment to the north, with the hills of the Elan Valley and Radnor Forest clearly visible. From here it was an easy descent to the head of Gospel Pass, followed by a mile on the road back to the car.

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I can’t resist quoting some of the lyrics from Half Man Half Biscuit’s “Lord Hereford’s Knob”

On touching the trig point, I found my thrill
To the east Brokeback Mountain, to the west, Benny Hill
I’ll give you the grid ref, you might like to go
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Could this be heaven, would that be the Severn
Twmpa, Twmpa, you’re gonna need a jumper
It gets a bit chilly on top of Lord Hereford’s Knob

 

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Provisional Welsh CROW mapping

Natural Resources Wales has just published new Provisional Open Access maps for Wales, following the first review in the ten years since the CROW act came into force. Some bits of good news – The Whimble, a delectable pointy hill on the edge of the Radnor Forest, and the RAC Boulders below Dyffryn Mymbwr will become access land.

NFU Wales are inevitably up in arms about it, obviously of the opinion that we should pay them their subsidies and keep our noses out of their legal business of buggering up the environment with wooly lawnmowers.

Still time for appeals, and to visit the few places that may be removed from the map!

 

Cwm Gwerin, Pumlumon

By 5:30 I was parked at above Maesnant, at the far end of the Nant-y-Moch reservoir. Cloud was obscuring even the minor tops, but down here it was clear dry, and just a little breezy.

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Today’s route meant that wet feet were going to be almost unavoidable, so I opted for trail shoes instead of boots, on the basis that they’d probably dry out faster anyway.  The path on from Maesnant heads downhill at first, and a footbridge gives you the option of crossing the Afon Hengwm. On the spur of the moment, I crossed over and headed up the Hyddgen valley, with Glyndŵr’s ‘Covenant Stones’ visible on the far side of the river. I followed the track all the way to the edge of the forestry, where two old and probably rotten fire-beaters stand proudly. The ground here is so wet you could probably drown just trying to reach them.

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I returned the same way, making the most of the good track before re-crossing the river and following the faint and boggy path to the ruined house where Cwm Gwerin meets the Hengwm.

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I stopped just long enough to wring water our of my socks, as I could see the cloud had lowered up the valley and the wind was carrying a fine spray of drizzle.

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Cwm Gwerin is a delight – the rocky crags towering over on the western side grab the attention as you slowly gain height, past waterfalls and with Wheatears for company. The cwm widens out at the top, and finding a dry path is a challenge. My photographs don’t do it justice, so I need to come back when the light (and weather) is better.

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As I climbed upwards towards the plateau, I realized how much the cwm had been sheltering me from a very strong westerly wind. I was in the cloud now, with the steady drizzle reducing visibility even further, making navigation difficult.

I stopped just below the crest and took advantage of a lull to have some breakfast and repeat the dance of wringing out the socks.

I struck out across the plateau, heading for the windshelter on Pumlumon Fawr. Given the conditions, I was glad to be on familiar ground. I was able to find the faint path down towards Pumlumon Fach without trouble, and soon below the worst of the weather.

The reservoir track from Llyn Lygad Rheidol was sheltered at first, but after it turns to the left I was back heading straight into the wind, so I took a downhill shortcut to the car after passing the three small lakes.

While the rain had never been  that heavy, It was enough to completely wet out my Marmot softshell in a few places, so changing into dry clothes for the drive home was very welcome.

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Northern Carneddau – Pt. 2

Carneddau, Snowdonia. 19/6/2013

The night had been dry and warm, and the sun was brightening the interior of the tent well before 5. I made some coffee and watched the sun breaking through the clouds.

wpid-P1020128.jpg With the gear packed, I made my way upwards, following the course of the streams that run into Dulyn. This turned out to be inspired, as there was plenty of plant and bird life to look for. In the space of about 100m I’d found a Heath Spotted Orchid, a ‘colony’ of Butterwort, Starry Saxifrage mixed among profusions of an as-yet-unidentified short, smallish five-petaled yellow flower growing in the wettest patches. Marsh Marigold, maybe?

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Looking east now, I saw two small lenticular clouds with distinctive shape and ‘layering’. They dispersed quite quickly

Once on the ridge, I bypassed Carnedd Gwenllian, going on towards the Berau. Bera Bach’s summit is easy to reach, but Bera Mawr’s needs a little simple scrambling to reach the top. The Cwm below was full of cloud, threatening to spill out over the plateau. The cloudbase above was also lowering – Foel Grach’s summit was now well hidden, so I was keeping a careful eye on the weather.

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I walked to the N of Yr Aryg and Carnedd Gwenllian, aiming to intercept the main ridge path to Foel Fras. As I climbed, the visibility dropped, and I was glad to reach the stony path running up the spine of the hills. I followed the path on until it met the fence corner, which gave me a good navigational fix. The summit of Foel Fras was in the cloud now so I continued on towards Drum.

Carneddau ponies were about everywhere – so many I lost count. They’d taken a hammering in the late April snows, and having seen only two the previous day, I was initially worried just how few had survived. But many of the mares looked like they were in foal, so hopefully the numbers will bounce back quickly.

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From here, the sun broke through again stronger, giving an easy and fast descent to the car by the Roman Road below Tal Y Fan.

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Northern Carneddau – Pt 1

Carneddau, Snowdonia. 18/6/2013

I hatched a slightly last-minute plan for a night camping in the Carneddau, so after finishing the school run I was on my way towards Betws-Y-Coed and heading for the Roman Road into the hills by Bwlch y Ddeufaen. Anyone who expects Roman roads to be straight will be surprised by this single-track road, hemmed in between high dry-stone walls, between Tal Y Fan to the north, and the main Carneddau ‘massif’ to the south. Just always remember where the last passing space was, and pray you don’t meet anything coming the other way.

I’d parked up at the end in the small car park, and picked up a small trail over a rocky rib at the eastern end of Foel Lwyd, with a buzzard watching overhead. While the path gained height quickly, it soon deteriorated into deep and steep heather, and left me the wrong side of a wall near the summit. The walls here are all beautifully maintained, so I reluctantly and very carefully clambered over onto the ‘right’ side.

wpid-P1020075.jpgThe path onward to Tal Y Fan was short and easy, with a brief steep drop into a small col before the true summit and trig point is reached. A quick break, then back down directly to the road.

The signpost by the road looked had received some unwanted attention from a firearm, and was a reminder that Walkers aren’t always Welcome.

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Walking up the road back to the car park, the contrast between the sheep-devastated moorland of the ‘open hillside’ and the roadside verge was remarkable. On the hill, I’d really seen nothing flowering except Tormentil and some rather forlorn Milk-wort. But the verges were overflowing: Speedwell, Cuckoo Flower, Herb Robert, Foxgloves (not yet out) and many more… Possibly the walls and road give shelter and some extra warmth, but I’m sure the absence of woolly lawn-mowers is the main reason.

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Back at the car I picked up the tent and continued up to the bwlch. The whole area here is awash with prehistoric sites – a chamber tomb further down the valley, a stone circle (which I’d walked past without noticing – mostly hidden by the high walls) and the two standing stones after which the bwlch is named. The stones mark the highest point of the blwch and you can see the evidence where the power cables and gas pipeline have followed the same path of least resistance taken by the Roman Road, probably built on a much older highway.

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From here, the path up to Drum and Foel Fras is a long slog over grass, following the fenceline all the way. Two Carneddau ponies appeared, one rubbing its neck continually against the fence, the bizarre sound from the vibrations running along the fenceline almost 100m away.

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The sun had been beating down most of the day, and it was a relief to reach the top of Foel Grach.  The refuge looked pretty uninviting in these conditions, but has apparently been a lifesaver in winter in years gone by. Rather than following the path directly up to Carnedd Llewellyn, I sidetracked towards Yr Elen, with great views into the dark cwm and Fynnon Caseg.

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Yr Elen would have to wait for another day, as I wanted to find a pitch for the tent before my legs gave out. I’d been thinking of using the bothy at Dulyn, but camping out in the fine weather seemed far preferable, and would save several hundred metres of descent and re-ascent the next day. Heading down from Carnedd Llewellyn, I aimed for the ‘nose’ between the two reservoirs, and soon found flat, sheltered and only slightly boggy pitch close to a small stream. Tent up, meal cooked, and I was out like a light before the sun had even set.
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