Category Archives: Wales

Carneddau in the Clag

After an amazing overnight camp in the Carneddau in April, I had high hopes for Saturday’s last-minute decision to camp somewhere around Carnedd Llewellyn. The weather had been great, the suntan lotion was packed – but needless to say, things didn’t quite work out as intended.

I always love the cross-country blat up the back roads from Welshpool via Llangynog, with the Berwyns and  Hirnants either side of you, and Arenig Fawr on the skyline as you head downhill into Bala. The profiles of the Snowdonia mountains as the A5 climbs up from Cerrigydrudion was stunning, but tops all looked a little blurry…

I stopped for a pee at about 7:30  in Bettws. Not recommended, as the main public loos (20p a visit) were shut, with just a single loo (and queue to match) in operation. Worse yet, it was just a loo. No basin, towel, soap or hand-dryer.  0/10.

Onwards to Ogwen,  and I was parked in the long lay-by below Tryfan and walking by 8.05, giving me about 90 mins before sunset. Wanting to be camped up high not too long after then, I took the reservoir road to Ffynnon Llugwy, then climbed up to the ridge below Craig Yr Ysfa. I could see cloud just over the tops, but it was tantalizingly coming and going. Across the valley, Y Garn and Tryfan were both still clear. Before you reach the ridge, there’s one damp corner on the path which is worth exploring . You’ll see plenty of Butterwort (all in flower at the moment), but if you search carefully you can also find Sundew (also insectivorous) and  Milkwort here.

After you reach the ridge, there’s a brief but simple scramble up over Craig yr Ysfa. It feels pretty innocuous going up, but looking down the sense of exposure is phenomenal as you can’t easily see the ledge at the start of the scramble. As I reached the top, I had a bad twinge of cramp in one calf muscle, and decided that now would be a good time to find a pitch. At around 9:45 I found a flat spot with decent shelter and put the tent up and got supper on the go, watched by eight wild Carneddau horses, including a foal that can only have been a few weeks old.

After the daylight went, I took a map, compass and headtorch and headed on up for a wander.  The fog had come down noticeably, and while the torch was great for seeing the rocks I was walking on it was little use for identifying the path. I turned round after about 20 mins and navigated my way carefully back to the tent.

Plenty of rain in the night, and I could hear the wind getting up, but the Scarp was brilliant, even though I’m still working out how to get it rigged best. It was light around five, but I dozed on until seven when I saw how little I could see outside…

I got the camera out to capture the tent in all the clag, only to be greeted by a “Please Charge Battery” message, and little else. The weather had closed in, and visibility was down to about 20 yards. I ate and packed, then headed on up to the summit, waterproofs now on. The original plan was to go out and back to Yr Elen, on to Carnedd Dafydd, then back to the car via the SE ridge of Pen yr Ole Wen, but Yr Elen would wait for another day.

I met the first group of the day as I headed down towards the Black Ladders – a Paddy Buckley runner with a small group of supporters. He’d been running for around 21 hours and would have covered about 90km over 40 peaks in that time.

The wind picked up on the ridge to Carnedd Dafydd, and got even stronger below Pen yr Ole Wen at the head of Cwm Lloer, but as I dropped down the ridge towards the A5, the rain had stopped and I came out below the cloud. The weather had taken it out of me more than I’d realised, as I was slow, tired, and far from confident on the short gully scramble down to the Afon Lloer. From there, you head to the ladder stile, and then the way to the road is marked by the occasional white post.

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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?

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 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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