Category Archives: Walk Reports

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Minfford Trail to Cadair Idris

Cadair Idris 13/3/2014

Newtown, being right on the Severn was full of valley fog when I drove through, but by the time I’d reached Corris there seemed to be nothing but blue sky – a stark change from Sunday’s low clouds on the ascent.

It’s a long, steep climb up the well-constructed steps that start just past the new (but closed, today) Tea Room at the foot of Cadair Idris,  but with the sound of the stream rushing down the mountain you gain height very quickly. Shortly after crossing a stone wall the trees are left behind and the open hillside beckons.

A more gentle climb from here takes you to the shores of Llyn Cau – somewhere that’s so stunning it always makes me feel good to be alive –  and likely as not, yours to savour alone.

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To reach the lake shore, you’ll need to leave the main path briefly – but this gives a chance to catch your breath before the climb onto the ridge.

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The path from here is heavily cairned in places, but has spots with dizzying views down to the llyn far below. The sun was beating down now, and there was hardly a breath of wind.

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Looking towards the sea, the fog was trying it’s best to roll in, but the sun wasn’t giving it much of a chance.  Eventually you’ll reach the ladder stile and fence, with the summit of Craig Cau immediately beyond, giving great views of Penygadair – the next objective.wpid-DSC_0276.jpg

wpid-DSC_0291.jpgThe trig point was busy, so I headed towards Mynydd Moel before grabbing a quick lunch. There was still some snow in the north-facing gullies, but nothing at all on the plateau.

After pressing on to Gau Craig, I looked at return routes., and decided to try a path following a fenceline to the southeast, which would then let me follow the old track parallel to the A487 back to the car. The path is steep and loose at first, with some scrambling required to wind through the crags on the East face.

wpid-DSC_0292.jpgFrom here, a much gentler path continues down to the road,  and the old track through Cwm Rhwyddfor avoids the road for most of the way.

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The Toad Chorus

Glasgwm and Aran Fawddwy. 8/3/2014

Combinations of work, lack of motivation and the ridiculous excuse for a winter meant that today was my first day on the hills this year. The forecast looked too good to miss, with little rain and cloud free summits on offer. MWIS were forecasting high winds in the north of the park though, so a visit to the Arans seemed a  good idea.

After an early start I was on the hill by 8.00, following the stream up behind  Bryn Hafod in Cwm Cywarch. The forecast wasn’t entirely right, as there was still a good amount of low cloud around and visibility dropped right down as I reached the sheepfolds just beyond the head of the cwm.

The wind had dropped completely, and all was silent apart from a strange, almost mechanical noise which appeared to be coming from the large swampy pond by the fence junction. Convinced that my ears were playing tricks, I edged closer and the sound resolved into the unsynchronized ribbeting of dozens of large toads in and around the pond. I crept closer, but I think my orange fleece gave the game away and the pond was instantly silent.

From here, the out-and back visit to Glasgwm was uneventful, but the summit was still in the cloud. A few patches of snow remained on the scree, but with temperatures rising dramatically they’re unlikely to stay for long.

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Following the fenceline to towards Aran Fawddwy,  there’s an interesting selection of duckboards intended to help keep your feet dry. Some are useful , but many more are just plain dangerous – either rotting, or unbelievably slippery. The best one acted as a see-saw:  as soon as I put weight on it, the far end lifted up as my feet sank deeper into the water.

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But, as I negotiated this section, the weather began to clear. Slowly at first, with just occasional glimpses into the middle distance. I stopped for a bit to eat near another large reed-filled llyn, and was again greeted by the sight and sounds of hundreds of large toads.

wpid-DSC_0219.jpgThis time I was quieter (and less orange) so was able to take some pictures. The fenceline from here continues almost to the summit – passing a lower subsidiary top a few hundred yards before the trig point perched on the edge of the cliffs above Creiglyn Dyfi

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Arriving at the trig, the cloud was still all around, but a few minutes wait was rewarded with gorgeous blue skies, with clouds around and below in all directions. Grinning wildly, I headed downhill past the Drws Bach memorial cairn before taking the long gently graded path down Hengwm back to the car.

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Cartographic Furniture

Advanced Navigation Course, 5/10/2013

“Map-making had never been a precise art on the Discworld. People tended to start off with good intentions and then get so carried away with the spouting whales, monsters, waves and other twiddly bits of cartographic furniture that the often forgot to put the boring mountains and rivers in at all.”
― Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures

I’m in danger of becoming too dependent on the Viewranger maps, always available with a simple tap on the screen, showing where I am, where I’ve been, and – hopefully – some clue about where I should go next.

While I always use map and compass as primary tools, the temptation to pull out the phone when I’m slightly uncertain of my position is difficult to fight. So when I saw that Rob at ExpeditionGuide was running a new one-day Advanced Navigation course, it seemed a good idea to use that to polish some of the rustier skills.

Rob’s course uses contour-only maps based on the Harvey Superwalker series. These mark contours (at Harvey’s usual 15M spacing) and water features, grid lines, and nothing else. No roads. No paths. No walls, fences, sheepfolds or spouting whales. The intention is that the absence of these features from the map forces you to focus on slope and contour interpretation. The first challenge is orienting the map, as – with no writing – working out which way is ‘up’ is far from easy.

After meeting at the Pinnacle, we parked close to the Pen Y Gyrwyd and followed the stream up to Llyn Cwmfynnon. As we walked, we tried to plot our position on the maps, using the sparse information on the map to help us. We worked our way up to Moel Berfedd, giving great views of Crib Goch and Y Lliwedd.

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The high ground and angled light made it a good viewpoint for identifying contour features below us. After a break we dropped down to Pen-y-Pass and heading onto the familiar -and busy- Miner’s track towards Snowdon, attempting to drawn the line of the path onto the map as accurately as possible.

The short, steep climb off the path onto the Horns came as bit of a shock, as the rest of the day hadn’t involved any serious ascent. Breath caught – and ring contours identified – we carefully made our way down the steep grass to join the Pig track, before completing the day with a drink in the Pen-y-Pass cafe.

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Moel Hebog

Snowdonia, 4/10/2013

The forecast for the day wasn’t great, and the reality was even worse: Hill fog, rain and some brisk winds, The weather should make this a “Quality Mountain Day” for Mountain Leader Training purposes , but most sane folk would dispute the use of that adjective.

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I left the start as late as I reasonably could as the forecast did imply things would get better later in the day, but eventually set off from Beddgelert around mid-day, aiming to take in Moel Hebog and the two outliers to the north: Moel yr Ogof and Moel Lefn. The return would be via tracks through Beddgelert Forest near the Welsh Highland Railway.

The camera stayed away almost the whole day, coming out briefly to try and capture some droplet-covered grasses and impressive pillow lavas on the short scrambly section of the ridge onto Moel Hebog.

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From the trig point, it’s a steep descent following a handy wall to Bwlch Meillionen, then upwards through an impressive rocky cleft onto Moel yr Ogof. The climb to the top twists and turns a bit, and I arrived at the summit cairn somewhat disorientated. I triple-checked the bearing onward to Moel Lefn and picked up a path pretty easily.

From Moel Lefn, the terrain gets more complex, and there are steep crags between you and the old quarry at the bwlch. The path I was on was heading in the right direction until it suddenly turned 90 degrees right: I eventually ignored the path, continued carefully down and was relieved to pick up a second lower path winding through the crags. I was briefly below the cloud now, and there were some glimpses down into Cwm Pennant below. From the bwlch, there are some boggy paths through the forest that take you back onto the open hillside, then it’s down through a narrow (and wet) forest trail until you reach a wide and well signed track near Hafod Ruffydd Uchaf. It’s best to ignore the map and follow the signed trail to Beddgelert now, as the path layout has been changed since the last OS map update.

Heading back towards the car the tops were still covered in cloud, but it was lifting and breaking on the drive back to Betws, with Cwm Dyli and the Glyderau looking great in the late afternoon light.

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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
SO224350
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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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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