31st May 2014: Rhinog Fach, Y Llethr and Diffwys, South Snowdonia
My only previous visit to the Rhinogs was four years ago. It started well with a walk in from the east to camp high by Llyn Du, and ended badly with searing heat, an empty water bottle, and the descent of Rhinog Fawr via a never-ending boulder field. I promised myself I’d be back, but unsurprisingly always found an excuse to go somewhere a bit less challenging.
It isn’t just me, either: Ronald Turnbull in the excellent “Granite and Grit” writes…
“These Rhinogs are part of the Snowdonia National Park. does this mean that we can expect ice-cream shops, reconstructed footpaths and interesting leaflets? It does not. the bad-tempered Rhinogs are being left in their corner to sulk. There will be no car parks: get there at dawn for your two metres of muddy verge, or walk in from beyond some dismal bog. There will be no waymarks: in the Rhinogs you haven’t really lived until you’re lost. There will be no ice-cream.”
Skipping the delights of Barmouth, I drove up the narrow lane into Cwm Nantcol. The stone walls crowd in on both sides, and I was lucky only to meet one oncoming car. Lots of gates, too. After the sixth episode of “stop, get out, open gate, get in, drive, get out, close gate, get in, drive” I’d had more than enough and the cattle grids on the last two fields were a blessed relief. There’s plenty of parking at Maes-y-Garnedd farm (£2 for the day) and path into Bwlych Drws-Ardudwy is well signed.
My initial plan was to head off path to Llyn Hywel and get some navigation practice in on the way, but the beautifully built stone walls topped with barbed wire scotched that. No loss though, as the path towards the Bwlch is stunning, and the walls seem to keep the area mostly free of sheep. There was a gorgeous selection of flowers and mosses near the path including Heath Spotted-orchids, Lousewort, Butterworts and Tormentil.
The bwlch widens out into a natural amphitheate, and here – at last – there are ladder stiles to cross over to Rhinog Fach on the south. A steep path scrambles up a gully alongside a stream, easing off as you pass close to Llyn Cwmhosan. A Drinker Moth caterpillar sat motionless sunning itself on the rock as I passed by.
Rhinog Fach towers over, but a good path continues up the side of the cwm towards the stunning Llyn Hywel: a large, remote and natural lake in an incredible mountain setting. There’s real ‘wow’ moment as the path levels out and the lake suddenly jumps into view.
I stopped here for lunch, eyeing up Rhinog Fach above the lake on my left. There’s meant to be an “interesting” approach directly up the screes followed by a scramble up to the summit, but my route was more conservative – crossing the screes by the side of the lake before climbing to the col below Y Llethr, then steeply up beside the wall to Rhinog Fach.
From here, the wall would be my guide back to the col and all the way on to Diffwys. One last slog to the summit of Y Llethr, with great views back over Llyn Hywel and the hard work is done. There was a lot more distance to go, but most of it downhill and over surprisingly grassy tops and ridges.
The trig point at Diffwys is just on the south side of the wall, overlooking Mawddach with the Cader Idris ridge across the valley. I watched cloud scud over the top of Penygadair while the lower tops remained clear.
After heading seawards over the subsidiary top to the west it was time to cut down into Cwm . I was aiming for Pont Scethin – a convenient bridge shown on the OS maps. Before you reach the bridge there’s a rather nice memorial on the trail above. I’m not normally a fan of these, but the location and wording somehow gave a boost for my slowly fading energy levels. Courage, Traveller!
The bridge is incredibly narrow, considering this was once the main coach route between Harlech and London. From here, one last off path section took me to the col east of Moelfre, where a path leads down to the road at Cil-cychwyn. One last mile on the road back to the car, then it was time to do battle with the gates again… Fish and chips in Barmouth felt well deserved.