Category Archives: Walk Reports

Rhobell Fawr and Dduallt

Jim Perrin’s article about locating the source of the Dee was the ‘push’ that I needed. I’d been thinking about walking Rhobell Fawr and Dduallt for a while, but as soon as you get to Dolgellau, the ‘honey-pot’ hills of the Glyderau and Carneddau have a strange magnetic attraction that makes you reluctant to stop driving.

Thursday’s weather forecast was a help, too. Hill fog for most of the morning in the west, generally better in the east. Driving over Bwlch Oerddrws, I thought they’d got it wrong again, as there was low cloud and torrential rain, and the waterfalls coming down from Craig Wen looked stupendous. But, coming down the other side, the weather had cleared: Cadair Idris and the Rhinogs were in the cloud, but Rhobell Fawr was clearly visible under blue skies.

I’d planned a circular route from Rhydymain, taking in Rhobell Fawr and Dduallt with hopefully not too much forest-bashing or bog-trotting, and – given the rain of the last few weeks – no major watercourses to cross. I parked near the village hall, and headed up behind the chapel. A minor navigational error took me past the local hunt kennels, but soon I was climbing up towards the forestry track.

There was a feel of spring instead of winter in the air – buds forming in the hedgerows, and no frost at all. A friendly and talkative farmer at the road end corrected my pronunciation of the hill names, while his dog disappeared after a runaway sheep.

The section on the forestry track isn’t the most exciting part of the walk, but it does get you to the start of the rocky bits quickly and painlessly. And, there’s plenty of rock here, but well interspersed with grass and moss. While there’s a little scope for scrambling, most of the time hands aren’t required. The ascent is totally pathless – a case of picking your way through outcrops and streams, and generally heading uphill.

I had a quick snack before the final climb, and when you hit the top the panorama is incredibly impressive. Because Rhobell Fawr stands remote from most other hills the views are uninterrupted. Aran Fawddwy, Cadair Idris and Rhinog Fawr were still stuck with heads in the cloud, but Arenig Fawr and Moel Llyfnant to the north were both clear. Further away the higher mountains in Snowdonia were visible, but well covered in cloud.

From the summit I headed east down to the forest edge. Amazingly for such a remote peak, Ddualt is actually signposted off the forest track. But the track through the forest is far from good, with fallen trees to clamber round or under. I was glad to reach the stile and the open hillside again. There’s no path to the south ridge so just slowly following the line of least resistance seems to work. More heather here, and generally wetter terrain then Rhobell Fawr, but once you reach the ridge it’s an easy climb over rocky steps. There are great views down to the marsh of Daear Sinc, where the river Dee rises, although Perrin’s ‘capel’ is hidden from sight.

I wasn’t planning to hunt out the source myself today, but headed south down through the crags to the edge of the marsh, and cut across to the higher and drier land east of the Afon Eiddon. From here, a tiny trace of a track takes you along towards the river, as it heads through the impressive ravine of Cyfyng y Benglog. The walk out through the moss-covered broadleaf woodland is a pleasant change from the conifers on the other side of the river.

Dropping down to the farm at Pen y Rhiw the footpath becomes very indistinct, so I carefully trespassed back to the road as the sun was setting.

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Blowing away the Cobwebs

For several weeks now, I’ve been waiting for a day when the weather forecast and my diary were in some form of alignment. With the Met Office forecasting mere gales with only a ‘low’ risk of severe wind chill (rather than last weeks storms and torrential rain) and a possible sprinkling of white stuff, today seemed a good bet.

I set off for Plynlimon with an encouraging heavy frost on the ground, and only a few patches of black ice on the road. Given the marginal conditions and limited daylight, a hill close to home had seemed a good idea, and an approach through the forestry from Rhyd-y-bench would keep me out of the wind for some of the ascent.

The Severn Way follows the nascent River Severn, now heavy with rain, up over numerous small waterfalls and rock steps. It’s a great place to bring kids in summer, but the river is a lot less impressive then.

Climbing out through the recently felled upper sections, the hills above were sparsely coated with white, but the ground was nowhere near frozen, with ice just starting to form on a few of the puddles.

I took the main path to the source of the Severn, handily marked by a large wooden post, and the onto the boundary marker and cairn just beyond. From here you can see across the Hengwm valley to the hills beyond, and today the visibility was good enough to see Cadair Idris. More importantly, I also could see a large dark cloud heading rapidly towards me: I expected rain or snow, but got neither: Hail, carried by a 40MPH wind, is rather like being sandblasted by frozen peas. I tweaked my hood and buff to reduce the available target area and headed on into the wind towards Pen Pumlumon Arwystli.

I ducked into the windshelter scooped from the top of one of the ancient cairns to fix lunch and a coffee, but the freezing temperature and near-empty gas cylinder I’d brought meant that the water took ages to boil. I’d planned to head on to Pumlumon Fawr, but given the wind – and yet more black clouds heading my way – decided to head back instead. The snow caught up with me just as I reached the shelter of the trees, but didn’t last long.

The walk back down through the forest was pleasant, reinforced by a mince pie kindly offered by a large group out with their dogs. A lot of the lower-lying snow had melted, and the forecast seems set for rain again.

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Light and Dark

Craig Eigiau and Carnedd Llewellyn – 20-Nov-2011

The met office forecast had sounded so promising for an inversion – low level hill fog, but higher summits over 800m should be clear.  Driving up to the pass from Llangynog the fog was certainly thick. and it cleared just at the top of the pass, rolling off the surrounding hills. Things continued to be promising as I drove past Cerrigydrudion, with the thermometer reading just 1°, and frost thick on the ground.

But, by the time I reached the gated road into Cwm Eigiau the fog had gone, with some cloud hanging high over the ridge at the far end of the cwm.

I took the path NW from the parking, and headed round the end of the ridge before cutting up onto the crest and following the wall to Craig Eigiau. the glacier-smoothed rocky rib at the summit is a pleasant change from the shattered rock on the higher Carneddau peaks  – a sign that they remained above the glacial ice.

From here, there’s a large plateau that leads onto the broad ridge between Carnedd Llewellyn and Foel Grach. I kept towards the south of it, partly for the views over to the cliffs of Craig yr Ysfa – glistening in the sun- and also also to try and scope out a route back through the cwm.

After catching a glimpse of the waters at Ffynnon Llyffant it was time to head on towards a fog-shrouded Carnedd Llewellyn. The Northern slopes have numerous boulder fields, and few obvious paths. The rocks were all incredibly greasy and I was relieved to reach the comparative easy going of the summit plateau.

The summit had been tantalisingly peeking in and out of cloud as I climbed, but now the cloud showed no signs of budging. After lunch and a quick litter-pick of the windshelter (what part of ‘Leave No Trace‘ don’t people understand?) , I’d planned to head onwards Yr Elen, but the cloud base had dropped significantly (and the wind had really picked up) so Yr Elen has been saved for a better day.

I retraced my steps a little, then headed down into Ffynnon Llyffant. I was aware there’d been an air crash near here – a Canberra from RAF Pershore – but the extent and distribution of the wreckage was a surprise. Even half a mile or more downstream you’ll see large aluminium panels in the water, carried down by floods.

From here it’s a pleasant but pathless walk to the old mine workings. just following the course of the stream. The “road” out from here takes you past Cwm Eigiau Cottage (Rugby Mountaineering Club’s bothy) which is sporting a smart new roof, past the much-diminished Llyn Eigiau reservoir and the breached dam walls, with a mile of easy walking back to the car park.

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Don’t forget your gaiters…

Allt Fawr, Moel Drumau and Ysgafell Wen – Oct 16th, 2011

On reflection, maybe mid-Wales isn’t the boggiest part of the country….

It was dark when I left home, and – as the coffee grinder would have woken the whole house – I was minus my caffeine fix. Betws-y-Coed was as far as I could get without one, so I was delighted to find that the Alpine Coffee Shop was open from 8AM, with proper coffee and a great fryup.  I headed back towards Blaenau Ffestiniog, and parked up at the top of the Crimea Pass. Today’s plan was to explore the hills NW of Blaenau, and brush up on my navigation on unfamiliar ground in what should have been generally bright conditions.

Snowdonia is the only National Park with a ‘hole’ in the middle, and Blaenau sits in that hole. I’d always thought this was because the devastation caused by the slate mining made the place too much of an eyesore for inclusion, but Wikipedia reckons this was done to allow new industry to take over from slate mining without the additional planning restrictions associated with National Parks.

My first objective was Allt Fawr, and initially, the slate quarries are what draws the eye. The wide track in ends by a row of pylons crossing the hills, and a ventilation tunnel for the 3,000m long railway tunnel deep beneath. But climbing higher the quarries disappeared from view. with just some road noise from the A470 remaining. I lost count of the number of lakes and reservoirs on this walk, but the first (and probably least stunning) is Llyn Iwerddon, below Allt Fawr. Like many, this has been dammed to form a reservoir.

The cloud cover was pretty extensive, and the base was sitting at around 650m for most of the day, just covering the peaks, and hiding the quarries to the south. I headed down out of the cloud, towards the lakes below Moel Drumau.

The track shown on the 1:25000 map doesn’t exist on the ground, but the terrain is straightforward and the lakes big enough not to miss. From here, there’s a handy fenceline which you could follow all the way to Carnedd y Cribau, with minor detours to the several peaks of Ysgafell Wen. While it wasn’t raining, there was enough moisture around to make the rocks and grass incredibly slippery, and the ground can feel like a giant boggy sponge in places. After reaching and admiring Llyn Edno, (and a quick bite to eat), I headed down east into the cwm to pick up the path heading to Coed Mawr. Like the paths, streams can irritatingly disappear from the ground even though they’re marked on the map, so matching the terrain to the contours becomes essential.

Once there, the path across the valley to Hendre was again a figment of some demented surveyor’s imagination, so a minor diversion was called for. At Hendre, you pass under the railway line in a beautifully constructed tunnel which spits you out onto the  hillside below Moel Dyrnogydd.

This should have been the home straight now – just a couple of K to the car – except that it’s a 200m climb, through boggy terrain with – once again – an almost total absence of the marked path. Suffice to say expletives were uttered.

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Foxes and Rainbows

Plans for an ultra-early start from home ended badly when I found the car had decided to jettison its PAS fluid all over the drive. None in the shed, so I had to wrestle it 15 miles to the nearest garage before driving up the mountain road from Llani towards the Glaslyn Nature Reserve. There’s a small parking area 100m from the lake shore, with a path leading into the reserve.

Glaslyn is an Oligotrophic lake with very low nutrient levels – there’s no watercourses feeding it, just the plentiful Welsh rain keeping it full. From the lakeside, you can follow a path up to a viewpoint overlooking the impressive ravine to the north, formed when the glacial meltwater on the plateau was finally released and surged over the edge.

Halfway round the lake, I cut across the heather towards Bugeilyn – another lake, but this time stream-fed. As you drop down towards it past the ruined farmhouse, Plynlimon and the Hengwm valley come into view. Today the tops were hiding in cloud, but I was heading for the lower hills to the north of the valley.

Just below the top of Foel Isaf, a fox appeared just 100m away. I was walking into the wind, and was able to watch for almost a minute before he spotted me and disappeared. The zoom on the LX5 is a piffling 120mm equivalent – great for portraits, but  hardly ideal for wildlife shots!

The terrain here is a mix of the typical mid-Wales peat, with a covering of heather, bilberry and crowberry. There are some truly horrible tussocky sections lying in wait to twist your ankles, but also some gorgeous quartz outcrops, looking almost edible in the morning light.

After food and a coffee by the lightly cairned top, the weather was definitely changing for the worse. That (and my sick car) made up my mind for me, and I decided to call it a day. I headed back on the path towards Glaslyn in steadily worsening drizzle, but was met at the lake by a stunning rainbow.

Unfinished Business

Nantlle Ridge – 17-August-2011

The only time that I’ve had to make a ‘strategic retreat’ was when heading up Y Garn on the Nantlle Ridge in 2009. I was at Rhyd Ddu to be a SARDA dogsbody for the weekend, and reckoned that a quick trip to the top and back was possible before the worst of the weather hit. After being blown off my feet for the second time a couple of hundred meters below the summit, I turned and headed downhill to drip copiously on the floor of the Cwellyn Arms in front of an open fire.

But Wednesday was different – the weather was set fine, and the cloud was high above the top of Snowdon, with hardly any wind. The climb up Y Garn is pretty unrelenting, but once you’re up the fun begins. There are dizzyingly huge gullies in the face towards Mynydd Mawr, and the ridge itself stretches away to the south like a rocky roller-coaster, with views of the sea on the one side, and Snowdon and Yr Aran on the other.

And it’s quiet – on a gorgeous day in the middle of the August holidays I saw just one couple walking the ridge ahead of me. I caught them up as they stopped for lunch by the Obelisk on top of Mynydd Tal-y-Mignedd, and after chatting for a while I headed back over the narrow neck before dropping down to the path through the Beddgelert Forest. Yes, there are dusty bulldozed forest tracks here, but the route stays mainly off them, winding past an old mine and out onto the lower slopes of Y Garn and back across the boggy stepping stones by Llyn-y-gader to the car park.

The mix of wide grassy tops and rocky scrambles here seems unique in Wales. I’m looking forward to walking the rest of the ridge soon.

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The Best Camera?

Moel Siabod – 16-August-2011

I’d left my Lumix LX-5 safely tucked up in the dry for today’s ropework/nav refresher with Rob.

It was sufficiently nasty weather that we started indoors at the Llanberis MR team base, using traffic cones as anchors. The rain eased , so we headed outdoors and covered anchor selection, belaying, leader abseils, lowers and confidence roping on the side of the Llanberis pass. The weather was lifting as we moved on to Cwm Glas Bach for some navigation, combined with some impromptu search training for Skye, Rob’s border collie: Rob would pick a point on the map, I’d navigate myself there, then Skye would come and find me.

The cloud had lifted over the summits by then, so after finishing the day with Rob I decided to head up to the south ridge of Moel Siabod. I’d gone less than a mile before the heavens opened, and the tops disappeared once more into murk. Hoping this was temporary I pushed on up the damp rock of the scramble – meeting two guys retreating down it due to the poor visibility! After the obligatory couple of route adjustments and dead-ends (one near the top which seems to take you right out onto the eastern face), the sun magically broke through, casting shadows onto the mist below. I didn’t stay long at the top, as a beer at the Bryn Tyrch was calling me, and the I wasn’t sure if the cloud would stay away.  But, as I headed downhill towards Plas y Brenin the views of the Snowdon horseshoe, the Glyders, and the Carneddau behind were stunning. I could see the old NT farmhouse at Duffryn Mymbyr where we’d all spent a great weekend in June, and my destination – the Bryn Tyrch in Capel Curig – away in the distance.

The Mymbyr lakes are a perfect photo opportunity for Snowdon, so I pulled out my ‘phone to see if it could do any kind of justice to it.  I was pleasantly surprised with the results – The best camera really is the one you’ve got with you.