Category Archives: Walk Reports

The Monk’s Trod

Elan Valley 5-August-2011

The Elan Valley is a fascinating place from a walker’s perspective – geographically dominated by the huge reservoirs of Claerwen, Craig Goch and Caban Coch and their dams, providing water for Birmingham and the Midlands. The bulk of the land compulsorily purchased is now managed by the Elan Valley Trust, formed in 1989 to encourage public access to the area – The hills here were free to roam long before the CROW act came into force. The trust also maintains a bothy at Claerddu with unheard of luxuries like a flushing toilet and gas lighting.

Only a couple of hills hit the magic 600m mark, but there is a huge expanse of rolling open moorland with hidden lakes and deserted farmhouses to explore. The valleys are really the heartland of Elenydd, beautifully captured in Anthony Griffith’s book and photographs.

Planning a circular walk isn’t easy here, as the rivers (and reservoirs) can make crossings difficult. Also – despite the open access – there are few paths shown on the map, and as I’d found from a previous visit, many of those don’t exist on the ground. Navigation in poor visibility can be challenging in the extreme.

I’d planned a circular route from the small car park at Pont yr Elan on the mountain road to Aberystwyth that would take me over the hills and down towards Claerwen, returning mostly cross-country to hit the road near the Craig Coch dam. A couple of miles of road walking would complete the loop, but that seemed a small price to pay.

The path I was following is the Monk’s Trod – an ancient road that joins the abbeys of Strata Florida and Abbeycwmhir. Legally it’s a BOAT – A Byway Open to All Traffic, but restriction orders have banned motorized vehicles from it for many years. Just as well, as the bog is so deep in places that you’d need a helicopter to pull out your 4×4. (It’s probably easier just to jump up and down on the roof until the entire vehicle is submerged…)

Despite the restrictions, there are still many places where you can see the damage to the peat from vehicles.

The highlight of the walk was reaching Cerriglywddion – here the continuous sea of moorland and peat is interrupted by two gorgeous lakes, surrounded by small rocky crests and summits. An old farmhouse – boarded and locked – is hidden here too, with every surface smothered in lurid green paint. If you stick to the path, you’d never see it, despite being just a few hundred meters away.

I headed back cross-country, eventually finding a faint quad-bike track from the plateau of Trumau down to the abandoned farm at Lluest aber-caethon. A couple of miles back up the road to the car before a gentle drive home to assemble a trampoline…

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A Pair of Wellingtons

Black Mountain, Brecon Beacons, 14-July-2011

Not those, these:

Mynydd Du (the Black Mountain) is at the queiter western end of the Brecon Beacons National Park, and is very different in character to the central Beacons around Pen y Fan. There’s still the amazing red sandstone cliffs of the northern escarpment, but the land further south is much wilder, and rockier. The reason – Limestone. The geology of limestone areas is very distinctive, due to the way that the stone is eroded by rainwater, forming Karst landscapes, often with extensive cave systems.

My walk started from Dan yr Ogof, where there’s a large showcave and various other attractions including, rather surreally, a dinosaur park. However, parking is a reasonable £3 and you can get straight onto the hills without any road work. The weather was baking hot with a gentle breeze, and the sky a brilliant blue as I headed up past a group of Welsh ponies.

The limestone outcrops and sink holes make for interesting walking – a straight line is rarely an option, and there’s plenty to look at. It’s also a great place to practice navigation skills, but in poor visibility it would be exceptionally challenging.

I’d read the story about the MF-509 memorial and wreckage on Carreg Goch, and reckoned that would be a good objective to locate. The memorial cairn was surrounded by many wreaths and crosses, and seeing it and the wreckage in such a remote place was surprisingly moving. It amazes me how aluminium can resist the mountain weather so well for over 65 years.

I headed back to join the path which eventually fords the Afon Twrch, before fading out completely. After a stop for lunch it was a hot but straightforward slog up the hillside to Waun Lefrith where the drama of the escarpment is finally visible, with Lyn y Fan Fach far below.

It’s a brilliant and easy walk from here along the escarpment, with one steep pull as you reach the trig point of Fan Brychieniog, which gives great views over to Pen y Fan and the (other) Black Mountains.  I wanted to continue along as much of the Fan Hir ridge as possible, before dropping down to cross the Afon Haffes back towards the start, but this was mostly off path, and I needed to pick the best spot to cross before the river runs into the deepening gorge of Cwm Haffes. I aimed for some meanders just downstream from a waterfall and headed downhill.

About half-way down I saw a flash of red about 100m in front, and was very surprised when realised I’d stumbled on another memorial cairn with a poppy wreath. No dramatic wreckage here, just a handful of rusted metal and molten aluminium, which is all that’s left of Wellington BJ697.

I’ve finally cracked getting a GPX track from my Motorola Defy into the blog. Here’s the day’s route:

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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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Mystery guests

When I was in the Berwyns last week, I saw a couple of plants that weren’t familiar. The first was just some broad crinkly leaves poking out of the usual ling and bilberry mix as I headed up the ridge path to Foel Wen. They were spread over quite a large area – several hundred metres at least.

I’m pretty sure they’re Cloudberry, and the Berwyns is one of the few places in Wales where you’ll find them. Unfortunately, they don’t give much fruit in the UK. Richard Mabey’s excellent book Food for Free has this wonderful bit of trivia:

In the Berwyn Mountains an unusual tradition commemorated this scarcity…  Shepherds from Llanrhaiadr believed that a quart of cloudberries was the wage that St. Dogfan was due for his spiritual ministry, and anyone who could bring such a quantity to the parson on St. Dogfan’s Day had his tithes remitted for the year.

The second unknown was a spread of these beautiful little yellow flowers in some sheep pastures on the lower slopes. Mountain Pansies

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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