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?

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 Boot

Cefns ridge, winter

Yes, I finally got round to it…

I’ve been meaning to collate my trip reports and other outdoors-related bumf on a blog for a while. Content may start to appear in a topsy-turvy manner, with old reports deeply interwingled with new ones. I’m sure you can sort it all out.

Oh – and thanks for reading!

Hillwalking, and other frivolous pastimes