TJS is now an obsessive Hiker. I’m pretty proud that he’s really keen to get out and has now reached that sad point (for me anyway) where he is fitter, faster and stronger than me – not too tricky these days. Whilst I’m trying to educate him to the charms of lesser known mountains like all new starters there is always that need to climb the higher and more famous peaks. He’s been hassling me for years to take him up Snowdon but it’s not exactly on our doorstep. Whilst in the Llyn Peninsula a few weeks back, less than an hour away, I finally made good on my promise.
We chose a route up the western side, mainly as it’s the closest to where we were staying but it’s also quieter and a side I’ve not seen much of.
We set off from Rhydd Ddu under a grey sky with a promise of sunshine later and headed up through the mine workings to Bwlch Cwn Llan. The sun started to peep through the clouds but Snowdon was still capped by cloud. There was clearly sunshine out west and we hoped we’d see that later – we had a long day planned
The col is a fine place, a real atmosphere of industry long gone amongst great scenery. Rather than despoiling a mountain I find these old quarries fascinating. A glimpse into the past.
As an appetiser we climbed Yr Aran to the south of the col. A summit as good as Snowdon itself but much quieter (we had it all to ourselves). After a steep climb we crested the summit in watery sunshine to a panorama around the Snowdon Massif, across Cardigan Bay and to the western Snowdonia Mountains of Moel Heog, the Nantlle Ridge and Mynydd Mawr.
I often point out to TJS that smaller hills often give better views than the higher summits and this one is a great case in point
We still had our main summit to climb and we retraced our steps to the col and began the long ascent up the south ridge. I’ve read that this is a long and uninteresting route but I thought it was grand.
For a start it was pretty much deserted, a real blessing considering what was to come. The views across to Y Lliwedd and into Cwm Tregalan were fabulous and we took an early lunch before we ascended to the summit.
The Rhydd Ddu path came in and the numbers increased as we crossed the narrow ridge of Bwlch Main. Then the Watkin path joins and the crowds and noise increase further.
Nothing prepares you for the summit of Snowdon in summer. It was awful. There must have been 300 people or more on the summit. You had to queue to reach the very top. We managed a quick photo and then found a relatively quiet spot for a sit.
There was hundreds more people on the Pyg track and the train was disgorging hundreds more. The views from the summit are awesome. Snowdon is a truly magnificent mountain. Ridges radiating in all directions enclosing deep corries and lakes. Truly deserving of the highest summit in Wales.
Trouble is it’s very accessible and massive draw for walkers. I’d expected it to be bad but it was much, much worse. I couldn’t wait to get away. We’d had some reasonable views but the summit was still slipping in and out of the clouds so no sense hanging around with the rest of the UK population or so it seemed
As we tried to get away there was an absolute stream of people on their way up still. It was like being in a shopping centre such was the commotion and noise. I took a little solace from the fact that large numbers of people looked very unhappy and ill-equipped, clearly not expecting the summit to be so cold and so far from the car. I know this probably makes me a very bad person. Staggers me how many people have no idea of how conditions can change between a car park and a summit 3500 feet up in the clouds and just how much effort it takes to get there. I felt a little sad about it all.
When I could take no more we took off from the Llanberis path and went over to the edge that overlooks the pass. The change was instant and dramatic. Suddenly the noise had gone and all was silent, the views majestic
Now we’d got the mountain back we left the crowds behind for good and headed down to Llyn Du’r Arddu. What a magnificent spot. The massive and well renowned climbing crag of Clogwyn Du’r Arddu towers above. The lake deep and blue even under a grey sky. And the thing is it was completely deserted. A sensational spot just half a mile from the throngs above and it was all ours. Mountains can be an odd experience sometimes.
I’d planned a swim in the lake but the skies were still grey and the air just too chilly. We pressed on for our return to Rhydd Ddu, picking up an excellent climbers path that traversed easily back around to the Snowdon Ranger path over Bwlch Cwm Brwynog.
Suddenly the skies cleared and the sun came out in force and we were treated to a wonderful sunny afternoon stroll back to the car. Again ignoring the main paths we found a way across the moors and picked up a fine path through the quarries back to Rhydd Ddu.
A little boggy in places and much further than it looked but the views were now sensational. Moel Hebog really catches the eye, looking much higher than its modest 782m and very surprising that I’ve never climbed it. I’ll be correcting that soon.
As earlier Mynydd Mawr and the Nantlle Ridge were also magnificent and the walk back under clear skies away from the crowds was a total pleasure. A staggering contrast to the crowds on the summit that darkened my heart so much.
Tired and weary – it was 12 mile and 4000 feet of ascent sort of day – we exchanged happy grins at the car. The choice of route had been a good one, minimising our exposure to the crowds to just over a mile.
We both agreed that any future visits to Snowdon should be out of season and preferably a weekday. The Snowdon Horsehoe still beckons for TJS, one of the UKs best mountaineering routes, just not in the summer holidays
The end of July. The end of the school year. The annual trip to Towyn Farm. This year I got to stay for a week rather than the snatched few days I normally get. The weather stuck its two fingers up at this and delivered 10 days of winter/spring conditions with no two consecutive days the same. We had some sunshine, lots of wind and gales, a good helping of rain and it was cold every day. I had to keep telling myself and anyone willing to listen that it was July. Could have been worse though, we only had one complete wash out and the kids managed to go in the sea most days. The wind meant we had good waves and I even got some kayak surfing in. Would have been nice to sit around in warm sunshine but in this most fickle of summers you take what you can get.
A few photos of beach antics, and campsite lazing. Apologies for the poor quality and reduced size of the beach shots. I’d set my outdoor camera to take some low-res images for sending in an e-mail and forgot to change the settings back :(
It says a lot about the weather that the photos above were all taken on the same day. The ones below on one evening when the sun decided to put an overdue appearance in (it was much colder than it looked!)
We managed to get some walks in as well. A couple of short coastal excursions. This one around the impressive eminences of Mynydd Rhiw, Mynydd Penarfynydd and Mynydd y Graig. Obviously the austerity measures have even hit the vowels in this part of Wales
A walk enlivened by some prickly undergrowth and p1ss poor sigining through the fields. There was even a padlocked gate on the Wales Coastal Path route
Another short and wildly windy walk along the coast at the far southern tip of the peninsula
No trip to the area would be complete without a walk up Carn Fadryn
DB Junior calls it Birthday Hill but it had to wait a few days this time (his birthday was alas on the washout day but we did manage a fish and chip supper, and a ride on the dodgems and a play in the penny arcades in Pwllheli by way of compensation). Here’s the little rascal picking bilberries which were in abundance this year
It’s always teeming with insect life. DB Senior found this beetle and I got a decent shot of the local funnel web spider – I think they are actually called labyrinth spiders but they live in funnels made from web so I’m sticking with the scarier name. The beetle is crawling around on DBs sling. Yes a sling. DB has broken his arm bouncing on the trampoline. Dangerous by name, dangerous by nature
And of course to finish the obligatory sunset shots which Towyn Farm always delivers whatever the weather
A couple more posts to come but a fine trip making the best of the weather. I left out the photos of the rain and the videos of the wind trying to blow the camper over!
Well here’s a first, writing up a blog post the same day I did the walk. Never see the like of these days again once my summer hols kick in next week.
Another supermarket breakfast and another day in the hills to follow. This one a very similar trip to one we did with GM a couple of winters back. This time a more detailed exploration of Mynydd Llangorse and its far western ridge.
We parked up in Cwmdu and headed across the fields taking in the sights, sounds, smells, scratches and stings of the bracken
Small in height but large in area, Mynydd Llangorse is a wild upland heathland. Off the beaten track we had the whole mountain to ourselves save a few ponies and couple of cyclists
It’s a place to clock up long walks and we ticked off the miles as we strode on to its broad summit. The views across Llangorse Lake to the Beacons were very fine indeed.
After a brief rest on Cockit Hill we were off up Mynydd Troed, slightly higher but packing a mighty wallop of a steep slope to the top. The Bracken that clothes the lower slopes in these parts gives everything a stunning verdant hue. Much more pleasing on the eye from a distance than when you are bashing through it at close quarters
We headed off down the fine summit ridge before a session of the aforementioned bracken bashing on the lower slopes mixed in with a healthy smattering of nettles and head high thistles. Why I insist on wearing shorts round these parts in summer I’ll never know
We concluding the day with a long plod down the knee-jarringly hard minor lane that skirts the eastern slopes of Mynydd Llangorse but the sun was warm and the views stunning
An uneventful day of easy walking on two of the quietest mountains in this wonderful range I call home
Me and TJS had the day to ourselves. Being a lazy sort I couldn’t be bothered to make us breakfast so I treated us to the best of the Waitrose cafe in Abergavenny. I need to big up Waitrose here for introducing me to worlds best toast – sourdough bread – awesome.
Always on the look out for a new route we took a Brecon Beacons walk from Llanfrynach in the NE to bag one of a couple of ridges we’d yet to set foot on. Llanfrynach is a pretty place with the largest graveyard in the area and the only community run public toilets in Wales!
We were heading across to Cribyn and the Nant Sere valley to start with, more on that later
The first section takes you through woods by the side of the Nant Menasgin and its lovely, a mix of woodland, stream and grassy flower filled meadows. Interestingly they have diverted a tiny section of stream that runs parallel to the main stream before disappearing under a large farmhouse. The map shows a water feature behind the house so no idea whether it’s a private diversion or a water supply for the village. Interesting village is Llanfrynach
The route took us through grassy fields and quiet lanes before a somewhat tedious green lane, overgrown and oppressive with bracken, brambles and nettles delivered us to the lower slopes of Cribyn. Most people then head up the ridge as I’ve done many times but today I had a different agenda. After my swim the previous weekend I’ve become taken with the idea of wild swims on walks. As such I’ve the UK version of the well-known Wild Swimming series of books. Great read and some great new places to explore and get wet. Today I was off to explore the Nant Sere
Right on cue as we reached the water, the sun went in and the wind blew cold. Not to be deterred I went for a short and sharp swim in the pool below. Cold and refreshing but at least the water was clear rather than brown.
Further up the waterfalls and swimming pools were even better, none especially large or deep but enough for nice dip on a warm day. Well worth coming back for a picnic some time if summer ever arrives
TJS wasn’t keen on all this wild stream bashing without a path even though I was in my element. Reluctantly we bashed up a few hundred feet of steep grass back to the path.
As we climbed I noticed some pony trekkers enjoying the surroundings. It too me back to a gloriously sunny day back in the 70’s (yes I’m that old) when we took a trip from school to go Pony Trekking in the Brecons and I’m pretty sure we went up this valley. I still remember it now as a great day out. Strange to think that over 30 years on these hills would become my local stomping ground
The weather had really taken a turn though. The summits vanished into the clouds and drizzle filled the air. The NE ridge of Cribyn is brutally steep so we decided we’d give it a miss this time.
We took the faint path that contours under Cribyn and then climbed up to Fan y Big. We’d planned on taking the fine path that skirts the edges that overlook Cwm Oergwm but the weather was cold windy and damp so just headed off down the NE ridge of Fan y Big as the weather was looking most unpromising. Right on cue as we descended the weather stuck two fingers up at us and the sun came out again, bloody typical.
Still, I’ve never descended this ridge before and it was fine and peaceful walk, delivering us back to our route in across fields and down by the river back to the village. Just as well we cut it short, it was already a long enough day at 11 miles for an old bloke with dodgy knees!
TJS and TBF were away in London at Minecraft convention – sad – and TJF was at a cheerleading event so I had a few hours to myself for a solo walk. Always on the look out for somewhere new or a different angle on previous walk I headed to Craig y Cilau to take in the edges and then explore the moorland behind it.
I parked up at the eastern end and wandered through the old workings and spoil heaps now grassed over to form a mini-mountain range of their own and a really fascinating area to stroll through.
After a cloudy and stormy morning it had cleared into a gloriously sunny afternoon and the views across to the Black Mountains were superb.
The level mine track under the quarried and natural limestone edges is a pure pleasure and it’s another of those stunning areas that’s off the beaten track, little known and mostly deserted. I’ve visited here a couple of times but always in winter when the edges are in shadow. Last time was in December last year when we took in the top of the edges which were in sun. Today the sun was high enough to reach over the edges and bathe the path in sunshine.
Rather than drop down on the path to reach the far end I carried on along the mine track to take a look at Agen Allwedd, one of the longest/deepest caves in Britain. Disappointing as it turned out. The entrance is tiny and locked to protect the delicate life and cave features within. There was a faint track leading on so I followed it hoping it would traverse all the way to the far end. I was encouraged by the sight of someone coming the other way so it must lead somewhere.
It was a cracking path, quite distinct and a little precarious above the scree and steep slopes with sensational views. Then it entered some slightly denser woods and promptly vanished. I pushed on hoping it was a minor blip. It wasn’t. There followed half an hour of scrambling through nettles, brambles, boulders, and under/around/over countless fallen trees. I expected to come across Bear Grylls, machete in hand, feasting on a dead and rotting squirrel at any moment. I was relieved, hot, stung, scratched and grumpy by the time I finally emerged.
As I headed up onto the moors the world changed and could not have been different. Dense, sweaty, claustrophobic woods were replaced with expansive grassy moorland pocked with sink-holes.
My target was the lake of Pwll Gwy Rhoc but between me and it was a huge area of waving and perfectly flat grass, likely to be hiding squelchiness just below its verdant looking surface. In fact the going was relatively easy with just a few watery sections to cross before reaching the lake. I dread to think what it must be like in winter after a wet spell.
I’d targeted the lake for a particular reason. Although it’s a lovely spot in its own right I’d seen a blog write up over on Underground and Overground Adventures about a wild swim here in winter and fancied a bit of a refreshing dip on a hot day. Most of the shore is surrounded by bog but on the eastern side I found an easy spot to get in.
The water is extremely dark giving an initial impression that the water is deep. Once in however, the reason for the darkness becomes clear. The lake is just a peaty hollow with shallow water about 6-8 feet deep. The bottom is just oozing mud and the water the colour of strong tea! Still the water was clear and clean and just cold enough to be refreshing. I swam for about 5 minutes and it was great. I doubt many people ever see this lake so having my own private swimming pool was rather nice.
I celebrated with a brew before heading back across the moors to the edges. The short hike across enlivened by another watery dip, this time up to my knees in green stuff when I got too casual with my progress across the moors.
The views across from the edges were just as fine as I made my way back down.
I’d only been out 3 hours but it’s amazing what you can pack in to a short trip if you try hard enough and mix up good decisions with bad ones!
The annual summer backpacking trip for me, TBF and TJS is now a firm fixture in the calendar. We’ve done a couple of trips to the Moelwyns and one to fight with the tussocks in the Elan Valley. I had grand plans this year for a high level tour of the Carneddau but a poor weather forecast for Saturday night put pay to that idea. As Friday evening and Saturday sounded ok it seemed prudent to make good use of that rather than spend hours driving. To that end and with TJF safely in the care of my Mum and Dad we were to be found packing up just before 8pm on the lonely mountain road to the east of the Black Mountain. Our plan was to camp up at Llyn y Fan Fawr a short walk from the car and then take things from there
There were dark stormy clouds scudding across the summits fringed and illuminated by low shafts of sunlight, as we hurried up the boggy slopes to the tarn.
It’s a stunning lake nestled beneath the cliffs of Fan Brycheiniog.
There are plenty of reasonable pitches around the lake but I had my on a particular spot. In an idle few minutes before we left home, I’d done a You Tube search for wild camping spots in the Black Mountain and found a rather charming video of a young family camping on a small elevated grassy terrace just above the lakes NW corner. It was a perfect spot, flat and dry with a stunning view across the Lake. We had time to pitch up and take in the scene with a cuppa before turning in.
Next morning was pretty much unchanged weather-wise, dark clouds with occasional shafts of blue sky and sunshine. I tried to pretend that it was summer and that it was warm enough to breakfast outside the tent. I was alone. I took the sociable and sensible decision to fry up indoors and admire the view from the tent window.
The only downside of the lake is that it lacks a reliable source of running water. Time to try out a new investment, my Sawyer Mini-Works Water Filter. What an outstanding piece of kit. A filter about the size of a box of smarties and a small water pouch. Fill the pouch with water, screw in the filter, squeeze and you have clean clear water. It weighs next to nothing and the screw top fits most plastic drinks bottles and it also has a straw for sucking water out of manky pools. To be honest I had no issue with drinking the water straight from the lake – it’s large, deep and clear but no sense in having toys and not playing with them. I’ve seen several glowing reviews including a couple of wins in a “gear of the year” type of thing when up against more glamorous and expensive bits of kit. Its well deserved at only £20. It lives in my rucksack now so I can always get a drink as long as there is standing water somewhere which in the UK is not hard. Apart from the fact it takes a while to filter water for 3 people I can’t fault it. Well worth a purchase and carrying one around in the mountains if you’re out of water or have worries about your water source
Back to the main order of the day. TBF was keen to stay and certainly it was a fine spot. However both TJS and me wanted a proper backpack so we packed up and pressed on. With a forecast of improving weather later in the day we took the path that skirts under the cliffs of Fan Brycheiniog, Fan Foel and Bannau Sir Gaer around to Lyn y Fan Fach.
It’s one of my favourite walks, easy-going grassy paths with expansive views to the east and north, looming grassy crags above and glimpses of these two jewelled tarns at either end. Blue sky became more prevalent and despite having a mammoth breakfast TJS insisted we needed a lunch stop at the lake despite having not climbed anything and only been walking for a little over an hour.
Still plentiful stops on a walk is a good thing and despite the occasional spots of rain the weather seemed set fair. The short steep climb up to the edges seemed a breeze as both me and TJS savoured the light packs – light when compared to the outsize packs we hauled into Lochaber over Easter anyway
The walk along the edges and back to the summit of Bannau Sir Gaer is a delight, Lyn y Fan Fach glistening below. It was windy – as it seems to have been all year – but the sun was warm but the effort to reach the summit seemed minimal.
From there we decided that rather than take in the rest of the edges we’d head south to find a spot to camp. Relaxation in fine surroundings is as important as clocking up miles and summits after all. When I explored this area a couple of years back with TJS we’d passed through the limestone area around Pwll y Cig. Not only did it look fascinating there also seemed to be littered with great wild camping spots albeit with limited water as the stream disappears into the limestone holes beneath. We carved a route across Carnau Gwys and down to the Afon Gledd.
I’d also thought that we might pitch up by the river before it vanished. This seemed unlikely as most of the ground by the water had been claimed by tussocks. Then as if by magic we came to one spot with level lush grass and wild flowers and we’d found our home.
Wraps and tea energised us for making the place home, this time with cold running water.
To work up an appetite for tea we took a stroll downstream to explore Pwll y Cig and the surrounding hills. Right on cue the water slowly runs to a trickle and then disappears into a chaos of stones. The valley beyond twists and turns through a shallow limestone gorge, a perfect dry valley. The grassy patches between the bends are all perfect for wild camping except for the fact that there is just a river of stones instead of a river of water. It’s really quite surreal.
I’d say that water was flowing through here relatively recently (in geological terms anyway). As you reach the end you realise the valley is blind with nowhere for the water to have gone. Except underground that is. You can clearly see the hole where the water would have gone. You tend to forget until you walk these hills that there is a very significant swathe of limestone upland in South Wales, home to very significant cave systems.
We then walked through a land pocked with sink holes on the climb towards Disgwylfa. It looks like the whole area is about to collapse and reveal some huge hidden cavern just below the surface. Luckily not today and we arrived at the summit without further incident.
The views from the top were magnificent revealing an expanse of wild, untamed land that must see few footprints. It’s superb and well worth a wander if you like your walks quiet with a sense of space rather than epic grandeur.
Back to the tent for a lazy meal and the general pottering about that I love about a camping spot in the mountains. There is a peace and simplicity to this kind of life that’s hard to beat although secretly, a cold bottle of Becks would make it perfect. We stayed up late to watch the last of the evening light conscious that there was bad weather on the way.
Overnight it arrived, heavy rain and strong winds that battered the tent so we enjoyed a snug and cosy lie in (except for the inevitable comfort breaks in the rain that come with middle age for me and TBF).
We stayed in as long as we could but eventually we had to pack up as we had a couple of hours to walk out and to be honest I was a bit worried about finding the col seeing as we were already in the cloud. As I started throwing stuff out the tent door the rain stopped and within 30 minutes the cloud had lifted and patches of blue were appearing. Perfect timing.
The clearer skies and scudding clouds were a real surprise and after an hour of walking there was abundant sunshine
Rather than just walk out over the col I convinced the other two that a bit of off piste to pick up the far end of the Fan Hir edge would make a much more satisfying finish to the day. TBF is not a big fan of off piste with a pack. Being somewhat vertically challenged she often loses her balance so prefers paths to tusssocks (don’t we all).
Still the long edge is a superb and easy stroll and it did indeed make for a fitting finale to the weekend.
It was especially pleasing to finish with views down over our first night’s stay to Llyn y Fan Fawr, now firmly established as my favourite lake in the UK. Under a clear blue sky it has a magic and perfection that’s beyond enchanting.
I’ve had so many good times in its company and it bade us farewell as we lunched above its shores before heading back to the car. 15 miles of proper backpacking under our hip-belts
A fine weekend in a range of mountains that rewards the dedicated walker and backpacker with majestic edges and austere charm.
In a bout of foolishness I decided to take the family cycling. Anybody who knows me is aware that I’m not terribly fond of cycling. For a start I don’t much like bikes, they are the work of satan if you ask me, always in constant need of attention and an array of squeaks and squeels no matter how much you try to stop them. I have my kids for that, I don’t need it from mechanical contraptions. I’m not really built for cycling either being short of leg and wide of girth. Despite all this cycling is at least something that I thought we could all take some pleasure from seeing as TJF hates walking.
Somewhere without any big hills seemed in order and as it was windy some trees would be nice. Forest of Dean fits that particular bill with its family cycleway using some of the old coal mining rail routes.
In fact it was rather nice. The sun came out the cycling was easy and we found a nice open sunny glade for a picnic.
All was going well until on the only major downhill section TJS got rather over-excited, went too fast and fell off. He seemed fine until I pointed out a large hole in his trousers only partly covering a nasty graze on his rump. The sight of blood turned him a fetching greyish-white colour and his cycling was over. He walked back while I went and fetched the car.
Put a bit of damper on the day but it was different and enjoyable in its way but I still prefer my feet to wheels unless those wheels come in groups of four with a enclosed body and roof, aircon and a a stereo :)