A Short Burst of Sunshine – Arthurs Stone   5 comments

A couple of weeks back and another weekend of what seemed like endless drizzle and showers.

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I always head out each weekend, regardless of conditions to enjoy the fresh air and I’m learning to love/like/tolerate walking in the rain to make sure we treasure that outdoor time. The first part of this walk was pretty grim. Heavy, cold rain such that I had to shelter behind a tree for some respite from it. As we neared the car the rain stopped and the tentative strands of blue sky suddenly broadened into a quite glorious 30 minutes of sunshine.

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Its hard to imagine from these photos just how nasty it was 10 minutes earlier.

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The low angled sun and some dark brooding clouds made for some gorgeous images.

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Green stuff growing in the fields.

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Brown stuff – also known as leaves – on the trees.

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Merbach Hill was one of our go-to places in our early days living in Herefordshire but we always parked near the road end. That was until I got my car stuck in the mud and had to get towed out by the local farmer. This year with the travel restrictions from COVID we rediscovered it and realised that the walk down the lane from a much better parking place was quite pleasant.

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This parking spot is at Arthurs Stone. We never really explored it until this year and its an interesting spot and a fine viewpoint.

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Its actually a Neolithic burial mound but as we all know, good old Arthur on his many travels obviously stopped off here. Where did he find the time.

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The conditions made for some fine photo opportunities.

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Stormy clouds.

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Mysterious stones.

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The lesson is that there is always a chance of fleeting moments of quality on the wettest of winter days. Not always of course – plenty of ceaseless soakings in the memory bank – but enough to make you head out even when the day looks bleak.

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Posted November 26, 2020 by surfnslide in herefordshire, Local Walks, Walking

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A Tale of n Hills – Wapley Hill   10 comments

Probably should have thought more about the titles for last couple of posts. With another lockdown in place and Wales out of bounds again, hills will be the focus of my outdoor activity for a while rather than mountains. Wapley Hill was one I discovered a few years back when looking at Marilyns.

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Its a fine little wooded hill with a old ditch and rampart settlement on the top. On my previous visit it was in glorious autumnal garb but we missed it by a week or so this time.

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The weekend had promised some better weather but in truth it turned out less than hoped. This day was rather dull and grey and the next, another day of ceaseless drizzle.

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Nice to get out for some fresh air and a stretch of the legs though.

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Looking out to Shobdon Hill, the next Marilyn along.

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Some of the paths are a little overgrown even though its the “Herefordshire Way”. If you ever plan to walk it, be warned that as well as being poorly maintained its also poorly signed.

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Posted November 21, 2020 by surfnslide in herefordshire, Local Walks, Walking

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A Tale of Two Hills – Coppet Hill   13 comments

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Second weekend day of grey skies and rain, second hill to climb.

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A return to a walk I did many times while TJF was with her acting group in Goodrich Village Hall. A variation by the following the usual route the other way, first following the River Wye and then climbing Coppet Hill. Dictated by the fact it was chucking it down when we set off.

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Despite another poor forecast we actually had some very watery sunshine and it was quite a pleasant stroll along the river and very quiet.

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The river was running very high after several days rain but the fields wre not too muddy.

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Over the top of Coppet Hill the clouds drew back in and the rain started again so not a day for summit photos.

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Another walk I was glad I made the effort for. You have to take whatever chances you can to enjoy a walk in these troubled times.

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Posted November 10, 2020 by surfnslide in Walking, Wye Valley

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A Tale of Two Hills – Aconbury Hill   16 comments

Not a terribly good weekend for the outdoor life – at least that’s what the forecast seemed to tell me. In the end the weather wasn’t anything like as apocalyptically bad as it said. Probably could have done a decent longer walk. Still managed a couple of short walks to make sure we didn’t go stir crazy.

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First up, Aconbury Hill. Discovered whilst looking at Hill Lists and a very good discovery it was. Only 15 mins drive, handy car park and a nice woodland walk, all good when there are heavy showers and strong winds about.

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The autumn colours were still in evidence as were plenty of chestnuts on the ground. A few collected to put in a stew later in the week.

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The skies looked dark and threatening but I escaped without getting wet and saw plenty of sunshine through the trees.

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Some decent views through the trees over the Shire.

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And a fine rainbow to finish off the day. Only just noticed when looking closely that it was a double rainbow.

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Forecast looking better for the coming weekend. Time to head further afield and sample the wider delights of the UK countryside. Oh, hang on…… 😥

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Posted November 3, 2020 by surfnslide in herefordshire, Local Walks, Walking

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Rain!   16 comments

Last weekend was appalling weather-wise. Saturday was grey, wet and dreary. Sunday a day of heavy showers no more than a few minutes apart. I tried to head out into one of the gaps for a stroll on Garway Hill. Sadly I got my timing wrong. As I set off this was rapidly heading my way.

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This was the weather window I was trying to catch, vanishing into the distance.

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I managed about 15 minutes of these views and staying dry before the first drops of rain fell.

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Then the heavens opened and I got a real soaking.

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In these uncertain and restricted times I’ve learnt to enjoy any time outdoors regardless of conditions. You never know when events will take it away again.

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So I enjoyed my walk and tried to look at the rain as TBF always says as “refreshing”.

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It had pretty much stopped by the time I got back to the car. Even though I was soaked through and had to put something on the car seats to stop my soaked trousers sharing their water, I was glad I made the effort. Looks like I’ll need that same positive outlook for the next few days as well. Looking pretty wet!

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Posted October 28, 2020 by surfnslide in Uncategorized

The Forgotten Hills of Mid-Wales   18 comments

Last weekend and I was on my own and a chance for a walk. I was after somewhere a bit different, perhaps a new area. Definitely in Wales as another lockdown there seemed imminent.

There is clutch of wild land north of the Brecon Beacons that I’ve seen on maps and from a distance that had some summits on my hill lists. A bit of research and I had a vague plan. I parked up at the small lake of Llynheilyn, no-one around and headed into the hills.

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The first couple of miles was on a broad grassy path traversing high above the rolling hills and farmland of this lonely corner of Wales. It was grey and overcast day, not great for photos, a sort of washed out feel. It was calm and dry and I had the hills to myself so no complaints. It was incredibly quiet and peaceful and a good day for just stretching out and covering some miles in my own head-space.

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Ahead was my main target, Gwaunceste Hill. The highest point in this corner and a new Marilyn in my quest.

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These are The Four Stones, part of some old burial ground. There were actually five stones but who’s counting – me obviously.

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Onwards to try and find the best way to the top. There wasn’t a path marked to the summit itself and the deep heather and gorse didn’t look very inviting for a direct off-piste attempt.

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Views to the distant Brecon Beacons.

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A sort of spiralling route got me to the top. Sitting in vast expanse of pathless heather moorland its one of the loneliest spots I’ve been to for a while. The grey skies and quiet windless day made it feel all the more isolated.

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I paused to check the map to see where I might head next. I took off south hoping to find some paths to take me east towards the next large sprawling mass of moorland, Llanfihangel Hill.

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I threaded together a few unmarked tracks till I was overlooking the Cwmceste Vally. It was all rather pleasant in a very undemanding way.

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I followed the rights of way down to the bottom and headed up the valley to the Access Land, where I hoped I could pick up some paths to the next tops.

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More unmapped paths took me easily up to the top and the maze of tracks that wander around on Llanfihangel Hill.

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The summit was almost indistinguishable from the rest of the landscape. Another lonely and isolated spot that must see very few visitors.

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Looking into the Radnorshire and West Herefordshire hills.

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I wandered about in no particular hurry or direction looking for a spot for lunch. The summit (if you can call it that) of Caety Traylow was marginally more pronounced and just below I found a fine spot overlooking a broad, nameless valley and settled down for break. Just like last weekend all was peaceful solitude until the inevitable buzzing of trail bikes. They broke that wonderful silence for pretty much the whole time I was sat there trying to enjoy this wild and lonely spot.

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I headed down, thankful that peace had returned. My only obstacle an electric fence strung out across a right of way with no way to cross it. I had lie on my back and roll myself under it. Ironic that the fixing points were just below the path signs!

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I picked up a fine path through the long valley and then up and over a small hill on my way back to the car.

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Llynheilyn came into view and this was the best portion of the walk. The rolling green hills of Radnorshire looked very fine even under a grey sky.

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The lake itself was wonderfully quiet, rippled only by the wakes of various waterfowl.

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A very nice way to finish an exploratory walk. I enjoyed the small scale challenge of threading together a route in an area that doesn’t appear in guidebooks or online. It’s a walk I’d be more than happy to repeat.

I hadn’t seen a single person walking all day. As I arrived at the car I chatted to a nice couple of ladies who been out horse riding through pretty much the same route as I’d just done. I was surprised I hadn’t seen them. In these times with images of crowded summits and car parks it does prove that with a little research you can still find untouched areas with their own quintessential charm.

And I’ve now reached that rare position of being up to date with the blog. Not sure what the next few weeks will hold as lockdowns again become common. Possibly more retro posts from the past if I have time and inclination.

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The Forest Without Trees   10 comments

Another weekend and much better weather. Cool and breezy with showers normally delivers some great views, cloud effects and sunny spells so it was off to the Brecon Beacons (before talk of more lockdowns might prevent us). Keen to stay away from the crowds on the central part of the range we headed for the peaks of Fforest Fawr just to the east. Named after an old hunting forest, the trees have long since gone.

The route starts with a long traverse across the base of the cliffs of Craig Cerrig Gleisiad.

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A fine start to the day with grand views towards Brecon.

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And over to the central peaks of the Beacons, here looking moody and magnificent.

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Turning back south the views over the pastures and hills of mid-Wales open up

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And back towards Herefordshire, Shropshire and the Black Mountains.

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The threat of showers seemed to be diminishing and it was turning into a rather gorgeous sunny day.

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On to the summit of Fan Frynach.

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We stopped for an early lunch (for TBF mainly, I’d had a big breakfast)

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Cracking views and hardly anyone about. Perfect peace and quiet. Until……

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The new plague of the mountains – trail bikes – arrived. Around ten of the buggers noisily buzzing their way around the hills, churning up paths, and stinking the place out with fumes. We took a narrower path to keep a bit of distance. They were halted by a locked gate. We were close enough to hear their discussion, seriously considering taking the gate off its hinges so they could get through! That’s the senseless and selfish attitude they have. Fortunately they seemed to think better of it and returned the way they had come. These things are becoming a real problem in South Wales such that it’s rare to take a walk down here without them these days. Not sure what can be done if anything. I head to the hills to escape from the noise and fumes of everyday life. It saddens and angers me in equal measure.

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Let’s get back to enjoying the walk. Onwards and across a fairly soggy stretch towards the highest summit in Fforest Fawr, Fan Fawr.

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It’s a steep but short off piste bash up to the top but the views were superb with abundant blue sky and clear air that comes with showery weather.

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Looking across to the Black Mountain.

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And Corn Du.

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We found a nice sheltered spot for second lunch and a brew, tucked under the edge near the summit. Another stop somewhat spoiled as the trail bikes returned.

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A very steep drop down to Storey Arms. Steep enough for me to slip over and realise the easiest way down was a bum-slide!

To return to the car involves a very quiet and pleasant stroll along the Taff trail and then a steep climb back up to the road. As we crossed the river we were treated to a gorgeous clear patch of blue sky and sunshine.

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It made the final uphill push a little more bearable

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The autumn colours really starting to put on a show.

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And I’m always a fan of an autumn tree silhouette shot.

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One of my favourite Beacons walks.

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Back to Garway Hill   7 comments

After plentiful sunshine at the end of September the move into October told us to get real and get used to rain. The weekend after our wonderful day out in Roaches was dreadful. It rained pretty much non-stop from Friday morning through to Sunday Morning and it looked like another walk would have to wait. As afternoon was ending the skies started to clear and it looked worth heading out.

Garway Hill was the obvious choice with its high car park.

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By the time I set off the weather had improved significantly with even some blue sky and watery sunshine. This is Graig Syfyrddin, the hill with not enough vowels.

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I followed my usual short route across the eastern flank to the ridge and up top the top with its strange wall-enclosed structure.

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To the north into Shropshire the weather was actually looking pretty decent. If I’d realised, we could have probably got a decent day walk in, up that way.

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Looking out over Gloucestershire, May Hill with its small woodland patch prominent in the middle of the photo.

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Ysgyryd Fawr and the Sugar Loaf.

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The rolling fields and orchards of Herefordshire

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Moody skies.

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And the more cheery blue variety.

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I was enjoying being out having been cooped up in the house for a few days so I went back to the top again on my way to the car.

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A view to the Malverns on the skyline.

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And the local ponies sending me on my way.

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I was expecting gloomy skies and nothing more than some fresh air. Turned out to be a pretty decent walk. Glad I made the effort.

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Indian Summer – The Roaches and Ramshaw Rocks   6 comments

The last of these “Indian Summer” posts. This one goes back a couple of weekends after which the weather has been more normal i.e. largely grey and wet.

We again met up with friends for a walk and settled on The Roaches as a place we all know well, with great walks and easy to get to. Another glorious day, a little chillier than previous walks but once we were out of the breeze, pleasantly warm. We’d planned an early start (just after 9 – its over two hours from home) and just as well – car parking was full shortly after.

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Gorgeous clear morning with expansive views.

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We picked our way through the lower and upper tier of crags, some scrambling required in places by sticking close to the edges.

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The sandstone rock looking very fetching the clear autumn sun.

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Happy hikers enjoying a fine day out.

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Up onto the edge from where the walk is easier and a joy to follow the edges. The Dark Peak edges are a fine place to spend an autumn day.

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This is the Doxey Pool near the summit.

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Having been up since 6:30 and no breakfast it was time for an early lunch and brew. A chilly morning but pleasantly warm, sheltered from the breeze.

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Onwards along the edge…

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And to the summit rocks.

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Even though it was less than an hour after first lunch we decided it was time for second lunch! We found a spot completely sheltered and it was wonderfully warm and sunny, almost summer-like. We stopped for a good while enjoying good company, something lacking in this terrible year.

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We cut back down into the Dane Valley, opting to miss out the muddy dark hole that is Luds Church in favour of the sunshine.

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We managed to construct a rather fine route (with the odd soggy bit) heading across the fields and moorlands towards an un-named edge near the Black Brook Nature Reserve. These are Gib Torr Rocks.

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This fine specimen of rock is also un-named but it made for a great afternoon tea-stop.

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The views across the western White Peak towards Shutlingsloe were superb.

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This rather quiet and unprepossessing section was a delight. A braod grassy path studded with rocky outcrops.

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We were heading for Ramshaw Rocks by way of return to the cars. We walked this way a couple of years ago on a truly wet and miserable day and saw almost nothing of them and I was keen to see them properly this time around.

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They are superb. The edge is less pronounced but the rock has been eroded into wonderful shapes that were perfectly lit by the afternoon sun.

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Looking across to the main Roaches edge.

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And down over Ramshaw Rocks.

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When I lived up this way about 20 years ago it was before the right to roam acts and they were on private land. I always wanted to see them while I was walking the Roaches and seeing them up close was a delayed pleasure.

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I was in my element scrambling to the top of the various outcrops. I was getting looks from some members of the party who were late for a sunday roast so we had to press on.

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We arrived back at the col between The Roaches and Hen Cloud. We were all parked up in different spots so we said our goodbyes (who knows now for how long) and headed home.

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Hen Cloud.

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The Roaches

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Across to a distant Ramshaw Rocks.

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And last lingering looks to Hen Cloud and The Roaches from the road to the car.

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It was a long day with a 2.5 hour return drive and over 11 miles of walking. Worth every mile and hour on such a superb day. I hope we can find a way to continue to meet up like this but with many of my friends living in the north and now effectively under a new lockdown then who knows if we will be able to. For now I can take some solace from the fact that where I live seems currently to be coping better for whatever reason and I can still head for my own local hills. I like a solo walk but there is nothing better than sharing a great day with like minded friends of long-standing.

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Indian Summer – Rhinogs Mountains and Lakes   18 comments

The gorgeous late summer, early autumn weather continued. A minor glitch with my contract at work gave me an excuse for a day off to make the best of what looked like the last day of warm weather. Up early and away before 7am on my way to Snowdonia. First up, breakfast in a nice picnic area overlooking Llyn Clwyedog.

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My target for the day, the Rhinogs. The weather was clear and under a blue sky I thought its collection of small tarns would make for a great day and possibly a final wild swim of the year. Parking up on the east side ay Graigddu Isaf, Rhinog Fawr dominated the view.

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An easy start through the forests, the path seems to have been improved significantly since my last visit when it was very wet and soggy.

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Past the pleasant waterfall of Pistyll Gwyn.

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And out into the wilds of the Rhinogs.

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For reasons that I’m not sure of, this part of the range has never been farmed or grazed. The result is a complex terrain of rock and boulders, studded with small blue, clear tarns and smothered in deep heather.

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It’s stunningly beautiful but that terrain makes it tough going. Paths are plentiful but thin, difficult to follow and extremely rough. As I approached the pass at Bwlch Tyddiad, I ventured off into the wilder heart of these strange and impressive mountains.

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Suddenly, the first of these tarns comes into view, Llyn Du. Its a magical spot. The water crystal clear and surrounded by rock.

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It would be a superb place to camp if only you could find a flat, dry spot. Trouble is, that’s very hard to find in the Rhinogs.

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There are a couple of options from here to the summit of Rhinog Fawr, both steep and both very rough. I traversed around the shore including a delicate scramble across the slabs in the photo below. It was still early and I wasn’t ready for a swim just yet.

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There are thin sheep tracks all over the place and by linking these together you can make slow steady progress through the complex terrain. Needless to say I would not want to try navigating my way around here in the mist. Looking down on Llyn Du.

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North towards the Glaslyn estuary and Snowdonia.

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North over the even wilder section of the range, a few sheep for company.

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The final section crosses some very steep scree and for a few minutes its quite loose and hard work. Eventually after what seems like a really tough climb you emerge on the spacious summit of Rhinog Fawr.

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On a weekday it was completely deserted and even though I stopped for a long lunch and a brew I had the whole place to myself.

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Looking across to my next target, Rhinog Fach with Llyn Hywel just glinting in the sun.

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The summits are the only easy places to camp and it’s a long held ambition of mine to do just that. Hauling a heavy pack including water up here would be a tough ask though.

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Looking east to the Berwyns and Arans.

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I’ve stressed how tough the Rhinogs are and this is where it really kicks in. The route between Rhinog Fawr and Rhinog Fach is one of the toughest sections of walking outside of Scotland. A thousand feet down and then and another thousand back up in less than 2 miles as the crow flies. The path that descends Rhinog Fawr is steep, rocky and very hard to follow, disappearing into huge blocks of scree several times. Its a case of watching your feet all the way and picking your way down.

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It’s something of a relief to reach the bottom at Bwlch Drws Ardudwy. That is, until you realise the ascent back up is even steeper. Its pretty much a direct line straight up the left hand depression in the photo below.

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It was a long hot climb. It’s mentally tiring as much as anything as you have to constantly watch your feet on the rocky path and keep an eye on where the path goes. Having the OS Maps App is a great help here in pinpointing your exact location (I do of course carry a paper map and compass, never rely on technology!).

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Of course the rewards are the sensational views and what the Rhinogs lack in height (only around 700m) they more than make up for in spectacular landscapes and coastal views. Hence the broad selfie smile as I enjoyed yet another summit all to myself.

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Although the smaller of the two Rhinogs, Fach is even more precipitous and as the jewel in its crown it cradles the magnificent tarn of Llyn Hywel. I was anxious to see it up close and maybe take a swim.

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Its even more spectacular close up, almost the perfect mountain tarn. Enclosed by the dramatic cliffs of Y Llethr and Rhinog Fach with huge slabs of rock dropping directly into its depths.

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Down by the lakeshore I stopped to chat to a very friendly group of ladies sunbathing and enjoying the mountains. They were the first and only people I met all day. They had been swimming and I was now keen to take a plunge myself.

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I’d spotted some rocks over on the far side that still seemed to be catching the sun and I hoped out of the breeze. A short scramble across the rocks and it was the perfect spot. I changed and climbed in the water. Man, was it cold. I dared not swim too far away from shore as the cold was making my muscles ache. It was absolutely stunning though and so glad I took a dip. I even managed a couple of jumps from the rocks (the DBs would love this spot, if not the effort to get here)

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I’d earned another feed and another hot cuppa to warm myself up whilst lying back on the warm rock and feeling pretty good.

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I spent quite a while here and really fell in love with this wild and amazing lake.

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It would not look out of place in certain parts of the Alps or Pyrenees.

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Sadly, I had to move on as I still had a fair walk back to the car.

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A chance to enjoy more dramatic vistas.

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And another selfie to mark the moment. I have a love of Llyn y Fan Fawr in the Black Mountain and always note it as my favourite mountain tarn. Llyn Hywel has knocked it off that illustrious perch.

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A final view of Rhinog Fach.

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My return route followed another fine if thin path around the western flanks of Rhinog Fach and past another small tarn, Llyn Cwmhosan.

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It was partially dried up and nothing like as impressive as the other two tarns on my round.

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The route took me back through Bwlch Drws Ardudwy from a different direction.

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Effectively making a figure of eight route. At the col I took a better photo of my route of ascent up Rhinog Fach, the dark line below. It still doesn’t convey just how steep it was.

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All that remained was to walk out through the pass and then back along the forest tracks to the car.

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A final lingering shot of the sun going down behind these two, tough but rewarding mountains.

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Only 8 miles but it packs in over 3000 feet of ascent and feels like a really tough day.

But with views like this, well……

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