Arans – time to go back   8 comments

Before we begin, let me take you back to a Sunday in November of 1983. I was a mere 18 and in my formative outdoor years, carrying a canvas rucksack and full of youthful enthusiasm. We’d been on a university club trip to the youth hostel at Corris. It was grey and wet day but we decided to try the Arans ridge. In those days the only access was from the North or South so the only option was a full traverse. We climbed the lower slopes in the rain but as we reached the upper slopes it stopped and a tiny patch of blue sky appeared. “Excellent” I shouted it’s going to clear up and be nice. Within seconds it was raining even heavier than before and continued without cessation until we got back to coach in the dark some 8 hours later. J was on the walk with us and I spent most of day desperately encouraging her to carry on through the rain and tears. We weren’t a couple in those days so god knows why she has been my partner for some 27 years. In all of the hundreds of days on the hills I’ve had since this still remains one of the worst days of weather I’ve ever been out in. Morals of this story are:

1. Mountain clouds do not have silver linings

2. A truly awful day in the Arans is no substitute for a romantic meal

And we’re back in the room! I tried a couple of further attempts at the Arans a few years after that one but without much success so they have been high on my wish list over the last couple of years. I got an early start and headed to Cwm Cywarch to try out what my guide-book reckoned was one of the classic Aran routes. It was a stunning clear morning and the view into Cwm Cywarch was awesome enough for me stop the car and jump out for a photo. It’s completely hidden from the main roads and it’s an absolute gem.

Cwm Cywarch

Cwm Cywarch

I was the only car in the car park and I was underway before 9am. The crags of Craig Cywarch are magnificent and the path climbs up a stunning picture-perfect valley with a babbling stream.

Upper reaches of Cwm Cywarch

I needed to back early as J was going out but it was too gorgeous not to pause by the stream for a drink and a pause while I had the valley to myself. Once up the Rhydymain col, the climb up to Glascwm looked inviting I hoped to get some good views towards the coast. The views were good but it was a steep climb of 800 feet to the top. There is small tarn, Llyn y Fign right on the summit and it would be a superb summit campsite. The views out to Cadair Idris, the Rhinogs, Snowdon, the Arenigs and the Arans under a clear blue sky were sensational.

Cadair Idris and Llyn y Fign from Glascwm

Dovey Hills and Llyn y Fign from Glascwm

Arans from Glascwm

Conscious of the time I pressed on returned to collect my sack and then took off across some of the deepest heather and tussocks it’s ever been my misfortune to encounter. Although the Arans have now been opened up for access, much of the terrain is still incredibly wild with few well-defined paths. I was heading for Gwaun y Llwyni as my book said the views were great. I wasn’t disappointed especially with the eagle ey view over Cwm Cywarch.

Cwm Cywarch

After battling through the vegetation I was pleased to pick up a faint path on the ridge that I followed all the may round (pausing for lunch on the summit) to the cairn at Drws Bach that commemorates an RAF airman who died walking in the area. From there the path continues as the ground becomes increasingly rocky up on to the summit ridge of Aran Fawddwy and across to the summit perched above the lake of Craiglyn Dyfi.

Aran Fawddwy summit ridge looking North

Aran Fawddwy summit ridge looking South

At 907m it’s the highest point in Wales outside the main Snowdonia massif. another 7 or so metres would make climbing the Welsh 3000’s a distinctly harder task. I saw my first people of the day and found a quiet spot in the sun to relax for an hour. The cloud had bubbled up but there was still plenty of sunshine and the views were still out of the top drawer. I had thought about an out and back to the other main summit Aran Benllyn  (the one named after the famous brand of cough medicine) but I wasn’t sure I had time and it was nice to just to sit in my own world on the top.

Aran Benllyn from Aran Fawddwy

Sitting on the summit is one of the joys of hiking and mountaineering and I don’t subscribe to the route-march approach. I’ll happily sacrifice that extra peak or valley for a long lunch in the sun. Still the time was pressing and I headed back the way I’d come towards Drws Bach and Drysgol and down towards the Hengwm valley.

Aran Fawddwy, Aran Benllyn and Creiglyn Dyfi from Drysgol

I had a half a mind to walk along the next ridge to Pen yr Allt Uchaf but it would have a seriously steep descent directly down or re-trace my steps to the head of Hengwm. I decided to save it for another day. Hengwn is a stunning grass valley with the most perfect descent path I’ve yet found. It traverses steadily and in a direct line all most of the way back to Cwm Cywarch. I stopped for a break halfway down to admire the rim of the corrie bounded by Gwaun y Llwyni and Drws Bach where I walked in the morning.


As neared the bottom Craig Cywarch came into full view and with the clouds breaking again and the sun out it was a fine finish to a cracking day.

Craig Cywarch

9.3 miles and 4000 feet of ascent was quite a trek and I was pleased I’d completed it about 7 hours including my sunbathing stops.

Next time I’ll try the northern circuit to take in Aran Benllyn but there are plenty of other great looking routes. As Arnie once said –  I’ll be back (in the divorce courts). Flickr photos here or you can look through the slide show below

8 responses to “Arans – time to go back

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  1. Like the ancient history and the trip report. I’ve never walked these (as you probably know) and I obviously need to remedy that omission – they look stunning. I thought you were going to have company? (4000′ and 9.3 miles in 7 hours – its probably a good job I wasn’t free after all!) I like the music on the slide show too.
    Nice post wayfaring stranger!


    • I had to get back home for 5 so it was very early start, quick walk and early finish. I would loved to have spent an extra 2-3 hours over the walk – as you can see the weather was stunning. We DEFINITELY need an impromptu weekend down this way next year. There are loads of of routes/hills I want to try in mid-Wales as well as repeating this one. They are so much quieter than the main Snowdonia range. The Berwyns is probably on the limit for what’s feasible as a day trip for you. You have Eric Bibb amongst all that music I gave you.


  2. Sounds like a good idea – not easy for Sally and George to get there but it’s a great area and certainly cheaper than the Lakes. Much shorter drive for yours truly as well


  3. Well this is a completely new area for me, Andy. I’ve been to Snowdonia a couple of times in the past five years, and the Brecon Beacons once, but the rest of Wales is a complete mystery to me. I hadn’t actually heard of the Arans before, but the photos look cracking and the quiet hillside appeals. Nice one.


    • Hi John. Other than the main Snowdonia massif, Cadair Idris and Pen-y-Fan, almost all the Welsh Mountains are pretty quiet and like the Arans, excellent mountains. I have one of the general Cicerone guides to Wales so I have loads of routes to try. If you look under my Wales categories you’ll find loads of my local routes in south Wales and couple further north. I like to think of myself as a bit of a South wales guru these days! Glad you enjoyed the post!


  4. Hello Andy, great site and an excellent post. Some fine pics to boot. I’ve friends living near Llanfyllin so I’ll take the opportunity to visit the Arans when we’re next visiting, think I’ll try your route out for size. I’ll enjoy perusing surfnslide at length in the coming days.


  5. Hi Pete. Glad you liked the write-up. It was a magnificent day – considering the day was so good these major hills are quiet and unspoilt. So much Wales to see, so little time. Life is so unfair!


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