Archive for November 2011

Up to date at last   10 comments

The Jones family tend to get out and about a lot in the summer so naturally my activities outpaced my ability to keep up with the blog. Consequently I was WAY behind on my blog by the time I returned from summer holidays and I’ve spent every waking moment – well not EVERY one – trying to catch up and now I’ve done it. Surfnslide is now fully up to date. God knows if I’d ever have caught up if my employer hadn’t relieved me of most of my duties so be thankful for small mercies.

Mind you I’m sneaking off for a long weekend with a couple of pals tomorrow. Stopping off for a day out on the eastern edges of the Peak District tomorrow followed by a day’s caving with GM on Friday, watch Man City at home (and a Rusholme curry) on Saturday and a day in the Lakes on Sunday. Lots more blogging to catch up next weekend then. Mind you it’s nearly 11pm, I haven’t packed yet and it’s pishing with rain. B*llocks

I know you’ll all suffer without a dose of my ramblings and photos so here’s a few photos from a couple of family rambles to Merbach Hill and around Longtown. I’ve blogged these before so just click the links if you want some background to both

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Hatterall Hill from Longtown

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North towards Cats Back ridge

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Cats Back ridge

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Clodock Church

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By the Monnow river

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Storm clouds over Merbach Hill

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Jane and D trying not to look cold

Till next week………….

Posted November 30, 2011 by surfnslide in Local Walks, Walking

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Radnor Forest – What’s in a name?   18 comments

Regular readers will know that I’m on a bit of a quest to discover some new walking areas and the quieter side of mountain life. Aiding me in this quest are the “Hillwalking in Wales” guides by Peter Hernon and the second volume made reference to the Radnor Forest. I’ve driven past this area on the A44 numerous times on my way to the coast and the northern hills without ever giving them a second glance. It was time to check them out.

The previous day had been my grumpy walk in the Brecon Beacons so I wasn’t desperately keen to go out. However I’d promised Jane a day out in the hills and the weather did look ok. We’d chosen a horseshoe around Harley Dingle taking in the two main summits. As you’ll see some of the places have lovely evocative names hence the title of the post. (by the way even I’m not able to steer a perfectly straight line across the summit of Black Mixen – I’d forgotten to turn my GPS tracker on my phone back on after lunch)


Radnor Forest Route Map - 8 miles, 2000 feet of ascent

We parked up in the sleepy village of New Radnor and started up Mutton Dingle. The first part of the walk to the forest is up a punishingly steep road although as the views were expansive and there is no traffic it was no real problem. It would be a nice walk in spring when the hedgerows would be splashed with the colour of new growth.

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Mutton Dingle

Right at the top of the road there is a small parking area that would be really handy for a short out and back walk to avoid the road. As the route turns north along the side of the forest it turns into green path with views to the west over Harley Dingle and beyond. I don’t know why but I love these green grassy paths, probably that bright natural vivid green colour.

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Hardy tree

We even got buzzed by a low flying helicopter which appeared to be from the electricity board, checking on their power lines I suppose. And there was me wondering why my electric bills were so high….

I can safely say I was in a much better mood and Jane was thoroughly enjoying being out. Only downside is it was terrifically windy and would stay that way all day. As you reach the edge of the trees the little mini mountain of Whimble suddenly rears up ahead of you. There is no indication that it’s there until you round the corner of the path.

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Whimble

It just begs to be climbed so we pushed up it’s extremely steep west ridge onto the gale force wind on the top.

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Steep

The views were superb down to the Brecons and across to the Cwmdeuddwr Hills I’d been to a couple of weeks back.

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East towards Hergest Ridge

It’s a cracking little top and ideal for a summer stroll with the kids but today it was far too windy to hang about so we went down the east ridge and up again past Whinyard Rocks. We found a couple of airy little sheep tracks to contour around Bache Hill.

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Harley Dingle

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Harley Dingle

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Jane balancing in the wind

At one point we dropped into a tiny green valley with the most idyllic tiny campsite in it – well worth a return although no water source nearby.

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Secret green valley

We found an old quarry hollow just before the climb to Black Mixen where we had a draughty lunch. The whole place looked like it was about to collapse and was full of sheep sh*t so we didn’t overstay its welcome and headed onto Black Mixen. There is a somewhat unsightly communications mast on the top but it doesn’t detract too much from this vast heathery plateau.

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Black Mixen summit looking to Great Rhos

I was revelling in another totally new area with its new vistas and experiences and as I’d hoped we had it all to ourselves. The only slightly sad thought I had, was this would be prime territory for the evil wind-farm developers although perhaps the transmission mast might be a blessing in disguise – perhaps they can’t co-exist. Lets hope so

It was still pretty windy and cold so we pressed on around the head of Harley Dingle towards the highest peak of the area, Great Rhos. It looks a long way but it’s pretty much level and there is a decent path all the way around. In fact it’s a highly enjoyable high level stroll with views across to the rocks on Great Creigiau and the upper reaches of Harley Dingle.

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Harley Dingle

As we approached the summit the sun came out and the views became clearer and I could make out the Shropshire Hills to the north – Long Mynd, Caer Caradoc and Stiperstones – as well as a now sunlit Brecon Beacons.

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Jane approaching Great Rhos summit

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Brecon Beacons from Great Rhos

The paths across the summit plateau have been badly churned by trail motorbikes, it really is about time these bloody things are banned from upland areas – they cause immense amounts of damage. It gave the hardest walking of the day until we found a much cleaner and better sheep track to head down. I took a wander to the edge of Harley Dingle for a look and well worth the effort it was. It’s a superb pretty much hidden valley with steep sides and lovely golden autumn colours, a fantastic route for a walk.

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Whimble and Harley Dingle

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Whimble and Great Creigiau

Well it would be if someone hadn’t given it to the MOD so they can practice shooting at things. The whole valley right the way to the summit plateau is completely out-of-bounds. A travesty in my book, insult to injury from the fact the valley floor is littered with sheds and excavations making the whole place look like a building site. Rant over. Probably

I wandered along the edge taking in the views and Whimble now looked even better from this angle. We found a nice sheltered hollow on the way down for afternoon tea and we enjoyed the late afternoon sunshine.

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Afternoon tea

There is a nice long raking path that drops you into the end of Harley Dingle so at least you can see the start. In fact it’s a lovely place for a summer picnic by the river and If you are lucky the army won’t shoot you

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Harley Dingle

All that remained was a short walk around the hill to New Radnor but even then the sun came out for one last blast and we were treated to some glorious autumn sunshine lighting up the valley and New Radnor itself.

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Approaching New Radnor

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Autumn sunshine

So the Radnor Forest was another new area explored and what a top-notch one it was too. Another great day when I should have been working and all the better for the company of my wife to make sure I stayed out of the grumpy zone. Highly recommended with varied scenery from little mountains, to deep valleys and wild heather moorland. There are several longer options to take in other well named spots like Davy Morgan Dingle and a waterfall called “Water Breaks it Neck” as well as decent looking horseshoe from the north. On top of that, no-one has heard of them so they are deserted. Apart from a woman walking her dogs at the start we didn’t see anyone all day. Give them a go

I even managed to find a song called “Radnor Forest” to go with little slide show!

Brecon Beacons Neuadd Valley round – sold down the river   4 comments

On my travels and walks over the last few weeks I’ve been extremely lucky with the weather. Good forecasts have come true and coincided with days when I was able to get out. That run of luck had to change sooner or later and this week it did.

With my new life of relative leisure I decided on day out in the Brecon Beacons. I’d long harboured a plan to walk the full length of the main escarpment. If you do it from the north it involves major effort and lots of road walking to get back to the start point so I thought that starting from near the Neuadd reservoirs in the south would be a better bet as well as maximizing the chances of sunshine at this time of year.

11 miles, 200 feet of ascent

The forecast was for a bright and cloudy morning with increasing sunshine through the day. I woke to a clear morning and frost on the car so I was with some enthusiasm that I headed for the hills after dropping D off at school. By the time I reached the car park there was a blanket of dark grey cloud and all the tops were deeply smothered in grey wet-looking stuff. Still I had the forecast of an improvement and there were some ever-so-faint glimpses of the sun behind the grey mass so I thought I’d go for it. I’d gone about 300 yards from the car before it started to rain!

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Gloomy conditions at the start

I kept with my plan and trudged up the road towards the car park on the pass heading to the Tal-y-bont reservoir. I was taking the same upward route to the ridge as I’d done earlier this year on a walk around the Caerfanell valley (much better weather and photos). Whilst it was kind of atmospheric this time in the low cloud, it was damp, cold and windy.

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Looking towards Tal-y-Bont

I reached the ridge without a break and just carried on along the escarpment towards Fan-y-Big. I saw nothing other than cloud the whole way. As I reached the top the cloud did lift a little and I got some views into the stunning perfect U-shaped valleys to the north.

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Cwm Oergwm

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Fan-y-Big

I dropped down to the col before the climb to Cribyn and seeing as it was still in the murk I saw no point in climbing to the top. I followed one of the sheep-tracks that curve under its NE face which at least allowed me to get out of the wind and have a long rest to recuperate after walking all the way from the car without a break. It’s a great situation and as I was out of the cloud I felt a little brighter.

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Cribyn NE Face

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Fan-y-Big

Refreshed I carried on and took up the chance to walk one of my favourite paths that traverses directly across the N face of Cribyn. If you’ve never done this I urge you to give it a go. It’s easy to find the start from either end and you can still climb/descend the north ridge of Cribyn either before or after to take in the summit. It’s an airy traverse but never difficult as long as you have a head for heights. Today it was out of the cloud and the grim conditions gave it more of a brooding atmosphere

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Looking west across Cribyn N face

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Looking east across Cribyn N face

All through the day I’d been clinging to the hope that the weather would turn. When I reached the col before the climb to Pen-y-Fan I decided enough was enough. It looked dark and miserable (if anything worse than earlier) further on so I abandoned the plan and just headed off on the path back to the car. The path traverses the south slopes of Cribyn all the way to the col under Fan-y-Big before picking up the roman road back down the valley. I’d in effect walked all around Cribyn so that was minor interesting achievement to the day. Alas the walk back to the car didn’t improve my mood. The Neuadd valley is a great round at high level but the valley itself and the long roman road are a little dull especially on a dreary day like this. To add insult I was trying out my new boots and had the wrong sock combination on so I had sore feet and blisters as a result. It became a grim route march that was totally out of character with my normal mountain mindset and I reached the car in a pretty dismal frame of mind

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Looking back to Cribyn from Neuadd valley

I tried my best to enjoy what I had but I just couldn’t get my mind to gel with the day. Usually on days like this I can still enjoy the experience but not today. Whether I wasn’t in the right frame of mind or whether it was the disappointment of a the forecast letting me down I can’t say. Whichever it was, the walk became a test of my own stamina as to how long I could keep going and how far/fast I could walk. This goes against everything I normally strive for when out walking. To me walking is not a test of endurance or a set of goals and targets to achieve (I have enough of those at work – at least I did anyway :)). It’s about immersing yourself in the scenery and atmosphere and revelling in the fact that even on the less than great weather days there is still plenty to enjoy and there are much, much worse places to be. What I should have done this day is simply have shrugged my shoulders and turned back, shortened the route, or taken a different or lower level route. That way I could walked at a more leisurely pace and settled for and, more importantly enjoyed, something different. What it turned into was a day like I used to have when I was younger when I felt I HAD to go out and HAD to climb something big or it just wasn’t worth it. I don’t want to go back to that mindset so I hope I’ve learned that lesson. I’ve since been out with Jane to the Radnor Forest hills and I think I’ve got my mojo back. 🙂

Flickr slide show this time – enjoy!

Posted November 25, 2011 by surfnslide in Brecon Beacons, Wales, Walking

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Hergest Ridge – Fungus-Mongous   4 comments

The dreary weather over the past week continued into the weekend. By the Sunday the kids needed airing so we headed out to Hergest Ridge near Kington. We’ve been up there several times as it’s an easy walk and you can drive pretty close to the top.

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Easy gradient to the top

The forecast said it was supposed to brighten up in the afternoon but no such luck. It really was a day that just sums up November for me. Dreary, grey and miserable – bit like me I suppose. 🙂

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Identifying gorse

The kids seemed to be enjoying it though and we had some enjoyment poking about with the plethora of mushrooms and toadstools that have sprouted in the damp weather. This one ED had already helped me identify as a Hygorcybe strangulata (Orangeroter saftling)

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Hygorcybe strangulata (Orangeroter saftling)

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Hygorcybe strangulata (Orangeroter saftling)

Not so sure about this one

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A fungus!

The summit area is crowned with an oddly out-of-place group of South American Monkey Puzzle trees. Interesting (?) fact for you, the wood (parana pine) was used to make window boards before the advent of MDF. I used to work for a builders merchant in my youth!

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Monkey Puzzle trees

There is also an old glacial erratic boulder on the top called The Whetstone. Legend has it that it walks down to the bottom of the hill every night for a drink – sounds like the kind of thing I make up to wind the kids up

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Not thirsty yet

I tried to convince everyone that it would be a top idea to go the trig point on the summit. They weren’t convinced and to be honest neither was I. After a quick paddle in the muddy pool on the top we headed home for a cuppa and Sunday roast

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Enough excitement already!

A trip later in the year revealed slightly more in the way of scenery and views

 

Cwmdeuddwr Hills – a walk on the wild side   10 comments

Buried at the back of one of the volumes of my “Hillwalking in Wales” guidebook was a chapter about the Cwmdeuddwr Hills. Where the hell are they? Out came the maps and I discovered they are a range of hills to the south of the Elan Valley in mid-Wales. The general tone was one of tough, yet shy and retiring hills and open moorland with pleasant valley approaches. Just the thing for a quiet day out. The best sounding approach was from the north using the Rhiwnant valley. However it’s orientation would mean that at this time of year it would be in shade for most of the day so I chose to come in from the south near Abergwesyn. I also have an AA walking book with this route in titled “A walk on the wild side” (hence the post title) so armed with both guides and a map printed from Bing maps (I didn’t have the map of this area), I headed out on Sunday a couple of weeks back.

My usual map extract is below but in case anyone wants to follow my route and doesn’t have the guides I’ll be a little more specific than usual with a couple of route descriptions. As you’ll see some of the terrain is pretty wild and untamed so I hope my tips may help out.

Route Map - 11 miles, 1800 feet of ascent

I parked up a short walk down the road from where the route starts outside the local village hall. I got the distinct impression that this area is not frequently visited by walkers and it felt quite a lonely neglected spot as I put my boots on. The weather was reasonably clear although there was a hint that the tops may be cloudy as I set off across the fields.

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Lower Gwesyn Valley

The first section is on a well made track down to the river where there was no bridge and I had to ford it (memo to self – RTFGB – I’ll leave you work out the acronym)

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Wet crossing

As you may be aware I’ve been moaning on a couple of recent posts about my North Face boots with the hole in the rand. I’d tried some Heath Robinson repairs the night before (basically some ultra-strong duct tape over the hole) but the rand had been cleverly manufactured from a Teflon substance and it had already peeled off. The water was ankle-deep and a couple strides across. I just ran across it and ended up with just one very wet foot where the water seeped – sorry, poured – in through the hole. I’ll stop moaning now. 🙂

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Gwesyn Valley

The path then passes a small group of trees and bends left towards the river. You don’t follow this but head up and across the meadow into the next group of trees where you pick up a path that crosses a small stream and then curves left to exit into a meadow below some farm buildings. If you then head up and across this field you pick up the main path that takes you along and into the Gwesyn valley. As you pass under some rocky outcrops the path turns north and you enter a stunning, wild and hidden valley.

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Upper Gwesyn Valley

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Upper Gwesyn Valley

The autumn colours were stunning and the stream had numerous small cascades and deep, dark, brown pools.

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River Gwesyn

Just the sort of valley I love and I had it all to myself. It was a cracking walk up this lonely valley and I wasn’t even aware of any boot prints in the mud, a sure sign that this is not a well walked route. I alternated between sticking to path and trying to follow the river, looking at the cascades and trying to spot small campsites for future reference. After a while the banks became terminally soggy so I just returned to the path. There were several of these pretty fungi near the path but they aren’t in my Collins guide. Anyone know what these are?

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Mystery fungus

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Upper Gwesyn Valley

After a couple of miles you come to an impressive waterfall Sgwd y Ffrwd, a wonderful spot for a summer picnic, with some pools for swimming on a hot day.

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Sgwd y Ffrwd

The path climbs up the waterfall and promptly vanishes into the boggy ground, and I do mean boggy. After a few minutes there is a fairly prominent ridge coming in from the right (for prominent read about 6 feet high) that gives some respite from the bog. Alas you have to cross about 50m of astonishingly deep tussocks and bog to get to it. Several times I found myself up to my waist in tussocks with my feet under water. When I reached the sanctuary of the ridge the fact that my left boot had a hole was somewhat irrelevant – both feet were now wet.

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Out on the moors, Drygarn Fawr in the cloud in the distance

To compensate I coud now see this wild upland area expanding before my eyes. It appears as a huge expanse of brown grassy hills with little in the way of prominent features. It’s absolutely stunning, untamed, untracked and largely untouched if you can forgive the forestry plantations to the west. Looking north I could see that Drygarn Fawr, the highest point was still in the cloud but I reckoned it would clear shortly and so it proved.

Once on this very minor ridge you just follow it upwards for a few hundred metres and pick up one of the sheep-tracks running across the slope and start making tracks for the summit. There are no paths but I had no real problems stringing together a succession of these tracks and it was nothing like as boggy as I’d feared. Drygarn Fawr came out of the cloud as I crossed the huge tussocky expanse below the summit, revealing it’s twin cairns. Once up onto the ridge the going became much easier to the summit.

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Drygarn Fawr

If you can find some water draining the bog there are plenty of spots to throw up a tent on the ridge. The two summit cairns are enormous and well made. Neither of my guidebooks mentioned what they are but they certainly stand out. They seem to be a feature of many of the hills in mid-Wales.

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Drygarn Fawr looking east

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Drygarn Fawr looking west

The views from the top are breathtaking in their wilderness. Just mile after mile of endless wild grassy moorland. The distances between the summits are vast and a walk from here to the other main summit of Gorllwyn across this terrain would be a serious test of navigation and stamina.

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Looking towards the Rhiwnant valley

My route was taking me across the vast trackless wilderness to the summit of Carnau to the south-east.

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The "path" to Carnau

There is a fairly obvious grassy track that heads of eastwards and I followed this with the boundary marker posts to my right for company. At the point where the track completely flattens and makes a turn to the left there is boggy path leading straight on, roughly following the boundary posts and onto the featureless plateau of Bryn Rhudd. They seemed to be scraping the tussocks of the moor for some reason. What’s left when they have I hear you cry? Bog!

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Cleared tussocks

Main problem is the terrain is so flat you can longer see the cairn on Carnau so it’s hard to judge the direction. From here the guide said to simply keep to whatever passes for high ground to stay out of the worst of the bog although compared to the bits by the waterfalls earlier it wasn’t too bad. In essence you just keep vaguely following the boundary posts using whatever sheep tracks to ease progress. Safe to say navigating across this in poor visibility would need a lot a patience and skill with the compass. I was soon approaching Carnau with its little sting in the tail in the form of a swamp that completely surrounded the top. My drying boots were now replenished with a fresh supply of water. As I approached I saw a mountain biker on the summit but he’d gone by the time I got there. Turns out he was the only person I saw all day.

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Drygarn Fawr from Carnau summit

After a brief snack I moved on, there was a pretty cold wind blowing and up here on the moors there is little option to find shelter. I headed down on a very soggy section of path towards an obvious river valley. As is my want when I’m out walking on my own, I was talking out loud to myself. I was halfway through the phrase “this looks like a place where my leg could vanish into a bog” when, well I think you can guess. It was my holed-boot foot as well although when your leg goes into watery bog up to you thighs, the hole in your boot is a tad academic.

The little river gorge of the Nant Gewyn and Esgair Gul was most impressive and the walk along the top edge and across the grass towards the forest was one of the highlights of the day.

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Nant Gewyn and Esgair Gul

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Heading towards the forest

There then follows a mile through the forest itself. I’m not a great fan of forestry road walking so I just pushed on through to the other side for the start of the final stretch down. The first part of this was along a farm track fenced in on both sides, again not my idea of pleasant walking and totally out if keeping with the wild landscapes from the earlier parts of the day. Once past the farm the character changed completely with some stunning views across the east and lovely autumn colours in the trees.

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Evocative sunlight

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Autumn colours

I found a nice sheltered spot in the field near Bryn Clun and lost myself in the landscape, still enjoying the loneliness and isolation this walk had delivered.

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Looking east from near Bryn Clun

Satisfied with my efforts I completed the final couple of miles back to the car. If you’re after crags, rocky ridges and lofty summits then these hills aren’t for you. However if you’re after solitude and a wild untamed landscape with serious effort rewarded by views of hills that most will never have heard of or seen then pay the Cwmdeuddwr Hills a visit, you won’t be disappointed

Arenigs circuit – long overdue   10 comments

In a couple of recent posts I’ve alluded to the fact that in my younger days I tended to focus on the bigger well-known mountains at the expense of the less frequented ranges. My experiences in exploring the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons and has taught me the delights of the quieter routes so over the past few months I’ve been keen to try to get to know some of the Welsh mountains I’ve never been to before.

To aid me in my quest I’ve purchased both volumes of the excellent Cicerone guides “Hillwalking in Wales” by Peter Hermon. It describes almost every possible route up all the 2000 feet plus mountains in Wales and in its own right is a very reasonable read for a guidebook. You can use these routes to make your own circuits although each chapter does recommend decent circuits and it was one of these that re-introduced me to the Arans described in an earlier post. If you are looking for a guide-book to the Welsh mountains, this is a great purchase.

One of these ranges that I’d previously dismissed was the Arenigs. For reasons I can’t work out I’d seen them as just a dull massif in the shadow of the “better” ranges in the main Snowdon massif. As hopefully you’re about to read a serious oversight on my part.

The forecast looked really promising for the Sunday a couple of weeks ago so Jane kindly indulged my longing to get out. It’s a fair trek from Hereford so I was up at 6am and away while Madley slept. It was a lovely drive through the Shropshire hills, the Dee valley past Llangollen and down to Bala which was blanketed by mist. As I drove up to Llyn Celyn the views across the lake to Arenig Fawr and Mynydd Nodol were breathtaking so I had to pull over and take a photo or two.

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Arenig Fawr across Llyn Celyn

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Mynydd Nodol across Llyn Celyn

I’d decided on what the guidebook decided was the classic Arenig Fawr circuit also taking in Moel Lyfnant. This involves a bit of road bashing but I found a huge parking area opposite a quarry about halfway along the road stretch to break it up. The weather had been mild but this morning it was cold with a ground frost and decidedly chilly as I set off down the road. Once I started up the path towards Llyn Arenig Fawr I hit the sunshine and the views exploded with sunlight. It was and was going to be a stunner of a day.

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Arenig Fach

The green path along to the lake is a delight with views back across Llyn Celyn and Arenig Fach and south towards the Berwyns and the Arans. The lake surrounded by crags was just sensational and couldn’t believe my luck to have such a stunning day so soon after my day out on Plynlimon.

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Llyn Arenig Fawr

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Llyn Arenig Fawr

Just by the dam of the lake is very cute and very tiny MBA bothy. It’s perfectly situated and has a couple of sleeping platforms (for the shorter person) and a fireplace but really only big enough for two. It would be a great place to spend a solo night but only if you could be sure you’d get it to yourself.

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Llyn Arenig Fawr Bothy

I was keen to get up high to soak up the views so I pressed on up the decent path that wanders up the east ridge. With every step the views just got better and better.

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Llyn Arenig Fawr & Carnedd y Filiast

I paused briefly for a snack at the point where the ridge starts to level out and the summit itself comes into view. You kind of expect the summit would be above the lake but in fact it’s over a km further back.

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Arenig Fawr

The path seems to skirt under the easter flanks so I took off on a more direct route to the main ridge following some pretty good sheep tracks. Suddenly I crested a small rise and got another one of those “wow” moments as the whole of the Snowdonia massif, the Lleyn Peninsula (with of course my friend Carn Fadryn prominent as ever), the Rhinogs and Cadair Idris leapt into view.

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Main Snowdonia massif

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Arenig Fawr & Rhinogs

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Distant Llyn Peninsula

I stood on the stop and just marvelled at the splendour. I shook myself from this stupor and pretty much ran the last few hundred metres to the top for a well-earned rest.

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Your truly on the summit

When I reached the top I realised the complete folly of my pre-conceived idea of what the Arenigs are like. The summit crowns a majestic craggy mountain and because its higher than most of its neighbours and fairly isolated the views were simply magnificent. It was pretty cold and windy so after a few minutes carefully rearranging a few choice stones I had a nice seat out of the wind and in the sun.

As I write this now, I find it hard to describe in words the elation I feel sitting on a summit with no-one else around taking in a full 360 degree view like this. It really does make me feel alive like nothing else and helps me put the everyday grind of daily life into perspective. Sometimes problems that were preoccupying me the day before seem to melt away. There is just so much to see up here, from the big mountains right down to a particular patch of sunlight on a slope or the glimmer of a distant tarn. I normally find myself planning infinite numbers of routes for my next visits and reliving routes I’ve done before from the recent and distant past. Today it was the Moelwyns that were catching the eye and I had the maps out planning a grand circuit from Croesor taking in the Welsh Matterhorn of Cnicht. Bit of cliche I suppose but this is my natural high

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Moelwyns

As I sat there my first sign of life for the day appeared over the south top. We chatted as he arrived on the summit and it turns out he was doing my route in reverse having just come from Moel Lyfnant. We both admired the views and exchanged some reflections on the day and our plans for the rest of the day

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Moel Lyfnant & Rhinogs

He looked like he was struggling to find a decent spot to enjoy the views so as I’d been here a while I thought I do the gentlemanly thing and gave up my little constructed seat in the sun for which he was very appreciative. I launched off down the grassy south ridge towards Craig y Bychau a stunning area of small rocky knolls and glistening tarns.

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Craig y Bychau

The walking was awkward, twisting and turning between bouts of rocks, tarn and bog but there were sheep tracks through most of it and it was a real pleasure of micro route finding. It would be a great place for a wild camp if you could find a dry spot. I walked right the way to the final knoll (it was too nice not to) before plunging down the grassy slopes towards the col below Moel Lyfnant.

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Arenig Fawr from Craig y Bychau

The col was hard work with a mixture reeds tussocks and the inevitable squelchy bog to trap unsuspecting hikers with holed North Face boots (not that I’m bitter about that). However it only took  a few minutes to get across before I started the climb to Moel Lyfnant up it’s steep and grassy east face. There was a grassy rake that lead up to the ridge that was exceptionally steep but on a day like this I barely noticed it. The ridge above was equally steep but the views back across to where I’d come from were great – I like a decent view back to my previous footsteps. There were some surpring little rocky sections that added some interest to the final climb onto the grassy summit.

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Moel Lyfnant from the soggy, boggy col

Moel Lyfnant doesn’t look much on the map but it’s a terrific summit standing alone above the moors with even better views across to Snowdonia than Arenig Fawr. It was no real surprise to find it deserted and it feels like a summit that’s not often climbed.

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Moel Lyfnant summit

Having taken a load more photos (the afternoon light was as stunning as the morning effects) and as is my want, I spent a few minutes searching out the best spot and then settled down for some more quiet reflection, this time on my own private summit. Another great spot for a summit campsite if you can haul some water with you

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Posing again

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Cadair Idris and Rhinogs

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Arenig Fawr

Eventually I had to concede defeat to the clock and start to head down (I’d promised Jane I’d be home to carve the meat for Sunday roast tea). I looked at the map and realised I still had a long way to go. Off down the easy angled and grassy north ridge with Arenig Fawr towering above me to the east.

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Snowdonia Massif from Moel Lyfnant north ridge

I passed the ruined farmhouse of Amnodd Bwll and on to the even more ruined farmhouse of Amnodd Wen. From there it looked like an easy path back to the road, had it not been ankle-deep in bog for the first mile I’m sure it would have been easy. The last part of the walk was a pleasant stroll along the track and back along the road to the car. As I dropped out of the sun the temperatures dropped again and it was a pretty cold and very tired Andy who reached the car after an absolute stunner of a day.

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Arenig Fawr

It was 11 miles and 3000 feet of ascent so quite a taxing day when rolled into a 5 hour round trip drive but well worth it. The Arenigs are up there with the best of what Snowdonia has to offer and the fact that I saw one of other person on a day as stunning as this is testament to its solitude. The whole range has plenty of great routes so I’ll be back to explore further butif you’re looking for aclassic mountain route away from the crowds this should be high on your list

And to think as I approached the Bala turning on the A5 I nearly carried on to the “well-known” peaks of Snowdonia. Lesson finally learned 🙂

Hafod Estate – A hidden gem   8 comments

When I was a kid me and my parents explored most of the well-known sites in the immediate vicinity of Aberystwyth, especially the numerous Forestry Commission picnic areas and short walks around the local lakes and rivers. One area that we missed was the Hafod Estate a couple of miles from the tourist spot of Devils Bridge. My parents discovered it a couple of weeks before our October trip and said it was pretty good so on our last day before heading home we headed off with a picnic lunch to check it out.

You can find out more about the estate here, but this is brief summary taken from the site:

Hafod Uchtryd, 12 miles south-east of Aberystwyth, is recognised as one of the finest examples in Europe of a Picturesque landscape.

Its most celebrated owner, Thomas Johnes (1748-1816), built a new house in this remote location and laid out its grounds in a manner suited to displaying its natural beauties in sympathy with the ‘Picturesque principles’ fashionable at the time, with circuit walks allowing the visitor to enjoy a succession of views and experiences. Johnes also used the land for farming, forestry, and gardening, in each case trying out new ideas and experimental methods. Hafod became an essential destination for the early tourist in Wales.

I’ve shown a map below of what I guessed was the route we took as the paths aren’t marked all that clearly on the map

There are several trails through the estate but we decided to combine a few parts of all of them into a walk that evolved through the day. The car park is up at the top so we headed down towards the first small river with its gorge, waterfalls and bridge, a good little taster for what was to come.

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Gorge in the Ystwyth tributary

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The first bridge

D is really into walking but L less so so she needs some encouragement and the diversions on this walk were perfect.

We continued on a well made path across to one of the highlights, a wobbly chain bridge across the Ystwyth gorge.

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Chain Bridge

The kids went back and forth over the bridge, amused by its swinging around. I took photos of the small gorge, my mind already whirring with a plan to come down with GM and have a play in the water. It would be ideal for some floating down rapids type fun although it would need to be in high water

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Ystwyth Gorge and Chain Bridge

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Ystwyth Gorge

As we headed downstream following the river the sun came out after a pretty grey start to the day and the light in the trees was stunning.

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Autumn sunshine

We reached a lovely bridge over the Nant Gau and were intrigued by a sign to “Cavern Cascade”.

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Nant Gau

We set off on the path that traversed an open pasture before heading along the much smaller mini-gorge of the Nant Gau and into the dark forest. We walked for a fair way before we reached a very pretty waterfall on a side stream where the path seemed to end.

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Waterfall, Nant Gau tributary

It was distinctly un-cavern-like so I took one last look to see what was around the corner. Just as well. The river turns and sharp bend and disappears behind a small crag through which was what looked like an old mine passage. In fact it had been cut specifically to create an underground viewing platform for close up look at the waterfall.

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The “Cavern”

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The “Cascade”

Needless to say the kids thought this was extremely exciting even though the tunnel was a bit wet. Photos don’t really do it justice unfortunately but it was a nice surprise to find it and well worth the effort (some of the video in the slide show gives a better impression).

Suitably satisfied we headed off along the “Gentleman’s Walk” and found a nice bench in dappled sunlight in the forest for our picnic lunch. Considering it was the end of October it was remarkably warm and we spent a very pleasant hour eating and messing about.

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Picnic in the forest

Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves so we continued along this path high up through the trees above the Ystwyth, passing through more groves of trees, another tunnel through the rock and another pretty waterfall, the “mossy seat”.

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Tunnel on the Gentlemans Walk

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Mossy Seat Waterfall

The path then drops steadily down to the Ystwyth, now much more open and broader. The views back towards the higher ground and downstream in the fading autumn light were stunning.

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View NW towards the Cambrian Mountains

When we reached the bridge we had a whole host of routes back to the car.

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Ystwyth from the Alpine Bridge

As the light was already starting to fade (the clocks went back the night before) we took a direct route across some broad open pastures which would make a great place for a summer picnic.

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Sunny meadows on the route home

Just as we reached the car the sun vanished behind some grey clouds and it started to drizzle.

Considering I’d never heard of this place until a couple of weeks ago it’s an absolute gem. A great place for a family day out and not bad for a decent half a day walk to take in all the best bits. Well worth checking out if you’re down that way and especially on those days when a visit to the high fells isn’t really attractive.

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