Plynlimon – after 30 years   12 comments

When I was a kid, spending loads of time down at my grandparents caravan, with my interest in walking starting to pique, I harboured ambitions to climb Plynlimon, the highest point in mid-Wales. We often took trips in the car out to the hills and narrow roads around Nant-y-Moch reservoir and we drove past the main route up from the A44 on our way to and from the caravan. Despite this I never attained the summit and as I grew up and my grandparents gave up the caravan, it drifted far from my thoughts as I discovered what I believed were bigger and better mountains in the Lake District, Snowdonia and Scotland. I was wrong.

Now my parents have their caravan down at Clarach, it’s back in my vision again. On our recent half-term week, the first Saturday was shaping up to be a great day so I asked Jane if I could go out to play for the day. I was just going to take the quick route up from the A44 but a recent blog post on the excellent Backpackingbongos by James Boulter had sparked my interest in approaching it from the north via the Hengwm valley. I strongly recommend taking a look at James’s post about his trip into this little known area here, it’s a cracking read.

I headed off to the Nant-y-Moch Reservoir and took the dead-end road along its eastern shore towards the Maesnant outdoor centre, parking up easily on the grass by the road.

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Banc Llechwedd Mawr

It was a stunning day with clear blue sky and glorious autumn colours. As I set off and throughout the day, the peak of Drosgol caught my eye, some hills just have that perfect form that make you want to climb them.

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Drosgol

It would be a real challenge to make a circular route to take it in, cut off as it were on 3 sides by the reservoir but I’m up for the challenge some time.

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Drosgol

As I strode off along the track and into the wilds, one thought kept coming back, why had I neglected these retiring valleys and peaks for so long. Sometimes, particularly when I was younger, mountains had to be “big” or “impressive” to warrant my attention, the lesser known areas were often dismissed as being “boring” even though I’d never been to some of them. Over the last few years I’ve started to appreciate the more subtle charms of the less popular areas. Now I’ve “discovered” this fabulous area, I’ve been poring over maps and planning more day trips and backpacking circuits. Shame on me for leaving them unattended.

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Carn Hyddgen and the Hengwm Valley

I was in buoyant mood as walked towards the Hengwm valley. The peaks of Banc Llechwedd Mawr and Carn Hyddgen were also beckoning and my eyes and brain were hard at work sorting out routes and lines to climb them. As I turned east into Hengwm I realised I’d been right to take James advice. It was stunning, wild and untamed with traces of long abandoned farms and mine workings giving a sense of history and perspective.

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Hengwm Valley

One thing to remember about wild and untamed mid-Wales is that the paths are sometimes a little vague and the one on the south bank of the river was extremely sketchy. Sorry two things to remember, it rains a lot in mid-Wales so anywhere flat, like valley bottoms can be a trifle boggy. In this case very boggy. The path when it did appear was astonishingly wet, and I had several moments when I lost my leg to the earth I was glad I’d put my gaiters on (I don’t normally wear them), my wet feet problem exacerbated by the fact that my crap North Face boots had a hole in them. I’m often staggered by just how much water a mountain slope or valley can hold in the UK!

In between hauling myself out of bogs and leaping from tussock to tussock I was loving this walk. It felt like barely a soul ever walks up and I hadn’t seen a soul so far. In amongst the quagmire I’d also found a decent wild camp-spot by the river. I’ve been searching for a nice spot not too far from the road to introduce the kids to a spot of wild camping and provided I can find a way through the swamp this would be a good bet.

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NIce place to spend the night, Hengwm valley

I reached the ruined farmhouse at the point where Hengwn turns north, an evocative spot. It’s surrounded by tall reeds but there are patches of grass amongst it that would make a pretty decent if slightly surreal campsite.

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Ruined farmhouse

I continued west past the waterfalls and on into Cwm Gwerin following the river to stay dry if that makes sense.

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Waterfalls and Craig yr Eglwys

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Hengwm Valley

My intention had been to follow the valley all the way up to the ridge but the river was meandering all over the place so I headed south for what looked like a grassy rake through the crags. What looked like grass from a distance turned out to be deep spongy moss like I’ve never seen before. It was like climbing an enormous duvet. It was the hardest couple off hundred feet of ascent I’d done in a while. Fortunately when I reached the upper slopes there was a long line of broken rocks leading all the way to the summit of the minor top of Pen Cerrig Tewion.

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Route to Pen Cerrig Tewion, Arans in the distance

The views to the north were awesome with Cadair Idris standing proud above the vast expanse of the hills around me and the Arans visible in the distance.

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Distant views to the Tarrens and Cadair Idris

Plynlimon, my target for the day looked impressive and craggy on its north side cradling the small Llyn Llygad Rheidol reservoir.

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Plynlimon from Pen Cerrig Tewion

I made short work of the rest of the climb to the ridge, passing a couple of gorgeous small tarns before turning west to head onto the summit.

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Tarn on the summit ridge

The panorama from the top was breathtaking. Because it’s the highest point in the area and the local hills are much lower it gives a sensation of space and height I’ve not experienced on a summit for a while, it would be a wonderful spot for a summit bivvy or camp in settled weather.

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Cadair Idris and the Arans from the summit

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Nant-y-Moch reservoir

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Looking south along the summit ridge

Today there was a biting wind so I had to settle for lunch in the shelter of the massive summit cairn, still shaking my head at how it had taken me over 30 years to make it to the top.

Sadly the view north will, if plans are allowed to progress, be ruined by being festooned with wind turbines. James on Backpackingbongos has written an excellent piece here about these plans so I won’t say anything more other than head over and take a read. I urge anyone who looks at my photos, is dazzled by the views laid out within them and is as saddened as I am that this area’s natural beauty will be lost for ever if the plans go ahead, to sign the petitions. I’ve added the links below:

http://www.gopetition.co.uk/petition/33775.html

http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/no-to-the-industrialisation-of-mid-wales.html

It was one of those of days where struggled to tear myself away from the top but I headed off following a grassy path NW from the summit that seemed to be heading back to the car. It was such a lovely day that I took in the various lumps and bumps of Pumlumon Fach.

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Looking over Pumlumon Fach to Cadair Idris

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Pumlumon Fach

These would be great places for a wild camp on their grassy summits if there was a water source nearby (or carried in). I sprang my way down more mossy slopes to the track from Llyn Llygad Rheidol to where it passes a line of tarns that were catching the late afternoon light in a most becoming fashion.

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Tarns by the track, Banc Llechwedd Mawr behind

I found a thin path heading straight down along the Maesnant stream back to my car, in fact it appears that this was the end point on the path from the summit I’d followed earlier. This would be a great and swift route to the summit for a late evening walk on a warm summers evening.

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Nant-y-Moch reservoir in the fading light

I reached the car, as happy after a day in the hills as I can remember in a long time. After all how often do you get to fulfill a lifelong ambition!

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Posted November 13, 2011 by surfnslide in Mid Wales, Wales, Walking

Tagged with , , , ,

12 responses to “Plynlimon – after 30 years

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  1. Lovely, Andy.

    It’s been over twenty years since I have been there. i had better be quick before the turbines arrive.

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    • Hopefully common sense will prevail, there seems to be alot of local opposition to this judging by the the road-side signs in the area. It would be a travesty if this stunning area was ruined. So many potential walks in this area that I’m losing count!

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  2. I meant to visit a mate in Newtown and spend a couple of nights amongst these hills during the summer – alas work put paid to those plans but your pics have made me want to go there now before the worst comes to the worst. Thanks.

    Looks just my kind of place, too – quiet and scenic 🙂

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    • Thanks Terry, a truly superb area although I’ve only just started to realise it. Lonely peaks with expansive views and austere valley’s perfect for a quiet day. Even though it was a Saturday in half-term week I didn’t see a soul all day

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  3. It’s a quiet area from what my mate tells me – he often mountain bikes round there. It’s not always about the biggest hills, deepest lakes and so on. It’s about the landscape, eh? And it looks good to me in your pics 🙂

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    • Thanks Terry. “It’s about the landscape” – absolutely! As my hair falls out and what’s left turns grey I’m learning that lesson. Took in another little known area yesterday in the hills to the south of the Elan Valley. Another wild and untamed area, another great day all to myself. Post to follow soo

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  4. A lovely trip report in a lovely area Andy, good to see that you finally got to the summit after 30 years. Hopefully it won’t take you 30 years to return?! There seem to be endless wild camping opportunities there, the one in your photo looked a good one.

    The hills to the south of the Elan Valley, the Aberthingy common with Drygan thingy beehive thing? Lovely up there too, just have not got my maps to hand for place names……………

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    backpackingbongos
  5. Thanks for the comment James, glad you enjoyed the post, especially as your own posts gave me the kick I needed to get out there :). I’ve been pretty lucky this year and had some superb days in the UK and abraod but this is up there with the best of ’em. I’m lucky having a base so close by although its only just over an hour from home. If I’m in the area in the summer when it’s warm I plan a late evening walk to watch the sunset and a bivvy/camp on the top to watch it come up again. So much to do around there.

    My Cicerone guide calls those Elan Valley hills the Cwmdeuddwr Hills and they are awesome. Those massive cairns on Drygarn Fawr are impressive. Seems to be loads of them on these central Welsh mountains but no idea what they are for. Should have the post up by the end of the week

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  6. Found this a little late, but glad you enjoyed your day on these hills – they’re a favourite of mine. Was up there today with glorious sun and snow!

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    • Hi Roddy

      Welcome to my humble little site and glad you enjoyed my report. It was strange having looked longingly at Plylimon when I was a kid to have finally got to climb it and realise what an awesome area it is. Lots to explore over the coming months.

      Your own site looks great with lots more route ideas in Wales for me to try. I’ll drop by over the weekend and read them properly and put some comments up. I’ll also add you to my blogroll and RSS feeds

      Andy

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  7. Nice post, glad you had a good day’s weather to enjoy the area. If you do return, rather than follow the marked bridleway along the Hengwm Valley, cross the river over the old concrete bridge, then keep to the Northern side, you’ll find a sheep track going all the way along, it follow’s right through to Bugeilyn, from where you can head along to Glaslyn, or head for the summit of Pen Pumlumon Arwystl and do the whole ridge on the way back. It’s wet in places as you would no doubt expect, but far better than the alleged bridleway!
    Not looking forward to the imminent windfarms, looks like the area will be closed for 2 – 3 years :-(.

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    • Thanks for comment and the advice on the path – the bridleway is indeed “alleged” – you could have got a canal barge along some bits of it 🙂

      I’ve definitely got some much longer walks in mind. Once you’re up on the ridge you can cover the miles pretty easily

      Hopefully the local opposition will stop the wind-farm – be a tragedy if this area gets spoiled

      Andy

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