Archive for June 2012

At home with our friends from the North – Afon Mellte Waterfalls   10 comments

Well, the next day was worse, overcast with heavy persistent rain all day. I volunteered to watch most of the kids while Mark and the rest of adults and A went to visit Hereford cathedral and the Mappa Mundi, fascinating but I’ve seen it a few times already. You can read about their little trip here on Marks blog.

The next day the forecast was slightly better so we decided that a day by the waterfalls to the SW of the Brecons would make a decent day out. The rivers of the Mellte, Nedd and Hepste create a playground of waterfalls, caves, gorges and rivers that are the best in the UK in my humble opinion. I took in this walk around the same time last year and as you are to find out the conditions were slightly different.

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Afon Mellte enters Porth yr Ogof

When we set off the weather was damp but only raining lightly. As we drove down towards Abergavenny and over the Heads of the Valley road it turned pretty nasty with dark brooding skies and heavy rain. I was tempted to pull over and just head home, such was paucity of the weather but pressed on as we’d already come a long way. When we pulled into the car park the weather was quite frankly appalling. We decided to have a comical picnic in the car with the rain playing a drum-beat on the roof. I enlivened the proceedings by lighting the stove for a brew between my feet under the steering wheel, an act that Jane thought bordered on suicidal. By luck we survived but the weather was still pretty vile. We decided that we were going to get very wet anyway so may as well make the most of it so off we went.

We’d enthused the kids with tales of the massive cave of Porth yr Ogof which you can walk into via the dry river bed that precedes it. Not today. Rather than the dry-bed what we got was a raging torrent of foaming brown water and we could barely see the cave let alone walk into it. We made do with an exploration of the various access points into the roof of the cave as you start to head downstream. The water emerges from the cave at a spot called the blue pool normally a crystal clear calm pool of water much used by cave divers for practice. Today it was a just part of the roaring Mellte river and an exhilarating spot which I think the kids loved, especially watching the water charge from the cave mouth.

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The Blue/Brown Pool

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Fun in the rain

I’ve been to this spot several times and have never seen it like this. It really whet the appetite for the main falls to come.

It’s a good couple of miles to the falls a journey enlivened by the numerous side streams that were racing across the path. I put my trail shoes to the test and stood in the water to help all the kids (and adults) across. The kids thought this was mighty exciting and it added a sense of adventure and fun into what could have been a depressingly wet day.

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River Mellte riverside path/wade

I was chuffed that everyone seemed to be having a good time. It helped to cover my frustration and disappointment that the summer weather was so poor when I had so many places I wanted to share.

We reached the first fall Sgwd Clun-Gwyn and as expected it was majestic, a maelstrom of spray and noise, a real wow factor and totally different from the last visit. No gorge scrambling or canyoning today!

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Sgwd Clun-Gwyn

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Sgwd Clun-Gwyn

The next fall Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn was even better as you can walk right down to the edge of the falls (although I had my heart in the mouth most of the way along the narrow path above the gorge with the kids at play!). When we were last here there was a group of canyoners scrambling behind the falls – no chance of that today!

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Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn

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Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn

We’d hoped to continue on to to the star attraction Sgwd yr Eira with its path behind the falls. However it was late and the kids were tiring and we guessed we’d probably get nowhere near the falls let alone walk behind them. Reluctantly we retraced our steps with more stream crossings and arrived back at the car completely soaked. A wet day but everyone seemed to have had a great time, sometimes you just have to take a chance on a bad day and try to get the most out of it. I think we achieved that objective to great effect.

You can read Marks account of the day complete with his first musical slide show here. Mine is below so hope you enjoy it, captures the mood with the videos better than the photos alone. Surely we had to get a better day before Mark and his family returned home…

At home with our friends from the North – Goodrich and Coppet Hill   8 comments

For the second half of the half-term week we provided a full-board accommodation package to old mate Mark from Beating the Bounds and his family. I’d made great plans for some summer picnics in the hills, climb a few of my favourite local mountains and some kiddie play in the garden with a BBQ and drinks. What passes for a British summer put pay to that and the day they arrived was wet and miserable and the forecast for the rest of the week didn’t look much better.

Alternative plans were required. We are lucky that the borders and Marches where we live has some cracking historic buildings and the Wye Valley some pleasant strolls in the rolling hills and by the river. Perfect for the kids and when the weather is mixed. The first day out we decided on Goodrich Castle and a walk up the nearby eminence of Coppet Hill if the weather stayed fine. Things didn’t look good as we headed off with dark skies followed by a hefty rain shower. Our luck seemed to be in though and by the time we parked up it had stopped and there was some semblance of brightness so we hit the castle immediately.

I’m sure you were expecting a number of photos and one of my slideshow masterpieces. However like the ageing senile numpty that I am, I forgot the camera and had to take a few shots with my phone and they are pretty poor. So, I’m going to cheat big-time here and just drop in a couple of photos from said phone and say that Goodrich Castle is a superb and interesting place backed up by one of the best audio guides I’ve ever used, detailed and informative that helps create just the right atmosphere as you wander through the site.

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Entrance from the Barbican

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Courtyard and Keep

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View from the Moat

I could add more but Mark has made a much better and more interesting write-up so I suggest you pop over and read his version here with added advantage of a photo of me and subsequent comments to thoroughly humiliate me and both my attire and my rather embarrassing pose.

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Main View of the castle

It started to rain just as we headed back for lunch and we waited out a massive downpour in the castle shop with my natural tight-fistedness holding sway over the kids demands to spend their inheritance early. We enjoyed a high quality picnic outside the shop where the sun came out in a surprisingly extravagant manner.

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Picnic in the sun

We chanced that the showers would hold off for the afternoon and took in the short-walk up Coppet Hill. It’s a ridge enclosed by a huge meander of the Wye and has expansive views over the surrounding area and across to the Black Mountains. It was a cracking walk in warm sunshine but more cheating here. Mark’s account is again much more interesting and informative or for an alternative viewpoint you can read about my stroll up here with the family back in April. Hey, I’ve been busy at work and I’m tired, so you’ll just have to deal with my laziness.

Anyway, in the end a pretty decent day, the weather was kind to us, and Mark and his family got to see some of the best of the gentler side of my manor. Would our weather luck hold for another day. Tune in to the next blog post to find out……..

Posted June 20, 2012 by surfnslide in Family Trips, Local Walks, Walking

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Sun and Rain on the Gower   6 comments

Half term week and were originally planning our usual family trip to Cornwall. Then I had an e-mail from my long-time friend from Mark over at Beating the Bounds who asked if he and the family could come down and visit us that week. The plan was formed and they were heading down to visit us for the second half of the week and I’ll post up some stories of what we got up to in due course. This left us with a spare Bank Holiday weekend. We originally thought of camping but for a weekend I end spending a large chunk of it taking tents up and down. After a quick search I found a Travel Inn near the Gower that was doing Family Rooms with Breakfast for around £50 a night so I jumped and booked it so on the Friday night we headed off to the major global tourist hotspot that is Llanelli, our home for three nights.

The Gower is a lovely spot with some top-notch beaches. I’ve visited Rhossili Bay at Llangennith several times to surf with the Kayak but there is not much there for the kids so we plumped for Caswell Bay on the outskirts of Swansea. It’s a bit cheesy but it’s a lovely beach with a river to dam and rock pools to explore. The weather wasn’t as sunny as we’d hoped but it look like it would stay dry.

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Caswell Beach

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Caswell Beach

We had the usual fine day building sandcastles damming the river, looking for crabs and the like in the rock pools and generally messing about like all families do.

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The new sport of Croc surfing

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Exciteable children

Despite the lack of Atlantic weather there were some decent waves and after Jane and L had been body-boarding, I took the kayak out and had a pretty good time with some decent waves and I managed to surf the tide back in just in time to help Jane move our stuff back up the beach. The tide comes in quick here.

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Tide races in

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Looking east

The clouds were gathering so we headed back to the hotel for a clean-up and a meal and by the time we’d eaten ourselves fat the bad weather had arrived and it was chucking it down.

The next day was rank bad. Overcast, dreary and wet. We decided to head west in the hope it might brighten up. We arrived at the car park above Rhossili Bay with everything shrouded in low cloud and a persistent drizzle.

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Rhossili Bay

I managed to convince the kids a walk would be bracing and refreshing and whilst I’ve been out in worse it was pretty miserable. Still, the cliffs are sheer and the views, what we could see of them, superb.

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Worms Head

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Cliffs above Rhossili

D in particular had been very keen to see Worms Head, excited by the prospect of walking across the natural causeway between the mainland and the spit of land that forms the headland. It’s actually Britain’s first AONB designated in 1957. The name doesn’t refer to a worm but comes from the old English “Orm” meaning dragon or serpent. We checked the sign on the cliffs that showed we had plenty of time before the tide came back in and leaving Jane and L to return to the car me and D headed our over the causeway.

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D on the “causeway”

Apparently at low tide you can find lobsters lurking in the rock pools  but it wasn’t a day for tide-pooling so we carried on going. The “causeway” is pretty wide, several hundred metres between the calm waters on north side and the wild waves to the south. It’s a complex mass of rocks and pools and there is probably a plethora of interesting stuff under the seaweed. As we clambered up onto the headland we noticed dark shapes in the water which we thought were partially submerged rocks but on closer inspection were clearly seals.

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Seals

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More Seals

I think they are grey seals and there were 10-15 of them along the coast, looking like they were taking a rest from the wilder open coastline. We could get within 15 to 20 feet of them but in the wind, drizzle and poor light with the camera on zoom the photos weren’t as good as I’d hoped. We scrambled up the steep slopes to the top of the first eminence and from here you realise just what a long headland it is.

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On the summit of Worms Head

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Looking towards the far headland

It would be a good walk to the far end and whilst I was tempted, we were already soaked and D looked like he’d had enough. After another look at the seals we headed back to the car to join Jane and L in a long lunch in the car sheltering from the rain.

After lunch the weather brightened up just a little so I convinced everyone we could go out for a stroll on the beach. It’s quite a steep clamber down to the sand but when we got there the weather reached its peak for the day, cold and windy but dry at least. We headed over to some protruding wood in the sand which is in fact the wreck of the Helvetica, washed up in November 1887, luckily everyone survived.

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On Rhossili beach

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The wreck of the Helvetica

You can just about make out the shape of the hull and see the nails and metal straps that once held it all together. Amazing that the wood survives the twice-daily battering from the waves. We wandered across the beach to the cliffs where we saw remnants of other shipwrecks and hunted for interesting stuff in the rocks. The tide was coming in at a fair pace and the kids had a great time watching the water race along the line of the rocks filling in the pools as it went. However the rain started again and hit back with a vengeance as we headed back up to the car. By the time we reached it we were all cold and soaked but we’d made the best of poor day. It’s now you feel the benefit of returning to a nice warm hotel room for a hot shower and a nice meal in the Italian chain restaurant around the corner. It rained right through the evening so we hoped for a better performance from the weather, the following day.

We got our wish. The Monday was bright, clear and sunny. After the wind of the previous day I hoped for some decent waves so we headed for what we know and returned to Caswell Bay.

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Caswll Bay

Surprisingly the waves were not up to much so we just pottered again, filling the day with beach walks, sandcastles, tide-pooling and jumping in the waves.

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Ready for the foundations

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Bug-eyed monster

The weather threatened showers all day but they never arrived and by the time we started the usual evacuation of the beach the sun was beating down and it was fine end to the day as we watched the tide push everyone back and laughed at the several groups who had to wade back round the corner having been cut off by the rapidly advancing water.

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Jumping the waves

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Afternoon sun

Time to go home and prepare for the arrival of our friends from up north. We parked up on the seafront at The Mumbles and ate a hearty portion of fish and chips looking out over the bay to Swansea. It’s a real surprise to find the seafront all the way from Swansea down to the Mumbles is extremely pleasant and the view from where we ate our chips was superb.

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Chips on the prom

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Across Swansea Bay

A fitting finish to a fine weekend and even the wet Sunday had some real moments to remember.

Those were the lazy, hazy, crazy, days of Summer   2 comments

Summer! You remember it, sunny afternoons, warm temperatures, BBQs and the like. Well in case you’ve forgotten it was May 26th. Seems a long way back now. Just to give you a flavour of those heady few days here is a little video compilation of how the Surfnslide family enjoyed that weekend. Note that Jane puts in the worlds worst performance on a garden waterslide 🙂

Posted June 16, 2012 by surfnslide in Family Trips

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Birthday Weekend – Day 2, Rhinog Fawr   8 comments

After our first superb outing in the Moelwyns we were ready for another day in the mountains of Snowdonia. Sustained by a hearty breakfast at the Brigands Inn we pondered our route. When I say “we”, Jane is happy just to leave such things to me. She doesn’t hit the hills with the same mad dedication as me so it’s unlikely I’ll pick a route she’s done before. Although come to think of it she’d been up Cnicht twice before yesterday’s visit! Anyway as I’d been longing to get into the Rhinogs it was an easy choice so we headed up to the eastern flanks. The best routes according to most guides are from the west but I didn’t have the will to drive all the way round the west coast and up into the hills so we stuck with the eastern approach.

5.9 miles, 1,860 feet of ascent

We parked up at Graigddu Isaf with a plan to head towards Bwlch Tyddiad and take in Rhinog Fawr and Rhinog Fach. Don’t take the direct path from the car park to the farm – best described as a swamp and not suited to trail shoes! The forestry track is a much better option – if only I’d known that at the start.

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Rhinog Fach & Rhinog Fawr

In fact the rest of the route through the trees was not exactly suited to trail shoes either. The “path” is more just a long peaty bog with a few rocks to hop across but it’s still pleasant scenery with glimpses of the wild Rhinogs to keep you going.

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Pistyll Gwyn

After passing the pretty waterfalls at Pistyll Gwyn you emerge from the forest with Rhinog Fawr towering above seemingly much higher than its actual modest height. The sun was shining and the situation was magnificent although it was quite breezy. Just below Bwlch Tyddiad I decided to pick up the path to Llyn Du and here the real Rhinogs began.

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Approaching Bwlch Tyddiad

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Approaching Bwlch Tyddiad

I’ve read in countless books and blogs how rough and wild these mountains are. I’d thought that perhaps the passage of time may have tamed them a little with wider well-marked paths. Not the case. These are truly wild mountains with deep heather, boulders and rock and steep impenetrable slopes. As we climbed towards the lake the path twisted and turned through the micro-landscape of gullies, boulders and heather. Under the blue sky the place was awe-inspiring, unlike anything I’ve seen outside of the wildest of Scottish mountains and totally different to anything I’ve walked in Wales. I’m not sure but I believe they owe this ruggedness to having never been grazed but whatever the reason they have a character unlike anywhere else and I was instantly hooked and strode upwards without realising I was leaving Jane a bit behind (she was suffering from two days in succession in the hills poor love). Llyn Du was breathtaking, a small tarn cradled in the most stunning wild and rock filled hollow.

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Llyn Du

It was here where we really hit the wind with spray in the air as we huddled behind a rock to rest. What a superb place this would be for a wild camp if you could find a dry spot to throw a tent up although almost everywhere is either rock or knee-deep heather.

The map showed a path heading directly up improbable rock and scree on the northern flank of Rhinog Fawr above the lake. We followed the thin path and I was expecting a tough ascent but in fact other than the steepness it was a pretty good route with the birds-eye view down to the lake to hold the attention.

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Llyn Du

The path suddenly emerges onto a broad shelf with a “wow” view – across to Cardigan Bay and the Lleyn Peninsula, Snowdonia and the northern outliers of the Rhinogs. These looked truly wild – a complex mass of summits, gullies and tarns.

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Llyn Du across to the Lleyn Peninsula

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West to Cardigan Bay

Everywhere there were small blue tarns reflecting the sky, one of those views where you’re not quite sure where to focus, every direction every vista holds the gaze. Magnificent.

The wind was now blowing a proper gale making it hard to stand up. The last couple of hundred feet is over more rough boulders and heather before emerging onto the summit. The view was just awesome. The southern Rhinogs came into view with Rhinog Fach looking even tougher than it’s big brother.

Their geography means that each Rhinog is effectively a mini-mountain rather than part of a ridge so the views are lofty. Only problem was it was nearly impossible to stand up and enjoy them. Luckily there was a shelter built in just the right place to protect us so we settled down for a long lunch stop and a the usual fresh brew while admiring the views east to the Arenigs, Arans, Cadair Idris and the Berwyns.

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Jane on Rhinog Fawr summit

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East to the Arenigs and Arans

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Rhinog Fach & Y Lethr

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Tremadog Bay

I’d expected that the sunshine would have seen this as a busy summit but apart from a couple of people low down near the forest and brief “Hi” to a couple rapidly heading off the wind blasted summit we saw no-one and had the place to ourselves. This was turning out to be one rather fine birthday treat. We headed down and I was a little apprehensive about the descent. My map didn’t show a path down to Bwlch Drws Ardudwy and like a clot, I’d forgotten the guidebook. We headed down to the slightly lower south top where the path divided. The right hand one looked more likely but it started to descend an ugly gully so I quickly retreated and tried the other one. It started heading off in slightly the wrong direction but this was just to turn the steep slope the other path had plummeted straight down. All I can say about the descent to the pass was that it was the roughest, toughest descent I’ve done in a while with several steep sections across scree and boulder fields where use of hands and a deal care was required.

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Jane descending carefully

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Cwm Nantcol & Moelfre

The path was mostly excellent although you have to keep your wits to follow it. It was by turns, awkward and magnificent. It felt like real mountaineering with a sense of adventure quite out of tune with the beach resorts a few miles to the west. I was loving it but I think Jane found it a little tough and quite rightly took her time (although my dodgy knees have stopped my carefree descents of late). The last stretch to the col was the toughest with a 100 foot descent of massive boulder-field. Jane is just visible in the photo below to give some scale.

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Final scree slope

From the col, Rhinog Fach looked totally impregnable.

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Rhinog Fach from Bwlch Drws Ardudwy

The only line I could see seemed to ascend vertically up the steep heather slopes (a check of the guide-book when I got home told me this was the best ascent route from here). Jane looked beat and whilst I had the energy for the ascent I didn’t have the will for another steep descent so we decided that this was enough for today. Bwlch Drws Ardudwy is a magnificent spot and the walk back towards the forest and the car was a delight.

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Bwlch Drws Ardudwy looking east

We chatted about what a fine weekend we’d had and how lucky we’d been with such great weather. Another new area and another day spent admiring new vistas and planning new days. This is just the beginning of my Rhinogs adventures.

I’ll leave you with this thought:

“When I woke up this morning my wife asked me, “Did you sleep good?” I said, “No, I made a few mistakes.”

Birthday Weekend – Day 1, Cnicht and the Moelwyns   8 comments

Being the kind-hearted type who knows the way to a man’s heart (well this one’s anyway), Jane treated to me to a surprise weekend away in the Welsh hills for my birthday. When I say “surprise”, she had to ask me what I was doing that weekend to make sure I was free which kind of gave the game away. Still weekends by ourselves without the kids in tow are a rarity so I was chuffed to bits and on top of that the weather forecast was looking pretty good.

We spent the Friday night at my parents caravan ready for an early start the next day, leaving the kids with them to be spoilt. The world was our lobster as the saying goes so after much deliberation I plumped for a route I’d been longing after for several years, Cnicht and the Moelwyns from Croesor.

11.2 miles, 4,400 feet of ascent

We were parked up and underway by 10 and Cnicht looked magnificent on what promised to be a great day.

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Cnicht from Croesor

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Lower part of the SW ridge of Cnicht

The long WSW ridge has always looked a cracker and it didn’t disappoint. Expansive coastal views, glimpses of the main Snowdonia massif and a twisting, rocky ridge, never difficult draws you upward towards the fine airy summit.

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Looking back to Tremadog Bay

I love ridges and mountains with a view of the sea so this one ticked all the boxes and I was in an exceptionally cheery mood as I crested the top. The weather was a little cloudier than it first looked but the views were still superb and it was time for lunch number 1 and fresh brew of tea.

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Jane on the summit

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Lunchtime

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Moelwyn Mawr from Cnicht

It’s a summit that wants you to stay and we spent the best part of an hour lingering, looking at the view and savouring the situation.

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Cnicht summit ridge

When it was time to move on, the complex high level terrain of small knolls and tarns to the west looked too inviting to ignore and we decided to extend the walk to take in Moel Druman and Allt Fawr.

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NE to Allt Mawr

This was fine walking on narrow sheep tracks across shallow edges, rocky points, always with another jewelled tarn around the corner.

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Looking back to Cnicht

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Near Llyn Coch

I definitely need a wild camping trip up here and possibly with D as it’s a reasonably easy walk up from the road. On a warm afternoon it would be a pleasure to drop the tent and wander about all the features and small peaks.

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Un-named tarns

Today I left Jane behind to climb Allt Fawr which has a superb vista over the industrial landscape of Blaenau Ffestiniog.

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Blaenau Ffestiniog from Allt Mawr

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Moelwyns from Allt Mawr

We were reunited at the outflow from Llyn Conglog and began the walk back towards the Moelwyns. We spotted numerous wild camp sites including a cracker perched on a ledge amongst the rocks. As you descend to the col you enter an amazing area of long abandoned old mine workings and what must have been a substantial collection of dwellings in it’s heyday.

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Mine workings below Moelwyn Mawr

The whole area is one great industrial archaeology theme park complete with ruined buildings, levels, tramways and mine entrances. On a day when perhaps the weather rules out the high tops it would a fascinating place just to poke around and explore.

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The gates of hell

It was one of those days that looked like an afternoon clearing to blue skies was on the cards and as we started the long climb to Molewyn Mawr the sun started to show itself again. I declined the extra effort to claim Moel-yr-Hydd but wish I hadn’t – it looks like a fine peak perched over Ffestiniog.

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Ascending Moelwyn Mawr, Moel-yr-Hydd behind

By the time we reached the summit the weather was glorious and the views across the Lleyn Peninsula were especially fine. As always you could pick out my favourite little hill Carn Fadryn and Snowdon was also now looking clear.

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Moelwyn Bach from the summit of Moelwyn Mawr

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Lleyn Peninsula from Moelwyn Mawr

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Moel Hebog and Nantlle Ridge

We’d been strolling for a few hours without a break so we found a superb little spot perched on the edge of the cliffs, feet dangling, overlooking Llyn Stwlan.

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Perfect lunch stop

Another brew and food to keep us going on the final section, first over the rocky ridge of Craigysgafn and onto Moelwyn Bach. The direct route is protected by a massive overhanging rock buttress but the path around is easy and we were soon on the summit.

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Jane on Moelwyn Bach summit

The weather and views were now magnificent and long easy angled, grassy west ridge was perfect to enjoy them to the full.

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Head towards the setting sun

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Snowdon and Cnicht

Nothing finer than walking towards the sun with mountains on either side and the sea in front of you. As we reached the road Cnicht again drew the eye and the walk back down the road to Croesor was superb in the warm evening sunshine with the spring greens contrasting against the blue sky to superb effect.

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Pastoral meets mountains

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Cnicht in all its splendour

It would have been a perfect evening for a wild camp but for us it was time for a little relative luxury of the Brigands Inn at Mallwyd. A few beers and some excellent food topped off a fine day. My weather luck was still holding and we looked forward to another mountain day to follow. Coming soon to a blog near you.

“The sooner you fall behind, the more time you’ll have to catch up”

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