Amongst a growing list of regular calendar trips is our July Backpacking trip. Last year in the Moelwyns was a classic but this year we wanted somewhere different. The weather was mixed so we decided on somewhere closer to home. I have a real fondness for the hills to the south of the Elan Valley so the plan was made. TJF was dumped with the grandparents to go birthday shopping. It was just me and Funster/Sherpa trio
After a late and leisurely bit of packing we headed past the reservoirs, parked up and were on our way
The weather was mixed, sunshine with some dark clouds that seemed to be saying rain was coming. Despite some dark clouds from time to time we stayed dry all weekend.
The Rhiwnant Valley has become a firm favourite of mine and even with the heavy packs it was a delightful amble into it’s deserted inner reaches.
The pool at the bottom of the falls of Nany y Carew is an obvious and stunning spot for a lengthy lunch break although the pool was a little murkier than the previous visits. It was too blustery and cool for a swim anyway
We pressed on and I had in mind to camp by the upper reaches of the stream. When I’d walked this way with TJS in the winter I recalled several spots to camp. In the height of the summer however, bracken is king and everything that was once grass was now ferns. Time for plan B and I reckoned we could probably find a flattish spot up on Carreg Yr Ast or Dygarn Fawr although we’d have to walk to get water.
The summit of Carreg Yr Ast is a very fine one and seemed to fit my personal requirement for lofty and extensive views from a summer wild camp. After a bit of wandering I found the perfect spot just to the east of the summit, dry spongy grass with ample rocks for sitting. TBF went off to get water while me and TJS – well me mainly – put the tent up.
It was a great site, one of the best I’ve found. The weather had been steadily improving and the views were sensational. A few midges were about but in nothing too troublesome. We brewed up and soaked it all in, pleased that the lack of sites down by the river had forced our hand into a far better spot.
Either before or after dinner (I really don’t remember which) we went off for a stroll to Drygarn Fawr and it’s beehive stone cairns. You can see the tent in the centre of the photos below
The clouds on the horizon still looked threatening but I was sure they would pass us by as they did.
After returning to the tent and having a brew and cake (and possibly our evening meal – who knows) we chilled in the summer mountain air
I took off down the hill to get some more water figuring the Nant Yr Ych was closer than the Nant Yr Ast. It was, but it had been very cleverly protected with massed ranks of waist high tussocks. I found the stream when I fell into it after a battle with a particularly large and menacing tussock
We settled down to watch the sunset which was magnificent. A grandstand finale to the day and a fitting send off for a long nights sleep.
We woke the next morning to a stunner of day. Pretty much cloudless but with enough wind to keep things cools and the midges at bay.
Bacon sandwiches were made and consumed with relish (well ketchup actually – see what I did there) and we broke camp – very slowly for it was a fine day – ready for some real wilderness walking.
I’d had idea we could walk all around the watershed, dropping into the Afon Arban and on to the Claerwen Dam to make a really good circuit. I had no idea how rough the terrain would be but I hoped that the faint path that follows the boundary marker stones would persist all the way leaving us with a short walk across to the river valley. An excellent plan that very nearly paid off.
We retraced our steps to Drygarn Fawr in sunshine and a keen wind. It was clear from the summit that the faint path was there and we followed it through the grass, tussocks and dried peat hags with ease.
We praised our good fortune for the dry summer. As we turned north along Drum Yr Eira the going became a little more tricky with constant weaving about to keep to the best line. When in doubt and just when an easy route seemed out, the marker stones would appear along with another faint path and we linked these together to make a splendid, long traverse across this stunning wilderness to Cerrig Llwyd Yr Rhestr were took a break for some sustenance.
I checked the map and all we had top do was to cross to Drum Dagwylltion and then descend a few hundred metres to the valley of the Nant Yr Lau where the river would deliver us an easy descent. The Wilderness fought back. The marker stones disappeared as did any traces of path and the grass and tussocks got deeper. We tried to traverse around the head of the valley but the tussocks were immense – or so we thought. We decided to head directly down to the stream figuring that would be the easiest route. It was torture. It was a few hundred meters but these were man sized tussocks – I’m not kidding. They were at least 5 feet high and several times I completely lost sight of my feet and pitched forward onto my face. As you can tell, photos were not a priority!
We reached the stream with a sigh of relief, took a drink of clear cold water and pressed on, relieved that the worst was over. It was a cruel deception
The valley was stunning with the stream twisting and turning amongst the rocks. Trouble was the bed was narrow and filled with passages of loose scree, bracken and worst of all, huge waterfalls of more boggy tussocks cascading down to the stream with no way around them. It was more torture and I could see that my feigned and forced enthusiasm for how grand the valley was to look at, if not walk through, was not rubbing off on the others. They were grim faced and had clearly had enough. In a stroke of inspiration I crossed the stream, bashed up through a bit of dense and steep bracken and found a path. It took us easily and swiftly down to the Afon Arban (past some rather good looking wild campsites for future reference)
We stopped by a stunning piece of river estate and took a long rest, bathed our tired feet in the cool water and scoffed most of the food we had left. We’d really earned that!
From there it was glorious stroll down this rather stunning valley on a path! We passed several spots in the small gorge at the bottom that would be ideal for a summer picnic and swim.
The Clarewen Dam looked stunning in the afternoon sun
The walk along the old road above the Afon Claerwen was excellent although much longer than I thought. After a hard day on tough terrain we are all feeling the strain and we reached the car with something of a sigh of relief.
It had been a superb outing. These hills lack drama, crags and pinnacled summits but they are lonely, austere, full of small hidden charms and delights, some truly wild and expansive scenery and really tough and challenging walking terrain. I love them and hope that the tale and the photos inspire you make the effort to go out and explore them. You won’t be disappointed and you will most likely have them largely to yourselves. I’ve been up here four times now and other than the car parks and the environs rarely seen a soul.