Archive for the ‘hengwm’ Tag

A Spring Wild Camp in Mid Wales   7 comments

The Hard Man had been driving for a backpack with his two kids for a while. They are much younger than TJS and still in those formative years where the delights of TV and tech are a serious impediment to convincing them them the real world outdoors (i.e. sleeping in tents, in the rain/cold, miles from anywhere, eating dried food and with no phones/iPads etc) is much better. In fact after setting a date for this trip I nearly bailed out having had a long and tiring week at work. THM convinced me otherwise and I am so glad he did

After much discussion we settled on a trip into the wild mountains of mid-Wales around Plynlimon. We met in Llanidloes and then drove into the hills parking up near the high tarn of Glaslyn, after a bumpy drive down the rough track.

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Only one of THMs’ kids had made it, a netball event prevented a full turnout. We packed and headed into the hills. The forecast was reasonable without being spectacular with no rain forecast until Sunday afternoon

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We’d a vague idea to camp in the Hengwm valley. I was sceptical as even though its a place of rare beauty its also a place of extreme sogginess. Still THM was convinced so I went with the flow, hoping the flow wasn’t through the porch of my tent

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We passed by the splendid tarn and ruined farm buildings at Bugeilyn where the track ended and we were into the wild upper reaches of the Hengwm valley

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I’d been equally sceptical about the route through this valley. Its only marked as a right of way and not a path and I had visions of battles with bogs and tussocks, no fun with a full pack. In fact the path was excellent all the way, just the occasional bit of squelch to get through

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As we reached the lower section I suggested we headed for the spot where the Hengwm valley meets the Gwerin valley. I’ve walked through here a few times and its lovely spot complete with waterfalls and a ruined farmhouse. I was still uncertain we’d fine a patch of dry ground big enough but it was worth a go. We headed through a brief zone of tussocks and an uncertain stream crossing and took a look

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My scepticism was unfounded. Just above the falls we found a perfect spot. A patch of bone dry spongy grass with enough space for all of us and a depression behind, sheltered from the wind for cooking. TJS wanted to camp on his own so he used TBFs old Macpac  single hoop and I used my Voyager. THM carried in a substantial tent for extra space. He was also carrying most of the heavy stuff so his sack was outrageously massive. However he is supremely (in fact rather annoyingly) fit so it didn’t seem to bother him. He goes out running and cycling of an evening where I prefer to remain stationary in front of the TV. It was a splendid site with expansive views down the Hengwm valley and to the crags of the hills behind

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After the obligatory brew that follows a period of tent faffing we set out for a wander. This is my favourite pastime on a wild camp. Exploring at some leisure the local vicinity. There is a tendency to always be heading from A to B when hiking so you often have blinkers on, destination paramount. An aimless wander allows you to come across little gems you’d otherwise miss

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In this case we explored an evocative holly tree growing out of major hole between some rocks. We then scrambled through a line of crags and then along the edge below which on its crest was reminiscent of a alpine arete. It was all extremely fine.

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After following a few sheep tracks high above Cwm Gwerin we dropped down to a small un-named stream that had some very fine small falls

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The bright sunshine backed by dark stormy looking clouds were dramatic as we wandered through the tussocks and bogs spotting other potential wild campsites as we went. Its a complete fascination for me when out in the hills, always looking for a possible site to throw a tent up

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Back at base camp it was time to eat. For me and TJS a bowl of freshly cooked anchovy & bacon carbonara. For THM and his compatriot one of those freeze dried instant meals that looked suspiciously like cat food (in fact it it tasted ok). THM needed to find some way of keeping the weight down but I have to say these freeze dried “just add water meals” don’t really appeal to me. I prefer the weight of real food and the fuel needed to cook them although I can see their attraction on a long trip with several days worth to be carried

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This is the youngest member of the party who I’ve known since she was a babe in arms. We spent a while discussing the fact that she needed a moniker on my blog. We settled on “Loud and Cheeky” seeing as she is (in the nicest way) so she became LAC. I had thought that perhaps she would be an unwilling accomplice under duress to “get outdoors” from her old-man. However she seems to love the whole outdoor and wild camping experience as much as TJS does. She appeared to have a great time and was great company the whole weekend. I just wish I get my youngest to appreciate these same delights

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As we cleared up from evening meal, the skies cleared and we were treated to a super sunset, all shafts of light, glowing hillsides and pink clouds

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We spent ages wandering about, snapping photos and celebrating our good fortune at finding such a perfect campsite in such fine conditions

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Being April, once the sun went down it got cold pretty cold and we all retired for an early and rather chilly night

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I’m sure I heard it rain in the night so I wasn’t hopeful when THM woke me at 7:45. It seemed unreasonably early until I stuck my head out the door and realised why he was up and about. It was a glorious morning. My main DSLR camera is out of action so I was using my new point and shoot. Alas its rather too easy to change the settings accidentally so the first few look a bit strange (they were on some sort of arty setting) but they do give the right overall impression

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We breakfasted in the warming sun (well LAC decided a lie in was in order)

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Normal camera service was resumed

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We hadn’t expected such  a fine day so we headed our for a climb up Plynlimon. I’ve done it loads of times in the past few years having discovered its charms but it was missing from the THM’s check list

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The terrain in these parts is either paths (where they exist) or one of (or all of in some places), tussocks, spongy moss, bog and heather. The first few hundred meters off piste above the campsite were hard going, including one very steep grassy gully

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Once up on the ridge of Pen Cerrig Tewion the going was much easier, a successions of sheep tracks leading us upwards

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The views were expansive and clear but there was a chilly wind blowing

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LAC was finding it tough going having missed breakfast and needed a few stops and regular chocolate to keep going. In conditions like this though, regular stops to admire the scenery is hardly a chore. To be fair she is still a novice in hiking terms and mid-Wales is a real test of stamina and will when the underfoot conditions are pathless (something I can vouch for). In the circumstances the steady progress was more than acceptable

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We made it to the summit and took on more fuel/chocolate/cereal bars/out of date pork pies.

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The views out to the coast over Nant y Moch reservoir were especially grand

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The weather didn’t look like deteriorating as forecast but we had a long way to go back to the tent, pack up and back to the car so we headed down

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The photo below gives a great aerial view of of wild site surroundings. You can just make out the tents in the middle of the shot

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The route down took us through some of the most bizarre underfoot vegetation I’ve ever walked on. It was a deep spongy moss that completely enveloped your boots when you trod on it. Like walking on marshmallows (if such a thing were possible). It was very steep but we sort of bounced down. It was quite surreal

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After a great hike and then lunch we broke camp and took the long wander back to the car. The forecast rains never arrived and it stayed bright and sunny all the way back to Glaslyn and the cars.

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We were back much later than planned but it had been a absolute stonker of a weekend. The walking had been easy and dry, the wild site pretty much perfect and the climb to Plynlimon a sheer delight.

Plynlimon Backpack

Around 16 miles walking in total. Apart from a few bikers at the car park and a solitary runner on top of Plynlimon we’d seen no-one on such a fine weather weekend. We congratulated ourselves, made plans to do this more often and then went our separate ways. And to think I nearly decided not to go

Plynlimon for TBH   2 comments

Mid-wales highest point and one I’ve been up several times the past few years. Its a wonderfully underrated and little visited spot commanding great views and is packed with hidden charms.  On the basis of an ordinary forecast and with nothing else in mind we climbed it again albeit with a different finish, as TBF has never been up before – at least not that she can remember. This is a continuing theme for us. My youngest is not big on walking so often TBF has to stay behind and look after her. She is now old enough and responsible enough to be left home-alone while the the rest of us take to the hills. In much the same way I’ve enjoyed sharing my favourite routes with TJS I’m now doing the same with TBF

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As per my previous posts we parked high up near Maesnant and picked up the unmarked path that follows the stream of the same name swiftly to the summit.

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It was a grey day with flat light but it was bright and warm enough to enjoy a leisurely lunch on the summit.

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The walk around the ridge and over to Pen Pumlumon Fach Arwystli past the source of the Wye and on towards the source of the Severn was easy and delightful. I’m always surprised that the source of these two great rivers is so close together yet they follow such completely different routes to the sea. Having lived near both rivers most my life I have a certain affection for them. Mind you as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before sources of rivers are almost exclusively disappointing affairs seeing as they are in effect just bog that trickles into streams and so on. It’s the thought of them that’s intriguing

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As we continued our walk the skies brightened considerably and impressive patches of blue sky appeared. The fact that this was not in the forecast added to the surprise and good spirits. We struck off west near the source of the Severn towards a cairn overlooking the Hengwm valley

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By this time the the sun was starting to drop to the horizon and the light was fantastic. The view down the Hengwm valley was superb and we took a rest to take in the views

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Our route home followed the Hengwm a after a steep rocky descent and a crossing of the waterfalls above the ruined farmhouse. The setting sun lit up the valley and the hillsides magnificently and such is it’s little known nature we had the place and what felt like the whole of mid-Wales to ourselves

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Hengwm is one of the most stunning valleys in Wales if not the UK. At least from a scenic perspective. From a walking perspective it’s an absolute nightmare. The map shows what looks like a substantial track. This is a cruel deception. There is nothing that even remotely resembles a path. What you do have is lots and lots of bog and lots of lots of man-sized tussocks, often in the same place. On previous visits I’ve stayed near the river and got wet. This time we went higher into the zone where the tussock was king. We fell, stumbled and got wet. Wetter in fact than the easier ground by the river where you can at least see the water at your feet. It was  20 minutes of tedium but at least the sunset put on a show to keep us entertained. Its a fabulous place to visit just don’t expect to keep your feet dry 🙂

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A grand day out finished up with a slap up tea from the local chippy

 

From the Mountains to the Sea – Part 1   10 comments

March brings about the first possible family trips to the coast as the weather warms up and my parents caravan is open for business.

 

With a dry day forecast we headed our for the day down to Mwnt Beach near Cardigan. It’s a stunning sandy bay and supposedly a great spot for dolphin spotting

mwnt beach, traeth y mwnt, foel y mwnt

It was dry but cloudy and cool but it was great to be back on the beach for the first time this year. There were actually a few brave kids in the water!! We declined the offer and settled for an hour of poking about in the rock pools, a family favourite. A sheltered spot on the rocks served us well for lunch

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mwnt beach, traeth y mwnt, foel y mwnt

It was a liitle too early in the year for a full blown beach day so we took a walk to the top of the hill overlooking the bay and then down the coast. This small church sits quietly between beach and hill

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The view from the top was grand and enlivened by a close up of a small raptor. Not sure if it’s a peregrine falcon or a kestrel. I’m sure some knowledgeable sort will correct me

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mwnt beach, traeth y mwnt, foel y mwnt

mwnt beach, traeth y mwnt, foel y mwnt

Even though it was cloudy the views were nice with some interesting light effects from the low sun and the grey layered clouds. Despite constant diligence on the sea we never saw a dolphin!

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mwnt beach, traeth y mwnt, foel y mwnt

We took a stroll along the prom at Aberystwyth as a fine end to the day

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The following looked more promising from a weather perspective so I fulfilled a promise to TJS and took him up Plynlimon (highest mountain in mid-Wales and worthy target for a teenage walker obsessed with facts and figures!) I’ve had a couple of cracking trips up here in the past few years which you can read about here and here

cadair Idris, cardigan bay, maesnant, nant-y-moch, pen cerrig tewion, plynlimon, Y Garn, drosgol, hengwm, nant-y-moch, plynlimon, pumlumon fach

The day was exceedingly warm but very hazy, almost August-like. The views were a little washed out but fine nonetheless

cadair Idris, cardigan bay, maesnant, nant-y-moch, pen cerrig tewion, plynlimon, Y Garn, drosgol, hengwm, nant-y-moch, plynlimon, pumlumon fach

It was clearly frog-breeding season and adults, tadpoles and spawn was everywhere. One small lake was swarming with frogs and you could here their combined voices from several metres away

cadair Idris, cardigan bay, maesnant, nant-y-moch, pen cerrig tewion, plynlimon, Y Garn, drosgol, hengwm, nant-y-moch, plynlimon, pumlumon fach

TJS was pleased to finally reach the summit of this fine and very under-rated summit. As with the previous two visits we saw hardly a soul the entire day

cadair Idris, cardigan bay, maesnant, nant-y-moch, pen cerrig tewion, plynlimon, Y Garn, drosgol, hengwm, nant-y-moch, plynlimon, pumlumon fach

TJS also has an interest in seeing the source of rivers especially our local river Wye. I’ve told him many times that river sources by and large are deeply uninteresting affairs at least visually if not esoterically. The photo below is the Source of the Wye which I think proves my point. Just some wet grass that turns into bog that turns into a snall stream and so on. However he seemed very excited to see it and that’s the main thing

cadair Idris, cardigan bay, maesnant, nant-y-moch, pen cerrig tewion, plynlimon, Y Garn, drosgol, hengwm, nant-y-moch, plynlimon, pumlumon fach

cadair Idris, cardigan bay, maesnant, nant-y-moch, pen cerrig tewion, plynlimon, Y Garn, drosgol, hengwm, nant-y-moch, plynlimon, pumlumon fach

We enjoyed a lunch on the slopes and varied the walk by taking in the dam at Llyn Llygad Rheidol

cadair Idris, cardigan bay, maesnant, nant-y-moch, pen cerrig tewion, plynlimon, Y Garn, drosgol, hengwm, nant-y-moch, plynlimon, pumlumon fach

It actually felt warm enough (at least out of the water) for a swim but we declined!

cadair Idris, cardigan bay, maesnant, nant-y-moch, pen cerrig tewion, plynlimon, Y Garn, drosgol, hengwm, nant-y-moch, plynlimon, pumlumon fach

cadair Idris, cardigan bay, maesnant, nant-y-moch, pen cerrig tewion, plynlimon, Y Garn, drosgol, hengwm, nant-y-moch, plynlimon, pumlumon fach

We ended the day by joining the Funsters in Aberystwyth where it was gorgeously warm and sunny if a little crowded. Most of the West Midlands and Merseyside had taken the chance for a day out by the sea judging by the accents. The first coastal weekend of the year but not the last…

A Perfect Day – Arans October 2012   17 comments

Sometimes it all comes together. Sometimes for intangible reasons it becomes the perfect day. Sometimes everything just “works”. I’ve had more challenging walks. I’ve had more exciting walks. I’ve had walks with better weather. I’ve had walks with better views. This day I enjoyed myself more on a day in the mountains than I have for a very long time. Maybe I’d had a bad week at work. Maybe the endless grey drizzle of the previous few days had ground me down. Perhaps it was the company of D and TBF. Perhaps it was the simple pleasure of sharing a previous route with others. Perhaps it was the cold clear and crisp feel of a winter’s day. Whatever the reason, THIS was a good day 🙂

Aran Fawddwy, Craiglyn Dyfi

Aran Fawddwy above Craiglyn Dyfi

I’d travelled back down to Wales to join up with the family in Clarach. TBFs mum was with us and she kindly agreed to look after L for the day so we could head off for a full day. We had thought about Snowdon but I couldn’t be bothered with such a long drive on what promised to be a fine day. A check of the map revealed that the southern end of the Arans was no more than an hours drive away and even though I’d done this route last year I thought it was well worth repeating. I’m shamelessly lazy so I’ve just re-used the route map from last time. It’s the same walk other than the omission of Glascwm, a fine summit but too far for shorter day.

8 miles, 3,500 feet of ascent

After another very chilly morning in the caravan we were off to the mountains

Cwm Cywarch is one of the finest valleys and mountain corries I know and provides a stunning and secretive entrance the Arans.

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Cwm Cywarch

Cwm Cywarch

Cwm Cywarch

The car park was busy and startlingly cold but with sunshine and with the massive cliffs above us it’s an exciting place to begin a walk. The route up into the higher reaches of Cwm Cywarch is wonderful, a picture perfect rocky valley surrounded by peaks and filled with tumbling streams and waterfalls, backed by blue skies and scudding dark clouds. I recalled my visit last summer when I sat on the rocks in the warm sun and paddled my feet in the stream – not that kind of day today.

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D in the upper reaches of Cwm Cywarch

We made swift progress. D is now of the age where he is starting to pressure me for pace uphill and leaves TBF in his wake. This was easily his toughest day in the hills. Cadair Idris was his previous highest summit but the Arans are much wilder and untamed. He seemed thrilled by the path up the valley as it twisted and turned amongst the rocks and finally emerged onto the broad saddle between Glascwm and the Arans themselves.

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D approaches the head of Cwm Cywarch

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TBF, Pen yr Allt Uchaf behind

The view was stunning with the Rhinogs standing proud above the Mawddach estuary and the Arenigs and its outliers to the north.

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Rhinogs from the head of Cwm Cywarch

The wind was cold but I revel in these conditions, much happier than on a warm sultry summers day. The cold clear air lifts my spirits and refreshes my soul like nothing I know. I even find some of the wilder winter weather positively inspiring. Once on Bheinn Liath Mhor Fannich, I was in a chipper mood that even a vicious hailstorm couldn’t quell. After a wonderful steep climb up a hard snow slope to the summit a couple of friends arrived on the top, tired and dispirited by the hail to find me prancing about on the summit, grinning wildly playing air guitar with an ice axe. Exasperated by such inappropriate cheerfulness, it was more than they could stand and promptly turned tail and went down. The rest of the day contained some of the nastiest hail showers I can remember mixed with blue interludes over a winter mountain landscape. Over 20 years on it’s still a day I recall with great fondness. As I’ve said in previous posts, sometimes, I think I’m not wired in the head properly

Back to the present. The route from the col traverses some seriously boggy ground, most of the worst parts have planks lain across but it’s still a soggy old spot. I’m becoming a devotee of trail shoes rather than boots even in such terrain. However one issue I hadn’t thought of is when the ground is frosty, the bog-water is cold (obvious I know). My feet were cold most of the day so much as I love the light weight and nimbleness they provide, in winter I’ll need to revert to more significant footwear.

Rhinogs, Cwm Cywarch

D and TBF float on a sea of bog

Rather than head straight for the summit I headed off-piste towards the ridge of Gwaun y Llwyni, rough but not as soggy as the main path with a steep climb to the ridge. It’s well worth it for the sensational view back down Cwm Cywarch and across Hengwm. The ridge gives wonderful grassy stroll high above the Hengwm with views back across to the distant Rhinogs and beyond.

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TBF & D traverse Gwaun y Llwyni

The ridge ends abruptly above an immense grassy cwm at the head of Hengwm a superb spot that I’d used the previous year for a stop but far too windy this time.

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D on the summit of Gwaun y Llwyni

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Aran Fawddwy from Gwaun y Llwyni

I’d spied a collection of rocks on the path to Drosgol that looked ideal for lunch and so it proved, out of the wind and perched above Hengwm for great views. I’d wanted to lunch on the summit but I figured it would be a little chilly.

Aran Fawddwy, Gwaun y Llwyni

Time for a break

Refreshed we continued around the NW rim of Hengwm to climb steeply up to the summit Drosgol with its memorial cairn to an RAF rescue airman who died after being struck by lightning. It’s a truly marvellous, albeit solemn, spot right on the edge of the grassy cliffs with far-reaching views to the Berwyns, the Long Mynd and what I’m pretty sure was the Wrekin near Telford.

Drosgol, Glascwm, Cadair Idris

Climbing to Drosgol, Glascwm and Cadair Idris behind

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Summit of Drosgol, Glascwm, Cadair Idris behind

It also affords a view across the rugged cliffs of Aran Fawddwy cradling Craiglyn Dyfi at their feet and across to Aran Benllyn. The walk from Drosgol and through the easy angled crags to the summit is just a pleasure. A thin path works it way through the crags but simply finding your own way, twisting and turning through the crags and hollows is mesmeric. One of those short sections where the mountain seems to draw you to the top effortlessly. The summit is a very broad level plateau of rocks leading up to the main summit with its trig pillar perched on the edge of the cliffs.

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Aran Fawddwy summit ridge

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D & TBF approach the summit of Aran Fawddwy

It’s a magnificent summit, comparable with the best Snowdonia has to offer but without the crowds. Standing alone the views are far-reaching taking in a full panorama from the Preseli Hills of Pembrokeshire, Plynlimon, Berwyns, Arenings, Rhinogs and across to The Rivals and Carn Fadryn on the Lleyn Peninsula. I fancy a night on the summit here on a warm summers evening, plenty of sites for a bivvy or possibly throw up  a very small tent. D was chuffed to climb his highest mountain to date and pretty good one at that with a real mountaineering flavour.

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Summit winners

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View east from Aran Fawddwy

We sat on the rocks for a quick snack, with our feet metaphorically dangling in Craiglyn Dyfi far below The cold wind and march of time meant it was an all too brief stop on the summit so we reluctantly turned tail and retraced our steps to Drosgol. There had been scudding cloud all day that had added a sense of threat and majesty to the views but as we descended the clouds began to break and we were treated to some spectacular late-afternoon, low-angled sunlight views that are a such a feature of these autumn and winter days.

Glascwm, Cadair Idris

Glascwm & Cadair Idris

It just got better and better as we crossed Drosgol and headed down towards Hengwm. The sunlight on the Hirnants was highlighting every gully and slope giving a real sense of their complex local topography.

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Drosgol

Aran Fawddwy, Craiglyn Dyfi, Drosgol

Aran Fawddwy & Craiglyn Dyfi from Drosgol

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D & TBF on Drosgol summit

I had both a real (from the grassy slopes) and metaphorical spring in my step as we descended towards the final highlight of the day, Hengwm.

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Hengwm

It’s the most perfect grassy glacial valley you could imagine towered over by the grassy ridge and corries of Gwaun y Llwyni to the west and Pen yr Allt Uchaf to the east. As with my previous visit the long grassy ridge of Pen yr Allt Uchaf looked inviting to stride across but time was too short and would involve either retracing your steps or a couple of thousand feet of steep grass to descend.

Hengwm, Drosgol

Drosgol from Hengwm

Hengwm has the most amazingly created path that traces a straight line from top to bottom making for the easiest of descents (especially for those of us with dodgy knees). As the sun began to set behind Craig Cywarch it turned the whole valley a shade of gold that matched my feeling of a truly treasured day. All too soon the sun disappeared, the air grew instantly colder and we quickened our pace back to the car.

Gwaun y Llwyni, Hengwm

Gwaun y Llwyni from Hengwm

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The final desent of Hengwm – more “Golden Time”

It had been a day to remember and a fitting end to the British Summer Time as the clocks turned back and the long winter nights were upon us. That feeling of cold, crisp air had fired my passion for the “big” mountains. I wanted another day like it but a total washout the next day put pay to that! A feast from the chippy finished off the day perfectly – faggots chips and mushy peas – a classic.

I’ll apologise for using this Elbow song again (it appeared on my slide show from the Gower from earlier this year). The track is a little anthemic but I love the uplifting melody and words that just seemed to sum up what for me anyway was a euphoric day

“Throw those curtains wide. One day like this a year will se me right” Enjoy!

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!

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

Tagged with , , , ,

Arans – time to go back   8 comments

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

1. Mountain clouds do not have silver linings

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

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

Cwm Cywarch

Cwm Cywarch

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

Upper reaches of Cwm Cywarch

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

Cadair Idris and Llyn y Fign from Glascwm

Dovey Hills and Llyn y Fign from Glascwm

Arans from Glascwm

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

Cwm Cywarch

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

Aran Fawddwy summit ridge looking North

Aran Fawddwy summit ridge looking South

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

Aran Benllyn from Aran Fawddwy

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

Aran Fawddwy, Aran Benllyn and Creiglyn Dyfi from Drysgol

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

Hengwm

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

Craig Cywarch

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

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

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