Backpacking the Dyfi hills from Aberllefenni

by backpackingbongos

For a map of this route click here.

It was dark when I left the house last Saturday morning to pick up Rae from the other side of Nottingham.  As we drove west into Wales the wind rocked the van from side to side on the motorway, giving a good indication of what it will be like once up on the hills.  We sneaked into the village of Aberllefenni by the back door, by a barely noticable road on the map from Aberangell.  As it wound its way up into the forest clad hills my sat nav started complaining and requested that I go back the way I has come, before finally deciding I was no longer on a road.  The road steeply descended into Aberllefenni where I found a spot to park the van at the north end of the village.

Day 1 – 9 miles with 890 metres ascent

Three enthusiastic border collies found us whilst we sorted out our stuff, eager to eat all of our food and get into the van.  The wind was gusting up the valley and bands of rain swept across the hillside as we shouldered our bags and headed to the footbridge over the Afon Dulas.  A beautifully wooded path led alongside the river before crossing another footbridge and climbing up through more woodland above the Nant Esgair-neiriau.  A gentle introduction to the weekend, sheltered from the weather by the fold of the valley and the trees.  As we gained height a gate led out of the woods onto pastures and we started the climb towards the top of Fedw-lwyd.  The weather got wilder the higher we climbed, the gusts making us stagger like a pair of drunks.  Most of the higher peaks were covered in low cloud and the views were dull and overcast, but there was a nice view down into Cwm Coeg with its trees showing their Autumnal colours.

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It looked like the path up to Mynydd Cwmcelli has been used by motorbikes and the slopes were heavily churned up, making the sticky clay like surface heavy going.  Bags were dumped just below the steep ramparts of the hill before the short climb to the trig at its summit.  On a clear day I would imagine the views would be superb from this isolated hill, today views were lost in the murk.

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We soon found a track just below the summit that led to the minor road we had driven up that morning.  Turning left, a short walk along the road led to a forestry track that gave quick and easy progress above the Afon Angell.  Whilst descending the weather turned for the worst and the rain hammered down whilst our worlds turned into a misty grey.

To avoid a short road walk I spotted a track on the map that crossed the Afon Angell so we descended into the valley.  Unfortunately the track did not exist and we had a short but exceptionally difficult crossing of cleared ground to get to the river.  The ground was covered by what seemed to be a raft of conifer branches that would often give way plunging your leg into a hole to thigh level.  Add to this loads of brambles and I was cursing under my breath as a crossing point of the river was found.

The ascent of the valley Nant Maes y gamfa was like entering a lost world, we had a strong feeling that not many people come this way.  It was a scenic walk up to the buildings marked as Maes-y-gamfa on the map where we thought we may be able to camp in one of the fields.  I had initially assumed that the building would be a ruin but it looked like it is still used, so we headed up the valley towards the disused quarry.  Things now got a bit frustrating as although the ground was flat and grassy, it was solid rock only an inch below the surface meaning that tent pegs were useless.  It was onwards and upwards and we decided to walk to the head of the valley and look for a pitch there.  The higher we got the stronger the wind got and unfortunately the rougher the ground got!  The head of the valley was either bog or tussock and it would be dark in less than an hour.  We noticed a small knoll 50 metres above the valley bottom so went up to investigate.  It was not perfect but it was dry and tussock free, it just mean pitching the tents at a bit of a weird angle!

Whilst looking for our tent pitch and whilst pitching the tents there had been a bit of a lull in the wind, as usual this gave a false sense of security.  As soon as we were cosy in individual tents and got stoves out to cook, the wind started gusting again.  It was strong enough to keep on blowing the lid off of my pan, it was a long slow boil that evening!  As darkness fell the wind would often stop for a while and the world would become silent, then suddenly our tents would be hit by a violent gust.  The end of my Akto would frequently be pushed flat onto my legs but would soon bounce back, I am glad that I did not take my Laser Comp, I like the confidence my Akto gives me in wild weather.

Day 2 – 7.7 miles with 700 metres ascent

We awoke to much brighter weather and the wind had dropped a bit but was still fairly enthusiastic with its gusting.  I got up and had a leg stretcher and took a photo of our tents in the distance.

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Looking the other way you can see that last nights pitch was less that perfect, however it was the best we could find without climbing onto the hill tops, at least there was water close at hand.

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It was not really weather for having a long lazy breakfast so we were soon packed and heading up the grassy shoulder of Maesglase.  Visibility today was excellent and behind us forest cloaked hills rolled away into the distance where we caught a glimpse of the sea.

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Being a bit of a sad collector of summits (me not Rae) we headed to the top of Maesglase which is now the west top of Craig Rhiw-erch.  I had climbed Maesglase a few years ago when the summit was confirmed as the east top of Maen Du.  I am more than sure that I traversed both tops back then but can’t really remember, anyway it is a fine hill and well worth more than one visit.  Heading west the ground for a while became pretty rough with deep tussocks and heather.  Crossing a small gully we had a good view of our route ahead towards Craig Portas.

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The ridge to Craig Portas is the sort of hillwalking that I enjoy the most.  Sweeping grassy ridges with great views on either side with terrain that makes it easy to stride out whilst wearing a pack, also completely empty of other walkers!

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Although grassy there were some exceptionally steep slopes falling from the ridge, here there were stunning views down into Afon Cerist.

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A fence line runs along the length of these hills which would make them easy to walk in mist.  We continued until we could see our final peak of the day Waun-Oer with Cadair Idris just peaking out from behind it.

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The trig point was quickly gained and we could make out a large amount of the peaks of Snowdonia to the north, unfortunately the cold wind meant that it was not a place to hang around so we continued following the fence south west along the ridge.

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As we descended, Cadair Idris began to look ever bigger on the horizon, from this angle it looked like you should be able to continue along the ridge and climb it.  However in reality there is a huge descent down into the valley.

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We planned to take the public right of way marked on the map that leads into Cwm Ratgoed and got a good view into this sunlit valley before descending.  I am fairly wary of taking rights of way through forestry plantations as they usually don’t exist on the ground, leaving you fighting through prickly pine needles.  However on this occasion I was pleasantly surprised as the narrow path was clear and easy to follow through the dark and gloomy woods.

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As we reached the floor of Cwm Ratgoed and followed the track towards Aberllefenni we realised that we had not passed one single other walker in the whole weekend.  Snowdonia is a pretty big place and it is easy to search out the quiet empty spots to get away from it all.

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9 Comments to “Backpacking the Dyfi hills from Aberllefenni”

  1. There seems to be a lot more to Wales than it appears on the map if you know where to look.

  2. Robin, Wales has some of the best backpacking and hillwalking outside of the Highlands. Its easy to get drawn to the more popular areas (which are often popular for a reason) but there is loads of great stuff well off the beaten track. Snowdonia on its own could keep you busy for years. Then there is Mid wales around Elan Valley which is really wild. Further south the Black mountains and the Brecon Beacons have loads of possibilities.

  3. I recognise most of that route except for the approach to Maesglase, a great area for solitude except perhaps for the Waun-oer ridge – there are usually a few people there.
    Mynydd Cwmcelli is a hill fort and does have great distant views, I’m sad to hear about the bikes churning it all up.

  4. Wales is surprisingly huge and the thing is 1/2 of it is wild and hilly/mountainous. Avoid the Snowdon Massif and the central massif of the Brecon Beacons and you can find wild empty expanses everywhere in Wales. But shhhhhhhhh, dont tell everyone! 😉

  5. Nice write up James – enjoyed the scenery too. I loath those times when you pass 10 places that would make a perfect wild camp throughout the day. You come to actually settle down for the night though and you just can’t find one! All good fun.

    Not been over to Snowdonia at all yet so maybe I should be pulling out the maps for look this winter….

  6. Well done. A nice little amble and a comprehensive write-up. The camp site looked fine to me!

  7. Geoff, It really is sad when you see that the countryside is being churned up by motorbikes, especially when there are loads of forestry tracks to blast around on. Apart from that a great area for solitude.

    Dave, I will only tell the people who read this blog about how good Wales is. Will mean that it remains pretty quiet!

    Marcus, We actually passed an idylic spot about 30 mins before the old house. Too far to go back though! You must get yourself to Snowdonia, in my opinion it beats the Lakes hands down.

    Martin, cheers. I am really fussy when it comes to my camp spot. If I am going to spend 12 hours somewhere it has to be really comfy!

  8. Wales again and again looking good. Nice wild walk there you had. Lucky man 🙂

  9. I am waiting to read about a Wales visit on your blog Martin!

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