It was one of those weekends when I just could not make up my mind what to do, but I just had to get outside. I fancied Wales but did not want too far to drive, but then to backpack or have the winter luxury of the Bongo? I settled on the Berwyns as a destination as they are the first big hills when you enter Wales from the east, I still had a few of their heathery summits yet to climb. A quick search of Google and I found the Pistyll Rhaeadr campsite which promised a wild and peaceful place to stay.
It was late morning by the time I arrived at the campsite and the woman who checked me in at the café thought that I was slightly mad camping in this weather. She guaranteed that I would have the place to myself! I parked up the van in a splendid spot with a view down the valley and with Craig y Mwn towering above. The day was slowly ebbing away so I had to head into the hills sharpish………………..
6.3 miles with 590 metres ascent
It is a short walk from the cafe to the towering Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall which is a dizzying 240 feet high. It would be a splendid sight after a few days of heavy rain or during a really cold spell.
A path leads through beech trees above the public loo’s and on to open hillside. The crags of Cerrig Poethion still had large cornices and the track upto Llyn Lluncaws looked tempting, I would be descending that way the next afternoon.
I passed a couple of guys lugging a camera and tripod who warned of the icy path ahead, one showing his ripped trousers gained from a fall. Indeed higher up the path was a sheet of clear ice and it took a while to gingerly pick my way across it. A simple descent through pine woods lead to the unfenced top of the falls. All the rocks in the vicinity were covered in a thin dusting of snow over ice, I kept well away from the edge! Further upstream there is a succession of pools and small cascades which would make great spots to while away sunny summer afternoons. Not today though.
The river now turns into the Afon Disgynfa and heads into the heart of the Berwyns. An easy mile or so leads to a large sheepfold which provided me with an opportunity to have a sit down and take in the views in the remarkably clear air.
Further upstream and a hop over the river leads to a sketchy path heading uphill which soon gets lost in the heather. Now if you don’t know the Berwyns they are all about heather. In some parts it comes up to the waist and can result in much bad language and makes you want to sit down and sulk. Luckily here it is the usual knee deep stuff that tries to remove your gaiters and untie your shoelaces. Thankfully there were still large patches of deep rock hard snow which made progress easy, although every now and then it would try to eat a leg. The view towards Cadair Berwyn and Moel Sych was rather nice though, although it looked like my nice new crampons would not be needed the next day.
A blast of freezing cold air greeted me at the large summit cairn and one of the most extensive views I have seen for some time, the air was amazingly clear. The northern horizon was dominated by the Snowdonia peaks glistening white against the winter sky. Snowdon could be clearly seen but it was the Carneddau that stole the show and looked like having the most snow, a perfect unbroken blanket of white.
To the south and east low hills gradually merged with the plains of the Midlands, the green fields contrasting with the white hills.
My original plan had been to visit the hill fort of Craig Rhiwarth and the 608 metre top Glan-hafon to the east but time was beginning to run out. Instead I walked around the small forestry plantation and to a small rise with views up the length of Nant y Llyn.
An easy descent leads to a track that contours above the broken cliffs of Craig y Mwn where there was a long line of icicles on a large peat hag.
It was evident that at this time of year this side of the valley receives little or no sun and peering over the cliffs half of the Rhaeadr valley was still frozen under a dusting of snow. Unfortunately my campsite for the night was on the frozen side!
I got back to the van with half hour of daylight and plans to put up the Tentipi in which I would build a small fire. I started off measuring out the pegging points and then realised that I could not be bothered erecting it. The ground was frozen solid and I had forgotten to bring a chair to keep myself off the snowy ground. I cheated and bundled into the van and put on my Blackcat heater instead!
Later I popped my head out and noticed a clear sky full of stars and the brightness of a moon just beginning to rise over the hill top. A frozen half hour was spent trying to photograph the scene but the wind kept rocking my camera which was set on a 15 second shutter speed, everything coming out blurred. This is the only one that came out ok.
Back in the van and just about to fall asleep I heard my washing up bucket rolling around, surely it was not that windy? I opened the door to be greeted by a friendly face that popped its head into the van!
I had only been in Wales for less than 12 hours and I was already feeling very very relaxed!