Backpacking the southern Arenigs from Llanuwchllyn

by backpackingbongos

I sometimes can find choice overwhelming, for instance put me in a supermarket and ask me to choose a packet of biscuits.  My brain sort of short circuits and I have to ask my partner for help.  It’s either that or pick up some fig rolls, the cupboard is always full of fig rolls.

The same could be said for the hills in Britain, it can be a difficult task trying to make up your mind where to go for a weekend backpack.  Distance needed to drive narrows things down a bit, I can stomach a 3 or 4 hour drive either way for a weekend in the hills.  That still gives a good variety to choose from, most of Wales, Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, North Pennines and the ‘near’ bits of the Lake District.  In fact that does not narrow things down very much at all as it only really excludes Scotland.

I settled on a backpack around Kentmere in the Lakes in the end, mapped it out and everything.  Then the weather changed, then it changed again.  In fact the weather forecast really could not make up its mind.  I ended up going to work on Friday morning with my backpacking rucksack all packed and a pile of maps.  I would check the forecast at lunch time, meet Rae and we would then decide where to go.

Two minutes before setting off we decided to head for Snowdonia as the weather seemed to be the best there over the weekend.  I fancied a wild camp on the southern ridge of Arenig Fawr after reading a trip report of Geoff’s blog.  A scan of the map showed a rough route, we could make up the rest as we went along.

Here is a full map of the route we walked in the end, our wild camp spots are marked as points 2 and 3.

Day 1 (evening) – 4 miles with 330 metres ascent

Leaving was delayed by an hour as a curry was needed to fuel us for the drive to Wales.  The Indian community centre in Nottingham serves up a lovely thali for £3.70 (curry, dhal, rice, salad, chapati, curd and desert) at lunch times.  Well worth a visit.

We arrived at Llanuwchllyn at about 5.30pm and parked up in the deserted car park at the far end of the village.  I could have parked nearer on the lanes around Dolhendre but I fancied the security of leaving the Bongo close to houses.  Llanuwchllyn is a long strung out village and it is a fair walk back to the main road where we picked up a minor lane that leads to Dolhendre.  Near to the lane that crosses the river there was a bit of a commotion going on with loads of parked vehicle and big group of kids and adults.  We left the noise behind and continued ahead with the lane soon turning into a track.  We stood for a while looking at the very brown raging stream of the Afon Fwy and did not notice until we turned around that the large group was now heading up the track we planned to follow.  There must have been at least 30 in the group, half adults and half very energetic children.  We got tangled up in the middle and stopped to let everyone pass, as soon as they passed us they stopped.  We resigned ourselves to walking in the middle of a large crowd.  More akin to being in a shopping centre than a damp Welsh hillside at 7.00pm on a Friday evening!  It was obvious that they were heading for the ruins of Castell Carndochan where we had planned to camp.  Instead we continued along the track (not marked on the map) further along the ridge to look for a spot for the tents.  Unfortunately the green grass was covered in thistles and we realised that there were cows fenced in with us.  Time to continue ahead and hope a reasonable spot turns up.

As we headed up the banks of the Afon Fwy the ground turned to saturated bog and then deep heather and bracken.  The bridge marked on the map actually existed but was a risky affair made of very rusty corrugated iron.  We got across safely but began to despair of finding a place for the tents, the ground was either bog, deep heather or tussocks.  To add to the bleakness and the sense of despair it started to tip it down with rain.  After a bit more rough walking we gave up with the valley bottom, filled our water bottles and headed up hill.  Thankfully we found a patch of soft springy grass that was nearly flat and got the tents up.  There were great views that evening of clouds sweeping across the valley below.  During darkness streetlights twinkled below giving a feint orange glow.  I slept well that night.

Day 2 – 8.3 miles with 780 metres ascent

It was a wet night and still raining in the morning when I got up and cooked breakfast, the hills on the other side of the valley were hidden by a cap of cloud.  The weather forecast had promised sun by late morning but it looked pretty doubtful.  We packed away wet tents that morning.  The plan was to walk the high ground on the west side of the Afon Lliw which would take in a couple of Dewey tops.  Approaching Cerrig Chiwibanog we were passed by a flock of newly sheered sheep who looked uncharacteristically white and clean.  The rocky summit of Dduallt was now clear across the vast expanse of bog called Waun y Griafolen.

The rough summit had a fenced off area which had a large patch of flowers surviving amongst the bleakness.  Anyone able to name them?

We found it easier to follow the eastern edge of the wide ridge where the terrain was less tussocky, the route ahead was punctured by well built old cairns.

Although it was now far from sunny the weather had improved dramatically and the high peaks of Arenig Fawr and Moel Llyfnant were now clear of cloud.  We had our fingers crossed for a sunny evening relaxing on the south ridge or Arenig Fawr with wet tents drying out in warm sunshine.

Just before the last minor summit of Craig Dolfudr north top there was a good view showing just how vast the bog of Waun y Griafolen really is.  It is not area I would like to cross on a wet misty day!

The grassy summit which has a small cairn gives a wild and rugged panorama and we could see the length of the upland valley we would be walking up, the next couple of miles would be either very flat and easy or a land of frustrating bog and vegetation.  It’s hard to tell these things sometimes just by looking at a map.

The first section turned out to be a bit of a nightmare.  The terrain soon turned very heathery with large springy patches of spagnum moss, which is pretty interesting when you get down close to it.

The further we descended the deeper the heather got, at times it was up to our waists and the steep slopes hid many holes among the vegetation.  Progress was slow although the surroundings were very scenic with all that plant life, small trees and outcrops of rock.  We were glad to finally arrive on level ground.

However the ground beneath our feet got no better and after deep tussocks our way was blocked by quaking bog, the ground wobbling all around like a giant blamonche.

Finally after following the river bank for a few hundred metres we found ourselves walking on beautifully cropped grass and the going was easy following a great upland river.

We soon intersected a narrow mountain road which enabled us to cross the deep fast flowing river and start the long climb up Arenig Fawr.  Being an ardent peak bagger I could not resist the small rounded top of Foel Ystrodur Bach which is listed as a Dewey.  Steep grassy slopes alongside a small stream meant we quickly gained height, filling up our water at the head of the stream.  The south ridge of Arenig fawr is a wide complex affair with lots of small tarns and rocky outcrops.  We pitched our tents with a bit of shelter from a small rise and left them to head to the summit.  We climbed a fair way before my eyes could no longer make out the tents behind us.

The sun finally came out on the cold windy summit, giving a fine evening glow to the surrounding hills.

It was nearly 9.00pm by the time we got back down to the tents and our stomachs were in need of food.  Due to the lumpy terrain we were pitched a distance apart so we said our good nights before snuggling down to fill up with hot food and drink.  It turned out to be a pretty chilly evening for the time of year and I sat and watched the clouds lower over the summit.  By the time that it got dark the tents were enveloped by hill fog.

Day 3 – 6.8 miles with 100 metres ascent

The previous night I probably had one of the worst nights I have had in a tent.  It was windy when we pitched up our tents and when darkness fell the wind dropped as well.  However during the night the wind increased and increased until the flapping of the tent made me a little nervous.  I managed to doze and then woke to find myself strangely hot and clammy.  Now as well as the wind the tent was being battered by hard pellets of rain.  The temperature and humidity had risen sharply and things felt damp with condensation.  My waterbottle looked like it had just been taken out of the fridge into a warm room.  If I had been on my own I would have probably packed up at 4.00am and walked back to the van.  I did not think Rae would have appreciated being woken at that time of day!  My worry was of being engulfed by a thunderstorm on this exposed spot.  A couple of experiences of storms in the hills have given me a bit of a phobia of them when exposed.

Finally at 7.30am I just wanted to get up and move, the weather was getting even worse and something did not feel ‘right’.  I braved the wind and rain and walked to Rae’s tent.  I was surprised to find that less than 50 metres away her tent was only exposed to a gentle breeze.  I woke her to find that she had had a really good nights sleep and the wind had been light all night!  Somehow a small rise in the ground had deflected the wind over her tent.  I explained that I was nervous about a storm approaching so we packed up without breakfast and by 8.00am were walking into the full force of the wind and rain.  The far southern end of the ridge was a horrible boggy moras, quaking ground that with all the rain threatened to swallow up us whole.  Navigation wise it would probably have been easier to take a southerly bearing and head directly off of the hill, but the force of the wind would have made it very difficult.  We continued east before descending into a wide boggy bowl.  We were relieved to see the outline of the forest loom out of the mist.

We soon reached the track that leads east into Coed Gordderw and then forced ourselves off path deep into the dark gloomy shelter of the pines.  Dripping we got the stoves on and had coffee and noodles, with wet hands it was a struggle to get lighter and stoves to light.  We were wet, very wet and I realised that my trousers under my waterproofs were soaked, leading to very damp underpants!

Leaving the damp stillness of the trees we continued along the increasingly disappearing and waterlogged track until we finally emerged into a field full of very frisky bullocks.  They were young hooligans running along side us and we had to do a bit of shooing to get them to move away.  It was with relief that we got safely on the other side of a fence!

The track through Y Lordship was a narrow overgrown delight for the first kilometre or so, with the warm humid rain and low cloud all the vegetation made it feel almost tropical.  However we were soon on the usual wide forestry track before the final road stomp back to the car.  It was with relief that clean and dry clothes were put on.

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19 Comments to “Backpacking the southern Arenigs from Llanuwchllyn”

  1. Flower = Bog Asphodel

  2. Yes indeed a Bog Asphodel which has the good sense to be a protected plant. Do you ever use the XCWeather.co.uk as your source for planning your trips? It is a sailing biased site and as we are on bikes most of the time also have a keen interest in the wind. It works very well even from a iPhone. To be recommended and accepts the most obscure villages for specific forecasts.

    • Thanks for the weather site link Warren, just tried a small village in Northumberland and got a good detailed 5 day weather forecast. Another weather site to sit obsessing over on the week before a trip!

  3. sounds like you had an extended version of my recent trip to North Wales! That time we were in the Rhinogs and the winds whipped up to around 60-70mph but swirling!
    and the walk out on sunday was soak to skin time for all of us. On a slightly smug note though, it wasnt at all cold and early on I realised it was better to walk through the streams (I had mesh approach shoes on) than try to avoid them like my companions. Actually quite pleasant in a “oh well I am wet through anyway but I feel a cooked breakfast and i have packed dry clothes in the car” type way

    Good report 🙂

  4. ps

    I use metcheck, BBC and metoffice weather sites and they never agree!

  5. Superb wilderness area, we did most of that route only this year and there are still pockets left to explore.
    So that’s another wet and windy experience!. It’s amazing how much difference a tiny rise in the ground can make to the wind, and also how little difference a substantial hillside can make. I find you just have to plod around for a spot that feels sheltered consistently for a few minutes.
    You wouldn’t want to cross the full width of Waun y Griafolen at all, in any weather!.

  6. Dave its good to hear that others were having just as miserable time in the hills that we were! Once you are wet you are wet so there is no point in worrying about it, unless you have no dry clothes to change into………Weather sites never agree and usually get the weather wrong anyhow.

    Geoff I have no plans whatsoever to do a crossing of Waun Y Griafolen unless there is buried treasure. I just wish that I has spent more time in the evening looking for somewhere more sheltered. Although I am sure that if I had the wind would have changed direction anyway!

  7. Fig rolls, curry, noodles. I think the wind would have followed you even if you’d camped indoors. Sorry.

    • I am just one big methane factory……………..anyway its the best way of warming up the sleeping bag before turning in for the night.

  8. Some fine photos there, James. Waiting eagerly for the Scarp 1 Mk II to arrive, I reckon?!

    • Thanks hendrik. I am in Wales at the moment with my new scarp, very pissed off as it has been very badly made and the stitching is coming apart, rain got in through the hole last night. Not a happy chap!

      Sent from my iPhone

  9. Great trip report and thanks to Warren for the weather link. I use the MWIS and the Met Office but they weren’t that good last weekend! We had far more cloud cover than they predicted, and 40-45mph winds which made the Carneddau very challenging. That said, it was good experience and worth the effort. Any time in the hills, even if it requires a lot of focus, is good time.

    We often have a curry the night before a hillwalk and there are some fairly intriguing issues when you couple that with re-hydrated food, but yes, it does indeed keep your bag warm…

    • I don’t know if it is me but the weather people seem to get less accurate with their forecasts each time I head for the hills. This weekend they got it completely wrong. Once again I had curry but this time the night before. Fish curry and dehdrated chilli, very warm that night…………..

  10. Good report, and some nice looookng landscapes. I was surprised how much the area looks like Lapland, only with grass.

  11. I’ve been away from the world of blogging for far too long, but am back at last!

    Your yellow/orange flower is Bog Asphodel and is one I like to see, but feel slight regret as it heralds the end of summer.

    The moss you’ve shown is actually Marsh Hair moss – Polytrichum commune. http://www.flickr.com/photos/swan-scot/2180725810 It has the star-like appearance on top similar to Sphagnum, but Spag. has a more sponge-like appearance. http://www.flickr.com/photos/swan-scot/2763950800/

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