Summer slackpacking in the Moelwyns

by backpackingbongos

As I sat in the car it was rocked by the wind that was rushing unimpeded through the valley.  Soggy curtains of rain drifted down from the mountains which were hidden under a steely grey blanket of cloud.  I could see cascades on the hillside appearing from the cloud base.  It was not the sort of weather that I wanted from an August weekend.

I had parked at the end of the single track road at Blaenau Dolwyddelan, room for a couple of cars on the verge.  The surrounding fields were flooded and I sat there considering the wisdom of putting my waterproofs in the boot.  Reuben had woken from his slumber on the back seat and was keen to get moving.  The weather forecast predicted that the rain would stop at 6.00pm and for once they were spot on.  After half an hour of staring through the windscreen the rain subsided to a fine drizzle.  I grabbed the opportunity to pull on waterproofs, saddle the dog and head out into the murk.

Total distance 18.5 kilometres with 870 metres ascent

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Day one

We set off the dogs barking as we passed the farm buildings at Coed Mawr, taking the track that leads into Cwm Edno.  Climbing across the hillside we soon entered the low cloud base and although not raining the air was damp.  Thankfully we were sheltered from the wind as the clearly defined track led us into the hills and towards the Afon Cwm Edno.  The river was a turbulent mass of brown foamy angry water and I was thankful for the bridge.  It would have been impossible to cross without it.

The ground surrounding the river was waterlogged rough moorland, there was nowhere that would provide a half decent pitch for the Trailstar.  I had noticed on Geograph a small plantation a few hundred metres up the hill that appeared to have flat cropped grass nearby.  As I approached I got a bit excited when I spotted an area of short grass that was indeed nice and flat.  I was disappointed to find most of it an inch under water, despair settled in as I realised that there was not much daylight left.

I ditched the pack and wandered around the vicinity for a while looking for somewhere that was at least dry.  I settled on a patch where I could just about fit my shelter, even if there was a foot high bank to one side.  The joy of the Trailstar is how it adapts to lumpy sloping ground and luckily there was a flat bit inside on which I could sleep.  The evening was spent cooking and reading whilst low cloud brushed the top of Silnylon.

Day two

I was relieved to be woken in the morning by sunshine rather than the pitter patter of rain on the Trailstar.  Reuben was standing over me when I opened my eyes, eager to start the day (or needing the loo).  When in an open shelter I always tie him to something as I worry that I will wake to find he has gone off exploring.  On this occasion his anchor was my rucksack.

Cwm Edno was totally transformed in the sunshine, Carnedd Moel-siabod towering in front with Yr’ Arddu wrapping round the rugged upper reaches of the Cwm.  I lazed inside the Trailstar for a while but the warmth of the sun soon drove me on to pack up.  I had a long day planned that would take me all the way to the Manod hills on the other side of Blaenau Ffestiniog.

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The bridleway to Bwlch y Rhediad is marked by frequent posts, a little unnecessary as the path was clear and easy to follow.  The views to the west opened out, the Glyders and Snowdon hidden under cloud.

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It’s many years since I walked this section of what I think of as the northern Moelwyns.  It’s wild country, unfrequented and very very boggy!  Some of the ground on the way to Moel Meirch would swallow you up whole if you were not careful.  On a couple of sections the way forward is impossible, ladder stiles taking you across the fence to drier ground.  Ladder stiles are never easy with a reluctant hound.  The boggy stretches are more than made up for with a path that winds its way round rocky outcrops and heather in full bloom.

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The summit of Moel Meirch packs a punch well above its height, which is just below the magic two thousand foot.  It’s rough and rugged, the top being crowned with crags and boulders.  Here I met the only other hikers of the day, both quick to comment on how boggy the ground was.  The views are spectacular and filled with the famous giants of Snowdonia.

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The wind was cold so we descended a little way to the east, sheltering behind a wall of rock.  I had my lunch whilst Reuben looked at me with sad eyes, insistent that he would at least get a cheesy biscuit.  He did.

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I located a narrow trod that twisted its way through the heather and descended towards Llyn Edno.

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On the map Llyn Edno looks like an idyllic place to camp. The reality on the ground is bog and heather around the shoreline.  It and its environs however are rather splendid, a tamed down version of the Rhinogs.

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Ysgafell Wen is a long knobbly ridge of a hill, with a trio of lakes called Llynnau’r Cwn, a place I have always fancied camping.  The wind was far too strong so instead I continued on before having another rest with Reuben in the heather.

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I got a good view towards my final destination for the day, the distant hill of Moel Penamnen which sits on the other side of the Crimea pass.  I started having doubts that I would get there.

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These doubts were soon reinforced by the decoration on one of the fence posts!  Like a warning in a cheap slasher movie.

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From the summit cairn I could make out the backside of Cnicht.  Llyn yr Adar in the foreground is apparently a popular place to wild camp.  This in itself is a good reason to avoid, although it is situated in a very scenic spot.

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The route towards Moel Druman is easy to follow with a fence to lead the way through the small outcrops and numerous pools of water.

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I soon became aware that the weather was beginning to change.  A sheet of cloud was racing in from the west and the wind was picking up once again.  Suddenly I felt tired and my resolve to continue across the Crimea pass and onto another range of hills started to diminish.  I decided that if I found a good sheltered spot to camp I would stop and have a lazy afternoon.

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Things were not promising as I followed the right of way south of the summit of Moel Druman and started the descent towards Llyn Conglog.  The wind was strengthening and the cloud just beginning to obscure the surrounding peaks.  I fancied pitching next to the extensive sheet of water but that would mean an extended battering for the Trailstar.

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My luck was in however after descending along the path for a bit, the hill itself proving ample shelter from the wind.  A flat shelf of tussock free ground provided a perfect opportunity that I was not going to pass by.

Barely before I had removed my rucksack Reuben had curled up in the grass and started snoring, I think he was happy with the chosen spot.

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After pitching the Trailstar I wandered over to Llyn Conglog to fill my water bottles.  A low fence was in the way which I held down so that Reuben could hop over.  It turned out that the damn thing was electric!

Now that I carry a water filter with me when backpacking I can fill from pretty much any source, including lakes and tarns.  This gives much more flexibility in choosing a pitch as a stream does not need to be located nearby.

Once back at the Trailstar the cloud lowered even further and a fine drizzle started to fall.  I decided that I had made a good decision to stop, even though it was only 4.30pm.  Later in the evening the peace was shattered by a trio on trailbikes who filled the air with the sound of revving engines and the smell of exhaust.  It was quite alarming as they roared past only a few feet from my shelter.  That explained the numerous ruts along these usually quiet hills.

The only other excitement that evening was when an internal baffle in my Exped Synmat UL popped, leaving a curious lump for me to sleep on.

Day 3

I was woken by warm sun but continued to doze after deciding to have a short lazy day.  The Manod hills on the other side of the Crimea pass could wait for another trip.  The heat soon drove me out of my sleeping bag and I spent a while wandering round camp with Reuben.  The place was transformed in the sunshine.

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I have to admit that it was probably my laziest wild camping morning yet, with it being gone midday by the time I had packed up.

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Rather than climb Allt-fawr I decided that I would contour its northern slopes and pick up the ridge that leads to Moel Dyrnogydd.  This gave a mile or so of maximum views with minimum effort, not a bad way to start a Monday morning.

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The landscape around Blaenau Ffestiniog has taken a battering over the years by slate quarrying.  It’s actually rather impressive in its scale and general grimness.  I perched with Reuben for a while and looked over the town, listening to the various beeps and one big bang that came from a working quarry.

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Reuben however was more concerned in keeping an eye out for those four-legged wooly creatures that roam these parts.

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We picked up a track to the east of Moel Dyrnogydd, one final stile being a test for Reuben’s agility.  He will never be famous for his climbing prowess.

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The track unfortunately leaves the right of way which disappears into a mass of bog and tussocky grass.  We continued down the track to the edge of access land and I spent a while with map in hand trying to decide what to do.  In the end I followed the track through fields and then into a farm-yard with no right of way.  Of course the farm dogs started barking their heads off but no one came out of the open front door.  Aware that I was trespassing I strided purposefully along the driveway which quickly deposited me to the road end and my car.

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25 Comments to “Summer slackpacking in the Moelwyns”

  1. Reuben looking lovely as always mate 🙂 The baffle issue you have on the Exped mat? Had the same happen 3 times on the red Synmat 7 which I used to use for winter. Pissed me off, got a refund. However, I’ve never had an issue with the lighter yellow one. Ironically, I’ve gone back to using NeoAirs now. The X-therm one is a beauty. Best one I’ve used of theirs and really is as warm as they say. Alas I still prefer the overall comfort of an Exped mattress

    • Hey Terry. Yep Reuben is a handsome fella eh? I have ended up going proper old school with my summer sleeping mat and have askedn for my Exped to be replaced with a Thermarest prolite. I want something a bit more durable than air mats as my Neoair failed too. However my original Exped Downmat continues to be warm and comfy, just shame it weighs so much!

  2. Exped oh Exped how I love your mats and think your customer service is second to none. A downmat will always fail on you that is a given. They are the most comfy things in the world next to your own bed or a cloud. 150 nights is about it – but then they get the new one to you anywhere in the world – including 4,000Km overnight! We are back to using them after a brief relationship with a neo. You are a lucky man James – I think you knew that.

  3. Another good walk. I have been studying your photos intently, as I will be off on a 4 day trip this week from LLanfairfech to Blaenau Ffestiniog via a few peaks 🙂

    • Enjoy your trip Rob, I walked between those two places a few years back whilst doing Wales North to South. You will pass through loads of different types of scenery.

  4. Good up on those bumpy wild Moelwyns isn’t it. You can see what it looks like under a clear blue sky when I get round to writing up my trip from July. We camped about half a mile away from your spot. I quite like the view down over Blaenau in a strange way, especially those rather odd little spits of land that jut out into one of the lakes

    • A trip write-up still outstanding from July!!!??? Get cracking man. So many nooks and crannies to pitch a tent up there, one of my fav bits of Wales.

  5. I have a old Therm-a-Rest self-inflating air mattress that must be at least 12y old and fine still. Saying that I gave it to the wife years back. Nice trip James and the views there are good. Been a long time since I worked my way past those high tarns. There is some first class wild camping to be found up there.

    • Just received the new mat today Martin, not as comfy as the air mat but hopefully more durable. I think that you need to re-visit Wales its been a long time since you last went.

  6. Sounds like a good trip, James, and you were reasonably lucky with the weather. That pic of Reuben in the Trailstar….Trailstar looked like it was a bit of a mess, Standards man, standards. Keep all your gear in neat piles and straight lines in the future please.

  7. That looked like a good couple of lazy-ish days. I did a similar route clockwise from Crimea pass a year or so back, Cwm Edno does still have a pretty wild feel to it. Boggy enough to drown most of the woolly lawnmowers, which helps. I remember a faff with rights of way, and being totally unable to find the footpath S from Coed Mawr across the river… http://butnoidea.co.uk/2011/10/17/dont-forget-your-gaiters/

  8. Playing catch up James. I see you have an inner for your Trailstar. Keeps the midges at bay 🙂 ( Remembering your first summer trip with it).

    • Hi Mark, how are you? Yep after being midged to death in the Trailstar an inner is now essential!

      • I am fine James, I trust you are well too.Back to blogging after a long break. Swing round to my blog and you will see what I have been up. Not much walking but I been caught up with a new house, great spot – but some issues!

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