Posts tagged ‘The Moelwyns’

August 26, 2013

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.

August 25, 2011

A mucky day on the Moelwyns

by backpackingbongos

The tractor driver was totally oblivious to the increasing number of cars building up behind him.  On and on he went, down twisty country roads and through villages.  There are worse places to be stuck behind a tractor than the Tanat valley, a land of lush green hills.  Fiona was at the helm of the vehicle and showed remarkable patience at driving at 15 mph for what seemed to be an eternity.  I had been invited to stay at a cottage belonging to friends of Fiona and Pete whilst the owners were away on holiday.  A more idyllic place I cannot imagine, a beautiful Welsh cottage surrounded by barns, chickens and a large veg patch.  Each evening I kept expecting Hugh Fearnley Shittingstall to walk into the kitchen clutching all manner of greenery and start cooking on the Rayburn.

Living up in Glasgow the Welsh mountains have not been fully explored by Pete and Fiona.  I therefore offered to guide them around what I consider to be one of the best ranges, the Moelwyns.  We set off from the Tanat valley in pleasant sunny weather, but things turned for the worse as we crossed the high road over the Migneint.  The Moelwyns were hidden under a dark mantle of cloud, the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog looking grey and brooding.  Pete managed to spend an hour or so on the backseat with two dogs that were determined to sit on his lap, preferably at the same time!  A place was found to leave the car at the top of an exceptionally steep road above Tanygrisiau, in a landscape dominated by massive disused slate mines

7.5 miles with 920 metres ascent

Within minutes of leaving the car we were in the mountains, an old track taking us into Cwmorthin.  Here past industry has not been kind to the landscape, slate mines disappearing into the clouds on both sides.  However there is a grandeur to the place, there is no mistaking that you are in Wales.  Dougal the nine month old chocolate lab found an old quarry pool to dive into, Reuben watching him from the safety of the bank wondering what he was doing.  Approaching the shore of Llyn Cwmorthin a couple of off-road motorbikes noisily made their way up one of the old quarries, adding an element of menace to the broody air.  Peace was soon restored and we contemplated the lovely reed lined lake, eyeing up a couple of buildings that would make a superb weekend retreat.

The track lead us easily towards the head of the valley which was hidden by low clouds.  The fence alongside was made up of large slabs of slate, looking a bit like gravestones.  A great use of the plentiful local resources.

The track continued into the clouds into a darker more sombre world, views coming and going as mist swirled around us.  The higher we got the more of an impact the slate mines had on the landscape.

The old barracks of the Rhosydd quarry were quickly reached.  For some reason not clear even in my own mind, this is one of my favourite spots in these mountains.  I can remember descending from the hills to the north several years ago, finally dropping out of low cloud that had plagued my day making navigation difficult.  The scene in front of me was eerie to say the least, cloud just drifting above the tops of the ruined buildings.  It was like something out of a film set, I could almost imagine dark figures peering through dark frameless windows, shuffling out of view.

Back to the present, we found a spot out of the wind for a bite to eat, each of us regretting not bringing a flask of coffee.  The only two walkers we were to see all day appeared through the mist like Gore-tex clad ghosts, before quickly disappearing.  The surrounding hills were reluctant to show themselves and I was beginning to feel a bit apprehensive about the next bit of the route.  These hills can be tough when you cannot see where you are going.  I did not want the embarrassment of getting ‘temporarily misplaced’ with other people in tow.

Indeed I did fail to locate the exact line of the right of way as we headed away from the shells of the buildings, they look just as eerie from above.  I don’t think that I could wild camp on my own in this area.

The narrow path was soon located further uphill and we followed it past Llyn Croesor as it weaved its way amongst small boggy knolls.

I was relieved to reach the disused Croesor quarry as I had done the following section of the route before.  The cloud was beginning to lift a bit now and we began to get glimpses across the deep valley of Cwm Croesor towards Cnicht, the Welsh Matterhorn.  From this angle it is simply a large wedge, craggy slopes falling steeply into the valley below.

A drystone wall was to be our guide for a while as we contoured pathless slopes to reach the western ridge of Moelwyn Mawr, still firmly hidden in the clouds.  Crossing its shoulder an old mine track is reached, contouring around the side of the hill.  This gives a simply lovely promenade, the grassy track is completely level, giving the easiest walking of the day.  Every now and then we were treated to glimpses towards the coast far below.

Sadly the track soon came to an end when we reached another disused quarry, there appeared to be no way ahead.  Reuben decided it was the right moment to give Fiona some Reuben love.

A bit of scrambling up through piles of shifting slate and we located another narrower track contouring the steep hillside.  This is the sort of walking that I love.

Moelwyn Bach was now looming above us, rather than do a there and back using the path up its rocky nose we contoured a bit to climb its grassy southern slopes.  Craigysgafn briefly revealed itself, giving us an idea of the route still to come.

On the summit of Moelwyn Bach the mist played games with my perception as we reached the cairn.  A spot a hundred or so metres away looked higher so we duly walked over to it, when we reached it and looked back it was clear that we had walked downhill.  We passed the same hikers spotted earlier as we made our way down the steep path to Bwlch Stwlan.  Craigysgafn gives a good rocky climb up its ridge with excellent views, not this time however.  A large boulder gave shelter for some food for the humans whilst the dogs looked on with hungry eyes.

Reaching the trig point on Moelwyn Mawr, the highest point in these range of hills Reuben was ‘encouraged’ to do his usual pose.  It took a bit of persuading this time, he has now got wise to my intentions.  Dougal was briefly subjected to the same humiliation before we headed off on a compass bearing to locate the right ridge.

I love it when you suddenly drop below the cloud line, colour coming back into vision after a while surrounded by grey.  In front of us was a high plateau with the Rhosydd quarries in the distance.  This area is dominated by two massive holes carved into the moorland, a place of danger to be avoided on this walk (they are well worth a peek into if you are into big holes).

We followed a narrow path along the edge of the mountains, getting fleeting glimpses of Blaenau Ffestiniog far below.  The drifting clouds really adding some drama and perspective to this part of the walk making us feel much higher up than we really were.

The footpath back to the car was found and then lost (I alway loose this path) but we happily drifted north to Llyn-y-Wrysgan and then another large disused quarry.  It was here that we heard voices coming out of a passage carved into the hillside.  Going to investigate we soon found ourselves in a large chamber filled with a couple of groups of people.  It was hard to make out exactly what was going on but it appeared that everyone had a can of beer in their hands, had we stumbled into the local party cave?  Reuben went off into the darkness to make friends, whilst Dougal barked at the shifting shapes.

We had now well and truly lost the planned route down so continued working our way through the various inclines, until suddenly we came to the edge.

Instead of backtracking we gingerly made our way down what we initially through was a path through the spoil heaps.  It wasn’t and we ended up on slowly shifting lumps of slate before quickly exiting onto rough hillside to pick up our outward route.

Although we had walked less than eight miles, all of us felt like we had done a big mountain day when we got back to the car.  A great day in the hills.