1986, The Rhinogs from Llanbedr

More preliminary organisation went into this year’s trip than any that preceded it.  I decided on the Rhinogs area because of what I had read about it, and because I had not visited it before, apart from an afternoon’s drive through its minor roads in 1975, which left me with memories of the wildness and beauty.  Studying a map, I worked out an ambitious route following footpaths from the village of Llanbedr to the coast, then down to Tal-y-bont where I would head inland and southwards till I reached the end of the main mountain ridge, which I would follow to the north before circling back around to my starting point.

I left home at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday 28th September, and lunched at 2:30 p.m. in the car park of the steam railway terminus at Llanfair Caerinion, which is eight miles to the west of Welshpool.  It was a bright, sunny day as far as Shrewsbury, becoming increasingly duller, damper and murkier the further into Wales I progressed.  At Llanbedr I pitched my tent at The Mill campsite, home to a lunatic sheepdog.  It was a wet and misty night.

Day 1

The next morning, leaving my van at the campsite with the kind permission of the owner, I followed my intended route to the coast, passing on the way a large MoD establishment where not a lot appeared to happen.  (I have since read that it specialises in pilotless aircraft used for target practice!)   Warm and clammy mist surrounded me.  On reaching the coast, I discovered that very few of the footpaths shown on the map existed on the ground, leaving me to use my own intuition, finding my way around the backs of sand dunes and over strands of barbed wire.  I was not too sorry to leave the forlorn coastline, with its acres of caravan parks and cheaply constructed concrete buildings, but inland to the east of Tal-y-bont the weather was even gloomier, here the already-yellowing trees dripped mercilessly.  A decent track led to the southern end of the Rhinogs ridge at Bwlch y Rhiwgyr, but on the way I saw over a wall that a large area of hillside had been ploughed!

At the bwlch, or col, I was not only pleased to spot three species of clubmoss – fir, alpine and stag’s-horn – growing close together, but I was also surprised to find a large notice board announcing the presence of a courtesy path that headed up the ridge, the existence of which the Ordnance Survey gives no clue whatsoever.  Delighted that my way was being made easier, onwards and upwards I tramped in the mist, crossing the unfortunately viewless summits of 1,930 ft Llawlech and 2,462 ft Diffwys, all the while seeing white rings around my field of vision (the “glory”).  At the top of the ridge, I suddenly climbed out of the clouds into brilliant early evening sunshine.  With the sun behind me, I witnessed my enlarged shadow on the mist in a saddle before me (the “Brocken spectre”), with a rainbow halo around the head.  Birds were singing, the first I had heard all day.  Looking all around me, I recognised the peaks of Moel Hebog, the Moelwyns, Snowdon and Crib Goch, the Glyders, Moel Siabod, Rhinog Fawr and Cadair Idris, all rising like islands from a sea of cotton wool-like cloud.  My reverie was interrupted by the unexpected appearance of a fell runner, clad only in shorts, tee shirt and trainers.

Ahead of me I spied the little lake of Llyn Dulyn nestling in a hollow (no connection with the Llyn Dulyn in the Carneddau that I walked to in 1983).  This looked to be an ideal place to spend the night, and after stumbling down to it through pathless mountain undergrowth, I threw off my pack and collapsed in the sun, absolutely exhausted, not moving for what seemed like fifteen minutes.  Later calculations showed that I had covered more than that number of miles that day.

Day 2

I slept well in the night, waking to a bright morning with brilliant sunshine that made it so hot!  I dried and aired all of my mist-dampened clothing and equipment, while lazing about sunbathing shirtless all morning.  The lowlands were still lost in white cloud, so there were no great panoramas to be seen.  When I eventually got on the move again, I made my way back up to the ridge, along which I passed over Y Lethr, at 2,475 feet the highest peak in the range.  Following the now familiar stone wall along the ridge,  the same wall that I had been following since I came upon it yesterday at Bwlch y Rhiwgyr,  I found it was starting to drop steeply; there were rocky bits that needed to be climbed down, and then the wall abruptly came to an end, right on the edge of a rounded cliff!  I was horrified at the thought of what could have happened if I had been following it in bad visibility, and at the same time I was very puzzled as to what had happened to my route.  The answer came to me when I spotted a group of Outward Bound types a little way back;  they were slowly ascending one side of the ridge, picking their way up a steeply-rising, twisting route.  I watched them carefully, to see them emerge at a little dip in the ridge where there stood a very old four-by-four wooden post, which was a rudimentary indicator of where the path changed direction.  My guide books at home had not warned me of this!

After descending by the correct route, I lunched near Llyn Hywel, where I left my rucksack while I made the short climb up a path to the summit of 2,333 ft Rhinog Fach, and back again.  I then skirted this mountain eastwards, contouring through heather on sheep tracks.  The mist returned while I was doing this, and I cursed it like mad, being forced to continue on compass bearings.  I eventually found myself in Bwlch Drws Ardudwy, a narrow rocky pass between the two Rhinog mountains, unmistakeable even in the mist.  From here it was relatively easy to skirt the east side of Rhinog Fawr, go into a bit of conifer forest and back out again, to reach another pass, Bwlch Tyddiad.  I had hoped  to camp for the night by Llyn Morwynion, to the north of my path, but I failed to find it in the murk, so I continued down the Roman Steps, where I found a patch of grass by a stream.  Today’s total mileage was only half that of yesterday.

Day 3

The morning was gloomy, and the mountain tops were covered with mist.  I re-ascended the Roman Steps and struck off up a rough path to Llyn Du, at 1,750 feet, where I had lunch behind a large rock, sheltering from an icy wind.  From somewhere on the cliffs above the other side of the lake came the frequent sounds of pitons being hammered in by climbers, although I was unable to see them; I assumed that is what it was, I could not think of anything else that would make such a noise in this place.  Rhinog Fawr was very misty, and a middle-aged couple who came down informed me it was not worth going up there today.  However, I did have a bonus in seeing a whole herd of feral goats, which in fact I heard before I saw them, because their bleats are much more high-pitched than those of sheep.

I gradually made my way down westwards, via the lake of Gloyw Lyn, to the  upper edge of the Artro valley, where I considered it to be less cold.  I had only covered 5½ miles today, this was partly because I had run out of things I wanted to do, as a result of walking so far on my first day out, and partly because this end of the trip had not been planned in any detail, so I was floundering somewhat.  I would not have minded visiting the northern part of the Rhinogs, but I was not sure whether I had enough time left to make a round trip, and this part would be a bit of an anticlimax after I had seen the best of the area in the south.  Apart from that, it was a bit chilly and I was rather tired, so I decided to end the walk.  All I had to do was to make my way down from the rim of the valley to a lane that would lead me all of the way down to The Mill campsite at Llanbedr.

Having reached the lane, it was by now a beautiful, sunny afternoon, with no mist to be seen anywhere, high or low, and it was a real pleasure to be out in it, with birds singing and sheep contentedly grazing, but I’d had enough for one trip.  After driving around doing touristy things, I returned home on Friday 3rd October.

Addendum

April 1986 was when the Chernobyl disaster occurred in the U.S.S.R., releasing into the atmosphere radioactive particles that fell with rain onto Snowdonia, amongst other places, creating a few long-lasting “hotspots” on the mountains and resulting in the banning of the sale of sheep for meat from these areas.  I do not know if the authorities ever thought of walkers like me who drank water from pools and streams in these hills (not to mention some of the local population!), but it would have been interesting to have had a Geiger counter run over my body after this and subsequent trips!

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