This trip was intended, partially, to be the antidote to the previous year’s strenuous walk in the Rhinogs: a visit to the gentler country away from the north of the National Park, less rugged and with lower heights. That was the theory, anyway. It was also an area that I had not previously visited, and it sounded interesting in my guidebooks. The beginning of this walk, which I put together almost entirely without help, would lead through a large area of boggy moorland called the Migneint, which some writers refer to in a rather romanticised manner
I drove to Betws-y-Coed on the dry, fine day of Sunday 27th September, taking just under 5 hours with breaks. The following morning, I drove south on the Penmachno road to the hamlet of Carrog, where I left my van by some prettified cottages. Within minutes of setting off I found myself stomping up horrendously steep gradients on the lane just to the south, which I slowly and painfully struggled up, panting, heart thumping, back straining, and fighting a mental battle as to why the hell I was doing this: I could be going for a drive, I could be looking around historical towns, I could be at home…. Things were slightly more pleasant when the lane levelled off, and shortly I was able to follow a footpath to Llyn Conwy, which I thought was rather dull and un-scenic, even if it is the source of the great river. A track leads southwards from here to a little-used B-road that I followed eastwards for a couple of miles before striking up what was a path on the map and a big track on the ground, up the Afon Serw valley. On reaching an appropriate tributary of the river, I changed direction to the south, which became a hard slog up pathless, boggy slopes.
Before me, 2,264 ft Arenig Fach stuck up from the surrounding landscape like a giant molehill. It looked to me to be far too high to climb and then almost immediately descend again, so I skirted its western flank, but here dense tussocks of grass made the going so hard that I was forced to gain height, where the vegetation was shorter. Picking my way off the south of the mountain was equally strenuous. I found it less steep to divert towards the south-west where, after climbing over two or three high stone walls, I eventually arrived at a road junction. After crossing the main road, there was an easy bit of lane walking before I followed a track along the embankment of the dismantled Welsh Highland Railway. Here I pitched my tent close to a handy stream.
In the morning everything was covered in a thick white frost, and the condensation on the underside of my flysheet was frozen solid! Fortunately the temperature soon rose, and when I was ready I set off up a path that headed south, passing the west side of 2,800 ft Arenig Fawr. This “footpath” was now a wide bulldozed track, which may have made relatively easy walking but it lacked the untouched wildness that I sought. Every farm in this area seemed to possess its own JCB, a result, I presumed, of EC subsidies. At a considerable height, I was forced to make a detour around a herd of testy Welsh highland cattle with their young, something one never used to encounter this high up in years past. Then, when I reached the watershed, where the land started to drop down again ahead of me, the bulldozed track came to an abrupt end; I assume this was the boundary of the farmer’s property. In spite of the continuation of the dotted line on my map, there was absolutely no sign of any path beyond.
What followed was a time-consuming and very tiring slog through rushes, great tussocks of moor grass and wet, boggy areas, my feet scarcely landing on a flat piece of ground and rarely able to travel in a straight line from A to B without meandering to avoid bad bits. The scenery was wonderful, though, with the high slopes of Arenig Fawr on my left, the steep side of 2,464 ft Moel Llyfant on my right and the pale glint of the water of the Afon Erwent down in front of me as it meandered its way to the Afon Lliw valley, but how I cursed my slow progress, particularly when I planted a foot in one of those seemingly bottomless wet holes that one all too frequently encounters in the mountains; here my leg shot in to knee depth and I sprawled prone as a result
It was a relief to reach the lonely moorland road that runs between Trawsfynydd and Llanuwchllyn. I headed east on this for a few hundred yards before striking off at an angle on a bridleway. The relief was short-lived, however, for although the route of the bridleway was unmistakable on the ground, it was clearly a very ancient right of way that was no longer used: between two low banks lay a sunken way that was filled with rushes and water. After attempting to follow its course for a short distance, I could see that it was futile, it steadily deteriorated instead of improving, so I returned directly to the road by a rough short cut.
My memory fails me as to exactly what my original route was at this point, and where I was heading for along the unusable bridleway. What I do know is that I was a bit dispirited with all of these non-existent paths that were spoiling my plans. I turned about and marched back along the road in the direction I had come, passing the spot where I had joined it earlier.
The countryside hereabouts was somewhat open, but my map showed a sizeable area of forest about a mile along the road; here I hoped I would find a quiet grassy corner near a stream, where I could pitch my tent for the night. Another downturn awaited me; all of the eastern section of the forest had been felled and replanted within the last year or two. I plodded for quite a distance down a track to see what was beyond a bend, but all was ruined and there was nowhere suitable for my night’s camp. Returning towards the road, I investigated a glade I had spotted earlier, but the undergrowth was rank and wet. All I could find was a little bit of grass at the edge of the cleared area, near a tiny stream, and it was here that I resignedly erected the tent.
In spite of it being such a remote spot, a forestry vehicle toot-toot-tooted as it roared along the track at 7:45 a.m. Outside it was cloudy and misty, with an inescapable east wind. Once I was ready, a 2½-mile slog down the road brought me to a track that ran roughly northwards. This was to take me two-thirds of the way towards my next objective, the Trawsfynydd to Bala trunk road. After reaching a point where the track turned away in the wrong direction, I continued straight ahead, crossing heavily grazed grassland and negotiating cattle and many barbed wire fences on the way.
On the far (north) side of the main road, I made for the parallel route of the dismantled Welsh Highland Railway. The four miles that I walked along the once-permanent way, on embankments, through cuttings and over bridges, turned out to be the most enjoyable part of the whole trip. Where the old track bed met the modern road (some realignment of the latter must have taken place), I turned northwards up an overgrown path to reach the Ffestiniog to Bala B-road. A few miles northwestwards on this brought me to a road junction at Pont yr Afon-Gam, beside which a painted board announced “The Highest Petrol Station in Wales.” This was closed, never to reopen by the look of it.
It was now late afternoon, but I worked out from studying my maps that I was only a couple of hours or so walk from where I had left my van at Carrog. I weighed up the odds: another night of wild camping, or a campsite with hot water, showers and a pub not too far away. It was not a difficult decision to make, and after a few more miles of road slogging, I was back at my starting point.
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