Last year’s successful walk was going to be a hard act to follow, but I attempted to invent something similar again by joining together some more of Ralph Maddern’s circuits from his 1981 book Walk in Magnificent Snowdonia, only they were not so easy to link this time, making a bit of improvisation necessary in the middle.
I spent 6 hours travelling the 235 miles to Beddgelert, due to being in traffic queues for nearly 30 miles in M1 roadworks, but the weather was fine, as it was again on Sunday 1st October when I set out south-eastwards through Nantmore (where I got excited about seeing rustyback fern on a wall outside the telephone kiosk from which I was calling home) and then on to Tanygrisiau. My diary states, “Spent night by lake in Moelwyns.” Which one? I don’t remember, there are so many up there!
The following day found me looping back to the west in an anticlockwise direction across the Moelwyn uplands, heading now to join the high Nanmor road by the bend at its north end, and then to cross the A498 at Bethania. On now to Nantgwynant and the lower part of the Watkin Path, which ultimately emerges on Snowdon’s summit. Lots of walkers were coming down; only two seemed to be going up, and they soon left me behind. It was a hot afternoon and the route was fairly steep, but the heavily restored path helped.
My intended way split off to the west at around the 1,000-foot level; to get this far had involved over 800 feet of climbing, as Bethania is very low-lying compared to the surrounding mountains. Up on the skyline, a further 500 feet above me, was the obvious col of Bwlch Cwm Llan, between the 2,451 ft peak of Yr Aran and the south ridge of Snowdon. To reach the col there was a mile of upward slog through mountain grassland that was heavily disfigured by old quarry tracks and workings, but there were a couple of delightful little lakes up there and the furthest of these had a grassy bank at its far end, backed by a slate wall. It had everything I wanted for a tent site: level grass, a water supply, a wall for shelter, with shelves to put things on, and some larger rocks for a seat and table. I even managed to jam a narrow piece of slate into a crack in the wall, from which I hung my invaluable Field & Trek water carrier (this uses some of the principles of the bag in a box of wine. Once filled, it saves constantly walking on tired legs down to the water’s edge to fill a billycan or flask. (Footnote: sadly, these are no longer on sale.) One thing spoiled the tent site: after dark, a row of little lights could be seen emitting from the windows along the side of the building on Snowdon summit.
The following morning was murky, though still mild, and the high summit was not visible. Whilst I sat spooning muesli into my mouth, a man half my age strode down the ridge from Yr Aran in a matter of minutes and, giving me a cheery wave, disappeared on up towards Snowdon. Fit beggar, I thought, he must have started out very early, from Beddgelert. Ahead of me I had a lovely long downhill walk on the Snowdon Ranger Path, crossing open mountainside towards the village of Rhyd-Ddu. Passing the narrow entrance to a disused quarry on the way, I removed my pack while I went in and explored. On my way out, a youth leader was coming in with a few of his charges. Pointing, he asked authoritatively, “Is that your rucksack?” I did not like his tone and the way he looked at me, it was as if I had done something wrong!
My route from Rhyd-Ddu to the village of Betws Garmon was largely my own invention. Maddern’s route takes in the 2,291 ft summit of Mynydd Mawr to the west. This is one of those isolated mountains where, once you have reached the top you can then do no more than come all the way down again, so I chose to bypass it by walking around the side of Llyn Cwellyn reservoir below it. A track that is a public footpath starts from the A4085 main road to reach the south end of the lake. A little way along the bank, a grassy opening in the trees made a delightful place to stop for lunch and a laze in the sun. A couple of windsurfers with gaudily coloured sails looked a bit out-of-place in such surroundings. After I continued along the track, I could see through the trees that two large duck-like birds were approaching me on the water. I remained motionless while they passed by, one a handsome black-and-white, with a red bill, the other with a red head and grey back. When I later checked in a field guide, they were unmistakably a pair of goosanders.
Unfortunately, the right of way terminates after a mile at a fenced-off disused rubbish tip which is before the north end of the lake is reached. Not one to be deterred, I forced my way in, then crossed a succession of little fields and went down a track to a footbridge over the river, all the while fearing that someone would appear and confront me. Happily no one did, and I reached the main road safely.
Past the dwellings of Betws Garmon, strung out along the road, I was meant to follow a footpath from the north side of the road, that would take me up the convex hillside to a couple of forestry plantations out of sight over the top of the ridge. The path is shown on Ordnance Survey maps, and Maddern gives reasonable directions. Even allowing for the fact that things such as stiles and gated openings can disappear with time, I could find absolutely no trace of a path on the ground. I was positive that I was looking in the right spot, but I still checked up and down the road just in case. There was nothing for it but to pick a way through bracken and tussocky grass up the steep slope, and tough going it proved to be. At the top, the first plantation was obvious enough to find, but even here the path that should have cut through its western side was non-existent. The trees had probably expanded over it as they grew, so I walked around the boundary and then directly across grassland towards the second plantation, where, lo and behold, I found a path.
This area was just outside the National Park boundary, and what a scruffy spot it was, with over-farmed land, bulldozed tracks, tatty sheds and barns, and discarded machinery, while the far side of the Llanberis valley, which I could now see, looked like a miniature suburb, with modern bungalows dotted all over the hillside. After dark, when I was ensconced beside a little stream, a myriad of street lights twinkled back at me from the other side. It all served to show the protection the Park gives to preserving its countryside. Without National Park status, it too would look like this.
My camping spot did, however, offer a good view in the morning of Snowdon Mountain Railway trains slowly grinding their ways up towards the mist-covered summit, even if they were only hauled by diesel locomotives instead of steam (it depends upon the season, apparently).
I was confronted with a minor upset this morning, for my little battery shaver, one of the few “luxury” items I carry in spite of its weight, was nowhere to be found. I searched in vain through all of my kit, about three times in all, hoping that it would suddenly appear, but knowing deep down that I had probably left it yesterday morning on the slate wall by the little lake up at the col between Yr Aran and Snowdon, where unfortunately it was going to have to stay, as it was rather a long way to go to look for it. I have often wondered since whether anyone came across it, or if it is still there, corroding away in the extreme elements.
With a stubbly chin (I hate being unshaven, it makes my face feel scratchy and my skin feel oily), I followed a long, straight path southwards that morning, climbing steadily through a rather bare pass between the summits of 1,985 ft Foel Goch and 2,211 ft Moel Cynghorion. From the bwlch (col) at the top of the pass, an easy downhill length led me across the Snowdon Ranger Path, a section of which I had used the previous day, to reach Llyn Cwellyn again. Here I made a shortish detour to where I had rested beside the lake, just in case my shaver had fallen out of my rucksack there; of course it had not, but it was worth checking. Following this, I spent the remainder of the day following tracks on the west side of the A4085 road, heading southwards past Rhyd-Ddu and then through Beddgelert Forest until I reached the Forestry Commission campsite. Here I was reunited with my van that I had rather cheekily left there (I did ask beforehand), and I was able to emerge from the shower like a radiant fresh butterfly. With a clean-shaven chin, of course.
It poured with rain that night, followed by light rain all morning, and it was colder, too, leaving me feeling relieved that I was no longer out on the hills. I had a leisurely drive to Shrewsbury for a date with a curry, the day after which I ambled via Kidderminster, Bromsgrove and Redditch to the fern nursery at Pebworth, and then home via Broadway, Chipping Norton and Oxford.
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