This year’s ambitious route was entirely of my own making, apart from consulting guidebooks for routes onto and off mountains. It was born out of a desire to explore an area hitherto unknown to me, and to ascend some decent summits. (Summits were not a feature of my walks of the preceding three years. I was clearly becoming more confident.)
My diary records that there was heavy traffic on the M1, and that it rained from Coventry onwards. Nothing new there, then. I spent the night on a small campsite at the rear of Dinas Mawddwy village, on the north side. Now it has to be said that many campsites in Snowdonia, possibly the majority, are of a rather low standard, and this one was no exception, it was without doubt the worst I have ever stayed in. A drive flanked by dark-green painted static caravans, positioned herringbone fashion and backed by gloomy leylandii trees, led to a small patch of grassy ground containing heaps of building rubble. Four small tents already occupied most of the useable space. The men’s washroom contained two w.c.s, one of which had no seat, and two very small and filthy hand basins with cold taps only and no plugs. A more depressing place to camp I have yet to find, and it rained all night, too. Fortunately no one came round to ask for any payment; otherwise I would have told them what I thought of the dump.
My next day started with a pleasant and easy tramp southwards along a level and traffic-free lane to the village of Aberangell, from where I followed forest tracks westwards. The Dovey (or Dyfi to give it its Welsh name) Forest that I crossed was a bit of a disappointment for large areas had recently been felled, and the devastation, for want of a better word, that this leaves is not a pretty sight. On reaching another village, Aberllefenni, more minor lanes led me down a valley towards the larger settlement of Corris, where friendly residents greeted me as I passed. From Corris Uchaf I had no choice but to follow a main road steeply downhill for a mile to reach the village of Minffordd, but here was one of life’s little fortunes that perked up my spirits, for there was a campsite, unmarked on my 1:50,000 map, at the side of a B-road. The right place and the right time of the day! What is more, I had the site entirely to myself, and the facilities in this one were very good.
I set my little tent up in the geometrical centre of the empty field. Shortly after my arrival a young woman drove a VW transporter up to the house and ushered out two or three small children and a dog, but only the dog paid any attention to me. I heard the van drive out before I was up in the morning, and it did not return before I left, which was a shame, because I did not have £1.50 in change for my night’s camping (as indicated on a board). I only had a £5 note, otherwise I would have left the money on the windowsill by the side door of the house. Maybe if I am passing there again one day….
What is known as the Minffordd Path to ascend Cadair Idris commenced virtually next to the campsite. Initially it climbed steeply up a wooded valley, with the roar of tumbling water ever-present, before the gradient eased ever so slightly as the path came into the open and led into Cwm Cau with its beautiful little lake surrounded on three sides by soaring crags. The path then climbed to the crest of the ridge and followed this around the cwm, with precipitous drops down to the lake below. Climbing all the time, a final steep rocky pull brought me to the 2,928 ft summit, where I lingered as little as possible in moving cloud and a cold air stream, before I then gradually descended the lengthy ridge that stretched eastwards, towards the southeast of the town of Dolgellau.
Late in the afternoon, I reached a lane, along which my map showed a campsite where I thought I could repeat the previous night’s comfort. Alas, the lady resident in the bungalow was plainly not pleased to have her doorbell rung, and icily informed me that not only was the site just for caravans, it was also closed. I had no choice but to tramp a further weary mile along the lane to reach another site, on the eastern edge of the town. Here I was charged the then-pricey sum of £4.50. Perhaps it was justice for not paying anything the previous two nights.
The following morning, I set out eastwards along roads both major and minor (this was a prominent downside of my route – too much of it was on roads) to reach the downstream end of the well-known Torrent Walk, a spot that is of great sentimental significance to me, as I will attempt to explain.
Between the late 1950s and the early 1970s my elderly grandmother let rooms in her house to an equally elderly couple, William and Dorothy Gate. I lived there, too, between 1962 and 1969 and I remember Mr Gate, as I always addressed him, as a gentle and quiet-living man who passed his time painting in watercolours and playing the violin. On Whitsun bank holiday in 1969 I spent a weekend with my wife, then my fiancée, at Dolgellau, when we took snapshots with a Kodak Instamatic camera. Showing the results to Mr Gate, he asked if he might borrow them as he would like to paint one or two of the scenes. Two weeks later he had completed a picture composed from a photograph of me posed on waterside rocks (I was not included in the painting) below the B4416 road bridge, Pont ar Ddibyn, which spans the Afon Clywedog at the upstream end of the Torrent Walk.
With their health failing as they reached their mid-eighties, the Gate’s moved into a home, not long after which Dorothy died, soon to be followed by her husband. After my grandmother passed away at the age of 93 in 1977, my sister discovered the painting of Pont ar Ddibyn with some others in the rotting shed at the bottom of the garden, although I was unaware of this at the time. She had it framed and sent it to me as a surprise present one Christmas in the 1980s. The picture has ever since had pride of place on my lounge chimney breast. What I find remarkable about it is that close up it is nothing but a collection of large spots of brown and green watercolour, yet it is a picturesque scene when viewed from six or more feet away.
Unlike 1969, I now found that the upper limit of the Torrent Walk was a couple of hundred yards downstream of the bridge, with “Private” notices forbidding access to the spot from where my fiancée took the photograph.
Several more miles of road walking followed, until I reached a point where I could strike off on forestry tracks, and through more devastated felled areas, to emerge on the west side of the Arans ridge, near its southern end . A rather tough and energy sapping climb brought me to a boggy col. Where the sides of the pass steepened, the rocks offered a little shelter from the freshening wind, and finding a flat patch of turf in front of a rock face, I set up my tent for the night.
That night it rained heavily, ferociously, relentlessly and continuously. Sleep was hard to come by with the noise of it slamming against the taut nylon flysheet of my tent. At about 3:00 a.m. I discovered that my groundsheet was raised on water (memories of 1988!) and from what I could see out of the porch with the aid of my little torch, my tent was sitting in the middle of a shallow pond. A move uphill was unavoidable. As on the previous occasion, this was accomplished in a very short space of time and with a somewhat surprisingly small amount of discomfort. The rain continued at about 80 percent of its earlier force until dawn, while the wind shifted round so that it was now blowing right through the mountain col instead of over the rocks that had earlier sheltered me.
I rose earlier than of habit to find a grey, draughty, damp and very cold morning. Most significant of all was the fact that water was spouting and creaming from simply everywhere all around. It came out of cracks in rocks, from under tussocks of grass, over ledges, down grassy slopes, and where it was not flowing it sat in pools of varying depths. The dripping trickle where I had filled my water bottle the previous evening was now a mini torrent capable of knocking the flask out of my hand. Chilled to the bone, I stopped for neither breakfast nor ablutions, but packed my equipment and sodden tent away as quickly as I could.
The extremely steep climb down the head of Cwm Cywarch warmed me up, in addition to the fact that the weather was rapidly improving; there were patches of blue in the sky and warm rays of sun were felt. On the other hand, water appeared to be running down the entire width of the hillside, not just the streambed. I was glad I did not have to go up this slope instead of down! Lower, where it was dryer and there was long grass and bracken, I stopped to have the breakfast and cleanup I had missed earlier.
Eventually, the tough, steep bit was over and I had about 3 miles of easy lane walking ahead of me. I felt relieved to be back in “civilisation” again, even if this consisted of no more than a bit of tarmac and the occasional farming structure. I was perturbed, however, to come across a group of sodden sheep at the side of a barn. Three were plainly dead, a couple were on their sides, apparently with not long to go, while the remainder looked very weak and dejected. My first thought was that maybe they had got caught in a flash flood last night. The stream, although contained within its banks, was certainly roaring down.
On reaching my van, which I had deliberately left outside a row of local authority bungalows where I knew people would keep an eye on it, an elderly gentleman approached me to enquire if I was all right. With a strong Welsh accent, he said, “We were thinking about you last night, with all that rain.” When I told him of my experience, I could tell by the way he was looking at me that he considered me a little bit mad. Maybe he was right!
From Dinas Mawddwy, it was a relatively short drive to Shrewsbury, where I renewed my acquaintance with the owners of Cartref campsite, and with their tabby cat, after which I whiled away the rest of the afternoon in bookshops before making my way home the following day, via Fibrex fern nursery of course.
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