May 2018, the Moelwyns from Beddgelert

Still determined to walk around the south-eastern part of the Moelwyn mountains that I had failed to achieve in both May 2015 and September 2016, I devised a circuit that started this time from the village of Beddgelert on the west of the range instead of from Dolwyddelan on the eastern side. This year there were only two clear weeks in May between the busier ones with the bank holidays, but the weather remained quite settled and gave me nothing to worry about.

In my never-ending quest to reduce my pack weight (within my means, of course), further changes were made to my equipment this year. I have, in fact, reached the stage where I am replacing perfectly servicable items with others just because they are lighter. The latest batch were top and bottom baselayers that are nearly half the weight of their predecessors (inexpensive, too, from Screwfix of all places, yet they proved to be quite satisfactory), pile mittens that are much less than half the weight of my Gore-Tex ones and a dinky little titanium stove, a quarter of the weight of my existing one and quite cheap on eBay. Rather than carry a 1:25,000 Explorer map I printed four sections back-to-back on two sheets of A4 paper. I also tried an insulated balaclava folded up as a hat; this was lighter than a separate fleece hat and a neckwarmer; but overall it proved to be less effective and less versatile than the two individual items which will be reaccompanying me on my next trip.

Mention must also be made of a new item I carried, a Pocket Smidge, a product developed as a defence against midges that has also been found to deter ticks. Two did attach themselves to me during the trip: one on the back of a hand where I hadn’t thought to apply any of the liquid, and one on an arm on a day when I got ready in a hurry and didn’t stop to put any on. This indicates to me that Smidge was effective where and when I had used it!

I left home on a Sunday and a little earlier than of habit, for I wanted to see a photographic exhibition about wild goats that was in Llanberis until the end of the month, but I was a little surprised that it took me till nearly 4 p.m. to get there in spite of light traffic and only two short breaks. Following the pleasurable diversion I continued to Beddgelert where the last day trippers were departing, leaving it near-deserted. Cae Du campsite was quite empty, too.

Day 1

Instead of leaving my car in the lay-by next to the campsite entrance in the morning, I put it in one across the road where the occupants of a terrace of cottages parked at right-angles to the highway. I felt my car would be less isolated there. A very short distance down the road a minor lane crossed the river Glaslyn, along the far side of which a wide stony path made pleasant walking to the village. By the first buildings a well-trodden path commenced, that climbed south-eastwards to the the summit of Mynydd Sygyn. This is less than 300m (1000ft) above sea level but you are made acutely aware of its height because the way is so steep. Hands were necessary to haul myself up in places. It is possibly double the distance shown on the OS map, too, because what is drawn as a moderately straight footpath turrned out to be a twisting series of zigzags on the ground.

At the heather and bilberry-clad summit beautiful panoramic views rewarded the effort. Here I turned north-eastwards towards the large hollow of Bwlch-y-Sygyn were I saw numbers of walkers who were approaching from Aberglaslyn and Cwm Bychan. Tunnel entrances and spoil tips were relics of copper mining industry up here, while a line of rusting pylons that once supported an aerial ropeway are still present.

Somewhere in the area I expected to find a path unmarked on the map that would lead roughly eastwards to 382m (1253ft) Moel y Dyniewyd, but if it existed it eluded me. Instead, I made a relatively short climb up a pathless grass hillside that brought me to level ground around the south of the summit and its crags before descending to the Nanmor valley. A small lizard scurried out of my way on an untrod slope. A 6ft-high wall which barred my improvised route had plenty of toeholds to assist climbing over it, while subsequent ones had gates or gaps. After passing a ruin with a large sycamore tree growing within its walls – how old was that? – I reached a good footpath that led via a bridge over the river to a minor lane that follows the valley.

A tiresome tramp along tarmac followed, though the scenery was pleasant with a forest along one side and riverside pastures on the other. The map showed a public footpath striking off south-eastwards after a kilometre, leading to the hamlet of Croesor, but I saw no sign of any path. Stopping when I could tell I had walked too far, I retraced my footsteps for a few hundred metres and checked with the app on my phone that shows my current grid reference. This pinpointed the faintest of gaps in the laneside hedgerow, through which nobody appeared to have passed for many years, but it had to be the way to go. A short initial climb through trees led to a wide gate in a wire fence, beyond which was a gently-descending expanse of rough grassland with no sign whatsoever of a path.

Following a compass bearing I forged my way across; all I had to do was keep a line of low cliffs in sight on my left, what could possibly go wrong? But the ground gradually became wetter and wetter until I realised too late that I was well and truly in the middle of a huge bog. In retrospect the sensible thing to have done would be to carefully retreat the way I had come and find a way around it, but the slightly higher ground at the end of the route was in view, so I stepped from one tussock to another. What was inevitable happened: both of my feet sank and I toppled forward onto my hands and knees, from which position it took a supreme effort, with my 11kg pack on my back, to right myself.

Dripping water, I made a circuitous but slightly less wet way to the edge of the marsh, where I was peeved to find a well-trodden, dry path which, it appeared from the map, I could have used if I had walked a further kilometre down the lane. A short distance eastwards this path crossed the Afon Dylif on a stone-slab bridge, and here I pitched my tent on nearby flat grass. My synthetic material clothing had fully dried by the time I turned in for the night.

Day 2

The morning sky was slightly hazy, while horizontal bands of mist wreathed the surrounding mountains. Beyond the river bridge the path became a rocky track which gently climbed to cross a low ridge before descending steeply to Croesor. A popular path to the summit of Cnicht follows the ridge, so I passed about eighteen walkers in total who were toiling towards it from the village’s free car park. Turning left at a crossroads, I self-righteously strode past a tearoom without pausing and I commenced a steady climb up an old track that had been made to serve Croesor Quarry. This was quite a long slog but the views across the depth of Cwm Croesor to the parallel flanks of Cnicht made up for it. At one stage I could see a number of pinpricks of figures standing on the summit.

When planning my route, it had been my intention to walk around the bulk of Moelwyn Mawr in an anticlockwise direction on old miners tracks and paths, to gain which I would have to turn right off the present track and climb a very steep old incline. Failing that, I could continue to where a footpath doubled back and then go up the incline from where that path crossed it. In the event the incline was not only unclimbable, being totally overgrown with heather and bilberry, but its base rose from high above the side of the track, so it was impossible to reach. Further along the track, the hoped-for path consisted of nothing more than a footpath sign and a stile, beyond which lay an overgrown, untrodden hillside. Not wanting a tiring struggle, I decided to skip that bit.

Croesor Quarry consisted of a huge man-made hill of slate, a couple of gaunt ruined buildings and a large flat area, with summits behind it disappearing into mist. The onward path consisted initially of flat rocks in short turf and then just rocks as it climbed a steep ridge, beyond which it meandered over a hill and passed another slate tip on its way towards Bwlch Rhosydd. Ahead of me I could see a ladder stile over a three-strand wire fence. With my long legs it looked easier for me to step over it than negotiate the stile, but as soon as I put my hand on the top wire, whack!, I received a jolt of electricity up my arm. Then I saw the insulators behind the wooden posts. In all the years I have been walking in north Wales I have never before come across an electric fence high up in the mountains.

That unpleasant incident behind me, I looked down onto an extensive flat area containing the walls of ruined buildings in straight rows; these were the remains of the mill and barracks of Rhosydd Quarry which operated in this lonely spot from the 1840s until 1930. A footpath the map showed as heading northwards from the edge of the site was tricky to find as it was no more than an indistinct trod way on grass, along which I passed a few solo walkers on their way back to Croesor after climbing Cnicht. It was rare for me to see any other people during my trips; even on my circuit around Snowdon I didn’t see as many as I had on this one! I paused to admire the attractive irregularly-shaped Llyn Cwm-corsiog whose little dam at its southern end looked vaguely familiar, leaving me to wonder if it was the one I had camped beside in 1985.

North of the lake a steep and rocky escarpment rose across the land before me with no apparent way around it. While I stopped to scrutinise my map, I was passed by a confident-looking man accompanied by a large dog, so I very carefully watched the way he went before copying him. The route included a few scrambles over and around boulders, and I was left extremely puzzled because I had crossed the area before, on one occasion in thick mist, and I have no recollection at all of there being anything as complex as this along the way. Safely at the top, the view today extended as far as the distant sea in the west, with the dark line of the Lleyn Peninsula stretching along the horizon.

Continuing northwards, I reached the top of a rise where my heart leaped with joy, for there ahead of me was the expanse of Llyn yr Adar with its little island, and beyond it the bulk of the Snowdon Horseshoe filling the sky. I had made it, I had reached my next objective! On my way down to the water’s edge I encountered two heavily-laden men in their late sixties who were attempting the 291-miles Cambrian Way from north to south. I felt humbled, their adventure made mine seem so puny by comparison.

Although it was a little bit early I decided to camp here for the night, but I clearly needed somewhere more sheltered than the open lakeside, as the weather was visibly changing. The bank of a feeder stream at the north end of the lake is where I pitched, as this had higher peat embankments around it that kept a growing breeze off me. Once everything was set up, I went to see if I could find my exit route for the morning, as it was causing me some uncertainty. A very faint path led from near my tent site to another faint one that went around the base of a large mound, beyond which it entered a col at the western end of a mountain, Y Cyrniau. That must be the way, I surmised, fixing it in my head. As I returned to my tent light rain commenced.

Day 3

The rain had stopped by the morning but I was now within low cloud and could only just see the edge of the lake, while a cold, buffeting east wind made the shelter of my tent doorway a necessity. Being at 571m (1874ft) above sea level didn’t help. Breakfast, ablutions and packing up were completed as quickly as possible and I set off still wearing my baselayers and with the added protection of my waterproof jacket against the breeze. Thank goodness I had checked the way the previous evening!

Beyond the col, a very steep rocky way descended diagonally down the flank of the mountain, heading towards what appeared in the mist to be some sort of a corner with further heights above it. This turned out to be the head of a short valley, where the vague path made an acute turn and continued downwards. Once again I was highly puzzled, for I had been up and down this way more than once some years ago and I could not remember it being such a bit of mountaineering as this, I thought it was much easier. I had the feeling that I had almost bitten off more than I could chew when I planned this route, as some of it was more difficult than I had envisaged.

Lower down the valley the mist was thinner and the circular Llyn Llagi came into view; this was still some way below me but the going was marginally easier now. From the lake onwards it was infinitely more straightforward  but there was still a further 225m (738ft) of descent to reach the Nanmor lane and unfortunately there is always much surface water in this area.

On I went across the lane, past the unoccupied Hafod Owen house and down to Llyn Dinas in the Nant Gwynant Pass, encountering yet more walkers along the way. From there it was just a lengthy plod on tracks and tarmac to Beddgelert. After driving straight to Shropshire I had an unfortunate time finding a suitable campsite for the rest of my holiday, with my first choice not open, my second containing nothing but a long row of unoccupied touring caravans, the third one looking like an industrial estate, and no reply at the reception of the fourth one. But the fifth site I tried turned out to be an absolute gem, and cheap too, so I am going to keep it to myself and leave its name a secret; there I enjoyed an extended stay in glorious weather in a brand-new two-person tent, a Sunncamp Silhouette 200 selected for its height and the ease with which it can be put up single-handed.

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