Sep. 2016, The Moelwyns from Dolwyddelan (return)

Another trip to Snowdonia was greatly anticipated and prepared for well in advance, though I faced much indecision over where I would walk. Part of me really wanted to complete the Moelwyns route that I had aborted the previous year while another part felt that fifty percent of it would be too familiar to me, but after weighing up the pros and cons of a shortlist of three routes, it was the one I decided on.

Changes to my equipment were a new pair of walking trousers to replace my worn old ones, a 5 litre plastic water carrier instead of a 10 litre one that had proved to be bigger than I needed, and yet another new digital compact camera. The latter was necessary because its two years old predecessor’s autofocus had ceased to work properly, but to make sure I had no further mishaps with rain, which had ruined the camera before that one, I bought an overpriced but very effective Aquapac pouch for it.

The date to go was determined by commitments that left me a gap of just twelve days near the beginning of September (I need seven or eight days in total – one day to drive to North Wales, three or four days backpacking, two or three days for post-walk relaxing and recuperating, and one day to drive home). While all the online weather forecasts I looked at only gave a rough indication of what it might be like more than a couple of days ahead (to be fair, they correctly predicted a rise in temperatures in the latter half of my week), in the short-term I was warned of a big front that was going to sweep across the UK from the south-west. This would be on what was planned to be the first day of my walk, therefore I delayed my departure by twenty-four hours. Thus I journeyed through torrential rain rather than walking in it.

My intention for the first night had been to camp at Bryn Tirion farm by Dolwyddelan Castle, just the same as the last time I attempted the route. It was conveniently near the starting point, but on my way there I could see the Afon Lledr spread wide across fields by the road, while the wind blew strongly down the valley too. Changing my mind, I went further away to the sheltered Cwmlanerch site at Betws-y-Coed; here the greatly swollen Afon Conwy swirled past, while Wellingtons were necessary to take the shortest route to the facilities on the far side of a rushing stream that was just a damp ditch on my previous visits.

Day 1

Having left my car opposite the Spar shop in Dolwyddelan, I set off with my pack and poles on a few miles’ steady plod westwards on tracks and lanes. The way might have been déjà vu, but it felt good to be out like this again. All went well till I was on a track heading towards Coed Mawr farm; here I spotted two cattle and a very new calf up in a corner by a gate that I must pass through. Aware that cows can be very protective of their young, I stepped over the wire fence, crotch high for me, into the adjoining pasture. I had barely trespassed more than ten paces when the farmer appeared on the other side of the gate, at which the animals scurried away across their field. Uh-oh, this was going to be awkward!

“Sorry about that,” I breezily declared as I approached him, “I didn’t want to walk past her with the little one.”
“Oh, they’re alright, they won’t hurt,” he said. I made to return to the correct side of the fence, at which he told me there was an unlocked gate at the far end of my pasture.
“Thank you very much,” I replied, but I could tell by the look on his face that he was not pleased.

Ahead of me I could see cloud brushing the highest points of the ridge of 1,933 ft Yr Arddu, which I would going on next. I had avoided this the last time I was here by going a different way, when I walked along the side of a parallel mountain for shelter from the wind. The wall which I must pass to begin today’s ascent was in fact a little beyond the highest point of the track, but before I reached it I stopped for a slightly early (for me) lunch by a crossing stream where smooth rocks were ideal for sitting on.

The broad spur was completely pathless, as I had been forewarned, but the grass and rushes were not particularly overgrown nor was the ground over-wet, so it was not too difficult a climb, though it was necessary to keep stopping to look for the best way to go and even to check with my compass now and again. Nearer the top it was rockier, while the vegetation changed to heather and bilberry; mist was closing in, too, I realised, as the views had disappeared. On reaching the remains of an old wall I looked around, totally unsure where to go next; if only I could see the summit! Then I spotted a cairn of four large stones on top of a huge overhanging bare rock beside me; that was reassuring, but I still did not know the way!

Taking the cairn as a starting point I crossed the tumbled wall and very soon found what looked like a trod way threading upwards. It seemed to be just a sheep path but as I progressed there were telltale signs that others had been this way, such as trampled dead heather stalks and those whitish sandy spots that one sees on upper mountain paths. Then, just to confirm it, there was an old boot print further on!

The tiny path followed the length of the ridge, passing just to one side of its rocky crests, but as soon as it began to gently descend the western end it became fainter and more difficult to follow. Nevertheless I was glad of anything at all, because mist now prevented me seeing anything beyond the hill I was on. But after further descent I found myself looking down into a hazy cwm with green pastures, stone walls and scattered buildings. My heart sank. This was clearly wrong, I knew that where I wanted to go was not like this. The path, if indeed it was one, was leading down the wrong side of the mountain. It wasn’t too difficult to work out from my map that this was the head of the Afon Lledr valley and I had no choice but to strike off north-westwards across further pathless country to get to where I needed to be, which was Llyn Edno..

So I floundered up and down and around undulating grassy mountainside using my compass as a guide, while struggling to determine which slopes rising into the mist were just rises and which were the lower flanks of mountains. I knew the general area, dammit, if only I could see some ridges I could work out where I should be heading! A couple of times groups of grouse took flight when I disturbed them, which lifted my spirits a fraction; they were lovely to see, and I presumed they were living safely away from a shooting area. I headed down a little dry valley to reach a distinctive-looking broad valley that ran crossways before me, with what seemed to be the bases of steep slopes disappearing into mist along the far side. Left was the way to go, my compass told me, even though it was uphill, and then on the skyline of a col I could see fence posts and a ladder stile! That was the most promising thing I had seen so far, although I was prepared for disappointment as I knew from experience that ladder stiles can sometimes be in the middle of nowhere. When I reached it, you could have knocked me over with a feather, for just on the other side of it was Llyn Edno. I was exactly where I wanted to be! Wise after the event, I now knew that the “broad valley” was the upper end of Cwm Edno while the “bases of steep slopes” behind it were those of 1,991 ft. Moel Meirch.

Although it was only five o’clock, I decided to camp here for the night, as just north of the lake there was some moderately sheltered level ground and flat rocks for sitting on and putting things on. I knew from my past trip in the area that I would find nothing like this for a long way beyond it. While the pitch turned out to be the most level and lump-free I have ever wild camped on, I never got the chance to make use of the rocks, for windblown light drizzle joined the deepening mist, forcing me to spend the remaining hours of daylight huddled in my tent. When the time arrived for me to get ready to bed down in my sleeping bag, I discovered that the inner sock on my left foot was so wet inside the SealSkinz sock that I had to wring it out. The failure of the expensive waterproof socks was a huge disappointment as they were only bought earlier in the year and this was just their second use. Added to this my new walking trousers were damp. Throughout the day they had brushed wet vegetation, been splashed from puddles and gained wet knees from kneeling, but they had not dried one little bit, not even from my body heat. Whereas previous ones I have had were 100% synthetic material and quick drying, these ones were 65% polyester/35% cotton, with the cotton being the reason in my opinion.

Day 2

At seven in the morning conditions were just as bad; even the nearby ladder stile was hardly visible in the mist, while fine drizzle still came from one side, so again I had to do everything in the shelter of my tent. My trousers were clammy, but not as much as the foot with the wet sock. With all my equipment prepared for packing, it appeared that I unpitched my wet tent only just in time, for little puddles were forming in the grass around it. Bundling it into a black bin bag, everything went into my rucksack and then I set off in my waterproofs.

Even though I could not see a great deal and the path was just trodden grass, there was a line of old metal fence posts to follow up the lengthy ridge of Ysgafel Wen, but this was a miserable, dripping chore on boggy ground and during which I saw nothing of the rocky rib where I camped sixteen months previously, nor any of the little pools I had considered for water sources last time. Worse still, I was unable to see where to turn off towards the three Dog Lakes, Llynnau’r Cwn, the nearest of which should have been visible just below one side of the ridge. However hard I strained my eyes, it was impossible to see anything through the opaque banks of white mist. When I reached a small, unnamed lake whose water lapped the edge of the path I knew I was well beyond the others, resignedly realising at the same time that I was doomed to follow the same cut-down route as I had last year, but at the same time telling myself this was the most sensible thing to do under the circumstances.

Somewhere south of here I lost my way completely; I had been thinking for a while that I didn’t wholly recognise my surroundings, before I found myself on a path that ascended an unfamiliar rise and beside which stood a pair of columns built of stones, perhaps once for the winding gear of a quarry; I had definitely never seen these before. With a vague memory of having turned at an angle last time, I returned to where a wire fence forked to one side. But this one was not marked on my map, so where did it go? I cursed the walls of fog that prevented me from getting my bearings. Crossing wet grassland that appeared to go around the base of what I think was a mountain, I found a faint trod way that might have been just a sheep path heading south-eastwards, and this led me to what I first thought was a definite path but it turned into a number of deep ruts made by off-road motorbikes. That was all I needed, with these confusing the situation! The ruts then went down an extremely steep slope into what appeared in the mist to be a deep cwm; I most certainly did not want to go that way.

With only a very rough idea of the general area I was in, I knew that my only hope was to keep making my way south-eastwards when I should eventually come to somewhere I recognised. Thus I set off across country with my compass, easier said than done when there are endless rises and dips to go up and down, but I reached a point where there seemed to be a horizontal area of whiter mist ahead of me. Could it be one of the many lakes in the area? If it was, I could work out my exact location! Walking towards it confirmed that it was definitely a lake, but alas, it was circular and featureless, and no matter how hard I studied my map I didn’t know which one it was out of the number of similar ones in the area.

Leaving the lake after a huddled lunch of nothing more than an energy bar and some water, I carried on south-eastwards, trying to stay high up and not descending too much. Walking along a grass ridge, I was momentarily puzzled by a strange dark-grey area below one side of me, before I realised I was looking down onto the surface of a large lake with waves rolling across it! Surely this must be Llyn Conglong? As I continued past, it was certainly big, though I had not seen the peninsula that projects into it, nor did I remember it having a beach of grey shingle at its end. But just north of it was a smaller, elongated lake that I expected, however the rock cliff that I knew should be along its far side was invisible in the mist, so I was still a bit uncertain. Beyond it, though, I was in little doubt, for here was the definite path that goes on to ascend Allt-fawr, while I easily found the tiny path that branches off to contour around the mountain.

Although small the path was unmissable in the enveloping mist, but after climbing over Iwerddon I did not recognise where I was going and I feel sure I approached Llyn Dyrnogydd a different way to how I had done it on previous occasions. Here the mist was only half as dense and I easily made my way down to the old quarry track that winds its way northwards below Moel Dyrnogydd. Alas, after half a mile I practically walked into a herd of black Welsh highland cattle that were blocking the track, and one of the nearest was unmistakably a bull. I certainly wasn’t going to try to shoo him out of the way! The slopes rising to the left were too steep to consider passing that way, so I dropped down to the right. Here the ground was greatly churned up by their hooves, so I tripped and stumbled my way around the beasts. Some of them watched me, but the bull carried on grazing without taking any notice whatsoever. After I had clambered back up to the track, three stragglers were further along it, but these obligingly trotted away on seeing me.

With the early evening already like twilight in the mist, my priority was to find water, shelter and dry level ground where I could camp for the night, and right now not one of these was present, let alone all together. Eventually I came to the walls of some old quarry buildings, with a stream outside and green turf inside. Perfect! There was even a nice-sized block of stone to sit on, but again this was denied to me because there was still fine drizzle in the air; in fact, after I had bedded down for the night I was puzzled by an intermittent faint shooshing noise behind my tent. Thinking at first it might have been the sound of the wind in a bed of soft rush next to me, I stuck an arm outside, this confirmed it was the wet mist ever so gently spraying onto my flysheet.

Day 3

The same gloomy wet fog greeted me when I looked outside in the morning, if anything it was thicker, but I was encouraged by the fact that the remainder of my walk should be straightforward, just tracks and lanes, and I expected to finish by around lunchtime. Apart from some immediate difficulty in finding the continuation of the track in the mist, because it made a sharp turn at the quarry and its new route was not clear initially, all was plain sailing, albeit as wet as sailing, too. Once I was down from the hills I was below the mist and as I had predicted I was back at my car in Dolwyddelan a little after one p.m. What was very pleasing to see was that the spitting rain had now ceased and the sky was brightening. I drove to my favourite camp site, Plas Farm near Abergele, where I spent three nights in a big tent, my recuperation aided by the next day being amazingly hot, which also dried all of my wet gear that I spread along several yards of fence.

In summary, all I had done was walk almost exactly the same shortened route that I did the previous year. For all the planning and preparation, the money spent and the anticipation, I had accomplished nothing at all, I had not achieved my objective. While going on a trip the following day I drove past Moelwyn Bach and Moelwyn Mawr in perfect conditions, between them the Stwlan dam above which I had planned to traverse. They were stunningly beautiful, and I could have wept (not that I would have wanted to be walking and climbing with a big pack in the extreme heat and humidity of that day). My walk could have been so good, but instead I had been cheated by the weather, it had robbed me of my pleasure. I still want to do the parts of the walk that I have missed two times now, but I don’t want to repeat it from Dolwyddelan and back all over again, I will have to plan a route with a different starting point. I have already looked at a map, on which I have seen there are ways from the south, or the west….

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