Sep. 2018, Southern Arenigs from Llanuwchllyn

There is already a trip report in my list with the same title (2006) but this is a different route. In my “perhaps to do” list for some time, it was copied from the Backpackingbongos website (Bongo being the model of the author’s Mazda motorhome) and while parts of the route appealed to me it was also only 20 miles long and not too rugged.

As so often happens in September, the UK particularly the west was affected by waves of unsettled weather, one after the other, from the remnants of tropical storms across the Atlantic. I would have liked to have departed on Sunday 9th but heavy rain was due in Wales on Tuesday 11th, so I left home that day instead. After passing Shrewsbury I turned off the A5 onto B roads that should have taken me straight to Bala, except that threequarters of the distance along the route a board announced that the road ahead was closed. With no diversion signs I had to fend for myself. My road atlas showed that if I returned to a junction I had passed some miles back, a road went to Lake Vrnwy and from there a very minor road led directly to my destination of Llanuwchllyn.

The hilly and twisting byway was not the easiest to drive along, and when I eventually reached the reservoir my annoyance was compounded by the shortest way around it being closed for roadworks, so the lengthier way was necessary. As for the Llanuwchllyn road, this was of the single track grass-growing-along-the-middle sort that climbed over hills and moors with blind bends, huge puddles and first-gear ascents that almost made my little car stand on end. Fortunately I didn’t encounter any vehicles; other drivers were clearly too wise to go this way.

A pleasant dinner in the village pub was followed by a quiet night on a campsite also in the village. Whilst preparing for sleep I discovered problems with my lighting: firstly, an ultra-lightweight lantern I had bought from a cottage industry gave out barely any light at all, leaving me feeling I had wasted my money, and secondly my usual backpacking lantern kept switching itself off after 15 seconds (later found out to be faulty new lithium batteries). So the ultralight lantern was the one I carried on my walk, on the basis that it was better than nothing at all (I’ve since seen a very light – in both senses – little rechargable lantern that is going on my Christmas wish list).

Another reduction in weight carried was by doing away with the roll of antislip matting that I put under my ground mat. Instead I had coated the underside of the latter with a spray intended for rugs. But instead of drying to a rubbery finish as I expected, it has remained tacky so that little bits of dead grass and heather stick to it and it has made my tent groundsheet slightly sticky too. The small print on the container says “This product….can be used on just about any surface”; well the material of a Multimat does not seem to be one of them, and while the treatment has definitely worked as hoped for, it was perhaps not the best thing to do.

(Just to complete the list of weight savings, I had also bought a Wahl rechargable mobile shaver that is noticably lighter than the battery-operated Braun one it replaces.)

Day 1

In a sun-and-cloud morning I left my car in the close-by National Park car park, shouldered my pack and set off on foot. Five minutes later, as I made my way along the street, I sensed that something wasn’t quite right. Checking everything, I realised that my map case wasn’t clipped to my rucksack shoulder strap where it should have been. With no-one about to see, I hid my sack behind a stone wall and returned to my car where the map case was on the passenger seat. That silly mistake cost me a quarter of an hour.

Once I was out of the village and over the adjacent main road, an easy three kilometres on a dead-end lane led me westwards. At the lane’s terminus, the author of the route had skirted the hill on which Castell Carndochan stands before he then encountered bog, heather and bracken along the bank of the river Fwy. My plan was to avoid this by following a track that was marked on the map through Coed Bryn Bras. The track turned out to be a bit elusive to find as its start didn’t quite tally with the map, and it was evidently very little-used. Eventually, though, it became a rocky way that climbed and climbed and climbed through rows of conifers before the gradient eased and open land was reached. Here I checked the grid reference on my phone app just in case I had emerged on another side of the wood, but I was exactly where I wanted to be.

A path led southwestwards from the trees, and along this, to my right, was the southern end of the line of low hills I intended to follow northwestwards. The pathless slope to the top looked a bit intimidating to me and I was reluctant to leave the good path I was on to pick a course through the vegetation. However, I was mildly surprised at how easily I accomplished the climb, although once I was on the flat heather, grass and rushes plateau it was difficult to get my bearings. My gps app and my compass sorted that out, and within a couple of minutes I could see the small cairn that marks the almost-indiscernible tip of Cerrig Chwibanog.

Now the author of the route evidently had a bit of a tough time progressing in places, but someone else’s online trip report that included this section remarked that they discovered a distinct path around the plateau edge. That was written some years ago, and all I found was an extremely faint and narrow sheeps’ path to follow. This led me over a further three tops a little over 500m (1,700 ft) in height and past more old cairns. All the time, the peaks of Moel Llyfant and Arenig Fawr which I intended to be part of my route, loomed prominently on the northern skyline.

The land next dropped away before me, revealing below the twists and turns of the Afon Lliw in its wide valley. I must now make my way down to its banks, as the author of my route had done, and this turned out to be one of the most difficult parts of my walk, for there was no easy way through the thigh-high heather and tussocks while the slopes were painfully steep and with plenty of obstacles to trip me. This slowed me down enormously, so by the time I reached the river the obvious thing to do was to find a tent pitch. An area where a low hill rose above the opposite bank was the most favourable, and here I found a flat spot in the long grass with boulders close by for sitting on, although the latter proved to be in a cold draught, making the entrance of my tent preferable.

Day 2

For the first part of today’s walking, all I had to do was follow the river upstream. The author of the route had written in 2010, “After following the river bank for a few hundred metres we found ourselves walking on beautifully cropped grass and the going was easy.” Perhaps the frequent beds of tall rushes that I forced my way through had grown in the intervening years, but there were also some tracts of marsh bordering the river, around which it was necessary to make unwanted detours.

At one point I crossed a low rise rather than walk around it, and as I descended the far side I heard the sound of a machine. Scanning the landscape, I spotted the distant speck of a farmer on a quad bike coming down the far side of the river. I remained motionless while he progressed but just as he was about to pass out of my sight beyond the end of the hill where I stood, he turned and forded the river to my side. Now I sat down on a rock to make myself less conspicuous while he crossed the grassland below me. He was still some distance from me and I was sure he hadn’t seen me, but just as he rode past my position his hand rose in a back-handed wave!

If only it was possible to cross the river I could have made a big short-cut, but the water was too wide and deep for me, so I persevered along the south bank until I reached the little Llanuwchllyn to Tranwsfynydd road at Pont Blaen-Lliw. I don’t usually like walking on tarmac, but this was a welcome relief after the pathless land I had been on. A few hundred metres east along the trafficless road (unless you include sheep), I should have taken a track that led northwards to Hendre Blaen-Lliw farm, beyond which lay the mountains of Moel Llyfant and Arenig Fawr, but I had read that after the farm the footpath marked on the map did not exist. Deterred by the thought of further picking my way through vegetation and bogs, I modified my route. Staying on the road would bring me to the eastwards course of an old bridleway I was familiar with, and I could follow this to where I could rejoin my original circuit.

The bridleway is in fact pathless, there is just a line of rushes to follow over the hills. My lunch stop was on the bank of the Afon Erwent, close to where I sat in hot sunshine 16 months ago, unlike today’s uniform greyness. Debris in the riverside vegetation showed that the water level had recently been a metre higher, probably on Tuesday morning; it would have been impossible to cross then. Continuing from here, it was only when I arrived at a good track on the edge of Trawscoed that I realised I had missed a fork in the path where I should have changed course. It was easy enough from here to cut across country northwards to intercept it, but it soon became evident that I had not seen it because although a track was plainly marked on the map, there wasn’t one. Instead there was just the faintest of narrow animal paths that led to a pair of ancient wooden gateposts at an inward-pointing corner of the wood.

There will be a track in the wood, I told myself (alongside it, actually, as trees on the other side had been felled long ago), forests always have good tracks. No, there was no track, just a continuation of the animal path, and that is how it was for over a kilometre until the route headed into the wood at Bwlch Llwyd. The spot was unmistakable, with a gap in the stone wall where there had once been a gate, and even blue plastic arrows on a post. It also looked very much like the place where I had picked up two laminated route sheets in 2006 when I was heading in the opposite direction.

But inside the wood there did not appear to be a way, it was thickly overgrown. I pushed my way through to the line of a former sunken track that went downhill, but very soon this was blocked by the branches of a fallen tree, and after I had worked my way around that there were others. Perhaps I had got it wrong and this wasn’t the right way through the forest at all, but having come this far there was no turning back, and I detoured around them within the dreary, black conifer trunks. Eventually this, too, became too difficult so I made my way back in the direction of the sunken track. This now ran along the outer edge of the trees, but before I could get down onto it I had to climb a stone wall and then a barbed wire-topped fence.

Carrying on, I was next trespassing along the margins of the pastures of Cwm Tylo farm which was in view to the north. On the way I spotted a couple of blue arrows on posts within the overgrown wood, while towards the eastern end there was definitely a green track and at the very end a bridleway fingerpost. This was all rather puzzling to me, for there was a route in 2006 when I followed it the opposite way along the edge of the field, after which it continued uphill through the trees in what I described then as a broad green swathe, yet now this section of the bridleway is no longer marked on Ordnance Survey maps.

Worse was to come, for I could not find the start of the north-south track I had used in 2006 that passed through Y Lordship forest. The correct spot was pointed out to me by a passing woman on a quad bike, who described it as overgrown and “rough going”; it was also on the other side of another barbed wire-topped fence. Once over this, I found myself on a hard surface but it  was thick with shrubby trees, gorse and brambles growing through it, and it proved to be impenetrable. After progressing less than 50 metres I saw the futility in it and I turned back. I had no choice now but to use lanes around the east that would lead me back to Llanuwchllyn.

From the corner of the forest I followed the lane that serves Cwm Tylo farm and very soon it passed over a little river, the Afon Dylo, beside which an extensive rough and ungrazed pasture stretched away downhill. A safe distance from the road, I camped for the night on a patch of fresh grass by the river.

Day 3

Since before I came away, rain had been forecast for Wales today, and it was one of those occasions when you hate them for getting it right. A problem with wild camping in the rain is that in between taking your tent down and packing everything in your rucksack a lot of your stuff is laying about getting wet. Another problem in my case is that my old rucksack is about as watertight as a sieve and as I decline to carry the additional weight of a waterproof cover for it, the contents get damp while I am walking in the rain for a few hours (most items are in plastic bags, but the bags are wet!).  Now, too, something I had suspected was confirmed: my overtrousers were no longer as efficient as they should be.

I got into a steady stride along the lane but within less than a kilometre a footpath sign pointed southwards across a pasture on my right. It might have been perfect for me, but I was reluctant to go that way. Even though I could see a stony section between two walls in the distance, the start of the path near the road looked untrodden, while the map showed that much further on it passed through an arm of Y Lordship forest. What if that section was overgrown too? With that in mind, I passed it by, as I did with further footpaths that forked from the next few kilometres of lane.

It was only when I was nearing the A road that follows Bala Lake that I took a chance on one, as I wanted to avoid walking alongside a main road. This path looked as little-used as the others but I was encouraged by yellow arrows at stiles and gateways, which showed that walkers were expected to use it. Eventually I arrived back in Llanuwchllyn where I passed the pub beside the road at just the right time to pop in for a sandwich, so I put to good use the solitary banknote I was carrying for emergencies.  The puddle I left on the floor was nothing to do with the pint that accompanied the food!

Driving from the village the rain ceased and it turned into a fine afternoon while I headed for a large campsite that was on my route home. Here my wet gear draped on my car and big tent dried in no time in the breeze and late sunshine. I was disappointed at not having done more of the walk I had set out to do; perhaps my age was showing, but I think it was largely the persistent pathlessness. I’m already looking at a published walk for next time that appears to be almost entirely on paths and tracks!

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