Visit to the hills of Wales (2011-09-11/18)


Creative Commons License

Visit to the Hills of Wales, and all the linked pictures
, by Andy Pepperdine is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

On Sunday 11th September 2011 I drove to Dolgellau for a holiday walking among the hills near the town. The journey was uneventful, in fact somewhat tedious. It tried to rain, which did not bode well for the coming week, but I had taken the precaution of bringing suitable clothing. Arriving about 15:00, I joined a group of about 30 people, all of them with the same idea. I stayed at Dolserau Hall, whose history is not completely clear; the present management is researching it.

Some of us later that day walked up the path by the local stream Afon Clywedog, for an hour before dinner. The food was surprisingly good, but I later discovered that the chef was earlier at one of the best hotels in London. Every evening the choice and taste were first rate, even though we all ate rapidly after a day on the hills.

Each day there were three walks offered of varying difficulty, when I always selected the hardest (what am I trying to prove?). To start with our group contained 6 members from an athletic club in South London (cycling and running), myself, and one other.

The forecast for Monday was bad, very bad. “Walking on the tops will be difficult to impossible. Wind speeds of up to 100 mph (45 m/s).” Because the visibility was going to be very poor, I left my camera beind, and did not regret it. Also, our guide decided that the rain overnight would make one of the river crossings very difficult, and we would go by a different route from what had been planned. Of course we lost the track, spent an hour following the wrong one up and back again, going "cross-country" through a trackless marsh, before we eventually found the right path again. When we reached the ridge, we discovered that the forecast was right. On occasion, progress was impossible, even standing was difficult. At last the "summit" of Tarrenhendre appeared - a cairn in a wide somewhat flat area. Due to a lack of time, we had to return by the same path we had climbed, but that gave us an opportunity to find where it really started and how we missed it. While tramping through the vegetation, it was clear why we missed it earlier, it was next to invisible where it met the main track. Despite the forecast promised, it did not rain, but it was very cloudy and rather warm and humid.

The forecast for the following day was better, but not much - winds of "only" 70 mph (30 m/s) . This became a rule during the following days: promise of rain, which rarely appeared, and lessening of wind which did occur. This time we ascended Waun-oer, and afterwards, a long ridge walk. The view at the start was fairly good, but we did not stay long, because we had a long way ahead of us. Starting from the highest point of the road east, we had a steep slope up, then steeply down again, and steeply up yet again before we got to the summit. We had to leave the summit the same way, down and up in ordser to join the ridge we were to follow. Thankfully it was quite dry, the marshes were passable; even the peat hags were dry. The ridge slowly descended until we entered the village of Dinas Mawddwy after 10 miles (16 km) only 10  minutes before the appointed time for us to meet the bus back to the hotel.

Cadair Idris was the target on Wednesday. The mountain got its name from the shape of its eastern or northern (depending on the source of information) flank, which has the appearance of a large chair for the giant Idris. We walked up the commonly used Pony Path, which was made during Victorian times to ease the climb to the summit, where they also constructed a sturdy little one room building, which still stands giving shelter against the weather. Ponies were used on the path to provision the top with tea and cakes for the tourists! But not now. I can only suppose the views are worth it, since when we were there, we couldn't see anything through the dense fog all around. After a break for lunch, we set out again along an easy ridge, dropping slowly at the beginning, but then becoming very steep, until finally we came out into a clear view of the valley below. This day, there were some difficult parts and slippery rocks, that gave the feeling of something accomplished.

The next day, Thursday, was a free day. Some of the guests were leaving, and others arriving, and about half stayed. The weather was easily the best of the week. During a short morning walk of about an hour, I saw some of the famous "black cattle". Afterwards, I drove to the gardens at Bodnant, which I hadn't seen for more than 30 years. Besides plants, it also contains statues and interesting buildings like this pin mill. The stream flows through a deep ravine, which protects several rare varieties and species.

On the way back, I stopped to look at the very ancient castle at Dolwyddelan, where the rectangular keep is in good condition because it was repaired during the 1700's. Welsh Heritage keep there some posters describing the history of not only the castle, but also of Wales. It was there I learnt of Cymer Abbey, and since it was near Dolgellau and close to the road back, I stopped there too. It's in the middle of a caravan park.

On Friday, the group for the hard walks was smaller than for the first three days due to the loss of the athletes, but three others joined instead. This time we were to climb Diffwys on the southern end of the Rhinogs chain. The day started well enough with views over the river. Again we entered the mist blockiing out the world. The wind gusted strongly and it grew colder, but a stone wall gave some shelter almost the whole way. Then two minutes after leaving the top, the mist cleared giving  splendid all-round vistas. For five minutes at least, then the sky closed in again and we struggled on half blind. Eventually after a long march we got low enough for the vision to clear to make it worthwhile. When we got to the appointed place to meet the bus, the cafe was closed. It was water only that day.

The last day was Saturday when the goal was Aran Fawddwy south of Lake Bala. Early in the walk, the weather was kind, letting us see other hills across the valley. When midday arrived, the clouds came down and the conditions were terrible - the worst of the week. Rain, hail, gales, bitter cold, we had the lot. It was the wettest and least pleasant day of all - until we returned when it became a story to tell. In any case, we did see some things, like this view across Lake Bala, as we got near the end.

On Sunday, I drove home.

Andy Pepperdine

2011-10-04

Creative Commons License

Visit to the Hills of Wales, and all the linked pictures
, by Andy Pepperdine is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.