#25 – A short walk in the Carneddau (Part 2)

Yr Aran from Llyn Gwynant

So, Day 1 had started the weekend well.   However, Day 2 was to prove more challenging….

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Yr Aran seen from the west

 Sometimes I can guess what the weather will be before drawing back the curtains of the camper.  The sun of the previous day was well hidden behind a curtain of mist.  The trouble was, the Carneddau was equally hidden.  Now, I can yomp across hills in the mist all day, and have a good time, but the aim was to give Shreyas and Ravi a good day – on top of poor visibility a cool wind was racing across the Carneddau plateau, an area not exactly well known for being sheltered.

The Watkin Path

For a good day I would have to look elsewhere.  Something worthwhile and interesting was called for, but with options if there was a sudden change in the weather.  It just had to be Yr AranYr Aran is a shapely and interesting mountain, but at 747 metres altitude, it isn’t the biggest by a long way.  That suited the day just fine, because I was looking for quality, not biggest.  Of course, I wasn’t going to get any reasonable photos – one grey cloud looks pretty much like another!  No worries there, though, as I had a few in my image library, so the views you see here are the views that Shreyas and Ravi missed.

The West Ridge of Yr Aran

In picking Yr Aran for the day I had also managed to stay in the original brief – Shreyas had asked for less crowded routes, and Yr Aran doesn’t seem to attract the crowds.  The reason is simple – Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) is about 3 kilometres away, and that’s the one that everyone comes for.  We started the route at Nantgwynant, where the Watkin Path heads off for Yr Wyddfa, but after the top of the fine set of waterfalls we left the crowds behind and headed for the West Ridge leading to the summit of Yr Aran.

Final part of the ridge to the summit

The word ridge often implies an exciting tussle between fresh air and gravity, but not so on this ridge.   As ridges go, it’s fairly broad, with a stone wall running along the crest.  The height is gained without any real grief, and the views of the surrounding hills are outstanding, and are yet another good reason to come this way.  As the wall reaches a col with a descent on the other side, the route turns sharp left to head for the top.  The summit is surprisingly small, but is a great place to admire Yr Wyddfa.

Yr Wyddfa from the summit of Yr Aran

Shreyas and Ravi had to take my word for this, as we had been in mist since leaving the Watkin Path near the waterfalls, but even with low visibility the route held interest.  Following the time honoured ritual, lunch was at the top, before we returned to the col and the steep descent.  The way down is a bit bouldery and scrambly at first, but not unpleasantly so, and as the angle lessened we came out of the mist at last.  A steady walk took us back to the Watkin Path for a look at the Gladstone Rock.

The way back down the Watkin Path

The Watkin Path has been described as, “the most demanding route direct to the summit of Snowdon”.  It’s certainly not my favourite way, which perhaps fails to show gratitude to the railway entrepreneur Edward Watkin, who conceived and executed the idea of the path bearing his name.  Edward was fairly well connected, and had his mate William Gladstone, the then Prime Minister, come along to the opening in 1892.  Being a politician, Gladstone spotted an opportunity for a speech, delivered from what is now known as the Gladstone Rock.

Yr Aran (centre) with Yr Wyddfa higher and to the left

The day had been rescued, with an interesting way up an interesting hill, away from the crowds.  So, two days done and one to go.  As we headed back to Bethesda I was hoping for better conditions for the third and last day – we had a date with the Carneddau.

(To be concluded next week)

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#24 – A short walk in the Carneddau (Part 1)

Yr Elen from Carnedd Llewelyn

I had a booking for two customers over Easter weekend.  The brief was simple enough – three days walking on interesting hills in Snowdonia BUT away from crowds.  The venue also had to be handy for a railway station.  Having previously been in Wales on Bank Holidays, with hordes of unfit, sweaty walkers queuing to get up Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) by the PYG or Miners tracks, I was clearly going to have to use a bit of imagination here.  It only took a couple of minutes to come up with the obvious choice – The Carneddau.

The Carneddau from Bethesda

The Carneddau range in North Wales is big, and I do mean big!  It’s the biggest upland mass south of the Scottish border, and you could comfortably move the Snowdon hills and the Glyderau into the space that the Carneddau occupies, and still have room left over.  They are surprisingly quiet hills, though.  The reasons for that soon become apparent – long walks in and out, high summits and an almost featureless plateau that in bad weather becomes a navigation trap for the unprepared.  As I said, the obvious choice.

The Carneddau

We all arrived at Bethesda at about 0930, Shreyas and Ravi having travelled by train overnight.  After last minute adjustments to gear we set off for Carnedd Llewelyn (Llewellyn’s Cairn) which at 1064 metres altitude is the highest peak of the Carneddau and the third highest in Wales (Yr Wyddfa is 1085 metres).  A long easy ridge led us up towards Yr Elen via an unnamed top and Foel Ganol.  I don’t speak welsh, but I know enough to translate that as the ‘Centre Bare Hill’, but centre of what?  The answer became obvious, with Foel Ganol in the middle of three peaks ending with Yr Elen.

Un-named peak, Foel Ganol and Yr Elen

Ravi and Shreyas near the top of Yr Elen

Yr Elen saw a transition from grass underfoot to rock, and from below the way wasn’t immediately obvious.  Up close, a path could be seen meandering through small outcrops.  The summit held one surprise for Shreyas and Ravi – after a long grassy ridge, the east side of Yr Elen plunges down steep cliffs.  Fortunately that wasn’t our way, and we lost a bit of height heading south then southeast before the final height gain of the day up to Carnedd Llewelyn.

Carnedd Llewelyn from Yr Elen

I hope Carneddau fans will forgive me here, but Carnedd Llewelyn isn’t the most stunningly interesting mountain in the world, but it is big and impressive, dominating the view from several directions.  We didn’t linger as we still weren’t halfway round the route, though thankfully our major height gain was now behind us, so after a short break we started on the long way back.

"...the long way back".

Moorland and craggy outcrops...

The long way back in this case was entirely different in character to the outward section – a long, grassy switchback of a ridge, very much moorland in appearance, with the addition of interesting craggy outcrops along the way.  The sunny weather had inevitably led to hazy light conditions, not the best for photography or long distance views, but you can’t have it all.  Eventually we reached Drosgl, our last peak of the day.  The drama here was man-made – a huge Bronze Age burial cairn on the summit.  An impressive place, with a sense of history.

Bronze Age burial cairn on Drosgl

So, Day 1 had started the weekend well.  Day 2 was to prove more challenging.

(To be continued next week)

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#23 – “Oh no, not another flippin’ Whernside”!

Little Whernside from Scar House Reservoir

 It may appear that there is a “Whernside” obsession here, but our walk this week was yet another Whernside.  I had previously blogged our semi-epic over Great Whernside in the snow (#8 – Great Whernside …Underground, overground) but had failed to acknowledge the presence of its smaller relative, Little Whernside.  Where we live it’s always easier to approach these hills from Wharfedale, but longer days and good weather suggested the Nidderdale side for a change, so Little Whernside was in the frame.

Scar House Reservoir in Upper Nidderdale

 Above Pateley Bridge the River Nidd has been captured and tamed to supply Bradford with drinking water, via the reservoirs of Gouthwaite, Scar House and Angram   Not always that tame, though.  Nidderdale has a well known cave system including Manchester Hole and Goyden Pot, and parts of the system are prone to sudden flooding.  Accidents have occurred here in the past, including a tragic fatality in November 2005, when a 14 year old schoolboy was drowned – a contributory factor was the strong westerly winds sending waves over Scar House Dam.

The bridleway to Kettlewell – Great Whernside in the distance

As we set off from Scar House Reservoir, flooding was the least likely event of the day, and both Scar House and Angram reservoirs were well topped-up, a legacy of the winter weather.   Soon after we joined the bridleway to Kettlewell we had further evidence of the dry conditions – an adder basking in the sun by the path.  Getting a good photograph without making ‘Mist’ curious was not easy – the thought of carrying a  border collie weighing 18.5 kilos down to the car after being bitten didn’t bear thinking about!

Adder

Adder - close-up

The bridleway gains height gradually, and in a civilised way, with no gasping for breath or halts to ‘admire the scenery’.  At its high point the path creeps under the slopes of Black Dike End, the northerly point of the Great Whernside Ridge, but we turned away to head northeast up the final slopes of Little Whernside.

The final slopes of Little Whernside

The top of Little Whernside is virtually a plateau, so we didn’t really have views of anywhere until we started descending the east ridge.   From there it was literally downhill all the way, and before long we had a view of our start point at Scar House Reservoir, and as we lost more height Angram reservoir came into view again.  Apart from the sighting of the adder, the day was fairly unremarkable – a good walk out in summer conditions, with the peat bogs on Little Whernside quite dry.

Scar House Reservoir from Little Whernside

p.s.  Just back from a great trip to North Wales, with a couple of good days in the Carneddau – trip report to follow, probably next week.

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#22 – Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) – A mountain for all

Yr Wyddfa (left) and Garnedd Ugain from Crib Goch

 I can still remember the first time I saw Snowdon (or to use the correct Welsh name, Yr Wyddfa).  I was eighteen and had started hill-walking about 1½ years earlier.  After a three-hour drive, we finally arrived at the campsite at two o’clock in the morning.  Above us towered Crib Goch and Clogwyn y Person, and although the night was pitch black, the moonlight on the snowy peaks left us in no illusion that these were much bigger mountains than the ones we were used to.  The next day we did the Snowdon Horseshoe, and despite a large degree of inexperience and naivety, we managed to get round without any mishaps.  Since then I’ve been a regular visitor, winter and summer.

The Crib Goch Ridge on the Snowdon Horseshoe

Yr Wyddfa rises 1085 metres (3560 feet) above sea level, and is a mountain that can’t be ignored.  As the highest peak in Wales, and also higher than anything in England, it attracts both admiration and disapproval as well as thousands of visitors; it has been described as the busiest mountain in Britain.  Legends about the mountain stretch back into ancient history.  Yr Wyddfa, means The Tumulus or Grave, and is said to be the last resting place of Rhita GawrRhita’s main claim to fame was his cloak, made up from the beards of the kings he had killed.

Yr Wyddfa from Llyn Llydaw

As Rhita was a giant and presumably had a large cloak, we can assume he had killed a good number of kings, but eventually his luck ran out.  He had decided he needed King Arthur’s beard to add to the collection, but Arthur wasn’t having any of it, and after killing Rhita he had him buried under a cairn on the mountain.  Arthur is said to have fought his last battle at Bwlch y Saetheau (the Pass of the Arrows), which lies between Yr Wyddfa and Lliwedd, where his knights lie resting on their shields in a cave on the face of Lliwedd; Arthur himself is said to be buried there.

“Snow Dun” – The Snow Hill

English invaders later named the mountain Snow Dun meaning “Snow Hill”, a name that is often quite appropriate, despite recent global warming.  The weather can be harsh and unforgiving at times, and the 19th century miners who worked on the slopes below Yr Wyddfa must have been tough and hardy people.  The lead and copper that they mined was destined to be replaced by a richer prize than lead or copper – tourism!

A busy day on the summit

Tourism can be a blessing and a curse, and this is certainly the case with Yr Wyddfa.  Many would consider that one of the curses is the railway to the summit, and the café that followed.  The café especially had attracted much negative comment in recent years, with Prince Charles describing the building as “the highest slum in Wales”.  In Summer 2009 the replacement building, named Hafod Eryri (it means the “High Dwelling in Snowdonia”) was opened after a three-year demolition and re-build project.

The Snowdon Mountain Railway

Many mountain lovers would say that there is no place for a railway and visitor centre on a mountain, especially in the UK.  I agree in principle, but would argue that Hafod Eryri is a special case.  The old summit café was in poor condition and had to go, but demolition and removal would have left scars that would have taken years to heal. The new building has been designed to fit into its environment, and does a reasonable job of that.

Hafod Eryri

Critics of the building should also consider the local people.  The railway and summit building are a huge tourist magnet for Llanberis and the surrounding area, and support many local workers and businesses.   Also spare a thought for those who can only get to the summit by the railway – they have as much right to be there as we who walk.  So, let Hafod Eryri stay.

Approaching Yr Wyddfa from Bwlch Main

It takes more than a building and a railway to deface a mountain as magnificent as Yr Wyddfa.  From the east it looks like the kind of mountain that a child would draw, sharp and pointy.  Six ridges radiate from the summit, each with its own character and difficulty.  It would take several visits to get to know the mountain well, but Yr Wyddfa is a mountain worth getting to know.

Lliwedd (right) with the lakes of Glaslyn and Llyn Llydaw

It’s a place of legend, a playground for walkers and climbers, it’s accessible to many who could never dream of being able to climb a mountain, and a source of employment in an area where jobs are scarce.  On top of all that it is an icon of the growing self-confidence and sense of identity in modern Wales.  It’s also one of the most beautiful mountains you could wish for.

Yr Wyddfa above the frozen Glaslyn

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#21 – If at first you don’t succeed… The Nantlle Ridge

Nantlle Ridge 11 June 2008

My last trip to Snowdonia had been on 3rd December (blog #3).  I had intended to walk the east section of the Nantlle Ridge as part of the research for the Discovery Walking Guides Snowdonia project.  I already had a GPS track log for the route, but it was a messy composite of two different days walking – I also had some photographs, which were OK if you like different shades of grey mist, but didn’t really show the route to its best advantage.  A combination of deep, fresh snow and low cloud meant I was unlikely to improve on what I already had, so I made a vow to return before too long.

Moel Hebog, Moel yr Ogof and Moel Lefn in the morning mist

Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) with Yr Aran off to the right

8th April – A weather forecast so optimistic as to be almost a work of fantasy had tempted me back to North Wales.  Following my usual route cross country from Ruthin to Cerrigydrudion, I had an early view of Tryfan and the Glyderau, and there wasn’t a cloud in sight.  So, I couldn’t believe it as I approached Pen y Gwryd and saw the clouds down low over Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon).  By the time I reached the start point at Rhyd Ddu things were starting to improve a bit, and as I set off up Y Garn the clouds finally broke up.

Start of the Nantlle Ridge - Mynydd Drws-y-Coed from Y Garn

Mynydd Drws-y-Coed - "Up Close and Personal"

The most interesting part of the ridge comes into view near the top of Y Garn, with Mynydd Drws-y-Coed standing up like a shark’s fin.  As well as looking interesting, it has the most technical part of the outing, being classed as a grade 1 rock scramble – this is probably over-graded, as there are only a couple of places where you have to stop and think about the next move.  Extra interest was added by the state of the rock – slate, still a bit greasy after the damp winter weather, requiring just a bit of care extra.

The summit of Trum y Ddysgl

The ridge off Trum y Ddysgl

Then all too soon it’s over, at least as far as the rock is concerned.  What follows is a superb romp along an undulating, grassy ridge.   You not only look as if you are on top of the world, you also feel as if you are!  The summit of Mynydd Drws-y-Coed is succeeded by a small grassy plateau on Trum y Ddysgl (highest mountain of the day at 709 metres), from where a wide, easy path drops down to a col with bit more scrambling on the way.  From there an easy slope takes you up to Mynydd Tal-y mignedd, with its large stone obelisk marking the summit.

Mynydd Tal-y-Mignedd, with Craig Cwm Silyn beyond and left

"...imposing and impressive..." Craig Cwm Silyn

Another wide, grassy ridge drops down to a col nestling below the imposing and impressive Craig Cwm Silyn.  That was for another day though.  The complete Nantlle Ridge from east to west is recognised as one of the finest high-level routes in Wales, but getting back to your start point at Rhyd Ddu is far from simple, unless you use two cars.  A simpler option is to leave the route before Craig Cwm Silyn, taking an easy descent down a grassy cwm to return to Rhyd Ddu by a bridleway through the edge of Beddgelert Forest.  A visit to the Cwellyn Arms to finish off was the perfect end to a perfect day

The easy descent down the grassy cwm

Looking back to Craig Cwm Silyn from the bridleway

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#20 – From one extreme to the other … (a tale of two walks)

The main aim for the weekend was to get out in the camper with the dog, to see if there were going to be any problems with an energetic Border Collie cooped up in a van – we have a 2-3 week trip to the Hebrides in the planning stage, and didn’t fancy any dramas hundreds of miles from home.  So, having got a reason for a trip out, we just needed a couple of walks  to hang it all on.

A busy morning at the Walna Scar Road

One of our favourite spots in the Lake District is the start of the Walna Scar Road, just above Coniston.  Vans regularly overnight there, but the place is kept clean and treated with respect, and so far there aren’t any restrictions.  A walk up Coniston Old Man is a good option, as a couple of routes start from the van door.  One good thing about being there overnight is that at least you can find parking when the morning rush starts.

The path through the old mine workings

Looking down to the old mine buildings

The walk starts easily enough, heading towards old mine and quarry workings.  Some would regard this as an unsightly tip, especially amidst the beauty of the Lake District, but time has worked to advantage here, making the ruins more of a testament to the hardiness and determination of the men who struggled to make a living here.  The old workings soon give way to a more conventional grandeur as the path suddenly arrives by the side of Low Water, though at 550 metres altitude it isn’t exactly low.

First view of Low Water

Looking down to Low Water from the final ascent

Low Water is well placed as an ideal lunch stop, which was probably why we weren’t alone.  There was a steady procession of bodies heading upwards, some having a great time, others beginning to doubt the wisdom of pressing on.  It’s the kind of hill where walking gear often consists of sandals, shorts and a Tesco carrier bag, though there were a good number of well-equipped walkers out for the day.  A steep climb above Low Water soon brings the summit into view, yet another place where you are unlikely to be alone.

The summit cairn of Coniston Old Man

Looking north from the summit towards Swirl How

The summit at 803 metres altitude is obvious, and rarely deserted.  Most people turn back here, which is a pity, because they miss a glorious gentle switchback of a ridge running north to Swirl How; it’s one of those routes where you feel on top of the world in every sense, and in good visibility most of the major peaks of the Lake District can be picked out.  Not for us today, though – time and weather pointed to a shorter alternative, descending by Goat’s Water below Dow Crag.  Dow was one of the earliest crags to attract rock climbers in the nineteenth century, and as we lost height we could hear climbers, though we couldn’t pick them out on the huge grey rock face.

The descent by Goat's Water and Dow Crag

Although the day had been dull and a bit on the cool side, we had been far from alone.  This is the usual state of affairs for the popular hills of the Lake District, and lovers of solitude should look for elsewhere, at least at weekends.  So, for something completely different we did just that.

On Whitbarrow

Lord's Seat, the highest point at 215 metres

People heading for Coniston from the south might, if they look for it, notice the limestone face of Whitbarrow Scar rising above Morecambe Bay.  We aren’t talking about high country here, in fact the large summit plateau rarely rises above 200 metres.  If it doesn’t have altitude, there is another thing missing – crowds!

Wind-blown tree on limestone

Parched limestone country

The landscape here is completely different to that of the Lake District.  Whereas much of the Lakes is characterised by volcanic rock mountains and outcrops, Whitbarrow is on limestone, making it more reminiscent of the nearby Yorkshire Dales.  Well usually, that is.  By Monday the sun had come out, and the well-drained limestone plateau could have been a good match for parts of the Massif Central in France, with the ground looking parched and dry.

Green English scenery

Early Blossom

Then it was all over.  We descended towards the A590 to be met by green fields, lambs and early blossom on some of the trees.  Just as we were thinking that it couldn’t be any more ‘English’ we came upon the last surprise of the day –  the well named “Hiker’s Rest” tea shop at Beck Head.  Tea, cakes, scones and jam all on offer, with the request to put payment in an envelope and post it through the door of “Number 2” –  now how ‘English’ is that?!!

The Hiker's rest

..."Please post the money at number 2"...

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#19 – Bleaklow and the Wain Stones

“I’ve been over Snowdon, I’ve slept up on Crowdon;
I’ve camped by the Wain Stones as well.
I’ve sun bathed on Kinder, been burned to a cinder,
And many more tales I can tell.” Manchester Rambler – Ewan McColl

Looking towards Crowden from Torside Clough

McColl’s song, written in the 1930’s, starts like a ‘tick list’ of the walks well known to the working class Mancunian hill-walker of the time.  Although I know Snowdon well enough, my knowledge of the Derbyshire Peak District is limited to no more than a handful of days out.  There’s less excuse for this now that I live in West Yorkshire, as it’s as easy to get to parts of the Peak District as it is to get to the Yorkshire Dales or Lake District, but I still tend to head north and west rather than south.

The Wain Stones

The new car had a niggling problem with the engine management computer, and had to go back to the dealer to be fixed.  The job was expected to take at least half a day, so I needed something to do to pass away a few hours.  The garage was near Glossop on the edge of the Peak District, so there was no competition – I would walk out over Bleaklow to visit the Wain Stones in McColl’s song.

'Mist' on the Longdendale Trail

I dropped the car off at Padfield, and set off with ‘Mist’ on the Longdendale Trail.  The route follows the old railway line over Woodhead, and forms part of the Trans-Pennine Trail that runs coast to coast from Liverpool to Hull, and having the gentle gradients of a railway it makes for fast and easy walking, especially with an impatient Border Collie as a companion.

"Come on, then!"

The flat gentle trail doesn’t last for ever though, and soon it’s time to gain some height along the edge of Torside Clough, following an even better known long distance path, the Pennine Way.  After Clough Edge, the route follows the stream of Wildboar Grain through typical Pennine countryside, arriving at last at the large cairn at Bleaklow Head, with the Wain Stones nearby at the highest point of 633 metres.

Bleaklow Head

The Wain Stones

From the Wain Stones, a path heads down next to a stream, heading for the junction with Wildboar Grain that I had passed earlier.  My route from there was over Harrop Moss, where I encountered the first true Pennine walking of the day – wet, sticky, black peat!  A succession of wooden duckboards kept me out of the worst of it, and took me to a curious looking construction high on the moors at about 480 metres altitude.  It looked like a suburban patio had been dropped there, but a more likely explanation is that it’s a shelter for shooting parties; the duckboards were probably also for shooters.

...a suburbian patio...?

From here it was all downhill back to Padfield, where the nice people at David Oldham Ltd. had not only fixed the car in less than the predicted time, but had also washed it as well!  What brilliant customer service – how many other companies would take so much trouble?

"I've seen the white hare in the heather"

“I’ve seen the white hare in the Heather
And the curlew fly high overhead”. Manchester Rambler – Ewan McColl

I heard a curlew but didn’t see it, but I did see white hares – three at least, possibly four.  The Mountain Hare (Lepus timidus) is a relative of the Arctic Hare and is more usually seen in Britain in the Scottish Highlands.  The hare is not originally native to Derbyshire, and was introduced for the hunting entertainment of the local gentry.  Their white coat makes them quite visible on the moors at this time of year (early spring), but the longer days soon trigger a response that turns the hare’s coat back to a more useful camouflage brown.

White hare near the Wain Stones

Note – Although McColl is well known as the author, “Manchester Rambler” is often regarded as a traditional folk song.  Versions differ due to the ‘folk process’, where subtle changes creep in to established songs.

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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