#249 – Invermallie Bothy and the Commandos of Achnacarry

Invermallie Bothy and Glen Mallie

Inside the bothy

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On our 2017 Scottish trip, Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’) had visited a couple of bothies in the course of our mountain walking (see post #223).   I should add at this point that Chris has no intention of spending the night in a bothy, though the dog is certainly up for it and has spent several bothy nights out at Greg’s Hut in the Pennines (see post #141), but sometimes a walk out to a bothy gives a purpose to a day which otherwise might have been missing.    Which is why, in May 2018, we were setting out to Invermallie bothy.

The route to Invermallie and back (Achnacarry marked by the red flag)

Achnacarry, Glen Mallie and Lochaber

At one level, Invermallie can’t be classed as remote as it’s 5 kms from the nearest road for the shortest walk in.   However, it sits on the edge of the ‘Rough Bounds of Knoydart’, one of the UK’s last wilderness areas.   I didn’t ask Chris if she fancied a 2-3 day approach walk through Knoydart to visit the bothy – some questions just don’t have to be asked.   So, it was the 10 km round trip from the roadhead then.

Eas Chia-aig waterfalls and ‘the Witch’s Pool’ at the start point

A murky, misty Loch Arkaig

Chris and Border Collie ‘Mist’ setting out by the loch

View over Loch Arkaig – still misty!

We had parked the camper up overnight near Achnacarry Castle, and woke to a misty, moisty morning.   It’s a well known saying in the outdoor community that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing.   With a choice of waterproof jackets to go at we didn’t have that excuse, and ‘Mist’ was bouncing off the walls, keen to be setting out on her daily walk.    It was time to set off to Invermallie.

The track approaching the bothy

At last – the bothy

The walk out to Invermallie alongside Loch Arkaig was straightforward enough, if a little bit damp.   A good track makes the route easy enough for the ‘navigationally challenged’, though I noted afterwards that the final section of the route in can sometimes be well  underwater.   In the event, we arrived at the bothy with dry feet.

Cooking area

Chris enjoys a hot chocolate while ‘Mist’ waits (hopefully) for a biscuit

Blog regulars will have read some of my other posts about bothy visits.   The bothies are often disused workers cottages, usually in wild and remote areas – maintained on behalf of the owners by the Mountain Bothies Association, they are open for use ‘free of charge’ by anyone travelling through the mountains of the UK.  The availability of the bothies, especially in Scotland, allows long trips through wilderness areas without having to carry huge amounts of camping gear – what’s not to like!

The main room with one of the ‘residents’ and a good fire going

‘Mist’ inspecting one of the upstairs rooms

Ready to set out into the mist again

Heading back to the lochside

The view across Loch Arkaig looking towards the start point

One of the main downstairs rooms at Invermallie was occupied by a couple of young guys who had walked in the long way and were in the process of drying out their gear and getting a meal.  We had a tour of the spacious upstairs area before getting a brew on and having lunch in the other downstairs room.   Then it was time for a return through the misty wood to the parking area at Achnacarry.

The remains of the original Achnacarry Castle

New Achnacarry Castle hidden in the trees

We were due to head south the next day, but a visit to Achnacarry was part of the plan before setting off.   The original lodge at Achnacarry was built in the 1650’s but was burned to the ground by English troops after the failed 1745 rebellion, and all that remains now is an ivy-covered chimney.   ‘New Achnacarry’ was built in the early 1800’s but is out of bounds to the peasantry such as us, but during WW2 it became a secret military base, and the birthplace of the commandos.

Archive photo of ‘New Achnacarry’ dating back to WW2

The history of the WW2 Commandos would take much longer than a blog post to tell.   In brief, the commandos were resourceful and well-trained troops, capable of not only surviving in harsh conditions but also able to fight the enemy afterwards – they were said to be ‘fit to fight and fighting fit’.   The training, mostly at Achnacarry, was tough and arduous and an ascent of Ben Nevis, 18 miles away, was often the final challenge of the training.

Unarmed combat

Dealing with enemy sentries

Pistol shooting

Physical training with logs

The parade ground at Achnacarry in WW2

The visit had special meaning for me as I joined the Royal Marines Commandos in 1974.  Our training was similar to that of the original commandos, with an emphasis on agility and physical training, long ‘speed marches’ and the development of the commando qualities of “courage, determination, resourcefulness and cheerfulness in the face of adversity”.    The training was hard, but we had the example of the wartime commandos to draw on – a fine example indeed!

Old Nissen hut at Achnacarry in May 2018, dating back to the original Commando Depot of WW2

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except the B/W images, copyright unknown.

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#248 – Skye – Kirkibost to Sligachan, the ‘short way’

Strath na Creitheach with Blabheinn (Blaven) behind

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I guess we are all creatures of habit.   I’m prepared to bet that for most of us, our hill days are circular routes starting and finishing at the same place, and logistically this makes sense.   The alternative is to walk an ‘out and back’ route as on my Sgurr na Stri trip (see post #247) for the same reason of convenience.   Occasionally though, it’s more satisfying to walk an ‘A to B’ route, which is how this trip was conceived.

The Cuillins and Blabheinn

Regular readers will know that ‘me missus’ likes a good walk out, but not necessarily over something big, steep and pointy.    I like my ‘pointy’ mountain days, but a walk through the valleys and glens can give a different perspective on familiar hills and mountains, which is one of the reasons we decided to walk from Kirkibost near Elgol to Sligachan – the other reason was the idea of being on a journey.

The route – Kirkibost (south) to Sligachan (north)

There are scores of routes like this in the Scottish Highlands.   These are ancient trails, used for centuries to take the most straightforward way from one place to another.   The distance from Kirkibost to Sligachan is a respectable 18kms through wild country, where a twisted ankle could result in an epic, but a height gain of just over 400 metres meant that if pulses were racing it would be due to the scenery and not exertion.

Closer view of the route

The problem with ‘A to B’ walks is always going to be finding a way of linking up the two points.   The easiest way is to use two cars, one to each end of the route, but this isn’t always possible.   Over the years I’ve used buses, trains, boats, hitch-hiked and even on occasion walked the link, making the days route twice as long.   This time we were going by bus and taxi.

Setting out in mizzly conditions from Kirkibost

We had based ourselves at Sligachan, so needed to get to Kirkibost, a distance of almost thirty miles by road.   A taxi all the way was ruled out as being too expensive, but a bus link to Broadford brought the cost down.   Our taxi driver was a chatty Lancastrian who had settled on Skye, and who spent his days driving or fishing.   As he drove away from our drop-off point, we knew we were committed – if we wanted to eat that night we had to walk back to Sligachan!

Chris looking none too impressed with the weather ….

…. but things start to improve

Chris is up for long-ish walks, but not usually as ‘long-ish’ as 18kms!   I had thought that a bit of preparation beforehand might be wise, and we did a practice route of the same distance back home in North Wales before the Scottish trip (blog post to follow in a few weeks).   That being done, Chris was confident about the distance – all we needed now was for the mizzly rain to stop.

The first view down to Camasunary

Heading down to Camasunary

We had covered the first section of the route last year, with a walk to the bothy at Camasunary (see post #223), an ‘out and back’ trip of 5 kms each way.   It was soon obvious that we weren’t going to enjoy the sunny conditions of the previous trip, but the mizzle gradually died away and by the time we reached Camasunary it was cloudy but dry.

The house at Camasunary with Sgurr na Stri behind

The junction to Strath na Creitheach and (eventually) Sligachan

Heading up the Abhainn Camas Fhionnairigh ….

…. and looking back towards Camasunary

At Camasunary we took the old path heading to Strath na Creitheach and (eventually) Sligachan.   The path was a bit rough in places, but there was no navigational challenge in following it, and it didn’t seem long before we reached Loch na Creitheach.

Loch na Creitheach coming into view

Loch na Creitheach with Sgurr Hain behind

The route by Loch na Creitheach and Blabheinn (seen from Sgurr Hain the day before)

Looking ahead to Ruadh Stac and Marsco ….

…. and looking back towards Camasunary

At the loch, the trail is squeezed in between Sgurr Hain and the lake on one side and the impressive bulk of Blabheinn (Blaven) on the other.   I had seen the route the previous day from Sgurr Hain when I had done the 25km route to Sgurr na Stri and back (post #247) and the Sgurr na Stri trip had been a good ‘recce’ for this one.

Near the head of Loch na Creitheach

The author in Strath na Creitheach

Looking back towards Blabheinn (right) and Clach Glas (centre)

For me, the backdrop of Blabheinn and Clach Glas was the most dramatic part of the day, though later on, sections of the Cuillin Ridge were equally impressive.   For Border Collie ‘Mist’ it was the second long walk in the space of two days, and although she is now ten years old, she still romps along like a young dog – that is, until sandwich time, when everything comes to a stop.

Ruadh Stac ahead ….

…. and the small lake of Loch an Athain

Just after Loch an Athain, we finished gaining height as we passed the 90 metre contour – from here it was mostly downhill, though distance-wise we were only halfway.   After my ‘recce’ of the previous day, I knew where to look for the first sighting of the Sligachan Hotel, and having pointed it out to Chris, it was ‘steady away’ back to the campsite, with the usual dinner for the Collie and a can of cold cider for me.

About halfway – mostly downhill and heading for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#247 – Sgurr na Stri and the Cuillin Mountains of Skye

Loch Coruisk and the Cuillin Ridge, seen from Sgurr na Stri

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Despite having almost perfect weather on our May Scottish trip, our first foray onto Skye produced one of the wettest days of the month.    After a day of rain we bailed out, with the option of diverting back there on the way back home – there were two good mountain days in the Cuillins planned, and I wasn’t about to give up too quickly.    Sure enough, a week or so later the weather turned kind, and we likewise turned back for Skye.

Skye, including the Cuillins

The Ridge of the Black Cuillins is a mountaineer’s paradise, and to traverse the 7 miles of the ridge gives a challenge that is almost Alpine in scale.    Although I’ve not done the ridge in a single trip, I’ve completed virtually all the ridge in sections (see post #224) and the previous year Chris and I had walked out to Camasunary bothy (see post #223) where I saw the Cuillins from a new and unfamiliar direction.

The route – out and back from Sligachan to the north

When we got home from the 2017 trip, I did a bit of reading about that part of the Cuillins and discovered that the small summit of Sgurr na Stri (Peak of Strife) which rises just above Camasunary, gives one of the best viewpoints of the whole ridge in all its glory.  It did strike me afterwards that it’s probably a better idea to do the research before a trip rather than after, but whatever, a return trip was definitely called for.

Raring to go – Border Collie ‘Mist’ setting out (along with accompanying human) at Sligachan

In Glen Sligachan, with Marsco (L) and the northern part of the Cuillin Ridge (R)

Some tackle Sgurr na Stri from Camasunary, but I fancied a longer, and probably more interesting, day.   The plan was to do an ‘out and back’ trip from the campsite at Sligachan, a trip of about 25 kms (just over 15 miles).    Chris decided that a 25 km walk wasn’t at the top of her list of ‘things to do’, so I set out with the ever-faithful Border Collie ‘Mist’ for company.

Closer view of the northern Cuillin Ridge – L to R Sgurr nan Gillean, Am Basteir, Sgurr a Bhasteir

The North Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean (AKA ‘Pinnacle Ridge’), with the pinnacles coming into view

The undoubted star in the northern part of the Cuillins is Sgurr nan Gillean (Peak of the Young Men).    One of the best days out on the mountain is the North Ridge, better known as ‘Pinnacle Ridge’ – looking from Sligachan, you might well wonder why the ridge gets its name but viewed from the side the reason becomes obvious.    The ridge is graded as an easy rock climb, but it’s long and has a serious air about it.

The upper section of Glen Sligachan

The view towards Harta Corrie, with the Cuillin Ridge beyond

Parting of the ways – my route heads right towards Sgurr Hain. Blabheinn (Blaven) on the left


Looking back towards Glen Sligachan

My route out took me on a gradual ascent of Glen Sligachan, heading roughly south.   As well as getting me towards Sgurr na Stri, it was also a chance to ‘recce’ the route for the next day when Chris and I (plus dog) were going to follow a linear route from near Elgol back to Sligachan (blog post to follow in a couple of weeks).    Eventually it was time for me to branch off towards Sgurr Hain leading on to Sgurr na Stri.

The pinnacles of Pinnacle Ridge more obvious now, with Am Basteir in the centre of the frame

Just below Sgurr Hain looking towards the Southern Cuillin Ridge

First view of Sgurr na Stri, just left of centre on the skyline

The whole of the Cuillin Ridge comes into view

Sgurr Hain effectively blocked the view of everything except Blabheinn (Blaven), but as I reached the col above Choire Raibhaich I had the first sighting of the southern section of the Cuillin Ridge, followed soon after by a view of Sgurr na Stri.    The col was a good a place as any for a break – ‘Mist’ had the same idea as she tried to mug me for a sandwich.

First view of the sea (Loch Scavaig)

The summit of Sgurr na Stri

Loch Coruisk (R) flowing into Loch Scavaig with the Cuillin Ridge beyond

Sgurr na Stri was interesting enough in its own right, but the outlook from the summit was outstanding!    Anyone intending to traverse the ridge would either find the view inspiring or have a sinking realisation of what they were taking on, but for me it was a trip down memory lane with many happy Cuillin memories.

The memorial to Captain Maryon ….

…. and the attached plaque

The time came, as it always does, to start heading back.   I almost bumped into a small group of red deer, who didn’t seem at all phased by the presence of me and the dog.   I unintentionally lost a bit of height trying not to spook them, which dropped me conveniently at the memorial cairn dedicated to Captain Maryon.  The cairn marks the spot where Maryon died in July 1946 – his body was not discovered for nearly two years.

On the way back, with the Northern Cuillins (L) and Marsco (R)

Blabheinn (Blaven) with Loch Creitheach below (the route for the following day)

Lower down the descent route, looking back to Blaven again

Almost back on the Glen Creitheach-Glen Sligachan path

As I crossed the col where I had stopped on the way out, ‘Mist’ immediately went in search of any lost crumbs – Border Collies are a bit too clever at times!    Then it was the long return to Glen Sligachan – I don’t find ‘out and back’ trips boring, as you get to see everything from a new perspective, but as we approached the Sligachan Hotel I suspect that the only thing ‘Mist’ wanted to see was a full dinner dish.

The end of the trip – the Sligachan Hotel with the campsite beyond

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#246 – Return to Beinn Eighe

Heading for Spidean Coire nan Clach on the Beinn Eighe Ridge

The route – clockwise from the red flag

Torridon and Wester Ross

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Our trip to Scotland in 2017 had been blessed (mostly) with good weather, but my day on Beinn Eighe (see post #230) had included a bitterly cold wind that didn’t encourage hanging about, and I wanted to see a bit more of the mountain and to enjoy it at a more leisurely pace.    Almost a year to the day I was back again, with plans to spend a bit longer visiting the site of the 1951 aircrash (see post #227).

Starting out – Border Collie ‘Mist’ raring to go

Heading for the gap of Coire Dubh Mor

Liathach (left) with the route to Coire Mhic Nobaill on the right ….

…. and Beinn a Chearcaill to the north after turning the corner round Sail Mhor

The final climb up into Coire Mhic Fhearchair

The walk out to Coire Mhic Fhearchair is worth doing for its own sake, passing as it does through magnificent mountain scenery and ending up in one of the most dramatic corries in Scotland.   The route passes through Coire Dubh Mhor, a pass between the mighty Liathach and Sail Mhor on the Beinn Eighe Ridge, before turning the corner to go round Sail Mhor for the ascent up to Coire Mhic Fhearchair.

Coire Mhic Fhearchair with Triple Buttress at the far end

Triple Buttress seen at the head of Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair

‘Mist’ below Triple Buttress with part of the main undercarriage of the crashed Lancaster

One of the four Rolls Royce Merlin engines ….


Small section of fuselage

…. and one of the four propellers (Note the plaque attached)

Memorial plaque attached to the propeller

The most striking feature of the corrie is the cathedral-like Triple Buttress.   In March 1951, an Avro Lancaster maritime reconnaissance aircraft struck the right-hand side of the buttress just below the summit of Coinneach Mhor.   All eight crew members were killed, and it took five months of working in sometimes appalling weather conditions for the rescue team to recover all the bodies – the wreckage is a poignant memorial to those who died.


Heading for the scree gully (to the left of the snow in the distance)

On the high traverse path ….

…. with the view back down to the loch


Group descending the scree gully

The next task was to regain the path from the loch which heads up towards a steep scree gully.    The way across was straighforward, though ‘Mist’ did need a bit of a shove up a big rock step – the rest of the time I was trying to keep up with the collie!    I stopped for a quick bite before taking on the top of the gully, which gave the dog a great opportunity to mug me for a sandwich.    The final section was short, and a descending party was considerate in waiting for me and ‘Mist’ to get out of the target area before they moved.


The col at the top of the scree gully, with the ridge up to Coinneach Mhor

‘Mist’ at the plateau of Coinneach Mhor, with the summit behind

The summit of Coinneach Mhor

Looking towards the top of Fuselage Gully from the summit ….

…. and a view down into the gully towards the impact point

I had given the summit of Coinneach Mhor a miss on the previous visit, as the sharp, cold wind had made hanging about unpleasant.    This time I had a wander over to the summit and peered over the edge down towards the crash-site – if the aircraft had been just 10 metres higher it would have missed the mountain.

Back on the plateau, heading towards Spidean Coire nan Clach in the centre distance

On the Beinn Eighe Ridge

Looking back to Coinneach Mhor (left) and Ruadh Stac Mor

Further along the Beinn Eighe Ridge with Spidean Coire nan Clach getting nearer ….

…. with a view back along the ridge

The rest of the trip along the Beinn Eighe Ridge was pleasant in the warm weather.    I had thought about a different descent route from Spidean Coire nan Clach, following a comment on the earlier post by fellow blogger Mountain Coward – her walking companion had taken a nasty tumble on the steep section of the usual descent.    In the end I decided on the route I had done before as I already knew the ground.

The final ascent to Spidean Coire nan Clach ….

…. and the start of the descent ….

…. with a cheeky little snow wall obscuring the path down

It wasn’t quite as I found it previously though – a cheeky little snow wall obscured the start of the path, though this was easily by-passed.    From there it was downhill all the way before a 2km road walk – ‘Mist’ would have to hang on for dinner time!

Further down the path, heading for home

p.s. – I’m probably not finished with Beinn Eighe – there’s much of the mountain I haven’t seen yet.

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#245 – The CIC Hut, Ben Nevis

The walk-in to the CIC Hut, with the North Face of Ben Nevis in the centre

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May in the Scottish Highlands is often the best time of year for a visit, with fairly settled weather and no midges, which is why we were back this year for the third year running.  For most of our hill days, Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’ of course) walk the routes together, with a couple of longer, more mountainous days for me and the dog.

The CIC Hut looking down the approach route © Geograph

Although the weather had been ‘fairly settled’ on our way north, we didn’t hit the trail until we reached Fort William.   Regular readers will know that Chris doesn’t go for steep, pointy mountains anymore, but there’s plenty to go at in the mountains without risking life, limb or sanity – a walk up the CIC hut below the North Face of Ben Nevis seemed to tick all the boxes.

Avalanche Awareness course – Jan 2011

Inside the CIC hut – Avalanche Awareness course 2011 (Tim Blakemore right)

The last time I had been to the hut was in January 2011 when I was on an Avalanche Awareness course run by mountain guide (and all round nice guy) Tim Blakemore.   The hut was erected in 1928-9 by Dr and Mrs Inglis Clark in memory of their son Charles Inglis Clark who was killed in action in the 1914-1918 War, but is only open to members of the Scottish Mountaineering Club and other affiliated clubs.

Digging snow profile pits at the bottom of No 5 Gully – January 2011

Access is strictly controlled, with many tales of cold, exhausted climbers being refused entry (to be fair, I’ve also heard of tented climbers being invited in when the hut is quiet).  The members of the course had legged it up to the hut to do some practical stuff on digging snow pits to assess the avalanche risk, but a brew inside the hallowed walls of the CIC (courtesy of Tim, who had a key) had been a chance for a final briefing out of the rain and wind.

 *     *     *

Chris and Border Collie ‘Mist’ setting out from the North Face carpark

First view of the North Face of Ben Nevis

Start of the walk up the Allt a’ Mhuilinn

Looking back towards the valley

Chris and I started out from the North Face carpark near Torlundy, just north of Fort William.   Ben Nevis needs no introduction to regular hill-goers and mountaineers as it the UK’s highest peak at 1345 metres (4,411 ft), but most days on The Ben start near sea level – our start point was a mere 40 metres in altitude, but we were only heading for the CIC Hut, which at 680 metres is only half a Ben Nevis.

Skier …. On a bike!

Visitors from abroad must wonder what the fuss is all about with a mountain only 1345 metres high, but if the Ben doesn’t have altitude it does have latitude, and the mountain is further north than Moscow.   In this case, latitude translates as attitude, and the climate at the summit is Arctic in winter.   No wonder there were skiers making their way down the track!

No 5 Gully, Ben Nevis © Geograph

Another view of No 5 Gully © Geograph

We chatted to one of them, who was cycling back down the track with skis on his rucksack (those who know the area would probably be as impressed as I was!).   A group of skiers had spent a couple of days at the CIC, getting in some late season fun – I asked which bit of the mountain they had skied, and was gobsmacked to hear they had been in No 5 Gully.  The gully is one of the easiest snow climbs on the Ben, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t steep – the photos will give an idea!

Getting closer now ….

…. with the start point way behind ….

…. but we aren’t moving fast enough for ‘Mist’!

The last bit of the walk in ….

…. with the cloud starting to descend on the cliffs

As we were only going up half a mountain, we were in no rush, which didn’t impress Border Collie ‘Mist’, who doesn’t make allowance for the fact that two-legged humans are not as fast as four-legged collies.    The cloud began to descend as we followed the last bit of the walk-in, shrouding the high cliffs of the North Face.

First view of the hut (low centre)

Our arrival at the stream

The stream, with the hut above © Geograph

Tower Ridge (centre) looming above

Finally, the hut came into view, with only the stream of the Allt a’ Mhuilinn (it translates as ‘Mill Stream’) remaining as an obstacle – the water was slightly higher than usual but passable, but Chris wasn’t inclined to risk a soaking.   We soaked up the atmosphere instead, with the magnificent Tower Ridge looming above.  Then it was time to head down, with a hungry Border Collie even further in the lead than usual.

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock (except images from the Geograph project reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence)

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#244 – Llyn Cowlyd in the East Carneddau

Llyn Cowlyd in the East Carneddau

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The mountains of the Carneddau in Snowdonia are big and wild, like a mini version of the Cairngorms, and a mountain trip in the Carneddau is usually going to feel like a big one.  Since we moved to North Wales in 2012, I’ve had some of my best mountain days in these hills, one of the best being a crossing of the range from end to end in 2014 (see post #160) – now that was definitely a big day!

The route – From the flag then clockwise round the lake

The mountains of the Carneddau

Regular readers will know that ‘me missus’ prefers her mountain days in smaller chunks, but there’s so much to go at in the Carneddau that I can usually come up with a less-committing option.    A year earlier we had enjoyed a day heading out to Drum via Llyn Anafon (see post #219) but I had something else in mind this time, a circuit of the wild and lonely lake of Llyn Cowlyd.

Starting out by the water pipeline

Looking southwest – Pen Llithrig y Wrach in the centre beyond the lake

The start of the narrow path below Creigiau Gleision

Snowdonia is one of the wettest places in the UK, so the occasional lake shouldn’t come as a big surprise.   What is a surprise though, is that many of the lakes are dammed, including the lovely Llyn Cowlyd, and the start of the walk was dominated by an ugly pipeline leading up to the dam.  This feeds the power station at Dolgarrog in the Conwy valley, with other buried pipes carrying drinking water to Conwy and Colwyn Bay.

Further along the path, with Pen Llithrig y Wrach rising above the lake on the opposite shore

Looking back along the lake

The rocky ridge of Creigiau Gleision looming over the path

The plan was to follow the path (not shown on the map) along the southeast side of the lake, returning by the better path on the northwest side.    Dominating the view ahead was the wonderfully named Pen Llithrig y Wrach, otherwise the ‘Slippery Hill of the Witch’ (see post #77) and the narrow path was overshadowed by the rocky ridge of Creigiau Gleision (see post #173).

Creigiau Gleision above the narrow path

The head of the lake

Looking across to the return route ….

…. but there’s a stream to cross first ….

…. fortunately with a handy looking bridge

The path we followed was as lumpy and bumpy as I had expected it to be, but steady walking munched away the distance as we walked alongside the deepest lake in Wales (70 metres / 229 feet deep).   On the opposite side of the lake we were overtaken by several Duke of Edinburgh Award groups, who had the advantage of a better path, and at the head of the Lake we crossed the stream to find easier walking on the northwest side.

Looking back to Creigiau Gleision

Time for a ‘cuppa’

The return route stretching into the distance

A quick ‘brew’ was indicated before the walk back – I carry a lightweight stove on my outings with Chris, and a fresh cup of coffee, tea or chocolate beats something out of a flask.    A cool breeze meant that we didn’t hang around for too long, and a more pleasant path took us below the slopes of the Witch’s hill.    Didn’t see the witch, nor did we see the fire-breathing bull said to live in the lake – probably just as well.

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#243 – Dinas Bran Castle and the Vale of Llangollen

On the Panorama Walk (Offa’s Dyke Path) near Trevor Rocks

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It has to be said that ‘me missus’ does not exactly go for the combination of mountains and snow, and my day playing on the Glyderau (see post #242) would have been Chris’s idea of a ‘day from Hell’.    However, there are plenty of quality outings in North Wales that give a good day out without me ending up in the dog house, and I’ve had a recent project looking for easier walks to suit the two of us.

The route from Pontcysyllta (right) to Dinas Bran (left)

The Offa’s Dyke Path is a suitable contender, as it runs to within a few hundred metres of our house, and we seem to be completing sections of the Trail by default.    The traverse of the Clwydian Hills is probably the highlight for most walkers on the ODP and is great dog walking country, so Border Collie ‘Mist’ is also guaranteed a good day out.   Sometimes, though, a change is as good as a rest, so within a couple of days of my Glyderau trip, we were over in the Vale of Llangollen.

The Llangollen Canal at Trevor Basin

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Admiring the view

We were following a section of the ODP from the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct towards the Panorama Walk above the town of Llangollen.    Our start point was one of the engineering triumphs of its day – completed in 1805, the 1000 ft (305 metres) long aqueduct carries the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee (Afon Dyfrdwy) flowing 126 ft (38 metres) below, and in 2009 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Setting off by the Llangollen Canal

The canal itself never made much commercial sense, and was all but abandoned by 1939, but it still fulfilled a useful role by feeding water into other working canal systems.  Unofficial use of the canal for recreational cruising began after WW2, and in 1968 the future of the canal was guaranteed by the Transport Act of that year, which conferred the status of a cruiseway.    It’s now one of the most popular recreational waterways in the UK.


Through the woods on the Offa’s Dyke Path ….

…. with a lingering patch of snow to keep Chris amused – or not!

Looking out over the Vale of Llangollen

Our start point at Trevor Basin was a mere 400 metres from the ODP, and we soon left the canal behind to head up through Trevor Hall Wood.   The mountains of the Glyderau hadn’t held much snow on my other trip out, but the lowlands of the Vale of Llangollen still had hidden snowfields, relics of the heavy snowfalls a week earlier – Chris wasn’t much impressed but ‘Mist’ loves playing in snow, so most members of the party were happy.

The Vale of Llangollen, with Dinas Bran on the right in the middle ground

Close up view of Dinas Bran

The ODP finally emerges from the woods to reach the Panorama Walk near Trevor Rocks.  The rocks continue on to Creigiau Eglwyseg and eventually ‘Worlds End’, forming a spectacular band of limestone crag which in places gives good ‘trad’ rock climbing.   The view looking in the other direction gives a great outlook over the Vale of Llangollen, where one of the stars of the show is the ruined castle of Dinas Bran.


More snow, this time in the lane just below Dinas Bran

Heading up the west side of Dinas Bran

Looking out to the limestone crags of Creigiau Eglwyseg

The castle, at last!

The Panorama Walk is mostly on a quiet tarmac road, but traffic is almost non-existent and the views over the Vale made a change from the confines of the wood.   The plan was to head for the far side (west) of the castle before crossing over the top of the hill to follow the east side down – on the way, we managed to find another big snowdrift, this time blocking the lane from Trevor Rocks down to Llangollen town.

‘Mist’ checking out the ruins

More of the ruins of Dinas Bran castle

Chris arriving at the top with Llangollen in the distance below

It’s thought that the visible ruins of Dinas Bran castle date back to the 1260’s, but there have been earlier defences built on this site including an Iron Age hillfort built around 600 BC.  An earth rampart was constructed, probably with a wooden palisade on top and protected by a deep ditch, but there are few traces remaining of this earlier occupation

The 1260’s were certainly troubled times.   The lord of the castle was Gruffydd II ap Madog of Powys, an ally of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales.   Powys was of use to Llywelyn as a buffer state between England and his power base of Gwynedd and Dinas Bran was one of several castles built following the signing of a treaty which secured Wales for Llywelyn, free from English interference.    The peace did not last long and in 1276 war was re-started between England and Wales.   Edward’s larger armies soon invaded Wales and the support for Llywelyn crumbled.

Dinas Bran

As the English advanced, the defenders of Dinas Bran set fire to the castle, possibly to prevent it being of use to the English.   The castle may have been recaptured by the Welsh in the final conflict of 1282, but eventually the English were victorious.    Following the end of the war and the death of Llywelyn, Edward granted the castle to John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, who abandoned Dinas Bran in favour of a new castle at Holt on the English-Welsh border, leaving Dinas Bran in ruins.

Heading down the steps on the east side of Dinas Bran

Looking back up the east side

Back at the snow-filled lane

We had a good wander around the ruins, but the castle wasn’t the end of our day, just the halfway point.    We took the east slopes of the hill for our descent route and were soon heading back to Pontcysyllta by our outward route, much to the relief of a hungry Border Collie.

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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