#223 – The Bothy – A very British institution

Bothy life © Tho Mountain Bothies Association

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There’s something uniquely British about bothies and the way they fit into British mountain activity.   A bothy was originally rough accommodation for itinerant workers such as shepherds, quarrymen, miners and gamekeepers, but as the need for bothies fell away the lonely cottages were falling into disuse and becoming derelict.  To the rescue came the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA).

Greg’s Hut in the Northern Pennines © JB

The deal is this – the MBA maintain the bothies on behalf of their owners and with their permission.   They are then made available for use by anyone travelling through the mountains of the UK – for FREE!  The MBA raises money as a registered charity to repair and maintain the buildings, but it costs nothing to stay in a bothy, nor do you have to be a member of the MBA to do so.   Quite often the bothies are in remote and beautiful locations, and to spend a night by a bothy fire with a glass of whisky to hand must be as near to heaven as you can get.

Greg’s Hut, highest bothy in the UK …. © JB

…. and in winter it feels like it! © JB

Inside Greg’s Hut during the Spine Race

Head Chef, John Bamber

The author and Border Collie ‘Mist’ at Greg’s Hut during the Spine Race © JB

Regular readers will remember that every January I head off to ‘Greg’s Hut’ bothy near to Cross Fell in the Northern Pennines.  Greg’s Hut is one of the bothies maintained by the MBA, and at an altitude of 700 metres it is the highest bothy in the UK – in January it’s probably also one of the coldest, but a wee bit of coal on the fire soon makes the place a bit more homely.  Also along for the trip are the usual suspects, lifelong friend John Bamber and my Border Collie ‘Mist’ – for 2-3 days we become part of the Spine Race (see post #141) and Greg’s Hut (plus the weird inhabitants) has become part of the Spine legend.

Man and dog at the Dulyn Bothy (the author and Border Collie ‘Mist’)

Inside Dulyn bothy

The tiny bothy near Arenig Fawr © Dave Crocker

Inside Arenig Fawr bothy © Dave Crocker

Arenig Fawr Bothy © Nigel Brown

Of the 100 or so bothies maintained by the MBA, the majority are in Scotland, with eleven (including Greg’s Hut) in England and nine in Wales.  Living in North Wales, I’m lucky to have a couple of bothies almost on the doorstep.  Nearest is the bothy at Dulyn in the Carneddau, about 38kms (less than 24 miles) from where I live as the crow flies (see posts #197 and #218) and just a little further away is the tiny bothy near Arenig Fawr (see post #180).

Sunset over the Cuillins, seen from Elgol on the Isle of Skye

Still looking good the next day

On our Scottish trip in May we found time to walk out to two bothies on Skye.  Unfortunately an overnight stay wasn’t on the cards (Chris likes her comfort nowadays, and leaving a comfortable campervan complete with cocktail cabinet wasn’t part of her game plan!) but ‘Mist’ needs a good walk each day and is always up for a trek somewhere.  We started the Skye visit at Elgol, and that night we watched the sun go down over the dramatic Cuillin Mountains – the next day we had a wander out to nearby Camasunary Bothy.

 

Camasunary Bothy 

Looking down to Camasunary Bay near Elgol

 

The track from Kirkibost crosses a bealach (pass) ….

…. before dropping down to the shore

The walk in is short by standards, with a total of 10kms there and back, though surprisingly for a low-level walk it has a total height gain of nearly 400 metres.  The previous night I had spoken to a fisherman at Elgol who told me how his uncle had built the rough track from Kirkibost to Camasunary – ‘Uncle’ had been a Colonel in the Royal Engineers, and apparently had great fun blasting the track through solid rock, but the track has stood the test of time and is the most logical way into Camasunary Bay other than going around the coast.

Great views ….

…. a mixture of mountains and sea

The walk in to Camasunary may be a low-level route, but it’s full of drama.  After crossing the bealach (pass), the panorama opens up to include some of the best views of the Cuillin Mountains – as this was the first time I had approached the Cuillins from this direction, I was seeing familiar mountains from a totally different aspect.  The path from the bay heading north to Sligachan was very tempting but we didn’t have time on this trip.

The new Camasunary Bothy © Bill Kasman

The new bothy blending in © John Allan

The old Camasunary Bothy © John Allan

The old bothy, which had been a popular destination for years, was taken back into use by the landowner in 2014 – the owner had visited travellers at the bothy on numerous occasions and seen for himself the simple pleasure walkers had staying there, and in an extraordinary act of generosity offered to pay for the building of a replacement nearby.  The new bothy was built by 59 (Commando) Squadron of the Royal Engineers as a project, and volunteers from the MBA fitted out the building when it was complete – the new bothy is the first and only one built as such and not converted from other use.

 

The Lookout Bothy – Rubha Hunish

Setting out near Shulista on Skye ….

….heading for the Lookout bothy ….

…. near Rubha Hunish

Hunish

A few days later we were at the far north of Skye to walk out to ‘The Lookout’ at Rubha Hunish Point.    As the name suggests, the bothy was previously a Coastguard lookout, and when it became redundant it was taken over by the MBA.  The walk is different in character to the Camasunary walk – instead of the majesty of the Cuillins we had views of moorland, sea and big skies.

Great views out to sea ….

….and a good viewpoint inside © Mountain Bothies Association

Just visible to the north west are the distant islands of the Outer Hebrides ….

….and to the east, the coastline of Wester Ross on the mainland

At the bothy, we stayed long enough to eat our ‘sarnies’ and have a brew of coffee, and we were lucky enough to meet Bill, the bothy custodian, who had come out for an inspection visit.    Views out to sea were amazing, with the Outer Hebrides visible to the north west, and out to the east was Wester Ross, our next destination on the mainland where we would be heading in a few days.

On the way back, the old settlement of Erisco

The abandoned cottages of the crofts of Erisco

Our return route took us by the old abandoned settlement of Erisco.   The small crofting township was built by the land-owning MacDonalds for tenants who were being resettled to better arable land at Erisco from poor land intended for sheep grazing.   In due course, better settlements were built elsewhere, and the crofters abandoned the Erisco township; it now stands deserted, probably full of ghosts and memories.

It’s a fair bet that the same ghosts and memories also inhabit the mountain bothies of the UK.   Go and visit sometime soon.

Crossing the Bealach heading for Camasunary

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except images tagged (JB) © John Bamber and image tagged MBA © The Mountain Bothies Association.

Images tagged Dave Crocker, Nigel Brown, Bill Kasman and John Allen are taken from the Geograph Project and are reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence

p.s. if you want to read a great bothy tale check this out by blogger/writer John Burns  https://www.johndburns.com/the-night-the-bothy-burned/   If you enjoy that, have a wander round his website for more blogs, or even better buy his latest book ‘The Last Hillwalker” – a great read!

Posted in 1. Scotland, 5. North Wales | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

#222 – The Lost Valley of Glencoe

Coire Gabhail, otherwise known as ‘The Lost Valley’

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In May 2016 Chris and I had enjoyed a great two-week trip to the Scottish Highlands, and had enjoyed settled weather that had made mountain days a genuine pleasure (see posts #201, #202 and #203).  May in the Highlands is usually a good bet for settled weather without the curse of the Scottish midge, but would we be pushing our look to try for the same again in 2017?  There was only one way to find out ….

Setting out for the Lost Valley

I’ll admit to being a creature of habit – for me there’s only one way to drive to the North West Highlands and that’s the way I first drove up many years ago, via Stirling, Crianlarich, Tyndrum and Glencoe.  We arrived in Glencoe around midday, and rather than waste good weather we decided to have a wander up the Lost Valley – it’s a great short walk, with a feel of being in the mountains.

The old wooden steps (photo 2002) ….

…. now replaced by these

After the steps ….

…. comes the bridge over the River Coe

The valley is a high, wide glen, hidden from the main valley below by the remains of a huge, ancient landslip, and the route is full of surprises.  The first obstacle is the gorge of the River Coe – this would be completely impassable at this point without a set of steps leading down to a narrow bridge.  The steps used to be wooden, but thousands of pairs of boots took their toll and the wooden steps have been replaced by a substantial metal staircase.

Looking down the protected section of path after the bridge (© Mick Garratt)

The fenced conservation area beyond the bridge ….

…. with an impression of what the mountains would be like with no grazing

The deer fence and gate

 

Immediately after the bridge, a short rock step is now protected by a steel cable following several fatal accidents.  Beyond the rocky bit comes a conservation area surrounded by a high deer fence.  As deer and sheep cannot graze there, the land has reverted to what most of the Highlands would look like without grazing, and pioneer tree species such as silver birch have started to re-assert themselves.

Looking across the glen to Am Bodach

The path alongside the ravine

The path after the stream crossing

Nearly there!

Once beyond the birch trees, the view opens up across the glen looking towards Am Bodach and the start of the Aonach Eagach (see post #52).  Heading southwest away from the road below, the walls of the ravine start to close in, leaving a narrow path with a big drop down to the stream below – the route is in no way technically difficult, but a slip here could be serious or even terminal.  After an easy stream crossing the ravine opens out a little on the last bit of ascent.

The first view into the Lost Valley

The short descent to the Lost Valley

The first view into the Lost Valley comes as a surprise to those who haven’t seen it before – the landslip which blocked the valley entrance formed a lake which gradually silted up. The water eventually found an underground route through the rocks left by the landslip, leaving a wide, flat valley that looks Himalayan in character.

Coire Gabhail – ‘The Lost Valley’ (photo 2008)

The Gaelic name for the valley is Coire Gabhail which means ‘Hollow of the bounty’ or ‘Hollow of capture’, due to its historic use by the local MacDonald clan as a place to hide cattle stolen from their neighbours, usually the Campbells.  It was also one of the routes by which the MacDonalds fled during the infamous Glencoe Massacre in February 1692. Campbell clansmen wearing the uniforms of the King (William of Orange) turned on the MacDonalds, who had offered them hospitality, and murdered 39 men, women and children.  Another 40 died fleeing in a blizzard, and Coire Gabhail was one of the escape routes taken that night.

Boulders as big as houses (photo 2002)


The return route is the same as the way up

The valley is a quiet, peaceful place now.  It would be possible to spend half a day wandering up the valley or scrambling on the huge boulders, some as big as houses, but we were on a mission – we still had to find a place to park the camper for the night, so it was time to head back, following the route we had taken up.

Time to head for home (with a big drop to one side!) ….

…. but with the metal steps still to negotiate

Border Collie ‘Mist’ is safe and sure-footed in the hills, though I still keep a careful eye on her near big drops.  She romped along the narrow path above the ravine, but the low point in the day for the dog was the metal staircase – it was the only time in the day I had to put her on the lead, to persuade her that she wouldn’t drop through the one-inch gaps in the steps.  Funny animals, dogs!

Not the best part of the day for Border Collie ‘Mist’!

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except image tagged ‘© Mick Garratt’ which is taken from the Geograph Project and reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence

http://www.geograph.org.uk/

p.s. apologies to regular readers for a long gap between posts – the trip to Scotland was full of surprises, including 4G internet on the phone at times, but getting out on the hills soon became more important than writing about them!  I’ll be putting more posts up about the trip over the next few weeks.

Posted in 1. Scotland | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

#221 – Moel Ysgyfarnogod in the Rhinogs.

Moel Ysgyfarnogod (left click all images for expanded view, use browser return arrow to go back)

The Rhinogydd (Rhinog) mountains present some of the toughest walking in North Wales.    They may not have the highest summits but what the hills lack in height they make up for with miles of rough, stony, bouldery, heathery wilderness, with few tracks or paths – a good place to escape from the 21st Century then!    We hadn’t been out this way for over four years (see posts #95 and #96), so a return trip was long overdue.

The route, shown in blue

The mountains of the Rhinogydd (The Rhinogs) to the left of the A470 road (Route shown here in red)

The name Rhinog comes from the word Rhiniog meaning threshold, and the Rhinogydd are just that, forming a barrier between the sea and the A470 road between Blaenau Ffestiniog and Dolgellau.    It’s gnarly terrain, not visited by the masses of tourists who head for Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) and Tryfan, but there are ways through this challenging country, which is why Chris and I, plus Border Collie ‘Mist’, were heading towards Moel Ysgyfarnogod.

Setting out from the road head above Eisingrug

The first view of Llyn Eiddew Mawr, which translates as ‘Big Unchanged Lake’ ….

…. and Llyn Eiddew Bach – ‘Small Unchanged Lake’

Looking back to the two ‘Eiddew’ lakes

The lane from Eisingrug to the start point is one of the narrowest lanes you could possibly take a vehicle, but with careful driving we arrived without any damage to the car or to my driver’s pride.    We then had a walk in of almost 5 kms to reach Moel Ysgyfarnogod, but the going was good on an old miners’ track.    Along the way we passed the two Eiddew lakes before heading uphill to meet a terrace path running along the hillside.

The start of the terrace path

Old mine workings ….

…. abandoned long ago

The terrace path continues ….

…. with Chris just visible dead centre to give a sense of scale

Passing below the rocks seen in the previous view ….

…. and looking back along the terrace

Local residents, looking very clean – probably due to the rainfall!

The path is yet another old miners’ track (there must have been a lot of old miners hereabouts!) that takes advantage of a natural rising line which sits between rock walls above and a steep slope below – in places you could almost imagine being in the Dolomites.     The remains of old mines were obvious at the start, and the views opened out as we gradually gained height.


Border Collie ‘Mist’ at Llyn Du (Black Lake) ….

…. but no time to loiter!

‘Mist’ admiring the view

The first view of Moel Ysgyfarnogod (left) and Foel Penolau (right)

The terrace comes to an end where it bumps into the tiny lake of Llyn Du (Black Lake).    It would make a brilliant campsite, but we were on a mission and didn’t loiter there too long.  As we turned the corner of the ridge we had just traversed on the terrace path, the panorama opened up to the east and a little further on we had our first view of Moel Ysgyfarnogod and Foel Penolau.

The last steep, bit to the summit ….

…. then things become level again

The author at the summit with Moel Hebog (centre) and Snowdon (right) in the background

Looking towards Tremadog Bay with the Llŷn Peninsula left of centre in the haze

Up to now it had been an easy day, with gradually rising paths, but on the slopes of Moel Ysgyfarnogod (Bare Hill of Hares) we had to start doing a bit of work on the first steep bit of the route.     The summit gave great views to the north, including Snowdon and the hills around Moel Hebog, and to the west we could see the sea at Tremadog Bay.    To the east was the edge of the lake of Llyn Trawsfynydd but looming up to the northeast was the neighbouring peak of Foel Penolau.

Foel Penolau seen from the descent path off Moel Ysgyfarnogod

Closer view of Foel Penolau – the tiny figure on the centre skyline gives an idea of scale

Foel Penolau (Bare Hill with a Light Top) is one of those mountains that demands a bit of commitment, as the sides are comprised of rocky crags with few breaks in their defences.  This is definitely not what Chris would regard as a fun way to spend an afternoon, but it made a good recce for a return trip by me in the near future.    The photo shows a tiny figure on the skyline, giving an idea of the scale – I’ll be back for that one!

Heading northwest on the way back ….

…. with quite a bit of height to lose

Llyn Dywarchen on the way back

Last view of Llyn Dywarchen

The descent was a bit of a trackless ‘mooch around’, where the ability to read the ground was more important than reading a map, but before long we were at yet another lake, Llyn Dywarchen (Turf Lake or Sod Lake) – from here it was an easy job to re-join the miners’ track we had taken on the way out.    These remote, rough hills may be ignored by the masses, but for lovers of solitude and quiet they are hard to beat.

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

Posted in 5. North Wales, Border Collies | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

#220 – Foel Fras – Things don’t go as planned!

The summit of Foel Fras looking north

As Chris and I finished our bimble around Llyn Anafon and Drum (see post #219) we were followed most of the way back by big glowering clouds, and it started to pour down just as we arrived back at the car.   Looking back towards the Carneddau on the drive home, it seemed that Mr Snow had paid a visit to the hills – a return trip three days later seemed like a good idea, but things don’t always go as planned ….

The route – original planned route in red, actual route in blue

The mountains of the Carneddau

The initial plan was simple – I would head up to Aber Falls, take the path to the left of the falls as seen from below, then head up Llwytmor and continue to Foel Fras.   From there I would head south-west to Carnedd Gwenllian then take the path south of Bera Bach and Drosgl before heading back down towards Aber.   A cheeky little 17 kms distance with 1010 metres of height gain was almost Scottish in proportion – six hours was a reasonable estimate.    But, things don’t always go as planned ….

Heading towards Aber Falls ….

…. with much more water than usual!

As we finished our walk three days earlier, it looked as though I could expect a fair amount of snow on high ground on this trip, but the amount of green showing as I set off suggested otherwise.   One thing that soon became apparent, however, was the amount of water in the Afon Rhaeadr Fawr, and as the falls came into view I saw there was much more water than usual.    River crossings were probably off the day’s menu then.

The path to the top of Aber Falls

View of the falls from the path across the scree

I set off on the rising path towards the top of the falls, trailing behind Border Collie ‘Mist’ as usual.   The path crosses a scree slope, before following an entertaining route along rock ledges, followed beyond there by a small rock step.   This requires a bit of care when it wet as it can get greasy, and the ground below drops off towards the waterfall.   Once across the step, the planned route was a long, height-gaining slog up Llwytmor, but things don’t always go as planned ….

Approaching the rock step ….

…. or in this case the greasy, slimy, wet rock step! (Note the drop-off below)

The rock step usually has a damp patch except in a drought, but today it was a small stream!   Wet rock in itself isn’t a problem – the problem here was that three or four metres of ascending rock slab were covered in slime which had the consistency (and friction level) of liquid soap.   I tried the usual crossing point but was forced to retreat.   Other options were tried, including traversing on the grass below the step.  Things were definitely not going as planned.

“Woof! What do you think Boss? Not looking good is it? Woof, Woof!”

A slip or a fall would probably not have been terminal, but one thing was certain – it would hurt, probably a lot!    I’ve been doing this ‘mountain thing’ for most of my life without getting injured, and I wasn’t about to break that record.   Equally, I wasn’t ready to head home.   A change of plan was looking likely.

The solution – planned route in red, actual route in yellow (Photo – October 2014)

Above the screes I had crossed, there was a line of grotty, greasy crags that looked even less appealing than the three or four metres of soapy slab.   The map showed the crags running out as they reached the Coedydd Aber forest.   I didn’t fancy flogging up or across the loose scree, but quite often it’s possible to find solid ground at the foot of crags, so that became the plan.   Sure enough, it was possible to pick a way below the rocks following sheep paths, and I gradually drew nearer to the forest.

At the end of the screes, time to head upwards

Heading towards Llwytmor Bach

Looking towards Bera Mawr and Bera Bach (intended return route is on the other side of the ridge)

Llwytmor ahead, seen from Llwytmor Bach

At the end of the screes, a better path headed straight up following the edge of the forest, followed by a slightly less-steep pull up to the summit of Llwytmor Bach.  The faffing about at the slab, plus the detour, had cost me an extra 2 kms and an extra 100 metres of height gain – I had also taken an extra hour, and was about to add more distance and time in visiting one of the many aircraft crash sites found in the Carneddau.

*     *     *     *     *

Heinkel He111 bomber

On the night of 12/13 April 1941, the crew of Heinkel He-111 F4801 had spotted the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious at the docks at Barrow-in-Furness while on a reconnaissance flight.   On the following night, the bomber took off again from its base at Nantes, the crew tasked with bombing the ship.   The attack failed when the crew found that the ship had been moved, and under some intense anti-aircraft fire they released their bombs on the dock and made for home.

Looking down towards the crash site

The anti-aircraft fire had damaged the compass, radio and one engine, and the aircraft headed back to Nantes over the Irish Sea, avoiding the defences around Liverpool.   At 0300hrs the aircraft struck the plateau at Llwytmor Bach.  The aircraft appears to have careered over the ground before coming to a halt on the slopes of Llwytmor before catching fire and burning out.

Weird shaped glacial erratic perched on rocks near to the crash sit

The initial impact killed engineer ‘Gefreiter’ Josef Brüninghausen but the remainder of the crew survived, and the least injured of them, ‘Gefreiter’ Kurt Schlender, made his way across the plateau and down the valley of the Afon Anafon, where he sought help from a farm on the road down to Abergwyngregyn.   The three survivors spent the remainder of the war as prisoners.

*     *     *     *     *

The summit of Llwytmor, looking towards Foel Fras

Snow and boulders on the ascent of Foel Fras

Between Llwytmor and Foel Fras, I met a party of two heading the opposite way.   The older of the two men mentioned the nearby Heinkel crash site, and I told him I had just come from there.    He went on to say that his uncle had visited the site some years earlier and had found a signet ring belonging to one of the crew of the aircraft, and had been able to pass it on to relatives in Germany.

Walkers at Foel Fras summit

At Foel Fras I had another decision to make.    I still had about 10 kms of my original route (red dashes on the map) back to the car, but it had taken me 5 hours to get to Foel Fras instead of about 3½ hours, due to the delays caused by the diversion, and the state of the snow patches on the route – the snow was extremely soft in places, and each patch resulted in a delay, either through sinking knee-deep or in detouring around it.

The view to Foel Fras (left) and Llwytmor, as seen at Bwlch y Gwryd on Monday 6 March ….

…. and the same view just three days later

I had no way of knowing how much snow there might be on the planned route via Carnedd Gwenllian, but most of that way back was high level, and more snow patches on the route would cost more time and energy.    However, I could see that the route down to Llyn Anafon had lost much of the snow that had been present three days earlier, and a return that way would also be about 2 kms shorter – it didn’t take long to decide which option .

Bwlch y Gwryd, looking towards Drum

Drum (right) and the start of the descent to Llyn Anafon

Llyn Anafon just below

The same ground three days earlier

Sure enough, when I reached Bwlch y Gwryd between Foel Fras and Drum, I could see that the rest of the descent was all on grass.   ‘Mist’ and I made short work of that, and the track above the Afon Anafon gave even faster progress.    Two hours after leaving the summit of Foel Fras I was back at the car, having to explain to the dog that her overdue dinner time would have to wait another hour until we arrived home.

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

Posted in 5. North Wales, Aircrash Sites, Border Collies, General Interest | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

#219 – Llyn Anafon and Drum in the Northern Carneddau

Looking down towards Llyn Anafon from the slopes of Drum

The route – Anti-clockwise to Llyn Anafon then on to Drum

The Northern Hills of the Carneddau

Although I’m usually up for a long mountain day, me missus enjoys her days in the hills when she isn’t being scared out of her wits or setting off on a long ‘yomp’ into the backwoods in crappy weather.   So, that’s a nice easy brief then!

Setting out up the track above Afon Anafon

The early weeks of 2017 had the usual storms in from the sea, with high winds and loads of rain rather than snow, so a calm day with a sprinkling of snow on the tops was enough reason to get out.  In fact, it would have been hard to come up with an excuse not to, so with all the boxes ticked, a trip to the hills of the Northern Carneddau was in order.

Looking back towards Abergwyngregyn and the coast

Old sheep folds below the track

The last time Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’ of course!) came up this way was late autumn 2014 (see post #167).   There is a good track heading up from the road-head beyond the village of Abergwyngregyn on the coast and this gives quick and easy access to a lovely hidden corner of the Carneddau.

Still heading up the track ….

…. with lots of water in the stream below

Drum comes into view ahead

It’s about 4.3 Kms from the carpark to the shoreline of Llyn Anafon with a height gain of about 330 metres, so it’s hardly what you would regard as extreme.   The track follows the stream of the Afon Anafon in a deep valley, with the views beyond restricted, so it was some time before our objective, the 770 metres (2525 ft) summit of Drum, came into view.

The ‘picnic site’ and the view across the lake of Llyn Anafon ….

…. with the picnic on the go ….

…. including the favourite mug!

We weren’t in a rush and we can please ourselves nowadays as to how the day goes, so when we got to Llyn Anafon it was picnic time.   Out came the trusty ‘Jetboil’ stove and instead of an indifferent cup of coffee from a flask we had a fresh brew.   There might even have been a small nip of spiced rum (‘Sailor Jerry’ if you must know) from a different sort of flask, but as I said, we can please ourselves nowadays.

Leaving Llyn Anafon behind and heading up into the snow


The view across to Llwytmor

Having had a bit of a dawdle up from the car park, it was now time to put some effort in (Not TOO much, though – did I mention that we can please ourselves nowadays?)   We had a total height gain of almost 250 metres over 1.25 kms in front of us, which works out (roughly) as a 1-in-5 (20%) slope.

Things start to get steeper ….

…. but as usual, Border Collie ‘Mist’ is ahead and waiting

Things get steeper towards the top though, and there was a height gain of about 150 metres over the last 440 metres of distance, which comes out at about a 1-in-3 (33%) slope.  Added to that was an accumulation of soft, wet snow, so there much slithering about on the steeper stuff – things remained good humoured, but I’m sure I caught the dog laughing at us!

On the bwlch (col) at last – Foel Fras behind

The ancient cairn on the summit of Drum

From the bwlch (col) above the slope, it was an easy stroll to the summit of Drum.   I had intended to get some pics of the what remains of the site of the radar station that had been located here in the mid 1950’s, and which I mentioned in post #217, but all was covered in snow.

*    *    *    *    *

An AEC Matador truck hauling the radar cabins up the narrow lane from Abergwyngregyn

The system was code-named ‘Blue Joker’ and was designed to test radar signal processing from as high a point as was reasonably practical, in order to minimise sea wave interference.  The setup included two mobile cabins, of which one was a modified ‘Type 4 Mk 7 Mobile Radar Unit’ to house the equipment and the other a domestic unit for use by the staff.  In addition, there was a large diesel electric generator.

The convoy at the start of the mountain track

The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) built the access road from Aber to the site assisted by local council employees, and contemporary photos show that the stone walls alongside the road near to the village were comprehensively trashed!  A heavy ‘AEC Matador’ truck was used to haul the radar cabin, with the domestic unit sitting on the back of an American ‘Diamond T’ tank transporter tractor unit.

'Diamond T' truck carrying the domestic unit and towing the Matador and one of the radar cabins

‘Diamond T’ truck carrying the domestic unit and towing the Matador and one of the radar cabins

It was during the radar trials that the ‘Canberra’ bomber was lost in December 1957 (post # 217).  Although the trials were a success, the Blue Joker project was wound up in the mid-1960’s when the perceived threat changed from manned Soviet bombers to Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, which this type of radar could not track.

The mobile radar site at the summit of Drum

All that remains now is an area of hardcore that looks immediately out of place at an altitude of 750 metres on a Welsh mountain top – a bit more careful searching will reveal a couple of concrete blocks and a few heavy-duty steel stakes used to anchor the equipment down in the high winds – they had a lot of those!

*    *    *    *    *

The way down ….

…. with the track well ‘snowed in’

One legacy of the huge amount of work that was put in to build the access road is a good track down from the summit of Drum, which since then must have been trod by thousands of weary walkers heading down from the Carneddau – being easy and downhill, it may even have saved a few lives over the years, though the upper part was completely snowed in for our descent.   We still made good speed though – we had a hungry Border Collie to feed!

A last view of Llyn Anafon from the track heading down

As often happens on a day out in the mountains, I was already plotting the next trip out, but I wasn’t expecting to be back out here three days later on a very different mountain day – you can read about it here in a couple of weeks.

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock with the exception of the ‘Blue Joker’ images.

p.s. The ‘Blue Joker’ pics are especially for fellow blogger Mountain Coward, who may know much more about the radar equipment shown from her days in the Army, though the setup in the photos was probably well obsolete before her time.

Posted in 5. North Wales, Aircrash Sites, General Interest | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

#218 – Dulyn and Melynllyn in winter and summer (From the archives)

Early March 2016 – snow on the Carneddau, on the way out to Dulyn

Early March 2016 – snow on the Carneddau, on the way out to Dulyn

Winter this year in North Wales has been fairly mild, with high winds and rain but less snow than usual.    Most people would find that good news, but outdoors types aren’t ‘most people’, and my ice axe and crampons haven’t been getting much use lately.    There’s still time though – the above photo was taken on an outing in March 2016, and the day after that I was out on skis in the same area.

Return trip in July 2016 (look closely and Border Collie 'Mist' is in the same place in both shots!)

Return trip in July 2016 (look closely and Border Collie ‘Mist’ is in the same place in both shots!)

On that outing in March 2016, Chris and I, plus Border Collie ‘Mist’, had taken a route out to the bothy at Dulyn in the mountains of the Carneddau (see post #197), the first time that Chris had been out this way.    Four months later (July 2016) it was T-shirt weather in the mountains, and a great opportunity for Chris to see what had been underneath all that white stuff.

Setting out from the car parking area at Cwm Eigiau

Setting out from the car parking area at Cwm Eigiau

Big open spaces ….

Big open spaces ….

…. and wide panoramas

…. and wide panoramas

Dulyn Bothy comes into view

Dulyn Bothy comes into view

For those not familiar with the Carneddau, it’s a lovely semi-wilderness in the mountains of North Wales.    There are traces of human activity, but the big open spaces and wide panoramas can hide most of the mess that we humans inflict on the landscape.  For mountain enthusiasts, one of the more welcome human intrusions in this landscape is the remote bothy near the lake of Dulyn.

The author and 'Mist' at the bothy in July 2016 ….

The author and ‘Mist’ at the bothy in July 2016 ….

…. but a bit colder four months earlier

…. but a bit colder four months earlier

The lake at Dulyn in winter ….

The lake at Dulyn in winter ….

…. and summer (Note the aircraft propeller in the front centre)

…. and summer (Note the aircraft propeller in the front centre)

Although I’ve visited the location several times, I’ve still not spent a night at the bothy, something I must try to rectify this year, though I’ll probably aim for a summer trip to save carrying in wood and coal for the stove.    Slightly higher than the bothy is the small lake of Dulyn, which had looked bleak and gloomy in winter – the July photo shows a warmer scene in every sense.  (The propeller assembly is from a wartime air-crash whose story I told in post #197)

Some of the remains of the old quarry workings

Some of the remains of the old quarry workings

Heading up towards Melynllyn (the path can be made out just right of centre)

Heading up towards Melynllyn (the path can be made out just right of centre)

Border Collie ‘Mist’ herding the humans along ….

Border Collie ‘Mist’ herding the humans along ….

…. but for Chris, it seems there’s a lot of uphill ….

…. but for Chris, it seems there’s a lot of uphill ….

…. just as there had been a lot of uphill four months earlier

…. just as there had been a lot of uphill four months earlier

Nearly at the high point, with Dulyn behind

Nearly at the high point, with Dulyn behind

Looking back down the valley we walked to the Dulyn Bothy

Looking back down the valley we walked to the Dulyn Bothy

From Dulyn it was time for a bit of height gain, starting by old quarry workings near the lake.    We headed up towards the higher lake of Melynllyn, assisted by ‘Mist’ who, coming from a line of good herding dogs, likes to make sure that the humans stay on the right track.   It was warmer work on the July walk than it had been in March, but the height gain was just as steep – it’s fairly short though, and we were soon at the second lake.

Melynllyn in summer ….

Melynllyn in summer ….

…. and in winter

…. and in winter

The route out, with the track just visible in the distance

The route out, with the track just visible in the distance

Melynllyn is another beautiful spot, and it’s sometimes easy to forget that both Dulyn and Melynllyn are reservoirs – the two lakes have blended in to the surrounding countryside so well that they seem to have been there for ever.   In this case, humans may well have made a positive impact on the scenery for once.

Time to head for home ….

Time to head for home ….

…. with Cwm Eigiau coming into view

…. with Cwm Eigiau coming into view

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

p.s.   Winter 2017 has been such a washout (literally) up to now that quality mountain days worthy of a blog post have been few and far between – hopefully, this trip back to the archives will fill the gap for now!

Posted in 5. North Wales, Aircrash Sites, Border Collies | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

#217 – The Carneddau and Llyn Llyffant

The remote lake of Llyn Llyffant, the highest lake in Wales (820 metres above sea level)

The remote lake of Llyn Llyffant, the highest lake in Wales (820 metres above sea level)

Since moving to North Wales five years ago, I’ve become a big fan of the mountains of the Carneddau, and I’m still having fun exploring hidden corners where I haven’t been yet.   One place on my ‘to do’ list for some time was the highest lake in Wales – sitting at 820 metres (2690 ft) above sea level, Llyn Llyffant (‘Frog Lake’) is also one of the smallest lakes in Wales.    A trip there was long overdue, so last July I set out for a visit.

The route, clockwise from the car park

The route, clockwise from the car park

The Carneddau

The Carneddau

Setting out towards Cwm Eigiau

Setting out towards Cwm Eigiau

Cwm Eigiau and the crags of Craig yr Ysfa

Cwm Eigiau and the crags of Craig yr Ysfa

The tiny lake is located just below Carnedd Llewelyn, the highest peak of the Carneddau, but the most logical way in seemed to be via one of my favourite Carneddau spots, Cwm Eigiau.    The views on the walk-in are constantly changing, with the highlight being the magnificent climbers’ crag of Craig yr Ysfa.

Craig yr Ysfa

Craig yr Ysfa

Legend has it that the crag was spotted by telescope in the late 19th Century by one of the famous rock-climbing Abraham Brothers – this would have quite a feat, as the telescope and user were in the Lake District at the time, about 150 kms away (90 miles or so), but there is a clear line of sight from Scafell Pike to Craig yr Ysfa, so the story may well be true.

Small waterfall on the Afon Eigiau

Small waterfall on the Afon Eigiau

The upper reaches of the Afon Eigiau, not far from its source

The upper reaches of the Afon Eigiau, not far from its source

From the Cwm I followed the small Afon Eigiau stream up to the lake.    The area is hardly ever visited, being off the beaten track, but in December 1957 it suddenly became the focus of much attention following a tragic aircraft crash.

*     *    *    *    *

English Electric Canberra

English Electric Canberra

The English Electric Canberra came into service with the Royal Air Force in 1951 as the first British jet-powered bomber, and for the rest of the decade the Canberra could fly higher than any other aircraft in the world, holding the world altitude record of 70,310 ft (21,430 metres).   Designed originally as an unarmed, high-altitude bomber the type became a versatile workhorse in service in the UK and beyond.

The initial impact point of the Canberra on Carnedd Llewelyn (Photo Sept 2014)

The initial impact point of the Canberra on Carnedd Llewelyn (Photo Sept 2014)

On 9th December 1957 Canberra WK129 was taking part in secret radar tests.    The aircraft had flown from RAF Pershore in Worcestershire to the Carneddau, where it carried out trials with a radar station on the summit of Drum (traces of the radar station can still be found there).    The Canberra continued out to Puffin Island near Anglesey before turning to travel back to base.

Aircraft wreckage in the Afon Eigiau

Aircraft wreckage in the Afon Eigiau

Looking up towards the lake of Llyn Llyffant

Looking up towards the lake of Llyn Llyffant

The aircraft was flying in patchy low cloud when it struck Carnedd Llewelyn on the ridge connecting the mountain to Foel Grach.   The forward end of the aircraft broke up,  leaving fragments of the forward fuselage on western side of the ridge. The centre section, wings and rear fuselage crashed to earth near Llyn Llyffant, though other pieces did travel some distance beyond here.    The destruction of the aircraft was such that the crew of two must have died instantly.

More wreckage from the Canberra

More wreckage from the Canberra

The reason for the crash remains a mystery, though the aircraft was below its safety height at the time of the accident.    A possible explanation is engine failure due to icing – icing conditions on the day of the flight were forecast above 3000 ft, and the initial impact point is at around 3280 ft (1000 metres)

*     *    *    *    *

Border Collie ‘Mist’ at Llyn Llyffant

Border Collie ‘Mist’ at Llyn Llyffant

Llyn Llyffant is now remote and quiet and would make a great wild camp site.    I stopped for a coffee and sandwich break, ably assisted (with the sandwiches anyway) by Border Collie ‘Mist’.

Next to the lake

Next to the lake

Looking back towards Llyn Llyffant

Looking back towards Llyn Llyffant

Left to right - Pen Llithrig y Wrach, Pen yr Helgi Du and Craig yr Ysfa

Left to right – Pen Llithrig y Wrach, Pen yr Helgi Du and Craig yr Ysfa

Small group of Carneddau ponies and the only humans I saw all day

Small group of Carneddau ponies and the only humans I saw all day

When it came time to leave I set off for another air-crash site nearby.  Although overcast, the visibility was great with great views back to the mountains surrounding upper Cwm Eigiau (Pen Llithrig y Wrach, Pen yr Helgi Du and Craig yr Ysfa) and despite the fair conditions, I saw just four other humans all day.

The crash site of Avro Anson EG110

The crash site of Avro Anson EG110

On 14th January 1943, an Avro Anson on a training flight struck the side of Foel Grach.  There are several Anson crash-sites near to here, not because the Anson was an unsafe aircraft, but because there were many more flights over this part of Wales in WW2.    The crew survived the impact, and the pilot managed to walk to a farm in the valley below.    The RAF Mountain Rescue Team from Llandwrog (now Caernarfon Airport) set out and searched into the night, but had to take shelter in deteriorating weather.   The aircraft was found the next day with one survivor, the other two crew members having died of exposure.    There is now no trace of the crash.

‘Mist’ with Melynllyn (reservoir) below

‘Mist’ with Melynllyn (reservoir) below

Heading back along the ridge of Cefn Tal Llyn Eigiau

Heading back along the ridge of Cefn Tal Llyn Eigiau

The mountains of the UK are steeped in history, and the air-crash sites I had visited are part of that ongoing story, and make a fitting memorial to those who died, but I now had another important task lined up – ‘Mist’ was just about overdue for her dinner time, so it was time to head back home.

Back on the track – time to head for home

Back on the track – time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

Posted in 5. North Wales, Aircrash Sites, Border Collies | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments