#79 – The Clwydian Hills (Bryniau Clwyd) – Gateway to North Wales

The summit of Moel Famau

Those of you who have read #73 will remember that Chris and I have recently bought a house in the Clwydian Hills in North Wales, but on our recent trips over there we’ve been ‘flat-packing’  instead of ‘back-packing’  – IKEA has a lot to answer for!  When the recent spell of good weather arrived it didn’t take much to find an excuse to escape, and as we will soon be living amongst the Bryniau Clwyd it seemed a good idea to keep it local.

“Come on, then – I thought we were going for a walk!”

The Clwydian Range is quite obvious as you cross into North Wales from the end of the M56 Motorway – it’s the line of hills about twenty kilometres to the west, and on a good day it’s easy to identify Moel Famau (Hill of the Mothers), the highest of the Bryniau Clwyd at a height of 554 metres.  The summit is capped by the remains of a stone tower which can easily be picked out on a clear day.

On the Offa’s Dike Path at Bwlch Barras, heading for Moel Famau

Our new house is at the northern end of the Bryniau Clwyd, tucked away under the slopes of the Iron Age hill fort of Moel Hiraddug (Hiraddug’s Bare Hill).  Although it’s only twenty kilometres (12½ miles) to Moel Famau as a Welsh crow flies, it takes about 45 minutes to drive the narrow lanes to Bwlch Barras, the place where most people set off to walk Moel Famau.

Easy walking on the Offa’s Dyke Path

View down to the Vale of Clwyd

As walks go, the path to Moel Famau from the Bwlch (pass or gap) is an easy stroll, though we haven’t always found it so.  The first time Chris and I came here with family, we were blown back to the car by a cold, bitter wind.  On our last visit we had arrived at the summit to find the steps to the tower completely ice-bound – without spikes I had slithered to the top and back, whilst Chris had wisely turned down the opportunity.

Gaining height

Heading straight for the summit

No ice today, though – the recent dry spell had left the ground parched, and for once our Border Collie ‘Mist’ was having difficulty finding water (BC’s could find a damp cloth in a desert, and probably get a drink out of it as well!”).  Further on we left the busier Offa’s Dyke Path to follow the eastern side of the ridge.  The heat haze blurred the view into England, though behind to the south we had a good view of Foel Fenlli (Benlli’s Bare Hill).

The Iron Age hill fort of Foel Fenlli

The last steep bit up to Moel Famau with Foel Fenlli behind

Foel Fenlli is an Iron Age hill fort about 2500 years old, one of a string of forts that ends at our Moel Hiraddug to the north.  After the Roman occupation of Britain had ended, the locals continued to occupy the fort under King Benlli (about 450 AD).  These small hills made superb natural defences, with steep slopes to deter aggressors – they make a pretty good job of deterring modern-day walkers as well.

Trig Point at the summit of Moel Famau

The remains of the ‘Jubilee Tower’ at the summit

The summit has one of the ubiquitous surveyors’ triangulation columns (Trig Point) as well as the remains of the ‘Jubilee Tower’, built in 1810 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of King George III.  Unfortunately the money ran out before it was completed, and a storm in 1862 reduced the monument to its present height.

The bottom surviving section of the ‘Jubilee Tower’

The Offa’s Dyke and Clwydian Way Paths at the summit

Moel Famau is more popular as a walking route now than at any previous time in its history, with the Offa’s Dyke and Clwydian Way Paths passing by the summit.  The warm weather had drawn out dozens of others, all enjoying the surprising warm spell, but the area remains much quieter than the ‘honey pot’ hills of Snowdonia, just down the road.

The return route with Foel Fenlli in the distance on the left

Foel Fenlli hill fort

A steady downhill walk took us back to the car, with the dog managing to find a pool of water deep enough to paddle in.  A short drive back along the narrow lanes soon had us at the house to finish assembling the final bookcase.

The Jubilee Tower on Moel Famau

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

p.s. Whilst reading, why not practice a bit of Welsh pronunciation for fun!  Moel Famau sounds something like ‘Moyle Vam-eye’, our local hill fort Moel Hiraddug is pronounced ‘Moyle Hi-ra-thigg’ and Foel Fenlli is ‘Voyle Venli’. (Moel and Foel have the same meaning).  There, wasn’t all that hard, was it?!

About Paul Shorrock

I've been mucking about in the mountains for longer than I care to mention. I started out by walking my local hills, then went on to rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Still doing it, and still getting a buzz. I'm now sharing the fun, through my guided walking business (Hillcraft Guided Walking) and by writing routes for other publishers, mainly Walking World and Discovery Walking Guides. Just to make sure I keep really busy, I am also currently a member of my local mountain rescue team.
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31 Responses to #79 – The Clwydian Hills (Bryniau Clwyd) – Gateway to North Wales

  1. antiquityandadventures says:

    I work with the welsh contingent of wales and to try to annoy them by pronouncing their spelling as badly as possible, it works quite well :-). Are you going to the beacon fire for the jubilee now you are nearly an exile.


    • I’m not allowed to mis-pronounce 😀
      If I do Chris (who grew up in North Wales) will gently correct me 😉
      I know nowt about the beacon fire though – where and when?


      • antiquityandadventures says:

        June 4 at 10pm i think at the jubilee tower would be worth checking first though in case i am wrong… hard to believe but I have been known to be wrong before 🙂


      • Diolch yn fawr (or ‘ta very much’ if you prefer) 🙂


  2. smackedpentax says:

    Excellent article Paul, and lovely pictures. I go to N. Wales a couple of times a year – we usually stay at Criccieth – but unfortunately I don’t get out into the hills as much as I like as I have the family with me and ofter 2 or 3 grandkids. I must make amends and do some hill walking.


    • Cheers SP. Have a look at post #37 (if you haven’t already) Lots to interest the family, and a real (if short) walk on real (if small) hills.
      The start point is about half an hours drive from Criccieth.
      Of course, you may already know the area 🙂


  3. lanceleuven says:

    Glad to see that you managed to make the best of the weather. And a great write-up. With regards to the pronunciation are f’s always pronounced as v’s? Or just under certain circumstances?


  4. Thanks for that Lance. Had another great day yesterday (Lake District) that will appear as a post in a weeks time – unbelievably warm!!

    I’m a real beginner with Welsh, but parts of it are extremely simple and logical. All the letters have a sound (no silent consonants as in English or Gaelic). ‘F’ is always pronounced ‘v’, and if you want to say an English sounding ‘f’ it’s ‘ff’, as in ‘ffynnon’ (a well or spring). ‘C’ is always ‘k’, ‘d’ is ‘d’ but ‘dd’ is ‘th’, ‘u’ is ‘i’ (The town we English call Ruthin is pronounced ‘Rithin’ in Welsh). You will probably find a guide to pronunciation in Google.


  5. Bet you’ve never read Barnaby Bear’s account of climbing Moel Famau…



  6. Mark Kelly says:

    If Brodie Dog ever pulls me into a gully (has been a close shave a couple of times) I’ll hope for Barnaby Bear to be in the area 🙂

    Nice post Paul, looks to be a great locale for your new home, not an area I know that well but looks great


    • Thanks for that Mark.
      I’ve got to know your part of the world much better over the last couple of years, but I’m looking forward to pastures new 🙂

      Sorry for the delay replying, BTW – WordPress decided your comment was spam, but I rescued it. Where’s Barnaby Bear when you need him 😀


  7. nittylizzyrozzy says:

    You followed the yellow (beige?) brick road!


  8. beatingthebounds says:

    Interesting stuff Paul – more hills I don’t know. Your photos make it look really quite hot.


  9. This area is fairly new to me as well, though I’ve been driving through it for nearly 40 years! And, yes, it was hot!


  10. Always wanted to do Moel Famau. One day…


  11. The route we did is short enough for a spare couple of hours – there are other, longer routes starting near Loggerheads (Between Mold and Ruthin)


  12. Sam Harrison says:

    Think I worked out the other day that I’d been up Moel Famau over 50 times. It never gets old, I love the place!

    I know a guy that insists on pronouncing Dolgellau “Dol-geh-low”, even though he knows how it should be pronounced! I think I’ve just about got my head around Welsh pronunciations, it’s the Gaellic that needs work on now…


  13. I’m well behind your 50, but work in progress 🙂

    Gaelic is a nightmare IMHO – the rules seem to change just as you think it’s all weighed off!


  14. Alison says:

    loved the pics- I spent much of my childhood walking these hills as my mother grew up in the area. I’m desperate to get back! Even the mountains of California don’t compare..or maybe it’s just memories


    • Hi Alison, glad to take you on a virtual trip of your childhood hills 🙂
      They will still be there next time you are in the UK – bring some hiking shoes!


  15. Pingback: #99 – The ancient forts of the Clwydian Hills | Paul Shorrock – One Man's Mountains AKA One Pillock's Hillocks

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