#95 – A romp in the Rhinogs (Day 1)

Setting out in the sunshine from Cwm Buchan

The hills and mountains of the Snowdonia National Park are one of the main attractions of North Wales, bringing in visitors from all over the UK and even further afield.  Top of most walkers tick list is the peak of ‘Snowdon’ itself (Yr Wyddfa), the highest mountain in Wales, and higher than anything in England as well (See posts #86 and #39).  However, popularity means busy, and Yr Wyddfa is not the place to go to for peace and solitude.  For that, you need to visit the Rhinog Hills.

Old woodland at Cwm Bychan

Out into open country

The Rhinogs are one of the forgotten ranges of Welsh hills.  They look their best viewed from the West Coast near Harlech, but the approaches are along winding narrow lanes that are impassable to sightseers in large coaches – these hills feel more remote and isolated because they are,  err … remote and isolated!  This makes them a haven of peace in a busy world.

Ancient pack-horse bridge on the ‘Roman Steps’ route

Gaining height on the ‘Roman Steps’ path

The name Rhinog means ‘Threshold’, and these hills are indeed a threshold between the valleys of the Rivers Eden and Mawddach to the east and the sea to the west.  The hills giving their name to the range are Rhinog Fawr (‘Big Threshold’) at 720 metres height and Rhinog Fach (‘Little Threshold’) at 712 metres.  To confuse matters, Y Llethr (‘The Slope’) is the highest peak of the range at 756 metres, but the apparent lack of altitude does not mean an easy ride – these are rugged, gnarly hills.

Looking back towards the start point at Cwm Bychan

The Roman Steps

To the north the Rhinogs (or Rhinogydd in Welsh) are rocky and covered in dense patches of heather – trying to force a direct path though this stuff would be arduous and time consuming, but on the ‘Roman Steps’ route it had all been done for us.  The path wasn’t in fact engineered by the Roman Legions, but it is certainly old, a medieval pack-horse route that once linked Chester to Harlech on the coast.

Approaching the high point on the Roman Steps path ….

.… the view opens up to the southeast

Leaving the Roman Steps path to head for Rhinog Fawr

A pack-horse trail was good enough for the likes of us, and over 2.5 kms we gained 300 metres altitude with barely any effort.  The route may be ancient, but it was built to last, and will probably still be there in a few more centuries.  We reached the high point of the route near a large cairn, with a superb view opening up to the southeast, but from here on things were to get tougher as we left the ‘Roman Steps’ route.

Rhinog Fawr, with the mist starting to close in around the summit

The lake of Llyn Du, with Rhinog Fawr above and to the left

In this case, the getting tougher bit was relative – the ground we had to cross looked rough, but a narrow, well-walked path cut through the heather and boulders, taking us to the isolated and beautiful Llyn Du (‘Black Lake’).  If we were pleasantly surprised by the easy progress on the path, we were somewhat dismayed to see the mist closing in on Rhinog Fawr.

Herd of wild goats on the slopes of Rhinog Fawr

Close up view of the goats

‘Mist’ in the mist, on the summit of Rhinog Fawr

Looking down the steep descent to Llyn Du

Having reached Llyn Du, Chris decided to admire the scenery from the lake, leaving me to make a super-fast dash to the summit and back.  There was little doubt over our Border Collie’s intentions – ‘Mist’ was also going to the top.  On the way we passed a herd of about twenty wild goats, indifferent to man and dog charging up and down their mountain.  The summit Trig Point had an orienteering marker attached – apparently others also enjoy dashing up and down Rhinog Fawr.

The return to Llyn Du ….

…. and back down the Roman Steps

‘Mist’ and I were back with Chris in less than an hour, which was long enough for ‘T-shirt’ weather to change to ‘fleece mid-layer’.  Having claimed the ‘Big Rhinog’ we bailed out to return by the same route.  If the weather became gloomy, the mood was lightened by meeting John (aged 78) and his son-in-law Raish, who walked down the Cwm Bychan with us.  If I’m still walking the hills at 78, that will give me plenty of opportunities to re-visit this lovely area.

Gloomy weather for the walkout

 Text and images © Paul Shorrock

p.s. As we walked out, I had no idea that two days later I would be back in the ‘Rhinogs’, and in the sunshine for once ….

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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16 Responses to #95 – A romp in the Rhinogs (Day 1)

  1. again another excellent post Paul..I really enjoy your blog and I just wish I had the time to walk the hills and mountains you recommend…maybe when I retire and I have more time..providing I am not too decrepit by then…

  2. Love the caption, ‘Mist in the mist’!
    I am ashamed to say that we are sadly lacking when it comes to exploring Wales. We’ve done Snowdonia and Snowdonia and Snowdonia….but never any of the other ranges. Needs rectifying I think!

  3. Mark Kelly says:

    Great post Paul and ‘gnarly’ is a great description 🙂
    Brought back memories of walking the hills last year: http://halfwayhike.com/2011/06/20/walking-the-rhinogs/ . I really liked the little campsite we stayed at near the start of your walk and the woodland there was a nice place to sit at the end of our hike (as we did it in reverse as it were).

  4. Thanks for that Mark – the blog is back there next week with ‘Day 2’ over Rhinog Fach (and quite a lot more!)

  5. What a great looking heathery stony jumble of a place. Your post illustrates very nicely how quickly the weather can change – what a difference in the photos at the start and finish.
    I must say though, ‘top of most walkers tick list’ is a bit off putting. We do our best to avoid those blood thirsty critturs!!

    • The old joke about all four seasons in one day starts to wear a bit thin after a while …

      As for the ‘blood thirsty critturs’, this year has been remarkably ‘tick’ free – I think I’ve only removed one from ‘Mist’ this year. Perhaps they don’t thrive in Wales 🙂

  6. I love the Rhinog but have only done Fawr once. I’ve often looked at it from the Roman Steps but didn’t think there was a path that way. The many times I’ve done the Roman Steps (which I love), we used to contour round Rhinog Fawr to the other pass (can’t remember which is which now) and come back down into Nantcol. Not hills I’d like to be on in a mist though! I think those hills have to be the roughest walking in Britain myself!

    I used to be lucky where I used to stay in Llanbedr in that she used to lend me a bike to cycle up to Cwm Bychan – it was a lovely route to cycle and saved the huge parking fee. The parking’s much more reasonable in Nantcol (was an honesty box at the farm at the road-end) and the routes are probably easier too. Do you ever do them from that side?

    You’re making me really miss Wales! 😦

  7. LensScaper says:

    I walked the Rhinogs north to south about 15years ago on a day that started wet and got wetter. I remember the full traverse as a very long day indeed. As always informative, Paul. I’m late to this post I know – I’m off to Part 2 now

  8. Hi Paul, I have been so busy of late not had much time to post up anything or read other blogs. I always hear good things about the Rhinogs, but I have never been. Looks like you had some good weather on your trip.

    • Paul Shorrock says:

      The second day was better, but sometimes it’s worth just giving it a try.
      I’m a recent convert to the Rhinogs, but there’s lots of other stuff in Wales that’s also waiting. So much to do ….

  9. Pingback: #101 – Arenig Fawr – A Welsh mountain gem | Paul Shorrock – One Man's Mountains AKA One Pillock's Hillocks

  10. Pingback: #102 – Arenig Fach – Another Welsh mountain gem (or should that be a rough diamond?) | Paul Shorrock – One Man's Mountains AKA One Pillock's Hillocks

  11. Pingback: #221 – Moel Ysgyfarnogod in the Rhinogs. | Paul Shorrock – One Man's Mountains AKA One Pillock's Hillocks

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