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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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 ….