#105 – Lost in the Clwydian Hills

On the slopes of Foel Fenlli, with bad weather closing in

My local hills, the Clwydian Range, are not the highest hills in Wales by a long way, though it’s the first high ground you drive through as you enter North Wales from England.  The highest summit is Moel Famau (see post #79) at 554 metres, and most of the other summits of the ridge line are only between 400 – 500 metres in altitude (see post #99).  They are exposed little hills though, and can prove ‘interesting’ in bad weather.

The north slopes of Foel Fenlli

Zoom view showing my hiding place (circled), conveniently near the car park!

I had a great afternoon out here a couple of weeks back – I’m still serving my apprenticeship with SARDA Wales (Search And Rescue Dog Association) as an aspirant trainee, and this mainly involves being a ‘body’ for other dogs to search for.  My job this afternoon was to go and ‘get lost’ so that trailing dog ‘Bonny’ could come and find me. (Read more about SARDA trailing dogs in post #92)  My dog ‘Mist’ also had a training task – to sit quietly and patiently in the car while I went for a walk without her!

The car park at Bwlch Penbarras, between Moel Famau and Foel Fenlli

Geoff and ‘Bonny’ cross the car park following my scent – Bonny’s trailing lead just visible

‘Bonny’ working – a zoom view showing the trailing harness

The trailing dogs work close to their handler on a long trailing lead and harness, with the handler using the feedback on the lead to ‘read’ the dog.  I set off from the car park and took a winding route up the lower slope of Foel Fenlli, and after allowing time for the scent to develop Geoff and Bonny set off to follow my trail.

Moving away from the car park area ….

…. with the Vale of Clwyd below

Geoff and Bonny closing in

Geoff had briefed me to zigzag up the hillside, and from my vantage point it was fascinating to watch the dog follow my exact path, made all the more impressive by Bonny ignoring the scent of a group of walkers who crossed my trail – impressive perhaps to me, but it’s what Bonny has been trained to do.  It wasn’t long before my hiding place in the heather had two new visitors, a boisterous Spaniel/Labrador cross and her handler.

Bonny after making the find

Back over the road to hiding place number two

The crossing of a Spaniel and Labrador might seem an unusual combination, but for a trailing search dog it’s an inspired match, combining the strength and ‘nose’ of the Labrador with the bounce, drive and energy of a Spaniel.  I wasn’t surprised to learn that the cross was the idea of Tom Middlemas, one of the most knowledgeable, experienced and respected members of the Search and Rescue Dog community in the UK and beyond.

Squally showers moving in over the Vale of Clwyd ….

…. but time for ‘Mist’ to have a run

We repeated the routine, with me crossing over to the other side of the road on the approach to Moel Famau – once again an enthusiastic Bonny came straight in to my hiding place.  With two good searches completed, Geoff was well pleased and set off for home.  Less pleased was Border Collie ‘Mist’ who was ready for a run out on the hills.  I had a plan ready though – I hadn’t been up Foel Fenlli before, so here was an ideal opportunity.

‘Mist’ on the wall and ditch of the Foel Fenlli hillfort

Foel Fenlli is the second highest summit in the Clwydian Hills, with an altitude of 511 metres (1,677 ft).  Like several other Clwydian peaks, Foel Fenlli was a hillfort in the Iron Age period, making it more than 2000 years old.  It’s likely that there was an earlier Bronze Age burial mound built here, and coins from the Roman occupation were discovered here 200 years ago – let’s just say that the site has been occupied for a long time!

The summit of Foel Fenlli, with stormy weather to the south ….

…. but clear skies looking east towards England

Back along the ramparts of the fort, heading to the car park

‘Mist’ seemed especially pleased to be out of the car and on the hill, but if we are accepted as trainees by SARDA the car will become a mobile kennel, a home from home, something that she will have to get used to spending time in.  The weather turned squally and cold as we set off for the summit, but by the time we reached the top the sun was breaking through on the east towards the English border.  It was still cool though, with no incentive to linger, and we were soon heading back to the car park.

The sun coming out as we head down – the summit of Moel Famau is visible top right

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

p.s.  The local mountain rescue team covering the Clwydian Hills (and much more!) is North East Wales Search And Rescue (NEWSAR).  You can find out more about the team and how to support them by clicking here.  You can support the search dogs (SARDA Wales) by clicking here.

p.p.s.  I only realised last week that I had missed the ‘birthday’ of this blog – 104 posts over two years.  I post every Monday morning (UK time) on a hill or mountain topic, and haven’t missed a post yet!  Thanks to all of you for reading, especially my regulars.  You can get an email notification of each new post by clicking the ‘Sign me up’ button.

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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15 Responses to #105 – Lost in the Clwydian Hills

  1. excellent post, these dogs are really marvellous – it must be a privilege to work with them

  2. Cheers SP. A privilege indeed, and a lot of fun 🙂

  3. I didn’t realise until yesterday that you were hoping to train Mist with SARDA – good luck with it! You’ve had a SARDA dog before though in the past, haven’t you?
    And I’ve never heard of those trailing dogs before, how long have SARDA been training those? They certainly weren’t around when Geoff was with SARDA – that was a while ago mind……

  4. Mist and I are both above the usual starting age for a dog/handler partnership, but nothing ventured, etc… Hopefully my previous experience and Mist’s steady temperament will see us through 🙂

    Trailing is fairly new, and has been pioneered by SARDA Cymru, and even has a member of an English MR team with a trailing dog on the Welsh callout list. SARDA England have now taken up the idea, and there are trailing dogs under training with other SARDA associations.

    Without doubt, the trailing ‘guru’ is Tom Middlemas in South Scotland – Geoff will probably have met him, as I did 25 years ago when I had a graded dog in the Lakes.

  5. Congrats on your centenary – you don’t look a day over 90 😉
    All that practice is paying off with the quality of the posts. I can see this SARDA thing becoming the next popular ‘soap’ and we’ll all be waiting eagerly for the next installment.
    My Keswick cousin has what I think is a ‘cocker-doodle’ – cross between a cocker spaniel and poodle. Lovely dog, but I think she would only find someone if they had plenty of food – and that’s if you could get her away from her second favourite things, mud and water!
    Talking of water, Wales seems to be getting more than it’s fair share. And I bet conditions on some of the fells here in the Lakes are interesting – just reading on our local news about someone who got blown over on Coniston Old Man and had to be airlifted to hospital 😦

    • I’ve never though of myself as a ‘soap’ writer – a new career opportunity? 😀

      Labradoodles are also becoming very popular, especially with people with dog allergies as poodles don’t ‘cast’ (or ‘shed their coats’ for any readers in the South 😀 )

      It’s put some water down alright – Ogwen Valley MRT had three callouts last week, and found that the main problem was getting to the incident along roads blocked by water, silt and other cars! I’m out this coming Saturday bodying again, so I’m expecting it to be sheeting it down 😦

  6. LensScaper says:

    That ‘cross’ of a labrador and a spaniel is an interesting concept, and a clever idea. These hills look pleasant walking country – nothing too taxing but a good day out. Hope you are above the ‘Flood’ level where you are – seems as if some of the horrendous weather affecting the SW has spread up your way.

    • Cheers Andy. Our village has an ‘Upper’ and ‘Lower’ split, and we live in the Upper part – if the lower village gets flooded, the water has to rise another 60 metres before it gets to us! I think nearby Rhuddlan and St Asaph could well have problems, though Rhuddlan is an old settlement sited above the flood plain – those medieval builders were not stupid!

      • Well, my prophecy re St Asaph was bang on, with the lower part of town flooding about 5 hours after my comment.

        The cathedral and most of the ‘old’ town are OK, because they are situated ….ABOVE THE FLOOD PLAIN !!!!

        Are modern builders and developers missing something?!!

  7. Bet Mist was really pleased to get out on a walk after knowing you’d set off on one and being left in the car – did she have her bottom lip out when you got back? 😉

    The lab cross looks and sounds like a good one.

    • ‘Mist’ doesn’t do bottom lip as such, but she does whinge!! A moments delay opening the back door of the car and she let’s me know about it 😉

      ‘Bonny’ (the Lab cross) is a super little dog – first impression is that she is a small Lab, but when she moves she’s typical Spaniel, with just two speeds – off and on!! (And ‘on’ is full on!) 😀

  8. Oh, and no snow yet in North Wales? The Lakes has a fair covering in the central and eastern fells just now!

  9. There has been a bit of a dusting of snow on the hills of Snowdonia, but nothing round us yet – we’re probably too near the sea to get a lot, and we are also in the weather shadow of Snowdonia.

    Better dig out the winter gear – best time of the year 🙂

  10. Pingback: #107 – Training ‘Search and Rescue’ Dogs – The story continues …. | Paul Shorrock – One Man's Mountains AKA One Pillock's Hillocks

  11. Pingback: #115 – Winter in the Clwydian Hills | Paul Shorrock – One Man's Mountains AKA One Pillock's Hillocks

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