#140 – The Berwyns – Gnarly little hills!

The Berwyn Hills (BB)

The Berwyn Hills (BB)

The mountains of North Wales attract hill-walkers and mountaineers from all over the UK and beyond, and no wonder.  The peaks of Snowdonia are the ones that people drive miles for, but there are hidden ranges of hills that no one talks about much.  Some of these hills aren’t even all that high, but they are gnarly little blighters!  People often write about the long views, the big skies, etc – they usually fail to mention the bogs and the waist high heather though ……

Typical Berwyn scenery

Typical Berwyn scenery

 I knew a little about the reputation of the Berwyns before I moved to live in Wales, but they remained on the wish list.  Then I joined my local mountain rescue team NEWSAR (North East Wales Search And Rescue) and found the hills of the Berwyns, tucked away at the bottom-left of the map at base.  My first experience of Berwyn bog and heather was on my team navigation assessment, when fellow recruit Richie Boardwell and I had our Berwyn baptism, finishing (as intended) in the dark.

Setting up the NEWSAR display at the Corwen walking festival

Setting up the NEWSAR display at the Corwen walking festival

Assembling the 'Bell' stretcher …. (BB)

Assembling the ‘Bell’ stretcher …. (BB)

 …. and finding another victim for the vacuum mattress …. (BB)

…. and finding another victim for the vacuum mattress …. (BB)

…. but all ‘Mist’ wants to do is go for a walk (BB)

…. but all ‘Mist’ wants to do is go for a walk (BB)

Having seen (or not seen in this case) a chunk of the Berwyns, I had been looking for an excuse to go back in the daylight.  The excuse came with the Corwen Walking Festival – NEWSAR were in attendance, manning a display stand and providing a re-assuring presence to the walking groups on the hills.  Our brief was simple – if the stand gets quiet, go and mingle with the customers on the walks.  There was no need to ask twice, and by late morning Chris and I joined Richie and Babs Boardwell, plus dogs ‘Mist’ and ‘Maisie’ for a Berwyn wander.

Starting out in the forest  above Corwen

Starting out in the forest above Corwen

Stopping to check out the view (BB)

Stopping to check out the view (BB)

A surprise aerial view of Corwen ….

A surprise aerial view of Corwen ….

 …. with an even more surprising view of a medieval village ….

…. with an even more surprising view of a medieval village ….

…. and a view of the Vale of Llangollen

…. and a view of the Vale of Llangollen

The blokes having fun with the navigation …. (BB)

The blokes having fun with the navigation …. (BB)

…. while the women have a natter

…. while the women have a natter

We took one of the walks advertised by the festival, though we thought it would probably be a good idea to be seen navigating rather than joining a group.  As it was, we had the route to ourselves, and had time to catch some of the cracking views as we headed for the ruins of the shooting lodge at ‘Liberty Hall’.

Lunch stop at ‘Liberty Hall, with ‘Mist’ and ‘Maisie’ hoping for a spare sandwich (BB)

Lunch stop at ‘Liberty Hall, with ‘Mist’ and ‘Maisie’ hoping for a spare sandwich (BB)

Search training – Richie (red dot just below the centre) runs off to his hiding place …. (BB)

Search training – Richie (red dot just below the centre) runs off to his hiding place …. (BB)

…. and ‘Mist’ gets her search jacket on, as a sign it’s time to start working (BB)

…. and ‘Mist’ gets her search jacket on, as a sign it’s time to start working (BB)

‘Liberty Hall’ seemed as good a place as any for a sandwich stop, with two dogs competing for the crumbs this time.  Afterwards came the words that my walking mates must dread by now – “Do you fancy doing some training with the dog?”  Mist is training as a search and rescue dog, and a good supply of people prepared to hide (AKA ‘bodies’) is vital – the dogs follow human scent carried on the wind, and at the moment we are searching for up to 20 minutes.

‘Mist’ ranging across the moor (just right of centre) …. (BB)

‘Mist’ ranging across the moor (just right of centre) …. (BB)

…. and a 'find' just next to a small tree  (BB)

…. and a ‘find’ just next to a small tree (BB)

Richie seemed to be taking a long time to get to his hiding place, and when we set to search off I found out why – I had made no allowance for Berwyn heather, and the dog had her work cut out, bounding through heather that was higher than my knees.  After all the hard work we had a good find where the dog gets a reward, in this case a game with her favourite toy.

The reward for the dog is a game with the handler and ‘body’ (BB)

The reward for the dog is a game with the handler and ‘body’ (BB)

After that bit of heather bashing it was good to get back on the track – we left the moor at the same place Richie and I had passed through on our navigation assessment, but although off the hill we still had a way to go, heading back by the small village of Cynwyd.  The pub sign on the map looked hopeful, but my pub jinx struck once again with both pubs closed – It’s enough to drive a person to drink!

Richie and the author heading off the hill (BB)

Richie and the author heading off the hill (BB)

 Text and images © Paul Shorrock – Images tagged (BB) © Babs Boardwell

p.s. You can find out more about the rescue team and search dogs by clicking here (NEWSAR) and here (SARDA)

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.
This entry was posted in 5. North Wales, Border Collies, General Interest, Mountain Safety and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to #140 – The Berwyns – Gnarly little hills!

  1. I’m pretty sure we used to stop by the pub at Cynwyd quite often on the way back from Dolgellau – the grub was great there if it’s the one I’m thinking of. But one of their bowls of tomato soup is probably enough (with a pud of course) as they were huge!

    • I suspect it’s gone the same way as a lot of ‘eating pubs’ – that’s the only reason I can see for a pub being closed on a Saturday afternoon, when there is a walking festival on a couple of miles up the road, with some of the routes passing the front door!!

  2. jimmykranke says:

    Is there an image of the map route Paul. Great blog.

  3. MrsBoardwell says:

    t’was a great day that 🙂

    • Ready for another one Babs!! Need to be a short walk for those pups though – of course, you could always carry them until they grow a bit bigger 🙂

  4. LensScaper says:

    Just been studying the map – thought Corwen sounded familiar – them hills are just off the A5 I see. I’ve blasted through there too many times at speed on my way to Snowdonia. Looks very pleasant walking country. I was relieved to read that bogs were absent from your itinerary on this occasion!

  5. northernwalker says:

    Looks grand… an area I don’t know at all. Thanks for sharing.

  6. lanceleuven says:

    Looks like you got lucky with the weather for it. Not sure we’ll have many more days like that for a while!

    • Haha … Lance, the day you posted that comment it was glorious in North Wales, with temperatures around 20 Celcius!! Don’t get the winter gear out just yet 🙂

  7. mark says:

    We parked in Llangollen got the bus to Corwen then walked up to Liberty Hall then via the North Berwyn Way (minus the quarry loop – far to boggy from experience…) back to Llan. Suprising how remote it feels up there, fantastic – didnt meet a soul. I’d love more people to enjoy these hills – but not TOO many 🙂

  8. Pingback: #147 – Ring out the old … 2013 hill memories | Paul Shorrock – One Man's Mountains AKA One Pillock's Hillocks

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