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 ……
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.
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.
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’.
‘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.
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.
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!
Text and images © Paul Shorrock – Images tagged (BB) © Babs Boardwell