The Roman invasion of Wales, completed in 78 AD, must have been a real culture shock to the locals in more ways than one. The Romans must have appeared to be in a permanent state of ‘hurry up’, building roads that were the equivalent to the motorways of today, but I guess you might well be in a hurry with places to invade and rebellions to put down. One of their routes takes advantage of the pass between the high Carneddau Plateau and Tal y Fan, the northern outlier of the Carneddau range.
The Roman road ran from Caernarfon to Caerhun in the Conwy Valley, with the highest point at 400 metres altitude at Bwlch y Ddeufaen, which translates as ‘Pass of the Two Stones’. The Roman soldiers marching over the pass way well have wondered who placed the stones – they would probably never have guessed that in 78 AD, the stones had already been in place for 2000 to 3000 years.
At 610 metres altitude (2001 ft) Tal y Fan just qualifies as an ‘official’ mountain, but it’s undoubtedly part of the Carneddau, even though separated from the rest of the range by Bwlch y Ddeufaen and the Roman road. It’s easy to put together a circuit that traverses the summit ridge and also includes some interesting bits of history, which is probably why Chris and I keep going back there – Border Collie ‘Mist’ just thinks it makes a great dog walk.
We usually start on the Roman road, heading for the bwlch, where the two ancient standing stones are an obvious landmark. The route follows an easy line, which is probably why the National Grid decided to use this as a way for their power cables, but the sweeping scale of the hills prevent the pylons from intruding too much. When it’s time to leave the old road and the pylons, things suddenly get steep, but there’s soon a great view looking back towards the mountains of the Carneddau.
The major part of the ascent is on the lower peak of Foel Lwyd (603 metres) on the way to Tal y Fan. These hills are usually deserted, but on Foel Lwyd we met up with fellow mountain rescue team member Mark and his walking companion – they were about to descend the route we had taken up, before climbing up from the bwlch to join the main plateau of the Carneddau, making a fairly long day for them. Our day was considerably easier, and we were soon at the summit of Tal y Fan.
Then it was time to head down, passing another group walking the opposite way – we were astounded to find out later that one of them was in his 90’s, so walking in the fresh Welsh air can’t be doing him much harm. We dropped down to Maen Penddu (the ‘Black-topped Stone’) before heading back over the low ridge to the remains of Caer Bach, a tiny Iron Age hill-fort. These hills are packed with history, and as well as the ancient sites dating from 2000-5000 years old, we also passed within 200 metres of two separate air-crash sites from WW2.
My favourite site round here is the Bronze Age burial chamber at Maen y Bardd (the ‘Poet Stone’) on the return leg, just above the Roman road but much older; higher up the hill is another burial chamber that we didn’t visit on this trip. In fact there’s more than enough to keep drawing us back to this quiet corner of the Carneddau.
Text and images © Paul Shorrock