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After almost four months of restricted travel in Wales due to the Covid-19 lockdown, the Welsh Government finally relaxed the rules at the beginning of July. The weather on high ground was forecast to be a bit gnarly, with strong winds predicted, but after weeks of looking at the mountains of Snowdonia from a distance, it was time for a visit – Cwm Idwal would do just fine!
On arrival at the start point for the walk into Cwm Idwal, it seemed that the lifting of the lockdown restrictions was the best kept secret in Wales! Because of the ease of access from the A5 road, the walk up to the lake of Llyn Idwal is normally one of the ‘honey pot’ attractions of Snowdonia, yet on this trip there was hardly a soul present – those who had made the effort were having a good time though.
Cwm Idwal is well known in rock-climbing circles for the climbers’ crag of Idwal Slabs, one of the earliest venues for the sport in the UK, dating back to the late 19th Century. Rock-climbing isn’t the only attraction here, though – as I looked towards The Slabs, I could have sworn I saw a tiny figure on one of the small islands in the lake. Sure enough, it was a couple of ‘wild swimmers’ having a great time
Climbers and mountaineers have been swimming in the mountain lakes for as long as the sport of rock-climbing has existed, but ‘wild swimming’ as a sport in its own right is much more recent – the introduction of wetsuits probably has something to do with it, though there are a growing number of swimmers who brave the icy waters with just a swimsuit and a touch of madness.
As well as being a rock-climbing favourite, Cwm Idwal is also well known for its high quality winter climbing routes, and the place becomes even more magical as soon as the snow falls and the streams freeze. The best ice-climbing crags are around the well known Devil’s Kitchen, named Twll Du (Black Hole) in Welsh – looking up from below, the Welsh name is far more appropriate.
Unsurprisingly for July, there was very little snow & ice climbing on offer on our visit (yep, that was a smattering of irony being deployed) but a couple of rock-climbing parties on ‘The Slabs’ were taking advantage of the ending of lockdown – it’s a good bet that there hadn’t been anyone on the crag since March, or possibly even Autumn 2019.
We had decided to take the lower level path around the top of the lake, rather than the upper path (indicated by the yellow arrows in the photos). There used to be a stream crossing along the path, which must have caused some anxious moments over the years for those of a nervous disposition. It doesn’t take much water to fill the narrow gully that is the stream bed, and inexperienced or nervy hikers would be confronted by what could truly be called a raging torrent!
For those too nervous to risk the crossing in flood conditions, the alternatives (depending on direction of approach) were to either retreat to ‘The Slabs’ and take the low route, or for those unfortunate enough to be coming down, to head back uphill to Twll Du, not an attractive prospect at the end of a long day. The stream has now been ‘tamed’ by the addition of a bridge – a step forward for safety but a blow against the spirit of adventure that draws many to this wild place.
Our day was pretty low key, but it was a real buzz to be back in the mountains and for once to be free from the crowds that usually swamp the place in summer. I wasn’t tempted to copy the example of the wild swimmers we had seen earlier, but ‘Mist’ is always up for a splash in the lake – well, a dog has to build up an appetite, and dinner time was only a couple of hours away.
Text and images © Paul Shorrock except where otherwise indicated
The images tagged ‘Geograph’ are taken from the Geograph Project and are reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence.