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Maesglase, which I featured in my previous blog post (see post #298), is not well known amongst hillwalkers and hikers, but 12 kms to the north lies the even more elusive Dduallt (Black Slopes or Black Hill). I had been here just once before (see post #205), five years earlier, and if I’m honest I hadn’t been in a huge rush to revisit – Dduallt might not be high but it’s a gnarly little hill. What tempted me back was a newspaper story I had read about the source of the Afon Dyfrdwy.
The Afon Dyfrdwy, sometimes known as the ‘River of the Goddess’, rises at Dduallt then flows through Llyn Tegid at Bala, followed by Corwen and Llangollen on the A5, before becoming part of the English/Welsh border to the east of Wrexham. It then enters England to flow round the city of Chester before returning to Wales at industrial Deeside, entering the sea at Liverpool bay after a journey of 113 kms (70 miles). If the standard geographical information doesn’t tempt a visit, a newspaper story I had read by outdoor writer and mountaineer Jim Perrin might.
My previous tussle with Dduallt in 2016 after visiting Rhobell Fawr, meant that the southern approach was not on my list of routes to repeat, but the map suggested that coming in from the north could be a better option. The plan was to drive to the remote valley of Cwm yr Allt Lwyd (Valley of the Grey Hillside) and to use tracks to cover most of the distance to and from the hill. What could possibly go wrong?!
In fact, the walk in started well, with a short walk along a track to the disused house of Dol Cyn Afon (Meadow before the River). It was there that we met a local shepherd who was about to bring in part of the flock for shearing. He was a member of the local Community Council and was interested in comparing different views on mapping and access. Although he must know the area around Dduallt like the back of his hand, he surprised me when he said he had never been to the summit – then again, working in these hills doesn’t leave much time to walk them for fun.
We must have spent a pleasant half hour chatting away, whilst his (male) sheepdog took an interest in our Border Collie ‘Mist’ – it was unrequited lust on the part of the shepherd’s dog, who was given the brush off by our girl! Leaving the shepherd and his young Romeo to their ‘gather’, we took a good track up a grassy ramp, which soon led us to an easy river crossing over the Afon Mawddach – beyond there, the track began to disappear on us.
The plan was to turn east off the north shoulder of Dduallt, and to contour round the east side of the hill. The walking (and the views from the route) was over the rough moorland that forms the catchment area of another Welsh river, the Afon Mawddach, which flows into the sea at Barmouth. The walking was hard going, rough and tussocky, though thankfully the bogs were mostly dry following a dry spell.
Just beyond an old sheepfold, our gradual ascent turned to downhill as we crossed the watershed that separates the rivers Dyfrdwy and Mawddach. Ahead of us was a shallow depression, which was shown on the map as having several small streams heading to join the Afon Dyfrdwy. At the lowest point, near to the east slope of Dduallt, we could hear running water, but couldn’t see a stream – so where was the water?
Whilst Chris had a break from walking, I looked around for signs of the source of the river. It wasn’t long before I noticed a low stone wall and a closer look revealed exactly what Jim Perrin had described – “a tiny roofless building, perfectly concealed, east-west in orientation, the east wall a huge triangular boulder, the entire structure built over the first pool”. The construction has the appearance of being a shrine, but there wasn’t a clue to suggest whether old or new, Christian or Pagan – a mystery, in fact!
From there, we found a line of ascent to the summit of Dduallt, following the South shoulder of the hill. There were few signs of paths, tracks or any human intrusion, other that a wire fence that takes the crest of the ridge. Jim Perrin summed up the area nicely in his article – “It’s as wild a place as you’ll find in our Welsh hills – an arduous, two-hours-each-way stumble and splash across tussocky heather and mire”. Not wrong there Jim!
We had a coffee break on the summit before returning by the north shoulder of the hill – it was all downhill, but the going remained rough until we finally re-joined our outward route, not far from the ford over the Afon Mawddach. It had been a tough little outing, with even ‘Mist’ looking a bit tired by the end, but all was made worthwhile by the visit to the shrine at the source of the Afon Dyfrdwy – one of the truly mysterious places in Wales.
Text and images © Paul Shorrock