#244 – Llyn Cowlyd in the East Carneddau

Llyn Cowlyd in the East Carneddau

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The mountains of the Carneddau in Snowdonia are big and wild, like a mini version of the Cairngorms, and a mountain trip in the Carneddau is usually going to feel like a big one.  Since we moved to North Wales in 2012, I’ve had some of my best mountain days in these hills, one of the best being a crossing of the range from end to end in 2014 (see post #160) – now that was definitely a big day!

The route – From the flag then clockwise round the lake

The mountains of the Carneddau

Regular readers will know that ‘me missus’ prefers her mountain days in smaller chunks, but there’s so much to go at in the Carneddau that I can usually come up with a less-committing option.    A year earlier we had enjoyed a day heading out to Drum via Llyn Anafon (see post #219) but I had something else in mind this time, a circuit of the wild and lonely lake of Llyn Cowlyd.

Starting out by the water pipeline

Looking southwest – Pen Llithrig y Wrach in the centre beyond the lake

The start of the narrow path below Creigiau Gleision

Snowdonia is one of the wettest places in the UK, so the occasional lake shouldn’t come as a big surprise.   What is a surprise though, is that many of the lakes are dammed, including the lovely Llyn Cowlyd, and the start of the walk was dominated by an ugly pipeline leading up to the dam.  This feeds the power station at Dolgarrog in the Conwy valley, with other buried pipes carrying drinking water to Conwy and Colwyn Bay.

Further along the path, with Pen Llithrig y Wrach rising above the lake on the opposite shore

Looking back along the lake

The rocky ridge of Creigiau Gleision looming over the path

The plan was to follow the path (not shown on the map) along the southeast side of the lake, returning by the better path on the northwest side.    Dominating the view ahead was the wonderfully named Pen Llithrig y Wrach, otherwise the ‘Slippery Hill of the Witch’ (see post #77) and the narrow path was overshadowed by the rocky ridge of Creigiau Gleision (see post #173).

Creigiau Gleision above the narrow path

The head of the lake

Looking across to the return route ….

…. but there’s a stream to cross first ….

…. fortunately with a handy looking bridge

The path we followed was as lumpy and bumpy as I had expected it to be, but steady walking munched away the distance as we walked alongside the deepest lake in Wales (70 metres / 229 feet deep).   On the opposite side of the lake we were overtaken by several Duke of Edinburgh Award groups, who had the advantage of a better path, and at the head of the Lake we crossed the stream to find easier walking on the northwest side.

Looking back to Creigiau Gleision

Time for a ‘cuppa’

The return route stretching into the distance

A quick ‘brew’ was indicated before the walk back – I carry a lightweight stove on my outings with Chris, and a fresh cup of coffee, tea or chocolate beats something out of a flask.    A cool breeze meant that we didn’t hang around for too long, and a more pleasant path took us below the slopes of the Witch’s hill.    Didn’t see the witch, nor did we see the fire-breathing bull said to live in the lake – probably just as well.

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#243 – Dinas Bran Castle and the Vale of Llangollen

On the Panorama Walk (Offa’s Dyke Path) near Trevor Rocks

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It has to be said that ‘me missus’ does not exactly go for the combination of mountains and snow, and my day playing on the Glyderau (see post #242) would have been Chris’s idea of a ‘day from Hell’.    However, there are plenty of quality outings in North Wales that give a good day out without me ending up in the dog house, and I’ve had a recent project looking for easier walks to suit the two of us.

The route from Pontcysyllta (right) to Dinas Bran (left)

The Offa’s Dyke Path is a suitable contender, as it runs to within a few hundred metres of our house, and we seem to be completing sections of the Trail by default.    The traverse of the Clwydian Hills is probably the highlight for most walkers on the ODP and is great dog walking country, so Border Collie ‘Mist’ is also guaranteed a good day out.   Sometimes, though, a change is as good as a rest, so within a couple of days of my Glyderau trip, we were over in the Vale of Llangollen.

The Llangollen Canal at Trevor Basin

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Admiring the view

We were following a section of the ODP from the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct towards the Panorama Walk above the town of Llangollen.    Our start point was one of the engineering triumphs of its day – completed in 1805, the 1000 ft (305 metres) long aqueduct carries the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee (Afon Dyfrdwy) flowing 126 ft (38 metres) below, and in 2009 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Setting off by the Llangollen Canal

The canal itself never made much commercial sense, and was all but abandoned by 1939, but it still fulfilled a useful role by feeding water into other working canal systems.  Unofficial use of the canal for recreational cruising began after WW2, and in 1968 the future of the canal was guaranteed by the Transport Act of that year, which conferred the status of a cruiseway.    It’s now one of the most popular recreational waterways in the UK.

Through the woods on the Offa’s Dyke Path ….

…. with a lingering patch of snow to keep Chris amused – or not!

Looking out over the Vale of Llangollen

Our start point at Trevor Basin was a mere 400 metres from the ODP, and we soon left the canal behind to head up through Trevor Hall Wood.   The mountains of the Glyderau hadn’t held much snow on my other trip out, but the lowlands of the Vale of Llangollen still had hidden snowfields, relics of the heavy snowfalls a week earlier – Chris wasn’t much impressed but ‘Mist’ loves playing in snow, so most members of the party were happy.

The Vale of Llangollen, with Dinas Bran on the right in the middle ground

Close up view of Dinas Bran

The ODP finally emerges from the woods to reach the Panorama Walk near Trevor Rocks.  The rocks continue on to Creigiau Eglwyseg and eventually ‘Worlds End’, forming a spectacular band of limestone crag which in places gives good ‘trad’ rock climbing.   The view looking in the other direction gives a great outlook over the Vale of Llangollen, where one of the stars of the show is the ruined castle of Dinas Bran.

More snow, this time in the lane just below Dinas Bran

Heading up the west side of Dinas Bran

Looking out to the limestone crags of Creigiau Eglwyseg

The castle, at last!

The Panorama Walk is mostly on a quiet tarmac road, but traffic is almost non-existent and the views over the Vale made a change from the confines of the wood.   The plan was to head for the far side (west) of the castle before crossing over the top of the hill to follow the east side down – on the way, we managed to find another big snowdrift, this time blocking the lane from Trevor Rocks down to Llangollen town.

‘Mist’ checking out the ruins

More of the ruins of Dinas Bran castle

Chris arriving at the top with Llangollen in the distance below

It’s thought that the visible ruins of Dinas Bran castle date back to the 1260’s, but there have been earlier defences built on this site including an Iron Age hillfort built around 600 BC.  An earth rampart was constructed, probably with a wooden palisade on top and protected by a deep ditch, but there are few traces remaining of this earlier occupation

The 1260’s were certainly troubled times.   The lord of the castle was Gruffydd II ap Madog of Powys, an ally of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales.   Powys was of use to Llywelyn as a buffer state between England and his power base of Gwynedd and Dinas Bran was one of several castles built following the signing of a treaty which secured Wales for Llywelyn, free from English interference.    The peace did not last long and in 1276 war was re-started between England and Wales.   Edward’s larger armies soon invaded Wales and the support for Llywelyn crumbled.

Dinas Bran

As the English advanced, the defenders of Dinas Bran set fire to the castle, possibly to prevent it being of use to the English.   The castle may have been recaptured by the Welsh in the final conflict of 1282, but eventually the English were victorious.    Following the end of the war and the death of Llywelyn, Edward granted the castle to John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, who abandoned Dinas Bran in favour of a new castle at Holt on the English-Welsh border, leaving Dinas Bran in ruins.

Heading down the steps on the east side of Dinas Bran

Looking back up the east side

Back at the snow-filled lane

We had a good wander around the ruins, but the castle wasn’t the end of our day, just the halfway point.    We took the east slopes of the hill for our descent route and were soon heading back to Pontcysyllta by our outward route, much to the relief of a hungry Border Collie.

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#242 – A (not so) snowy day on the Glyderau

Border Collie ‘Mist’ on Glyder Fawr, looking towards Cwm Cneifion

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UK weather suddenly became ‘interesting’ in March this year, with ‘The Beast from the East’ dumping snow quite liberally.    In North Wales it was the Borders area that had the biggest fall, so the weekend after the storm was shaping up to be busy for my mountain rescue team.    However, the following week settled down and it looked like being a good opportunity for playing out in the mountains of Snowdonia.

The route – anticlockwise from the red flag

Looking up towards Cwm Idwal

Border Collie ‘Mist’ near Twll Du (Devils Kitchen)

Looking down to Cwm Idwal, with Pen yr Ole Wen beyond

I hadn’t been to the Glyderau for a while, so the plan was to reverse the route I did with old buddy John Bamber, along with Tom Strawn, in March 2013 (see post #125).    Snow conditions that day had been fantastic, following a late fall of snow in March that year, so I set off with ice axe, crampons and a fair amount of optimism.    Starting from Ogwen, I set off up Twll Du (The Devil’s Kitchen), but there didn’t seem to be much of the white stuff around ….

At the top of the Kitchen path, with Glyder Fawr rising to the left

Looking back towards the frozen lake of Llyn y Cwn, with Y Garn beyond

The author practicing his selfie skills with an impatient Border Collie waiting behind

At the top of the Devil’s Kitchen path, I could see the slopes of Glyder Fawr rising on the left.    Not much snow low down, but a biggish looking snowfield higher up.    I decided to fit crampons when I reached the snow, rather than risk precarious manoeuvres on steep ground if it became icy near the top.    Sure enough, the snow became firmer as I gained height – that was before everything went back to brown and green!

Near the summit of Glyder Fawr looking northwest towards Y Garn ….

…. and looking southwest towards Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon)

Approaching Glyder Fawr summit

The summit rocks of Glyder Fawr

Away went crampons and ice axe, in fact I probably spent longer gearing up and then putting away again than I did on the snow slope.    Still, a day out is a day out, and I carried on over the weird moonscape summit of Glyder Fawr, along with my hill buddy, Border Collie ‘Mist.

Looking east across Cwm Cneifion headwall

Cwm Cneifion headwall in 2013 (TS)

Party of three exiting the headwall in 2013 (JB)

Looking back (west) to Cwm Cneifion with Glyder Fawr beyond

The same view in 2013 (JB)

From Glyder Fawr I headed towards Glyder Fach, via the headwall of Cwm Cneifion.    The photos show the contrast between my trip in March 2013 with John and Tom, but if it wasn’t the snowy paradise I had expected it to be, it was still a good day out.

Continuing east towards Glyder Fach

The descent from Glyder Fach on the left with Tryfan on the right

Looking a bit different in 2013 (JB)

The crossing of Glyder Fach was marred by me taking the wrong line, mainly due to me avoiding the bulk of the snow to avoid putting crampons on for another five minutes.  I ended up contouring below the summit before dropping down to the Miners Track for the descent to Cwm Tryfan.

Looking back from Cwm Tryfan towards the Miners Track

Closer view of the Miners Track

The Miners Track 2013

Once again, a poor choice of line led me into an ice sheet on the Miners Track, but it was all avoidable without having to use crampons – in retrospect I might as well have got them out again, as I spent a good bit of time faffing about avoiding the awkward bit.    Beyond there, it was a straightforward descent of Cwm Tryfan, back to the waiting car and dinner time for a hungry dog!

Heading down Cwm Tryfan

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock – Images tagged (JB) © John Bamber and (TS) © Tom Strawn.

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#241 – Mynydd Du – The Black Mountain

Mynydd Du (The Black Mountain

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The English often find the Welsh language bewildering, with an ‘alphabet soup’ approach to spelling, but in reality, Welsh is fairly simple, with rules and sounds that don’t keep changing as in English. (If you want real confusion, try Scottish Gaelic, where none of the rules seem to hang around for long!) I’m still not good enough to hold a conversation in Welsh, but my vocabulary of place names and hill terms is still growing.

Llyn y Fan Fach (Lake of the Small Hill)

One nice bit of confusion that is likely to trip up the English visitor though, is in the Brecon Beacons, where you will find the Black Mountains (Y Mynyddoedd Duon) and the Black Mountain (Mynydd Du). To remove all confusion, the group of hills to the east of the Brecon Beacons are the Black Mountains. In the centre is what most people would regard as THE Brecon Beacons, with Pen y Fan as the star of the show.

The route – The red section is the bit where we ‘bailed out’

The Brecon Beacons with the route shown – the red flag is the start point

To the west is the Black Mountain, which is where Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’) were heading last August. We have been here before in May 2015 (see post #174) but on a different route which had traced the long ridge of Fan Hir after setting out from Dan yr Ogof. This time we were coming in from the east to explore more of the northern end of these hills – well, that was the intention, but as regular readers will know, things don’t always work out as you expect.

Setting off towards Llyn y Fan Fawr (Lake of the Big Hill)

A bit of a slog up the moor

Llyn y Fan Fawr coming into view

The start of the ascent up to Fan Brycheiniog ….

…. with Llyn y Fan Fawr below

The last bit of ‘up’ on to the col of Bwlch Geidd

We started out from a minor road running to the east side of Fan Hir – although it was August, it was a good bit cooler than it had been in May 2015. Not only was it cooler, the ground underfoot was on the boggy end of the scale, and we had none of the spectacular views of our earlier visit. First objective was the lake of Llyn y Fan Fawr, where an ascending path would take us to the col of Bwlch Geidd between Fan Hir and Fan Brycheiniog.

Looking down to Llyn y Fan Fawr

Starting up Fan Brycheiniog ….

…. with Fan Hir (Long Summit) behind

The summit shelter and trig point of Fan Brycheiniog ….

…. with ‘Mist’ checking for any abandoned sandwiches!

From the Col, it was the intention to carry on to the summit of Fan Brycheiniog to the north, and then to follow the top of the escarpment of Bannau Sir Gaer to drop down to the slightly smaller lake of Llyn y Fan Fach. As we reached the col, however, we found out just how much shelter from the cold wind that the ridge of Fan Hir had given us on the approach, and after a short time in the cold wind Chris asked could we ‘bail out’ of the big walk.

On to the trig point

Typical ‘Beacons’ scenery on Fan Foel (Bare Summit)

Heading for the descent path

On the way down ….

…. and out of the cold wind

I had been ready to ‘tough it out’ in the chill wind, but Chris tells me that she doesn’t do ‘tough it out’ any more. Well, you’ve got to keep the customers happy, and we knew from the last visit that there was an easy descent off the northern side of Fan Foel. So, that became the new plan, with a return via Llyn y Fan Fawr.

Part of our recce – the author and ‘Mist’ with Llyn y Fan Fach in the distance

On the return to Llyn y Fan Fawr ….

…. and a quick paddle for ‘Mist’

As soon as we dropped off the high plateau, we came into shelter from the wind again. Rather than just turning around and heading back, I suggested a low-level ‘recce’ to take a look at the original objective of Llyn y Fan Fach. They say that time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted – well it certainly wasn’t on this occasion, and I was able to compare the original route on the ground with the route on the map. It will still be there on our next visit – perhaps we should go in May!

Back on the moor – time to head for home

The bog was just as damp on the return leg. We were stopping over in the camper van and had a great view of where we had been wandering. As I settled down to the customary can of cider from the fridge, I wondered if it was ‘extra strong’ – the sheep we could see being driven up the hill were green! I’ve no idea what they put in the water round here, perhaps it’s better to stick to the cider.

The view from the van – Green sheep!

Green sheep not exactly blending in – Fan Brycheiniog beyond

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#240 – Roaming with the Romans on the northern Carneddau

Heading up to the old Roman Road, with the mountains of the Carneddau behind

The route – anticlockwise from the red flag

The mountains of the Carneddau

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I don’t mind a bit of ‘iffy’ weather when we are out in the hills, but strong winds can make a day miserable.    We seem to have had more than our share of strong winds this winter, so a calm day is usually a cue to head for the hills.    Add a bit of sunshine on top of that, and you can’t go far wrong, so a calm, sunny day in January was a good excuse to head for the northern end of the mountains of the Carneddau.

Setting out, just above Llanfairfechan

On the slopes of Garreg Fawr ….

…. looking down to Llanfairfechan and the sea

We have filled in most of the gaps on the lower-lying northern fringe of the Carneddau, but there’s almost always something new to see, so Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’ of course) set out from Llanfairfechan towards the old Roman Road that once ran to Caernarfon from the fort of Canovium near Caerhun in the Conwy Valley.

Border Collie ‘Mist’ with the Carneddau behind

The author and ‘Mist’ on the rocky North Summit of Garreg Fawr

The lower farmland above Llanfairfechan was a regular pain in the arse!   We use the ‘Rights of Way’ on the low ground, but these are not always easy to follow, especially when a couple of ‘creative’ diversions have been added by farmers – at one point, the stile over a wall became more of a barrier than an aid, and even the dog looked perplexed as to how to get over.    It was a relief to get out onto open ground on Garreg Fawr.

Heading on towards the Roman Road ….

…. with mist lying on the northern slopes of the Carneddau

Foel Lwyd (centre) and Drosgl (right)

Heading away from the South Summit of Garreg Fawr

Garreg Fawr has two summits, the north one being small and rocky – sadly the southern summit was little more than a grassy mound, but at least we had the mountains of the Carneddau as a backdrop.    There was a bank of mist lying over the higher summits, but Foel Lwyd and Drosgl were easy to identify.

On the Roman Road

Foel Lwyd ahead

Looking west along the Roman Road

Before long we were on the line of the Roman Road – the Romans were not the first here though, and on earlier outings we have traced some of the Neolithic remains along this ancient byway.    Some of the burial chambers and standing stones are thought to be about 5000 years old, so the Roman Road is a modern intruder at a mere 2000 years old – the power lines are a much more recent intrusion.

Foel Lwyd above the Roman Road ….

…. but not for us today

At Bwlch y Ddeufaen (the ‘Pass of the Two Stones’) we found ourselves at the base of Foel Lwyd, which eventually leads on to Tal y Fan (see post #175) but we had other plans.   The route down the moor towards Llanfairfechan swapped mountain panoramas to sea views, but as we lost height we found ourselves back in farming country.    Note to self – consider ‘wellie boots’ next time we come out this way!

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#239 – The Spine Race 2018 – “roughing it” at Greg’sHut

Greg’s Hut – at 700 metres on the side of Cross Fell

The annual epic event following the 268 miles of the Pennine Way National Trail in winter has earned the Spine Race the tag line of ‘Britain’s most brutal’, and there won’t be many who would argue with that description.  Walking Britain’s hilly spine over three weeks is a big enough challenge for most, but the athletes on the Spine Race have just one week to finish the course.


Cross Fell in Cumbria is the highest point in the race, and is frequently the most inhospitable.  Perched at 700 metres on the flanks of Cross Fell, Greg’s Hut is a haven in a very hostile environment, a place where the athletes get a temporary respite from the wind and snow.

New addition to the team – Kevin having a cuddle with Border Collie ‘Mist’

Since the first edition of the race in 2012, John Bamber and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’) have made Greg’s Hut our home for three days in January.  Our Safety Team has always had a medic attached, and this year we were joined by Emergency Practitioner Kevin – we knew that we were all going to get on fine when Kevin offered to drive us all up to the hut in his Landrover.  It’s a long way to walk when there’s a total of fifteen rucksacks to shift!

The Burns Night supper ….

It soon became apparent that Kevin was much more than a medic or taxi driver – he had suggested holding an early Burns Night supper at Greg’s, with the traditional haggis, tatties and neeps (aka haggis, mashed potato and turnip) and sure enough that’s what he served.  The question has been asked, did we ‘toast’ the haggis with the vin de pays of Scotland (go figure it out!) – all we will say on the matter is ‘What happens at Greg’s Hut, stays at Greg’s Hut’.

…. followed by a Full English the next day!

Chef Kev in action

As if the Haggis supper (complete with recorded ceilidh music) hadn’t established Kevin’s reputation as one of the new legends of the winter edition of the Spine Race, the ‘Full English’ breakfast he cooked on the cast-iron hut stove confirmed it – Kev’s cooking certainly surpassed the dehydrated ration packs that we had been dining on.

‘Mist’ out for her daily walk

The author gets to use his snowshoes but wishes he had brought skis!

Just below the Cross Fell plateau

Very icy conditions before the big dump of snow

‘Mist’ running round in the snow like a puppy

All this good living could well have added a few inches to the waistline, but I always have the excuse of a dog walk for a little exercise.  The first trip out towards Cross Fell was very icy, where crampons would have been useful, but a huge dump of snow on the Wednesday left me wishing I had taken skis instead of snowshoes – ‘Mist’ loves the snow and charges round like a puppy, leaving me standing!

Time to go

“Taxi for Mr Bamber!”

All good things come to an end.  When the final racer is through the CP, and our duties are complete, we have been known to swap a story or three by that cast-iron stove, accompanied by a wee drop of ‘Scottish Thinking Water’ (well, it helps me think!).  Then comes the problem of how to get back to civilisation.  For the past two years, Spine ‘sherpas’ have been dispatched to carry down gear, but this year we were going down in style.

Alaister – a welcome sight for the Greg’s Hut team

The author admiring the packing!

Setting off for Garrigill ….

…. with the Border Collie in front as usual

Local gamekeeper Alaister is a kindred spirit with a climbing and skiing background.  He had visited us earlier in the week, and vowed that he would get us out, whatever the conditions.  True to his word, he turned up with a tracked vehicle that could carry all our kit, and (almost) all the Greg’s Hut team.  The cab looked as though it would have been a bit cosy with driver, three passengers and a dog, but ‘Mist’ needed a walk, so I was quick to volunteer to start walking down.

Things didn’t go altogether to plan

While I was having a great time snowshoeing down with ‘Mist’ (though still regretting not bringing along the skis!) the others had to dig the machine out of a snow-filled ditch on the way down – by the time Alaister came back to collect me and the dog, I had covered quite a bit of the return route, and I think I had the best of the deal.

The Spine Race – living up to the ‘Most Brutal’ tag line

Then the Spine Race 2018 was over for me, as I was heading straight back home to Wales, whilst John was heading for the finish line at Kirk Yetholme.  The race lived up to its ‘Most Brutal’ tag again in 2018, but the members of the Safety Team head back every year, just like the athletes, and the Greg’s Hut crew are already looking forward to next year’s fun, snow, haggis and tall-tales!

Looking forward to next year

Text and images © Paul Shorrock with extra material © John Bamber and Kevin Mason

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#238 – Back to the Pennine Way and the Spine Race

The Montane Spine Race – 268 miles of Pennine Way – In winter!

© John Bamber

One from the archives this week – I’m away on safety cover for the race and they won’t run a power lead out to Greg’s Hut, so here’s another airing of my favourite blog post on the Spine Race (Click to read).

© John Bamber

Back with the regular block in two weeks time – that’s if we aren’t snowed in!

© John Bamber


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