#286 – Morrone, Braemar and the Upper Dee Valley

The view from Morrone looking west towards Mar Lodge, with the Cairngorms beyond

(For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in, then use your browser return arrow to go back – go on, it really does work!)

Braemar and the Upper Dee Valley is one of my favourite locations in the North East of Scotland – if only one reason had to be given, it would be the availability of a couple of spots where it’s possible to park a campervan overnight without annoying (or being annoyed by)  anyone else (see post #258).

Braemar in the Upper Dee Valley

When we arrived, our favourite spots had already been grabbed by a couple of vans, but I had another likely location up my sleeve, tucked away on the edge of a wood – it was the only place on our six-week autumn trip of 2020 where we encountered the dreaded Scottish midge, and these were few in number and docile by standards.  All we needed now was somewhere interesting for a hike the next day.

The route, anti-clockwise from Braemar

The obvious contender was the isolated mountain of Morrone, standing 859 metres in altitude.    The map shows a path from Braemar up the northeast shoulder of the hill, with what appeared to be a vehicle track descending southwest from the summit.   The Scots Gaelic name Morrone translates as ‘Big Nose’, which given its shape and location was fair enough.

Viewpoint on the route out of Braemar, with a cloudy looking sky

Looking down to Braemar

Glen Quoich, where it joins the Dee Valley

Part of the aim of our extended Scottish trip was to get around to a few locations recommended for their photographic potential – although Morrone isn’t the kind of hill to raise excitement levels unduly, it was said to have great views of the nearby mountains of the Cairngorms.

The view of the Cairngorms from the slopes of Morrone © Alan Findlay

Most of the best photographers, the ones who make a living out of it, will plan a shoot well in advance, researching where the sun will be at different times in order to get the best image.    I’m more of an opportunist – I’ll research some promising looking views, but then travel hopefully.    Sometimes this comes together, other times the light is disappointing or the cloud base intrusive.

The view of the Cairngorms that we had

This might appear a bit slap-dash, but it makes you look for opportunities which might otherwise be missed  – it’s also more fun, a bit like going hunting for the sake of the chase.  On this trip, the nearby Cairngorms were obscured by poor light and low cloud, but fortunately I don’t need to sell an image to pay for dinner.    However, the trip was a good recce for the future, and I’ll probably be back sometime when the light is more promising.

‘Mist’ and the ‘Five Cairns’

Four of the Five Cairns

The view looking back to the Five Cairns

In the meantime, Border Collie ‘Mist’ was having a great time doing her own hunting – there must have been a multitude of interesting scents and smells, going by the way she was ranging.   Then, at around the 740-metre contour, we came across a mysterious looking line of five cairns.    An internet search later provided the solution to the mystery – it’s probably nothing more complicated or mysterious than a load of stones dumped to repair the path!

Near the summit, approaching the communications mast

The summit is much more interesting, though purists might not like the addition of a communications mast and associated outbuildings.  The first structure built here was a radio relay installed by the Braemar Mountain Rescue Association in memory of Brian Goring who died from hypothermia in the Cairngorms in April 1967.

View of the other side of the mast and outbuildings © Gordon Brown

The next addition was a small research station installed in the 1970s by the Institute of Environmental and Offshore Medicine at Aberdeen University, to research the treatment of hypothermia in the field.  This was followed by an automatic weather station, similar to the one on the summit of Cairngorm (see post #253).

Memorial plaque on the radio relay hut © Nigel Corby

All these are sufficient in my mind to justify the summit buildings, but if you still aren’t convinced, ask yourself this question – why do you think there is such a good 4G mobile phone signal in the surrounding area?   There can be little doubt that the combined Morrone installations will have saved lives over the past 50 years.

About to leave the summit, with the view southeast to Loch Callater

We didn’t linger long at the summit – there was a chill breeze, and one of the few sheltered nooks in the buildings was already occupied by a group taking a lunch break out of the wind.   There was just enough time and motivation to grab a quick shot of Loch Callater (see post #259) about 7 kms (4 miles) away to the southeast.

The track heading southwest from the summit

Looking back to the summit of Morrone from the track

The Landrover track that serves the summit installations allowed us to make rapid progress, losing height at the same time as generating warmth – I bet the researchers who worked on the hypothermia project on Morrone could have told us that, but I already had a good idea that might be the case.

Red deer on Braemar golf course

Lower down we joined a quiet minor road, constructed in 1748 as part of the network of military roads built after the rebellion of 1745 but now bypassed by the faster A93 road on the other side of Clunie Water.   From there it didn’t take us long to reach Braemar, passing through the golf course on the way.    The main party on the course was a group of young red-deer males – I’ll bet you they aren’t members!

I bet they aren’t members!

Text and images © Paul Shorrock, except the images tagged Alan Findlay, Gordon Brown and Nigel Corby, which are taken from the Geograph Project and are reproduced here under a Creative Commons Licence.

http://www.geograph.org.uk/

p.s. More from the North East in the next post.

Posted in 1. Scotland, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

#285 – Wheels and Water Spirits

The mountains of Assynt in the far Northwest of Scotland

(For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in, then use your browser return arrow to go back – go on, it really does work!)

2020 was a year to remember, but for all the wrong reasons!   The Covid-19 lockdown managed to coincide with the best spring weather conditions enjoyed in the UK for years, and it was frustrating to have to put a planned trip to the Scottish Highlands on the backburner.

The River Avon as seen from Tomintoul, with the Cairngorms in the distance

Travel restrictions were finally lifted in Wales in July, and plans were made to head north to Scotland.  The only factor to delay us was midge season!  Those who have never endured a full-on swarm of Scottish midgies can’t understand what a complete pain in the arse they are – suffice it to say that 20% of working days in the Scottish forestry industry are lost each year due to midge activity.

Glencoe – Gearr Aonach (left) and Aonach Dubh (right) with Stob Coire nan Lochan rising behind

The Scottish midge season is at its worst from the beginning of June to the middle of September, definitely a time to avoid the Highlands.   So we wouldn’t be going in July then!    On the other hand, delaying too long would bump into autumn, with the chance of the good weather going down the pan.   Then Chris had the idea of mooching up the East Coast of Scotland, seeing places we don’t normally see.

Coire na Ciste and the North Face of Ben Nevis on a murky day

The title of this blog (One Man’s Mountains – One Pillock’s Hillocks) is a bit of a clue as to where my main outdoor interests lie.   Still, we could set off for the (usually) midge-free East Coast and see some of the sights, before heading for the mountains when the midge season was over.    Which is exactly what we did, eventually taking a six-week trip where we visited all the places in the photos above and more besides (blog posts to follow).   But, before the mountains, we went to see a wheel and a couple of water spirits.

The Falkirk Wheel on a sunny day (© Sean McClean)

Not sunny on our visit! (Note the boat just below centre about to enter the Wheel)

The Falkirk Wheel is a rotating boat lift which has been described as “the largest piece of functional sculpture you will ever see”.    It was opened in 2002 as the ‘Millennium Link’, joining the Union Canal and the Forth and Clyde Canal for recreational boating.   The lift is 35 metres (115 ft) high and replaces what was previously a series of eleven locks in the 19th Century.

The Wheel in action, with the gondola lifting the canal boat to the upper level

Closer view of the boat in the lift

The wheel consists of two gondolas, each containing 300 tonnes of water, meaning that the wheel moves 600 tonnes on each lift, but as the gondolas balance each other, the wheel can raise or lower the boats using just 1.5 kWh of energy, no more than it would take to boil the water in eight domestic kettles.   After watching a couple of canal boats making the transfer, it was time to give Border Collie ‘Mist’ a run – near to the Wheel is one of the best-preserved sections of the Antonine Wall, built by the Romans nearly 2000 years ago, and the engineering feat of its time.

A view of strange horses, seen from the M9 Motorway (© J Thomas via the Geograph Project)

As seen from the M9 Motorway (© unknown)

It’s about a 20 km (12½ mile) walk from the Falkirk Wheel to the Kelpies, but we were driving there as we had discovered that overnight parking in campervans is permitted.  Our route took us through a mundane urban sprawl that could have been anywhere in the UK, but for drivers travelling on the M9 Motorway between Edinburgh and Stirling, the view of two strange horse-like beasts is anything but mundane.

The Kelpies by day, an amazing sight

The two Kelpies are each 300 tonnes of structural steel with a stainless-steel cladding, standing 30 metres high (almost 100 ft).  The horse head sculptures, inspired by Clydesdale drought horses, depict shape-shifting water spirits, described in Scottish folk tales and myths.    Knowing that beforehand still doesn’t quite prepare you for an amazing sight.

Kelpies in myth and legend

Kelpies in myth and legend

In Scottish folklore, Kelpies are spirits usually in the shape of a horse, who are said to haunt deep pools in rivers and streams.   We are not talking about ‘My Little Pony’ here though.    They have the strength of a hundred horses, and anyone foolish enough to try to ride one will find themselves unable to dismount – once trapped, the victim is dragged into the river and eaten!   They may also materialize as a beautiful woman, hoping to lure young men to their death.    There, you’ve been warned!

Even more impressive at night

The two sculptures stand as the gateway guardians to the Forth and Clyde Canal, and if they are impressive by day, they are doubly so at night when they are illuminated.    ‘Mist’ was especially impressed, as a night visit for photographs meant yet another dog walk – good enough reason for the Border Collie to like kelpies.

The Kelpies at night showing the canal basin, the gateway to the Forth and Clyde Canal

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except where indicated otherwise

p.s.  Yes, we did get amongst the mountains in the Highlands – drop into the next few posts for the stories

Posted in 1. Scotland, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

#284 – Cwm Eigiau in the Eastern Carneddau

Craig yr Ysfa in upper Cwm Eigiau

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2020 is going to go down as one of the strangest years ever – and that’s me being polite! April, May and early June were blessed with the best UK hill and mountain conditions for years, but due to the Covid-19 lockdown, the mountains were out of reach unless you actually lived within walking distance of them. Sure, we got to know our own local hills a bit better (see posts #275 and #276) but Snowdonia was out of reach despite being only 40 km (25 miles) away from home.

The Carneddau

The route in blue, anti-clockwise from the cap park (the red alternative to Foel Grach was abandoned)

As the end of 2020 came racing towards us, I realised that I hadn’t been on my favourite Welsh Mountains, the Carneddau, for almost two years. A favourable sounding weather forecast held the promise of a good day out, so Chris and me (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’) set our sights on Foel Grach, one of the easier mountains on the east side of the Carneddau range.

Looking towards lower Cwm Eigiau, near to the start point

First snow of the winter at about 600 metres on Cefn Tal Llyn Eigiau

A rare photo of the author!

Coming off Cefn Tal Llyn Eigiau to the Gledrffordd plateau ….

…. where the weather starts closing in

The road to the start point of the walk must be one of the narrowest in North Wales, a land with more than its fair share of narrow roads. The plan was to follow a route we have taken before (see post #134) following the broad Cefn Tal Llyn Eigiau ridge to a low plateau at Gledrffordd, then up to Foel Grach on the rough line of a Right of Way path shown on the map. We would then follow the RoW path down to Cwm Eigiau and return to the car by the old quarry track. Well, that was the plan.

The refuge on Foel Grach, seen on a visit in June 2013

The refuge isn’t obvious as it blends in with the rocks (June 2013)

Chris getting comfortable (June 2013)

Not big – but big enough to escape a storm (June 2013)

At an altitude of 977 metres (3205 ft), Foel Grach (translates as ‘bare, scabby hill’) is fairly unremarkable despite being the eighth highest mountain in Wales. The main highlight of the visit is a small but substantial stone shelter, where it’s possible to escape the wind and rain to enjoy dry sandwiches. That aside, the shelter has probably saved lives over the years, as the Carneddau Plateau is wild, open and exposed.

Difficult snow and iffy weather – it’s decision time!

It’s just a 10 km hike to complete the Gledrffordd /Cwm Eigiau circuit, leaving an option of an extra 3-4 kms diversion to and from Foel Grach. As we reached the 600-metre contour, it became obvious that Mr Snow had paid a visit – at first it was soft and slushy, followed by powdery, which slowed down progress more than a bit.

Taking the detour to the descent to Cwm Eigiau

The main problems came with the frozen sections – several metres of good, hard snow would help us pick up the pace a bit, but just as we came to trust the frozen crust, it would collapse. Time was slipping away, so it wasn’t a difficult decision to miss out Foel Grach, and to head straight to the descent to upper Cwm Eigiau.

The first view of the climbers’ crag of Craig yr Ysfa, hiding in the murk

Craig yr Ysfa in full view as we descended into the cwm

Closer view of Craig yr Ysfa

The navigation was a doddle, even with poor visibility. There are two ring contours at around 730 metres on the Gledrffordd plateau– a rough bearing of South West followed the faint snow-covered path, and the two ‘bumps’ indicated where we were. When we started to gain height for the third time, it was time to ‘hang a left’ and to follow the contour. The GPS came in useful towards the end, where the descending RoW path to Cwm Eigiau is vague at the best of times, but the sight of the climbers’ crag of Craig yr Ysfa, confirmed that we were on the right track.

The last bit of the descent to the remains of the old quarry in upper Cwm Eigiau

Looking back to Craig yr Ysfa, with the sun just about to go down

The descent to the remains of the old quarry buildings was as soggy as I have ever seen it, probably due to meltwater as much as rain. The sun was about to go down as we took the quarry track back to the car, but the light remained good all the way back – more’s the pity, as I like a night walk. More importantly, the rain held off, and I only felt the first drops as I took one last photo of the night creeping in – now, that’s good timing!

The walk out of the upper cwm – time to head for home

Night creeps in just as we get back to the car

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

Posted in 5. North Wales, Bothy days | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

#283 – Elidir Fawr revisited

Elidir Fawr standing above the small lake of Marchlyn Mawr (Olympus E-M10 with ultra-wide lens)

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It was near the end of August 2020, and we had planned for a long trip away to Scotland in the camper, with the hopes of getting in some mountain walking days. The problem was, neither Chris and I (or Border Collie ‘Mist’ for that matter) had been getting in any mountain hikes during the Covid-19 restrictions. I felt the need for a good solo yomp, and I had just the hill in mind – Elidir Fawr.

Snowdonia with the Glyderau central, the Carneddau (North) and Snowdon Range (South)

The last time I had been on the mountain had been, incredibly, a long eight years earlier (see post #90) when I had gone up from Nant Peris. The thing is, from that direction, Elidir Fawr is a bit of a one-trick pony, but there’s another approach from the Deiniolen side of the mountain – that would do nicely!

The Route, clockwise starting at Talywaen near Deiniolen

I also wanted to make it a photographic trip – I’m very much an Olympus fan, and my regular camera is the E-M5 Mk3, which is weatherproof. The day was looking to be fair though, and the trip wasn’t very long, so I decided to take along my non-weatherproof E-M10 as well, with an ultra-wide lens to save the trouble of constant lens swapping – to give an idea of the width possible, the first image in this post was taken using the E-M10 and the ultra-wide lens. (I’ll put some notes at the end of this post for the camera geeks amongst you)

The road up to Marchlyn Mawr, with Carnedd y Filiast standing above

The route starts with a walk up a road, and as ‘Mist’ and I walked up we were passed by several cyclists on what is a fairly steep climb! The road seems a bit out of place unless you have looked at the map for the area – it’s there to service the reservoir of Marchlyn Mawr. Unlike many Welsh reservoirs that provide water for distant towns (and not all of them in Wales) Marchlyn Mawr is part of a power station.

Carnedd y Filiast (right) with the unnamed top, aka Spot Height 721 metres

Dinorwig power station has become a tourist attraction in its own right, known to the world as ‘Electric Mountain’. Cheap off-peak electricity is used to pump water from Llyn Peris in the valley up to Marchlyn Mawr. When there’s a sudden surge of demand for electricity (tea breaks during important televised football matches are typical) the water can be released to provide almost instant power.

The start of the height gain up to Spot Height 721

Before too long I had left the hardy cyclists behind on the service road and set off up the slopes of an unnamed summit at a height of 721 metres. Although totally unremarkable in many ways, the altitude of 721 metres is above the arbitrary 2000 ft (610 metres) that in the UK designate a hill as being a mountain – poor old 721 might not have a name, but it is the most northerly mountain in the Glyderau Range.

The view across to Elidir Fawr ….

…. and the mountains of the Carneddau on the other side

The northern slope of Carnedd y Filiast seen from Spot Height 721

From Spot Height 721 I had a great view across to my main objective, Elidir Fawr, and in the other direction I had a panorama of the Carneddau Mountains (you really will have to left-click the image to see it properly 😊). Ahead was a bit of a steeper section up to the summit of Carnedd y Filiast (Cairn of the Greyhound Bitch) at 821 metres altitude.

Looking back to Spot Height 721 from the boulder field of Carnedd y Filiast

The Glyderau – Foel Goch and Y Garn nearest, Tryfan and Glyder Fach and Fawr further away

The mountains of the Carneddau still looking very tempting – but not on the menu for today!

Carnedd y Filiast provided even more extensive views. Behind me was Spot Height 721 and a group of young hikers who became my ‘stalkers’ for the next part of the trip – I never succeeded in leaving them behind but they never seemed to get any closer to overtaking me. In the other direction, the Glyderau stretched out in front of me with the Carneddau still present on my left.

Looking back to Carnedd y Filiast, my ‘stalkers’ still following

Looking ahead – Foel Goch and Y Garn ….

…. but I’m heading to Elidir Fawr and Marchlyn Mawr ….

…. so it’s a right turn down to Bwlch y Marchlyn

From Carnedd y Filiast I carried on to the less interesting Mynydd Perfedd (812 metres). Straight ahead was the escarpment of Foel Goch and Y Garn, which manages to look interesting from wherever you look at it, even from the valley bottom at Ogwen. I wasn’t going that way today though – it was time to take a right turn towards Big Elidir.

Approaching the final ridge to Elidir Fawr

The start of the final ascent

Looking back down to Bwlch y Marchlyn ….

20

….and a final view of Foel Goch and Y Garn (Olympus E-M10 with ultra-wide lens)

Between me and Elidir was the pass of Bwlch y Marchlyn, which involved a height loss of over 60 metres before a height gain of 175 metres to reach the summit of Elidir Fawr (924 metres). The final ascent looks as interesting as that Foel Goch/Y Garn edge, with what looks like a narrow ridge, but close up it’s just a long plod upwards – still, it gave the opportunity for more photos on the way, with the E-M10 and ultra-wide lens coming into use again.

Group ahead of me at the summit of Elidir Fawr

View down to Marchlyn Mawr reservoir (Olympus E-M10 with ultra-wide lens)

On the way to the summit there were views down to the Marchlyn reservoir, but the main focus was on the long ridge ahead. Then all of a sudden I was there, on the high point of the route. From there it was a steady descent to the waiting car and an equally steady drive back home …. and dinner time for the waiting Collie.

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

p.s. Ah, the photographic gear – for those who are interested.

Olympus cameras and lenses use a system called ‘Micro Four Thirds’ or M43 for short. By using smaller sensors in the camera, Olympus (and Panasonic) produce gear that is lighter and smaller, with a slight payoff of less resolution, which is no problem at all for most hobby photographers or for quite a few professionals who don’t want to carry a ton of gear all day. The bottom line is – unless you want to print an image the size of a dinner table, you probably wouldn’t notice the difference

If you are familiar with the conventional 35mm sizing of film cameras and full frame digital cameras, the focal length of the M43 lenses seems to reads strangely – you get the same view in the viewfinder, but the focal length is halved, so a 40mm M43 lens sees the same view as an 80mm full-frame lens.

I mostly use a 12-40mm ‘Pro’ lens on the E-M5 camera. Both are weatherproof and rugged, and the setup gives me the focal range of a full-frame 24-80mm lens – versatile and great for landscapes. On the non-weatherproof E-M10, I used an ultra-wide 9-18mm lens on this trip (also non-weatherproofed) giving me a focal range of 18-36mm – now, that’s wide!

p.p.s. I mentioned the trip to Scotland at the beginning of the post – I came back with loads of photos, some of which I’m still sorting out – they will be featured over the next couple of months or more.

Posted in 5. North Wales | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

#282 – Grindsbrook Clough, Edale

Heading up Grindsbrook Clough near Edale

(For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in, then use your browser return arrow to go back – go on, it really does work!)

 In August 2020 we were looking for somewhere suitable to head for in the camper van – regular readers will know that Chris and I (plus the ever-present Border Collie ‘Mist’) try to avoid campsites, not because we are too tight to pay but because we want to escape from crowds, not join them.    Sadly, the actions of some going ‘wild camping’ during the Covid-19 lockdown, had brought criticism from local communities, and no wonder!    So, we thought we might be pushing our luck a bit to go off-grid and opted instead for one of the campsites at Edale in the Peak District.

The area around Edale

Newfold Farm, previously known as Coopers Camping, was the choice.   Now, it has to be said that before he retired, Mr Cooper was one in a million, but for all the wrong reasons!  For someone making a living in the hospitality sector, Mr Cooper had a manner that was, at best, eccentric and at worst positively rude!    The thing is, the campsite is in a great location, with the hills of Edale Edge starting as soon as you walk out of the village.

The route – clockwise from Edale village

The start (and finish!) – The Old Nags Head

So we took a chance, and found the new campsite owners to be friendly and welcoming.  The two village pubs were both adopting to Covid rules and there was a cracking walking route out of the village, heading up Grindsbrook Clough – in short, we had all the ingredients for a good couple of days.  What’s not to like!

Heading out from the village on the original Pennine Way trail

Paved path to start with ….

…. and an interesting footbridge

The Pennine Way, opened in April 1965, was the first National Trail in the UK – 268 miles in length, it takes most hikers 2½ to 3 weeks to complete.    The Trail starts in Edale, at the Old Nags Head pub, and finishes in the Scottish border town of Kirk Yetholm.    The route originally headed out of the village by Grindsbrook Clough but had to be changed due to excessive erosion –  now, with less hiking traffic, the worst of the erosion is healed, so we stepped back in time to walk the old start of the Pennine Way.

Heading into Grindsbrook Clough ….

…. with quite a lot of water in the brook below

Looking back down towards Edale ….

…. before the clough starts to narrow

It soon became obvious that there had been some recent rain hereabouts!  The view from the path down to Grinds Brook showed the stream to be full and muddy brown in colour, but initially the valley is wide with the water far below the path.    However, as the valley starts to narrow, the path and stream get closer to each other, finally becoming good buddies.

Still lots of water

The view down the clough, shortly before the stream crossing

The crossing point ….

…. and a place to wring out socks after crossing!

Looking at the map, it was obvious that a stream crossing would be called for eventually, and so it came to pass.    The crossing point was reasonably narrow, but Chris didn’t fancy boulder hopping, with the chance of a tumble – the easiest option was to do as walkers in Scotland often have to do, and to wade.  The water was warm(ish) and only knee-deep, and once socks had been wrung out we were ready to carry on up Grindsbrook Clough.

Beyond the stream crossing, heading for the upper part of the clough

Looking back down Grindsbrook Clough, just after the Y-fork

Border Collie ‘Mist’ nearly at the top

Wind eroded stone – looking towards Grindslow Knoll

Beyond the crossing, the clough narrows even more – just before the top, where the route joins the plateau of Edale Moor and Kinder Scout, the valley splits at a Y-fork.   We took the left fork, which I found out later is probably less interesting as an ascent, but this way you suddenly appear at the plateau by a strangely shaped wind-eroded stone.    It was also a good place to stop for lunch and a brew.

The view east to Edale Edge

More eroded stones ….

…. with Grindslow Knoll in the distance

There were several options on where to go next, but on this occasion we opted for a wander by more eroded stones, before heading over towards Grindslow Knoll.   From there, we set our course to the Edale valley, with a final descent down to the current Pennine Way route – as a treat for my birthday we were off for a Covid compliant fish and chips at the Nags Head, but ‘Mist’ was just as happy with the usual meat and kibble.

The path to Grindslow Knoll

The Edale valley ahead ….

…. with the final descent – time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

Posted in 4. Northern England | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

#281 – Bryn Cader Faner

Bryn Cader Faner, otherwise ‘The Hill with the Chair with the Flag’

(For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in, then use your browser return arrow to go back – go on, it really does work!)

The Northern Rhinog mountains

The route to Bryn Cader Faner

Setting out – Moel Ysgyfarnogod on the skyline

A week after our trip to Rhinog Fach and Llyn Hywel (see post #280) Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’ of course) were back in the Rhinogs again, this time at the northern end of the range.   Our last visit had been in April 2017 for a walk up Moel Ysgyfarnogod (see post #221).   On that trip, we had thought of visiting the ancient stone circle of Bryn Cader Faner on the way back, but postponed that due to lack of time and a boggy marsh barring the way – time to put that right.

Small tumulus (burial cairn) on the route in

Border Collie ‘Mist’ with yet another tumulus ….

…. with a small stone circle nearby

‘Mist’ next to the stone circle, showing the size of the stones

The route out to the stone circle is over moorland rather than mountain, but it’s mostly around the 400-metre contour and a bad weather day wouldn’t be a whole lot of fun – thankfully, we had sun with just a gentle breeze.   Bryn Cader Faner (‘The Hill with the Chair with the Flag’) is over 4000 years old and we passed several ancient cairns along our route that possibly dated back to the same era – this area must have been very special to the people of the Bronze Age.

‘Mist’ checking out the locals, with a disused sheepfold just beyond

Getting nearer – Bryn Cader Faner is the small ridge in the centre of the image

Interesting looking dish-shaped stone on the route in ….

…. and yet another sheepfold

The climate in the Bronze Age was milder than nowadays, and it’s likely that it would have been habitable to humans.   Today the weather is much cooler with the main residents being sheep, and any stone structures still standing are likely to be old sheepfolds – we passed several on the route in, along with an interesting looking dish-shaped stone, but the main interest was the stone circle ahead.

Closer to the circle ….

…. with the stones just becoming visible

The track approaching the circle from the south ….

…. and finally a good view of the stone circle itself

Bryn Cader Faner

It is believed that the centre of the circle was a burial cairn, which measures  8 metres (27 feet) across and is 1 metre (3 feet) high.   Around the outside of the cairn there were previously up to 30 slender stone slabs, about 2 metres (6 feet) high, leaning outwards like spears, though there are now only 15 remaining.

Archaeologist Aubrey Burl, who until his death in April 2020 was regarded as the foremost authority on British stone circles, described Bryn Cader Faner as ‘one of the wonders of prehistoric Wales’.    Unfortunately, not everyone has shown the same reverence and respect over the centuries, with probably the worst act of vandalism being committed during WW2, when the army used the stones for target practice!

Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) in the distance, about 20 kms to the north

We spent some time at the circle, including time for a lunch break and a brew of coffee.  The stones were the star of the show, but 20 kms to the north of us we also had a great view of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) standing 1085 metres high (3560 feet) with a cap of cloud around the summit.

The route back, with the soggy bit coming up!

The north side of Llyn Eiddew Bach

The south side of the lake

Then it was time to head back, crossing the marshy ground that leads to the small lake of Llyn Eiddew Bach (‘Small Ivy Lake’).  As we arrived back at the car, there was a great view across the estuary of the Afon Dwyryd (‘Two Fords River’) to the village of Portmeirion – it’s famous as a tourist attraction in its own right, but some may remember it as the setting for the cult 1967 television series, The Prisoner.  All of which was of no interest to ‘Mist’ as dinner time had already come and gone.

Portmeirion , about 5 kms away on the estuary of the Afon Dwyryd .…

….with a closer view of the famous village

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#280 – Rhinog Fach and Llyn Hywel

Llyn Hywel with Rhinog Fach standing above

(For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in, then use your browser return arrow to go back – go on, it really does work!)

The Rhinogydd and surrounding mountains

Our first period of Covid-19 lockdown had finished at the beginning of July, and Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’) hadn’t wasted any time getting back to the Welsh mountains (see post #277).   We even grabbed a trip to the Lake District (see post #279) but it was now time to do some more exploring back home in Wales – where better for a day out than the Rhinogydd (the Rhinog mountains).

Closer view of the route, clockwise from Nantcol

The Rhinogydd is an area avoided by the masses – you won’t find a queue to get to any summits here, as happened recently on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), nor will you find piles of litter, abandoned tents and discarded portable BBQs.   The reason is simple – these are rough, gnarly hills that won’t tolerate being mucked about with!   It is possible though, to have a great day out without any undue distress, you just have to pick your ground.

The view of Rhinog Fach starting out from Nantcol

The last time I was here was unbelievably as long ago as 2012 (see post #96) when I’d had a great day out with ‘Mist’ on the best that the Rhinogydd has to offer, which included just about all the high ground starting at Rhinog Fawr then heading south.    I didn’t think Chris would appreciate a long, rough day after our Covid-enforced break from the higher hills, but I had a route up my sleeve that would take us into the heart of the action – the lonely lake of Llyn Hywel.

Heading up towards Bwlch Drws Ardudwy ….

…. with Border Collie ‘Mist’ out in front as usual

The great thing about walking out to a lake is that you get the feel of the area without necessarily having to commit to a big mountain day, though ‘Mist’ looked ready for anything as usual.    We started out from the farm at Nantcol, where the farmer charges a reasonable (in my view anyway) £2 to park up for the day – good value compared with the £10 for the car park at Pen y Pass at the start of the most popular routes up Snowdon.  And that’s if you can find a space!

Looking back at the progress made

Approaching the bwlch

From Nantcol,  a steady path leads up to Bwlch Drws Ardudwy  (in Wales, a bwlch is a mountain pass)  between Rhinog Fach (the Small Rhinog) and its slightly higher neighbour, Rhinog Fawr.   The path isn’t used a great deal and is totally unlike the manicured trails found in the tourist areas.   It’s a route that gives plenty of time for looking around, without the danger of falling off anything or being hit by a carelessly lobbed bottle.    It’s wild, but in a sort of easy-going way.

Passing the small lake of Llyn Cwmhosan ….

…. then the ascent starts for real!

Well, that’s ‘easy-going’ until it’s time to start heading upwards – this might not have been a route up a mountain, but it was certainly a route in the mountains.   The path obviously doesn’t get a load of use, and it soon disappeared in steep heather and boulders.   It would have been easier to find the path in descent, looking down on it, but going up it was easy to lose the route by straying no more than a couple of metres.   It was hard work all round, especially for ‘Mist’ who couldn’t get a run-up at the boulders and rock steps, and it was with some relief that we emerged a couple of hundred metres short of the lake. 

Out of the rough stuff at last!

It was there we saw the only other humans we saw all day – we had a pleasant chat with the guy and his female companion, talking about photography amongst other things.   He mentioned that he had videos on YouTube, and I thought his name sounded familiar, and so it should have done!   Nick Livesey is a well-respected professional photographer (and thoroughly nice guy) – his book ‘Photographing the Snowdonia Mountains’ is a great inspiration to those of us who try to capture images of the mountains, but is also a great read for lovers of mountain photos.   Get it on your Christmas present list!

Llyn Hywel and Rhinog Fach

Passing Llyn Perfeddau on the way back

The view out to the coast

Llyn Hywel is a beautiful, quiet spot, and we lingered for a brew and a bite to eat.   From there, an easy and gradual descent across open hillside and tracks took us back to the valley at Pont Cerrig.   A short walk up the quiet road led us back up to Nantcol and the car, with a great view on the way of Rhinog Fach and Rhinog Fawr, with Bwlch Drws Ardudwy in between.   The only view ‘Mist’ was interested in was the contents of her dinner dish back home!

Rhinog Fach (left) and Rhinog Fawr, with Bwlch Drws Ardudwy in between

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

p.s.   The last post previous to this one was at the end of August, but with good reason – we took advantage of a temporary improvement in the Covid situation to get away in the camper, with a six-week trip to Scotland.   We probably would have returned a bit earlier until we got the news that if we headed home to Wales, we would be locked down locally in Denbighshire, so we stayed on the road instead!    Now, as I write this, all of Wales is locked down again for two weeks, but that should give me a chance to sort out about 1000+ photos!

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#279 – Walla Crag, (nearly but not quite) Bleaberry Fell and Derwent Water

Bleaberry Fell, with the summit shrouded in mist

(For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in, then use your browser return arrow to go back – go on, it really does work!)

Spring 2020 in the UK will be remembered by many for the unusually warm and dry days of April, May and June.   It will also be remembered for the Covid-19 lockdown, and during those fine weather months, we were confined to hiking on our own patch (see posts #275 and #276).   I shouldn’t complain – there are folk who would drive for miles to get to the northern end of the Clwydian Hills, but when the restrictions were lifted it was good to branch out a bit further to Cwm Idwal (see post #277).

Derwent Water and the route

The route in blue, with the abandoned section in red

It was mid-July before we ventured out of Wales for a short stay in the Northern Lake District.   Our first day out to Castlerigg Stone Circle (see post #278) had been mizzly and damp, but Day 2 was forecast to be better.    Sure enough, the rain stopped but the cloud base was still low, and the planned trip over Bleaberry Fell and High Seat looked like being nothing more than good navigation practice in the mist.  Ever optimistic, Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’ of course) decided to give it a go.

Border Collie ‘Mist’ sets off, leading the way as usual

On Bleaberry Fell, the ‘other mist’ comes down even lower

Approaching Walla Crag ….

…. with the view down to Keswick, Derwent Water and Bassenthwaite Lake ….

…. while on Bleaberry Fell, the mist might just be lifting

‘Mist’ (the dog that is) is a welcome addition to any hike, but me missus does like to see where we are going, and the ‘other mist’ rolled in and out as we set out from Castlerigg.   By the time we reached the top of Walla Crag it looked as though things might clear up a bit, and there were views over Derwent Water and the surrounding country, though there was still a big grey cap over the hills around Borrowdale.

The view from Walla Crag

Heading south from Walla Crag ….

…. with constantly changing views across Derwent Water

Looking towards ‘The Jaws of Borrowdale’ in the distance ….

…. and the view to Cat Bells and Maiden Moor across the lake

So, a compromise was reached – we would take the lower track to Ashness Bridge and see how things looked when we arrived there.    I like to head for the summits as a rule, and it’s easy to forget that there are some cracking views on lower ground, so we enjoyed the constantly changing views over the lake and Borrowdale as we dropped down to Ashness for a lunch break.   The tops were still murky and misty, and before long we hit on an alternative plan.

The Bob Graham memorial cairn ….

…. and the plaque

One of the objects of the trip had been to find the cairn built to commemorate Bob Graham.   This was harder than expected due to the size of the cairn (small) and the height of the surrounding grass (high) – persistence paid off, and after some searching, we located the memorial.   In June 1932, Bob Graham completed a circuit of 42 Lakeland fells in 24 hrs,  covering 66 miles (106 km) with a height gain of 26,900 feet (8,200 m) – the most remarkable thing about this achievement was that it would be 28 years before anyone repeated it!

The Bob Graham Round © ‘Thincat’ (Reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence)

In my 30’s and 40’s I acted as pacer/navigator on several Bob Graham rounds done by other runners (my usual patch was the stretch from Dunmail to Threlkeld over Fairfield, Helvellyn and the Dodds)  but to my regret, I never got round to attempting the whole thing myself.   It’s a tough test, but one that continues to attract mountaineers and club runners, and by the end of 2019 there had been more than 2300 successful rounds in summer conditions.

Barrow House, now an independent hostel but previously a guest house run by Bob Graham

We celebrated Bob Graham’s achievement with a brew of coffee before finally admitting that the high-level route was going to be a boring wander in the clouds.   Then inspiration struck – in all the years I’ve been walking and rock climbing in Borrowdale, I had never walked along the lakeside path by Derwent Water.   So, we headed down through the woods passing Barrow House, which Bob Graham had run as a guest house from 1943 to 1961.

Boat jetty on Derwent Water

The view back to Walla Crag from the lakeshore

St Herbert’s Island with Cat Bells ridge beyond

‘Mist finds a new friend

Down by the lakeshore, the views were familiar but different, giving a different angle to the usual panorama from higher up.   One of the highlights was the view back to Walla Crag, emphasising the vertical distance down to the valley from the summit rocks, where we had earlier watched hikers wandering around, totally oblivious to the drop below.   The main highlight for ‘Mist’ was meeting up with a young male Collie, who could almost have been a twin.

On the way up to Castle Head

The view south into Borrowdale from Castle Head

On the way back to Castlerigg, we headed for the top of Castle Head, a mere 161 metres in altitude, but with a surprising view into Borrowdale – over the years, I must have driven past there several hundred times without ever setting foot on the hill!    Then it was back to the Crag Bar at the Heights Hotel, where the landlord usually has music from the 1970’s playing (Tubular Bells on our visit) – a nice, cold cider was our extra reward on top of what had already been a rewarding day.

Our reward!

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except for the map of the Bob Graham Round, which is reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence

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#278 – Castlerigg Stone Circle (and other things!)

Castlerigg Stone Circle – on a fine weather day! © Unknown

July 2020, and the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions were finally lifted in Wales (see post #277). Our neighbours over the border had been travelling to mountain areas in England for a couple of weeks now and it was time to join them. Sadly, the actions of a selfish minority were hitting the headlines, and for all the wrong reasons, with wild locations and beauty spots being ‘trashed’ by so-called ‘wild campers’.

Rubbish abandoned by so-called ‘wild campers’ in the Lake District © Unknown

Wild camping is not legal as such in England and Wales (different laws apply in Scotland) but has been tolerated for decades where campers have behaved responsibly. Years of goodwill were ‘trashed’ in a couple of weeks, along with abandoned tents, chairs, clothing, food and other less-pleasant waste. Several weeks on, this behaviour is now more correctly being called ‘fly camping’ to associate it with anti-social fly-tipping.

Abandoned tents and other rubbish, left in the Lake District © United Utilities

Unfortunately, campervans have for some unknown reason been included in the generic ‘fly camping’ references. For years Chris and I have used our camper to visit quiet, wild places – we have enjoyed these places responsibly, leaving nothing more than the faint marks of our tyres, and often carrying out rubbish left by others. It was far too sensitive an issue to risk parking the van in a wild location for now, due to the risk of heavy-handed official enforcement or local vigilante action. We were going to have to use a campsite.

Campsite © Andrew Jervis and the Geograph Project

Some believe that campervan users who avoid campsites are too tight to pay campsite fees – for us, that’s not the case, and I would happily pay a local farmer to park up for the night in a quiet corner with a good view. I don’t like campsites because they have rows of vans and tents, like a small housing estate – not my idea of having a good time. Our problem was that camping was suddenly on everyone’s wish list of ‘things to do’ in the summer of 2020, and vacant places were not easy to find. In the end, we found a place near Keswick, not ideal but not as bad as some. As a bonus, it was near Castlerigg Stone Circle.

Castlerigg Stone Circle, near Keswick

The day dawned in a grey, mizzly way, not at all uncommon in Cumbria – those complaining about the rain need to stop a moment to consider why the area is known as the Lake District! Still, there is a saying that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing, so we set off with Border collie ‘Mist’ to Castlerigg Circle, all of us wearing our waterproofs, including the dog.

Near to Castlerigg Stone Circle, Chris meets one of the locals ….

…. and ‘Mist’ finds a very strange looking sheep

For those who are reading this and thinking that Collies are born with a perfectly good waterproof coat, that’s completely correct. In fact, they have two coats, a thick outer coat of coarse hair to keep out the worst of the weather, and a softer inner coat to insulate – the problem is, once ‘Mist’ is wet through, she stays that way for the rest of the day. Not a problem for the dog, but not very convenient in the confines of a camper. Our solution is a natty looking dog jacket that keeps off the worst of the weather. So, with the party suitably togged, we set out to step back in history.

Castlerigg Stone Circle was created about 4500 years ago in the Neolithic period (New Stone Age) and was built by Neolithic farmers. It is believed that they would have moved their settlements on a seasonal basis, spending winter in the low fertile lands and moving to the upland grazing in summer, a pattern followed in other farming communities throughout the world even today. However, they must have been highly successful farmers to have the spare capacity and resources to build monuments such as Castlerigg.

Why they built circles such as Castlerigg is a mystery and will probably remain so. There are more than 300 stone circles in Britain, most of them being later Bronze Age burial monuments, about 3000-4000 years old. These later Bronze Age circles often contain the remains of human cremations, but their earlier Neolithic predecessors in Cumbria such as Castlerigg, Long Meg and her Daughters and Swinside circles do not contain formal burials.

One suggestion is that the early circles were used for astronomical predictions. It has been plotted that at the autumn equinox, the sunrise at Castlerigg appears over the top of Threlkeld Knott, 3½ kms to the east. Some of the stones are aligned with the midwinter sunrise and others with positions of the moon. This again suggests a sophisticated community who had the time and vision to concern themselves with matters beyond mere subsistence farming.

Other research has connected Castlerigg with the important stone axe industry that thrived in nearby Langdale and was one of the earliest examples of organised industry. Stone axes started out as basic tools, but by the Neolithic period they were often made to be decorative and ceremonial objects. There was an important trade in these later ornamental items and Langdale axes have been found throughout Britain and Ireland and even as far as Continental Europe, and it is possible that Castlerigg was a meeting place where the axes were traded.

The trading of axes could also have been linked with early religious practices and Castlerigg was undoubtedly an important meeting place for the Neolithic farmers in their seasonal movements. So, take your pick – religious centre, trading post, community meeting place, astronomical calendar, Castlerigg Stone Circle could have been all of these and perhaps more. Even today it still draws visitors like a magnet.

By the 19th Century, the circle was so popular with visitors that action had to be taken to stop tourists chipping pieces off the stones to take away as souvenirs – perhaps anti-social behaviour by visitors is not such a recent problem! The site was taken into guardianship in 1883 and was one of the first ancient monuments to be given legal protection by being scheduled as such. Todays visitors seem happy enough to take just photographs away with them

The mizzly rain finished as we arrived at the Circle, but that was as good as it was going to get. Overcast and cloudy skies don’t always produce good photographs and the drama of a full-blown storm might have given better pics. I started by trying to get shots without people in them before the penny dropped – this was a place where our ancestors came to meet, and people would have been part of the scenery. What could be more natural than adding modern-day visitors to this timeless site?

Always impressive – but best seen in fine weather! © Unknown

Most of the images in this post are mine, with a little polishing to make them more presentable, but let’s face it, the star of the show is the Circle itself and has been for the past 4500 years.

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except where otherwise indicated.

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#277 – Cwm Idwal and the end of Lockdown – “Rhyddid!” (Freedom!)

The entrance to Cwm Idwal, just off the Ogwen Valley

(For the best viewing experience, left click the images and maps to zoom in, then use your browser return arrow to go back)

Cwm Idwal

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!

The Afon Idwal stream, with Cwm Idwal beyond

The Afon Idwal bridge

Cwm Idwal, with Idwal slabs on the left

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.

Idwal Slabs, a popular rock-climbing venue (note the tiny figure on the small island)

Zoom view of the small island

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

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.

Approaching Idwal slabs, popular rock-climbing area ….

…. which looks a bit different in winter

The cleft of Twll Du (the Devil’s Kitchen) in the centre

Closer view of Twll Du

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.

Nearly at The Slabs ….

….with a couple of rock-climbing parties enjoying the end of lockdown (centre of the photo)

The first climbers on Idwal Slabs for several months

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.

The upper path to Twll Du indicated by the arrow

Closer view with the arrow showing the location of the stream crossing

The approach to the stream …. © N Chadwick – Geograph

…. before the bridge was built  © Roger Cornfoot – Geograph

The new bridge crossing point © Mal Davies – Flickr

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!

The new bridge, seen from the cwm using a zoom lens (240 mm equivalent)

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.

Border Collie ‘Mist’ enjoys a swim in Llyn Idwal

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.

Then it’s time to head for home

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.

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