#302 – The Isle of Raasay – small hills and big eagles!

Heading towards Dùn Caan, highest point on the Isle of Raasay at 443 metres (1,453 feet)

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

White tailed eagle (sea eagle) flying over Raasay

May 2021, and our meandering Scottish trip took us from Arrochar to Skye.  This hadn’t been part of the original plan, but a bad-weather day was forecast, so my view was that if the weather was going to be rubbish, we might as well spend the day travelling to somewhere nice.  As it happened, the worst of the storm was overnight, with one VW camper at Glenbrittle campsite losing its ‘pop-top’ roof!  The next day blew fair, and on a sudden whim I suggested a short diversion to Raasay.

Skye and the Hebrides – Raasay indicated by the red arrow
The short ferry crossing from Sconser on Skye to Raasay (red dashes)
The old ferry terminal at Sconser, as work started on the upgraded facility in 2012 (© John Allan)

My first trip to Skye was in the 1970’s and I had been back many times since.  By the time the main road reaches Sconser, the Cuillin Mountains are starting to look more interesting by the minute, and I had never given a thought to turn off to check out what used to be a fairly ramshackle looking ferry pier.  I didn’t even have a clue where the ferry sailed to, or how often it sailed.

Entrance to the new terminal (© Richard Dorrell)
The Raasay ferry, ‘MV Hallaig’ (© M J Richardson)

If I had checked the map back in those days, I would have seen that the opposite side of the sea loch was, in fact, an island – the Isle of Raasay.  A major upgrade to the ferry slipway in 2012-13 resulted in a modern, tidy looking terminal, with 25-minute crossings almost every hour – Raasay was starting to look more interesting as a destination.

Raasay, seen from the stony beach at Sconser ….
…. with a closer view of the 443 metre Dùn Caan
The ferry, ‘Hallaig’, returning to Sconser, seen from our overnight stop-over
Fine afternoon on Raasay, looking back to the Cuillin Mountains on Skye

The biggest attraction for Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’ of course) was a wee hill no more than 443 metres (1,453 feet) in altitude.  They say that size isn’t everything, and we were almost certain to get the hill all to ourselves.  With a fine afternoon in hand, we found a place to park up for the night, before treating ‘Mist’ to her second walk of the day.  Before long, we realised that we were not alone.

White tailed eagle (sea eagle) being ‘mobbed’ by smaller raptors (or ravens)
White tailed eagle

Above us, a small drama was being played out.  The white tailed eagle is the largest bird native to the UK, but once again size isn’t everything, and above us two smaller raptors (or ravens possibly?) were harassing and mobbing an apparently unconcerned white tail.   Minutes later, it was time for the eagle to check out what two humans and a dog were up to in his domain, and at one point it was about 25 metres away, the closest I have ever been to a wild eagle.  The signs were that a trip to Raasay had been a good idea.

The next morning – not as fine a day as the previous afternoon
The route to Dùn Caan – anti-clockwise from the start point (blue flag)
1Closer view of the route

Raasay isn’t what you would call a mountainous island, but the small peak of Dùn Caan was an obvious attraction that was worth a visit.  The morning wasn’t quite as fair as the previous afternoon had been, but sometimes a cloudy day can be more interesting than wall-to-wall sunshine – perhaps just as well, because there wasn’t to be much sun on this outing.

On the way out, looking back towards Skye ….
…. with the clouds coming down over the Cuillins
First sighting of Dùn Caan
Loch na Mna with Dùn Caan rising above and Border Collie ‘Mist’ waiting patiently
The final steep bit of the path to the summit
Looking back down the ascent path
Skye panorama from Dùn Caan

The walk out to Dùn Caan was over moorland that was not hugely interesting in itself, but the views out to Skye more than made up for that.  In fact, it was the views from Raasay towards the Cuillins of Skye on one side and the mainland on the other, that made the hike all the more interesting.  Having said that, Dùn Caan was also an interesting looking hill, both from a distance and in close up.

Chris on the summit
Panorama of the mainland, looking towards Applecross and beyond
Rare photo of the author, checking out the summit of Dùn Caan with the Cuillins behind

The summit was a good place for a sandwich and a brew of coffee, once the photographic duties were complete, with more great views out to Applecross and beyond.   With a cool breeze kicking in, and the looming clouds suggesting a chance of rain, we didn’t linger on the top.  The return route was longer, but we made good speed on the narrow road back, and over a distance of 4 kms we saw just two cars – I don’t think they ‘do’ rush-hour on Raasay.

A final view of Dùn Caan, all 443 metres of it ….
…. then it’s time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except were indicated otherwise, which are taken from the Geograph Project and are reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence.

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#301 – Ben Arthur (The Cobbler)

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

In April 2021, the governments of England, Scotland and Wales were finally united in relaxing Covid-19 regulations to allow cross-border travel between the nations – about time too, as we wanted to travel in Scotland and would have to cross out of Wales to pass through England to get there!  First on our list of places to visit was Bute and the Argyll Coast, an area not really noted for its mountains. 

Loch Lomond and The Cobbler (indicated by the red flag)

This was probably our least planned trip to date, with decisions on destinations being made whilst still travelling.  A water-service stop for the campervan found us near to Arrochar, a place I had only driven through in the past (also a place that does have a mountain or two!).   Scottish Forestry had opened up a couple of venues nearby for overnighting in campers, one of them just round the corner from Ben Arthur, a mountain we had never visited.  So, that was the next day’s fun sorted.

The route (there and back) from Succoth near Arrochar

Ben Arthur (Beinn Artair in gaelic) is much better known as ‘The Cobbler’, so called because the summit rocks are supposed to look like a cobbler bending over his last.  At 884 metres (2900 ft), The Cobbler misses out on achieving the status of being a ‘Munro’ by just 30 metres (100 ft), but the unusual summit features and easy access make it one of the most popular mountains in Scotland – that would do nicely, thank you.

Setting out after leaving the forest behind
‘The Cobbler’ comes into view
The view across Loch Lomond to Ben Lomond

The day started cloudy, with the possibility of rain always there – mind you, that means nothing in Scotland, where you can easily experience all four seasons in one day.   The trick is to ‘travel hopefully’ and as we emerged from the forest on to higher ground, we had patches of blue sky to go with our first view of The Cobbler. Behind us was the impressive profile of Ben Lomond, last visited just seven months earlier (see post #295) and yet another popular mountain in the Southern Highlands at 974 metres (3195 ft).

The Narnain Boulders ….
…. giving some shelter for a coffee break

Our route for the day was a simple ‘there and back’ version.  The area is steeped in mountaineering and rock-climbing history and is known as the Arrochar Alps.  Although this was my first visit, I already knew the history of the two large boulders known as the Narnain Boulders – they were once a popular climbers bivi site, especially in the late 1800’s and the 1920-30’s, when rock climbing exploration was at its peak, but they also provided us with shelter for a coffee break.

Still heading upwards ….
….with the steep, rocky side of The Cobbler above us
Approaching the Bealach a’ Mhàim with Beinn Ime rising above on the right
Looking back to the bealach (pass) from the stepped path up The Cobbler
Beinn Ime (left) and Beinn Narnain seen from the steep steps

Then it was onwards.  The path climbs gradually to a meeting of the ways near to the mountain pass of the Bealach a’ Mhàim – from there, our route headed roughly south up a steep set of steps, but the best views were across to some of the other peaks of the Arrochar Alps, Beinn Ime (1011 metres) and Beinn Narnain (926 metres), both of them Munros.

The North Peak in the background
The Middle Peak (higher and right) with the South Peak (left) © Colin Park
The final section up to the Middle Peak © Peter S
Arthur’s Seat, the true summit of The Cobbler

It’s The Cobbler that commands attention though – there are three high points distinctive enough to be called peaks.  We passed under the North Peak on our way to the Middle Peak, the highest of the three.  The true summit of the Middle Peak, known as Arthur’s Seat, involves a ‘hands on’ scramble ascent of a rock pinnacle with a drop below, but the lower South Peak is accessible only by rock climbers.  We passed a few minutes chatting to a guy who had last been on the mountain thirty years previously, but then it was time to head down.

The view of Ben Lomond from the summit of the Cobbler
A pair of red deer seen on the way down

Returning by the outward route gave us the chance to take in the views from fresh angles, with the distant Ben Lomond competing with the Arrochar Alps for ‘view of the day’.  Near the Narnain Boulders we came across a pair of red deer who were clearly used to humans and Border Collies.  ‘Mist’ likewise showed no interest in them – it was nearly time for the dog’s dinner, and time to head for home.

It’s time to head for home ….
….with a final view of Arrochar and a distant Ben Lomond

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except those tagged Colin Park and Peter S, which are taken from the Geograph Project and are reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence

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#300 – Cadair Idris by the Minffordd Path

The lake of Llyn Cau with Craig Cwm Amarch (left) and Cadair Idris (right) standing above

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

Cadair Idris, with the route marked in the centre

Long summer days have recently tempted Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’ of course) away from our nearby hills of the Carneddau and Glyderau, with Maesglase (see post #298) and Dduallt (see post #299) getting visits.  The extra hours of daylight meant that the longish drives there and back didn’t need a start at ‘Stupid o’Clock’, so while we were both still in that frame of mind I suggested a return to an old friend – Cadair Idris, otherwise known as ‘The Chair of Idris’.

Closer view of the route ….
…. and an even closer view

The two classic routes to the summit are the Minffordd Path from the south (see post #65) and the Foxes Path/Pony Track combination from the north (see post #150).  We hadn’t been on the Minffordd route since 2012, mainly because the descent had been very loose and eroded, certainly enough for Chris to say at the time that she didn’t fancy repeating it – ever!  A bit of online research suggested that the descent route had been fixed – there was only one way to find out.

Looking back down the lower part of the route through the trees
Out of the trees at last
Llyn Cau with Craig Cwm Amarch above and left

The day was already hot as we set off from Minffordd carpark.  The route is popular but doesn’t get as busy as Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) or Ogwen, at least not when I’ve been there.   The first section rises through woodland on a path that gains height quickly but is never steep.  The views improve once out of the trees, but you have to wait until the lake of Llyn Cau comes into view before things get really interesting.

Leaving the lake behind ….
…. and starting to gain height to the ridge that loops round above the lake
View of Llyn Cau on the early part of the ascent
Looking across from the ridge to Craig Cwm Amarch (left) and Cadair Idris (right)

After a short coffee break, we set off up a well-renovated path to join the broad ridge that loops round above the cwm of Llyn Cau.  The majority of the route to Cadair Idris can be seen from here – the summit of Craig Cwm Amarch sits astride the route and has to be crossed before an obvious drop of about 90 metres to a bwlch, before the final rise to the summit of Cadair Idris

View of Cadair Idris from Craig Cwm Amarch
Looking down to Llyn Cau, over 200 metres below
On the way down to the bwlch (pass) between Craig Cwm Amarch and Cadair Idris ….
…. and looking back across the bwlch to Craig Cwm Amarch

The summit of Craig Cwm Amarch is undistinguished as a peak but continued to give us great views, and the loss of height penalty wasn’t a deal breaker, especially with the sudden surprise view down to Llyn Cau, over 200 metres below us.   Then it was another dose of uphill, this time 180 metres or so to the summit of Cadair Idris.

The last bit of the ascent to the summit of Cadair Idris
Lumpy, bumpy and stony, but nearly there ….
…. as the summit appears above
The summit shelter …. (Image from 2012)
…. fairly big once inside

The top is lumpy, bumpy and stony, but has a small bonus in the form of a substantial stone shelter.  It’s not intended to be used as a bothy, but it would provide a degree of comfort for anyone who wanted to ‘overnight’ on the summit.  If tempted, remember legend has it that anyone who sleeps overnight on the mountain will wake up a poet or a madman!  We didn’t write any poetry, but instead had a second coffee break sitting in the sun, before it was time to set off down. 

Looking across to Mynydd Moel
Just about to cut the corner, heading down and right

Last time we came this way, we had avoided the crossing of Mynydd Moel – as time was getting on a bit after our ‘not too early’ start, we decided to by-pass it once again and headed down and right in a roughly westerly direction to cut the corner.  Our diversion eventually met up with the descent route from Mynydd Moel, where we found that the path was almost as eroded and loose as last time!  Chris reminded me why she hadn’t liked this bit on our previous visit – several times in fact!

The final steep (and rough) part of the descent – time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#299 – Dduallt and the source of the Afon Dyfrdwy (River Dee)

Dduallt on the right, seen from the Cwm yr Allt Lwyd approach

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then close that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

The route (centre) also showing nearby Cadair Idris, the Aran Ridge and the Rhinogydd (Rhinogs)

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 course of the Afon Dyfrdwy (River Dee) from its source (blue flag) near Bala

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.

Closer view of the route from Cwm yr Allt Lwyd (Dduallt summit is the red flag, source of Dee the blue flag)

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?!

Setting out from Cwm yr Allt Lwyd
The grassy ramp crossing Allt Lwyd (‘Grey Slope’ or ‘Grey Hillside’)
Heading up the ramp ….
…. with the old house at Dol Cyn Afon in the valley below and Rhobell y Big rising above

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.

Looking back down the grassy ramp to Cwm yr Allt Lwyd
Approaching the ford over the Afon Mawddach (centre)
Heading up towards Dduallt

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.

Looking back to Waun y Griafolen (The Rowen Moorland) the source of the Afon Mawddach
The ‘going’ starts to get rough! – Arenig Fawr (right) and Moel Llyfnant (left) in the far distance
First view of the steep east side of Dduallt ….
…. but more rough stuff to get through on the way

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.

the old sheepfold just before the Dyfrdwy/Mawddach watershed
The sound of running water – but where?

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?

The source of the Afon Dyfrdwy
Note the low stone wall
Another view of the low wall ….
…. and under one of the large stones, a pool – the source of the river

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!

Looking back to the slight depression that marks the river’s source ….
….and southeast to the forest where the Afon Dyfrdwy becomes a river
Heading upwards towards the summit of Dduallt
The view from the summit looking southeast to the infant Afon Dyfrdwy
The summit, looking north to Arenig Fawr and Moel Llyfnant

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!

Then it’s time to set off down the North Ridge of Dduallt
Approaching the ford over the Afon Mawddach

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.

It’s time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#298 – Maesglase

Maesglase, with the true summit of Maen Du (674 metres) on the right

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

The Maesglase route (just to the right of centre) with Cadair Idris nearby
A closer view of the route ….
…. and even closer

“So, where’s Maesglase” I hear you say?  If you have ever driven on the A470 from Dolgellau towards Machynlleth , you have driven past it.  If you are a military pilot on the low-flying ‘Mach Loop’, you will have flown past it (though if you blinked you might have missed it).  It’s ‘sort of’ an outlier of the Aran Ridge – but isn’t.  It’s near Cadair Idris, but has no connection with that mountain.  It’s Maesglase!

The start – 180 metres steep ascent through a gloomy fir wood   
The view emerging from the wood – Maesglase on the left  

Chris and I, plus Border Collie ‘Mist’ of course, set out from the village of Dinas Mawddwy on a cool April day to find Maesglase.  Looking at the map, I realised that a price would have to be paid first – a 180 metre ascent through gloomy forestry with no view of the mountains to give a little relief – I really don’t like walking through forests, especially gloomy forests!  So, it was a relief to finally emerge from the trees to see Maesglase ahead.

The broken crags of Craig Maesglase in the centre
What the cascades of Craig Maesglase look like after rain ….   (© Unknown)        
…. but not much water on our trip

Looking towards the bulk of the mountain, the main features of interest are the broken crags of Craig Maesglase, which have one of the most dramatic waterfalls you could wish for.  Well, wishing was the best we could hope for on this trip – the key feature of a waterfall is water, and it soon became apparent that there hadn’t been much rain around here during April.

Approaching the pass of Bwlch Siglen, looking like a narrow ridge on first viewing
Closer to the bwlch, with the headwall still looking like a ridge
Looking back to our route across Foel Dinas ….
…. with the narrow path more obvious in close up  
Nearer to the bwlch now, with the ridge feature on the left      
Looking back down the ridge – not as narrow as it appeared on the approach

In front of us, and leading to the higher ground above the waterfall, was a narrow path clinging to the side of Foel Dinas, heading towards the pass of Bwlch Siglen.  From a distance, the route beyond the bwlch looked like a narrow ridge, but as we got nearer it soon became obvious that this was an illusion, and the only thing that was going to raise pulses was a steep little ascent from the bwlch to the top of the crags.

Looking down the line of the Nant Maesglase stream towards the A470 road    
Above the crags of Craig Maesglase, with the stream in the dip and Maen Du summit in the distance

Things got easier above the steep ascent, though we were still going up – on our right, the view opened up down towards the A470 and straight ahead was the escarpment of Craig Maesglase, with its crags tumbling down to the valley below.  Along the way, the route descended to the Nant Maesglase stream that feeds the waterfall – the amount of water in the stream was quite low, a legacy of the long dry spell we had been enjoying ion Wales.

Is that it?!  Low rainfall over the previous weeks meant just a small waterfall     

I lay down on the edge at the top of the falls and peered over the edge for a view (and a photo) but the cascades were as unimpressive from above as they had been below.  I thought I was being a bit of a ‘wuzz’ for not standing up for a better look, but every photo I have seen since from the top of the falls uses the same ‘lying down’ viewpoint, presumably based on using using the same survival instinct.

Looking back towards the Nant Maesglase, on the way to Maen Du summit      
After the summit, it’s the start of a gradual descent to the valley

Beyond the falls, the route carried on pleasantly to Maen Du summit, before heading down by taking a bit of a wander to the west, then turning north followed by east.  A steady descending track took us back to the valley and a short road walk back to the car – it had been a pleasant exploration of an area we don’t visit much, but it was time to head for home.

Time to head for home    

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except where stated otherwise.

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#297 – Return to Foel Grach – with a difference

Foel Grach just peeping out above the crag of Craig y Dulyn on the far left of the image, with the mass of Foel Fras filling most of the frame – our return route crossed that flank of Foel Fras

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

The mountains of the Carneddau with the Foel Grach routes showing in the centre
The December 2020 route – intended walk up to Foel Grach (shown in red) abandoned!
The plateau of Gledrffordd with Craig y Dulyn to the right and Carnedd Llewelyn above on the left
Gledrffordd on 7 Dec 2020 with the first snow of the winter

Just 2½ days after our Foel Fras outing (see previous post #296) we were back in the Carneddau again, this time for a bit of unfinished business.  Back in December 2020, in one of the brief breaks from Covid lockdown in North Wales, Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’) had set out for the summit of Foel Grach – Mr Snow decided to pay a visit on that trip and it hadn’t been a hard decision to bail out early!

The weather starts closing in ….
…. and eventually a decision has to be made ….
…. so we bail out towards Cwm Eigiau

In post #284 I wrote,  “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”.  Our April 2021 trip was to be a bit different.

The routes – blue = outward route to Foel Grach / red = planned return route / green = eventual return route

The initial plan was to follow the blue route shown above out to Foel Grach then to backtrack to pick up the red route to return down Cwm Eigiau.  As the walk progressed a glimmer of an idea was forming – the 1:25k OS map shows a Right of Way (RoW) descending across the flank of Foel Fras.  These Rights of Way sometimes exist in the mind of the cartographer but fail to appear on the ground.  Did this path exist?  There was only one way to find out.

On the way out – Carneddau wild ponies
Carneddau ponies
Carneddau ponies
Wide open spaces! – Chris crossing the Gledrffordd plateau
Looking back to Gledrffordd from the lower slopes of Foel Grach

We bumped into (almost literally) a small herd of Carneddau wild ponies on our outward route to Foel Grach via Cefn Tal Llyn Eigiau and the plateau of Gledrffordd.   These hardy animals live out on the Carneddau all year round and were amazingly confident even with Collie ‘Mist’ nearby.  Leaving the ponies behind, we crossed Gledrffordd and headed up the long pull to Foel Grach.

Approaching the summit refuge
Time for a break
A bit dark inside ….
…. unless you sit near the door

The refuge at the summit should not be compared with the Refuges found in the European Alps.  This is a very basic stone hut on the summit of a hill that seems to collect more than its fair share of the snow in a hard winter – in bad weather it would potentially be a life saver but would struggle to get even one star in Trip Advisor!  It’s a handy place for a brew and a bite though, and I used the opportunity to check out our alternative finish on the map.

Carnedd Gwenllian ahead

The way back went via Carnedd Gwenllian, before heading on a steady descent along the side of Foel Fras.  It was barely discernible on the ground, but followed a logical line, the way you would probably walk if you didn’t have a map.  I checked the track log on GPS several times and we were always bang on course – so now we know, the RoW marked on the map does exist.  Just as well, as it was getting near to dinner time for ‘Mist’, so time to head for home.

The way back below Foel Fras – time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#296 – Foel Fras and Drum from Bwlch y Ddeufaen

Foel Fras (left) and Llwytmor (right)

For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then close that window to go back – go on, it really does work!

The Covid lockdown had prohibited all but local travel in Wales from December 2020 to March 2021, and much as I enjoy my local hills, I was ready for something a bit more impressive. When the movement ban was finally lifted, I knew exactly where we would head for – the magnificent mountains of the Carneddau, just a 40 km (25 mile) drive from home.

The mountains of the Carneddau

Until moving to North Wales ten years ago, I had hardly ventured onto the Carneddau (it translates as ‘Cairns’) but since then it has become one of my favourite Welsh mountain areas and compared with the rest of Wales, there is nothing quite as wild, or perhaps even intimidating to the novice.  The range includes seven out of the fifteen peaks in North Wales that are over 3000ft (915 metres), as well as a couple of major climbing crags – think of it as a mini-Cairngorms.

The route to Foel Fras via Bwlch y Ddeufaen and Drum showing directions of travel

Back in 2011 I wrote, “ It’s the biggest upland mass south of the Scottish border, and you could comfortably move the Snowdon Range and the Glyderau into the space the Carneddau occupies, and still have room left over.  They are surprisingly quiet hills, though.  The reasons for that soon become apparent – long walks in and out, high summits and an almost featureless plateau that in bad weather becomes a navigation trap for the unprepared.”

Closer view of the route with the start point (blue flag) and Foel Fras (red flag) marked

Our plan was to head for Drum (pronounced ‘Drim’ and meaning ‘Ridge’ in English) via the North Wales Path which follows the old Roman Road from Segontium (Caernarfon)  to Deva (Chester).  The Roman Road leads to Bwlch y Ddeufaen (Pass of Two Stones) where we would turn uphill on the slopes of Drosgl (not the better known and more spectacular Drosgl above Bethesda) to meet the track leading to the summit of Drum – there, we would decide if we were going to continue to Foel Fras.

The old Roman Road (now the North Wales Path) heading towards Bwlch y Ddeufaen
One of the two stones at Bwlch y Ddeufaen

Those who know the route will realise that the carpark at the road head is at an altitude of 420 metres (1377 ft), a nice little boost for shoulders that hadn’t been carrying a heavy hill rucksack for several months!  A short distance from the carpark is the Bwlch y Ddeufaen with the two standing stones that give their name the pass.  These possibly date to the Bronze Age or earlier, making them around 4000 years old, twice as old as the Roman Road which followed the same pass.

The Roman Road and the two stones, with the electricity pylons removed using Affinity editing software
Another view of the Two Stones, again without the pylons

Others have followed the same route since, including cattle drovers up to the middle of the 19th Century, but the biggest changes to the outlook came in the 20th Century when electricity pylons were built to carry power lines as part of the National Grid.  The scenery here is so dramatic that the power lines are a minor intrusion and will probably be gone long before the standing stones disappear.  However, for those who can’t wait that long, I’ve used photo editing software to remove the pylons from two images above – think of it as a preview!

View of our route by the stone wall, rising from the valley and climbing the slopes of Drosgl opposite (2015)
Another view of the stone wall, seen from Foel Lwyd – the ridge on the skyline leads to Drum on the left (2015)
The stone stone wall on Drosgl, looking back to Foel Lwyd (the viewpoint for the previous image)
Llyn Anafon (the lake below) and Carneddau ponies seen from Carnedd y Ddelw on the Drum Ridge
The track leading to the summit of Drum, with Foel Fras on the right

From the bwlch, we set off uphill following the stone wall that climbs the slopes of Drosgl – the ascent isn’t unduly steep, but it does go on a bit and it was good when things finally levelled out just before Carnedd y Ddelw (Cairn of the Image or Statue).  From here we had our first sighting of Carneddau ponies (more of which later) above Llyn Anafon, before we reached the track leading to the summit of Drum.

Bwlch y Gwryd seen from Drum, with Foel Fras rising beyond
Chris and Border Collie ‘Mist’ at Bwlch y Gwryd, heading towards Foel Fras
Last of the winters snow, just below Foel Fras summit
Chris and ‘Mist’ at Foel Fras summit

From Drum, the summit of Foel Fras rose above us, 170 metres higher but with a height loss of 50 metres to Bwlch y Gwryd before starting upwards again.  We didn’t spend long reaching a decision and set off towards the eleventh highest summit in Wales, the ‘Broad Bare Hill’, otherwise Foel Fras – well, It would have been rude not to!  There were patches of snow left from the winter and the summit was chilly enough to make a quick turn-round seem like a good idea.

The track down to the Roman Road crossroads on a clear day ….
…. but it’s a misty, moisty day for us on this trip – more Carneddau ponies along the way

The return was initially via Drum, but we opted for the old Land Rover track to reach the Roman Road (see post #219 for the story of the track and the secret ‘Blue Joker’ radar project of the 1950’s).  On the way we saw more of the wild ponies that live on the Carneddau – I read recently somewhere that “if you are lucky, you may see them”, but in my experience luck doesn’t come into it and it’s more unusual not to come across them.

Down on the Roman Road, and still misty – with even more Carneddau ponies

Down on the Roman Road, we made rapid progress back towards Bwlch y Ddeufaen.  The mist we had run into on the track down persisted along the Roman Road, but it didn’t seem to bother a larger group of ponies we met along the way.  The other ‘Mist’ (Border Collie ‘Mist’ that is) wasn’t interested in the ponies, as usual – it was too near to dinner time to waste time looking at the locals.

Panorama of Foel Fras (left) and Llwytmor (right)

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#295 – Ben Lomond

Ben Lomond above Loch Lomond – © Unknown

(For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!)

Just so you know where you are!

I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that I’m a creature of habit, and most of my trips to the mountains of the Scottish Highlands follow the same route up country.  On my first visit, a long long time ago, I travelled via the A84 through Callander to Lochearnhead, the A85 through Crianlarich and Tyndrum then the A82 to Glencoe and beyond, and to travel any other way just seems odd – well it does to me anyway.  So, that’s the way I usually go.

Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park – Ben Lomond in the centre

I’ve returned south via the A82 on the west side of Loch Lomond on a handful of occasions, but that way takes you via Glasgow, which a poor finish to a Highland trip.  What’s more, until a couple of years ago, I had never turned off the A84 to the Trossachs and the east side of Loch Lomond.  So, the autumn 2020 trip to Scotland was a good chance to fill in that gap, which is exactly what we did.

The route up Ben Lomond (there and back) from Rowardennan on Loch Lomond

After years of being “not really bothered about going to the top”, Chris had become a ‘born again’ Munro bagger after her day on Meal nan Tarmachan (see post #292), so another Munro ascent before heading south seemed like a good plan.  At a height of 974 metres (3195 ft), Ben Lomond fitted the bill nicely – what’s more, it is one of the most popular Munros in Scotland, so a good one for Chris to tick off.

Just about to leave the trees, with a view down to loch Lomond
The view back to the forest
Higher now, with Loch Lomond behind ….
…. but there always seems to be more uphill

Setting out from Rowardennan on the shores of Loch Lomond, the first part of the route is through forest, which isn’t much good for impressive views.  Once out of the trees, things open up a bit, but most of the views are down to Loch Lomond, with the summit of Ben Lomond out of sight for most of the way up.  As there’s little to measure progress against, there seems to be quite a bit of uphill, but steady away gets you there eventually.

Looking towards the top, as the clouds start to move in
The summit with mizzle and drizzle, and a soggy Border Collie!
What the summit ridge looks like in good weather – © Unknown
What the summit ridge looks like in good weather – © Unknown

On our trip, the final summit ridge was clouded over, which effectively killed the views.  Chris and Border Collie ‘Mist’ posed for a summit photo before we turned round to head back by the same route through the mizzle and drizzle.  Photos of the ridge in good weather show a far more interesting scene than the one we had, wrapped up in a big cloud.

On the way down as the mist begins to clear
The view looking from east on the left to south on the right
The collection of small islands at the south end of Loch Lomond
The final bit of descent

Going down was pretty much the same as going up, with the views to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs opening up as we left the clouds behind us.  Perhaps Ben Lomond won’t get your pulses racing with excitement but it’s a good day out and its proximity to Glasgow and the central belt of Scotland makes it a favourite with many hikers. Try to arrange a cloud-free day though, unless you enjoy wandering round in the mist.

The Ben Lomond National Park Memorial

We will probably go back sometime soon, as there’s more to see in the area.  Since 1995, the area around Ben Lomond, including the mountain summit, has been designated as a war memorial (the Ben Lomond National Park Memorial) dedicated to those who gave their lives in the First and Second World Wars.  There are also some more interesting hills to check out in the area, so it looks like I might have to change my route north in future.

Ben Lomond seen from Beinn Narnain near Arrochar – © Cunikm

Text and images © Paul Shorrock unless stated otherwise – the image above by Cunikm is reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence.

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#294 – The Praying Hands of Glen Lyon

The Praying Hands and the view East down Glen Lyon

(For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!)

The Praying Hands, also known as Fionn’s Rock

The Scottish historical novelist, Sir Walter Scott, described Glen Lyon as the “longest, loneliest and loveliest glen in Scotland”, yet in all my years of travelling in Scotland I had managed to pass it by.  The problem I have with the Scottish Highlands is that there is so much to see and do that I rush on past some real gems.  Not this time though – we were going to Glen Lyon to see “The Praying Hands”, otherwise known as “Fionn’s Rock”.

The Southern Highlands, including Loch Tay with Glen Lyon to the north

The Praying Hands was originally an upright stone that has been split down the centre, the two halves looking very much like a pair of hands pointing to the sky, as if in prayer.  Some believe it to be a glacial erratic stone, deposited by glaciers in an Ice Age long gone, but the precision of the placement makes this unlikely.

Glen Lyon with the Praying Hands location marked

A more likely explanation is that the stones were raised by humans in the Neolithic period, which would make the monument about 5000 years old, but if this is the case their purpose is a complete mystery.  There is another explanation of course – legend has it that the stone was split in two by an arrow fired by the legendary Celtic hero Fingal, or Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool in English).  So, glacial erratic, Neolithic monument or one of Scotland’s myths and legends – Take your pick!

The approach of autumn in Glen Lyon
The leaves starting to turn by the River Lyon ….
….the colours helped by the occasional shaft of sunlight

The trip to see The Hands was a bit of an afterthought when we planned our Autumn 2020 Scottish tour, and as we were passing through the area, we had already decided to include a walk up Meall nan Tarmachan (see post #292).  The day after that we went into Glen Lyon the long way round by Fortingall at the eastern end of the glen – the cloudy morning didn’t add much to the autumn colours, but the occasional shaft of sunlight hinted at what might have been.

On the way up to the Hands – two bunny ears on the skyline
First full view of the stones
The stones with Creag nan Eildeag rising behind

Once parked up, the walk to the hands was little more than our daily dog walk, but Border Collie ‘Mist’ wasn’t complaining.  The first sighting, approaching from below as we did, are the tips of two ‘bunny ears’ – soon afterwards the stones come into full view, looking very much like a pair of praying hands.

The Hands with Glen Lyon behind

The light conditions were not optimal, with bright skies and patches of sunlight fighting against the cloud shadows over what the camera exposure should be set at, but I came away with a reasonable selection of images which were then edited at home to try and make sense of the light conditions.  Rather than bore everyone with some of the technical stuff, here are some more views of the stones that speak for themselves. .

Then it was time to head back, which is normally the cue that the post is winding up to a close, but the sun continued playing tricks, with the light changing every few minutes – I think another late trip is definitely on the cards, to catch some more of those autumn colours, plus another look at those mysterious Praying Hands.

Time to head back ….
…. just as the light starts to improve – Càrn Gorm (1029 metres) behind with a small cap of cloud
The farmhouse just below the stones
Autumn colours
Autumn colours

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#293 – Going wild in Scotland – Beasties, mythical and otherwise

Mythical beasts (and public art) – The Kelpies near Falkirk

(For the best viewing experience, left-click the images and maps to zoom in to a new window, then exit that window to go back – go on, it really does work!)

Regulars to this blog will know that I mostly photograph landscapes, but recently I’ve been trying my hand at photographing wildlife – with various degrees of success!   Our Scottish trip in September 2020, sandwiched between Covid-19 lockdowns, was the ideal opportunity to try for some wildlife, but my first ‘beasties’ were mythical ones – the Kelpies.

Impressive in the daylight

Even more impressive at night!

A few posts back (see post #285) I told the tale of the Kelpies near Falkirk.   In Scottish folklore, kelpies are mythical water spirits, with a habit of enticing young men to a watery grave.    The Falkirk Kelpies are a magnificent sight on the Scottish tourist scene, and they don’t do that watery grave enticement thing – they are also kind to photographers, as they don’t move around like most wildlife.

Swans in Helix Park – working up to take-off speed (note the poor duck!)

The day after we had admired the kelpies, we were looking for a decent length walk for Border Collie ‘Mist’, and the nearby Helix Park and Lake seemed to fit the bill.   Boating and similar human activity was out of the question due to Covid restrictions, but the water fowl were making good use of the peace and quiet.   I got some practice on my wildlife subjects by tracking a couple of swans in take-off mode.

Finally getting airborne

In flight, or swimming, swans are the epitome of grace and elegance, but the bit in between where they run across the surface of the water is usually not a good look!   It was only after I downloaded the series of images that I noticed the poor duck on the flight path (first swan image above).    As the swans took off, the duck was gallantly trying to outpace them – not a chance!

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The Braemar ‘golf-playing’ deer herd ….

…. looks like a boys day out

It wouldn’t be a complete trip to Scotland without a mountain or two, preferably more.    I described our hill day on Morrone in post #286 and the photos of the ‘boys on the golf course’ amused several readers.   They seem to be doing the greenkeeper a good turn by cropping the grass, but I bet those pointy hooves will add a few extra holes to the course.

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Red deer near Loch Assynt

There was a low ‘deer count’ on this trip, but we weren’t actively seeking them out.   The largest herd I ever saw was some years back – a huge stag with his harem of 20+ casually strolling across the road in Glencoe, just as I came round a blind bend at around 70mph on a motorcycle!    No damage to the deer or my pride on that occasion, thankfully.

They soon become aware of our presence

This small group of four was spotted in the early evening near Loch Assynt when the tourists were heading for their hotels.    Being in the camper often gives the opportunity to watch (and photograph) the local wildlife – the young male on the far right didn’t notice me at first, but it wasn’t long before his head went up, probably after smelling me or my Collie ‘Mist’.     Even then, they were not alarmed, and they just sauntered off quietly.

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 The Isle of Bute was a late addition to the trip.    We had planned to head for home in Wales at the beginning of October, but it was announced that from October 1st, Welsh residents would be restricted to their local area (county).   The four nations of the United Kingdom have failed to employ ‘joined-up thinking’ since the start of the pandemic, each one taking a different approach, but this time the situation was crazy.

On Bute, a big seal catching up on the sun ….

….with his mate, the oyster catcher, also getting some rays

Free movement was still permitted in England and Scotland, but if we returned home, we would have to drive straight to Denbighshire and stay there.   Now don’t get me wrong, Denbighshire is a lovely county, stretching from the sea to the Berwyn mountains, but we didn’t really fancy being trapped there.    The solution was simple – don’t go back!   Which is why we found ourselves on Bute.

Not too far away from the seals, a group of cormorants also enjoying the sun

The only thing I knew about Bute before this visit, was that the main town of Rothsay was the subject of a folk song about a drunken Hogmanay party (New Years Eve for those who don’t understand Scottish) – the fact that we were usually ‘well-oiled’ when we sang it usually added to the hilarity.   This trip was a much more sober affair, with a visit to Scalpsie Bay to see the seal colony being one of the highlights

There’s something in the water in front of this character

It looks like another seal

Then, all of a sudden, it’s time for a sharp exit ….

…. leaving the original seal with a bemused expression

Swimming seals are unbelievably graceful, but on land they are just big lumps!    They do enjoy sitting in the sun though, and why not.    We watched the antics of these two for a couple of minutes – at first it looked like just one seal soaking up the sun, then it became obvious that the one seal was watching another seal (second image above).   Then, the second seal decided enough was enough, and left in a big splash of water.  Yep, a busy day down on the beach!

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The pair of golden eagles we saw near Lochnagar ….

…. keeping their distance …

….but the shape is unmistakable

Several times on the trip we had hoped to spot (and photograph) eagles, but our first ‘hit had been a fluke.    We were on our way back from our hike out to Meikle Pap of Lochnagar (see post #287)  when I saw a pair of golden eagles flying above us.   Chris was unconvinced at first, but there was no mistaking the shape.   The camera lens wasn’t long enough to get more detailed pics, but being there in that moment was more than good enough.

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Over on Mull, hoping to spot a white-tailed eagle (sea eagle)….

…. but in the meantime, the gulls give some practice on photographing a moving target

Straight in for a fish supper

I had been given a recommendation for a good place to see white-tailed eagles on the Isle of Mull, and a happy afternoon was spent there, parked up by the lochside.   This was towards the end of the trip, and I think I was just starting to appreciate that patience is just as important as a good camera or a long lens.    So, as I watched and waited, I practiced panning the camera on gulls who were diving for an early dinner.

Out on the island in the sea loch, one sea eagle isn’t going very far just now ….

…. then the unmistakable shape flying overhead

The largest British bird, the white-tailed eagle, also known as ‘the flying barn door’

A passing photographer pointed out the ‘bump’ on a nearby island – apparently, it’s a favourite spot for one particular eagle to sit.    Then, finally, there was a flypast – yet again it was a bit far for a detailed shot, but no mistaking the shape or size of a sea eagle, also known as ‘the flying barn door ‘ because of its 2-metre wingspan.

But, having teased you all with tales of eagles, here’s a superb image of a sea eagle by photographer Christoph Müller – great inspiration for me on future trips – no pressure then!

The white-tailed eagle © Christoph Müller

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except the white-tailed eagle image shown above, which is © Christoph Müller and is reproduced here under a Creative Commons Licence.

Posted in 1. Scotland, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments