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The highest dragon in Wales

The highest dragon in Wales


Postby nigheandonn » Fri Nov 16, 2018 7:19 pm

Hewitts included on this walk: Moel Cynghorion, Snowdon - Yr Wyddfa

Date walked: 19/10/2018

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Going to Wales has been on my list of things to do for quite a long time without ever drifting much nearer the top - I could just about do it in a weekend, but it would be a hectic one, and there are always so many other things I'm doing. But this year I had a few extra holiday days, and so it drifted back into the picture - I'm often away for a few days at this time of year, because it's reading week at my work and therefore quiet, and allowing a day to go down and a day to come back made it much less of a mad dash.

With a whole day to play with I could have got further than Conwy, where I'd originally planned to stay the night just because it was as far as I could reach, but I wanted to see the castle, so that was my first objective - the familiar journey as far as Oxenholme, then on to an hour at Warrington, where I could sit and drink tea, and another change at Chester, where I bought some lunch and wished I had more time to spend, because there seemed to be a lot more there than I had realised. Wales at first looked at lot like Lancashire, factories and rows of houses, but before long it managed to produce the seaside, and then the first little hills, and by Conwy the scenery was glorious, so that I didn't regret Chester at all.

It was a beautiful day, and I had a strong suspicion than I was going to end up wishing for Thursday's weather on Friday, but that was no reason not to enjoy it while it lasted, for a prowl around the castle, which had lots of towers to climb and walls to walk round, and a walk right round the town walls, and a visit to Telford's bridge, not as dramatic as the one at the Menai Straits, but still with its original cables.

The hostel was up at the top of a hill of its own, with wonderful views - one down to the river mouth, and one which the man on duty said he preferred, up a valley to a glimpse of distant hills (his view was admittedly lovely, but I could look at similar hills quite easily, while I don't think there's anything in Scotland quite like the mouth of the River Conwy).

Friday morning was mixed spells of hurrying and going nowhere - a rush in the dark down to Llandudno Junction station to catch a 7.26 train, then quite a lot of hanging around in Betws y Coed, which had a tiny suspension bridge of its own but where the only cafe open before 9 managed to be both posh and hippy - no breakfast rolls - and a winding bus ride to Pen y Pass, with Moel Siabod looking very attractive behind Capel Curig, but only just below the cloud base.

Pen y Pass reminded me surprisingly strongly of Honister - on a much larger scale, of course, but still with the long line of the road dropping away between hills which kept their height, and the buildings perched at the top.

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Pen y Pass

I was now relying on the cafe here for some breakfast - a sign on the door said that it was open from Friday to Monday, and although it was shut, and although it felt an awful lot like Saturday, I was pretty sure that it was Friday. One of the wardens, when appealed to, agreed with my timekeeping and thought the cafe would open in about quarter of an hour, at 10. That didn't seem too long to wait, and there was soon someone in the cafe moving about, so I had a potter round to read all the information.

The car park became full, and the 10.05 bus turned up and unloaded one person carrying several loaves of bread and another carrying a tray of eggs, and the cafe put its lights off and put them on again, but it was still a long time before they decided to feed anyone, and I finally got going. It wasn't that I was in a hurry - the early start from Llandudno was just because the next bus or train was so much later - but I was hungry!

The MWIS forecast had not been particularly good - dry, and not too windy, but very cloudy over the high hills. There was a different forecast pinned up here, which had more hope of things clearing later, and it did start to look as if that might be true, with the cloud splitting and gathering again. Crib Goch was the most impressive thing in sight, of course, but when - if - I do it I'll stay at Pen y Pass, and not try to carry on my wordly goods on my back. Y Lliwedd is more definitely on the list of things I'd like to do some time, but even if I was more sure that this was the time, I wasn't doing it if I couldn't see it!

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Crib Goch

Another conversation with the wardens about the better track had been inconclusive - 'Pyg up, Miner's down', was the standard answer, but told I was going down the other side he wavered a bit - the Pyg was the better track, but the Miner's had the better views, but they were both good, so I should choose one... or the other. So I went for the Miner's track, because although I was doubtful about views in the wider sense I liked the idea of walking past the lakes - I didn't consciously choose the quieter route, but as it turned out I hardly met anyone until I ran into the first crowds descending, almost at the junction, which was lovely - a real sense of emptiness which must be rare on this hill.

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Gate to the Miner's Track

And it was a nice walk in - nothing more than an easy walk at first on a good broad track, past the first lake with Crib Goch ahead towering on one side and Y Lliwedd in the cloud on the other.

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First lake

The second lake was much bigger, a sprawling thing crossed by a causeway. I was coming to think that the number of lakes was the most distinctive thing about the Welsh hills - even more so than in the actual Lake District, which is more named for the lakes in its valleys.

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Crossing the causeway

Just beyond the lake are the remains of a building obviously built with great care, once the crushing mill for the copper mine.

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Old buildings

Beyond that the track climbs steadily for the first time, and changes from new gravel to possibly old cobbles, turning a corner to join a tumbling stream.

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Cobbled path

The third lake, Glaslyn, is definitely the most dramatic - around half its circumference the edges drop sharply into it, but it's also set in almost no hollow, so that you look across the water on a level as you climb into the valley.

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Glaslyn

From the lake the path really did climb steeply, as forewarned, but it wasn't difficult - still a clear path, and a satisfyingly quick height gain. I do like to be going either definitely forward or definitely up, and not a long slow toil of both.

For a while I had been able to see people walking apparently across the slope above me, but I thought they were just descending on a wide zigzag - I was amazed to meet a marker post and a track tailing back across the hillside and realise that I'd met the junction of the tracks, 95 minutes in. With the boards at the bottom listing 6 hours for the round trip by either track, I was expecting something like 3 and a half hours to the summit, and definitely more than 2 hours to the join.

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The paths join

Beyond the junction, and onto the 'main' track, it got surprisingly harder going - many more places where the big stones of the path faded away into rough rock, and more places where I had a hand down, although sometimes where someone with longer legs would just have taken a long step.

To further complicate matters, the cloud which had always been lurking around the summit now swooped down to engulf everyone climbing towards it, meaning that you couldn't look for the line of the path ahead to keep to it where it was indistinct. A couple of times I might have gone astray if someone in a bright jacket hadn't suddenly loomed up ahead on a slightly different line - not that there was often room between the drop on one side and rising ground on the other to go very far wrong.

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Rocks and mist

I had been delighted to learn from the information boards at the bottom that the Welsh for zigzag was igam ogam, a word which just sounds wiggly, but the famous zigzags were more a long sweep to the right, and then back to the left. It really was busy here, people coming down presumably to fill up the Miners' track, and slow people I overtook, and a few quick people overtaking me - I still seemed to be relatively quick by Snowdon standards, which was nice, as I'm generally thoroughly medium at best.

The track climbed to another marker stone as the combined paths joined the Llanberis and Snowdon Ranger paths, like the tributaries of a great river. The railway line also loomed out of the mist here, and the path ran parallel for a while before climbing more steeply - a solid obvious path, but not always wide enough for overtaking new installments of slow people.

The first real sign of the summit was the station building suddenly appearing from the mist, just below the path.

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The summit buildings

The real summit was up a flight of steps to a level area, then steeper steps up to the little summit itself - with the wind blowing over some people were finding this quite exposed and going up with a hand on the steps ahead, but for once I skipped up and down quite happily.

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Steps to the top

The view indicator at the top was really not any use - a shame, because the view must be stunning when you can see it, but it's not impossible that I'll be back by another route.

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Snowdon summit

I then slipped off to the cafe, a far more exotic thing to find at the top of the hill, to warm up a bit - it had never really been raining, but the mist was so wet that I had a go at drying my hair with my new towel anyway. It was busy inside both with walkers and train riders, and I bought a cup of tea and ate my lunch discreetly, sitting at the shop end - I think technically it's not allowed, but I wasn't the only one.

When a friend of mine heard that I was going to Wales, she had advised me not to forget my dragon insurance - but almost as soon as I got to Conwy I was ambushed by a small dragon too cute not to take along with me. (I sent her a photo of the dragon and the castle, pointing out that the insurance hadn't worked.)

I felt a welsh dragon needed its turn at the top of Wales, so I made my way back to the summit, although I had to wait for a bit while a group of bikers debated taking their bikes to the very top - and then I had to be quick, or she might have blown away!

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The highest dragon in Wales

The descent started off back along the same path, with moments of sunlight making it look tantalisingly as if the summit might clear now I had left it, but although there were glimpses of blue sky, and once a sliver of view to the valley, the cloud around the summit itself seemed fixed.

I was staying at the Snowdon Ranger hostel, so my path split off by a second stone just after the Pyg track junction, crossing the railway line straight afterwards - I could hear a clatter of train noises, but they didn't seem immediately imminent, so I crossed over before waiting to watch the train go past.

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Passing train

As soon as I split from the Llanberis track I was alone again - it was a nice clear path, more trodden and less deliberately built than on the busier side of the hill. The cloud was playing tricks again, and there was even a kind of local inversion, but never the complete clearing I was hoping for.

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Almost an inversion

Further down, with the clouds parting and regathering, I got my first real view from this side of the hill, through sunbeams down a valley apparently barred by small ridges - very green and very pretty, and not obviously very wild, and once again reminding me of the Lakes on a larger scale .

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The first view

Further down again it was like a different day - the very low cloud had cleared as I came down below the bulk of it, and there was even some real sunshine about, and a view below the cloud and down the valley to the lake at Llanberis.

As in the popular parts of the lakes it didn't seem to take too much to escape the crowds, even allowing that it was Friday - I only met three people on this path, two men heading up who said they didn't need a view because they had done all their looking already, and a single cyclist who passed me heading down to the lake - he did say that there were three more coming, but by the time they'd all met up and had a rest, I'd turned off the path.

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Llanberis between the ridges

Moel Cynghorion had always looked too close to the path on the map not to detour to, although I'd wavered a bit as I started to come down on a good path - but close up and clear it was too appealing a shape not to climb, quite different from the rocks and crags of Snowdon, even if I knew it was going to turn into the kind of grassy trudge I liked least.

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Moel Cynghorion

It was a bit of a toil, up to the point where the ground levelled off and it was possible to see ahead again - but even with its top in the cloud Snowdon made a good excuse for looking back instead, a dramatic view into the valley holding Llyn du'r Arddu from much the same level.

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Llyn Du'r Arddu

The top was very flat, no obvious high point or even a stone to mark where someone had thought they had found one - the true summit was presumably somewhere between me and the stile, and although there was a pleasant view along the rest of the ridge from the fence, and a glimpse of a hedgehoggy something that must be Tryfan, the views were generally better from the slopes than the summit.

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Moel Cynghorion summit

I have probably now doomed myself, however - I never had any intention of doing the Welsh Hewitts, as they're a bit far away, but although I could have visited Snowdon as a tourist, and come back and done Cadair Idris as a tourist, turning from the main path to reach a minor summit, however pleasant, is proper bagger behaviour. And I can just about get as far as Conwy on a Friday night - it's getting home that's the hassle!

It would have been easy to descend back to the main path, but the little grassy path which had led to the top continued on along the very pretty little ridge of the hill itself, to come down and join later - I wasn't sure just how steep the descent would be, but it looked like a lovely walk to get there.

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Pretty ridge

It was nice, with the ridge broadening as it went down, and never becoming as steep as the map had suggested. Down below was another distinct track leading over to meet the main Snowdon Ranger path, which I met near a gate with a red sign on it saying that it was a Very Important Boundary and should be shut at all times - whether this means you'll get in trouble for opening it to go through I'm not sure, but I was on the right side of it anyway.

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Tracks below

The main path, once joined, became actual zigzags, leading down towards the lake - shades of Buttermere, with the flat green fields at the end and the hills rising on the other side. Below the zigzags it led through some buildings and over the tiny tracks of the Welsh Highland Railway, and then down to the road almost at the hostel.

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Crossing the railway lines

It was only about 20 past 5, in spite of the hanging around at the top and the detour - 2h20m up and much the same down, not counting the break in the cafe. I think I had taken the messages not to underestimate Snowdon so much to heart that I ended up doing the opposite, because it was quite a straightforward hill, and not huge distances - although since I did the same with Helvellyn, and then with Ben Lomond, I shouldn't really be surprised!

So I could have quite a relaxing evening for once, although I walked up to the Cwellyn Arms at Rhyd Ddu for dinner, and the return was not entirely relaxing, with idiots shooting round corners in the dark - I ended up with one hand all scratched from jumping into the hedge, after being completely uninjured by the hill!


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nigheandonn
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Posts: 1369
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Location: Edinburgh

Re: The highest dragon in Wales

Postby Alteknacker » Sat Nov 17, 2018 10:22 am

A nice reminder of how pleasant Yr Wydffa can be. I once took some visitors from Germany up there on a Saturday in August, and there were several thousand people on the summit. But I've also been there when there's been noone.

The return route you took is also very pleasant, isn't it? Although Snowdonia is more or less on my doorstep, I only walked this ridge quite recently, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Very impressed that you managed to do your route all by public transport :thumbup: .
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Alteknacker
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Re: The highest dragon in Wales

Postby dav2930 » Sun Nov 18, 2018 9:27 pm

That was a really good read. Great report and a fine traverse of Snowdon. :clap:
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dav2930
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Re: The highest dragon in Wales

Postby yokehead » Wed Nov 21, 2018 12:23 pm

Snowdon is a fine place, with many route options, great that you visited! You chose a good route too, a bit different from the norm. As you say, once off the main Llanberis/Pen y pass routes it is surprisingly quiet - each of the western and southern routes are good.

Shame you got the cloud but an excuse for a return visit maybe?! Crib Goch awaits and is best out of the cloud as you say. Lliwedd is fine too, I was there Saturday for a 2nd visit since I enjoyed it so much the first time.

Love the dragon!
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Re: The highest dragon in Wales

Postby nigheandonn » Wed Nov 21, 2018 6:20 pm

Alteknacker:
A nice reminder of how pleasant Yr Wydffa can be.


Pleasant is a good word for it ;) It wasn't my very favourite part of the trip, but it was a good day.

It seems to be quite easy to circumnavigate Snowdon (more or less) by public transport of various kinds, but I didn't play with it as much as I could have done!

dav2930:
a fine traverse of Snowdon


Thanks :)

I like the map showing just how much of an east-west traverse it was - I hadn't realised I was crossing in a straight line!

yokehead:
Love the dragon!


The dragon is now sitting on top of the bookcase keeping an eye on me :)

The Lakes are the same - endless crowds on one path and hardly anyone on another. It suits me, because I always seem to be doing something a bit odd!
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nigheandonn
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Re: The highest dragon in Wales

Postby mattcymru » Sun Dec 23, 2018 9:33 am

You dont want to do Hewitts? just thought id point out if yuo went west of cynghorion, you could have bagged a Hewitt (foel gron) a sub hewitt (foel goch) and a Marilyn (moel eilio)!
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