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Bleak & rough: the Hirnantau on the warmest Feb day

Bleak & rough: the Hirnantau on the warmest Feb day


Postby Alteknacker » Mon Mar 11, 2019 12:20 am

Hewitts included on this walk: Foel Cedig, Foel Cwm Sian Llwyd, Foel Goch (Hirnantau), Foel y Geifr, Pen y Boncyn Trefeilw

Date walked: 26/02/2019

Time taken: 10

Distance: 32.6 km

Ascent: 1496m

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Monday had been the warmest winter day ever recorded – over 20 degrees in Wales; and the Tuesday was forecast to be even warmer, with dawn to dusk clear skies. Only one option therefore: get out into the hills!
Still under doctor’s orders, I still needed to follow the “gently does it” prescription; so after a bit of map perusal, I plumped for a bunch of hills just WSW of the Berwyns, so flat and similar that they don’t seem even to have a name marked on the map, though after the walk I did learn that they're called the Hirnantau. They’re essentially an extension of the Berwyns, but very different in character, being almost flat, and covered in deep heather.

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Departing home at 05.30, I arrive at my start point at about 07.00, where none of the threatened early morning mist is in evidence, and the sun is just beginning to light up the hill tops.
A bit of an inauspicious start, though: I discover that I’ve managed to pack the wrong map; so, to the extent that I might need a map on such a clear day, I’m going to have to rely on my phone with OS maps loaded on it. Unfortunately I didn’t download the area in question last night, and it could take a very long time for the map to download in the valley.
Image
But I get going around 07.15; and straight away I’m struggling a bit. I’ve walked down a lane that provides access to a few houses, and I know I have to cut off right up the valley, but I’m not sure where. I see a rough track bearing off the lane, and have just tentatively started off along it when I’m hailed by a chap in the yard of a house 50 metres or so further down the lane, asking if he can help. It sounds like a genuine enquiry, rather than a euphemism for, “where the hell do you think you’re going?”, so I turn back and walk down the lane to his yard. He very kindly gives me clear directions, telling me that I can just walk through the (his?) fields in the valley bottom. A very positive mood filip, especially after the initial downer of realising I hadn’t got the right map!
It's a nice easy gentle walk up the valley, as the rising sun catches more and more of the hillside. This is looking back down the valley not long after the start…
Image20190226_071913 (3).

As the ascent gradually steepens, I slow right down, and take frequent rests to enjoy the early morning, this again looking back down the valley. At this point I've joined the track that was my original objective.
Image20190226_073759.

Image20190226_074304 (2). Looking north-west up the valley - what a morning! In the gorge to the left is....

Image20190226_075401(2). ... a very fine waterfall, apparently without a name.

Around this time, as I'm very slowly ascending the steepening track, an offroad vehicle comes down the track, preceded by two dogs. I step to the side to let it past, but the elderly farmer driving stops the vehicle, and winds down the window. Again, I'm half-expecting some kind of complaint, but he just comments on what a wonderful morning it is. We exchange a few more pleasantaries, before he continues on down the track. Another big lift to my mood - which was already one of pumped-up happiness. As I discovered in the Howgills in late 2017, not all landowners are against walkers.

Once past the waterfalls I bear right (north east) off the track, to head for the first target summit, Foel Cwm Sian Llwyd. The going is now really quite tough. There is no path that I can see, and the heather is knee deep, necessitating big leg lifts for every pace...
Image20190226_085017 (0).
This pic is looking back more or less east towards the Berwyns, and the rough nature of the ground is apparent.

Image20190226_091615 (4).
To the west, where I have to head next, the heather seems to stretch away for miles, with the Arans showing wonderfully in the morning sun in the background just to the left of centre, and the Rhinog hills to the right.

Generally the air is astonishingly transparent, and the whole of northern Snowdonia is clearly visible in the far, far distance as I approach the summit cairn of Foel Cwm Sian Llwyd, with the Arenigs showing in the middle distance.
Image20190226_092349 (2).

Image20190226_092349 (2) labelled (2).

Image20190226_092520 (2). As I munch on a breakfast croissant I look south towards the next goal. Foel Cedig is the slight mound just left of centre, and it looks like a long stint of heather-bashing ahead.

Image20190226_094851. Yep, it just seems to go on for ever, getting further away, the longer I walk!

On the way I spot a very early lizard basking in the sun. It's sluggish escape into the undergrowth indicates how cold it is from a reptilian perspective.

Image20190226_103502. Eventually, however, I do approach the summit. This view is looking back NNE the way I've come towards Foel Cwm Sian Llwyd.

Image20190226_103613 (3). One of the characteristics of these hills reminds me of the Cairngorms: the high level and summits are generally not very inspiring; and much of the attraction of the place comes from the views looking downwards, here looking SE down towards Cwm Pennant.

Image20190226_105246. Depending on which way you're looking, not all views are so good though. To the NW is this vast expanse of monoculture forestry :roll: ...

Image20190226_105531 (2). Getting to the summit itself requires a short diversion from the track. And is somewhat underwhelming; though ahead looking WSW, the Arans ridge continues to dominate one's attention. But why are those hilltops ahead so green...???

Image20190226_110934 (2) Back on the track, and walking downhill, progress is pretty swift. This is looking back towards Foel Cedig from the track about 15 minutes later.

Image20190226_112244 (2). A little later I come around the corner and see this view: that strange bright green patch in the otherwise consistent greys, purples and browns of the heather and brash, now much nearer. Reference to the map (now visible on my phone) confirms that the next summit, Pen y Boncyn Trefeilw, sits atop it. Quite what has created this flash of green is hard to imagine.

As I approach the point where I plan to cut off left from the track, the leisurely floaty flight of a large raptor quartering the green patch catches my eye, and for one brief exciting moment I think it might be a hen harrier. But shortly afterwards it passes immediately overhead, flying quite low, and I have a superb view of a red kite, it's pale head showing quite dramatically.

Image20190226_114441 (2). Pen y Boncyn Trefeilw summit itself is unique in my experience, being a few stones perched on a short bit of peat hag in the middle of a very flat area of which it would otherwise be hard to decide the highest point. As if someone has said to themselves, "Sod it, I'll make sure I know which is the highest point!" - somewhat in the spirit of my grandsons putting a couple of extra boulders on the summit cairn of Pen yr Ole Wen so they can say when standing on it that no-one has ever ascended to a higher point on the mountain!!! :roll: :wink: .

All around me skylarks are active - the wonderful herald of spring. I just hope they don't get caught out by a very cold snap in the coming month.

Image20190226_114524 (2). This view looking east from the summit gives an idea of how grassy those green flash areas are. As far as I can make out, the name means something like: "Feilw homestead on the top of the hillock" (please correct me, Welsh speakers, if err in this understanding). There's certainly no sign now of there having been a homestead. Indeed I would have thought that there's a reasonable case for it having the name of the next target, Foel y Geifr, which I think means "Bare hillside of the goat". Well it's certainly bare! And the possibility of there having been decades, perhaps centuries, of goat-based nitrogen might explain the anomalous green!

Image20190226_115535 (2). I rejoin the track shortly after the summit, and as I round another corner, Foel y Geifr, the actual bare hillside of the goat - comes into view (centre pic)....

Image20190226_120207. ...and a bit further on, the entire Foel y Geifr/Foel Goch ridge.

Image20190226_120207 labelled.

Once I've descended the track to Cwm Hirnant, there's a brief stretch of bog hopping in the valley bottom before the short but middling-steep ascent of the hillside. I can see that a goodly part of the hillside is covered with heather, so I take a line that targets the few bits of green between the heather in order to avoid it.

Image20190226_124356.
This pano is taken more or less from the summit of Foel y Geifr, looking back WNW towards the track which runs diagonally down across the hillside, and down which I descended to the road.

Image20190226_124436 (2). An atypical trig point marks the summit; the Arans continue to dominate the view to the SW.
From here is very straightforward terrain along the broad crest of the ridge to Foel Goch...

Image20190226_131545 (2). ...which has an even flatter summit than Foel y Geifr, with the most dramatic and spectacular summit cairn imaginable. To the West, the sylvan spectacle of forestry monoculture is a feast for the visual senses... :roll:

Image20190226_131655 (2). Looking back SSW along the ridge towards Foel y Geifr (centre background) partly concealed by the intermediate hump of Trum y Gwrgedd in the middle background.

From here it's a steep descent - 35 to 40 degrees at the top - into Cwm Hirnant, the first 120m or so of which is in quite deep heather, the remaining 140m on turf.

Image20190226_132345. I took this rather horribly distorted pano pic of Cwm Hirnant just to show the very strange palette of colours: purple brown (heather and forestry), and a kind of light yellow ochre (the dry turf)

Image20190226_134309 (2). Looking back up the hillside I've just descended. It's clear that there's a lot of heather for the top half, but in fact the technique I stumbled upon - just steadying each step by grasping the heather behind me - proved a pretty effective expedient, and I got down to the bottom of Cwm Hirnant without problem.

Image20190226_134818 (3). From here it's just straightforward walking across grass. I start by following the path so that the ascent won't be too taxing; but get a bit fed up with it, and so cut off right at a steeper angle up on to the shoulder of the hill.

Image20190226_135015. Last view of Foel Goch...

Image20190226_142146 (2). Following the shoulder of the hill up towards the high point (Pen y Cerrig Duon), I hit a track that quickly leads up and on to the main track that I'd used in the opposite direction a couple of hours previously.

After this is is just a steady tramp back along the track to the place just past Foel Cedig where it turns off left (north) down into the forestry, at which point I turn right into the rough, to cross the boundary and intersect with the fence running more or less East-West. The terrain is a bit rough and boggy, but I make reasonable progress as I....
Image20190226_160858 (2). ... follow the fence for a couple of kilometres, before hitting the line of the pony trecking path that runs north towards Nant Llewyn Gwern. I use the expression "hitting the line" advisedly since, although there is a large bold sign pointing out the direction of the path, I don't find much of a path there.

But the going isn't difficult, especially as it's downhill, and I soon reach my navigation objective - the supposed footbridge across the Nant Llewyn Gwern. The bridge is, however, lying on my side parallel to the stream. It looks as if it's been displaced in a flood.
Image20190226_164118 (2). But the watercourse isn't difficult to cross, and then I'm on to the track back down the valley to my car.
At this point I chance to look up, and crossing overhead at no very great height is a sparrowhawk - a lovely sight.

Image20190226_165048 (2). The sun is sinking on this pastoral scene, and any thought I'd had of extending the walk to incorporate Post Gwyn is banished by the thought that everything has gone pretty well, and I'm under strict orders not to overdo things. It has absolutely nothing to do with the proximity of this establishment of cultural, architectural, and historical distinction...
Image20190226_173539 (2).... at which I'm able to replenish the undoubted loss of minerals and fluids during the course of this bizarrely hot February day :D .
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Alteknacker
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Re: Bleak & rough: the Hirnantau on the warmest Feb day

Postby dav2930 » Tue Mar 12, 2019 8:42 pm

A wonderfully evocative report of an esoteric area, AK. Looks a very tranquil landscape with superb views of the Arans and Rhinogs, especially on a perfect, if unseasonably warm, day like that. I totally empathised with your feeling of happiness. But crikey, that was a hell of a walk for a "gently does it" prescription, also considering the rough going! :shock:

Love the sarcastic caption to one of the pics: "To the West, the sylvan spectacle of forestry monoculture is a feast for the visual senses." :lol: At least these hills appear to have been spared the ignominy of windfarms, which seem to be sprouting up everywhere these days. But I agree, those hideous plantations, whose life-denying density is proportional to the greed that motivates their creation, are a crime against nature and an offence to the human mind. It's high time they were obliterated once and for all.

On a happier note, what a bonus to see a red kite at such close quarters - wonderful! :D
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Re: Bleak & rough: the Hirnantau on the warmest Feb day

Postby past my sell by date » Thu Mar 14, 2019 1:30 pm

Wild country indeed. looking at your map, I remember climbing Aran Faddwy (Aran Maddwy it was then I think) from Lake Vyrnwy on a school whole holiday outing - we were dropped by bus and just managed to get back in time for it in the evening :) :lol: . It looks a hell of a distance now - though the first bit is on a road, but I was 17 and not even close to my sell by date :lol: :lol: All I can recall is climbing a gully to the top which had the remains of a crashed plane in it :(
Red kites are lovely but they are abundant here as they feed them at Argaty not far away. It's common to see half a dozen in the air at once - but spectacular none the less :D
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Re: Bleak & rough: the Hirnantau on the warmest Feb day

Postby trailmasher » Sun Mar 17, 2019 8:13 pm

Nice 'amble' with plenty of heather bashing, good for the legs and better than doing squats :lol: You certainly had a great day for it 8) A fine report and pics, well done :clap:
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Re: Bleak & rough: the Hirnantau on the warmest Feb day

Postby Alteknacker » Wed Mar 20, 2019 12:50 am

dav2930 wrote:A wonderfully evocative report of an esoteric area, AK. Looks a very tranquil landscape with superb views of the Arans and Rhinogs, especially on a perfect, if unseasonably warm, day like that. I totally empathised with your feeling of happiness. But crikey, that was a hell of a walk for a "gently does it" prescription, also considering the rough going! :shock:

Love the sarcastic caption to one of the pics: "To the West, the sylvan spectacle of forestry monoculture is a feast for the visual senses." :lol: At least these hills appear to have been spared the ignominy of windfarms, which seem to be sprouting up everywhere these days. But I agree, those hideous plantations, whose life-denying density is proportional to the greed that motivates their creation, are a crime against nature and an offence to the human mind. It's high time they were obliterated once and for all.

On a happier note, what a bonus to see a red kite at such close quarters - wonderful! :D


Thanks for the kind words, Dav.

On the subject of forestry: we are in complete agreement (I feel it especially strongly when I've walked through natural forest both in Snowdonia, and in the Highlands.

past my sell by date wrote:Wild country indeed. looking at your map, I remember climbing Aran Faddwy (Aran Maddwy it was then I think) from Lake Vyrnwy on a school whole holiday outing - we were dropped by bus and just managed to get back in time for it in the evening :) :lol: . It looks a hell of a distance now - though the first bit is on a road, but I was 17 and not even close to my sell by date :lol: :lol: All I can recall is climbing a gully to the top which had the remains of a crashed plane in it :(
Red kites are lovely but they are abundant here as they feed them at Argaty not far away. It's common to see half a dozen in the air at once - but spectacular none the less :D


At 17 any distance is possible - 50 years later, I have a less sanguine perspective on my capabilities :D

Yes, I know kites are pretty common - you will always see them over the M40 in Oxfordshire also, and they're moving steadily further north. But they're cracking birds, especially up close :D .

trailmasher wrote:Nice 'amble' with plenty of heather bashing, good for the legs and better than doing squats :lol: You certainly had a great day for it 8) A fine report and pics, well done :clap:

Thanks TM. It was a fine day indeed, in every respect (including the vitamin-and-mineral infusion at the end)...
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Re: Bleak & rough: the Hirnantau on the warmest Feb day

Postby johnkaysleftleg » Mon Mar 25, 2019 9:54 am

As always an enjoyable report Alte, Always good to take advantage of some unseasonably nice weather to visit some out of the way hills.
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