The big country: Gorllwyn and Drygarn Fawr

Hewitts: Drygarn Fawr, Gorllwyn

Date walked: 07/09/2021

Time taken: 7 hours

Distance: 21.4km

Ascent: 704m

Following my last walk in the Ennerdale area, I thought I'd try something in Wales. Since I've walked most of the Hewitts in the principality, it would have to be a repeat, or one of the few I haven't visited yet. Of these, I'd avoided Gorllwyn and Drygarn Fawr so far because they didn't look very characterful, being, as I thought, just slight protuberances at the edge of a vast moor. But waiting for a decent day, I looked over most of the "undone" Hewitts again, and in doing so, chanced on some pics of the Elan Valley - which looked superb, and well worth a look see. In addition, it's only an hour and three quarters for me. So when, after some weeks of rather grey overcast weather, it suddenly looked as if Tuesday the 7th September was going to be a cracker - almost too much: clear skies and bright sun all day, and temperatures in the valley itself of 26 degrees, and on the tops, up to twenty degrees, that was it: decision made.


I'd already roughed out several possible routes, and in view of the forecast temperatures, thought I'd better go for one of the shorter ones - which in the event turned out to be a mistake, as will be explained.

This was the route I took, which, apart from a bit of meandering for various reasons, was pretty well as planned.

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I left home at 5.00am with the intention of getting up on to the (cooler) hills before it got too hot; but unfortunately Google Maps failed me shortly after starting ("...GPS signal lost..."), and I hadn't memorised the route, so, in combination with morning mist for pretty well the entire journey, it took way longer to get there than anticipated, arriving at the car park at just after 07.30.

But the view of Craig Llannerch-y-cawr rising steeply from the valley bottom as I munch on my breakfast is enough to banish any irritation at the delay, and set up a very pleasant anticipation of the day ahead. Although, to my surprise, I am very soon surrounded by.... midges! They are surely a long long way from home, though that doesn't diminish in any way a rather ferocious attack!

The sun is just rising as I set off, though it was still pleasantly cool
Image20210907-080754. Sunrise :D .

Having decided to follow the track up Marchnant to beyond the disused quarry, progress is relatively quick; and in the shadow of the east shoulder of the valley, still nicely cool. At least I am moving faster than any midges!
Image20210907-081658-2. Looking south up Marchnant towards the old quarry.

As I am approaching the quarry I hear behind me the sound of quad bikes, and looking back, see three of them heading up the track, led by a small pack of enthusiastic dogs. We exchange greetings as they pass me shortly afterwards, both commenting on the superb weather. The older farmer tells me that they've been waiting for some weeks to bring down the sheep, but haven't been able to because of persistent mist.

Image20210907-083444-2. Looking ahead up to the Gorllwyn ridge, giving a good idea of the topography ahead: rough, rocky and spiky it ain't.

A good part of the way up to the summit is marked by a quad bike track, which makes progress somewhat faster than I'd anticipated. And so far, no sign of the boggy ground I understood was the hallmark of this area :) .
Image20210907-084756-2. This is looking back north the way I've come, towards the Elan Valley.

Image20210907-091635-2. Half an hour gentle ascent sees me at the Gorllwyn trig point. This view is facing west towards the cairn at the west end of the summit plateau. To the right of the pic is the next principal target, Drygarn Fawr. It doesn't look too far, but in fact it's some 6 km.
From here one starts to get a feel for the broad expansive character of this upland area - it looks "big".

Image20210907-091657. The mist has burned off now, and has been replaced by a building heat haze, which slightly obscures the Elan Valley in this pic.

Image20210907-091710. To the north west is y Gamrhiw - which looks to be quite a long way off (it's actually only about 3 km) and higher than Gorllwyn (it is in fact some 9 metres lower!).

Image20210907-092945. Zoom to Drygarn Fawr.

Image20210907-093552. View looking a few degrees west of south, where the Irfon valley seems to be still in the grip of a cloud inversion. Not sure what the triangular hill centre pic emerging from the inversion is - Cefn Waun-lwyd???

Image20210907-093606. From this pic north west across to Drygarn Fawr, you see the lines of veeeery gently undulating topography. Which means...

...I wouldn't want to be up here in dense clag without a GPS: barely any features at all with which to orient oneself. I suspect that in such a situation, the only reasonably prudent thing to do is to head downwards, following one of the watercourses and the compass, which should at least get one down into the right valley.

When planning the route, it soon became apparent that the logical route would in fact largely follow the county boundary. And in the kind of weather I had, this was quite easy to do: one could in effect see the contours, and spot the odd boundary markers ahead. But the wide spacing of the markers, and the somewhat erratic line of the boundary means that this would not be practicable in clag.

Image20210907-100012. Again looking out towards Drygarn Fawr, with the undulating topography very clear (and one of the randomly spaced boundary markers pretty well dead centre of the pic). Still seems a long way, across this big upland. Most of the pics I took on this walk were panos, simply because there seemed to be no other way of even beginning to capture the breadth of the landscape.

Image/20210907-101805. One of the lower transverse watershed areas is, according to the map, the head of the Nant Paradwys - this pic is looking north down to the valley. From here it doesn't really look much like paradise, unless one is excessively fond of rough turf.

Image20210907-102725. A quick look back east towards Gorllwyn gives a definite feel of "big country".

A small llyn is shown on the OS near Brynn Rhudd, which I would like to see, so I head a tad south of the county boundary in the hope of hitting it.

Image20210907-105221. Which I do; except that there isn't any llyn there at all - just a patch of slightly boggier ground bedecked with sphagnum.... Ho hum :roll:

Image20210907-105642. Looking towards Carreg yr Ast from just north of the vanished llyn, with a typical boundary marker in the foreground. Most are of this concrete type, but there are also some wooden posts.

Image20210907-105649. On the positive side, Drygarn Fawr now looks much closer.

Image20210907-110032. Pano looking roughly north, displaying well the rough turf and broad vistas.

Image20210907-111352. And looking back east towards Gorllwyn from close to the first of the three cairns on the summit plateau (no pic because it's just a very unremarkable small heap of stones). Judged from this pic, it seems surprising that I still have completely dry feet!

Image20210907-111432. ...and the same in pano.

Image20210907-111716. And now the cairns proper! From which one can immediately see how this hill got its name, which translates, I believe, in english to: “Rather-unprepossessing-hill-topped-by-two-mongol-helmets-located-not-too-far-from-the-Elan-Valley-and-some-attractive-waterfalls”.

From what I can make out from a bit of superficial research, the two big cairns are of quite recent origin, and are constructed on top of the original bronze age cairns. Apparently the line to Gorllwyn is aligned on a bearing of about 87 degrees, which makes it a candidate for an Equinox alignment.

I recall when trying to find something out about the purpose of the big cairns at Pumlumon Arwystli, reading that some thousands of years ago in the iron age, temperatures were about 3 degrees warmer in Wales, and people lived on and cultivated such uplands; so perhaps there was a settlement around here.

Image20210907-111808. The county boundary marker at the second cairn (the first of the large cairns).

When I reach the third of the cairns I find I'm quite peckish, so I sit sit down for an early lunch. The temperature is just right - air about 21 degrees, and a good breeze, so walking isn't too sweaty. I spend half an hour or so just luxuriating in the sun

Image20210907-112814. Pano from the third summit looking west, with the trig point about a quarter of the way in from the RHS of the pic, and Drygarn Fach in the background behind, about centre pic. At this point I don't really clock that I'm quite a bit ahead of my anticipated schedule; which is a pity, because I would have visited Drygarn Fawr also - if you shake hands with the Fawr, it's somewhat impolite not to pay one's respects to the Fach :roll: .

Then it's off down the north shoulder of the Fawr, essentially just sticking to the marginally higher ground, with the aim of getting to Llyn Carw - assuming it too hasn't dried out. There's no very obvious path - though a few stretches of sheep path help make the going a bit easier - but it's not especially difficult terrain.
Image20210907-121550. After a while I hit a quad bike track, and here the concrete boundary marker posts seem to have been replaced with wooden poles. This view is looking back towards Drygarn Fawr.

Image20210907-124410. Half an hour later, Drygarn Fawr is disappearing into the expanse of the big country (RHS), and Gorllwyn has practically disappeared (about a third of the way in from the LHS); and the quad trail also disappears.

Image20210907-124949. Walking in this is a shade tougher, and even the concrete marker posts are finding it difficult to remain visible. I keep to the "high points" - meaning one or two tens of metres above the "low points" - first Drum yr Eira, then on to Cerrig Llwyd y Rhestr. A couple of kilometres to the north east I can see Pen Maen-wern, but I still haven't caught even a glimpse of Llyn Carw - not surprising, I guess: the contours indicate that it's going to be hidden by adjacent hills until I'm quite close...

Image20210907-130055. ...and indeed that's what happens.
I'm surprised to see - this far from any tracks or paths - someone walking his dog around the shore.

Image20210907-132116. On the way to Pen Maen-wern I hit a quad bike track again; and looking back towards Cerrig Llwyd y Rhestr (to the right) and Drygarn Fawr in the far distance (to the left).... the big country!

It's then another slight (they're all rather slight in the uplands of the Cwmdeuddwr!!!) ascent to Pen Maen-wern...

Image20210907-133117... with it's dramatic quartz standing stone, which apparently dates back to the Bronze Age. The pic is taken looking north, and in the distance Claerwen Reservoir can just be seen peeping out of the valley.

As the saying goes: it's all downhill from here...

Image/20210907-133510. ...and as I descend, more of the reservoir and the dam that created it come into view. This was apparently the last of the dams constructed in the area, only having been completed in 1952. It's a concrete gravity dam, but was given a stone facing to blend in with the other much older dams in the area. And as an environmentally sympathetic piece of civil engineering I find it wholly convincing.

When planning this walk, I'd noticed that the OS identified some waterfalls on the Nant Garregfelen, close to where it joins the Afon Arban, just before the dam - and these are my next target. Initially the descent is quite gentle...

Image20210907-134930. ...but as I approach the end of the valley, it steepens up quite considerably.

Image20210907-140009. But it's worth the detour to visit it - my pic really doesn't do it justice.

Image20210907-140653. Claerwen Dam. From here it's a speedy, if pretty warm - 27 degrees down here in the valley bottom - walk along the track that runs parallel to the Afon Claerwen

Image20210907-142521. Typical view of the track looking downstream.

Image20210907-143528. I'm perspiring somewhat less than delicately after half an hour of walking, and I'm very ready to stop in the shade of the first trees that offer the opportunity along the track, and take a good drink.

Back at the car at pretty well bang on 03.00pm, I decide I'm too damp and sticky to get straight into the car. Seeing the forecast temperatures, I'd foreseen this possibility and brought my swimming shorts with me, as well as a couple of cans of Brewdog Nanny State buried in a cool bag; so I find a route down to the river with the intention of having a swim. Unfortunately for a wimp like me, the water is absolutely freezing, coming as it does from the very bottom of the dam; so I content myself with paddle and splash, and then sunbathe for a while in the afternoon sun, quenching my thirst with the ice cold Nanny State, before heading off back home.

Overall I think that if one:
a) accepts that one won't be in anything like Black Cuillin or Aonach Eagach territory, and relaxes into the wide sweeping flat vistas of the place; and
b) visits them after a longish spell of dry weather...
they're not as dull a pair of hills as they've sometimes been painted!

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User avatar
Location: Effete South (of WIgan, anyway)
Activity: Scrambler
Pub: The Bell, Trysull
Mountain: Cuillin Ridge
Place: Glen Brittle
Gear: Compass
Member: None
Ideal day out: Heavy ridge walk with plenty of scrambling and height gain - eg Welsh 3000ers, Wastwater Circuit, Cuillin Ridge

Munros: 176
Corbetts: 32
Grahams: 1
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Hewitts: 253

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