Lakes and churches and bridges (oh my)

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Attachment(s) Date walked: 22/04/2024
Views: 40

Crossing the Carneddau

Hewitts: Carnedd Dafydd, Carnedd Gwenllian (Garnedd Uchaf), Carnedd Llewelyn, Drum, Foel Grach, Foel-fras, Pen yr Ole Wen, Yr Elen

Date walked: 21/04/2024

Carneddau Day 1: Conway Mountain and Tal-y-Fan
(Not exactly the) Carneddau Day 3: Lakes and churches and bridges (oh my)

When I first planned out this trip it was still possible to stay in the hostel at Rowen as an individual, and it had been my plan to do that, and make it one long walking trip - I had still been half tempted to come back from Conwy by bus and pick up where I'd left off, but the first bus wasn't until fairly late, and I wasn't at all keen to walk up the hill at Rowen again.

The second plan had been to go up from Aber Falls, but looking at the rather battered relief map in Conwy hostel the night before it had shown basically a road running up from Llanfairfechan, and a good clear start was too tempting to refuse.

The first bus towards Bangor took me *through* one of the hills I'd walked past the day before, which was kind of exciting - the tunnel through Penmaenbach. Then Llanfairfechan, which I couldn't pronounce - it's hard to say Welsh things with a Scottish tongue - and where first the co-op and then the track proved slightly difficult to find. The track wasn't all that much like a road here, although it was a made surface at first, but it was clear enough, turning green a bit further up where it passed above a farm.

Green track

There was a whole herd of ponies below me now, with foals, just hanging out on the hill as if they were sheep, a thing I couldn't quite get used to. The North Wales Path, which I'd been following on and off the day before, came up the hill by another route, and I cut over to meet it, following it up to where the route of the Roman road and some enormous pylons come over the hill together.

Crossing the Roman road

A three-armed signpost here pointed to Aber, Llanfairfechan and Rowen, but I was going the fourth way - on up the track, which was stony now, past some more ponies and Llyn Anafon in its valley below, to join the top of the ridge, which people were already walking along from a different path.

Ponies everywhere

I once walked off the edge of the North Pennines, through a muddle of little bumpy hills which contrasted with the smooth hills above, and when I looked down below me the same kind of thing seemed to be going on here.

Small bumpy hills

Up above I headed along to the shelter which marked the summit of Drum, the first Hewitt of the day, where I ate a creme egg and felt very underdressed - I'd got quite warm toiling uphill and was in a t-shirt, while the next people to turn up had on their winter jackets and hats. It had actually cooled down a bit, and I put my fleece on for the rest of the day, but they might have been overdoing it in the other direction!

Drum summit

It had felt like quite a slow start to the day, more than two hours for less than four miles of track, although I'd expected that to some extent, and hadn't tried to hurry.

The dip on the other side was mostly grass, although with a strip of stones across a wet place, and then another slow climb - the featureless grassy kind that I dislike. But I did realise for the first time that Foel-fras must be a Furth as well as a Hewitt - I'd picked off the six English Furths and then never really thought about them again, and I hadn't thought enough about the heights of these hills.

Climbing again

The summit of Foel-fras was quite a contrast to the grassy slope up to it, a little sea of spiky stones - and really that was the story of the rest of the day, sometimes smooth and sometimes spiky, although getting generally stonier as the day went on

Foel-fras summit

From here I made the most sensible decision of the day, looking at Llwytmor, which seemed to be both a long way down and a long way up, and deciding that I had neither the legs nor the time for the outliers - which was true. So instead I carried on towards Carnedd Gwenllian (otherwise Carnedd Uchaf, the upper cairn, despite being the lowest top on the main part of the ridge...) - not much down, and even less up, but the wettest part of the ridge to dodge through in between.

Bog and spikes

Carnedd Gwenllian had the spikiest summit, a little crown of rocks, to make up for its lowly stature, and one of the lower rocks gave me a nice spot to eat my lunch.

Carnedd Gwenllian summit

I made do with touching the top of the highest rock, but Dot was brave enough to try standing near the top, although it was windy enough now that even she had to hold on tight.

Cautious dragon

Another gentle grassy climb brought me to the top of Foel Grach, with a more ordinary cairn. Somewhere here there's supposed to be a shelter, but I forgot to look for it, and headed on.

Foel Grach summit

It had started off as not a bad day, but it was greyer now, and low clouds began to drift over the tops of the hills ahead, where Yr Elen was curling round a little valley.

Yr Elen curling round

The landscape was definitely becoming more dramatic, with the ridge which starts with Pen yr Helgi Du now running off to the left, all a bit more joined up than I'd really taken in.

Pen yr Helgi Du and friends

I had lost count of my summits somehow - maybe because Carnedd Gwenllian had been just a bump on the ridge, and I hadn't seen the shelter on Foel Grach, or maybe because the Carnedds and the Foels couldn't keep neatly with their own kind (I have only just realised that the must be cousins of Gaelic Malls or Mealls).

I sat down partway up the slope to sort it out, and was joined by a wheatear - I really couldn't be wrong anyway, because Carnedd Llewelyn was the summit of all the ridges, with Yr Elen curling round from one side, and Pen yr Helgi Du running off from the other.


I seemed to have come a long way from Tal-y-Fan and Drum with their seaside views - although the Menai Strait was in sight, the main views now were layer on layer of dark mountains, at least when the drifting clouds let them be seen.

Carnedd Llewelyn summit

I had been worrying a bit about Yr Elen, because I once had a very wobbly turn on Steeple (mostly caused, to be fair, by getting to about 5pm without remembering to have any lunch), and from below Yr Elen had looked like a thousand Steeples all made into one. But from above I could see that it was really a fairly civilised ridge - there was a knife edge of rock in places, but there was always a grassy slope below for the path to keep to.

Yr Elen ridge

The only problem was getting there - as I made my way down the slope it seemed to fall away in front of me, and then became an unpleasantly loose path to shuffle down. But once on the Yr Elen side of the divide it was lovely, a curving walk round a little valley with a loch shaped like a footprint to another spiky summit, and my favourite hill of the day.

Yr Elen summit

I'd left my bag among the rocks, and managed to walk straight past it on the way back up, but fortunately I'd had the sense to leave it just past the lower shelter, which I did notice - maybe that's what they call a trap feature.

I suddenly realised that it felt like a long time since I'd met anyone else - the clouds had cleared to give the best part of the day and they were missing out, but when I thought about it, it was about 5pm on a Sunday, and all the people who'd just come over for the weekend would be heading home. It was also suddenly getting quite late for me - since I'd turned away from Llywtmor I'd been wandering along as if I had all day, which in a sense I did, but I was also getting higher and higher, and had a long way to get down - it suddenly reminded me a bit of Beinn a' Ghlo, another day where every hill was higher than the last

Carnedd Daffyd was also set more apart from the others than any of the hills so far - a whole broad valley between it and Carnedd Llewelyn, and a rocky path along the top of the cliffs. Fortunately I'd got my second wind by now and could hurry uphill, because at the start of the day I wasn't hurrying anywhere.

Cwm Llafar

I'd been struggling to sort out the tangle of hills in front of me - I knew Tryfan was distinctive, but it had taken me a long time to figure out that it was tucked in behind Carnedd Daffyd. It was in view now, however, and unmistakeable once seen. (I didn't learn until later that the other very distinctive hills in the day's views were Elidir Fawr and Yr Eifl, but I suppose I'll know them again if I come back.)

Tryfan view

The path had either fizzled out a bit as it dropped below the top of the ridge or I'd lost it, I'm not sure which, but there was a broad bare path again on the last climb - and a good view back now to the Ysgolion Duon cliffs. The top of Carnedd Daffyd was scattered with cairns and shelters, but I didn't have time to appreciate them.

Carnedd Daffyd summit

The last summit of the day, Pen yr Ole Wen, wasn't far away, round a lovely curving ridge - I met the last people I saw that day coming down from it as I headed up.

The last ridge

The summit didn't really live up to the ridge, however - flat and stony and generally undistinguished.

Pen yr Ole Wen summit

At this point I made the least sensible decision of the day, although I couldn't really have known it at the time - the only path my map showed was an apparently distinct one heading straight for the valley, and although I knew there was an alternative route, it was much less direct, and there was no sign any path on the ground. So I decided to stick to the one that I had some evidence of and headed in the direction of Glyder Fawr to look for it, picking up worn traces of a path, although not the rock staircase or path deep in stones I'd expected.

Quite soon, however, it turned into a slope of rocks, where it was just a case of picking the best way down - I didn't seem to have lost the path, because I could see it picking up again further down. (The thoughts of Beinn a' Ghlo had been prophetic, it seemed, because the last time I could remember being on ground like that was coming down the west side of Airgiod Bheinn.)

Descending over rocks

Once I was on a visible path again I hoped that was the worst over, although it was still visibly very steep ahead, but not at all - it was walkable path for a little while, and then turned into an eroded earth-and-stone path which was constantly threatening to slide away from under my feet, and which I could only pick my way down very slowly - there was no point to trying to hurry, I'd get down when I got down.

I'm unusually bad with stuff that shifts under my feet, it's true, but this was also objectively bad - very loose earth, and then steep rock, where I slipped sliding down one place and tore my trousers right across the seat (they obviously hadn't been going to last much longer, but it didn't need to happen there). Every time I thought I was heading for green ground lower down the path slanted off to the right over rockier stuff, and it took a long long time before I had any sense of getting any lower.

At various points I'd passed upward pointing arrows scratched on to the rocks, which was one of the things that made me fairly sure this really was supposed to be a path, but about halfway down someone had scratched 'HELP PLS' in a rock sitting in the path, which was so exactly how I felt that it at least gave me a laugh.

Just how I felt

The path did improve again for a bit, and then got worse again, and a bit better again - far below me I could see a kind of stepping stones across a green patch, and aimed for that as the point where things would get better, which they didn't much, because even after that there was a loose stretch before it became a steep made path. (I was also a bit amused imagining the reactions of people who started out on that and ended up on what I'd just come down.)

Hostel check in time and sunset were much the same, and so I hadn't worried about it much, but I'd missed the one and the other was starting to catch up with me on the last stretch - my legs had wobbled away to nothing as well, but they just had to keep going. And just when I finally thought I was there, almost in touching distance of the road in the dusk, I found myself perched at the top of steep rock slope with no way down - for the first time I really did feel like I might be stuck there all night, metres from the road.

I managed to get back up from the top of the rock and tried another way which also petered out into nothing, but at the third attempt I managed to slide down the bed of a tiny burn at the cost of a very wet bottom, onto a kind of ledge above the river.

It was just on 9, which probably meant actual hostel closing time, although it could have been tomorrow or the end of the world as far as my sense of time went - but I staggered across the road, and managed to get the hostel warden so worried about the idea of me wandering about Wales with my bottom on show that she stopped worrying about me being late. (I said it didn't matter having torn trousers on a train because I'd be sitting down, but she wasn't having it.)

And then very welcome beer and dinner. I deserved it all to some extent, suddenly setting off over several hills at Munro height after not climbing anything bigger than a Sub for four years, but never mind. I survived!

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Location: Edinburgh
Activity: Wanderer
Mountain: Eildon North Hill
Place: Tarbert Loch Fyne

Munros: 21
Tops: 4
Corbetts: 10
Fionas: 7
Donalds: 26+10
Wainwrights: 214
Hewitts: 142
Sub 2000: 64
Islands: 34
Long Distance routes: West Highland Way    Borders Abbeys Way    Fife Coastal Path    Forth & Clyde and Union canal towpath    St Cuthbert's Way    Berwickshire Coastal Path   

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Trips: 44
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Distance: 90.5 km
Ascent: 395m
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