The Southern Arans: Glasgwm and Pen Y Bryn-Fforchog

July 17, 2010 at 11:58 pm | Posted in Walking | Leave a comment
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It was good to be back on the hills after three months away while working on a new report. This was a good reintroduction, nothing spectacular or very hard but enough of a stretch to get the stiffness out of my legs and cobwebs out my head  It also got me refocused on the goal of walking all the Welsh mountains. This is far from just a tick-list exercise though, even if the grander walks on the other Arans have a stronger pull.

It also gave me another chance to take the path beside the waterfalls at the head of Cwm Cywarch. I had done this on the descent from the Aran Fawddwy horseshoe but it was late that day and I was tired and wet and didn’t really have chance to appreciate it. This time starting from the Cwm Cywarch car pack I walked up the valley first – with fresh legs and sharper senses. The path meanders up between rocks and streams and a series of small waterfalls, which had a fair amount of volume after a week of rain. To the left are the impressive cliffs of Craig Cywarch and across from the valley are the steep slopes of Pen yr Allt Uchaf, which I painfully walked straight up on my last trip.

As the ground levels out into the boggy area around a small lake, the paths diverge. To the right is the path to Aran Fawddwy, but this time I passed the lake and went left up the hillside to reach the summit of Glasgwm. On the way to the summit, I could see back to Aran Fawddwy, shrouded in mist, and north to the Arenigs, which were still visible. Heavy cloud was moving in though, and when I reach the summit I was in the thick of it. I was just able to see Llyn y Fign, the moorland lake that lies just below the summit. As I sat eating my sandwich, I thought about how nervous I would have been a couple of years ago finding myself on the hills with mist all around. Now I was confident of the route and my experience and knew there would be little problem (and I wasn’t that surprised when I did get a little lost later on!).

Heading off from Glasgwm, I wavered for a minute to check which way to go around the lake and then followed the fence to the right and then as it bends to skirt the forest ahead. As the mist had cleared now, I cut across the moor to the corner of the forest, then on to the summit of Pen Y Bryn-Fforchog – which apparently means Top of the Forked Hill. It was much clearer now, hot even at times with the sun finally breaking through the cloud. Wheatears and other moorland LBTs (little brown things) were all around – and of course there was a raven waiting as I reached the summit. It’s a nondescript peak but there are decent views to Maesglaes and Waun-Oer and beyond them Cadair Idris.

The next stage was always likely to be the trickiest. Following the Nuttalls route, I was aiming for a cut through the forest to join the forest track but a large area of woodland had been cut down and the path wasn,t clear, if it still existed. So I headed off across a desolate landscape of stumps, logs, branches, mossy hummocks, bog and streams. I could see diggers parked at the start of a track and that was my rough goal. This was strange walking – bouncing across the firmer ground around the stumps and then working my way across beds of pine branches and boggy patches. I’m reading the collected JG Ballard short stories at the moment and this felt very familiar;  a post-apocalypse world with the remnants of destroyed forest all around.

Eventually I joined the forest track and seemed reasonably close to where I should be.  I followed this for a while but was always wary in case the path had been changed. When it started to wind down the hill side it looked like I was heading back in the direction of Dinas Mawddwy rather than to Cwm Cywarch. I backtracked a bit and found the faint path at the forest gate that the Nuttalls mention. I took this, passed over a stile and then joined the steep but clear zigzag path down back to valley bottom and the car park.

All round a good mix of views and effort and a bit of a navigational refresh – and the sun was shining as I finished. Not a bad day.

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The Eastern Arans

February 13, 2010 at 11:42 pm | Posted in Walking | 1 Comment
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This was a 10 mile walk over the lesser hills in the Arans range, overshadowed by the imposing Aran Fawddwy.  It is could easily be a bog trot with mist or rain spoiling the dramatic views across the main Aran ridge to the west, but this was an almost perfect winter’s day. The snow had cleared from the pass but still lay on the mountain tops and the moors were frozen, making for crisp walking on ice-crusted grass and bogs. Although there was some cloud the views were clear all day with the sun breaking through occasionally.

I started at the car park at Bwlch y Groes and head across the snow dusted moors to the first summit, Llechwedd Du. A fence guides you most of the way to the summit, which offers good views of the other hills on the walk. From here it was an easy walk over to Foel Rhudd with a good view north to the Arenigs in the distance. I then followed the fence over Esgeiriau Gwynion, an indistinct summit but wonderful views. The sun was shining as I had lunch looking over Foel Hafod-fynydd and Aran ridge. The direct walk up the opposite slope of Foel Hafod-fynydd looked daunting, particularly with a covering of snow. The actual climb up from Bwlch Sirddyn was not quite as hard as it looked but it was still a stiff pull to get to the ridge. The reward was a fantastic view of Aran Fawddwy with the glassy calm of Craiglyn Dyfi below.

From the summit, I followed the ridge fence east, coming down the slope before it steepens to the ravine of Ceunant y Briddell. I crossed the stream and then followed the track that runs above the left bank. There were good views back to the mountains towering above the valley and a series of waterfalls at the lower reaches, before the track left the stream and joined the road a mile or so below Bwlch y Groes.

The walk back up the road was a tiring slog, with a blister on my heel and a pain in my knee it was a case of gritted teeth and resolution. Part of me was hoping the weather might start to turn so I’d have an excuse not to do the last summit (following the Nuttall route). But it didn’t and I reckoned I had just enough time to climb up to Moel y Cerrig Duon, which rises on the eastern side of Bwlch y Groes. From the road that heads off toward Lake Vyrnwy it was a straightforward walk to the summit. The light was starting to fade and the wind had more of a bite in it, but there was good view of Lake Vyrwny to the east. To the west, I could see across the whole of the Arans, picking out all the summits that I’d done that day. It was then an easy mile, following a fence, back Bwlch y Groes.

Aran Fawddwy

July 31, 2009 at 10:31 pm | Posted in Walking | 1 Comment
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This was a 12 mile walk following the  Nuttall route over the Aran Fawddwy ridge via Pen Yr Allt Uchaf and Drysgol and returning down Cwm Cywarch. The weather would have been good for March – cloudy at first followed by a cold wind and then driving rain – but was pretty poor for July.

It started with a steady climb up the side of Hengwm valley on a clear path, but then I split off for a direct climb up to top of Pen Yr Allt Uchaf. The climb is hard work and with hindsight I’d recommend following the main path up and tracking back to the indistinct summit. After Pen Yr Allt Uchaf it’s a fairly straightforward walk across to Drysgol and Aran Fawddwy itself, though I managed to wander of track slightly and had to do some bracken bashing and heather hopping as a consequence. I (deliberately) detoured off to include the less than remarkable summit of Gwaun Lydan, which provides good views particularly of Aran Fawddwy itself. Drysgol provide another fine perspective and has a poignant memorial to a member of a RAF  mountain rescue team killed by lightening while on duty in the area. From then on it’s a good steady walk up to the spectacular Aran Fawddwy and then along the ridge to Aran Benllyn (via the intermediate Erw Y Ddafod-Ddu.) On a fine day the views must be wonderful but even with clouds and mist (and eventually strong rain) it was still impressive: looking south to Pumlumon, west to Cadair Idris, across the Arans and north to Bala. There is also the precipitous view down to Creiglyn Dyfi, the lake beneath the east face of the Aran Fawddwy ridge.

After Aran Benllyn, I wound back behind the ridge to the head of Cwm Cywarch, with detours for Gwaun y Llwyni and Waun Camddwr. Some of this is very boggy and there are boards across the worst bit – but these can be very slippy in the rain  (I slipped off one into the mud while not paying enough attention as I ate the last of my lunch). The rain was coming in very heavy squally now and I was glad to make the path that runs beside the waterfalls down Cwm Cywarch. A good section of the walk on even a foul day but it would be lovely on a fine day with more time.

I didn’t see a single person during the whole seven and half hours I was out   – except for one guy booting up as I left the car park. The weather may have been less than perfect but this was still a Friday in late July. Hopefully these wonderful hills will always be something of a secret.

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