A Cwm Cau Horseshoe7th August 2009
A circular walk wasn’t what I had in mind, let alone some sort of horseshoe itinerary. The original idea had been to walk from Minffordd to Dolgellau by way of Cadair Idris. It simply was to be a case of following the Minffordd Path up and the Pony Path down before making for my destination either by road or a mixture of tarmac bashing and traversal over rights of way through fields. However, I changed my mind along the way because the distance between Cadair Idris and Dolgellau can be deceptive and the time that I had until my bus to Machynlleth looked more limited on the top of Penygadair, a summit that I wasn’t so bothered about reaching after managing the feat next to three years ago. Minffordd looked the nearer and I wanted to make sure of my way home, not at all a problem on the day.
My choice of Wales was based on the fact that an east moving rain belt might leave earlier to afford a drier day’s walking than might be had further east. It seems that I made the right decision and especially so when you consider that a rain belt was ensconced over Ireland during their August bank holiday weekend, not at all what they need right now. The Cadair Idris idea was in mind for a while after a previous attempt came to naught and less involved transport arrangements only added to its appeal.
The trouble with both Cadair Idris and the Rhinogau is that they are great collectors of clag whenever there is any uncertainty with regard to the weather conditions. Their proximity to the Irish Sea is what I think to be the cause and I seem to have made more visits when the tops were shrouded than when they were clear. However, a Spring Bank Holiday weekend “invasion”, made trickier by the Cadair Idris hill race when it came to accommodation, a few years back proved that there are days when air clarity reigns supreme. Saturday’s incursion wasn’t to be one of those with low cloud smothering the summits from time to time. Even so, that reduction in visibility never obscured the presence of those fearsome inland cliff faces that surround Cwm Cau so all was safe.
Apart from safety concerns, the presence of so much cloud didn’t bother me so much because its absence could make for the sort of day when lazing rather than more strenuous activity would be the more tempting. So, while temperatures weren’t what they might have been, it was still hot sweaty work on the way uphill from Minffordd. In hindsight, my starting point probably should have been the car park at the junction of the B4405 and the A487 but I pottered down the former to following my intended right of way as the map showed it. You could say that I was taking a safety first approach on my first visit to the locality but it offered the opportunity to find my bearings and that can never be a bad thing, even if road traffic required a little negotiation.
My route away from tarmac was soon located and a mental note made of the off-road alternative. The path underfoot was well made with plenty of steps easing the way uphill through the woodland with waterfalls to my right. It was also quiet, an undeniable bonus when steep inclines are to be negotiated; there’s nothing like the freedom to determine your pace and rest stops without the nuisance of leap frogging that blights so many popular tracks through upland areas. Views of the hills surrounding Llyn Mwyngil (also known as Tal-y-llyn Lake) took up the time spent stationary. Cloud denied opportunities for photography but you can’t knock beauty when there’s no sun.
The gradients took to being kinder after the treeline was crossed and I was presented with a choice: staying with the Minffordd Path as planned or diverting around by Mynydd Moel instead. Having seen an information board before the uphill action commenced, the latter was tempting but I decided to keep with the original course and continued towards Llyn Cau on a path that was at times boggy and unclear. That may have been the cause of my approaching the corrie rather nearer than might have been intended but it was nothing that a spot of doubling back couldn’t fix and it was on open access land after all. In fact, I could have continued around the lake to embark on a steep ascent that reminds of the Devil’s Kitchen path in the Ogwen Valley. Some might find its like exhilarating but there are times too when making it harder for yourself than it needs to be is not in order.
The slopes of Craig Lwyd saw my footfall instead of the above more adventurous alternative whose presence hadn’t come to my notice by then anyway. There were a goodly number of folk plying the way hereabouts but not so many as make it feel like the walking equivalent of the M6 or the M25. The gradient was energetic but the coolness at above 600 metres in height kept the sweating in check. An extra layer was needed when things levelled off; steeper gradients never last. Airy ground became the order of things with views down to the lakes beneath competing with the slopes, craggy or not, for attention. Still, the ridge-like feel wasn’t sufficient to scare though it did provide every encouragement for keeping away from sharp steep stony deathly drops.
Craig-Cwm Amarch looked quite impressive when it came into view. Low cloud was wont to envelope me and anyone at this ca. 700 metres height from time to time and the 791 metres summit in question got cloaked too; the accompanying drop in temperature was the reason for my wrapping up warmer. Keeping a respectable distance from the edge, I left the peopled Craig-Cwm Amarch to cross Craig Cau for Penygadair. This may have meant a very noticeable height loss and subsequent regain but my legs weren’t complaining too much as Cadair Idris’ highest point came quickly enough.
Like many others there at the time, I lingered on the summit for a while. On my visit in August 2006, it was a breezy spot that felt more exposed than it felt on the return trip. Higher cloud abounded that day but with no sign of blue sky to complement it. For the second visit, the low cloud stayed away for long enough to allow glimpses of Barmouth and the mouth of the Mawdach Estuary from on high. In fact, there were decent views all around but the sense that you were under a cap of cloud that wasn’t everywhere was inescapable. It was a reminder of Kerry folk and their saying that Brandon on the Dingle peninsula has “his” cap on. The cause would be the same: moist unstable sea forming into wisps and clots as it rose in height.
It was a look at my watch put me off the idea of continuing to Dolgellau, in spite of the attractions of following a known path in conditions with occasional lack of air clarity. Thoughts of rushing things overpowered any such advantages so I opted for a shorter option that took in more summits, one of them being Mynydd Moel, and returning by the path that tempted me earlier. Along the way, I crossed nameless tops with ample views to the north. Whatever numbers of people had accumulated dissipated quickly as I continued to the east. While I questioned the sanity of the enterprise, the easy slopes to the top of Mynydd Moel were surmounted with one last look around before I started to pick my way down.
Looking at the map now, following the fence that I crossed to reach the said summit downhill wouldn’t have been so foolhardy if mapping can be trusted not to hide some unpleasant obstacle among the otherwise none too frightening slopes. On the day, I dropped down the hill’s eastern slopes on a well defined if occasionally challenging path to reach an informal one going south along the eastern bank of a watercourse. The down-slopes didn’t look so threatening from then on and I crossed the Nant Caenewydd near a wall that I followed west to pick up a maintained path taking me back towards the junction where I had that earlier quandary. My old Explorer OL23 showed the course of the formal Mynydd Moel path but that seems to be omitted from the Quo data that I have. That makes me wonder what a newer map might be missing but it’s all access land so no one should be hollering at any devil may care cross country wanderers like myself.
The way down steepened but it was known to me from earlier in the day and I knew that no rushing was needed. It still wasn’t busy and took me back to level ground in good time. This time, I followed the path to the car park that I had rejected earlier and reached my waiting point for the bus with time to spare, never a cause for complaint. However, your brain really doesn’t need to take to wandering into questions like whether you are at the right place to stop a bus when it is unmarked and whether the bus would be excessively delayed on its way south from Caernarfon. All such concerns proved to be unfounded, a good way of ensuring that they didn’t sully a fabulous day out.
Return train journey from Macclesfield to Machynlleth and 32/X32 return bus trip from Machynlleth to Minffordd.