A weekend around Capel Curig16th April 2010
With fine weather around and a good forecast, I made sure that I sorted something for the past weekend without letting it to the vagaries of Friday night planning, an at times fragile activity that is vulnerable to tiredness after an intense working week. Much to my surprise, I managed to book a bed in the Capel Curig YHA after drawing a blank there and at other hostels in the vicinity on previous attempts. That placed a pivot on the map of Wales for my route planning. With that there, I pencilled in a planned walk from Dolwyddelan that was to take in the summit of Carnedd Moel Siabod. With a need to get away early on Sunday, I didn’t fancy my chances of getting in another hike, but I managed to fit in a yomp from Capel Curig to Betws-y-coed through woodland and over boggy terrain.
After an early morning start from Macclesfield, I arrived in Dolwyddelan on a busy two carriage train with lively dogs across from me; the tail of one of them kept striking my newspaper and I didn’t envy their owners when it came to controlling them. All the way there, the skies had a very hazy look about them, and it was no different around Dolwyddelan. It was a hint that the day wasn’t going to be one for splendid photographic results, but I set to sorting myself out in the car park anyway. That act left any other interlopers that came off the train with me time to go on their merry way.
The start of my hike reprised a route that I followed around the same time last year. It started with a short hop along the road that took me over the Afon Lledr before crossing a field. Once over a not so busy A470, I pulled out my walking poles and set off uphill; they were set to stay in use all the way to Capel Curig.
Just because I wasn’t gaining so much height on the lane up from the A470 did nothing to reduce the gradient, but it still wasn’t as steep as I remembered it to be, and I was carrying a more laden rucksack on my back this time around! After that effort, a short stop was in order and I made out Dolwyddelan Castle in the near distance. Last year, I seem to have missed it for no reason that I can recall, so it was a matter set to rights.
With that initial steepness out of the way, the terrain became more level as I ambled along a forestry track. Moel Siabod, the prospect that jumped out of the Snowdonia member of Cicerone’s Great Mountain Days series, loomed above me as if to let me know what awaited me, yet I wasn’t to be deflected, even with the white streaks that were apparent. When I last passed the way, there were more folk about, but this occasion was much quieter; I was to meet no one until a few mountain bikers passed me as I approached the sign for Moel Siabod. Last year, I kept going for Capel Curig with mixed feelings, but Llyn Idwal was my ultimate destination that day, and I wasn’t to be disappointed with either progress or surroundings.
This time, I lugged my heavy pack to the top of Moel Siabod with no misgivings, marked Carnedd Moel Siabod on OS Explorer maps. The mention of maps brings me to the subject of my having two maps available in a trouser cargo pocket. One of the problems with Moel Siabod is that it sits astride OL17 and OL18 and not all the paths around the hill are depicted either. Given that Harvey’s Superwalker map of the area put the hummock in the middle and not at the edge, it came too, and a few more tracks are depicted on it too. However, it doesn’t show my route from Dolwyddelan to Llyn Foel very well, so an OS map was at hand too. When you get different stories, you need to hear them all to get a fuller picture.
Before I could emerge into open country, I needed to pick my way though forestry, not my strongest point but the track was clear up to its end and the path that took over was more than navigable too. The day was hot and sweat was coming out of me as I ascended the slopes until I exited the forest into boggy and craggy terrain. I knew that I had to cross the stream to my right but took a somewhat roundabout route before doing so; there’s no need to do everything at once when some things can wait. It was from there that the gradient really sharpened, and I noticed two other walkers below me, the only ones that passed this way as I was making my ascent. They were far less laden, so I left them pass before continuing my sluggish course. Cataracts abounded, allowing opportunities for stopping and staring. Patience was needed too and it’s so easy to become frustrated with not reaching your objective as soon as you’d like. Overestimating how high you are is another slippage to which I have succumbed, so I took it easy and left the shore of Llyn Foel come to me in its own good time.
Once there, I had a choice of going left or right. The former may have been the shorter journey, but I needed a break from hopping over stones and boulders, even if that took me over boggier ground. That it was to do so meant careful footwork of a different kind was in order until the drier ground leading to the flank of Daear Ddu allowed a chance of a rest. It became clear that I was onto more frequented turf by now with folk passing by while I was stopped. You never could call it overrun, but remarks about a glorious day are always good to share.
Knowing that the ascent of Daear Ddu was ahead of me, I paced myself as I continued up as yet not unfriendly slopes. Though not marked on any map anyway a path could be made out, and I followed that while using the widening views as a means for tracking progress. Dolwyddelan Castle and the Crimea Pass could be picked out below me as I scuttled up the steep hillside. Eventually, I even was led to believe that a sliver of Llyn Trawsfynydd was visible over hilltops. Progress was slow and not just for me. Another pair of walkers lost patience and went for a more direct approach to the summit and guess who they met up there before them? A certain laden Irishman who wasn’t that far above them when they went their own way. My more circuitous course demonstrated that direct routes aren’t always that quick.
Though I needed to negotiate a boulder field and remnants of the past winter in the form of patches of snow, the fence that you see marked on an OS map came soon enough. While I was wondering if more clambering was ahead of me, another walker came and, after sharing a few words about the view, lobbed his Jack Russell terrier over that fence. Deciding to do the same, I followed while marvelling at all that I could pick out from the surrounding buckling of the landscape. Snowdon, Tryfan, Glyderau, Carneddau… The list grew on a day when haze meant that photographic capture was limited to record shots. Well, Snowdon is situated in a better place for morning photography from the Capel Curig side so it’s horses for courses. However, now I know what dome lay on the horizon when I looked east from the Miner’s track to Snowdon’s top a few years ago: Moel Siabod.
If it wasn’t for the fact that I hadn’t planned to stay the night, I might have been concerned by my arrival on Moel Siabod’s summit at around 16:00, but I fitted in both the views and one of the boulder-strewn humps that are marked as Moel Siabod by the OS before heading down. Having had enough clambering done for any day, I left the other one or two after me, at least for now. One advantage of staying high for that little bit longer was that a downhill was plain to see. It also was the one that I planned to take to get onto an old pony track that was to take me down again. Even with my being at the gentler side of the hill, that didn’t mean that I could go downhill willy-nilly. For one thing, the paths were stony and the gradients significant. Concentration remained of the essence.
With accommodation sorted and a few hours of daylight remaining, tiring limbs were not being rushed, but I was down in less than three hours all the same. Llynnau Mymbyr lay beneath me as I made for Coed Bryn-engan, through which I needed to pass before I was out on the A5. Though there were better routes through the wood, I wasn’t going around in circles either, even after a long day on the hoof. Still, it wasn’t before time that I got to the hostel to be given a room with no one else in there before me, a situation that never greeted me before. That gave me time to organise myself before anyone else appeared on the scene, and it was a full house later on and a noisy one too. With all the tossing and turning above, I wondered at the wisdom of taking a lower bunk, but the night wasn’t all sleepless either. Before all this though, I had spent a very good hour sat on a rock next to Afon Llugwy as the light declined.
An early start after a decent breakfast had me heading towards Betws-y-Coed with an eye on the time. There was a footpath that circuited the hostel via a nearby campsite that gained me some height with occasional sun lighting up the likes of Moel Siabod and Snowdon among others. Eventually, the going got boggier and navigation needed attention if I wasn’t to end up going all the way to Llyn Crafnant and Trefriw in error. Looking at a map since then, revealed that would have covered the same distance and used a different bus at the other end, not the end of the world in other words. On the ground, it took time for my selected course to reveal that it was my intended one and not another. Sodden soft ground is not the best for navigational clarity and a later map showing a permissive path on a gate had me scratching my head for a moment. All that map perusal and careful stepping cost me time, and it took an hour to reach forestry again.
Once among trees, the pace quickened, and I dropped onto a path to cut down on the distance travelled, though a trip landed me out on my elbows at one stage. Apart from another muddying go with that from an earlier ill-placed footing, there was no damage done and I crossed Afron Abrach and took to another forestry track. This followed the edge of the plantation with Glyn Farm to my right. It also allowed good progress and I later stayed on forest tracks by choosing to cross a road to meet another. The roar of the Swallow Falls (a mistranslation of the Welsh for “Foaming Cataract”, apparently) come up from below me and I saw the nearby hotel too, a good sign that time was with me.
When I found another narrow road, I stuck with it for a little while until wonderment about the wisdom of staying on it all the way to Betws-y-Coed led me onto a rough path that shadowed Afon Llugwy. The promise of a softer surface must have swung it, though I don’t know if the ups and downs were all that kind. Having had enough, I returned to the road only to find public footpath signs and left it again. The way east from Miner’s Bridge grew ever flatter and drier. As I neared my destination, the numbers of people typical of a honeypot were milling about. Quite what they made of a muddied walker with two sticks and a well filled rucksack is another matter. They were no impediment as I sought out my bus stop with more than half an hour to spare. There may have been outdoors stores, but I resisted their allure and stuck with popping into a Spar for some sustenance and the National Park centre for leaflets and gifts. A weekend spent among wilder surroundings ended among more genteel ones. How dull would life be if it wasn’t full of such contrasts?
Getting to Dolwyddelan was all by train with changes at Manchester and Llandudno Junction. The non-running of trains on the Conwy Valley line on Sundays meant travelling to Llandudno Junction from Betws-y-Coed on the X84 before continuing by train with changes at Chester and Manchester. The bus service accepts train tickets, so there was no extra cost beyond the price of a return train ticket to Dolwyddelan.
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