Some soggy yet varied Welsh wandering17th February 2011
Unusually for me, this year’s hill wanderings got an early start with a day out in Wales on the second Saturday of the year. That outing took me to Roman Bridge in the Lledr Valley from where I hiked to Pen y Pass using a route of my own devising and it was hard to say that it wasn’t varied either. First, there was a little variety in the weather, but the mix of terrain included soggy forest floors and waterlogged moorland. Even sheep pasture was to feel anything but dry. Because the day itself wasn’t the warmest, it was best to be shod in waterproof boots and not to fall in the wet either.
The journey from Macclesfield allowed a break at Llandudno Junction to make whatever use that I could of the directional light that was falling upon Conwy Castle and its surroundings. In marked contrast, it was under cloudy skies that I set off from Roman Bridge train station. As overcast as things were, snow-topped hills still drew the eye. There even was a feeling of dampness in the air as I plied first the single track road and then a public footpath towards Blaenau Dolwyddelan before starting on the right of way that was set to take me into what was to feel like an unloved commercial forestry; the experience made it easy to see why there was so much opposition to the U.K. government’s now dropped plans for selling off land managed by the Forestry Commission. Navigational uncertainties were put behind me and breaks began to appear in the cloud too before a crossing of Ceunant y Garnedd was needed. The signs of untended landscape were apparent in the lack of a bridge and the presence of still fallen trees that allowed me to get over what was a fast flowing watercourse. Something tells me that this might be fordable in drier spells of weather, but that was not how I was to find it at the start of 2011.
Initially, the public footpath through the forestry didn’t seem too unkind but more fallen trees and stray growing saplings were to make my passage tricky with stream crossings and some well-made sections of path obstructed by what felt like extraneous upstarts. Their presence reminded me of a trot along the Rob Roy Way from Aberfoyle to Callander a few years back when I spied a gentleman out with a chainsaw removing the same class of greenery from the sides of a vehicle track through a forest plantation overlooking Loch Venachar. My experiences in the Welsh counterpart around Garnedd Pen y Bont were planting ideas of bringing untoward implements like billhooks and chainsaws along to clear my way in the future. Of course, those outlandish notions were given short shrift though they may in part explain the recent furore about the U.K. government’s plans for Forestry Commission land. While I accept the imperfections of that institution, they have been known to do some good work and I have encountered the fruits of that around Arrochar and Glenfinnan in Scotland.
Whatever about the battles fought with vegetation, the sun did start to peep through those growing breaks in the clouds to light up what was around me and allow some views of what lay behind me. With time, I was shortening the distance to the edge of the forestry with conditions underfoot getting ever more mushy and with some lying snow, where it wasn’t so waterlogged too. The general state of the ground was causing me to keep as close to the roots of trees too even if that had me battling with headstrong branches. Any fallen branches that could convey me over the unsound stuff were gratefully used too. However, it was a foolhardy step onto a slender slippery branch that was the cause of sending me out on my side in the muddy wet. Did I mention earlier that this wasn’t the best of days for such misadventures? Even so, there was nothing broken and I soon dried without any ill effects, though clothes needed washing when I got home!
My braving that tree colony was well rewarded when I exited it. Clouds had become really well broken by then and pleasing vistas faced me wherever I happened to gaze so long as a cloud didn’t go sneaking in front of the sun. Those featuring Carnedd Moel Siabod probably were among the more photographically interesting that I’ve ever seen; the side-on views that I have been known to record seem a little less fascinating these days. Other hills that now are harder to identify caught the sun and a return is needed for the sake of working out exactly which is which. Looking at the photos that I made now shows little if any sign of the water that lay on the ground without making it as difficult to negotiate as in that forest through which I had passed.
It’s amazing how the hills before need not always be what you think they are. After comparing photos to pick out Yr Aran to the south-west of Llyn Gwynant and Y Lliwedd, one of the flanks of the Snowdon horseshoe, I get the sense that getting out a compass while out in the empty quiet places for the sake of working out which hill is which should be something to do more often while out in complex countryside. Once upon a time, it was a great help in working out my surroundings during a hike along the West Highland Way between Kingshouse Hotel and Kinlochleven. The day in question may not have granted me the photo opportunities for which I’d been hoping, but things now make a lot more sense afterwards.
As I dropped down to the floor of the Glaslyn valley, I was to see more of those Welsh hills that gave me cause for a spot of mental action. The positioning of the sun and clouds were to play a part in denying me the chance of acquiring nice photos, but those that I did, came in very useful afterwards. Losing height all the while, the surroundings changed from open moorland to walled pasture to woodland. The latter proved to be more natural and more friendly to the passing walker than my previous brush with woodland on the day and the gradients down which I was descending. There were views down the valley towards Beddgelert and up it towards the Snowdon hills and the Glyderau upon which to gaze during any well-earned break.
Because more level ground was reached, there was the matter of crossing the A498 and dropping down yet another steep incline. Temptingly, a Snowdon Sherpa bus service passed but I decided not to halt it at short notice, probably a sensible decision. More tarmac walking was in order along a quiet single – track road before I crossed well soggy fields to reach the other side of the valley. Golden late January afternoon sunshine blessed my surroundings so I was happy to have continued my walk in place of what could have been a premature finish. The track along which I was journeying was a quality affair leading from a campsite and it was tempting to think that it would have been great if it remained that way all the way to Pen y Pass.
That proved to be wishful thinking as things grew rougher on the approach to what looked for all the world like a church refurbished as a dwelling place. In fact, it was a far more industrial installation in the form of a waterworks facility if I recall correctly. With an awareness of fading light, I kept going, though I was to follow the line of the right of way more loosely than I might have intended. Later on, that manifested itself in my taking a route to Pen y Pass of my own making with my being deceived by a line of electricity poles into following Nant Cynnyd while battling the sort of tussocky grass that was reminding me of a walk from Ardlui to Butterbridge on a day when the advertised sunshine failed to materialise. However, this was access land so I was free to plot my own with any loss of height and walking became easier as I gained height too. It didn’t take too long to reach the well-travelled path that I had been seeking with the A4086 lying above me to my right. Light was failing, so a head torch was pressed into service so that I reached the Snowdon Sherpa bus down to Llanberis in time. It may have involved one last push of faltering legs, but there was no bad end to what in many ways had been a superb outing. In fact, I am pondering future visits to these parts and a reprise of the trot from Roman Bridge to Pen y Pass or Beddgelert cannot be ruled out of contention. Next time though, that commercial woodland might be best avoided.
Train from Macclesfield to Roman Bridge. Snowdon Sherpa from Pen y Pass to Llanberis, Padarn Bus service from Llanberis to Bangor, train from Bangor to Macclesfield.
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