Revisiting Llangollen14th August 2011
Though there were a few years when I made a good number of visits to the area, Llangollen seems to have slipped off my radar in recent times. What made those earlier attentions come about were some designs on exploring the hills surrounding Dolgellau that began to come into my mind at the start of 2004. When first attempts to make that happen in the spring of 2005 proved to be abortive, I consoled myself with a few Sunday day trips to Llangollen instead. What caused Llangollen and the countryside surrounding it to come to mind was that my preferred route to Dolgellau passed that way and drew my attention to what lay undiscovered around there.
That set in place a pattern that dominated subsequent walks around there afterwards. Both Valle Crucis Abbey and the Llangollen Canal have been part of those various trots, but that hasn’t been all. The idea of walking from Llangollen to Ruthin (Rhuthun in Welsh) even sprang to mind and resulted in a hike along Offa’s Dyke Path as far as Llandegla before sense intervened on that summer evening to send me to Wrexham instead. The rest of the way remains undone and the prospect of approaching the Clwydian Hills is another lure. Alternative transport arrangements may make this happen yet but it stays in my ideas bank for now.
That’s not to say that all of my visits have taken my north of the Dee, though, because January 2007 saw me walk from Chirk to Llangollen using a few paths and bridleways. Sunshine was scare and Chirk Castle further away and better hidden than was photographically ideal, but the walk was a good one nonetheless. The Ceiriog Valley is another prospect that I merely sampled a little at this sitting and it’s one that I won’t rule out for further investigations either.
Even though it was immersed in a period laden with energy sapping demands being made of me by my working life, the long Easter weekend demanded that I head away somewhere even if it only was for a short break. My resolve was strengthened by my having to abandon a planned trip to Caernarfon and Beaumaris before that. Even so, the first part of the weekend was so chilled out at home that I questioned why I was truncating that to get away at all. However, my efforts were rewarded with some alluringly sunny weather for a stay away from home that punctuated the way things had been going until thing. After all, that’s why these escapades get called breaks and one certainly was needed.
It was a late departure that got me away on Easter Sunday but I still had a golden evening to enjoy after arriving in Llangollen and checking into a hotel there. Making a booking was easy, though there were a fair few folk around Llangollen when I got there. While I am not certain that you get the most from the surroundings by remaining stationary in the town, it does seem to be a well-frequented honeypot with most folk doing exactly just that. Like other such fleshpots, leaving the assembled collection of humanity is an easy affair: just head up a steep sided hill and the one hosting Castell Dinas Bran was more capable of doing just this.
My trot up to Castell Dinas Bran was the start of a stroll that retraced some of those steps taken on earlier outings. While very little of the castle actually remains, it is the panoramic views that are the real draw here, as they were on my first trip to the area. With all the glorious evening light, the scenery was made to look even more alluring again and it was no surprise that more than me were lured away from the banks of the Dee. In fact, I was spotted using my DSLR and asked to take a photo of a few folk that were relaxing in the middle of the antiquity. It was a task happily fulfilled despite my own misgivings about not doing much in the way of people photography; hopefully, the photos turned out all right. After that deviation from my more usual subjects of landscapes and buildings, I soon enough returned to capturing a little of what surrounded me.
Steep slopes do keep the less determined away by requiring energy to be expended on the ascent but it’s on descending where they really take their toll. In this regard, the way down from Castell Dinas Bran on its eastern side was completely typical. Having negated to bring a walking pole, I needed to depend totally on my legs to keep the pace steady until the gradients eased; this was an unladen saunter with just a map and a water bottle having come with me.
Much to my amazement, I noticed a large party out for a stroll and they were heading in my direction. Thankfully, I was on the level when we passed, but the sheep weren’t too happy about what they saw, though. There were plenty of young lambs about and the size of the walking group really caused quite a commotion with ewes and lambs filling the air with a cacophony of bleating that shattered the peace of the evening. It is the sort of experience that starts you thinking that animals are in distress and makes you wonder if those causing it realised what they were doing. Now that I ponder it, I would counsel against large walking groups going through fields where there are sheep until later in the year.
With the air finally clearing of bleating, I made for a lower level path along the northern slopes of Dinas Bran to embark on a course that was set to drop me on a single track road. When I first came to these parts, this would have been a case of stitching together a few rights of way to make a walk from them, but a look at a current OS map reveals that I have been a user of part of the Clwydian Way, a long-distance trail that seemingly has come into place in recent years. Even on tarmac, I still was following its course as I walked past Dinbren Hall. Like the trail, I took a right turn onto another road that is signed for World’s End before leaving that for the bridleway that was to carry me closer to Valle Crucis Abbey. Retracing some old steps had me following a trail that I never noted before.
As it so happened, that track was to bring me past the old priory ruins as it hugged the lower slopes of Fron Fawr. It was at Abbey Cottage where I reset my direction of travel to use a footpath leading towards the abbey and the caravan and camping grounds that surround it. Whatever designs I may have had on photographing the attractive ruins amid their surroundings were stymied both by the lowering sun and the number of folk that had come camping for the weekend. A pleasant evening’s walking ensured that there was neither disappointment nor disgruntlement at this outcome. An upshot might be that I come this way again and I hope that I do.
With the sun now really declining for the day, I made for the Llangollen Canal by road. In hindsight, I think that I may have overshot my rendezvous with the canal by a little, but there was no point dwelling on that easily corrected triviality. Familiarity with where I was going meant that there was no rush in my stride as I closed in on Llangollen again. In the past, there have been a few times when I have trodden the towpath in a rush because I was making for a bus. This time, I was heading for a nearby base for the night, where getting something to eat and hitting the sack could be allowed to come along in their own good time. It was another reminder of why I was basing myself here for a springtime getaway.
Easter Monday turned out to be a contrast to the day before in a number of respects. Firstly, it started out cloudy after the clear skies brought by the preceding evening. Secondly, I decided to spend a few hours exploring more of what lay to the south of the Llangollen. Before that though, I whiled away a little time dawdling in Llangollen itself to take in what the morning sun might do for the place, whenever it got out from behind the clouds. Once satisfy with any photographic endeavours, I set off in search of the North Berwyn Way.
It takes more effort to scale the southern slopes of the valley where Llangollen resides than it takes to reach the attractive countryside to its north. This is what I discovered after making my way out from the town and leaving tarmac after me for a few hours. The work was sweaty too, a hint of the heat that visited us sporadically in April. After crossing two fields, I picked up a bridleway skirting Cae-Madog Wood and this track was to carry me for a good share of my trot too. Though most of the steepness was past me on reaching that wood, there was some ascent left before reaching a crest near The Brow.
Gradients grew kinder after that point and the pastoral nature of my surroundings was a contrast to what I was seeing to my north and where I was the previous evening. It was if everything was flatter once you had made the ascent from the valley floor. In fact, you have thought that this was the natural level of the area were it not for the whistle of steam trains beneath. Being of a mindset that I was seeking peace and quiet made me understand John Ruskin’s irritation with the idea of trains travelling over Monsal Dale in Derbyshire. Usually having little dislike for trains, I was surprised at how all that whistling was perturbing me an and how its subsidence was welcome.
With peace restored, my progress was to bring through a varying landscape that contained a mixture of pasture, tillage (oil seed rape was in flower in one field) and grouse butts. There was a single-track road crossed too and some silly sheep around Ffynnon-lâs Wood who took a while to realise that I wasn’t driving them along the track too; thankfully no bleating this time but a little running before they left the track to get away from me.
It was after Ffynnon-lâs Wood where I reached the access land that was to come in handy for setting a more freestyle course without making anyone cross about it. Views to the north took in hills that I have yet to really explore and figuring out which is which will need a future excursion because the countryside looks like a complex mix of gradients on an O.S. Explorer map. Things looked simpler where I was, and any inclines weren’t too steep either, though a healthy carpet of heather meant that some forethought was needed before heading off on a very independent course. After wondering if anyone goes wandering around these parts, I was to encounter a few that were out and about, even passing a few words with one woman who had come up from her home in the nearby Ceiriog valley to the top of Vivod Mountain.
That was the first hummock that took my fancy and it is very flat topped too. In hindsight, that crossing that I made over the heather to reach it could have been avoided, but these are the things that you learn by actually going somewhere and not just exploring it on a map. Though the position of the sun limited any photo opportunities for them, rockier hills could be seen further to the west as if to remind me that my previous incursions into this part of the world in reality only scratched the surface. Reasons to return were mounting steadily.
After a circular route of my own devising had taken me to Vivod Mountain, I returned to the track that I now realised was what probably brought that lady up from the Ceiriog Valley. Y Foel was the next hummock that took my fancy so I plied another route of my own devising to get there while cutting down on the amount of heather jumping that was needed. It helped that some patches had been burnt recently to encourage fresh growth for the grouse. There was some time for lunch too before I reached the top of Y Foel, a benefit of not taking on too much at one sitting. Once on that top, I was left wondering what the O.S. were marking when they inscribed Biddulph Tower on their Explorer maps. Apparently, there once was a tower here but so little remains now that you’d mistake it for a rocky outcrop nowadays. It’s curious that a name that I’d associate with Staffordshire is to be found around this part of Wales.
Whatever about any curiosity, I needed to return to Llangollen and start my journey home. First, I left the hill to drop down towards Finger Farm and re-enter more pastoral countryside. Some road walking was ahead of me but I had chosen one with signs highlighting its later unsuitability for vehicles at the crossroads where I joined it. It did take a good while for that forewarned roughness to materialise but soon did after a sign for a turning area ahead of it. The tarmac gave way to a rough and steep track that left you wondering what if any vehicles could negotiate it. Quad bikes and other ATV’s should manage it but what about conventional tractors? Something tells me that they must go this way to get to the fields too.
What my knees were telling me was that this was a steep descent to get to Llangollen, but that probably was hard to avoid anyway. The roughness of the track accentuated the desire for a kinder walking surface but it was a case of being patient and letting steady progress do the needful. For some reason, I have stronger memories of the heat of the day at this point than the temperatures that I met higher up; maybe there was a cooling breeze that is lost to my recollection now. A cloudy morning had transformed into a hot sunny afternoon and a repeat of the previous evening’s weather may have happened but I was unable to stay longer to find out if that was the case.
The track eventually grew less steep and the surface changed to tarmac. There still was more height to be lost, but this had become less strenuous and I was lured into the Denbighshire county council managed property of Plas Newydd, a Tudor-style building reminiscent of Gawsworth Hall and Little Moreton Hall in Cheshire. While I may not have stayed there very long, it was a useful rest for tired limbs before continuing on to catch my bus home, satisfied by a good if short break from everyday hurly-burly. That there are reasons for going back is an added bonus.
Train journey from Macclesfield to Chester with a change in Stockport, Arriva bus service 1 to Wrexham and Arriva bus service 5A to Llangollen. Arriva bus service 5A from Llangollen to Wrexham and by rail back to Macclesfield from there with a few changes of train along the way (think they might have been at Chester, Crewe and Stockport but my memory is getting a little hazy now; should have started writing this piece earlier).
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