Two visits to Llangollen25th April 2016
It feels like a different world now that I look back on it but 2014 had its share of hill country excursions and these have yet to be recalled on here. All this came before my father’s passing away near the start of 2015 and thoughts turned elsewhere afterwards. Naturally, there was grieving as I moved into an era with work to be done with my late father’s estate. In fact, some of that remains outstanding yet and that still weighs on my mind a little as does the fact that neither of my parents are there any more.
More cheerful distractions have occupied my mind too, for I can begin to consider overseas explorations like those to Iceland and Switzerland last year. Associated mental meanderings still entertain me with recent explorations of the prospects of North American wilderness wandering still bringing their own learning episodes. While I am realistic about the chances of making those possibilities real, learning more about other parts of the world is good too.
One of the risks of doing this is that far-flung shores bedazzle me when similar delights are nearer to hand. In other words, they could have curtailed the motivation that once got me out and about the hill country of Britain and Ireland. Certainly, 2015 saw me doing less of such things and my main holiday breaks were spent overseas too. Still, you cannot journey among overseas mountains without doing so among home hills and I hope to rekindle those again.
A stormy winter has not helped that and the other topsy turviness of the past twelve months meant that I took to local cycling trips in a big way. That restored my cycling confidence after a break of around two years so I am not complaining. If it helps my going on cycling trips away from my home turf, it would be even better.
All remained ahead of me in 2014 and dared not to go foreseeing the future. There was enough on my plate with my keeping an eye on how my elderly father was doing back then. It was plain that he was not going to be there forever, so the focus was on what then was the present. It was a time when breaks were much needed so that got me out among hills on foot.
One might have thought that Christmas 2013 would have been tough going after the passing away of my mother earlier in the year but I was to find the one a year later much harder for a variety of reasons. My father must have got to thinking that Christmas 2014 was his last and it sure enough was. It may have meant that he had a dream for it that could not be made real, so that did not help. That a neighbour began to discuss plans for Christmas 2015 was no help either and became another obstacle to overcome, as if grief itself was not enough.
Maybe it is now that those are behind me that I can begin to write these words because every Christmas is becoming something to surmount with a breather afterwards. Forgetting the next one until it comes now is my way and it could have been that way for a while since I relished the peace of January and February even when my parents still were there.
After the ups and downs of early 2013, 2014 got a steady start and things were settling into a rhythm with my father though his fragile health meant that nursing home care was his lot even if never was one that he wanted. This semi-steadiness where a new set of circumstances had become familiar meant that my mind could to hill wandering and the middle of January 2014 saw a weekend visit to Llangollen.
To make sure that I actually did make it to North Wales, I booked an overnight stay in Llangollen. It helped that it would not mean an early start on a Saturday to get there and I also broke any rut into which I had fallen by spending a night away from home. This was an uneventful stay too and the quiet of the dining room the next morning was a reminder of how early in the year it was.
It was a frosty morning too as I dawdled around Llangollen. Though I had a day of walking ahead of me, it would have been rude to leave the place in haste with the sun out like it was. There was some clag about too and it circled the ruins of Castell Dinas Brân, but that was to burn off.
Soon enough, I found my way to the canal whose banks I was to follow out into the countryside. It also was the start of my shadowing the River Dee, a trend that was to follow for much of the day. That way out from Llangollen is familiar to me from many walks around there so it was a case of following the towpath, enjoying what lay about me and keep an eye on progress. Helping with the last of these were landmarks like the Royal International Pavilion and the train sheds of the Llangollen Railway.
The canal ends near the Horseshoe Falls, an attraction for many a stroller. Beyond this, I had a little bit of navigating to do, but a clear path was on hand to get me onto the road near Llantysilio’s church, where I stayed a while to see if the sun would return from behind a cloud again to light it for a photo. It was not that willing so I got going again.
Road walking was my lot for a short while until I found the path that was to take me around by Llandynan. This was to take me through forestry where I was not so sure of where the path was. After some deliberation, I made my way out the other side to reach the collection of houses that I was seeking and where I was surprised by the course from there to Rhewl.
Rhewl too is a small place and I dallied there to make sure of where I was headed next. Once I was decided, the course was plain: follow a tarmacked byway uphill. This took me along part of the Clwydian Way and I found it steeper than anything I had met before that day, so stops were needed on the way. The scenery on view beyond the trees provided ample excuses, especially given that the sun was out again. One of those was where the road ended so I could take stock of what lay ahead of me. Though I thought them to be a series of rocky outcrops at the time, I also got to gaze at quarry spoil heaps that I was to pass later on.
On the other side of the gate, a gravel track awaited, and initial progress was across gentler gradients. Around the next corner, the way that the track was cut into the hillside became clear to me and it took an enticing line. Some height was lost so that had to be regained again on the way up to the pass between Moel y Gaer and Moel y Gamelin. With what surrounded me, it was a minor chore.
Once at the pass, I had a decision to make. Did I want to take in Moel Morfydd and Moel y Gaer before visiting Moel y Gamelin? Looking at the time, I made straight for the latter and it was to be the November visit when I trotted over the other two, not that I foresaw that at the time.
There is no right of way over Moel y Gamelin so it is just as well that this was access land and more folk were around there than elsewhere. Quite where they started was not clear to me, but the day’s weather had drawn them just like me. There still was no crowding though and occasional friendly greetings accompanied the much-needed episodes of soothing solitude.
All the heat generated by the height gain resulted in the shedding of layers such that one might have thought that I’d thought it to be a spring day. There had been one last heave needed to get to the top of Moel y Gamelin and open up views over the Horseshoe Pass in all directions, including the distinctive Eglwyseg Mountain to the east. Though it was well into the afternoon, I was drawn as far as the top of neighbouring Moel y Faen before retracing my steps to pick up a public footpath that was to be the first leg of my return to Llangollen.
That hugged the steep hillside much like the Offa’s Dyke Path crosses the aforementioned Eglwyseg Mountain. Along with the Horseshoe Pass below me, Berwyn Quarry came into view and acted as a reminded that I was in a working landscape. Later, I was to pass behind some of its spoil heaps before moving onto less industrial surroundings. There, paths looked less clear and I went around by Pen-y-Bryn because that was clearest and it usefully dropped me onto the Dee Valley Way near Llandynan so I could retrace my steps to Llangollen along the outbound route, a useful thing in declining light.
Return train journey from Macclesfield to Wrexham. Bus service 5 from Wrexham to Llangollen and bus service 5A for the way back.
Given the vagaries of the weekend weather forecast, I must have been in need of the getaway that took me to Llangollen on that Saturday before continuing to Barmouth the next day. The tale of the second part of the weekend has been moved to another post but it revisited places that I had not seen since 2005.
For the Llangollen portion of the escapade, I saw to unfinished business earlier in the year when Moel y Gamelin took my fancy. My hilltop objectives then became Moel y Gaer and Moel Morfydd and an early morning departure landed me in Llangollen. The initial stages of the walk even retraced much of the January route apart from sticking with the road as far as Rhewl because the wood near Llandynan did not inspire me when I was last there. The part of the Clwydian Way from there to the gap between Moel y Gamelin and Moel y Gaer was followed more faithfully. There seemed to be more pheasants than people for poor field-craft on my part was causing them to take flight in their usual noisy manner. The theme of unpeopled hills pervaded as good as the entire walk for whatever reason; it might have been the weather but that only can be a guess at best.
While I had started under sunny skies, clouds had staged a coup to show me why the weather predictions had been so variable. As I gained height to reach the top of Moel y Gaer, rain began to move in to dispel any hopes of much in the way of photos. Though it came and went, the wet theme continued until I was losing height again on the other side of Moel Morfydd when things dried up for me.
Then, the question came to the fore as to when to turn off the track I was following. This was not a right of way so it helped that I was on access land. Though the track would have taken me to a road that could have made for easier route finding, I decided that it would have gone the long way around and went so far along it for views before turning back to find a public footpath that would get me down part of the way. On open moorland, finding such things without signs takes a certain amount of deduction, so a navigational puzzle had been set. The further down I went, the more tricky it got until I finally got myself on the route of the Dee Valley Way as planned. From then on, route finding was more straightforward and became even more so after Rhewl when I merely retraced my steps, albeit in declining light. A night’s rest was to follow before the rest of the weekend took shape.
Though I have yet to go back to see more of Llangollen’s nearby hills, there are excuses for returning. Walking over Moel y Gaer and Moel Morfydd in better weather would be one and following the whole Dee Valley Way is another option. The latter would be a long day walk starting from Corwen and then continuing east as far as Llangollen. Then, there are those ups and downs of which I suspect it has many. It only goes to show that you never can say that an area is done, since there always is something new to see.
Return train journey from Macclesfield to Wrexham. Bus service 5 from Wrexham to Llangollen and bus service X94 from there to Barmouth.
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