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Sunday, 8 May 2016


I haven't done the complete traverse of the Nantlle Ridge for over 30 years and thought it was about time for another go, if I wait another 30 years I'll be 93 so best get a move on.
The Sherpa: in my part of the country we have the 'Sherpa' Bus service, this circumnavigates its way around the main massif of Snowdon, sort of.
Proper Sherpa's as we all know are small, hardy, tough folk who carry huge loads at a nice steady pace, our Sherpa's are huge 40 seater, rattly, noisy old buses that once plied their trade in some far off flat place like Norfolk where they were quite good, well here they're Norfolk'n good and carry the driver and me, and lots of empty seats, although they do fly along at an alarming pace on our narrow roads putting the fear God into oncoming tourists.
I set off on the ascent of Y Garn (peak 1) at 9.30 and this was going to be the second time in as many weeks on the steep climb, reached the summit at 10.45 without much hassle, but it was bloody hot.


The next summit, Mynydd Drws y Coed (peak 2) is a short 20 minute scramble from Y Garn, the scramble is easy with some spectacular exposure down into the cwm below Clogwyn Marchnad, despite it being a stunning day I still hadn't seen a soul, the humidity was pretty high so the far views were very hazy.
On to the next top which is Trum y Ddysgl (peak 3) a pretty unspectacular lump but does show the way towards Mynydd Tal y mignedd (peak 4) which boasts the 'mother' of all cairns, this huge obelisk dominates the peak and can be seen from miles away. It was built to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897.


From here the descent down Bwlch Dros bern gives spectacular views down Cwm Pennant (reputed to be the most beautiful valley in Wales)  and onwards to the base of the Trwyn y Graig where a much needed rest stop was required plus a swill of water and the ubiquitous banana for some energy.
The slog up to Cwm Silyn (peak 5) was hot and without a breeze was hard work but soon the plateau was reached and fond memories came flooding back of rock climbing on the great slab of Silyn with my mate Bob, we had a very lucky escape here when we were on the top pitch of a route called Kirkus's Direct and a rock came hurtling down the face and hit the rope we were attached to, luckily not straight through but pretty close.


Most people finish the traverse here and don't tend to carry on to the last two summits, I did the same all those years ago but was determined to do a 'whole' traverse
I decided that 'butties' were in order and this flat top was as good as any with plenty of rocky tables to rest on before the final stint.


The summit of Garnedd Goch (peak 6) is reached by an easy amble over the flat plateau but is worth doing in itself with its rocky outcrops adding to the interest, from here the last summit Mynydd Graig Goch (peak 7) looks tantalisingly close, it's not!


It's a long slog between these two summits and although fairly easy it comes at the very end of a fairly strenuous trek. On reaching the top I was amazed to find that someone had erected a 'flag' pole between the rocks, a 20 ft scaffolding pole had been cemented in place and had the tatty remnants of a Welsh flag hanging from it. Why would anybody want to cart a very heavy pole and a huge amount of cement to the top of this peak is beyond me, very weird.



The decent down to Llyn Cwm Dilyn was a knee killer and i was glad to reach the water board track and what was the end of the route, but I still had the bus trip to look forward to.
I met an elderly couple at the end of the lake and got talking and they asked me where I'd come from to which they replied 'esgob annwyl' a very poetic Welsh 'Good Lord' or WTF!
They offered me a lift to the next village as it transpired that they knew my cousin, which meant I wasn't about to kidnap them, and within two minutes a bus arrived, number 1A although not A1 in condition, this was even faster that the first bus this morning and rattled along the new A487 at an alarming pace, the driver informed me and the other passenger, a woman with a small child which was strapped into his push chair as if he was about to be launched into orbit, maybe she was used to the bus journey.
The (very) young driver informed us that there had been a road traffic accident in Caernarfon and it was disrupting his turnaround time and he had to get a move on, I could see what he meant.
The RTA had long been cleared but these days of course it needs 3 police vehicles, a council lorry and a council van and a bloke with a 10 metre tape and some chalk to make sure everything was safe for us to proceed and give them the satisfaction that they could hold the traffic up and close the slip roads off, mind you I was in no rush as my onward 'Sherpa' wasn't for another hour and a half, and no he wasn't coming from the Himalaya either, although it may have been quicker!
So after a 'Tea & Scone' respite and a wander around town, I and three teenage girls in pristine white trainers and ripped white Levi's pushing designer prams with one hand whilst clutching their iPhone 6's in the other boarded the magic bus and headed for home
I arrived home at 5.45 after what seemed an eternal day of over 8 hours covering a total of 8 miles walking and 17 miles by bus, 25 miles in total at an average of approximately 3mph or thereabouts, after sleeping the sleep of the dead I drove a 100 miles to Liverpool in a shade over 2 hours, nuff said.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Ghost Stones

The distant hills of Gyrn Goch and Gyrn Ddu with Tre Ceiri Hill Fort in the middle distance taken from the summit of Yr Eifl.

The Lleyn Peninsula has me in a draw, I have recently rediscovered how wonderful the landscape is and how easy its accessibility is too, despite the rather jaw dropping fact that if you lived at the tip of the peninsula at Aberdaron and required medical attention in Ysbyty Gwynedd, it being the local hospital, it entails a journey of 42½ miles by road and can take up to one and a half hours, or ten minutes in a 22 Squadron Seaking helicopter, a pleasing though if you are ever in need of emergency aid, but it does make you think that you are rather in isolation.
The trip had already been aborted three times before a success was finally achieved, the first attempt ended almost where it began, I had planned a trip to climb Gyrn Ddu and Gyrn Goch, two small but deceptively steep hills whose flanks tumble into the sea via Clynnog Fawr and Trefor. I had passed their bases more times than I can remember but had never explored the tops, they had never been that high on my tick list for some reason despite being so close to home, but a trip up to the iron age Tre Ceiri Hill Fort on the Rivals with my friend John drew me to them as they bathed in the sunshine in the crystal clear light, I had used Google maps to have a look at the terrain as I often do these days if I am planning a trip and it revealed a fascinating landscape with some interesting rock formation and several prehistoric remains.
I had been given a small volume that my friend John Cantrell had published on walks in the Lleyn Peninsula and the circuit around these two peaks looked like a nice afternoon jaunt.

1st Attempt.

I parked on the old road at the village of Gyrn Goch and set off rather in haste and without reading John’s description in detail, I remember the text mentioning a path up the left hand side of the conifer plantation so I duly set off at a fair pace and took the left fork in the track as described, I followed the river for a short while and got to thinking that the path although very distinct was not much used, after a struggle to cross the river via some very greasy boulders I was confronted with chest high bramble and ferns, fighting my way as best as possible in Dr Livingstone style I quickly got the impression that my way was not the right way, by now the path was virtually nonexistent, up ahead I could see a dry stone wall and what looked like a 5 bar gate so I continued my struggle, I eventually reached my goal and my ears were filled with heavy breathing, I knew I had struggled through the undergrowth and had just joined the ‘bus pass’ set but I wasn’t that unfit surely, I reached the top of the wall and looked over it only to be greeted by a large mouth full of huge teeth wide eyes and nostrils that were snorting at me rather menacingly, I was face to face with a woolly faced alpaca, in fact the field was full of them, also rather weirdly, in the middle of the field was a 1960’s Triumph Herald. It had also started to piss down. A strange Pythonesque feeling came over me as to how unreal it all was, I turned turtle and headed back the way I came through all the ferns and brambles, to top the day my boots were leaking too, not a good day.

My rather wet and snarly friend

2nd Attempt.

Now I was laughing, I had checked my maps and reread John’s description, in one of the chapters to the walk he mentions a 100ft waterfall that tumbles from the edge of the cwm, this waterfall has kept itself a secret as far as I could make out, I asked several of my colleagues who were regular mountain walkers if they knew of this cataract hiding amongst the trees, nobody had heard of it and there didn’t seem to be any mention of it anywhere either so off I set once more. This time I at least found the right start and set off up the farm track
The BBC weather forecast was not promising too good a day but what the heck, nothing ventured etc,
I got as far as the forest clearing and the heavens opened, but I could hear the roar of the elusive waterfall so carried on, the track now became nonexistent and I found myself heading towards the falls, after what seemed an age I caught a glimpse of  it through the downpour and the dense undergrowth and decided that they would have to wait for another day, I was now at the wall which leads to the open countryside and the hills beyond so I decided to at least make a low level round trip by returning along the old wall that acts as a boundary to the woodland. The hills beyond had long ago vanished into the mist and it was getting wetter as the day progressed. The path was very wet, very boggy, it was still pissing down and my boots still leaked. Soaked and rather dejected I headed for home.

3rd Attempt

My wife Clare gave me one of those looks that says it all without actually saying much at all, not the bloody waterfall again, don’t bother it’ll rain anyway.
I had tried to convince her and myself that these trips to the Lleyn were a much better proposition at this time of year than heading for the higher hill of Snowdonia, I had regaled her with amazing facts that Snowdon can average 200 ins of rain a year but the Lleyn only averages 37 ins a year, so the law of averages had to be on my side, --- she laughed.
I set off once more and this time headed in a slightly different direction by heading into the woodland itself along the workers track which followed the stream and hopefully the waterfall too, this time I met a man and his dog, the first sign of any form of life I had encountered on my trips so far, the dog, a huge American mastiff eyed me up and sniffed about rather alarmingly, I fell into conversation with the owner who said, ‘he’s gentle enough, don’t worry’, (they all say that, or “he doesn’t bite” don’t they). The rope that the dog was attached to was thick enough to hold a trawler steady in a storm, always a worrying sign; any animal that needs to be linked to a hawser should be in a cage!! It turned out during our brief conversation that he had only had the animal two days and was getting it used to its new territory, hmmmm

I was carrying a black Manfrotto tripod which does rather resemble a rifle if you carry it across your chest, so the beast might have thought we were off to hunt Moose or whatever American mastiffs hunt.

I bade him and his dog, which was now leaning against my legs and looking at me wistfully as if we had been hunting buddies all our lives, a good day and set off in search of the cascade.

After about ten minutes I was having second thought about my plan to thrash my way through the bracken and laurel growth and a lot of horrendously wet and slippery ground just to find the falls but I carried on regardless, eventually after much grunting and more Dr Livingstone style jungle bashing I found it, well sort of found that is—by hanging off the trunk of a laurel bush I could see the top third of it as it tumbled into the steep sided valley, at least it did exist but getting to it was nigh impossible and a tad risky too, to top it all it started to piss down and my boots were still leaking.

I carried on upwards and did the usual low level round trip and lo and behold the rain became a drizzle and eventually just a slight dampness, on the descent past the forest I came across the remains of an old medieval field system and the tumbled rocks of some dwellings which were an added bonus to the day.

I took a few shots on the camera and headed back to the car, I was getting well acquainted with the area by now.

The remains of the medieval field systems on the lower slopes of Gyrn Goch

4th Attempt

Even I was getting a bit fed up of trudging up the forest path to gain the open moor but at least it wasn’t raining, yet!!
Once more I headed up the track and gained the boundary wall and headed for the summit of Bwlch Mawr and after a good brisk 20 minutes I was on the summit, It was from this top that the landscape opened up and I was amazed how bleak and open the vast expanse of moor actually was, to think it was only a short distance from the road it felt like being in the middle of the Carneddau. From here you can make out the dry stone walls which are an incredible feature of this area, they literally extend for miles in all directions, are all in extremely good condition and are as straight as a die, apparently they were erected early in the 19th Century by the workers who were employed by Lord Newborough** whose estate covered a vast area of the Lleyn and beyond, the amount of rock that has been moved in this very open and exposed bit of moor to create these walls is mind boggling as is the skill and quality of the workmanship.

The cairn on the lower summit slopes of Bwlch Mawr looking across to the peaks of Gyrn Ddu and Gyrn Goch.

Also on this summit there were what looked like the remains of Bronze Age burial cairns and dug into the  cwm between here and the next summit of Gyrn Ddu are the remains of Clawdd Seri a raised dyke which is mentioned in local records as far back as 1200 but probably again dated from the Bronze Age. The whole area seems to be covered in the remains of long lost settlements.

Wall builder’s shelters?

After gaining the summit of Bwlch Mawr and doing a bit of exploring amongst its very rocky summit I headed along the wall to gain the next peak, this wall is a spectacular affair and is as straight as an arrow for a good mile, nothing gets in its way and it doesn’t deviate at all even when it confronts a pile of rocks but just carries on over and through like a knife slicing its way through the hillside. I was aiming for the lower summit of Gyrn Ddu and I did attempt to a shortcut across the moor to try and make a bee line for the gap in the wall and then straight up the hillside, after fighting my way through bog and tufts I could see why the path followed the wall for most of its length and I returned to the original track after a short deviation, the path here also becomes a section of the Lleyn Coastal Path before it breaks away to skirt the base of Gyrn Ddu before heading to Trefor and The Rivals and beyond.

The short section of ‘double wall’

On reaching a turn in the wall you are suddenly confronted with a short section of double wall as in a drovers track, this section has no relevance to the rest of the walls which are all single and high, this section is no more that 100 meters in length and ends as suddenly as it begins, another mystery!
From here you head up the path towards the lower summit of Gyrn Ddu where another wall heads off into the distance, as it reaches the lower summit is rather dramatically rides defiantly over the very centre of a huge burial cairn and undoubtedly the wall builders utilised the material available that was close at hand.

The lower summit of Gyrn Ddu where the wall slices its way through the Bronze Age cairn

A slight wind got up and flurries of snow began to fall, between the two summits are more signs of human habitation in the form of the remains of a dwelling, there is not much left but it seems to have been a single roomed house or ‘hafod’ the Welsh word for a summer shelter, where shepherds would remain with their flock during the summer seasons, I contemplated stopping here for a brew and a quick bite to eat but felt rather isolated but not quite alone.

The remains of the ‘Hafod’ between the summits of Gyrn Ddu

 I quickly reached the summit which is very rocky and reminiscent of the Glyderau and their boulder strewn summits and decided it was time for some nourishment, I dropped down to the lee side of the wind and brewed a cup of tea and ate my sandwich, I also had the comfort of the sea view which was a respite after all the walls and moorland. The next summit was Gyrn Goch and was the final top on the tour, it was a pleasant slope along another wall, this wall had an alarming lean of about 70° for its whole length and had obviously been constructed purposely in this way, possibly to act as a deflection to the gales from the sea and not a barrier against them, but it did give some shelter from what was now a biting wind, this was a pleasant little summit and again not a sound, no bird song or bleating sheep or the bark of dogs from the village way below

 The great leaning walls of Lleyn

The silence was overwhelming until the ghost stones whispered into the winds as I finally faced the final slope and headed for home I wondered how much life was entwined in these now deserted hillsides, there were bronze age burial cairns, ditches and dykes from the dark ages, long abandoned farmsteads and field systems and the long oh so long dry stone walls that dominated the landscape slicing their way over the moor and rocky summits without as much as a slight avoiding turn till they veered off, mostly at a perfect 90° angle and headed off up another slope to create another boundary.
Will I return to this open and sky wide expanse of hillside again? To that I can positively say yes and fairly soon too but on a blue sky day with the sun shimmering off the waters of the bay and Skylarks and Ravens diving and tumbling and I will make sure that I have company other than the ghost stones and their long lost souls whispering to the wind.

Looking across to Gyrn Ddu from the final summit on the round, Gyrn Goch.

**The Baron had his residence, Plas Glynllifon only a few miles away from these moors and guarded his lands for his own use; it is only in recent times that the area has become accessible with the advent of the CRoW* act and is now open access land, long may it remain so.
(*Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000)

 The peaks of The Lleyn Peninsula on a spectacular evening.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Cwm Pennant

Cwm Pennant

A late evening call from my friend John and a quick check on the BBC Weather was enough to call off the planned walk for the next morning, low cloud, drizzle, poor visibility etc, but as is often the case it would have been better to look out of the window, the morning was glorious with a warm breeze and a cloudless sky, the best laid plans of mice and men eh! With my list of household chores duly ticked off and the day looking better by the hour there must be a 'to do' tick before the girls get back from school.
There was a 'Derelict Barn' scene that I had wanted to take an image of for ages and the sun would have been just right and the visibility was crystal clear so I headed off in the vicinity of Penygroes to drop off a note with Joe the gas delivery driver and then the  new A487 to my barn spot, big disappointment, the barn looked great and the light was perfect and there were even some perfectly sited livestock to add drama, the only thing spoiling the scene were traffic lights, council wagon's, a huge tarmac eating machine and nowhere to stop, hell.
Another slight to the mind and eye and to anyone who wants to take an image of the peaks of the Rivals and the Lleyn Peninsula are three new wind turbines that have sprouted up in the name of renewable energy and a quick buck to the land owner no doubt, it will soon be impossible to take a photograph of a landscape or seascape without these hideous monstrosities
So I carried on to the next available turning space and then had a thought, Cwm Pennant, haven't been there for years and never with my camera, don't know why, this was a too good to miss opportunity.

Just past Dolbenmaen a left turn brings you on to the very narrow lane that leads to the head of Cwm Pennant some three miles further. The road sort of pulls you along very easily and tempts you to want to know what's around the next corner, the road follows, as many old roads do the path of the river Dwyfor that flows gently from the slopes of Moel Hebog, Moel Lefn  and Moel yr Ogof that look down into the bowl of the valley on all sides, there is no escape from here to the Gwyrfai valley on the other side except by a steep uphill trek over 'Bwlch y Ddwy Elor' and down to Rhyd Ddu, my birth place. The very name 'Bwlch y Ddwy Elor' gives this place a feeling of antiquity and 'Hiraeth' it translates as 'The Pass of the Two Biers' and I remember my grandfather telling me tales that he had been told of the struggles that took place to carry the dead from one village to another over the hillside, swapping the 'biers' on the summit ridge and then carrying the deceased down to the chapel for burial whilst taking the empty bier back until it was required another time.This gap in the col is itself at 427 mtrs above sea level so a sombre journey carrying a deceased family member especially in winter months must have been a hard and sorrowful undertaking.The link between Rhyd Ddu and Pennant must have been significant and I assume because there is no cemetery in Rhyd Ddu the dead were buried in the chapel in Cwm Pennant, it seems a long way and difficult to fathom why such undertakings would take place in so remote a spot.

The day I was there, despite it being a glorious Autumnal day the chapel looked forlorn with a somewhat 'down in the dumps' feeling to it,the path into the graveyard was overgrown and it took some effort to open the gate, on inspection the guttering was falling off the sides and the door was well and truly bolted, I suppose it rarely gets much use these days and the relatives of the dead and buried have moved to pastures new leaving their ancestors in pastures old.
Looking at the stones I came across some very old inscriptions and one was dated 1632 and 1636 respectively for a young couple , the woman being 20 years and the male  (her brother/husband?) only 22.
Strangely, nestled amongst all the dark slate headstones there were some newish white marble ones which stood out like sore thumbs, although the slate quarrying here ceased many years ago and must have originally supplied the headstones I found it rather sad that they had to resort to importing such an alien rock to a valley full of slate.

“BLOWS the wind to-day, and the sun and the rain are flying—
  Blows the wind on the moors to-day and now,
Where about the graves of the martyrs the whaups* are crying,
  My heart remembers how!

“Gray, recumbent tombs of the dead in desert places,
  Standing stones on the vacant, red-wine moor,
Hills of sheep, and the homes of the silent vanished races
  And winds austere and pure!

“Be it granted me to behold you again in dying,
  Hills of home! and I hear again the call—
Hear about the graves of the martyrs the pee-wees crying,
  And hear no more at all.”

                                              Robert Louis Stevenson 

*Whaups: Curlews

There can be no doubt that this valley is one of the most beautiful of all the mountain valleys in Wales and the poet Eifion Wyn who grew up in the area has two lines in his poem 'Cwm Pennant' which has found its way into Welsh folklore , "Pam, Arglwydd, y gwnaethost Gwm Pennant mor dlws? A bywyd hen fugail mor fyr?"    roughly translated it says: ‘O Lord, why did you make Cwm Pennant so beautiful and the life of a shepherd so short?’
These few words sum up the whole of Cwm Pennant and its geology, industry and the very people who live here and existed amongst the most dramatic backdrop possible.

If you are to be interred anywhere then this sacred spot would be hard to beat, you can rest in peace for another millennia without the though that there may be a chance you could be tarmacked over or have a huge wind turbine shaking the ground you lie in, it just seemed a safe place to be with its grazing sheep and gently flowing river to keep you company and only a raven's tumbling flight to the summits of spirits, where you would be amongst the sleeping warriors awaiting their call to arms once more.


The Autumn colours were overwhelming and the silence rather difficult to get used to, there were no jets flying despite the clear skies and no farmers on their quad bikes to break the solitude and in all the time I was there i met only two others who had cycled up the valley from Garndolbenmaen.we chatted for a few minutes, mainly about their ongoing battle with a huge wind farm development that was going to despoil their village near Welshpool and had caused great divide between folk who had been friends and neighbours for many years before the development raised its head. after putting the world to rights we went our separate ways, they to explore the upper reaches of the cwm and I to head back down the valleys winding track.

I stopped at the little bridge that crosses the Dwyfor higher up the valley to take some shots, the pools here were perfect for a spot of summer swimming or just about paradise for a picnic lunch, on the whole six mile round trip I hadn't passed another vehicle at all and stopped here to have a brew from the flask, I got to thinking about the rivers name and why do so many think of it as Dwy (two) for (sea), it doesn't make sense for it to be called a river that flows to two seas and the head of the cwm has a spur off called Bwlch Dwyfor and it is from here that the river has its source as well as the flow off the peaks.,after some research I discovered that its name derives from 'Big Holy River' and there is a tributary, the River Dwyfach, the 'Small Holy River'.a spiritual spot indeed.
There are some magical names doted around the cwm: Rhwngdwyafon- Betweentworivers, Cwm Llefrith- The Valley of Milk,  Cwm Sais- The Englishman's Pass it all sounds a bit 'wild west' and probably stems from the pioneers who came here to mine the ore and quarry the slate, leaving behind them some great signatures which will live on for future generations to ponder over.

Hut Circles and House Platforms abound throughout the landscape which shows that the valley was much utilised prior to 'modern man's' exploits to extricate the ore and the stone, it must have been a perfect shelter for iron age settlers and agriculturalists from the middle ages drawn by its  abundant timber sources and the constant supply of water, once the timber clearance took place and the ground being even and fertile due to past glacial deposits it was ideal for settlement and animal enclosure.The sea was also within close proximity and easily accessible for fish, shellfish and seaweed for drying and composting, so with all its attributes this cwm provided the perfect natural and secure enclosure that was needed.
Although I had to return home I was reluctant to leave such a beautiful place having spent such a short time here, I could have easily spent the whole day exploring its hidden gems, mind you it was a stunning day compared to the last time I was here, some 25 years ago, we came to 'do' Hebog from the Pennant route but the more we climbed up the road the worse the weather became and on arriving at the head of the valley it was more typical of a day that had been forecasted at the beginning of this tale, that particular day we quickly turned turtle and headed to Criccieth for some stunning ice cream, it must have been an age ago as Cadwalader's at the time were like Henry Ford, 'you can have any flavour you like as long as it's Vanilla' as that was the only choice available.Evening meal was Fish, Chips, Peas and Gravy from the 'Castle' chippy opposite, the fish suppers were so good here that my climbing buddies Gary and Bob and I drove all the way from Liverpool one evening just for that and then all the way back, 200 miles round trip, you'd need a mortgage for the fuel alone for that these days let alone the Fish Supper.

If you need some solitude and an escape from the crowds, especially in midweek and the sun shines down on you then take a trip up to Cwm Pennant, bring a flask of Quarryman's tea and some sandwiches on big hunks of home made bread and get into the spirit of the place,you won't  be disappointed I can guarantee you, of course don't tell any body else about it.