The Cambrian Way 2000

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 7 - Days 17 to 19 - Maentwrog to Ogwen

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Day 17 - Friday 16th June - 16 miles - 3,617 ft ascent - Bryn Dinas log cabin 6.50

Maentwrog to Nant Gwynant via Moelwyn Mawr and Cnicht

I woke to a beautiful morning, with a clear blue sky, had breakfast at 8 a.m. and set off at 8.50. The things I had washed had not dried much overnight, so I wore them so that they could dry out on me as I walked along in the sunshine. The air was very still, the humidity was quite high, and the temperature was climbing rapidly, so it made walking and particularly uphill walking exhausting.

The first ascent was up through a nature reserve to the line of the Ffestiniog Railway. My legs were protesting after all the work they had been doing, but eventually they succumbed and carried me up there. One thing I had found with my legs at quite a number of points throughout the walk was that, when faced with an incline after a spell of walking on the level, they would go on strike after the first few yards - every muscle ached and they felt as if they would not go a step further. However, after pausing for a rest for only about half a minute, I could set off again and carry on uphill without too much trouble - somehow the aches disappeared and they were given a new source of energy. It was as if my legs had made their protest, it had been overruled, and so they relented and carried on until the next time, when they would stage another protest.

I had hoped to see a steam train, but none came along during the half hour or so that I was walking near to the railway, past Dduallt Station and over to Tanygrisiau Reservoir. This is the lower part of a pumped storage system for electricity in which, at times of low demand, water is pumped to Llyn Stwlan several hundred feet up the mountainside using power from the nuclear power station. At peak times the water generates electricity as it drops back down again.

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Lower Part of Pumped Storage System
Tanygrisiau Reservoir and Power Station
Upper Part of Pumped Storage System
Llyn Stwlan and its dam
From summit of Moelwyn Mawr
Cnicht with Snowdon behind

The route went steeply up to Llyn Stwlan and I started finding it very difficult. The heat made me very thirsty but, even after drinking a lot of water, my body just did not want to take me up to the top. I stopped for numerous short rests but still found it very difficult to carry on and started to feel rather unwell. After struggling along for what seemed an eternity, I started to pick up a bit of breeze higher up and this improved matters quite a bit so that, as I went up past the dam of Llyn Stwlan, and then further up towards the summit of Meolwyn Mawr, I was feeling somewhat better. At the summit, which gave beautiful panoramic views of the high mountains all around, I felt much better and can only assume that I had been suffering from heat exhaustion. A rest at the summit to admire the scenery completed my recovery, but I still felt that this had been the hardest won summit of the whole walk so far, although the views from up there made all the effort worthwhile.

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Between Moelwyn Mawr and Cnicht
Llyn Cwm-corsiog Northwards
From ridge leading to Cnicht
Llyn y Biswail and Western Snowdonia

From Moelwyn Mawr, the route drops down by a number of old slate quarries, where I passed by a large group of walkers who had stopped there for a break. From then onwards there is a fairly easy ascent, past a number of small lakes, to meet the ridge leading to Cnicht. I stopped there for what lunch I had, namely a roll left over from the day before and a melted chocolate biscuit, as I had not found anywhere along the route to buy anything else. This is excellent walking country with fine views both near and far along a route that is not too demanding. I could see stunning views of Snowdon and, with binoculars, could just make out people moving about on the summit about five miles away. This was one of those rare days when there was not a cloud in sight around Snowdon - generally, even if everywhere else is free of cloud, Snowdon has some around its summit.

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Not quite on the same scale as the one in Switzerland
Cnicht from SE The 'Welsh Matterhorn'
From descent of Cnicht
Moelwyn Mawr and Moelwyn Bach
Bryn Dinas is just beyond the lake
Llyn Dinas and Nant Gwynant

Even the ascent of Cnicht is very gradual from this direction, except for a little scramble near the summit. Earlier, my progress had been very slow because of problems with the heat, but now I was able to make much better speed with fewer rests and hence make up some of the lost time. From Cnicht a steep but not too difficult path leads downwards, revealing the view back towards the mountain for which it is most famed, giving it the somewhat grandiose title of 'The Welsh Matterhorn'. After a while, the path gets less steep and joins an old road leading towards Nantmor and Aberglaslyn.

Aberglaslyn belongs to the National Trust and provides a beautiful riverside walk leading to Beddgelert. I was very hot again now that I was lower down and walking at a brisk pace, with very little breeze, but at least there were very few ascents to contend with, as the route followed the valley. I was tempted to call in Beddgelert for a drink or an ice cream but decided to make do with a drink of my rather warm water and press on to my destination. Lovely views over Llyn Dinas and the surrounding mountains rounded off the day and I reached Bryn Dinas at 6.30 p.m.

The Youth Hostel at Bryn Gwynant was full, so I had booked into Bryn Dinas, which is a bunkhouse with several log cabins. The couple there had kindly agreed to provide me with an evening meal, breakfast and a packed lunch as well as hiring me a sleeping bag for the night. They do not always provide meals, as they sometimes hire out the main house and do not then have the space to do so, but it was not let when I was there. I had steak pie with new potatoes, peas and carrots followed by apple pie with ice cream. There were several other walkers there, but they were self-catering in the kitchen near the cabins.

It was still pleasantly warm in the evening with not a cloud in the sky, and forecast to be good for the next few days. I was very glad of this as the last three days of the walk would be over some of the highest mountains in Wales and could be unpleasant and difficult in bad weather.

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Day 18 - Saturday 17th June - 6.8 miles - 3,590 ft ascent - Pen-y-Pass YHA Dinner, B&B and Packed Lunch 21.45

Bryn Dinas to Pen-y-Pass via Snowdon

A group of people staying at Bryn Dinas were doing the Welsh Three Peaks of Snowdon, Cadair Idris and Pen y Fan, so were up at 3 a.m. to get started. It was another lovely day and I only had a short distance to walk, albeit over Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, starting from near sea level. I did think about combining this and the next section together but it would have meant rather a lot of ascent, even if the mileage was not so great. I also thought that, if the weather were fine, I could make the best of the views and make a few detours if I felt like. Equally well, if the weather were bad then I would appreciate not having to climb two high mountains in one day.

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Start of the ascent of Snowdon
Waterfall near The Watkin Path
Diesel Locomotive on Rack and Pinion
Snowdon Mountain Railway Summit Station
Crib Goch Ridge is to Left
Llyn Llydau and Miners' Track

I set off at 9.15 heading up the Watkin Path past a series of lovely waterfalls. In the shelter of the valley it was very hot again and, even with the steady ascent for the first 1,000 ft I was soaking wet with perspiration. Rather than following the Watkin Path all the way, the route heads up onto the ridge to the west, which gives better views on the way towards the summit. The ridge, being exposed, provided more of a welcome breeze at first and, as I neared the summit, the breeze turned into a strong wind. Keeping cool was no longer a problem and, as so often happens on Snowdon, cloud started forming around the summit, even though there was none elsewhere, just proving that Snowdon makes its own weather.

I was pleased to see that the mountain railway terminal and cafe near the summit had been given a face-lift and was no longer the eyesore that it used to be. As might well be expected with the good weather, it was very busy in there, but I thought I would take advantage of the facilities by having a pint of Guinness, which is not generally available on most of the mountains. The train waiting at the summit station was not one pulled by one of the steam engines, but a more modern diesel engine so did not have the same appeal. However, after that one departed the next to arrive was driven by steam. One may be forgiven for thinking that the hundreds of people on the summit are there by virtue of the mountain railway, but this is not in fact the case. These days a return ticket requires the passenger to return half an hour later using the same train that they came up on. This means that there are only about sixty or so passengers at the summit at any one time. Everyone else up there has had to walk, even if they only walk one way, having bought a single ticket. Unfortunately, with so many people on the mountain it creates a completely different feeling from the usual one of remoteness and solitude and there was no real pleasure in remaining at the summit for any longer than it took to finish my drink.

Whilst I was at the summit, the cloud came down a little further to obscure the view, although there were occasional breaks in the cloud as I made my way along the ridge towards Crib Goch and I could get a view of the lakes below. The popularity of the mountain is such that large pathway repair programmes have taken place and this has had the unfortunate consequence that the view below looked like Spaghetti Junction, which is a pity as some of the views are quite spectacular. The route in the book follows the Pyg Track down to Pen-y-pass but, as I had plenty of time to spare, I decided to take the more hair-raising, knife-edge ridge of Crib Goch. Progress was slow as there was a very strong wind gusting and I made sure that I always had good handholds to steady me as I made my way along the more difficult parts. It was interesting to see, when the mist occasionally cleared, that everywhere else was in bright sunshine with hardly a cloud in sight, and that the cloud swirling around Snowdon dispersed as it blew down towards Pen-y-pass. These brief breaks in the cloud revealed some fine bird's eye views, but most of the time visibility was down to about fifty yards.

All of the scree slopes around Crib Goch had the appearance of being trampled by an army of walkers and the whole area looked badly eroded and far worse than I remember it being even a few years previously. Pathwork does help but it still doesn't stop people from scrambling around everywhere that they wish. At the end of the Crib Goch ridge was a steep and difficult descent, although pathwork was in progress to improve the situation and to reduce the erosion caused by people like myself finding other ways down. Lower down, below the cloud, some fine views down to Pen-y-pass and across to the Glyderau, the route for the next day, were revealed.

Snowdon is not one of my favourite mountains, although it is good to make an occasional visit. My preference lies in some of the other less populated mountains which, whilst not being able to claim that they are the highest, nevertheless afford some spectacular views and fine walks, without being spoiled by hordes of people.

I arrived at Pen-y-pass at 4.30 and wrongly assumed that the hostel would not yet be open, so I sat on the hillside and treated my boots, which for once had managed to dry out, to a good waxing. They were showing serious signs of wear, with a lot of deep cracks going most of the way through the leather and making them far from watertight. They had now done well over 1,300 miles in eighteen months and would be put into retirement at the end of the walk, having served me very well. As I sat there, I noticed the large number of parties who were doing either the three, four or five peaks challenge walks. These consist of Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon on the mainland with the fourth and fifth peaks being the highest mountains in Northern Ireland and Eire. This was a popular time for these walks, as it was very close to the longest day, but it still surprised me just how many were undertaking them.

I booked into the hostel and, after a shower and a phone call home, went along for dinner. I have never known such a disorganised shambles - there was a school party having dinner as well as the rest of the hostellers. Whenever we joined any of the queues for food we were turned back and told that the school party had to be served first but not told how we should know when to come. Eventually, after several people had been snapped at, everyone just sat down and waited to be called, not daring to try again. There was a similar confusion with each course and further confusion because I had not been given a food voucher like everyone else, but it did all resolve itself in the end.

I was not quite sure what to do for the rest of the evening, but then noticed on the map that there was an hotel about a mile away and decided to head there for a couple of pints. It was a very pleasant evening and the strong winds of earlier in the day had now died away. There was still quite a bit of daylight left as I set off back up the road at 10 p.m., and this is one of the advantages of walking near midsummer.

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Day 19 - Sunday 18th June - 4.8 miles (+1.3 miles detour) - 2353 ft ascent (+300 ft detour) - Idwal Cottage YHA bed only 8.10

Pen-y-Pass to Ogwen via Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach

It was another beautiful day as I went down to face the same shambolic lack of organisation for breakfast - all I can assume is that, because this hostel only opens at weekends for much of the year, the staff are either temporary or not very well trained. Why they did not just specify two different meal times - one for the school party and one for the rest of us, I just cannot understand, as it would have avoided all the problems.

As I set off at 9.30, the car park was already nearly full of walkers' cars, with most of their occupants heading for Snowdon. I began the ascent of Glyder Fawr in hot sunshine. Pen-y-pass is over 1,100 ft above sea level, so that gave me a head start and made it slightly cooler than it would have been lower down, although it was still quite hot until I neared the summit, where the wind made it more pleasant. By keeping up a steady plod I reached the summit by 11.00. I was in no hurry, as I had all day just to get over the mountains and drop down the other side, but I preferred to get all the hard work over with early so that I could then just have a leisurely stroll around in the beautiful weather.

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From ascent of Glyder Fawr
Crib Goch to Left Snowdon to Right
Route of the A5 Road
Llyn Idwal and Nant Ffrancon
Snowdon is to Left, Glyder Fawr to Right
Castle of the Winds

Snowdon was far clearer than the day before, with no cloud at the top and there was a superb panoramic view, with just a touch of haziness limiting visibility to about 20 or 30 miles. The vast difference from yesterday was the lack of people. I passed three on the way up, but at the summit I had the place to myself for about half an hour before one or two others wandered by. After spending a while at Glyder Fawr, I made my way across to Glyder Fach. This involves a certain amount of scrambling over large slabs of rock and is not difficult when it is dry, but requires a great deal of caution in the wet, as the lichens make them very slippery.

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From Glyder Fach towards Pen yr Ole Wen
Llyn Bochlwyd and Llyn Ogwen
Safer than it looks
Cantilever Stone on Glyder Fach
Carnedd Dafydd is on far Left
Tryfan from Glyder Fach

As time passed by there were more people about, but never enough to make it feel crowded, and I found a grassy spot with a marvellous view down Nant Francon to Llyn Ogwen where I settled down for some sunbathing. I did toy with the idea of walking further west along the ridge to take in some of the marvellous views from there, but decided against it as I preferred to conserve my energy for the long walk to the finish on the following day. Through binoculars I could make out groups of people looking like ants a few miles away on the summits of Carnedd Dafydd and Carnedd Llewelyn along the next day's route. After a long time I made my way along the ridge towards the Miners' Track to the east and decided to go a little further along to Y Foel Goch, which is a rounded green mountain past some small lakes. It gave a good view back towards Tryfan and involved little extra ascent. Then, after another leisurely half-hour admiring the views, I headed back to the Miners' Track and down to Idwal Cottage Youth Hostel.

The hostel is run by a very friendly and helpful warden. It is self-catering, but has a well-equipped shop, so there had been no need to worry about taking provisions with me. The warden had met Tony Drake on a number of occasions and spoke very highly of him, as did others I met at various stops along the way. Even at the 1,000 ft level of the hostel, the temperature was quite high, so I hate to think how hot it had been in lowland areas. In the hot weather it is surprising just how much fluid is needed and it is very tempting to drink out of the clear mountain streams. However, I was told that the levels of E. coli can be ten times the recommended safe level because the water runs only on the surface of these hard rocks and none of the contamination from the sheep is filtered out. I must confess to having drunk a lot of stream water without coming to any harm, but there is obviously a risk in doing so.

I bought a beef curry with rice, and mandarin oranges and ice cream for my dinner after which I took a stroll up the track to Llyn Idwal, which was then in the shadow of the mountains. It was a perfect summer's evening and, as I sat by the lake listening to the water gently lapping over the rocks and watching the tiny fish swimming around I could not help but reflect on the walk that was now almost over. Despite some trials and tribulations it really had been a marvellous walk with all the ingredients that make a really good long distance trail; some of the best mountain scenery that Wales has to offer, a wide variety of scenery, a sense of purpose in heading from one end of Wales to the other, a minimum of road walking, very few boring stretches and for my particular walk some pretty good weather on balance.

The last of the walkers had now drifted down from the hills and a cooler wind started to blow down from the mountain tops, but I couldn't help thinking just how different the weather might have been for this stretch through Snowdonia. Only a month previously I had ascended Tryfan and Glyder Fach in rain, hail and a bitterly cold wind and came back down after a very short time soaked to the skin and freezing cold.

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