The Cambrian Way 2005

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 11 - Days 20 and 21 - Nant Gwynant to Rowan Youth Hostel

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Day 20 - Wednesday 22nd June - 11.8 miles - 5,820 ft ascent

Nant Gwynant to Idwal Cottage Youth Hostel via Snowdon and the Glyders

Waterfalls beside Watkin Path Llyn Cwellyn from Snowdon 1. Snowdon Railway - 2. Pyg Track Llyn LLydaw from Pyg Track 3 Views from Pyg Track Llyn Cwmffynnon Crib Goch and Snowdon 1. Y Garn - 2. Llyn Idwal 1. Cantilever Stone - 2. Tryfan Cambrian Way Map Day 20

There were quite a lot of clattering footsteps at about 6 am, presumably because some people were off to an early start for some challenge walk or other. I got up at 8.00 and found that there was quite a to-do, as someone had broken into a car parked by the roadside in the night, leaving lots of things strewn around nearby. It turned out that it belonged to one of the workmen who were refurbishing the facilities at Bryn Dinas. The rubber seal round the rear passenger window had been slit, allowing the window to be removed, and the intruders had gone through everything in the car. The strange thing was that, although there were a lot of expensive tools and other items in there, nothing had been taken. Later it was discovered that a similar thing had happened to a minibus belonging to a school party who were staying in the house at Bryn Dinas and, once again, nothing had been taken, presumably because the thieves were looking for cash or other valuables.

I made myself some toast and tea, and had a packet of muesli for breakfast, then packed my things ready to be off. Most of the people using the bunkhouse accommodation were workmen, either working on the refurbishment, or working on various projects around Snowdon, although there was an Australian chap and another girl who were off walking. I had sent as many things back home as I could to lighten my load, but found that the food that I had been brought far outweighed anything that I had sent back, so I had an even heavier pack for my strenuous day ahead.

I was off at 9.20 and joined the Watkin Path just along the road, climbing steadily up past a series of waterfalls and old quarry workings before turning over to the left to head for the Allt Maenderyn Ridge. This route is recommended as, on a clear day, it offers better views than the Watkin Path and it also avoids the rather difficult, badly eroded scramble near the summit. Today, however, the cloud was down to the level of the lower part of the ridge, so I was not expecting to see anything for the rest of the way. Just below the cloud, I stopped for a rest at 10.35, sheltering from the cool wind by a wall. I passed three workmen on the way up doing path repairs using tons and tons of stone - they reckoned it would take a few months to complete this relatively small section. Where I stopped was about half way up Snowdon as far as altitude was concerned, and I started off again up the steep ridge path into the mist. After a while the slope eased off to a more gentle gradient as I continued with visibility of about 50 yards that is generally associated with mist. About half an hour later, I checked my progress with my GPS and was quite put out when the altitude reading was only 650 metres, whereas it had been 530 metres where I stopped. However, the reading kept jumping up in large amounts until it finally settled at 815 metres, which was more what I had expected and a lot more satisfying for my efforts. The reason for this is that, in the earlier days of satellite navigation, the military introduced a deliberate wobble into the signals, so that only they could obtain maximum accuracy by compensating for the error. This had an effect, particularly on altitude readings, like being on a roller coaster even when standing still. Some GPS units, therefore, averaged out altitude readings over a period of time in order to give a steadier display value. Even though the wobble has now been removed, the averaging out means that it takes some time for the altitude reading to settle to the correct figure.

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Waterfalls beside Watkin Path up Snowdon
Waterfalls by Watkin Path
Llyn Cwellyn through clouds from
Snowdon summit
Llyn Cwellyn from Snowdon
Snowdon Mountain Railway, Llanberis and
Llyn Padarn
Snowdon Railway

I pressed on at a steady rate onwards and upwards for a while, seeing only a few people along the way, when suddenly a patch of blue sky appeared and the summit cafe just ahead was briefly bathed in sunlight. I continued on up to the viewing platform at the summit (checkpoint 33), which I reached at 12.00, almost to the second. From time to time another patch of blue sky would appear overhead and sometimes a brief view opened up below. When this happened, it was like looking out of an aircraft from just above the clouds with glimpses of the valley beneath. I stayed for a while trying to get a photo, but then retired to the warmth of the cafe and a cup of tea. Whilst I was still sitting there after drinking my tea I saw out of the window that the clouds were parting again and giving better views than before, so I dashed outside, camera in hand to try to capture some of this. There followed a period of fantastic scenes as the mist came and went, with clouds racing across the mountain side and fabulous views down between them. It was all changing so rapidly and was far more dramatic than had there been a clear sky. All of this took place on the western side of the mountain; the eastern side having more persistent cloud.

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Descent of Snowdon down Pyg Track with
Glaslyn and Llyn Llydaw
Pyg Track down Snowdon
Llyn LLydaw from Pyg Track
Llyn LLydaw
Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach from
Pyg Track as it approaches Pen-y-pass
Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach

When I first reached the summit, there had not been very many people around, but now they were coming in droves - not quite as many as on a weekend, but still a lot. I made my way down the Pyg Track, as I didn't want to spent too much time and energy on the Crib Goch route, with the Glyders still to climb before the day was done. The lower route of the Miners' Track is quite a good one, but the last stretch from the lakes to the Llanberis Pass is not as good for scenery as the higher route taken by the Pyg Track, which also gave me a good view of where I was going next, Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach. By now most of the cloud had cleared with just a little still clinging to some of the higher mountains in places, making it a wonderful afternoon for walking. I reached the Llanberis Pass at 2.25 and decided not to rest there but to make a start on my ascent of Glyder Fawr until I was feeling tired or thirsty or both. Unlike the routes up Snowdon, the path to Glyder Fawr from this side is not so well defined, and I strayed off along a path running too low down to the west. To be more truthful, I kept taking the easiest path as I went along, skirting round the mountainside rather than heading upwards, in the vain hope that an easy path would lead me effortlessly to the summit. This, of course was not to be, and it then necessitated a steep climb up the grassy hillside to rejoin the proper path, which was a hard going at this stage of the day, so I stopped for a well earned rest with Crib Goch towering majestically above me across the valley. Refreshed a little, I continued onwards and soon regained the path where, after a few more steep climbs taken at a steady plod with frequent pauses to regain my strength, I finally came over a ledge where the whole summit ridge came into view. It was farther away than it looked in the clear, sunny conditions but at least the way was now considerably less steep. I reached the summit of Glyder Fawr (checkpoint 34) at 4.20 with a spectacular panoramic view of mountains and valleys.

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Pen-y-pass from Pyg Track with Llyn
Pass of Llanberis down Nant Peris to
Llyn Peris
Nant Peris
Llyn Cwmffynnon and Llyn Lockwood
from ascent of Glyder Fawr with Moel Siabod to left
Llyn Cwmffynnon from Glyder Fawr

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Crib Goch with Snowdon behind and
Y Lliwedd to left
Crib Goch from Glyder Fawr
Y Garn from Glyder Fawr with Elidir Fawr
Y Garn from from Glyder Fawr
Llyn Idwal, Nant Ffrancon and Menai Strait 
from Glyder Fawr
Llyn Idwal from Glyder Fawr

The Glyders themselves look more like a huge pile of rocks that some giant has carelessly scattered in untidy heaps. Hardly any vegetation manages to grow, as there is little soil to be found, but some of the views from here are second to none. Glyder Fawr is quite stony, but Glyder Fach is even more so, with huge piles of large rock slabs and boulders which have to be negotiated as well as the pile of boulders that form the summit itself, making it far from easiest summit to climb if the highest point is to be reached. I arrived there (checkpoint 35) at 5.15 and met a chap who was struggling to make his way over the last couple of boulders to the top. I passed him by, so he then followed my route up. There were a few people around, but nothing like the hordes who were swarming over Snowdon, making it far more peaceful. Amongst all the rocks and boulders around Glyder Fach is the famous Cantilever Stone, a large stone slab balanced almost in the middle. I was up here on a previous occasion when a group of five or six people stood on the end of this and jumped up and down in unison, making the huge stone rock on its pivot. So far nobody has managed to get enough people on there to make it overbalance, but it may just happen one day.

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Cantilever Stone on Glyder Fach
Cantilever Stone
Tryfan and Carnedd Llewelyn from
Glyder Fach with Ffynnon Llugwy Reservoir visible
Tryfan and Carnedd Llewelyn

I didn't stay long, as time was marching on, so I made my way along to the suggested route for the descent. The more frequently used route is down a badly eroded steep path towards Tryfan, but the route in the guide follows the ridge for a while further, then doubles back down a less steep but still quite badly eroded path leading to Bwlch Tryfan, the pass between Glyder Fach and Tryfan. From the pass, there is a well-used path, paved most of the way down to Idwal Cottage youth hostel near Llyn Ogwen. The weather had been just fantastic for the latter part of the day and, though this had been a physically demanding day because of all the ascent, I had not found it too hard going, though it was 6.45 before I arrived at the hostel.

The hostel is self catering only, but they have a well stocked shop, from which I bought a frozen beef stew with dumplings, some microchips, a large Eccles cake and three cans of Guinness - thank goodness the YHA are no longer TT. After dinner, I took a little stroll by Llyn Ogwen with Tryfan still fully lit by the evening sun. Sunset comes early in the valley in the shadow of the mountains, so by 8.30 the sun had gone and it started to get cool, whereupon I returned to the hostel to have an early night after this tiring but very rewarding day.

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Day 21 - Thursday 23rd June - 13.5 miles - 4,388 ft ascent

Idwal Cottage to Rowen Youth Hostel via Carneddau Mountains

Y Garn from
Llyn Ogwen 3 Views from Pen yr Ole Wen Afon Llafar and Bethesda On summit of Carnedd Llewelyn Llyn Anafon and Coast Conwy and its Castle Cambrian Way Map Days 21 to 22

I awoke quite early to sunshine streaming through the window, but lay in bed until 7.30 when I decided to get off to a reasonably early start. By the time I had made my breakfast of muesli, tea, toast and marmalade, sorted out all my things and so on, it was 8.45 before I departed. One good thing about yesterday's walk was that my feet had kept dry on the good paths, and the new pair of walking socks I had put on were still clean and dry. A couple at breakfast had attempted the three peaks - Ben Nevis had its top half in mist (nothing unusual about that), Scafell Pike they climbed by night but gave up half way when they met up with the mountain rescue team bringing down an injured walker, then they climbed Snowdon with the top half in mist. They had seen very little on the whole trip, except that they had some views from Snowdon on the way down, after the mist had cleared, and they hadn't even managed to complete the full challenge walk, so they were rather disillusioned with the whole thing.

It was a brilliantly sunny day and already quite hot down by the lake as I set off. Instead of taking the very steep path directly up Pen yr Ole Wen, the route takes a path round the north side of the lake, which is not all that easy going with a lot of scrambling round rocks, boulders and bogs until the far end of the lake. From there a path waymarked with posts leads up the hillside and this is the location of checkpoint 36 (reached at 9.15) which ensures that Cambrian Wayfarers do not take the steep route. Though fairly steep, this route is not too difficult and I managed to keep plodding on upwards without too many stops. I passed a Scottish couple who were headed in the same direction, albeit at a very slow pace, and also a few other walkers, one of them already coming back down. It was hot work, but gradually a cool breeze came to improve matters, as I climbed up higher. I was looking for a pleasant place to stop for a break and found one overlooking the little tarn of Ffynnon Lloer. When I came to continue my way, I realised that I should have gone up the ridge rather than skirting around the side, so I was faced with a very steep scramble up a gully for several hundred feet to reach the top of the ridge. It was not the easiest ascent, to say the least, but eventually the end was in sight and I regained the easier path onto Pen yr Ole Wen, where I stopped to chat with an elderly chap out for a few days' walking. He had just bought a GPS similar to mine, except that it was the more expensive model which allows maps to be downloaded. For what he wanted - i.e. grid references - the cheaper model would have been just as good for half the price, but he thought he was buying the best, even though he had no intention of using the extra facilities.

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Idwal Cottage and Y Garn from
Llyn Ogwen
Idwal Cottage & Y Garn
Ffynnon Lloer on ascent of Pen yr Ole Wen
Ffynnon Lloer
Llyn Bochlwyd & Glyder Fach from Pen yr Ole Wen - mountain rescue helicopter above
Llyn Bochlwyd & Glyder Fach

There was a lovely clear view of all the high mountains, but many of the lower mountains in the distance had cloud hanging around them, as had most of Anglesey, which was the opposite of what is normally encountered. After a while I made my way over to Carnedd Dafydd (checkpoint 37 at 12.05) and then on to Carnedd Llewelyn (checkpoint 38 at 12.55). The going along the ridge was quite quick and easy for most of the way, the only difficulty arising from a few areas where scattered stones and boulders have to be traversed with a great deal of care. There were a few people about today, but it was still very peaceful. Between Carnedd Dafydd and Carnedd Llewelyn there is one of my favourite views down the valley to the north west. There is a steep craggy drop down to a stream that meanders its way down the huge round bottomed valley. As is the case with many fine views, it is very difficult to capture the full impact on a photograph - there is nothing quite like being there, but then, if it were possible to experience the full beauty of the mountains from an armchair, it would detract from the pleasure of actually being up there.

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Nant Ffrancon and Y Garn with Snowdon behind
Y Garn & Snowdon
Afon Llafar and Bethesda from Cefn Ysgolion Duon,
between Carnedd Dafydd and Carnedd Llewelyn
Afon Llafar & Bethesda
On summit of Carnedd Llewelyn, with Carnedd Dafydd and Elidir Fawr behind
Summit of Carnedd Llewelyn

I stopped on Carnedd Llewelyn for lunch, still eating things that my wife had brought on Tuesday, and probably still having things left by the end of the walk. A few walkers came by the summit but, for a long time, I had it all to myself. After about 35 minutes I decided to press on, as I still had quite a long way to go. The whole landscape now changed from the stony mountains, often with steep cliff faces in parts, to a series of rounded green hills and valleys leading away to the coast. Even though the ridge was still at about 3,000 ft above sea level, it no longer gave that impression, although each summit along the ridge had its obligatory pile of stones at the top; the piles getting less and less at each one. The high ridge culminated at Foel Fras, a very level topped mountain beyond which was a fine viewpoint for the North Wales coast, from Anglesey and Puffin Island to the Great Orme and Llandudno, and around to Rhyl in the hazy distance. I could see the wind farm a few miles out to sea near Prestatyn, though it looked nearer to Colwyn Bay from this angle. I checked with my guidebook to see how far I had to go and was surprised to find it was only five and a half miles - I had been thinking that it was further than it was.

With time to spare, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to do a spot of sunbathing. The trouble was that the moment I took off my shirt, I was surrounded by swarms of small flies. Just then I noticed that the spot I had near my waist had something black in it. On closer inspection I found that it was a tick with its head and claws firmly digging into my flesh. The ideal treatment is strong alcohol, which kills them off at the same time as relaxing their muscles enabling them to be removed easily. Attempts just to pull them out often result in bits being left behind which can turn septic. Not having any strong alcohol with me, I decided to dig it out using the pointed blade on my pocket toolbox. This appeared to do the trick and I could not see anything left behind, so I put on some Savlon cream and hoped that would be the end of the matter.

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Llyn Anafon and coast from descent of Foel Fras, with Anglesey and Puffin Island in view
Llyn Anafon and Coast
Conwy and its Castle from Tal y Fan
Conwy from Tal y Fan

As soon as I put my shirt back on, most of the flies disappeared - you just can't win! From here on it was goodbye to the 3,000 ft mountains as I dropped down to Drum, still a mountain at over 2,500 ft, but looking quite lowly from above. An easy path led down over a series of lower peaks to Bwlch y Ddeufaen, the pass between Drum and Tal y Fan. At the end of the day, Tal y Fan is a rather cruel hill. Firstly, it has a very steep ascent up to Foel Lwyd, the first peak along the ridge, followed by a series of ups and downs over crags for a mile before the summit of Tal y Fan itself reached. There were some good views from there (checkpoint 37 at 17.30) down to the coast and over the Conwy Valley, with Conwy Castle, the end of the way, in sight. From the summit it is again not easy, as the ridge continues a roller coaster route before dropping down at the end.

I was a bit too busy ringing home to check properly on the detour from the main path to Rowan Youth Hostel, so when I eventually did so as I reached the old mine workings, I found that I had overshot and needed to cut back across sharp right. Unfortunately, this also involved climbing back up somewhat over the ridge. The final insult was, having found the footpath leading directly to the hostel and with the hostel in my sights only about 50 yards away, there was a barbed wire fence blocking the path with waymarks pointing both up and down the steep hillside. As I was on a level with the hostel, I was not sure which way would be easiest. I tried uphill, but with no route to the hostel in sight, I went back downhill until I met a track which joined up with the steep road to the hostel. It was not very far back up, but it felt like it at the time, so I was glad when I had finally managed to stagger up the road to reach the hostel at 6.30. There were notices all around warning not to drink the water, but there was a plentiful supply of free mineral water in the fridges, which I availed myself of in large quantities to quench my thirst.

The hostel was being run by volunteer wardens; the couple at the time being there for just a week. This is one way of keeping remote hostels open, as it saves money on wage bills, but hostels do lose quite a bit by not having a regular warden. This hostel did, at least, have a limited shop but, as I scanned the cans of beans and soup on the shelf, it made me wonder if there was anything there from which I could make a reasonable meal. My other option was to walk about a mile to the nearest pub. Now this may sound nothing excessive, except that it is a mile down a very steep hill, dropping over 600 ft in the process, which is easy enough going down, but is a hard slog coming back up after a meal and a few pints. After a hot day's hard walking, the option of a decent meal won me over; I would just have to put up with the climb back up when it came. A good shower freshened me up after the hot day's walk, and I then rinsed out my walking shirt, which was saturated with perspiration.

The road down was indeed very steep in places, as I made my way to the first pub I could find, the Ty Gwyn Hotel, where I had some very good Lee's bitter and a chicken and cider casserole with mash. It was warm outside in the evening sunshine, so I sat on a bench in front of the pub and felt as if I could happily fall asleep there. There was also a very pleasant beer garden across the road by the river, so I went over, only to be repelled by the midges in a very short time, making me return to the bench.

There is a lot to be said for psychology. I had been building myself up to a very long and hard walk back up to the hostel, but when I came to do it, it was a lot easier than I expected. It was still a hard slog, but without my pack and in the cooler air of the evening, I just kept up a steady pace and, far sooner than I expected, the hostel was in sight. There is a lovely view across the Conwy valley from outside the hostel, so I sat outside for a while until the dreaded midges got the better of me again. This had been a wonderful day's walk, and a marvellous finish to the Cambrian Way. I say that having not quite finished but, whatever the weather tomorrow, it is less than half a day's walk down to Conwy Castle, and no high mountains to contend with, so I now had the feeling that the walk was virtually over.

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