|Our Offa’s Dyke endeavours have stuttered and stalled somewhat, as funds and work have contrived to delay our return to North Wales. In truth, it’s only about six weeks since we finished our last walk in the village of Llandyrnog, east of Denbigh, but it seems like forever. We had originally intended to stay in Denbigh for this leg, but having spent an hour or so awaiting a bus there last time out, we took against the idea and instead have returned to the B&B near St Asaph that we stayed in on our previous visit. Luckily there is a fairly decent bus service between St Asaph and Denbigh [at least there was at the time of our trip, funding cuts may have changed this now]. Arriving on the Saturday, we manage to get into Denbigh to have a look at the excellent CADW-managed castle that dominates the town. The sun shines down on us, ice-cream is eaten and all is looking good for the weekend’s efforts.
Needless to say, Sunday morning dawns rainy and overcast, damp and drizzle being the apparent order of the day. We are learning never to take the weather in North Wales for granted. The bus deposits us in Llandyrnog (a pleasant village with a couple of pubs) and we head eastwards along quiet lanes that rise slowly at first, then with increasing sharpness. As we climb, we get a first sight of Moel Arthur, the steep-sided hillfort that marked the end of our last trip. It looks very far above us! There is good news though: as our legs start to acclimatise to the uphill, a Clwydian rainbow appears over the northern hills of the range and ragged patches of blue start to appear through the cloud. By the time we come into sight of Penycloddiau, the other main hillfort we tackled last time, it looks as though the weather gods may have taken pity on us after all.
There are a dozen cars parked in the parking area in the pass between Moel Arthur and Moel Llys-y-Coed as we arrive. If the lanes have been pretty steep getting here, they have nothing on the climb that awaits us. Offa’s Dyke Path mounts a direct, unforgiving assault on the northern slopes of Moel Llys-y-Coed. Luckily there is only a little over 100 vertical metres of ascent, so it’s tough but mercifully over soon, 10 or 15 minutes of exertion. Pauses for breath are also rewarded with a terrific view of Moel Arthur’s southern aspect, reinforcing the fort’s defensive capability. By the time we reach the top of the hill, Penycloddiau has come into view as well.
We find ourselves atop a rolling landscape broken only by a few drystone walls, where thick heather makes any foray off the path unappetising. The view to the south now starts to unfold, the first taste of our way forward. Grabbing the attention immediately is the dark bulk of Moel Famau, the highest point in the Clwydian range at 554m. We saw this on our last trip, where it still seemed a far-off challenge, but we can’t avoid it today and before long we will be climbing its slopes. Westwards the green and fertile Vale of Clwyd stretches away far below us, across to the range of hills separating it from the Conwy Valley.
Our eyes are now set on the top of Moel Famau, crowned with the broken remnants of the Jubilee Tower. Although the path largely follows a contour just below the crest of the Clwydian spine, there is still a bit of descent and re-ascent as we climb Moel Dywyll. One of the more intriguing sights on this section are two very large clearance cairns placed on natural hillocks above Pwll-y-Rhos. These do look suspiciously like they might be be standing upon something rather older. It’s certainly a brilliant spot, with extensive views of the Vale below. The cairns are also a very prominent landmark on our approach from the northwest. Coflein assures me that they are both modern though.
The cairns’ location also offers us a view of our first “new” hillfort of the day, Moel y Gaer. Located off the path, and quite some way below us, I had tentatively hoped for a diversion down to this fine-looking fort. Seeing it now, it looks a long way off our route and neither of us really fancies the prospect of losing the height we’ve gained now. Sadly it looks like we’ll have to ignore this one today – but it goes on the notional list! Instead we plod on up towards Moel Famau.
Further details of our onward route are coming into view now. To our SSE along the range is Foel Fenlli, a further member of the Clwydians’ magnificent hillfort chain. Beyond that, rising higher still is our first hint of what will come once we leave the Clwydian range behind. The flat top of Cryn y Brain, an expanse of moorland dotted with cairns, can be seen straight ahead. Due south we can see the conical shape of Llantysilio Mountain, crowned with its own hillfort. Beyond that the Berwyn Mountains fade into the blue.
The final approach to the top of Moel Famau is tiring, as the day is getting warm. For the first time we also meet people in significant numbers where previously it has been ones and twos. It becomes apparent that this is the area’s prime Sunday picnic location, as there is a car parking area immediately to the SE of the hill. All that remains of the Jubilee Tower itself are low foundations. The tower was started in 1810 to commemorate George III’s jubilee, but never finished. Now it boasts a set of very handy toposcopes, as well as some shelter from the wind that sweeps over this exposed top.
The views are well worth the effort and I can see why so many people come here. As well as the Clwydian range itself stretching north and south, Snowdonia is visible to the west, although largely obscured today. The nearer Aran range is clear though. Eastwards the Dee estuary and Merseyside can be seen, as well as the Stanlow oil refinery, made famous in OMD’s homage to its industrial grandeur.
We leave the tower and its picnicers and head south along a solid and well-maintained path. There are still good views of Moel y Gaer and again I feel a pang that we’ve had to leave this unvisited.
The path descends the hill at a gentle angle, then swings southeastwards, presenting us with a daunting view of Foel Fenlli, our last test of the day. We continue to drop to a carparking area with info boards about the fort.
From Bwlch Penbarra we have another steep, steep climb to get up to the ramparts of Foel Fenlli. Like the opening ascent of the day some two hours earlier, this is short, sharp shock. Our legs are more tired now that they were then though, and the hundred metres of vertical ascent is harder work this time. However, the reward is utterly worthwhile. Foel Fenlli is multi-vallate, like the other Clwydian forts. It has the benefit of terrific natural defences by virtue of its positioning atop a hill with steep drops on three sides (only the eastern approach is anything but knackering for any would-be attacker). Iron Age status symbol? You bet. The Vale of Clwyd looks a looong
way below us. There are good views of the nearest of the neighbouring forts, Moel y Gaer
At the very highest point of the hill (511m), protected by the encircling ramparts, is a burial cairn of an earlier date. With views to die for, this was a fabulous resting place for someone. I can’t help but feel that Moel Famau to the north might have been similarly crowned, before the Jubilee Tower swept away any archaeology. As with many similar cairns, the visible stonework piled in a cone is a modern reconfiguration/addition. The mound proper sits below, with its much wider diameter covered by short turf.
We carry on around the eastern end of the fort’s circumference, until the ground drops sharply once again on the southern slopes. Steps have been built to minimise erosion from the fort’s many visitors. Although Offa’s Dyke Path skirts the western end of the fort, I imagine a lot of people make the short detour to have a look at this magnificent show of Iron Age strength. As we drop back to the path, we meet a group of teenage lads, shouldering enormous rucksacks as they climb the steeply sloping hillside. They are friendly, cheerful and polite, clearly happy to be out in the hills. Perhaps some of the TMAers of the future are in that group? It’s certainly the kind of place to inspire an interest.
Our way heads southeast, at first a careful tip-toe down the slippery slopes, trying to avoid a stumble that would take us a long way down in too little time. At length we reach the Bwlch Crug-glas, below the cone of Moel Eithinen (thankfully not a hill we have to climb). We exchange the heathery Clwydian slopes for gentle farmland. This is cow country, rather than sheep, but we are thankfully untroubled by any bovine intervention as we make our way around the flanks of Moel Eithinen and Gyrn. Ahead of us lies the shapely profile of Moel Gyw, with its summit barrow, but that’s for the next part of the adventure.
Reaching the busy A494, we complete our Offa’s Dyke Path section for the day, 23.5 miles of the path now under our belts (which leaves plenty to go at!). We turn our now weary feet away westwards, for a walk/stagger down to Rhuthun, pausing for a last look back at Foel Fenlli. The main part of the Clwydian range is behind us, with its magnificent hillforts and rounded hilltops. Finally I feel like we are making some progress. Perhaps the stutter of the start may turn into the swagger of a finish yet.
Posted by thesweetcheat
5th June 2012ce
Edited 5th June 2012ce
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