|Chris and I meet again at Crewe station, the scene of previous encounters on our way to the land of someone else’s father. The morning has dawned clear and bright, promising heat and haze in place of the usual rain and cloud. I’ve been ridiculously overexcited about this trip, a small boy waiting for Santa Claus. Today we’re going to tick the number one box on the notional list of sites to visit.
The coastal road trip passes in an effortless blur (at least for me in the passenger seat) and before long we’re heading down the Conwy Valley with the high places clear and bright ahead of us. From Tal-y-Bont it’s single track and occasional gates, but no cars come the other way to delay us, they must have known we have a date with destiny. Reaching the parking area near Llyn Eigiau, we find it full but someone chooses that exact moment to leave and vacate a space for us. I told you they must have known.
While admiring the lovely view of Pen Llithrig y Wrach and Cwm Eigiau already presented from our parking spot, I slap on the sun-spray liberally, the day is promising to be very hot despite the breeze that’s already hinting at a blowy time on the tops.
Our route will decide itself as we go on, but the first bit of business is to gain some height, so we head north-west along a good track that takes us with a zig and a zag up the slopes of Clogwynyreryr. The Ordnance Survey have helpfully made this all onelongwordthewaythatGermansdo, but actually it ought to be Clogwyn-yr-Eryr (there, that’s better), which translates into English as “Cliff of the Eagle”. Nice. We don’t see any eagles, but Chris does point out the location of the Hafodygors Wen
four poster and stone row. There’s a great view of Pen-y-Gaer
hillfort too, a site Blossom and I have admired previously from the Tal y Fan area and must get better acquainted with one day.
As we round the rocky end of the ridge, a view of the high Carneddau main ridge unfolds, from be-cairned Drum
and across to Foel-fras. It looks a long way up yet. Our path turns its face westwards and we pause to look at a couple of suspicious looking stones either side of the track. One is about six feet tall and has a hole drilled right through it, the other is about half the height. Not an obvious pair of gateposts, we joke that it must be a stone row. Then we spot a further six-foot plus stone lying prostrate in the grass and joking turns half serious. We take a couple of snaps and proceed. Perhaps we should trust our instincts more, Coflein has this down as a possible stone row indeed! We note a further upright further up the slope but don’t even give this the respect it perhaps deserved (I don’t even have a photo).
But phantom rows aside, our first tangible targets of the day are coming into view now. Most obviously, the rocky summit of Foel Grach can be seen, perched above the intimidating cliffs of Craig y Dulyn. Below it Chris points out the location of the Pant-y-Griafolen settlement. We decide on a direct route, leaving the path and cutting straight down the grassy slopes.
Before reaching the valley bottom, we angle our route to take in the small settlement shown on the map on the opposite slope to the larger Pant-y-Griafolen
settlement. The map shows three circular features linked by a wall, with a further square feature close by. And this is exactly what we find. Three hut circles/round houses in a line, with the low remains of an enclosing wall around the northern side, with natural outcrops incorporated into the western end. There is a more substantial structure (probably the remains of a sheep fold) adjacent on the north side. It’s not the best-preserved of settlement sites, but the positioning is lovely, on the gently sloping valley side with the mountain ridges giving shelter on most sides. On a sunny day like today, I’d move here.
We carry on down the slope to the little river; the intervening ground requiring some bog-hopping. Lucky the weather has been dry, this could be a bit of a problem in wetter conditions. The eastern end of the Pant-y-Griafolen settlement can now be seen under a small stand of trees, from where it stretches away upstream towards Llyn Dulyn. The Afon Melyllyn is easily crossed on plentiful stones, even in spate I don’t think this would cause a well-balanced visitor (that’s us) too much trouble.
Like the nearby Clogwyn-yr-Eryr
settlement, this is not well-preserved, little more than circular rubble rings remaining. It is however extensive and fantastically well-placed. It’s hard to reconcile the fact that the site is 530m above sea-level with the degree to which it feels sheltered from the elements. The surrounding Carneddau ridges are so much higher that we are completely out of the gale force winds that are blowing over the tops today. You can almost feel the presence of the people, or perhaps they can almost feel ours. I could happily stay for a while in the sunshine, but we have hardly begun the hard work of the day and so we press on.
A footpath from the settlement takes us to Llyn Dulyn, which has been dammed to form a reservoir. A sobering reminder of the dangers of these mountains in bad weather can be seen beneath the shallow waters near the lake’s edge – the propeller of a crashed US Air Force Dakota from World War II. But there’s nothing else to disturb the tranquillity of this spot today.
A glance at the OS map here is deceptive, I had expected to be able to see the sister Melynllyn reservoir, but a closer look reveals that it’s located considerably higher up and is still out of sight. But that’s where we head next, up a narrow track heading south from Llyn Dulyn that takes us up over the 600m mark. The heat is making its presence felt on these uphill sections and my breathing is ragged by the time we reach the shores of the higher reservoir. The views down Pant-y-Griafolen all the way to Pen-y-Gaer and beyond are the reward though.
Steep cliffs bound Melynllyn on its western side, and our next section needs to take us above them. We choose a route from the northern shore of the reservoir that avoids the cliffs but is still a pretty stiff pull uphill. Of the whole walk, this will be the bit I enjoy least. The combination of heat and an underlying lack of fitness make this a bit tortuous to be honest and I’m mightily relieved to drag my aching legs up above the cliff-top of Craig-fawr and to collapse onto a conveniently placed rock to regain my breath for a few minutes. As we’ve climbed, the domed top of Pen Llithrig y Wrach has come into view over the ridge to the south. Still no sign of our principle objective of the day, Carnedd Llewelyn, but we are almost in touching distance of Foel Grach now. In truth we’re still 100m or so of ascent below the summit, but the steepness has reduced now and we’re also experiencing the first taste of the powerful winds that will characterise the next section of the walk. At this stage they provide a pleasant antidote to the fierce heat.
We swing northwest towards the summit. As we come onto the top of the ridge, we get our first view of Carnedd Llewelyn, tantalisingly close and not much higher than we are. At the same time, we are hit by the full force of the wind. Bloody hell. The walk takes on an aspect of farce as the wind tries to tear the sunglasses off my face, while my trusty map-case becomes an evil monster, smashing me about the face and arms each time I try in vain to take a photo. Like two deep-sea divers in lead boots we crawl across the landscape of broken and shattered stone that forms the summit of Foel Grach. Certainly no shortage of cairn material, perhaps the biggest cairn on the planet stood here until the wind tore it down to teach the builders a lesson in humility. I’m certainly learning that lesson right now.
We spend some time taking pictures, with difficulty. When you look at our images, dear reader, try to forget the cloudless blue and apparently idyllic setting and imagine us being buffeted and bruised by a howling gale. The things we do to bring you these bloomin’ pictures.
I joke that at least no-one has turned this cairn into a shelter, not realising that they don’t need to as there’s a proper one just to the north of the summit. Proper as in roof and mortared walls. We take refuge from the winds for a lunch stop, enjoying the feeling and sound of being in the eye of a raging storm but safe and protected from it. Other pilgrims come to interrupt our reverie and so we head back out into it. Heading south we have the wind largely behind, to speed us on our way – don’t relax though, you’ll be over a cliff if you don’t keep planting the feet firmly.
The walk down to the saddle is greatly enlivened by the unfolding view of Yr Elen’s shapely eastern profile. That’s a mountain that’s begging to be climbed, but not today. Carnedd Dafydd appears over the shoulder of its big brother. The climb up onto the summit plateau is straightforward, with little further ascent. Only the battering wind adds any complication, and my map case does its best to knock my camera out of my hands, succeeding in bringing up a horrifying “memory card full” message instead. Not a good time to be out of memory, so I spend a while messing about with deleting stuff to make room, hoping that the card hasn’t been corrupted by the bash.
The summit plateau, even more than Foel Grach
’s, is a lunar landscape of shattered rock. Although it’s busy, there’s plenty of room to find a patch of solitude away from the cairn and wind shelter. On a day when Snowdon is doubtlessly teeming with hundreds of people, this lofty peak is a much better prospect. The views are simply staggering, from Carnedd Moel Siabod
and Moelwyns, across to the Glyderau where Tryfan steals the show from the loftier Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach. Directly ahead of us Carnedd Dafydd fills the foreground, while the Snowdon massif itself looms beyond. Y Garn and the conical summit of Elidir Fawr complete the vista of 3,000 foot peaks before us. I would defy anyone to come here and not be moved by such a scene. I resist the urge to fall to my knees in wonder (too many pointy rocks for genuflecting).
At a gap in the stream of people at the cairn, we make a break for it and snatch a few pictures before the next visitors arrive for their photo opportunity. Much as I like quiet and unfrequented tops, it’s difficult to complain about other people here, as every one of them has had to make an effort to reach this high spot. No rack and pinion railways up here.
From here, our onward route looks a little daunting. The stroll down to Tristan’s cairn is straightforward, but it’s what we’ll do afterwards that concerns me. Most “proper” routes suggest that to get back to Llyn Eigiau we should carry on over Pen yr Helgi Du to Pen Llithrig y Wrach before descending that mountain’s gentle northeastern ridge. But that’s a looong walk from here. The alternative is an improbable descent to Cwm Eigiau from the bwlch between Pen yr Helgi Du and Pen Llithrig y Wrach. Luckily Chris does decisive better than me and we press on to Tristan’s cairn (and then we can do some more deciding).
Approaching the cairn from Carnedd Llewelyn
, it looks like a nothing of a marker cairn. The cairn itself is very small, even a walker looking for a pile to drop a stone onto might turn their nose up. In fact, my eye is drawn far more to the amazing views, down to Cwm Eigiau and Ffynnon Llyfant far below to the left, Ffynnon Llugwy to the right. Not to mention the Bwlch Eryl Farchog ridge below Pen yr Helgi Du. And Tryfan.
However, as we draw near it becomes clear that the cairn is beautifully positioned on a natural knoll of rock, right above the cliffs that drop away to Cwm Eigiau. If you want a suitably awe-inspiring place to lay a heroic warrior to rest, you couldn’t imagine anywhere much better. Whether this really was the final resting place of a Bronze Age chieftain, or an Arthurian knight, I still couldn’t say. The sky gods certainly have this place in their eye-line whatever.
I leave not knowing any more about its prehistoric authenticity than I did when I came, but I’m glad we came to find out. If you want a high, lonely spot away from the crowds, with breathtaking views, this might do it for you too.
We decide to carry on along the ridge to Pen yr Helgi Du. Despite the lack of cairn, I’m happy to be tackling another summit. As we head towards the last rocky bump of Penywaun-wen, I fiddle with my camera, deleting more pictures. Whilst paying no attention to where I’m putting my feet, I stumble and trip on a few strides, Chris exhorting me to stop before I head off the cliff. Luckily the spot wasn’t a “certain death” one and no harm is done. It does re-focus my mind nicely though!
I enjoy the scramble down to Bwlch Eryl Farchog and then up the northwestern ridge of Pen yr Helgi Du immensely. There’s something very satisfying about getting your hands onto the rocks to make your way, perhaps a connection with the Earth itself that we lack in most everyday situations. Either way I’m almost euphoric as we reach the top and enjoy the view back to where we’ve just come from, it looks much worse than it felt.
The last decision of the day awaits. The easier option is to climb Pen Llithrig y Wrach, but time is pressing and as the adrenaline of the scramble wears off my legs start to feel very heavy. So we are faced with a possible descent off the cliffs below Y Lasallt. Frankly this looks like a terrifying prospect from above, much more daunting to me than the scramble we’ve just done. I start muttering about falling to our doom, but Chris gives me (metaphorical) slap around the face by saying we’re not going to fall because “we’re TMAers”. Oh yeah. With that rallying call ringing in my ears I screw my courage to the sticking place and we’re off down a gully that proves to be steep but hardly impassable. It’s not especially easy though and I’m worn out by the time we reach the floor of Cwm Eigiau.
Luckily there’s a possible collapsed tomb to be seen at the bottom, which restores impetus and purpose to my aching legs. Next to a (medieval?) settlement, the positioning of the tomb, if that’s what it is, is perfect. It stands on a prominent little grassy knoll surrounded and enclosed by the cliffs that separate the Cwm from the Carneddau tops. The stone blocks involved are very large, well, they’re megaliths aren’t they? They are perched on top of each other in a way that doesn’t seem particularly probable as a natural landform but isn’t conclusively man-made either. But the spirit of the Carneddau is upon me and I give it the benefit of the doubt, someone can always “prove” it’s natural if they’d like to do so.
At length we take our leave, it’s still a long walk back to the car. On the way we pass a few more suspiciously megalithic gateposts. I reckon Gladman would be able to descry a processional route along an important water source here, with standing stones as markers. Hell, I’m practically doing so myself.
We pass the broken remains of the Llyn Eigiau dam on our final stretch, an attempt by man to harness the primal power of this wild landscape that ended in disaster when it breached and flooded the valley. It seems a fitting final touch to our epic walk. I get the impression that the valleys and ridges of the Carneddau will never be for the taming, but that maybe people could exist here, as they did at Pant-y-Griafolen, if they understand their relationship with the natural order and the passing of the seasons. But those people are gone from the valleys, their chieftains’ bones gone from the high cairns. All that’s left are faint traces for those who seek such things. I’m glad that Chris and I have been to see them for ourselves.
Posted by thesweetcheat
6th June 2012ce
Edited 6th June 2012ce
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