Alken and I are out for another highly enjoyable day mountain climbing, low clouds have put us off inner Snowdonia today so we settled, no not settled, used up a contingency plan and headed for Bala, or as my Aussie cousin would say Balaah, and the Arenigs.
The twenty sixth highest mountain in Wales is Arenig Fawr, at 854 meters it is not going to be a pushover.
A some what lonely mountain, at least when compared to the height of the other hills around here. We start the walk from the thin lane north of the mountain, it is at first an easy walk, Eric would have no doubt pointed out it's ease of access by bike, a land rover would be quicker and it could be driven all the way to the edge of Llyn Arenig Fawr. The llyn is quite lovely, we could have sat and watched the wind pushing patterns across it's surface for far too long, but the top beckons, as it always does.
The top is hidden from view though by low clouds, and many false crests. It is here, as we start to gain some height that the Eeriness starts, there is not much wildlife at all, not even any sheep, the odd bird flits by about once every hour. I, we have been up mountains maybe what you'd call "lots of times" but ive never been this tired out, my legs hurt, my chest hurts, it is hard going, and the rest spots are coming all too infrequently. But we slog on. Soon the rest of Wales begins to disappear as we ascend into the clouds. Up on top of a subsidiary peak called Y Castell we have to cross over a wire fence and follow a vague path that looks like it's going the way want to go, the rain is falling and my hood is up, my only view is of the ground a few meters in front of my feet, I look up and notice the bright and vibrant colours of the grasses, pinks, oranges, reds and browns, so rich in hue that you want to bend down and inspect each plant individually. I had to blink my eyes, maybe something was wrong with me, looking at other things helped, my camera, my feet, Alken, no it wasn't my eyes, the floor was really that pretty.
We are up in the clouds proper now, there is no down, only up, with hints of sideways. We pass through a boulder field on the side of the mountain, some as big as a small shed, but all of them are as weather eaten, as gnarled as any ive seen, it is very much a lunar landscape, only with cloud and drizzle.
A couple of times we think were near the top, we even thought we could see the cairn above us, but it was always just a bit further, hiding in the mist, then showing us just enough to know where to go, and would you guess it, it was up.
Eventually the real, honest to god top of the mountain reveals itself, cairn, trig point and all. We've made it, but the usual elation, the wonder of it all has been replaced with cold wet hunger. We sit and consume butties, they've never tasted better.
Another climber approaches the cairn, he says hi, we give him one back and he sits in the other shelter in this cairn, yes it's big enough to accommodate two walkers shelters. He's soon gone though and we have the top to our selves again, cameras out , we do our best to show this place in as good as light as possible, which is hard in this drizzle.
It is a big cairn, despite the shelters and the trig point intruding upon it, and even though it is supposed to sport some kerb stones I saw none that I could comfortably say that is a kerb stone.
The views this way and that would I presume have moved me to some sort of poetic prose, but they were not here today, logic dictates that the rest of Wales and the world is still out there somewhere, but I couldn't swear to it. It's time to go now i'm not quite sorry to say, time to walk through different worlds back to our own, the high world in the clouds gives way to the lunar landscape, then through bright grassy world to the half way world, where here can sometimes be there. Not much sense to be had here today this is an eerie landscape, deathly quiet except for the wind which seems to come suddenly from no where then fade away, looking about us we can see mists being blown in several directions at once.
I wondered what ancient man would have thought of life and death on a mountain side, he could have hardly have thought it less magical than myself.
Moel yr Eglwys ("bare summit of the church") is the highest point of Arenig Fawr. It's crowned by a large prehistoric kerbed cairn, but according to Coflein, the stones from this have been incorporated into a modern memorial and shelter.
Or take the following, from J. H. Roberts' essay, as given in Welsh in Edwards' Cymru for 1897, p. 190: it reminds one of an ordinary fairy tale, but it is not quite like any other which I happen to know:--In the western end of the Arennig Fawr there is a cave: in fact there are several caves there, and some of them are very large too; but there is one to which the finger of tradition points as an ancient abode of the Tylwyth Teg. About two generations ago, the shepherds of that country used to be enchanted by one of them called Mary, who was remarkable for her beauty. Many an effort was made to catch her or to meet her face to face, but without success, as she was too quick on her feet. She used to show herself day after day, and she might be seen, with her little harp, climbing the bare slopes of the mountain. In misty weather when the days were longest in summer, the music she made used to be wafted by the breeze to the ears of the love-sick shepherds. Many a time had the boys of the Filltir Gerrig heard sweet singing when passing the cave in the full light of day, but they were subject to some spell, so that they never ventured to enter. But the shepherd of Boch y Rhaiadr had a better view of the fairies one Allhallows night (ryw noson Galangaeaf) when returning home from a merry-making at Amnodd. On the sward in front of the cave what should he see but scores of the Tylwyth Teg singing and dancing! He never saw another assembly in his life so fair, and great was the trouble he had to resist being drawn into their circles.
From chapter 8 of 'Celtic Folklore, Welsh and Manx' by John Rhys (1901), which you can read at the Sacred Texts Archive.
At 2,802ft this is a pretty high one, it has to be said... the funerary cairn - or rather the remains of one - crowning the northern, and higher, of Arenig Fawr's two summits. According to Coflein:
'Remains of a large burial cairn on Moel yr Eglwys, the highest summit of the Arenig Fawr ridge. Stone built and circular in shape, the cairn measures circa 1.5m in height. The edge of the cairn is marked by a low kerb, except on the E side and the kerb measures a maximum of 0.3m tall and is 12m in diameter. The cairn material has spread beyond the original circumference and now measures circa 15m in diameter - the material has been remodelled to include an Ordnance Survey triangulation pillar, a World War II United States Air Force memorial and two walkers' shelters..'
Hmm... note the reference to the USAF memorial, which, like several other Welsh sites (e.g Cefn Yr Ystrad in the Brecon Beacons) adds an extra poignancy to a visit here, a sense that perhaps we are not so really different from our Bronze Age predecessors after all... we, like them, erect memorials to our heroes upon mountain tops. The gentlemen in question died here on 4th August 1943 when their B-17F 'Flying Fortress' hit the mountain while on a night cross-country training flight. Yeah, it was men like these, thousands of miles away from home, who played a major part in preserving the freedom we take for granted. Lest we forget, they were:
Lt James N. Pratt; Lt William A. Bowling; Lt Allen M. Boner; T/Sgt Frederic J. Royar;S/Sgt Walter J. Johnston; Sgt Walter B. Robinson; Sgt Phillip Simonte; Pfc Alfred B. Van Dyke.
If you decide to come and have a look for yourself, the classic route starts from approx SH846396 to the approx north and ascends via the impressive, if initially hidden, Llyn Arenig Fawr. As you would expect for such an isolated mountain, the views are exceptional when the summit is clear. But there's a lot more to Arenig Fawr than that, as the still remaining, occasional piece of aluminium debris will testify.