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View of Snowdon, North Wales Stone circles, North Wales

Rob Collister describes a day walking in the mountains of North Wales. Rob is an International Mountain Guide, a keen walker, climber, skiier and one of the team behind Wild Wales. Wild Wales offer t rips walking, hiking, scrambling and climbing in the area in and around Snowdonia. The highest mountain in Wales, Snowdon, and the other hills and mountains of the Snowdonia National Park and its environs offer a tremendous area of natural beauty, some exhilarating walks, some challenging climbs and scrambles, and lots of history.

Cwm Eigiau circuit

Cwm Eigiau is a favourite stamping ground of mine. I remember, one grey mid-November day picking my way up the steep, wooded hillside behind Dolgarrog. It was a long approach to the hills, but to walk starting from the tidal River Conwy is to appreciate fully the height of a mountain second only to Snowdon; and to start from the valley floor is to feel more keenly the bleakness of a plateau where freeze-thaw activity is still sorting loose stones into stripes and polygons.

Where the angle eases, beech and oak give way to bracken, thorn trees and old field systems. The slope is dotted with ruins whose occupants gave up the unequal struggle with wind, rain and poor soil and departed for the cities or the colonies. No-one actually lives here now. 'You cannot live in the present, at least not in Wales', wrote R.S. Thomas. In this lonely upland, which is possibly emptier than it has been for 4,000 years, you can understand what he meant. Our century's contribution to this landscape is less poignant – a black pipe line that carries water from Llyn Cowlyd to the hydro-electric power station in Dolgarrog.

I ducked under the pipe and climbed up onto the broad spur which gives a long, rough haul up Pen Lithrig-y-wrach. A peregrine passes overhead, flying fast and determined towards the cliffs of Creigiau Gleision. Miles away to the south, a lake on Moel Siabod glittered in the grey landscape. Clouds were gathering in the west, the wind was stronger up here, and cold. Rain could not be far away, but on the Great Orme, as usual, the sun was shining.

From the summit I strode down the grassy slope to Bwlch Trimarchog (the pass of the three horsemen) where three parish boundaries meet. Easy to imagine a trio of Celtic chieftains leading their horses to this spot, perhaps to settle a dispute, giving the place a name for evermore. Less easy though to find a source for Pen Llithrig-y-wrach (the slippery hill of the witch).

A short, steep climb leads to the top of Pen yr Helgi Du. It is a spacious summit, but a few steps northwards bring a dramatic change. Abruptly the ridge narrows to a knife-edge, revealing for the first time the dark waters of Ffynnon Llugwy on the one hand, and the ruins of the Cwm Eigiau slate quarries, far below on the other. Almost simultaneously the ridge plunges downwards, confronting you with the huge craggy profile of Craig yr Ysfa and, although it soon becomes apparent that the descent is a short one, it is steep and hands are needed in places.

A short scramble up a rock slab leads to Craig yr Ysfa, really a shoulder of Carnedd Llywelyn rather than a top. Three of the classic rock climbs of Snowdonia emerge hereabouts – Amphitheatre Buttress, Pinnacle Wall and Great Gully. There were three climbers on the upper arete of the former, their small figures adding scale to the surrounding rock.

A few feet short of the summit of Llywelyn I peered over the edge on my right where scree slopes drop steeply to Ffynnon Llyffant, a rarely visited little tarn surrounded by aircraft debris from a wartime crash. In the hard winter of '78 I had stood in this same spot nervously contemplating a steep snow slope, pondering on the 'lonely impulse of delight' that had brought me there on ski . Then I had found myself, almost without thinking, launching into the first turn. Today Snowdon was buried in cloud and the wind was biting. Hands thrust deep in pockets, I passed quickly over the summit to a view of Anglesey, Puffin Island and a wide expanse of sunlit sea.

Just before the grassy plateau between Llewelyn and Foel Grach I turned aside to investigate the small rock tower that is a conspicuous feature from the east. All around it are loose stones originally piled up by men, and on its top the remains of a circular burial cairn. Legend has it that this was the resting place of Tristan or Tristram of the Arthurian stories; but it was probably old before Arthur's time, dating, like the other large cairns up here, from the Bronze Age.

From the plateau I descended the broad ridge that runs southeast to a region of eroding peat hags overlooking Dulyn and Melynllyn – deep dark lakes overhung by wet, vegetated crags which protect a rich flora from the depredations of sheep and people. Downstream from Dulyn the walled enclosures of a Bronze Age settlement stood out clearly. Turning, I ran the length of the ridge to the ruined farm of Tal-y-llyn and as the light faded I sped along a narrow road and down the steep footpath beside the Dolgarrog gorge. Its waterfalls and pools, familiar from sunny, summer afternoons, glinted somberly in the twilight. It was dark by the time I reached the car.


Wild Wales walking, hiking, scrambling and climbing weekends

Wild Wales run trips from the 'less strenuous' walking and hiking weekends, to more active trips taking you to higher hills to walk, hike, scramble and climb. All trips are led by experienced guides and each member of the Wild Wales team has strong connections with the area. They are happy to share their knowledge of the culture, history, language, flora and fauna as well as mountain craft, navigation and technical skills. Take a look at the Wild Wales website for a full list for more details.

Rob Collister, mountain guide

Rob offers private guiding or tuition, summer or winter, in Wales, Scotland, European Alps, Mount Kenya and throughout the world. This can be anything from tailor-made climbing expeditions, ski tours, wilderness trips to back-packing journeys or porter/pony/yak supported treks. See his web page for more details.

Wild Wales:

Rob Collister, Mountain Guide:


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