Last weekend I had a rare day of not being busy with Navigation Courses, Guided walks or Mountain Rescue… so what did I do? I went for a walk in the mountains 🙂
The mountain range that separates Trawsfynydd and Dolgellau from Llanbedr and Harlech is like a tiny piece of the Highlands, ripped up and dumped several hundred miles to the south. Big areas of seemingly untouched mountainous terrain with heather, gorse and grass hiding boulders and streams bubbling away unseen beneath your feet. It’s also a difficult place to explore, at least in comparison with the rest of Snowdonia. Access to the two main peaks (Rhinog Fach, Rhinog Fawr) can be made either from the east, via one of the big forests on that side, or form the west through Cwm Bychan or Cwm Nantcol. Both of these are a long drive up single-track roads from the main coast road between Harlech and Barmouth, ending at farms with informal car parking arrangements (i.e. a sign and a milk churn with a slot cut into the top). As such, they are perfect places to escape the hordes of visitors to the National Park on any day of the year!
I’ve visited these hills quite a few times. They are great places for wild camping, testing people’s navigation skills and just escaping the crowd. So this time I arrived at Cwm Bychan relatively late in the day (I ALWAYS carry at least one LED headtorch, no matter what time of the year. You never know how your plans may change and finding yourself in the mountains with no light source can lead to BIG problems) and set off up the Roman Steps. These are not Roman, but thought to be an old drover’s track.
At the top of Bwlch Tyddiad i would normally turn right and climb up to Llyn Du and then onto Rhinog Fawr. This time however I decided to turn left and follow the maze of contours to Llyn Prefed and Craig Wion. I had walked through this region before, years ago when I was a teenager. It was as I remembered it… wet, boggy, difficult to navigate! Good visibility made it easier to ‘plan ahead’, aligning what i could see with what I could interpret from the map. No marked paths, no footprints to follow and just sheep tracks showing the way (possibly to a sheep).
Venturing into this kind of terrain and having the skills to work your way safely across is enormously liberating. The CROW (Countryside Rights of Way) Act of 2000 has given us open access to huge upland areas of England and Wales, and being able to break free of the marked paths means that you get to places that most don’t. It’s possible to re-discover true wilderness in the UK, you just have to look more closely at the map, check the weather forecast and pack the right kit.
After a couple of hours of heather-hopping and bog-trotting I hit my last navigation point where the path meets the stone wall at Bwlch Gwylim. From here it was a pleasant wander back down to the car, watching the black storm clouds roll in as the sun set beyond the Irish Sea. It was a Saturday, in Snowdonia and the weather was reasonable, yet I had only met 2 people throughout the day. Not bad for this crowded little island!