I didn't know it at the time but this was to be my penultimate walk before Snowdonia was essentially "closed" to visitors as part of the March 2020 Covid-19 lockdown. Enjoying absolute peace and solitude (not encountering another soul all day) in one of the least visited parts of the National Park, I was blissfully unaware of the massed craziness taking place a few short miles away on Snowdon itself, where authorities reported the busiest visitor day in living memory.
My main aims for the day were a dawn visit to Bryn Cader Faner, a bronze age round cairn set high on the hills above Llyn Trawsfynydd and the exploration an area that I just didn't know.
The walk I am about to describe is just over 16 miles long. There are no big climbs or exposure but some sections are boggy and pathless meaning that navigation could be difficult in poor visibility. The total ascent is 3,135 feet. A GPX file of the route can be downloaded here.
The closest parking to the Bryn Cader Faner is accessed via the hamlet of Eisingrug, off the A496 between Harlech and Porthmadog. Shortly after you've passed through Eisingrug take a right turn marked as a dead end (if you reach the gates to the hotel you have gone too far). Follow it steadily uphill for a mile until the tarmac ends at a grassed parking area. There is a £2 honesty box on a nearby gate.
Morning twilight was well under way as I got out of the car and pulled on my boots. I clearly wouldn't be needing the torch today.
Standing in the car park, the temptation is to follow the gravel track that acts as a continuation of the tarmac road. However, my GPS quickly told me that this was wrong and so I did an about turn and headed through the gate with the honesty box instead
Morning twilight over the Rhinogydd
Now heading in the right direction, the route begins as rough vehicle track, wending its way gently uphill. Where it forks at a rocky outcrop, turn left. Eventually it peters out into a reasonably distinct footpath that continues north east across open moorland, with views of the Rhinogydd mountains to the south.
After a couple of miles and assuming visibility is good you'll spot Bryn Cader Faner from a distance, sitting on the crest of a rise ahead of you.
Bryn Cader Faner
Although it has been damaged, altered and re-built over the years the site is incredibly atmospheric, especially at this time of day as the sun rises behind and knowing that you are utterly alone in this historic landscape.
I stayed a while and could have stayed much longer but I had other things to see. Rejoining the main path, I continued north east as views across the Vale of Ffestioniog towards Moelwyn Mawr and Cnicht began to open up ahead of me.
Looking across the Vale of Ffestiniog to the Moelwyns
Difficult choice - leap of faith or the precarious-looking bridge?
From the slopes of Moel Dinas, I spied below me an unscheduled photo opportunity. The morning light was slowly creeping across the landscape and in a few moments would be catching the roof of the deserted farmhouse at Nant Pasgan-mawr.
It would be a shame to miss it but I'd have to be quick, so I found a break in the wall and headed off-piste and down towards Nant Pasgan-bach, the property that neighbours my target. From a distance, this house looked like it might be occupied but on arrival I was pleased to discover that it probably wasn't; the truck parked outside looked as though it had been there a while. I don't like wandering through people's front gardens (even if its a public footpath) at the best of times but floating past the window of an isolated farmhouse at 6.30 in the morning is simply rude.
Picking up the track that connects the two properties, I reached my target a few moments later, quickly followed by the sunlight I'd been chasing.
Leaving Nant Pasgan-mawr
Although stunning, Nant Pasgan-mawr wasn't quite the photo opportunity I'd hoped for. Not nearly as rundown as I'd expected, I wasn't entirely convinced that the detour had been worthwhile (I would now have to climb back up the hill I'd just come down). Only a proper ruin evokes the artist in me and this place was far from that; it even had panes of glass left in some of the windows for goodness sake! Perhaps I'll come back in a few years after the Snowdonia weather has moved things on a little.
So, clambering back uphill and picking my way through picturesque ancient woods, I rejoined my planned route above Cwm Moch.
There was now a mile or so of steady climbing, although this was more than compensated for by the stunning views of Diffwys (not to be confused with another Diffwys in the southern Rhinogydd) and Foel Penolau across the valley to the south.
Moel y Gyrafolen and Diffwys
Another interesting river crossing
Then, rounding a bend, I got my first glimpse of Llyn Trawsfynydd below. Perhaps most famous for the now decommissioned nuclear power station that sits on it's northern shore, this reservoir is none-the-less exceedingly beautiful and is a popular place for recreation, both on the water and around its edge.
Llyn Trawsfynydd comes into view
The only lengthy downhill section of the day took me down to join the road on the western shore of the reservoir, near Tyn Twll.
A footpath that's also a stream
Heading south, I began a couple of miles of paved road walking, although I didn't see a single car this day. There was an emergency vehicle parked outside the South Snowdonia Search and Rescue Team's Headquarters but no other sign of life.
The only social interaction I had this day...
...apart from these two
Making sure I took the right turn at Tyndrain farm, I eventually left the road where a track heads south towards Wern-fach.
Joining the track to Wern-fach (centre, middle distance)
On reaching Wern-fach, I turned right to follow the river (Afon Crawcwellt). The ground quickly becomes boggy and any path becomes pretty much indiscernible.
Into the bogs. My destination is the pass at the top right of the photograph
It was only a short distance to the abandoned mill at Wern-cyfrdwy, which was well worth a stop. Unfortunately, the sun was high in the sky by now, which didn't create the best light for photographs that might inspire paintings. However, I took some shots regardless.
Abandoned mill at Wern-cyfrdwy
Moving on, I continued to track the river as far as the base of Craig Ddrwg. Here, I turned uphill, keeping the stone wall to my right and aiming for the pass between the mountains to the south west. There was no true path that I could see (just the odd sheep track), until I reached the top of the pass. Here, a clear path suddenly appeared, as did superb views of the "main" Rhinogydd mountains to the south and the coast at Harlech to the west.
The "main" Rhinogdd to the south
The infamous rocky slopes of the Rhinogydd
Even though it was almost contantly in view, it was a deceptively long trek down to my next destination, the shore of Llyn Cwm Bychan in the valley below. However, it was well worth the slog. Mosses and lichens clad the rocks and trees almost entirely in a coat of green and with a backdrop of the rocky Rhinogydd mountains over the far shore it truly felt like a land from Lord of the Rings.
Shore of Llyn Cwm Bychan
Carreg-y-saeth rises over the lake
Photos taken, I turned around and started clambering up the hillisde immediately behind me, to join the footpath that heads towards Cwm-mawr. Keep going up until you encounter an obvious grassed track and follow it left. From there, the path becomes obvious as one continues to climb steadily due west across a mixture of moorland and semi-pastures.
The view back towards Llyn Cwm Bychan and the Rhinogydd
Arrival at Cwm-mawr called for some coolness under pressure. The house has large windows facing you and today there was a car parked outside, suggesting someone was home. It must be great entertainment to watch unwitting walkers arive outside your window and realise that the path abrubtly stops at a river - no footbridge and too wide to jump. I wandered up and down a little until I found what I judged to be the best place to cross, slithering down the mud bank, balancing precariously on slippery rocks mid-stream and then leaping to the opposite bank and clambering up. I just about made it with dignity intact.
Pressing on uphill through heather and tussocky grass, I eventually reached a vehicle track and the going got a lot easier. My next desination was the standing stones below Moel Goedog.
Standing stone below Moel Goedog
There are stones lying all about here and several archaeological features are marked on the map. However, apart from one or two obvious standing stones it is hard to discern what is significant and what is the result of modern field clearance.
However, what was undeniably impressive at this point in the journey was the view that opened up to the north. Across the Vale of Ffestiniog, I could see the whole of northern Snowdonia and all the way down the Llyn Peninsula.
View from Moel Goedog
After a few moments delay while I waited for a farmer to round up his sheep at the far end of Moel Goedeg, I continued north along the marked path that contoured round hillisides to my right. However, I barely nticed these, being captivated by the view to my left.
Eventually, I was back at the rocky outcrop that I'd met first thing this morning, arriving via the other fork. Five minutes later I was back at the car.
On a day where crowded scenes in Snowdonia had dominated the national news, my only human encounter during a day in the Park had been with a distant farmer on a quad bike.