This walk in the eastern Carneddau was my last in Snowdonia before the March 2020 lockdown. It would be 7 months before I was able to get back there.
As ever, it was an early start. I rolled out of bed at 4 am, giving me 45 minutes to drink copious amounts of coffee, an hour to drive to my starting point and 15 minutes to get kitted up and into position for some dawn photography. At least today there wouldn't any walking in the dark to get to my location; that would have meant an even earlier alarm call.
Today's sunrise target was Tryfan, one of the national park's best known mountains. The most familiar and iconic view is the one you get as you approach it from the east on the A5 road. So that's where I pitched myself; in the long layby immediately east of Llyn Ogwen. This is one of my regular car parks; it's free, rarely full and is an ideal starting point for walks into the both the Glyderau and Carneddau ranges.
I only just made it in time (fortunately for me, there aren't many speed traps on the A5 at 6 am) and it wasn't long before the sun broke the horizon behind me and bathed Tryfan in a deep rusty hue. The spectacle was over in moments; I'd barely left the car and had already acheved my main professional goal for the day.
My subsequent painting of "Tryfan Dawn", viewed from the side of the A5
And a photo looking the other way, towards Pen yr Helgi Du.
To be honest, I could have gone home at this point. The forecast was for bright sunshine and it was therefore unlikely that the light would be conducive to any more paintable scenes. I always tell myself that I'll go walking until sunset creates some more drama but at this time year that either means a very long walk or a shorter walk followed by a few hours of hanging about. A lack of stamina and patience, respectively, mean that I rarely do either. I save those kind of adventures for the shorter days of winter.
So, I packed up the camera into my rucksack and headed east, intending to walk over high ground as far as the eastern fringe of the national park and then returning via the stunning glacial valley of Cwm Eigiau.
You can download a GPX file of the route I took here route here) The total length of the walk is 17 miles and it involves 3,700 ft of ascent. There are some short but stiff climbs and as with most of my walks (I like to explore lesser known places!) there are significant sections that have no discernable paths to follow.
To begin with I walked along the A5. There was barely any traffic at this time of the morning. However, I've walked along here at busier times and it can be a little unnerving. The traffic moves fast.
It would have been a lot safer to follow the track that runs parallel to the road on its southern side but I'd be coming back that way I have a particular foible that means I try to avoid covering the same ground twice on a walk if I can possibly help it.
In any case, it wasn't long before I left the road and headed up a lane towards the farm at Tal-y-braich-uchaf.
Looking back to Tryfan from Tal-y-braich-uchaf
Once past the buildings, the lane comes to an end and I made my way down to the little stone footbridge (Pont y bedol). Eventually that is. I hadn't been paying attention to my map and had to wander about a little before finding it. Not the best start to the day.
Pont y Bedol
It was then a question of heading towards the base of Pen Llithrig y Wrach ("slippery peak of the witch"), the conical-shaped and fairly innocuous-looking mountain that lay directly ahead. There is a bridle path marked on the map but either it vanishes soon after the bridge, or I lost it (more likely). In any case, the terrain wasn't so bad and it was easier to head in a straight line across the valley floor.
Straight ahead to Pen Llithrig y Wrach
I soon reached the canal that runs around the south west corner of Pen Llithrig y Wrach. Now, I've climbed Pen Llithrig y Wrach from this point before but have never managed to find a decent path until I'm about half way up, even though I know it's there from descending this way on other occasions. I didn't bother searching for it this time and just went straight up the slope ahead of me. Once again, I met the path about half way up.
Ogwen Valley and the Glyderau from the summit of Pen Llithrig y Wrach
There are some great views from the top. To the north east I could see Moel Eilio, the furthest point on today's walk and where I planned to have lunch. It looked a long way and I was already peckish.
To the west, I could see much of northern Snowdonia including the Ogwen valley and the Carneddau mountains. And immediately behind me was a 1,000 drop down to Llyn Cowlyd reservoir.
The next stage of the walk, along the ridge to Moel Eilio in the distance.
Its a sheer drop down to Llyn Cowlyd, far below
Moving on, the next section was familiar enough from previous walks, as I followed the realtively clear path down from the summit and then along a gentle ridge until I got to Cribau, above Llyn Colwyd dam. However, from this point I was into virgin territory, as I hadn't been up Moel Eilio before.
And it didn't seem that anyone else had either. There was no path to follow as far as I could see and it was hard going. Moel Eilio (not to be confused with its more famous namesake in the Glyderau range) is barely a pimple in the scale of things (it's not even classed as a mountain) but following the ridge and then gaining the summit was a pathless and seemingly endless trudge through knee high heather. That can be just as wearing as any climb up the big mountains. The last stretch, up Moel Eilio itself, was a series of false summits and just seemed to go on forever.
Hard going on the way to Moel Eilio (top left)
At least I felt that lunch was deserved when I got there. And a finer spot for lunch it would be hard to find. From your vantage point on the very edge of the national park, the view to the west is of a wilderness with not a person or building to be seen. However, turn your head and there is a civilisation all around; in the farms,villages and towns of the beautiful Conwy Valley.
Looking back from Moel Eilio towards Pen Llithrig y Wrach (left) and Carnedd Llewelyn (right of centre)
Refreshed, I picked myself up headed off again. My next destination was the track above Coedty Reservoir, which I could see not far below me. I'd be glad to reach some straightforward walking after the slog of the last hour or two and I knew that the next few miles would be much easier going.
Off the hills and onto next stage of the journey: into Cwm Eigiau
Wending my way down, I reached the valley bottom and turned 180 degrees to start heading back west up Cwm Eigiau. The first section is along a well maintained track that passes in and out of woodland, with views across to Carnedd Llewelyn (the second highest mountain in Wales).
The track is well-made in the early stages...
...but a little more rough and ready the further you go. The head of the valley is ahead, with Pen Llithrig y Wrach on the left and Pen yr Helgi Du on the right
This section ended at the reservoir called Llyn Eigiau and the remains its dam that burst in 1925, causing the loss of 16 lives downstream. The breach in the wall and evidence of the power of the water that surged through it remain very apparent in the landscape.
Film about the Dolgarrog Dam Disaster
This is a reasonably accessible place (another of my favourite free car parks can be found at the eastern end of the reservoir) and I would normally expect to see a few people about. Perhaps because of the impending lockdown, there wasn't anybody about today.
Beyond the reservoir, the landscape begins to close in, with the mountains at the head of the valley starting to rise above me. There is a sense of isolation here. However, taking a moment to look around one realises how different it must have been in the past. Abandoned farms, the remains of quarry buildings and various other artefacts are everwhere; this must have been a bustling place at one time.
The most intact of the derelict buildings is the wonderfully located and atmospheric Cedryn farmhouse. I've passed by more than once before but the light has never been quite right to inspire the artist in me and today was no exception. I am determined to keep coming back and paint it one day.
One normally passes the farmhouse at a short distance, following the track up into the high Carneddau. However, today I branched left (via a very wet and boggy lane) to walk directly past it and towards the south west corner of the valley head. On the map, the obvious route would be to follow the stream along the valley bottom but this looked even more wet than the lane I'd just swum up. So I gained some height and contoured round the left hand hillside, where I was pleasantly surprised to find a discernable path to follow.
This was a new route for me before and I had been a little concerned about it in the planning. I intended to escape the valley via the col at its head called Bwlch y Tri Marchog ("pass of the three knights"; one of so many brilliant place names in this corner of Snowdonia). I'm not a rock climber and it looked pretty steep on the map and Googling didn't come up with many references to others who had been this way. I knew the ridge that I'd be gaining at the top quite well but couldn't remember seeing an easy route down into the cwm. I also knew that if it wasn't passable then the only other ways out would involve an enormous diversion.
Faint path leading to Bwlch y Tri Marchog
However, as I approached, I realised that it wasn't nearly as steep as I'd imagined and it actually looked very benign. Not only that but I could see a very new-looking fence extending all the way up. I'm always relieved to find a fence or stone wall running up a slope that I'd worried about when studying the map; if a farmer can carry rocks, fence posts and rolls of wire up there then there is little excuse for me. When it's particularly steep, a fence can also be a useful tool for hauling oneself up by.
At the top of Bwlch y Tri Marchog. It's downhill all the way from here.
That's not to say it didn't hurt because it did. However, fifteen minutes of pain and I'd gained the ridge and was able to look down the expanse of the Ogwen Valley, dominated by Tryfan, just as I had that morning. With a pair of binoculars I'd have been able to make out my car, even though I still had four miles of walking to go.
Tryfan, most prominent in the Ogwen Valley
I made my way down the pathless but gentle slope of Cwm Tal-y-braich until I reached the canal once again. I picked up the track that runs alongside it for a short distance and then deviated downhill and back towards Tal-y-braich-uchaf, the farm I'd passed first thing that morning. The network of paths that are shown on the map don't seem to be visible on the ground but the hillside is well-grazed and the going is easy.
My foible insisted that I circumnavigate the farm via a different route than the one I'd followed earlier, until I once again reached the A5.
This time I immediately crossed over and picked up the track that runs parallel to the road; the one I'd avoided that morning. I've used this route to get back to my car quite often in the past and it's always deceptive. Psychologically, it feels as though the walk is over but it's actually quite a trek back to the parking area and it can be a bit of a drag if you're tired.
On getting back to the car I weighed up whether it was worth extending the walk or hanging about for the 3 hours till sunset. I convinced myself that it was clouding over and that it wasn't worth the gamble. Perhaps I'd have thought differently if I'd realised it would be 7 months before I was back in Snowdonia again.