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A walk - The Cadair Ridge

I have to say that this was a thoroughly pleasant walk, though that may in part be down to a sense of relief.

I generally like to use less-frequented routes where possible and the previous week I'd completed a circuit of Moel Siabod in the north of Snowdonia that had ended up as a gruelling slog across lonely pathless bogs and scrubby hillsides (I'll write that one up soon). I'd expected more of the same on some sections of today's walk in the south of the Park but instead I found easy to follow paths and a population of fellow hikers (I love walking alone but sometimes it's good to know that there are other people out there).

Having said that, if you want to follow in my footsteps (you can download a GPX file of my route here), be aware that this particular ascent of Cadair Idris takes in a couple of tricky stream crossings and a long haul up a scree slope. You will need mountain walking experience. The total length of the walk is 15 miles and involves 4,133 ft of ascent.

The weather forecast predicted a murky start but with the cloud clearing by mid-morning. So, no pre-dawn walking today; my main aim was to reach the summit of Cadair Idris as those clouds lifted, hopefully witnessing some misty and moody scenes to inspire new paintings.

I started at the Snowdonia National Park Authority car park (£6 all day; pretty grim toilets on site), five minutes drive west of Dolgellau and just beyond Llyn Gwernan.

As you head back out of the car park and back onto the road to start the walk, a prominent sign for "Cadair Idris" points right. This is directing you up the popular Pony Path, which I have done a couple of times before. So, for a change and to avoid the crowds I went left along the road for a few hundred yards and picked up the path that heads due south from opposite the Gwernan Lake Hotel.

The gentle climbing starts immediately. You rapidly gain height and views of Penygadair, Cyfrwy and the rest of the Cadair Ridge that hadn't been visible at the start.

Early views of the Cadiar Ridge. The summit (Penygadair) is in the centre, partly obscured by cloud, with Cyfrwy on the right.

Just before Llyn Gafr, the first of twin lakes, comes the trickiest stream crossing. The path invited me to cross at a point where wading through knee-deep, gushing, water couldn't be avoided. I normally have a couple of bin bags in my rucksack for these occasions (they make great waders) but I knew I'd forgotten them today. So, tracking upstream I thankfully found a point where a couple of "islands" afforded my best chance. With one of the best standing-start long-jumps I've ever achieved, I made it, despite managing to drag a trailing boot through the water as I grasped at the far bank.

One of the easier stream crossings on the way up

Adventure over, I picked up the main path again and soon passed Llyn Gafr before arriving at the shores of the larger Llyn y Gadair. I was now back on familiar territory, having previously arrived here via other routes.

Llyn Gafr...

...and the slightly larger Llyn y Gadair, with Cyfrwy behind

Looking at the cliffs around me, I was more than a little disappointed. The cloud was clearing fast and there was no misty drama on the summits. It looked like I was too late. But you never know in the mountains. So I pressed on.

Leaving the lake shore, I immediately encountered the most strenuous part of the walk; a scramble up the badly eroded scree slope that heads up to Penygadair, the summit of Cadair Idris. I say "scramble" but it is not particuarly steep or exposed and there aren't really any points where you need to use your hands, provided you keep away from the stream where the surrounding scree has been washed out and is a little more unstable under your feet.

Looking back down the scree slope to Llyn y Gadair below

Then, its a short hop to the summit with its cairn and substantial shelter.

View from the summit of Penygadair (Cadir Idris) along the ridge that I'll be following and

...a painting of the same view I completed a year or two ago, though on a somewhat chilier day than today

The next section of the journey would see me hug the ridge that disappears into the distance in the photograph, starting with Cyfrwy in the foreground. The skies above were now blue and cloudless and I'd given up hope of achieving the day's aim.

But what did I say about the mountains? Five minutes later, as I reached the shadowy outcrops in the centre of the photograph, clouds appeared to condense from nowhere and I got the scenes I'd been looking for. Luck or excellent planning?

Looking back up to Cadair Idris with mission accomplished...

...and back down to Llyn y Gadair

I spent a good half hour watching the spectacle and filling up my camera's memory card before I continued up to the top of Cyfrwy, whose vertical cliffs are a popular spot for climbers. From there, I followed a faint trail down over the brow of the mountain to join the popular Pony Path at Rhiw Gwredydd. There was already a steady stream of walkers heading up to the summit; however, I was going in the opposite direction and even then only for a moment before diverting west at a stile to continue along the ridge.

Here it would be easy to follow the obvious path that contours round to the left, as I did for a short distance. Instead, look out for the much fainter path that looks like little more than a sheep track heading uphill along the fenceline.

This ascent was gentle walking along an even, grassy, path and the terrain felt very benign. There was no sense of the cliffs that I knew dropped away to my right and it wasn't long before I was at the top of Tyrrau Mawr.

Looking back at Cadair Idris from Tyrrau Mawr

Looking ahead along the ridge, the next mountain (unnamed on the OS map) looks a stiff climb but is, in fact, significantly lower than Tyrrau Mawr. where I currently stood. The fact that there is a 500ft descent between the two creates a little bit of visual deception.

Having reached the top of the unnamed mountain, I decided that it would make a good spot for an early lunch (cheese and pickle sandwiches; my favourite mountain fare) given that it offered a vista all along the Cadair Ridge and my first sea views of the day.

First sea views

Refreshed, I headed off again towards Braich Ddu, with views down to Llyn Cyri below, surrounded by purple heather that was just past its best. Although you wouldn't believe it from the photos, the wind was rushing up the cwm and over the ridge to such an extent that it was now hard to stand up.

Llyn Cyri

The path became a little fainter as I departed more populare routes and skirted anti-clockwise around the forest on Braich Ddu but it never quite disappears completely (although it certainly would under snow conditions). A gentle descent then spat me out on a vehicular track that I would follow for a mile or so down to a tarmac road and civilisation.

However, before doing so and with the wind abated I found this a good spot to find a rock to sit on for a while and watch that civilisation from afar. In the middle-distance I saw farmers working away in the ancient fields while beyond I spied boats coming in and out of Barmouth harbour. Every so often the distant toot of a tourist train carried all the way up into the mountains.

The track back down to civilisation

As the track descends it becomes Fordd Ddu, or "black road", which adds a degree of ambience to the historic landscape that surrounds it; ruined buildings, cairns and standing stones abound, hidden behind and in between rocky knolls. It's hard to know what's natural and what's man-made.

Some relatively recent history

Something a little older

Following the road, the next target was my second pair of twin lakes, Llynau Cregennen and the unmistakable Bryn Brith that rises behind them. This an accessible and popular spot and I suddenly found myself surrounded by cars and people.

Llynau Cregennen with Bryn Brith behind

I must admit that an ascent of Bryn Brith felt a bit of an unecessary strain towards the end of a long day but it looked so tempting. Further, a quick glance to the right shows how diminutive it is compared to the proper mountains I'd just been climbing.

Being so popular, the route to the top is well-worn. It is only a short climb and well worth it. Traversing the ridge one passes the remains of a hill fort (what a great location for it!) and enters what can only be described as a micro-Snowdonia. It is almost as if someone had been commissioned to receate a scaled version of the national park up here on the hill top, complete with miniature mountains, lakes and forests.

A miniature Snowdonia on top of Bryn Brith. These 'mountains' are only a few metres high.

Views out to the real thing

Dropping off Bryn Brith via a distinct path that appears on the right just after the fort, I joined a marked right of way in the bottom of the valley and headed north east towards the hamlet of Pont Kings. The terrain slowly turned to pasture and woodland.

Atmospheric - cemetery on the way to Pont Kings

Once in the hamlet itself, there are public footpaths heading every which way. However, I chose to take the bridle way that passes a farm called Hafod-dywyll farm and up to another one called Tyddyn-Evan-fychan. This allowed me to regain some height and enjoy possibly the best view of the Cadair Ridge I'd seen all day.

Penygadair (Cadair Idris) and Cyfrwy from Tyddyn-Evan-fychan farm

From here, it was a five-minute walk down the farm track and back to the car park.

So, while luck had been on my side in giving me the misty scenes I'd been looking for on the summit of Cadair Idris, the irony was that the most painting-inspiring views were probably from the back of the car-park where I'd started that morning.

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