As soon as I drew back the curtains and couldn't see a single star I knew this was indeed going to be the grey and overcast October day that the forecasters had predicted. North Wales had been right on the fringe of the cloud zone on their map, so when I'd gone to bed I'd retained some hope that they might be just a little bit wrong.
I even went back to bed for ten minutes before deciding that, as I was now awake, I might as well get up and head off for the walk that I had planned the day before - a tour of the most northerly part of Snowdonia, where it meets Conwy bay. The poor light would mean limited inspiration for paintings but I was all psyched up for walking and you never know, I might be lucky.
The route I followed is 19 miles long and involves straightforward walking, following well-defined and waymarked paths and involving no major climbs. However, the numerous minor hills (many of which could easily be by-passed) add up to a total ascent of 4,350 feet. A GPX file of the route can be downloaded here. I parked (for free) at Echo Rock, the highest point on the Sychnant Pass above Conwy.
My first calling point, Allt Wen, rose directly in front of me and is initially accessed via the metalled farm track that starts opposite the car park. It was only as I branched left off the track and headed up the obvious path to the summit that I began to realise how much the howling gale would be a significant factor today. Although the views from the top are superb, I decided that the ability able to stand and breathe were more important and quickly dropped down into the relative shelter of the eastern slopes, aiming for Conwy Mountain.
Excepting the small farm below Allt Wen, the heather-covered hillsides are access land, meaning you can walk freely, and they are criss-crossed by a multitude of paths. I decided to hug the coastal side with its sea views, passing north of the farm and taking in the summit of Penmaen-bach en route.
On top of Conwy mountain sit the remains of an iron age hillfort, more discernible than many others in the local area. There are at least a couple of interpretation boards to help you gain a sense of what stood here 2,000 years ago.
Leaving Conwy mountain via its southern slope, I picked up the well-signed North Wales Path (NWP) on the track below and headed back to where I had parked the car. The NWP continues up the bank in the left-hand corner of the car park and through a gate (signed for Pensychnant nature reserve). In a short while the NWP branches right off the main path and I quickly found myself on open moorland, heading west. For the next few miles it was just a question of following the frequent NWP waymarker posts.
I hadn't planned to climb Foel Lus, the heather-clad hill that rose to my right and I definitely don't consider myself a 'hill-bagger', being someone who climbs things just for the sake of ticking them off (my definition). However, I hadn't been up it before and it looked too tempting and a relatively simple diversion. I'm glad I did because the coastal views from the top were probably the best of the day.
Making my way down by a different path (the one in the photo) to keep things interesting, I rejoined the NWP at the farm called Ty'n-y-ffrith. I was passed by a couple of fell runners, barely moving any faster than I was as we all struggled against the roaring headwind. There was even time for a chat as they crawled past.
It was then only a short walk to one of my main goals for the day, the 'druids' circle on Cefn Coch. This and a neighbouring circle are slightly off the NWP so its important to take the obvious path that detours left and up over a rise if they are not to be missed.
In fact, the circle significantly predates the druids and was erected in the bronze age, around 1400 BC. There are other stone circles close by and an impressive cairn, Cerrig Gwynion, just to the south. A glance at the OS map shows just how many archaeological artefacts dot the surrounding area; unfortunately I wouldn't have time to visit them all today.
Rejoining the NWP, the route began to take me gently downhill until I reached a gate and the start of a green lane. It ends at Blaen-llwyn farm, where the friendly owner helped me as I struggled with a stiff gate that had apparently warped last winter. Once past the farm I hit a tarmac road and wended my way down to Nant-y-Pandy on the edge of Llanfairfechan. I crossed the river at the first bridge and took the "Terrace Walk", heading west.
I'd already decided that this spot, down and out of the wind, would make a good place to stop for lunch and I spied an ideally positioned bench with great views across the valley. Unfortunately, within seconds of unwrapping my sandwiches I found myself in a storm of wasps - there was a nest the size of a small house in a disused rabbit hole beneath the bench.
I moved on a few yards and settled into a gateway instead. There, I faced an awkward situation where a dog walker stopped three feet away but with her back to me to spend a few moments on her phone while her dog rummaged in the undergrowth. She hadn't seen me and I new that if I made any noise, let alone said 'hello', she'd either have a coronary or call the police. So I maintained absolute silence (mid-chew of my apple) and after several minutes she moved on, completely unaware that I'd been there.
Refreshed, my next destination and the start of the return journey east was the short but stiff climb up Garreg Fawr (passing an even better located bench on the way up).
Before long I reached another of my archaeological goals for the day; the incised arrow stones below Ffridd Newydd. Unfortunately, I had no idea what I was looking for and there are an awful lot of stones at this point. So I didn't find anything at all. However, here is a link to images taken by someone who actually did their research beforehand.
Another reason for wanting to move on quickly was that the stones are located immediately beneath a pair of enormous electricity pylons that mar the landscape at this point. On a day like this, the normal electrical crackling and buzzing is accompanied by a loud, deep, howling and whining as the wind rushes through the steel frames and wires and I confess that I always find it a threatening and not a little frightening sound.
Unfortunately, this run of pylons would be my noisy companion for a while yet as I left the NWP and headed east along the old roman road.
Just before reaching Foel Lwyd, the large hill dead ahead, I considered a detour into Bwlch y Ddeufaen to see the pair of standing stones. However, having seen them before, I didn't bother, forgetting that I was supposed to be taking pictures for this blog. So, again, here is a link to someone else's images.
Instead, I headed straight up the side of the Foel Lwyd, following the wall all the way to the top. Last time I was here it was a lovely summer's day and there was almost a queue of people making their way up (there is a car park close by). Today, I was alone and hadn't ascended far before I was into cloud and the views were gone.
Over the top, I continued to follow the wall down the far side, still in cloud, until I eventually met a style on my right. I went left, following the reasonably distinct path through boggy marshes, bearing right when it forked after about 500 yards. Eventually, the path met a track which I followed uphill for a short while so that I could visit my last major archaeological goal of the day; the 6ft standing stone at Maen Penddu, sadly blighted by modern graffiti on one side.
I cut across the heather to rejoin the track, which I then followed north-east until its natural course swung me east to flank the south side of Maen Esgob. With views of Conwy and its castle opening up ahead and passing more archaeology either side of me, I eventually reached the lakes at Gwern Engen and the Pensychnant nature reserve. Following the gravel path I was soon back at the Sychnant Pass and a couple of hundred yards of road walking returned me to my car.
Despite my early morning doubts, this had been a great day's walking and a fascinating insight into the ancient landscapes of this part of North Wales.