A walk - Llyn Idwal, the best route up Y Garn and a visit to The Mushroom Garden

March 30, 2019

After dropping off some paintings at Galeri Betws-y-Coed, I found myself in Snowdonia with the sun breaking through the cloud and the best part of an afternoon left before it would be setting. What to do? Squeeze in a walk, of course, and get some inspiration for future works.

 

I chose to climb Y Garn, the mountain that sits square at the northern end of Nant Gwynant. I'd stop off at Llyn Idwal, which remained something of an obvious gap in my portfolio. Despite being one of the most popular visitor locations in the National Park, I had never managed to coincide a visit with (i) the right weather and (ii) having my camera with me. Therefore, I had never painted it.

 

The walk I am about to describe is just over 6 miles long. Most, though not all, is on obvious paths and the total ascent is around 2,700 feet. A GPX file of the route can be downloaded here. 

 

I parked for free in the lay-by a short distance south of Ogwen Cottage visitor centre, where the parking is chargeable.

 

Booted and suited, I made my way along the main road to the visitor centre and took the steps to its left. I crossed the footbridge and joined the made up path that winds its way gently to Llyn Idwal. Once there, I made for the gravel beach on the northern shore and got the shots I wanted. Although it must be said that the tranquil scene in the photos belies the chaos that surrounded me; a noisy group of 30 or 40 school children was keeping me company, just out of shot.

From here, I had decided that my ascent of Y Garn would be via Pinnacle Crag. This is, in my view, the most pleasing way up to Y Garn when the weather is fine. While other routes, such as the Devil's Kitchen or the scrambles up Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr, may be more challenging and 'exciting', they don't offer the same stupendous 360 degree views that I would be enjoying today.

 

On either side of you as you climb are stunning views down into adjacent cwms, while in the middle distance you have the sight of the Ogwen valley and Tryfan to your left and the northern part of the Glyderau range to your right. Behind you rises the vast pile that is Pen yr Ole Wen, while the summit of Y Garn itself is often in sight, rising majestically ahead of you.

The route up is accessed via the grassy path that leads away from the north west corner of the lake. Once the climb proper starts, this turns into a well-maintained stepped path. Half way up, it gradually turns into a scree slope through which you can take your pick of well-trodden paths for the final push. Today, the remains of a snow cornice (last of the winter?) marked the top of the climb.

From Y Garn, it's an easy walk down the ridge and then gently up to the next summit, Foel Goch.

 

Dropping down the far side of Foel Goch, one quickly reaches a col. This has been the viewpoint for several of my previous paintings, including the great edifice ahead that is Elidir Fawr, the view back to Y Garn and the one to my west down Cwm Dudodyn.

The col also marks the point at which I'd be dropping off the ridge today, to begin the descent and return leg of the walk.

 

The first step was to hop over the stile in the fence. When the cloud is down and you can't see into Cwm Bual below, this can look like a drop into oblivion. However, it is in reality an easy descent on faint paths over grass and through patches of scree.

At the bottom of Cwm Bual, I took the stile over the fence on my right and joint the distinct path that contours around into Cwm-coch, with splendid views up and down beautiful Nant Ffrancon (slightly interrupted by the intermittent buzz of motorbikes racing up the A5 on the opposite side of the valley).

Rising above me were the dramatic crags of Creigiau Gleision; it is hard to believe that these were the invisible footings of the gentle, grassy, ridge that I had been walking just a few moments earlier.

The path continues to run parallel to the slope until it reaches The Mushroom Garden, curiously named and presumably because the almost prehistoric landscape at this point is strewn with boulders of varying shapes and sizes. Views open up ahead of Pen yr Ole Wen, Tryfan's west face and the Pinnacle Crag route up Y Garn that I had climbed earlier.

 

Here, I broke away from the path and headed cross country back towards Llyn Idwal. I did so at more or less jogging pace, as even from here I could see that the sun was illuminating the Glyderau range behind the lake but would soon be dropping below the horizon, leaving everything in shadow.

 

Somewhat breathless, I made it in time and got to work straight away with the camera. These are my favourite scenes to paint: the deep evening hues of sky and mountain reflected on a perfectly still lake surface. I stood on the same beach as earlier in the day but things looked quite different; how a couple of hours of the Earth's rotation had changed the scene!

With plenty of painting material on my camera's SD card, the final stop of the day was now just behind me; a quick climb up to Pen y Benglog to enjoy the view down the full extent of Nant Ffrancon. Then it was a clamber over the style that I could see just below me and back to Ogwen Cottage and the main road.

 

 

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