What makes a mountain a mountain?

(Work in progress)

Like many hill people I like to tick off lists; The Nuttalls, The Wainwrights etc.
Quite often these tops are little more than hills which are luckily over 2000ft and have no other redeeming features yet are listed in books that declare them to be “mountains”.
But if altitude does not define a mountain, what does?

“A mountain is a large landform that stretches above the surrounding land in a limited area”, claims Wikipedia. No mention of height. Wainwright, as usual, had a sensible approach… “The difference between a hill and a mountain depends on appearance, not on altitude (whatever learned authorities may say to the contrary) and is thus arbitary and a matter of personal opinion. Grass predominates on a hill, rock on a mountain. A hill is smooth, a mountain rough. Roughness and ruggedness are the necessary attributes …”

So, how do we categorise Moel Famau, the highest peak in the Clwydian range, standing at 1818ft, or 554m? Wikipedia claims it is a hill, but I personally class it a mountain, and a fine one at that. In this blog I will try to support that justification.

The event that sparked this debate in my mind was a run I did in January 2014, in which I approached Moel Famau from the West, after a circumnavigation of much the mountain’s mass. The popular approach is from Bwlch Penbarras, a generally easy walk with a short steep section to reach the summit. With just 600ft of ascent this does not really classify as an ascent.

More demanding are the routes from Loggerheads Country Park, or from Cilcain, both starting at roughly 200m, and having long and steep final sections. Both have their merits and I am happy on either route, though the direct descent to Loggerheads, due East from the summit, becomes a challenge in poor weather.

Almost unnoticed on the 1:25k map amongst the myriad of footpaths and national trails is the path coming in from the Nant-y-Ne cwm due west from the summit. A closer look at the map reveals that this side is very much steeper than any of the others. I decided to give this route a try.

 

 

 

 

Glyndwr’s Way

Glyndwr's Way starting point

Glyndwr's Way starting point

Day 1 – Dual inversions

We came across Glyndwr’s Way whilst walking Offa’s Dyke, from the LDWA events we’d taken part in and, after picking up a leaflet in the Offa’s Dyke (OD) centre in Knighton, decided that one day we’d undertake it. As with OD, we have planned the walk over a number of Easters – in this case two – which gives sections of approximately 73 and 62 miles respectively. It also breaks conveniently across railway lines and our first holiday took us from Knighton to Machynlleth staying at B&Bs along the way.
As the train from Shrewsbury sped through Church Stretton the Shropshire hills shone brightly with deep fresh snow. It was clear that on our first day we would encounter snow and so it proved up be, not long after the very steep climb out of Knighton. At first we could skirt the drifts in the fields but soon we were knee-deep and making very slow progress. The route undulates constantly and sections of snow-bashing alternated with farm tracks.
Snowy lane out of Knighton

Snowy lane out of Knighton

On one high meadow, at around 420m, we noticed a lamb perched upon the inverted tummy of its mother, bleating and looking very distressed. After several attempts we managed to right the ewe and noticed it was lame. We reported this to a neighbouring farmer and he relayed the message on. This ewe and lamb were just two of the thousands we saw over the 5 days of walking. Their behaviour was so cute and predictable and added greatly to the enjoyment of the walking.
Cute, or what ?

Cute, or what ?

Down in the valley we chatted to the farmer for a while and then set off on his carefully way marked diversion. A short while later we decided to make our own diversion by avoiding a very steep snow-covered descent by using a country lane. Whilst doing so the same farmer came by in his red pickup truck and corrected us!
After Llangunllo we had a painfully long traversal of a snow-filled green lane before starting the ascent and crossing of the Beacon Hill park. This is wild and remote moorland with a confusing array of paths but, as always, there were just enough waymarks to keep us right.
Beacon Hill

Beacon Hill

It was always possible to miss the worst of the snow but by the time Felindre, and in particular Brandy House Farm, came into view we were very tired. This probably contributed to the second inversion of the day when a small patch of snow triumphantly managed to upend the whelk, so that she did a passable imitation of our earlier Ovis aries friend!
At Brandy House Farm our host greeted us warmly and served tea and hot-cross buns whilst we took off our sodden boots and socks. We had booked an evening meal and were served a fabulous home-made lasagne with salad and potato wedges. Showers and sleep followed swiftly and easily …
Day 2 – What’s the postcode for the sea ?
The Brandy House breakfast special was accompanied with fascinating chatter about previous walkers and visitors, and drifted into the topic of GPS devices and SatNav. One car-based couple on hearing they were not too far from the coast apparently asked what the PostCode was for the sea!
Our own navigational challenge was in actually leaving such a homely place – we shall return.
We passed through Felindre and started the long pull up onto the hilltops. To miss the worst of the drifting snow we took a farm road South of Felindre, passing Killowent Farm, and climbed steady to the ridge. We passed through field after field of ewes and lambs and at times the noise was deafening! We also spotted a couple of interesting devices by the path side – bird-scarers they turned out to be.
A bird-scarer

A bird-scarer

Crossing the bwlch we reached another farm road where a snow-plough had recently been in action – and I’m grateful they had, for the snow was quite deep on this side of the hill. However, there were signs everywhere that the snow was melting.
At an elevation of over 400m a narrow farm lane was the last place you’d expect to see a traffic jam – but here was a selection of vehicles – landrovers, a tanker, a breakdown van, and a car – all queuing up; the tanker had broken down!
We had a quick break at the New Inn in Llanbadarn Fynydd which was also populated by a large group of walkers and a wonderful black labrador, patiently waiting for the next crisp. A fine pub.
Climbing onto the hills yet again, we were passed by a trio of runners running the whole of the Way. Maybe not before tea, but certainly quicker than we were travelling!
Now permanently above the 450m contour we headed South over wonderful moorland and eventually descended into the valley by Bachell Brook, and headed into Abbeycwmhir for a comfortable stay at Erw Fair Guest House.
Snowplow-cleared lane 450m up on the hills

Snowplow-cleared lane 450m up on the hills

Day 3 – Tranquility Base
Suitably rested and fuelled we climbed steeply through woodland before heading along the Clywedog valley to Bwlch-y-sarnau – a tiny hamlet we’ve visited on a number of occasions, one of which when it had no roof, due to it being replaced!
A boggy woodland led us to peaceful country lanes. We stopped walking and just listened to the silence, and the distant bleating of sheep – punctuated by a woodpecker from a nearby copse. As we stood in the lane a local farmer pulled up in his 4×4 and we had a lovely chat. In fact we’ve chatted more with farmers and the like on this walk than on many previous, and all were friendly and interested in our journey.
Abbeycwmhir

Abbeycwmhir

Shortly aferwards we walked through forestry where sections of trees had been marked with with yellow ribbon either encircling their girth or hanging loose from branches. These were not old oak trees, more a mixture of conifers. We suspected the ribbons were markers for future felling. (Incidentally, in the final dell before Llanidloes we did see a yellow ribbon on an old oak tree!)
We contoured below the Rhydd Hywel windfarm but only glimpsed a handful of the 103 turbines that provide power to 25,000 homes. We later met a couple who lived within sight of this farm and who still didn’t like it spoiling their view. Some debates cannot be resolved.
Organic produce?

Organic produce?

One other feature of this walk has been the various contraptions both old and new that we’ve seen discarded by the wayside :- various farm implements, an old mangle, a burger-van with hatch still open, a buzz-saw, and even a hammond organ! We also passed a notice advertising a Mr Fixit in all manner of electrical and musical instruments – high on the lonely hills, miles from anywhere!
Mr Fixit !

Mr Fixit !

There were some very steep descents and ascents during the second half of the walk and it seemed an age before we hit the final stretch of road into Llanidloes. Still, the sun was now shining and the 2 km downhill passed easily. Soon we were being shown to our luxurious room at Lloyd’s Rooms and Dining; what a wonderful place!
Dam good show

Dam good show

Finding food was a lot harder, however; Easter has filled all the available restaurants and we just managed to find a small table near a door in a bistro to enjoy a (too rare) steak. Another good nights sleep followed.
Day 4 – An Eggscellent Day!
Easter Sunday at Lloyd’s – Intellectual conversation with our hosts Tom and Roy, and a dish of tiny Easter Eggs on the breakfast table. We are definitely coming back here for a longer stay; they have dinner parties in the evening which must be pre-booked well in advance, but I think we would have fallen asleep sometime during the five-course, four-hour, marathon!
Back on the trail, and this was a day full of interest. The Clywedog Dam is impressive and (of course) the route took us to the very foot of the dam only to have to climb the 100m back up to viewing area on the other side. Still, there was a reward in the shape of the Red Kite Kiosk were we enjoyed a fine cup of tea and hot-cross buns – and more gifted Easter Eggs! All this made me feel terribly guilty at not having sent my own Grandchildren any! (Shame)
The reservoir itself is some 6 miles long and in a very beautiful setting, with lots of sailing and fishing activities and a wonderful wild nature reserve at the North-Western end.
Clywedog Reservoir

Clywedog Reservoir

From here we crossed easy fields and came close to the hamlet of Llwynygog – a purpose-built community of 20 or so properties for forestry workers, created in 1951. (See half-way down this article for more information on Llwynygog)
After a steep climb onto the moors and a chilly windy trudge we descended to our stop for the night at the Star Inn, Dylife. A 17th Century Drovers Inn, this has seen better days and is apparently up for sale. Unfortunately, we cannot recommend this place at all.
Day 5 – Three Rs
For several days now we had seen the forecast for Easter Monday as being nothing but rain all day, and it certainly started that way. We had decided that should this be the case there was little point in climbing up and down hills in thick mist and rain seeing nothing, and we would be better walking the minor road direct to Machynlleth, some 9.5 miles – which is what we did.
There were a few items of interest along the way – a Millenium statue and a memorial to Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, the Welsh broadcaster – but mainly it was tarmac, sheep and Rain.
Wynford Vaughan-Thomas Memorial

Wynford Vaughan-Thomas Memorial

Once we arrived in Machynlleth we soon found the Quarry Cafe – an outlet for the Centre for Alternative Technology which lies a few miles away – and had delicious soup, pizza and chocolate cake!
Then it was off to a fine B&B, Maenllwyd, for a lengthy spell of Relaxation and Reading.
Reward!

Reward!

Day 6 – Home, James
And so Part 1 of our walk along Glyndwr’s Way was over. It was every bit the remote and wild walk we wanted it to be and we would thoroughly recommend it to those who do not like to spend every night in a brightly-lit tourist resort, and are prepared to work hard each day – for much of the route is either hilly or over rough exposed land.
Just time for a gentle walk around the T-shaped village, grabbing a quick geocache en route, before our train home.
What a great walk – roll on Part 2.
(70 miles, 9000 ft ascent)

Gillham’s way with Y Garn

Craig y Bera, Mynydd Mawr - click to enlarge

Craig y Bera, Mynydd Mawr - click to enlarge

Our Welsh Peaks Project took its first steps of the year today with a rounding-off of the Hebogs group, (geographically Y Eifionydd), picking up Y Garn and Mynydd Mawr and visiting a few old friends.
High in cwm Afon Tal-y-mignedd

High in cwm Afon Tal-y-mignedd

Whereas “Nuttall’s list” and its web-based supplements and amendments continue to define the tops for inclusion we have usually preferred to group the tops ourselves. This has led to some over-optimistic outings! More recently a new set of books has appeared which adds spice and interest to the established guides, and these have been written by John Gillham. So far 4 have been published and the first half of our walk today was inspired by Eifionydd route E7 in book 2 – a tough but rewarding route up Y Garn, or Carn Drws-y-coed as he prefers to call it. (I’ll stay with the former since it corresponds with the OS maps!)
The North-east ridge of Y Garn

The North-east ridge of Y Garn

E7 starts from the lay-by on the B4418, a quarter-of-a-mile west of Drws-y-coed. If followed carefully Gillham’s description takes you steeply into the cwm between Y Garn, Mynydd Drws-y-coed and Trum y Ddysgl and then joins the NW ridge wall of Y Garn for an interesting finale. We then followed the fabulous ridge walk over the two previously mentioned tops and on to the obelisk on Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd, picking up a couple of geocaches along the way.
The Nantlle Ridge, from Y Garn

The Nantlle Ridge, from Y Garn

The weather was fabulously warm and sunny – a real surprise for March. Everyone was in t-shirts and light tops, and there were plenty of folk on the main Nantlle Ridge promenade soaking up the sun and looking at the extensive, if slightly hazy, views.
From Queen Victoria’s Jubilee commemorative tower we descended NW back to the valley, picking up a track at 525533 and then through Tal-y-mignedd-isaf farm back to the B4418.
Descending NW from Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd

Descending NW from Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd

After a quick break we then took the standard route up Mynydd Mawr, heading from Drws-y-coed NE to Beddgelert Forest before doubling-back over the impressive Craig y Bera to the equally impressive summit.
Clogwynygarreg, from the climb to Mynydd Mawr

Clogwynygarreg, from the climb to Mynydd Mawr

What a wonderful top this is, with extensive views over to the Snowdon group in the East, and the sea to the West. To the South lie the rest of the Hebogs group; the heather-clad slopes of Moel Lefn reminding us of our awkward descent from there when last in this area.
The Nantlle Ridge from Craig y Bera

The Nantlle Ridge from Craig y Bera

Gully on Craig y Bera

Gully on Craig y Bera

Obviously these walks could be done separately but they work well as a pair and serve as a wonderful survey of this quiet, yet beautiful, valley.
Mynydd Mawr summit

Mynydd Mawr summit

(12 miles, 4800 ft ascent)

Summit Caching

The parallel blog to this is “Gillham’s way with Y Garn“, a wonderful walk in the Eifionydd region of Wales.

Whilst preparing the maps for walks I also factor-in any convenient caches there may be in the region and, after the Fellsman Recce and the Great Orme visits, I realise there are a great many “summit caches” around. Not surprisingly, therefore, I found several along our intended route, and a couple more in the valley from which we were starting.
Mountain tops actually make very good spots for hiding caches: they are generally rocky and most muggles concentrate on the very summit cairn or trig – or maybe the crag edges. An innocuous-looking slab of rock close to, but not at, the summit makes a very convenient GZ.
The cache I found recently on The Great Orme, Llandudno, was placed by a member of Summits On The Air. http://www.sota.org.uk/
This is an organisation of radio amateurs who link-up from the summits of mountains at pre-arranged times. These people store caches at many of these summits http://www.summitcaching.org.uk/SummitTables.php and there is now a league table of people who have visited the most.http://www.summitcaching.org.uk/LeagueTables.php
Neither of the summit caches we found on Mynydd drws-y-coed or Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd were placed by these people, but they do indicate their growing number.
GZ, Mynydd Drws-y-coed - click to enlarge

GZ, Mynydd Drws-y-coed - click to enlarge

The first of the two was tricky to find, as the description fitted a number of locations – but the weather was glorious and we had plenty of time.
Cache contents, Mynydd Drws-y-coed

Cache contents, Mynydd Drws-y-coed

The second was easy – under the aforementioned slab, but poorly protected from the elements and so, despite the container, the contents were wet-through.
GZ, Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd

GZ, Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd

Wet logbook, Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd

Wet logbook, Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd

The two in the valley – at the ruins of the old chapel of Drws-y-coed, and by the lakeside at Llyn y Dywarchen, were quick finds and full of interesting trackables. Of these the last was particularly memorable, coming at the end of a very long day, as the last light played on the lake and boathouse. Very peaceful and a fitting end to a wonderful day.
Llyn y Dywarchen

Llyn y Dywarchen

Welsh Peaks Project

With the first snows of winter fresh on the heather, Guy and I set off from a remote Welsh valley to walk all of the Northern Berwyn hills. We each have fitness targets – Guy to walk 100 2000ft’ers each year, and mine to improve on last years mileage and ascent totals. We both needed to catch up on our totals and the Berwyns offer peaks- and miles-a-plenty.

When, at the end of that day, we descended in the dark after a superb days walking, and undid our frozen-solid bootlaces we knew we’d started on a new quest – to walk all of the 2000ft’ers in Wales. Each of the days below were  long and demanding covering a great deal of ground. much of it rarely explored. By trying to cram in as many tops into a day as possible, we’ve often ended-up with lots of off-path terrain to cover and this has usually proved to be tiring, frustrating and sometimes hilarious!

As our project continues our understanding of the layout of the region has developed, and our appreciation of the character which is uniquely Welsh deepened.

Our hope is to document as full as possible our experiences and each date below will lead to a narrative describing the day and a photo album from the actual walk.

Please feel free to leave comments and observations on the appropriate pages. Note that this is a continuing project, so this page will be updated as an when.

22nd November 2008 – Berwyns 1

31st December 2008 – Berwyns 2

28th February 2009 – Arans 1

15th March 2009 – Arans 2

4th April 2009 – Arenigs 1

18th April 2009 – Carneddau 1

26th April 2009 – Rhinogs 1

30th June 2009 – Snowdon 1

5th August 2009 – Moelwyns 1

22nd August 2009 – Glyders 1

4th October 2009 – Cadair Idris 1

18th October 2009 – Carneddau 2

28th November 2009 – Foel Meirch

24th January 2010 – Arenigs 2

7th February 2010 – Moelwyns 2

13th March 2010 – Carneddau 3

30th August 2010 – Rhinogs 2

24th September 2011 – Tarrens and Rhinogs 3

24th March 2012 – Moel Hebog 3