For the past ten years I’ve been roaming the mountains of northern Snowdonia and during that time I’ve come to think of the area as my spiritual home. Eryri has captured my heart and one day I hope there to live out my days as an old mountain goat with the hills I love peering down on my home. Those hills have become firm friends and I would need the fingers and toes of many a Wisbechian to count the times I have clambered onto Tryfan’s rocky skull, watched the sun set from Y Glyderau or traversed the lofty ridges which lead inexorably up to Yr Wyddfa, the very roof of Wales.
However, there’s more to Snowdonia than the 3000ft peaks which sit at the north western end of the National Park, much more in fact, and save a couple of forays down south to Cadair Idris there is a wealth of fine mountains which I have yet to feel beneath my boots.
A recent trip to trip to Mid Wales brought this fact home to me and on the return journey I realised that I had been missing out some superb and relatively wild country. Back at home one range in particular called out over the gulf of distance; I decided that an exploration of The Arans needed to happen sooner rather than later so when two weeks later an opportunity arose I grabbed it with both hands and boarded a train to meet my mate Tom, an award winning writer/photographer who needed some routes checking while he recovered from ankle surgery…it would have been rude not to!
So, to get the ball rolling I was dumped on a humid March morning at Dinas Mawddwy with instructions to find a way onto Foel Benddin via its South West Ridge which proved easier said than done. My first attempt was aborted after a ridiculous bout of steep bushwhacking had me turning the air blue and collapsing in a sweaty heap. From my vantage point I spied what looked like a good alternative and reluctantly turned tail, losing all the height I had laboriously gained. My new route which headed off over a delightful grassy track near Dolobran quickly saw me on the ridge and all was well with the world; all that is but a thick haze that made any attempt at photography an exercise in futility, which wouldn’t have been so bad had I not been eager to crack on with my brand new 7D!
Still, it’s not all about photography and getting out alone on quiet hills is always a balm for the soul. That and the wonderful surroundings of smooth hills and placid valleys instilled a spring in my step and I was soon striding up Y Gribin, excellent ridge walking that wouldn’t be out of place in the northern fells of Lakeland. Ahead was Glasgwm, my first real peak of the day and in the blue distance across Cwm Cywarch was Aran Fawddwy, the highest mountain south of Snowdon and one I was eager to bag now my work for Tom was done; it looked a long way away.
On my way up Glasgwm I stepped into another world, a world with a remote ambience quite at odds with the fertile valley I’d left behind. It felt out on a limb, barren and wonderfully wild. At Llyn y Fign which sits just below the summit I halted a while and sat by the lapping water, now fully tuned into the frequency that affects the thoughts and feelings of the solo hillwalker. I felt like the last man on earth. Between me and Fawddwy lay a tract of desolate Cymric badlands, the crossing of which was made dry shod with thanks to extensive duck boarding, an incongruous intervention but perhaps necessary. Indeed, one can only imagine how difficult this ground would be without them, especially after a spell of wet weather.
As it was I made relatively good progress and as I started my ascent of Fawddwy the light started to change. The haze was still maddeningly present but warm light began to fill the scene and with a quickening pulse and eagerness to reach the summit I dug deep until the trig point came into view. Minutes later I standing beside it and imagining how the view might look on a crisp winter’s eve or at the start of a new born day. I’d spent a fair bit of energy throughout my day so far and spent a while debating whether or not I would make the out and back visit to Aran Benllyn at the other end of the ridge. In the end summit fever won out and I strode out, all the while marvelling at Benllyn’s craggy South East face.
It was on Benllyn when I received a message from Tom; could I be down in Cwm Cywarch for 6.20 as he had a table booked for 8 and we still had a fair drive back. No problem was my reply and with reluctance I gathered myself for a quick descent but first I had to climb over Fawddwy again with the aid of my tried and trusted secret weapon, a bag jelly babies – for emergency use only! I made it with ten minutes to spare and sitting beneath Craig Cywarch vowed to come back to these hills again and wildcamp beside Craiglyn Dyfi.
I’d been impressed by all I saw, the Arans are wonderful mountains and the walk could only have been better had the visibility been a little more kind, however the steak and beer that washed it down more than made up for it!