Across the Arans to Meet my Nemesis

Generally I try to get to Wales once a year to add a bit of variety to my walking, and I’d got to September without having done so yet this year. And after so much walking of waymarked trails in, predominantly, lowland, I was keen that my trip to Wales feature some hills.

It’s been 5 years since I last did any of the Cambrian Way – a trail I’ve struggled to make progress along: both due to other competing priorities, and the fact that every single time I’ve set out to walk either a chunk or the whole of what’s left, I’ve ended the trip early. So much so that it’s almost programmed into me to bail on a Cambrian Way trip.

But having said all this, the obvious thing to do with a week in Wales, was to pick up the trail again. One of the other reasons it’s taken so long to get back is the fact of where I finished last time: Mallwyd – a village with a bus once or twice a day, and only really one way to get there. The logistics and cost of it put me off in a more cost-conscious environment of planning my trips.

And then I had the idea of approaching from the north rather than the south. With the Cambrian Way heading north from Mallwyd, the default thing is to assume an approach from the south so as not to have to double back on yourself, and I’d not really considered approaching from the other direction. Then I remembered my trip to the Arans in August 2019, and how useful the T3 bus between Ruabon and Dollgellau was.

A bit of research and I had a plan: I’d train to Ruabon then get the T3 to somewhere near Dollgellau and head over the western end of the Arans to pick up the Cambrian Way – either at Dinas Mawddwy or, if I could be bothered, by walking out and back from Dinas Mawddwy to Mallwyd. This plan would also finish off what I didn’t do when I was in the Arans, a trip I’d enjoyed immensely. I could kill two birds with one stone.

A week spent weather watching. The week I’d planned to be in the hills, but why deliberately head out in wind and rain when I didn’t need to ? I could bide my time to some extent. I was also watching the weather patterns in the Lakes, Dartmoor and on the North Downs, just in case.

A window opened up, I arranged travel and packed to get on with it….

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An early start – I can never sleep that well when my brain knows I’ve got to be up a bit early to catch a specific bus or train. So I had plenty of time to kill waiting to set off. How ironic that as I walked into Euston station, the announcement cancelling my train was playing. The next one to Wolverhampton was an hour away, which meant I’d miss my T3 bus and have to get the next one 3 hours later. But it did make me grateful that I’d decided to book a campsite for that night, as I’d now be too late in practical terms to head out for a wild camp that night. And I also knew that this leg of the journey would be effectively free of charge, due to delay repay.

Bugger!

After a whole day travelling, I stepped off the bus near Brithdir on the main road into Dollgellau and set off for the campsite, a few hundred metres away, as light rain started falling. A riverside pitch which was pleasant enough, but the weather was too manky to enjoy it, not to mention it got dark just after I pitched.

A new day dawned with the promise of clearing up the early rain, and leaving me with generally fine weather for the rest of the trip. I still needed to walk up onto the hills while it was doing so though.

A straightforward walk along country lanes and then on an old track that got me to the bottom of the ridge up to Pen y Brynfforchog. Here the ground was a bit rough underfoot, as the usual path up goes from Bwlch Oerddrws a bit further along. So I weaved my way among outcrops on an indistinct route to a fence with no stile, crossing it in a field corner where there was more to hang onto as I scaled the obstacle. A short way on I intercepted the path from Bwlch Oerddrws and it was much easier from there on.

As I gained height I could see across to the Dyfi hills and beyond to Cadair Idris, swathed in cloud. The rain started falling lightly as I climbed. The path weaved all over the place and I had to correct my course a few times, and eventually fight my way over rough ground to handrail the fence.

Eventually I topped out on Pen y Bryn-fforchog, the westernmost of the Aran mountains.

Not much of a summit
Still not much of a summit

I couldn’t see much though as surrounding hills were shrouded in cloud. Also being exposed to the wind, it was a bit cold, so I decided to push on.

A rough descent to Bwlch y Fign and out of the wind I stopped for lunch.

Climbing onto Glasgwm I passed a big patch of quartz and stopped briefly to admire them before pushing on.

A secondary summit was gained and then I found myself staring through the mist at Llyn y Fign.

Llyn y Fign

Clambering around the northwestern end of the lake and scaling a couple of fences, I climbed the short distance to the summit of the mountain, topped with a big conical cairn.

Glasgwm summit

It was now time to stop for the day, and I spent over half an hour scouting around for a good spot, rejecting several due to lack of shelter, lack of flatness or lack of views. Here I made the mistake of looking for shelter from the northwesterly wind, despite knowing it was due to drop away to practically nothing. Because of this I found myself shelter in the lee of the summit outcrop with a not very satisfactory view over Llyn y Fign. If only I’d been braver and pitched right at the summit, but end of the day fatigue clouded the decision-making. I’ve been walking on the flat for too long recently.

After pitching I set off in search of water, finding none of the small streams marked on the map of sufficient size to offer much flow, so took water from the llyn itself. Of course not long after, the cloud lifted and I got my views east over the Arans and Berwyns, and west to the Dyfi Hills.

Llyn y Fign

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The wind sure did fall away, and once more I rued the decision to go for shelter over views the previous afternoon. But today was a new day with new decisions to be made. This would be the day I finally rejoined the Cambrian Way.

View towards Aran Fawddwy

But first I had to decide whether to stick with my plan of heading towards Aran Fawddwy and then dropping down to pick up a couple of summits I’d omitted last time – Gwaun Lydan and Pen yr Allt Uchaf – or to head down over Y Gribin and drop into Cwm Cywarch for a shorter and easier day. The state of my body the day before largely made the decision for me: short and easy it would be. There was nothing to be gained from picking off a couple of minor and relatively uninteresting tops if it would compromise the main event later on. I had a lot of ascent to do in the afternoon anyway.

Heading away from Llyn y Fign, I picked up a fence running straight down the ridge.

Descent towards Y Gribin

An easy way to lose height, it brought me to the top of the zigzag track down into Cwm Cywarch. This was easy going, losing height quickly until I got to where the footpath should have continued down direct into the valley bottom. It was simply nowhere to be seen, hidden under a sea of bracken. Before me lay the temptation of the non-right-of-way track, curving gently down into the valley. I went for it.

Wales is the only place where I’ve ever had access issues that reach the stage of an actual confrontation, and this was reminiscent of previous scenarios, so I embarked on the walk ready for exactly that. Which proved to be totally unnecessary. It was such an easy and natural way down on a track clearly made for the purpose. To add to this, the other end of the footpath that I couldn’t previously find, was also non-existent. I’d made the right call.

The elusive footpath in green, and my actual route in blue

Through the ford, and an odd patch of grass access land got me to the road and the back path leading down the valley. Although it undulated a bit, progress was quick and after it spat me out into the lanes, I was in Dinas Mawddwy for 12:15 to find the cafe shut. But never mind, it was due to open at 12:30. Phew.

A bit of a crowd formed waiting for it to open, but I was first in. A bowl of indifferent leek and potato soup (I wish I’d gone for the pea and mint), tea and a cake set me up for the work and meeting with my Nemesis ahead…

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