The sun, feeling slightly worn out after a couple of weeks persuading Britain that it had moved several degrees further South when it wasn’t looking, was now resting somewhat timidly behind clouds. The odd drop was falling and the wind rustled the pines as we drove west along the A5 to Bala. Stopping briefly to pick up a map from a cigarette-smoking petrol attendant, Arthur and I worked out a route to take us up Arenig Fawr. Directly translated, Arenig Fawr means ‘Great High Ground’ and describes an area of land above the rest made up of a series of peaks, the highest of which is Moel yr Eglwys standing at 854m but hidden from the base by sheer cliffs and scree.
Parking at the base of a little hill called Bryn Ffolt, excited dogs tumbled out of the car, eager to be off. Stepping off the road into a field of rushes, the dogs were soon turning back to look for their humans. We had stopped to look at grasses which we’d deemed a focus on the walk. Neither of us has much experience with these plants, Arthur far more than me being a former farmer, but it is so exciting to learn new things! The first field was full, mostly, of compact rush, Juncus conglomeratus, with the occasional soft rush, Juncus effusus: similar to compact rush but the sprouting flowers are less organised and more wilful. The base of the tough skewers the rushes have as leaves were purple with a fog of common bent, Agrostis capillaris, waving in a decidedly peeved way after a swipe from a wayward tail.
Base of Bryn Ffolt
Base of Bryn Ffolt
Moel yr Eglwys
Carreg y Diocyn
12km / 7.5miles
6 hours (walking slowly)
OS Explorer OL18 Map
Plodding to our right was a rusty barbed wire fence, with curled, lichen encrusted posts matching the ancient dry stone wall below. Becoming somewhat drier underfoot, the grass diversity increased dramatically to include beautiful hare’s tail cotton-grass (Lagorus ovatus) the wonderfully named crested dog’s Tail (Cynosurus cristatus) and so many more making us realise that grasses are, in fact, decidedly hard and need all of your attention and many many days of practice to even be half confident with identification! We therefore decided that the best course of action was to continue walking, much to the joy of the dogs.
A glance at the map revealed that there would be stepping stones across a largeish stream, hidden somewhere to our right, so we headed off-piste to find it. Not finding the stones before the stream, lots of excitement was had attempting to jump across it. The low water level and mud was enjoyed immensely by our tame hippos.
Tramping West up the hill across great tussocks of unidentified plants, the occasional brightness of yellow shone to us. Seemingly shy on account of its beauty, the small bog asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum) hides among the rushes, quietly pleased with the joy it brings to discoverers. A second type of cotton-grass lives on this heath, common cotton-grass (Eriophorum angustifolium): far showier with its multiple tufts of white fur appearing from a single stem.
Nestled comfortable beneath the ragged crags of Smidde Ddu (697m) and Bwlch Blaen-y-Nant (684m) lies Llyn Arenig Fawr, a smallish reservoir providing drinking water to Bala and the surrounding villages. I wonder whether a glacial pool was present originally before the small dam was built? Or did the stream tumble down, with no pools larger than a sheep, into the larger Nant Aberdefel which flows into a much larger man-made reservoir, Llyn Celyn.
Following two wagging tails we clambered up the left hand side of the lake along a path of rocky steps. The wind picked up as we reached the top, our progress hindered only by persuading Renn not to stalk every sheep we passed… an effort in vain as her obsession is somewhat insurmountable.
Wisps of cloud hung low over the summit as we scrambled towards the rocky peak. Foreboding in the mist, jagged stones jut out and the wind whistles across the barren landscape. Undeterred, the dogs move pointedly upwards weaving their way to the top. Cresting the hill and sheltering in a low windbreak, a plaque reminds us that, 70+ years ago, an American B17 bomber crashed here killing all of its crew. Bits of the stricken aircraft can still be found right across this part of the mountain.
We decided to wander down the craggy ridge of Craig y Bychae (694m) boulder-hopping after dogs as we went. A lack of defined paths was a feature of this walk and so we decided to jump a fence and continue cross country. Skirting over the scree of a small caldera we heard a strange ‘tshue’ sound seemingly coming from a sheep. When climbing Aran Fawddy a few weeks ago we came across this noise before. It seems to be a part of the local dialect of the mountain sheep, coming out when they feel threatened by our terrible dogs. Similar to an antelope’s white tail flash perhaps?
Dogs stood windswept on the low wall as we planned our route down. To the North we could see the peaks of the Glyders (see HWwWH #1) and Snowdon. The West held old nuclear power, a disused power plant on the shores of lake Trawsfynydd, power lines striding towards it. Aran Fawddy to the South, the subject of a very long and hot walk a few weeks ago where we ran out of water within the first kilometre and had to drink from Sphagnum moss and springs for the rest of the day. And East to the Berwyns (see HWwWH #2).
Bilberry bushes covered the ground at this point, their nearly ripe fruit providing sharp refreshment. Earlier in the year their flowers would have been covered in one of Britain’s prettiest insects: Bombus monticola, the bilberry bumblebee. Currently, these bees were all foraging further down on the purple thistle flowers. A bright orange tail extending nearly to the thorax distinguishes this bee from any other UK bumble. It is a relatively scarce species, only being found on upland heaths, and is always an excitement to find some.
Clambering back up to the ridge running alongside Llyn Arenig Fawr, we skirted around the lake, wobbled over the stepping stones of the stream, before pushing open an unlocked door of a small hut attached to the reservoir’s dam. Expecting to see locked safes full of water-management apparatus we were surprised to smell the comforting smell of an old fireplace and see the belongings of a small but comfortable bothy in which to spend the night.
However, it was barely half past 3 at this point so the car home was still decidedly in reach and we weren’t too tired yet. A well trodden path was followed for a distance until we thought we were roughly level with where the car was parked, which we then headed for as the crow flies.
Progress was slow as we tumbled over great tussocks of rushes, made slower by the occasional orange moth flying upwards which was, after some effort, caught and identified as a Northern Spinach which is a species I’ve never seen outside Scotland. Eventually, taking the dogs’ cues, we used the dry-stone walls as a path and made much faster progress. A brief sit down was had for all before we rejoined the road and were reunited with the dogs’ beloved car, sat happily beneath the marching, crackling powerlines.
Some of the grasses we found on the walk. The lower photo is a tussock of Hare's tail cotton grass beneath Arenig Fawr.
Lichen encrusted dry-stone wall beneath Arenig Fawr.
A little Bog Asphodel flower.
Following dogs to the top.
Katie and Renn standing at the top.
View from the top towards Trawsfynydd nuclear power station, Porthmadog and the mountain Moel Ddu.
Renn leaping a fence.
Llyn Arenig Fawr.
The Bilberry Bumblebee, Bombus monticola.
Renn having a nap and blending in quite successfully.
Katie and Renn pleased to see the car!