Friday, 10 April 2015

A Sunny Backpack in the Arans

Creiglyn Dyfi

I last walked the Arans in Snowdonia with my University Mountaineering Club in 1977, whilst staying at the St Mary’s Club Hut at Bryn Hafod.  That was in a cold and snowy February, and I still recall the happiness of youthful play, high in the hills as we turned our orange plastic Karrimor bivvy bags into sledges near the summit of Aran Benllyn, before a night of singing the songs that used to ring out in those days in the pubs in all mountain districts.  Wild Rover, Sweet Mountain Thyme, Manchester Rambler, Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls and the like.  Tuneless we may have been, but joyeous we certainly were.
The late and lovely John Bibby, 'bivvy bagging' with the University College of Wales (UCW) Mountaineering Club, Aran Benllyn, February 1977
Mike Wiggins, Jess Fitch and ANO in the St Mary's Club Hut, Bryn Hafod, UCW Mountaineering Club Meet, February 1977
As I drove through Y Bala and along Llyn Tegid on a beautiful morning this Easter week I recalled that day from 38 years ago. My memory was hazy as to fact, but vivid as to feeling.  Nostalgia then turned to anxiety about whether the small car park at Llanuwchllyn might already be full.  For those who struggle with Welsh place names, by the way, it is pronounced 'Llanuwchllyn'.  As ever my worrying was misplaced, as despite my latish start there was plenty of space.  As I was doing the rucksack faffing thing another car arrived and disgorged four Welsh teenagers, chattering loudly in English, getting ready for their own walk.  You can sometimes tell by the type of equipment people carry how much hill walking they do, and these clearly weren’t regular hill goers, but good on them anyway for trying, I thought, as I headed off to start the long, long ridge path up to Aran Benllyn and beyond to Aran Fawddwy.

Looking back to Llyn Tegid
The teenagers were heading up the same path and were going at about my speed and we kept overtaking each other.  Being an anti-social sod I decided to put on a spurt to get ahead of them, but carrying full backpacking gear and being the best part of forty years older than them, this wasn’t that sensible. Eventually I gave up trying, and sat down for five.  Then it started, a few hundred yards behind me.  Music.  Loud music.  I use the term ‘music’ loosely here.  Being a, trendy, hipster sort of old bloke I recognised it as not just any old music, but what is known as ‘Rap Music’.  I happen to know that your typical teenagers will happily sit in their bedrooms quietly listening to songs with clearly enunciated lyrics, lovely melodies by nice, clean cut young people like Pixie Lott and Will Young on their record players, but as soon as mum and dad get in from Tesco’s they will quickly stick on a long player by the likes of ‘Ghostface Killah’ and then pump up the volume (I told you I knew my stuff) to demonstrate contempt for the older, wrinkle covered generation with their 'O' Levels, and their obsession with good jobs, pensions and ISAs.  I know this happens because many was the time, as a long haired teenager, that I would be happily singing along to Showaddywaddy or Mud’s latest hit single when my parents would return home, and I’d have to reduce the revs from 45 to 33 per minute and slam Deep Purple in Rock on to the turntable and play Highway Star at full volume.

I digress.  As they got closer they glanced at me and changed from speaking English to Welsh. I looked the first one straight in the eye and said “Bore da.  Sut dach chi heddiew?” (“Good morning.  How are you today?”)


Then the reply.  “Oh! Bore da. Iawn diolch.  Sut dach chi?”  (“Oh!  Good morning. Well thanks. How are you?”)

From me, “Bendigedig, diolch yn fawr.  Hwyl fawr”. (“Marvellous, thank you very much.  Have fun”).

They sat down and chatted amongst themselves, and a few seconds later the music stopped.  I smiled at them then carried on before I was rumbled, almost my entire stock of Welsh used up.
Along the ridge
On the summit ridge, with Cader Idris in the right distance
The ridge is a lovely walk and becomes increasingly rocky, with the occasional jewelled pool near the top of Aran Benllyn (885m).  I largely had the hill to myself after I had finally managed to pull away from the teenagers.  Then it was onwards and upwards to Aran Fawddwy (905m), which is just a few feet short of 3000.  Another 31 feet higher and it would substantially increase the degree of challenge for those doing the Welsh Three Thousanders.  The weather was almost too good, making the views hazy, but Cader Idris, the Mawddach Estuary, the Rhinogs and the Snowdon Massif were all just visible, whilst the RAF entertained me with jet fighters streaking along the valley over Llyn Tegid.

The Memorial Cairn on Drws Bach
Dropping down from Drysgol and eying up the steep final climb to the corrie
I dropped down to Drysgol (731m) via the poignant cairn and memorial plaque, then continued down a pathless, fiercely steep grassy hillside, thankfully dry or it could have been lethal, and then up by the impressive outflow stream from Creiglyn Dyfi, to a lovely wild camp spot by the lake.  This sparkled in the late afternoon sunshine, masking the sadness that loneliness can sometimes raise above the surface.
My Z Packs Duplex (aka Daphne) at the near perfect pitch
Self-timed selfie
Very simple things can really improve a wild camp.  Apart from a dry level pitch and the beauty of the setting, the solitude and the weather, I was ridiculously over excited to see a low flat boulder just a few yards from the tent, which served as a kitchen work surface and comfy chair as I prepared my evening meal and later settled down with the Kindle.
My designer kitchen boulder

The cliffs of Aran Fawddwy
The peace of the surroundings helped ease the anxieties that I sometimes experience when camping high and completely alone. I knew that I was safe, and that the lions, tigers and bears that sometimes come to my tent as I sleep on wild camps would not venture up here this night.  I slept with the doors on both sides of the Z Packs Duplex open, with just the bug netting to keep this night’s very benevolent elements at bay. 

The temperature plummeted and I woke frequently, pulling on my down jacket, hat and some thin gloves at one point. As I lay watching, the moonlight waltzed across the lake with the dark silhouette of the mountains behind.  The stars twinkled over me, just as they do in the nursery rhyme, and the all night chattering from the stream bursting from the lake lulled me into a state of half-sleep, whilst the gentle breeze that rose in the early hours reminded me of something I miss at night when in brick-enveloped normality.

I brewed tea as the sky to the east slowly turned from black to a dark indigo, and by the time the sun climbed over the hillside I was eating breakfast in my sleeping bag. It was great to be able to have all the doors in the Duplex open and to lie there looking at the stunning views in all directions.  Being able to pack up on a dry, now windless morning was a bonus to what had been the near perfect wild camp.

Morning view from my east facing door
Morning view from my west facing door
Looking back to Aran Fawddwy on the gloriously still secnd morning
My second day’s route was entirely pathless for the first four hours, across quite a lot of boggy ground, tussocky grass and never with the feel of rock underfoot. I crossed several small hills, most of which are, no doubt, on peak baggers’ lists of Marilyn Munroes, Harvey Nuttalls, William Cobbetts or whatever.  I simply delighted in going up them, even the steep slog up Esgeiriau Gwynion, as I completed over the two days what in practice was a horseshoe shaped route around Cwm Du and Cwm Croes.

The magnificent cairn on Foel Hafod-fynydd
As I descended the broad grassy ridge towards the farm at Talardd, with a red kite hovering gloriously above me, I realised that the cartographers of the Ordnance Survey yet again have better sight than me, for they had found footpaths that were beyond my ability to see.  No path as shown on the map descended to the farm, and the access land finished well above the farmstead, leaving me nervously trespassing, quietly untying and retying roped up gates and then walking thankfully on to the road, passing the sign at the entrance to the farmyard stating there was no access for “unauthorised persons”.  No difficult encounters, then, and a happy plod along the lane for an hour to the car in the beautiful April sunshine.
I doubt the London and North Eastern Railway ever came up the Twrch Valley


  1. Nice one.
    I do like those Welsh hills.
    I must get over there later in the year.
    Well after the TGOC and a trip to see Ollie in OZ.

    Now I am off to play some rather LOUD MUSIC.
    Must open the windows first though :-O

    1. Hi Andy
      I have no idea why it took me so long to get back to this part of Wales. Well worth a trip.

  2. The cairn reminds of of the one on Muckle Cairn above Shieling of Mark, A mickle rather than a muckle.

    1. Hi Ian
      That cairn on top of Muckle Cairn is magnificent. I'll not have it knocked.

  3. Good stuff David. Obviously as fit as a butchers dog now. What I remember about the cairn on top of Muckle was it was about 4 stones in no particular order and rather grey not white.

    1. Hi Alan. You are right about the Muckle Cairn, although it did have Mountain Hares bouncing around it when I was there.

      I'm certainly not as fit as a butcher's dog. My training walks this year have lacked distance.

  4. It was the Sensational Alex Harvey Band for me with "Next!" or Captain Beefheart.

    Nice trip, Sir.

    1. Lawks Alan. I missed this comment and didn't reply. Most discourteous of me. If you see this in time have a fab TGOC 2016. Love and kisses to both you and Phil.