Friday, 10 December 2010

By Tunnel to the Top - autumn mountains

Each October friends stay with us for a walking weekend and this year’s was one of the best. The same mountains but approached in more exciting ways. After 6 years living on the side of Moelwyn Bach I should know the better options.

We set off alongside the Ffestiniog Railway passing through Dduallt, the only railway loop in Britain, and then to Llyn Tanygrisiau, pausing to explain the ‘rock cannon’. A series of 5” deep holes hand drilled into granite which on special occasions were stuffed with black powder and topped with crushed stones. Black powder in goose quills were the detonators linked by more powder in goose fat – light the touch fuse and stand well back! Across north Wales there are 250 such cannons, some with as many as 160 holes.

At the café end of Llyn Tanygrisiau (great all day breakfast and free parking) the Wrysgan incline rises steeply from the narrow gauge railway and yellow PERYGL warning signs beckon you to the staircase (‘grisiau’) option that tunnels through the mountain to occasional blue sky beyond. Along the way a rusty slate wagon that never made it down and lengths of cable still strong after many years of retirement. With lungs stretched, you pop out of the tunnel into another world on a plateau overlooking Cwmorthin. It’s an impressive, wow-factor, arrival.

On our way up we tiptoed into some of the tunnels and daylight illuminated chambers, the carpet of dried droppings testimony to its popularity as a sheep refuge. Scarily tempting to explore further but, without equipment and a guide, we retreated upwards to the top of Moel yr Hydd. My dictionary says hydd means stag and today the nearest deer are 10 miles south at Coed y Brenin.

The main path to Moelwyn Mawr is up a broad and featureless expanse of grassland so we skirted round the northern side, beneath the scree level, before a scramble onto the ridge that rises steeply from the Croesor direction. Definitely a more exciting way to approach with the added bonus of a pair of choughs doing a noisy flight pass. Our second peak, long views and still no rain.

In the footsteps of Mercurial fell runners that take part in Ras y Moelwyn we picked our way down to and along the ridge of Craigysgafn, overlooking Stwlan Dam, the upper part of Britain’s first pumped storage hydro electric scheme. Like a giant battery soaking up excess electric and releasing it into the grid at peak demand.

Up diagonally to Moelwyn Bach then down to the jumbled up slabs that make up the castle-like false peak when you look from Maentwrog. Slabs make such a good backrest and windbreak – definitely the optimum picnic spot with views including the castle at Harlech, the estuary at Portmeirion and steam trains crossing the Cob at Porthmadog.

Even on this beautiful autumn Friday, the only other people in a whole day on the Moelwyns were children on a guided walk with their teachers. With the magnets of Snowdon to the north and Cadair Idris to the south we enjoy our mountains in peace and quiet. Most often we get a clear view of their peaks in the clouds.

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