We’ll talk about the Rhinogydd another day. Fawr and Fach. Not to be missed. Wild, rocky and for little mountains, they have a big feel. Not today, though. It’s about 1pm and I put my head in the farm kitchen where Alun, on a day off, is contemplating the cleaning of his car. It’s another warm summer’s day but it’s not oppressive and I wonder if he fancies a stroll. He doesn’t take long to grab his stuff.
Every time I’m in Porthmadog high street or Penrhyndeudraeth or nearby, I keep looking at this blocky spine of upland which comprises the northern end of the Rhinog mountains and telling myself that I need to go and have a look. I’d stayed in Croesor recently and on a horrendous day had taken a good soaking, walking from the church at Llandecwyn to Llyn Tecwyn Uchaf up Moel Tecwyn and then round the lake shore.
My intention had been to tackle Moel Ysfarnogod that day but the Rhinog range is no place for mucking about in the clouds, so I’d contented myself with a tramp around in the deluge and a period of meditation in the open, simple, pilgrims church. What a place that is and what views it must enjoy. I never saw them. Today, although there is a thundery suggestion to the sky, the cloud base is over 3500 feet and the marquee peaks will be teeming. I’m confident that my brother and I will not suffer crowds…
There are no crowds. We turn off in Trawsfynydd onto the little road by the lake and take a left, eventually parking at an old quarry or mine working. Half a mile of tarmac later and we’re on a dry track. This range is notoriously boggy but the summer has been ultra dry and the going is easy. The track starts at the gate of Cefn Clawdd farm and arcs round underneath our eventual goal. This range is notoriously boggy but the summer has been ultra dry and the going is easy. Another lonely place, vast moorlands below us, broken slopes above. Our early discussions revolve around living on that particular farm, going to the shops and forgetting the central ingredient of dinner. In that splendid isolation, such an oversight would be more than deflating.
By the looks of it, we’re on a miner’s track of sorts. I’ve heard tell of manganese but don’t quote me, there’s no miners here in this desert of rock and heather. There’s no-one at all. After an interesting mile and a bit the track runs out and after a swig of water, we strike straight up an obvious grassy ramp to a gap in the wall that was constructed by tough men, many years ago. Beyond the wall are a few rocky shelves and without too much blowing, we’re at the top.
The view is stupendous. That’s the only word for what we can see and I’m not stepping back from it. For the effort we’ve put in, the reward is huge. Go on, name it. We can see it. No hares, no people, just a breathtaking 360° panorama that pretty much leaves us speechless. Alun’s not given to effusion but even he describes the top of Moel Ysfarnogod as ‘mad’ which I take to be a young man’s speak for ‘amazing’. On the way up we had paused from time to time to look back at the desolation of the moors and the more distant Rhinogydd under their dark sky but now everything is revealed. From Enlli to Yr Wyddfa, Arenig and Aran to Cader Idris, to the farm, tucked away behind Penychain’s tiny headland.
And then we turn our attentions to the terrain upon which we marvel. Flat pavements of rock, cross the rough ridge. The summit of Foel Penolau looks like it has been a practice ground for apprentice stone masons, some of the blocks and clusters hereabouts look almost unnatural in their symmetry. To the south west the land looks as though a mountain has been laid on its side, giving the impression that it should be perpendicular to its current position. This unvisited corner of the world, in its own way, is every bit as spectacular as the Glyderau…it’s just that it’s numbers will never add up. Good.
We head over towards the rock wall of Foel Penolau and squeeze around its southern edge. A very short scramble takes us onto this rock tabletop and we make good progress on the grippy volcanic diagonals. The heather is scorched, the pools that characterise this neck of the woods have dried up and there is not a sign of moisture until Alun springs down onto the turf and breaks the surface.
One leg plunges knee deep into the ooze and momentarily removes his boot. His toes keep hold and with a squelch he exits the trap, peaty mudpack and all. What on earth this place would be like on a wet November day in poor visibility, god alone knows. Today its benign qualities have beguiled us and then both metaphorically and literally, sucked us in. It’s no matter. Today is all gentle breeze and glorious sights and from Diffwys (the northern one) we pick a spot on our upward track and head towards it to complete a circle half a mile above Cefn Clawdd.
Some errant midges make a half-hearted attempt at biting, as we tramp down the road. Alun’s muddy leg has dried – maybe they were after a bit of moisture. By the time we reach the car, they’ve given up, returning to hover near the summits where hardly anyone ever goes.