It’s very comfortable under this quilt. It’s dark outside. I swore that I’d just get up when I woke up but the temptation to stay here is strong. Five minutes pass and I open one eye again. There’s a faint light around the edges of the curtains, so I swing unwilling legs into action, blearily make for the bathroom and before long, it’s all systems go.
I’m not bothering with a coffee. Get dressed and out the door. It’s February, first light and it smells like spring. Is this a saunter? It feels like one and it’s good to be up and at it. As I leave the Tan y Bwlch road just the other side of the first gate, I know why I do this. Charlie hates the word ‘plod’ but that’s the way I approach the grass bank that sends me on my way. One foot in front of the other. Forget the marked footpaths further up the lane. Get on with it. The wall you can see from Croesor is the way up, so leave the sphagnum and the ghost paths and take some deep breaths.
It is a glorious day. Yesterday was a glorious day. The sun is appearing in patches on Cnicht’s flanks and Yr Wyddfa, flecked and streaked with old snow, is purple and gold – or at least the way I see it, it is. My eyes are watering and my nose is running, my lungs are reminding me that this is steep and I’m beginning to regret the thermal shirt (offset with loose Ramones t-shirt – a fashion statement? here?). Once the first pull is done, the going is easy and this gentle ridge is a joy. Behind me, the reclaimed land of The Glaslyn is frost-white down in the gloom, the rising sun bleaches out Moelwyn Bach’s skyline and the only remote sound is the pulse in my temples. The birds are quiet, there is no breeze and the solitary airliner overhead is clearly coasting. It’s vapour trail is short and I wonder what its passengers think of the scene below.
Halfway up, there are some vague quarry workings and a solid track diverts right towards the base of Craig Ysgafn and some rather more pronounced slate tips. I’m always tempted by this track but I cast the demons out and start the graft. On a day like today, the upper slopes of Moelwyn Mawr are to be cherished – but when it’s grim or snowy, it’s a different story. It might just manage to creep above 2500 ft but when this terrain is obscured in icy conditions, it’s not for trifling with. For now, as I meet easing ground towards the summit ridge, the sugary snow is confined to stubborn patches clinging to the gully-tops, the trig point comes into view, the clock strikes eight and whatever god looks after these parts is in his or her heaven.
The top of Moelwyn Mawr reveals the kind of panorama that keeps you gazing. There’s no shelter and a strong wind has decided to rise from absolutely nowhere. I spend twenty minutes here today, eating chocolate, sipping water and naming every peak in my mind’s-eye. Often I nip up here for the late summer sun – last time the midges got me – but today, backside insulated from the frozen turf, I add a coat, a woolly hat, gloves and drink it all in. It’s bloody freezing now and I congratulate myself on the selection of the trusty thermal shirt. The tiny lakes that define the awkward hinterland between here and Moel Siabod catch the low sun like so many dropped silver coins and I’m glad that today’s route is straightforward.
From up here, it looks like you could cross that ground, no problem… but trust me, even on a fine day it has its surprises when you’re floundering around in a bog amongst the deceptive ridges and false tops. After a protracted linger, I bomb down towards Bwlch Stwlan, or rather Craig Ysgafn and then Bwlch Stwlan. The former is rocky blockade that separates the Mawr and the Bach. Today, it’s a nice little traverse – dry, grippy and commanding spectacular views of Blaenau Ffestiniog and Llyn Stwlan. Its not always this way. The last step down to the Bwlch wakes me up, perched as it is on a surprisingly exposed ledge. It’s easily negotiated but serves as a reminder that ‘switching off’ isn’t on the agenda.
One day a few years ago, I lost my phone between the top of Moelwyn Bach and Bwlch Stwlan. It was in the snow and it had a white weatherproof cover. In the completely irrational way beloved of eternal optimists, I keep my eyes peeled. By the way, resist the temptation here to follow the big wide track that sets off on the level and instead take the one that goes upwards across the slopes under the cliffs. If you find my phone, message me…
It hasn’t taken long to get to the top of Moelwyn Bach, with its innocuous cairn and menacing, out-of-sight, massive, lethal overhanging crag. As I sip a bit more water, my eye is drawn to the redundant nuclear power station on Llyn Trawsfynydd. I bet some visitors hereabouts scratch their heads wondering which castle it is… I imagine the conversations… ”Well, Dave… it’s definitely not Harluck… ”
Not much remains to be done. The descent of Moelwyn Bach’s West ridge is a knee-saving delight. Just when you think it might jar, the ground gives way with a springiness that confirms that this neck of the woods gets more than it’s fair share of precipitation. I’m skipping on a sponge. I head down towards the edge of the plantation that was, a few years ago, decimated by a named storm. I can’t remember which. Storm Eleanor, perhaps? A flash of orange catches my attention and then the sound of a busy two-stroke. It’s going to take quite a while for a bloke in a big digger and his mate with a chainsaw to clear that lot. Still (or Stihl, you might say)… what a place to spend the day gainfully employed in the forestry business.
As the lane takes me back down to Croesor, today’s route is framed for one last photograph. I don’t need another picture of the Moelwyns but I take it anyway.