John Dexter Jones

Time for a little story. In ‘Mountain Punk’ – did you know I’d written a book? (copies of which are available from me) – there’s a tale about Pete and I getting soaked on the east ridge of Yr Elen on the way to Carnedd Llywelyn. We thought it was time to revisit that extraordinary place, so on an unpromising late May morning, we did…

John Dexter Jones

Beyond Gwaun y Gwiail there is nothing to see.

Nothing to see here, says the landscape; says the weather, says the Carneddau.

Slop and sponge underfoot; steam and green above ground.

And where the straight path disappears into the ‘never-seen-again’ suffocating oppression of Cwm Llafar, we divert onto the sketchy thread that creeps over the boncs and boulders of Mynydd Du.

I love being in these spaces. On a glorious day, this is a vast expanse of everything, upon which you are dotted, an awestruck speck. Today, as the high pressure fights off the stubborn remnants of another (globally?) warm front, we are confined to a five-metre-by-five-metre visible square of ground which moves uphill at our pace, into more and more nothingness. To imagine anything would to be to miss the point. We are present in our pocket. In this moment.

John Dexter Jones

Higher, on Foel Meirch, suddenly, a skylight opens, and the swiftly climbing sun bores into the swirl. This is it, we anticipate, the great clearance. But it doesn’t happen. Instead, the aperture is closed, if anything more thickly than before. The damp blanket is drawn back across and muffles our curses on the chaotic greasy boulder-field that is the last mantrap before Dafydd’s summit. There is nothing to see at the top except the film of droplets which coats every ancient stone.

Not even the crows bother. They roost elsewhere in the lee of this peculiar easterly breeze, exchanging news of carrion – tales of (now) silent lambs lying on unreachable slopes, awaiting dismemberment by rough beak and dextrous claw. There’s no point soaring and croaking in this, they might agree, although if they are minded, they can choose to rise above the murk in search of warm rays. Either way, they are absent. Across two valleys, on Yr Wyddfa, their brash cousins will be preening silky feathers in readiness for another day’s strutting between the crusts and skins and peel and ham, whilst gulls with dead eyes prepare to maraud naive train passengers who fail to protect five-pound ice-creams.

Pete produces hot ‘weak coffee’ from a compact flask. And Christmas cake to go with it. Or nectar and ambrosia, you might say. The wind blows, the chill deepens, and for all the world May might as well be November. A father and son in shorts and mountain running shoes join us behind the low-walls of the shelter and drink water. We set off towards Llywelyn before them and Pete reminds me of the ‘Competitive Dad’ sketch from the Fast Show as they catch us up and skitter by, above the Black Ladders, eyes on watches, wiry and fit. One day, the young lad will be a champion fell-runner – or else a resentful housebound sloth with a powerful heater, closed curtains, and a love of crisps and full fat Coke.

John Dexter Jones

On Bwlch Cyfryw Drum we enjoy another revelation. Cwm Llafar remains resolutely blank to our left, but Ffynon Llugwy, more than a thousand feet below on the right, catches a sunbeam, shimmers for ten seconds and is gone. Heads down, up to Llywelyn.

If, as is suggested, lichen is an indicator of clean air, then Carnedd Llywelyn is a place to breath as deeply as possible. Everything has a lichen skin. I have almost given up try to wax lyrical about the other-worldliness of the setting. It defies every possible simple description of ‘place’. I have visited so many times but still can’t work it out. It seems too easy to invoke the catchall of ‘magical’. But it’s the best I can do.