Moel Siabod

Day two in Snowdonia and I was seeking out a new mountain to climb. I’d seen a route suggested in a magazine which appealed to me – Moel Siabod (roughly translated as ‘Shapely Mountain’) and this morning I set out even earlier than yesterday to get to the top. Once again it was bitterly cold in Nant Ffrancon but the sun was coming up fast and it promised to be another perfect walking day.

At the car park I compared routes with another walker who was just setting out. We both decided that scrambling (one option) wasn’t wise given the ice and frost but i knew there was a more traditional path running slightly to the left of the scramble route. With this as my first goal, I set off to cross the Afon Llugwy on an old single arch stone bridge. After a short detour down the wrong path, I finally found the lane leading onto the mountains. It was a steep, twisting tarmac farm track nestled between high hedges that restricted the view to some branches and many potholes. But just as I was getting bored, the lane pooped out and turned into a footpath that skirted the farm and led to a rougher track. But more importantly, ahead I could see the classic mountain shape of Moel Siabod. I could see how it had got its name.

For the next half mile or so, it dominated the view ahead and I had plenty of time to study the layout of the ridges and make an educated guess where the path I was looking for climbed to the top. The path led over several stiles until I was walking alongside the steepest part of the mountain. I came across the first of three lakes I was looking for. This one sat at the foot of a large spoil tip of broken slate. Above the lake were a number of ruined buildings made from stone; the remains of a slate quarry that had dug into the side of the mountain and excavated a deep hole which became the second lake. This was Moel Siabod Slate and Slab works, which operated from the early 19th Century until 1884.

Beyond this, the path climbed steeply for a few yards and water had seeped onto the ground and frozen in a solid sheet of ice. It was impossible to walk upon and I had to dance a few deft steps to avoid sliding back down the quarry again. Soon I was walking on more even ground, climbing steadily rather than quickly. Underfoot, the ground had been boggy and muddy but the cold temperatures had solidified most of it to make the going much easier and considerably drier.

I skirted the third lake and spotted a path leading up the side of the mountain. It was clearly the scramble route, so I avoided it and carried on looking for the adjacent path. About 15 minutes later, I started to wonder if I’d missed the start of the route up. I stopped to snack and drink and checked the map. The path on the map seemed to follow the scramble route and there was no other marked. I couldn’t see a path on the ground but the eye of faith spotted a faint route up following two slanting lines of rocks. With yesterday’s gully route in the back of my mind, I set off for a short but very steep climb up to the rocks. High above, the grey mass of the summit seemed miles away and I started a slow plod to gain height.

After about ten minutes, I looked up to see how far I’d gone and found the summit no closer. My legs were heavy after yesterday’s climb and I stopped for a breather and to take in the view behind me. A hazy vista lay before me, making the landscape difficult to identify. Occasionally, a shining rooftop or road surface cut through. I set off again, slower this time as the going was much steeper. There was no clear path to follow and I had to choose where I put my feet carefully as in places the way forward was more the 45 degrees. I checked my progress and the summit still seemed impossibly far away. The next ten minutes felt like an hour. I went slower and slower as my energy levels started to ebb and every time I looked up, it felt as if I’d gone backwards.

Eventually, I stopped to make the call whether to turn back. I didn’t know where I was in relation to the summit and I was clearly not on any well used path. I didn’t seem to be making any progress and my spirits were low. I had stopped enjoying the morning. I stared at the summit rocks and as I did I started to pick out details and began to realise that I was much closer to them than I had previously realised. There was nothing to suggest scale and so I hadn’t been able to judge distances but now I spent some time I could see little cracks, patches of snow and other subtle signs that said ‘I’m soooo close…’

This revelation gave me a little extra energy and I set off on the final push to the top. Within ten minutes, the slope had backed off and I could see a low wooden fence leading up ahead and off to the right. I looked up and the rocks I’d thought were miles away were within touching distance. But I still had to be careful; the way up the last few metres was across broken rock, all of which was white with frost and snow. I wobbled and slid my way over the uneven ground, wary of twisting an ankle at this late stage, and suddenly I was on the flat summit plateau with the trig point just above me on the right.

Moel Siabod is a great mountain. It has 360 degree views and I spent minutes just looking around, trying to identify the various snow capped peaks I could see sticking out above the haze. Ahead of me was a panorama of Welsh 3000ft mountains, ranging from Snowdon and Crib Goch, across to the Carneddau and the Gkyders, where I’d been yesterday. It was beautiful and tranquil and awe inspiring and it was everything I want a mountain top to be. Eventually, I recovered and started to take photos. It was warm up there, as it had been yesterday. Despite a slight breeze, the sun was warm and suddenly all the effort and doubts I’d had on the way up was forgotten. It was mostly white beneath my feet and there was a thick frost on the rocks around the trig point. Off to my right was the ridge I would have scrambled up and I guessed that the path I should have followed was much closer to the scramble route than I had expected.

All too soon it was time to head down. I had thought of going back the way I came but I chose instead to use the rest of the route as described in the magazine and head off on a circular path back to the car. I gingerly made my way over the frosty rocks and down onto a frozen grassy slope. This dropped me down very quickly but easily until I reached a deeply rutted path. This was filled with ice and snow and was harder to negotiate. Most accidents happen on the way down after the walker has become more confident and wants to get off the mountain quickly. I was very conscious of this as I stepped carefully to avoid ice and loose rocks. I stopped to chat with a couple from the Wirral who were spending the afternoon on the mountain. They often came up to North Wales and we agreed about how much better it was to have the mountain to ourselves rather than sharing it with hundreds of tourists as on Snowdon.

The walk back to the car was hot and towards the end, when the views had gone, long and lacking in interest. I made my way through the forest and across the river once again before walking the last half mile or so along the A5 to the car. On the way I looked back to see Moel Siabod, hazy in the distance, looking like a proper mountain between the trees.

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Why we walk the hills

By Dave and Rufus.

There is no sound other than the birds high up in the sky and the gentle breeze making its way through the grass. The early morning sun is shining with a yellow glow, the air is crisp and clear and the remains of last night’s frost crunches under foot. In puddles, ice has formed random and surreal patterns that few will see. It’s warm despite the early hour. The noise of traffic is not invited here.

From the top of Moel Feity, our venue for today, there is a panoramic view of mountains and countryside. in the distance to the north a line of clouds have formed, as if waiting to enter into our arena. But they’re not allowed to spoil the morning. To the west, Fan Brecheiniog looks grey with it’s thin coating of frost yet to be touched by the sun. A small cloud pops over the top and spills down towards Llyn y Fan Fawr like a slow motion waterfall. The twin table tops of Corn Du and Pen y Fan are silhouetted off to the east. Even at this early hour they are probably busy with those keen to be the highest people south of Snowdonia.

We have this hill to ourselves. We can go where ever we want. There are little paths and tracks that the sheep have worn over the years but the sheep are all gathered together further down the valley this morning. We choose to follow the paths or not as the whim takes us.

He’s going to start going on about how time has no meaning next. I know, and I apologise on behalf of my human. Allow him his indulgence.

There is no sign of the passage of time other than the distant clouds and the mist on Fan Brecheiniog. Even the sun is lazy this morning.

There. See. 

We come across the little memorial to the crew of Liberator 38753 and a little later, a small pile of aluminium, some melted, which has been gathered from the crash site. I stop to tidy them both up as I always do when we come here, and we spend a moment or two having a think before moving on.

We walk the hills because of all these things and the things we will see next time. Sometimes its for the challenge, sometimes it’s to get away from the crap and sometimes its to get to the top.

Before he gets too carried away with the artistic dribble, lets talk about the real reason we walk the hills. Dave has this need to prove himself and I have to tag along just to make sure he doesn’t overdo things. I don’t mind; he’s good to me so I return the favour. When I wasn’t well, he stayed with me so he’s a bit out of shape right now. In the past he’s done it to get fit to climb hills in other countries – without me! But I don’t care really because I enjoy walking the hills with Dave.

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Blizzard

We pushed on, blinded by the driving snow which threatened to cut us off from the south east ridge route back to safety. A howling wind made every step a test of stamina and strength. Rufus forged a path ahead whilst I, carrying our meagre supplies, brought up the rear. Slowly we descended through the cloud, the air becoming richer in oxygen with every step. There were no thoughts but the one to keep going; to stop now would mean to stop forever.

Or, at least that is what it would have been like if we were on some 8000m peak. However, we were on Moel Feity, not even an 800m peak, and the sun had been shining moments before. I’d seen the dark cloud coming in and knew we were in for some kind of precipitation. The onset of snow was sudden and although the flakes were large, it didn’t last long enough to stick.

We had set out earlier to get a proper hill under our belts in preparation for some more serious hill walking when the weather improved. But it was a lovely morning, with bright blue sky, a low golden sun and only a mildly freezing wind to contend with. Once we’d been walking for a few minutes and had warmed up, it was pleasant walking. Even the route we followed was relatively dry. The wet bits were clearly wet and the water was mostly on the surface, meaning that deep, sucking mud was easy to avoid.

On the top of the hill, the views were clear for miles around in every direction. Thick frost covered the north eastern face of Fan Brecheiniog where the sun had yet to touch. We had the whole area to ourselves, which surprised me with the glorious weather. While Rufus ranged far and wide, I took photos and enjoyed the open space.

As we crossed over tot he northern end of the hill, the wind picked up and it was cold again for a few minutes, but upping the pace warmed us again and we were soon in the lee of the hill.

I spent a few minutes tidying up one of the two memorials to the US Navy Liberator PB4Y 38753 which crashed on the side of Moel Feity in 1944. I try and visit the site every time I’m on this hill, and always take time to make sure the cairns are maintained. Both memorials are within a couple of hundred yards of each other. One has a large stone and a few scraps of wreckage and this one is where I put my memorial poppy every year. The other is mainly of twisted and melted aluminium pieces from the plane itself. I am told that this marks the actual impact site.

On our way back down to the car, the dark cloud that we had been racing finally caught up with us and there was a brief but heavy shower of snow. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long or heavy enough to stick and there were no snowballs for Rufus to chase.

Later, whilst Rufus snored in the hallway at home, I spent an hour watching birds in the garden as part of the RSPB Birdwatch survey. usually my garden has a large number of birds, mainly great tits and blue tits. I used to have a fairly tame robin, and for the last few years I have hosted blackbirds and house sparrows as they raise their families. I regularly feed them and I don’t think it was too much to expect that they would reward my supportive behaviour with an appearance for one hour in good weather this weekend. But no! The blue tits and great tits stayed away. The sparrows hid out of sight. A single blackbird turned up for a few minutes and there was a single starling (although they swarm in large numbers night and morning). On the plus side, there were two robins present. But for most of the hour, a single collared dove and a woodpigeon gorged themselves on seed and two magpies attempted to eat the fat balls.

Of course, once the hour was up, another 5 magpies showed up, along with several wrens and sparrows and some blackbirds.

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A week of wanderings and weather

A week off! Not just any week off, but one that I booked at short notice. My original plan was to catch up with a mate visiting from New Zealand, but the arrangements fell through and I was left with a whole week with no plans. I like that.

In actual fact, there were several planned activities but plenty of time to fit in leisure time too. On Monday, the side window of my car was fixed swiftly by Autoglass. The rain cleared just in time for the chap to get the work done while leaving us time for a visit to Cefn Bryn. Keen eyed readers will remember that this was where the young gentleman broke in to my car. Part of dealing with the break in was to get over leaving it for the first time since Thursday. I watched my car like a hawk as we walked away from it before suddenly realising that I couldn’t let it dictate the things I would do. It disappeared as we dropped down the other side of the hill and I only allowed myself the occasional worry as we walked.

On Tuesday, Rufus went for his regular hair cut. He gets very hot in any warm weather as he’s always running around, and I try to keep his fur short. I’d noticed that he was scratching and restless and that’s normally a sign he’s too hot. Following his trim and when the day had cooled, we headed off to the hills and had a leisurely stroll around the base of Moel Feity, once again surrounded by sheep. Rufus charged around with his new found coolness while I snapped away in the gorgeous evening light.

Wednesday dawned clear and sunny and we were off at the crack of dawn to climb Moel Feity and enjoy the fantastic views from the summit. It warmed up quickly and there was a haze in the air as the approaching humid weather announced itself, but the clouds didn’t start to build until we were heading back down, when it became very warm. I spent a little time tidying up the memorial to the crashed Liberator bomber and then, as a treat for Rufus, we stopped off at the river where he paddled and swam and caught stones while cooling down.

Later, I sat outside in the night air watching the Perseid meteors light up the sky. The forecast thick cloud held off for longer than I’d expected and the weather was warm for that time of night. Rufus kept coming out to have a look, but for the most part stayed inside. He’s not keen on astronomy. I saw some bright and spectacular meteors as well as the International Space Station, several satellites and one airliner. I didn’t manage to get many good photos, though, and the following morning I regretted not staying up longer.

After a wander over the common in the morning, we watched the rain come in and I decided Thursday was Great British Bake-off day. I made apple and blackberry pies. More apple than blackberry as the crop of berries wasn’t as bountiful as I’d hoped. I ended up making 11 small pies as I didn’t quite have enough pastry for the 12th. They are rather nice, though.

That night, it was clear that Rufus was still scratching and I decided that in the morning a visit to the vets was in order to find out what was causing this and to get it sorted. The waiting room was packed out with hounds of various makes and models, most of which were quite bouncy and vocal. Rufus is always well behaved in these circumstances and I was proud of his lack of reaction when other dogs barked at him or lunged at him.

The vet had a good look over and decided that he had an ‘environmental allergy’. I asked what that could be and he described the same allergies as I have – dust and pollen. Apparently, these allergens can cause animals to have skin rashes and this is what Rufus has got. In short, Rufus has hayfever! I left the vet with several potions and the biggest tablets I have ever seen. I did wonder whether I’d have to cut them up but Rufus downed one (wrapped in chicken) with no concern. He has some eye drops, which are always a test of my patience and his escapologist skills. Every time I try to apply them, Rufus imitates a snake and wriggles out of my grasp. I went on the Internet last night and found a suggested technique which involved kneeling behind him and bringing the dropper down from above so he doesn’t see it. I managed to get one drop in his eye but he learns quickly so he won’t be so easy to fool again.

Today we went back to Whiteford, a familiar beach to those having read my blogs before. It wasn’t too warm as we set out and it always amazes me how few people go there – there were three cars in the car park, and several horses, foals and some sheep. Walking on the beach was lovely and we went out more than half a mile to the receding tide. Rufus had a paddle and chased after the Oystercatchers while I tried out a new lens I’d received that morning. By the time we got back to the car, the cool of the morning had given way to the heat of midday and we were both glad to get the air conditioner working.

Sunday is always a non-day for me and it will be tomorrow as I have to leave the freedom of a week off behind and try and get myself back into the work frame of mind. It will probably consist of cleaning, ironing and other household chores although I understand from Rufus that he is expecting another walk on the hills if the weather is ok.

<sigh> I suppose I’ll have to do what he says!

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A weekend of numbers

It’s been a long weekend of numbers. Four days of fun. In no particular order, then:

Rufus and I had our 1st, 2nd and 3rd time on a mountain since February. We walked Moel Feity on Saturday, Fan Brecheiniog on Monday and Garreg Lwyd this morning. I still get the buzz when I reach to top of a proper mountain like Fan Brecheiniog and I’d forgotten what that felt like, since the last mountain we did – Pen y Fan in Feb – was in white-out conditions. We walked 13.5 miles and climbed a total of 2896 feet in 7.5 hours. It was great to see Rufus back on form after his recent illness, bounding up and down again on all three walks and putting me to shame, although he was rather tired at the end of the day on each one, as was I. The snoring after we got home was not all his.

I was kindly loaned series 4 of ‘The Walking Dead’, an American programme I’ve taken a particular liking to as it seems to be a cut above most of the American output we get here. I’d watched series 1 -3 in a marathon month or so but series 4 disappeared from my catch up menu and I was left without the means to get up to date for series 5, which started a couple of months ago. 16 episodes (about 660 minutes over four days – the perfect wind down after a morning on the mountains).

I’ve also started reading ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’, a might tome of more than 700 pages and which is proving to be a fantastic read so far – I’m around 200 pages in. It’s written using a slightly old fashioned form of English which fits perfectly the story and setting – early 19th Century Britain.

I’ve had a great few days off but packed loads into each one. Back to work for a rest tomorrow!

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