Thursday, 18 August 2016

Cycling Wales - The Mawddach Trail in Pictures

The trail following the line of the old railway track along the southern shore of the Mawddach Estuary from Dolgellau to Barmouth, known as the Mawddach Trail, surely ranks among the best bike rides in Wales and is all the more appealing on account of its ease. If you ride all the way from Dolgellau it's 9.5 miles or 15km each way but as our party included an eight year old and a five year old who had not long learned to ride; I figured that the 13 mile return trip from Penmaenpool on the A493 was plenty and both handled this easily. The main appeal of this route is the variety of views throughout which take in woodland, mountain and sea shore and finish with a spectacular crossing of the estuary on the wooden boards of the Barmouth Bridge.

The bridge at Penmaenpool where we started the Mawddach Trail

family cycling in wales
The trail is suitable for all ages and the smallest one led most of the way
The trail passes through patches of woodland as it heads west
Across the estuary are the southern slopes of the Rhinog mountain range
Looking back in the direction of Dolgellau
cycling in wales
Distant views of the Barmouth Bridge
Spurred on by the thought of the Bridge over the Sea
A rest stop not far from the Barmouth Bridge
barmouth railway bridge
The Barmouth Bridge in sight -  the surface is wooden boards - easy to ride on
cadair idris from the mawddach estuary
View of Cadair Idris from the Barmouth Bridge crossing
mawddach estuary from barmouth bridge
Looking up the estuary towards Dolgellau from the bridge
Boatsin Barmouth Harbour and views to Cardigan Bay with Fairbourne ahead
Coming into Barmouth on the far side of the bridge

Thursday, 11 August 2016

A Short Adventure in Snowdonia - Off the Beaten Track in the Glyders

The first day of our short adventure in Snowdonia dawned clear, sunny and warm as we left the campsite at Dolgam to head through the small hamlet of Capel Curig and into the Ogwen Valley; a place that could be Wales’ answer to Glencoe, such is the vista that opens up suddenly as you leave the woods of Gwydyr
the ogwen valley snowdonia national park
Forest behind and head into the wilds. Josh was with me on this trip and for a Father and Son adventure it seemed fitting to show him one of my favourite routes in Snowdonia – there are a few but this circuit of Foel Goch and Y Garn starting along a little used path is one of them!

A short while later we were heading up the path from Ogwen Cottage to the mountain tarn of Llyn Idwal in its spectacular rocky cirque and crossed the outflow to head right to join the constructed path to Y Garn. A little way after crossing a stone wall, a faint path led off to the right traversing steep hillsides to reach open ground with a view ahead to Foel Goch. (you can turn right and follow the wall but this way avoids some marshy ground and a short rock step)

Soon we were back on a clear path which led across a short scree slope and up into a remote feeling valley
walking in the glyders snowdonia
high above the Nant Ffrancon and below the crags of Y Garn with the way seen clearly ahead and a sublime panorama behind to Llyn Ogwen and Tryfan. Soon the path dipped to cross a stream where we refilled water bottles for a warm day ahead and began the steep ascent to Foel Goch. This path zig zags up at first before becoming fainter on the heathery slopes above. As long as you keep going up you will reach the ridge which falls away in spectacular fashion on its eastern side with views north down past Bethesda to the coast.

Following the interesting ridge upwards brought us to more level ground where we took the path as far as the fence. Here a right brought us to the summit though a more direct route may have been shorter. Either way the summit of Foel Goch feels like the end of things with the ground dropping away to the valley over 2000 feet down. Indeed from the road, this rugged wall looks impregnable and one would little imagine this field-like area even existed. We had our lunch on the edge overlooking the Nant Ffrancon as I did the last time I was here and like then we had the place to
views of snowdonia national park north wales

The ascent of Y Garn involved retracing our steps back down along the fence and simply following the path up the long wide ridge beyond. There were more hikers on this peak – mainly descending from the other side and we soon reached the cairn marking the summit which is one of the Welsh 3000 foot peaks. The views from here are equally spectacular with the Glyders and Tryfan taking centre stage; the central part of the range which is accessible by continuing down along the ridge to Llyn y Cwn where a descent via the Devil's Kitchen path is also possible to Llyn Idwal.

Today though we had opted for the steep descent of the East Ridge which was reached by retracing our steps a little way from the summit. On the first part some care is needed as it’s a bit loose so running is not recommended! Lower down though after some views of our whole route, a contructed path wass reached
hiking the mountains of snowdonia
that led back to Llyn Idwal. By carrying straight on at the wall (the one we crossed earlier in the other direction) we followed a more direct route to Ogwen Cottage via an interesting rocky gully that emerged near the visitor centre.

This isn’t a particularly long route being around 9km or 6 miles but it is a varied and enjoyable one that heads through some of the best scenery in North Wales and as a Lad and Dad adventure it made for a great day out. The greatest joy was in showing my son one of my favourite areas and it was especially pleasing that he wanted to do more in the mountains around here. The route itself can be extended by continuing to Elidir Fawr or even as far as Carnedd y Filiast where I once sat on a winter’s day seemingly the only person for a hundred miles though when encouraging someone to love the mountains it’s probably best not to overdo things!


The following morning after a night in the valley undisturbed by any kind of adverse weather, we set off once again in warm summer conditions, from the car park just behind the shops in Capel Curig. Away from the main A5 the Ogwen has probably changed little in the last hundred or so years and we had only a few
hiking from capel curig snowdonia
lethargic looking cows for company as we trudged up the track that - before that highway was built - was the main route to Bangor and the coast. We were not though heading that way which would have taken us past yesterday's start point and instead left the track after a cottage and a gate, to head left or westwards up into the rough tangle of country that makes up the eastern end of the Glyders or Glyderau range.

A path - faint in places - led us up through damp grassy gullies between grey outcrops of rock to finally emerge on the somewhat boggy plateau above where the view opened up of our objective Foel Goch ahead with the rocky peaks of Snowdon to the left and the high expanse of the Carneddau across the Ogwen to the right. The last time I was here it was winter and crossing this area had been a route finding exercise to avoid the wettest ground but in summer after a dry warm period it was much easier with much of the route being over springy turf and short heather. A number
peaks of snowdon north wales
of faint paths or sheep tracks lead across here but the left or southern edge is the driest. We almost stayed dry but just before reaching the safety of the rising ground beyond the bog claimed a victory when I misjudged a long jump over a dank looking pool and went in knee deep.

Shortly after this point we crossed a stile and the going became easier even though it was now uphill. Grassy slopes gave way to rougher ground as the wall was followed steeply upwards towards the rocky outcrops of Gallt yr Ogof above; the easternmost major summit of the Glyders that I climbed last time in rather different conditions. Back then by the time I had passed the top of the steep section I was walking in snow and the peaks ahead were hidden in grey cloud. Not so today and the sun beat down and served to remind us that there is little in the way of fresh water on this route which is unusual for Snowdonia. Today too the views were extensive as we gained height with the deep green lowlands of Gwydyr Forest and the distant hills of the Denbighshire hinterland behind contrasting with the paler grey green of the high mountain country into which we headed.
peaks of the glyders snowdonia

The path bears gradually to the left over stony slopes climbing more gradually before turning right up a final steep section of stones that - last time was a shallow snow gully - to reach the crest of the ridge where we stopped for a break with a spectacular view along the Glyder ridge ahead to Glyder Fach and Tryfan and much nearer; our objective Foel Goch.

Now if you read the last part of this post you will recall that we climbed Foel Goch yesterday - partly true but that was another Foel Goch (the name means Red Hill) nearer the western end of the ridge and from here obscured behind Tryfan. I suppose that if Scotland can have any number of Ben More's and GealCharn's then why not? These two are on the same ridge though!

After a short break we headed on and just when we thought we were done with bogs, the sogginess was
mountains of snowdonia north wales
back with a vengeance. Wellies and perhaps a small boat would be a help in the direct crossing to Foel Goch and i became glad I didn't attempt it in the bad weather the last time. The best route is to follow a faint path to the far side of the ridge overlooking the Ogwen Valley where a better path is picked up going to the left. This avoids most of the wetness around a small tarn. Climbing up to Foel Goch the ground became dry and stony once more and we were soon enjoying our lunch on the rocky summit which despite the glorious weather we had entirely to ourselves along with the beautiful views of this wild and little visited corner of Snowdonia.

We opted to head back the same way today though a nice variant would be to head on a little further to Llyn Caseg Fraith which affords a particularly photogenic view of Tryfan across its waters; and follow the heathery path down to the Ogwen below the East Face of that peak. From there the valley track on which we began can be followed back to Capel Curig and if you're feeling energetic then head up to Glyder Fach before making the descent.


Sunday, 1 May 2016

A Walk in South Wales - Peaks of the Brecon Beacons

From the idyllic location of my campsite at Cwmdu near Crickhowell I headed over to the equally beautiful but busier village of Talybont in glorious spring sunshine and followed the minor road along the reservoir of the same name and over the mountain to Taf Fechan Forest from where begins the route to Pen y Fan and the other high peaks of the Brecon Beacons.
route to the brecon beacons from taf fechan
Neuadd Reservoir

Having discovered that I could have driven another mile towards my objective - I had parked in the edge of the forest but it's a nice walk so not to worry - I followed the left hand track to the old dam wall of the old or lower Neuadd Reservoir with beautiful views to the highest peaks of South Wales around the head of the valley, and crossed it to gain the open mountainside throgh a gate. The profusion of rhododendron bushes along here at nearly 1500ft indicated that I was further south than my usual destinations of Snowdonia or the Lake District and indeed this was my first time in the Beacons.

A wide trail led up the steep grassy slopes towards the crest of the ridge which revealed itself as the edge of a wide plateau, along which an easy trail led roughly northwards towards the summits. The first top was reached with surprising ease as the views southward towards Cardiff and the hazy distance of the Bristol Channel expanded to include the wild looking hills of Camarthen Fan to the West. From here a small dip followed by a short steep climb led to Corn Du; the first of the main summits of the Brecon Beacons.
Brecon Beacons from the South
Corn Du and Pen y Fan
Despite the glorious sunshine, a strong wind gusted over these high places and I had lunch in a sheltered dip just below the flat summit on the edge of the abyss overlooking Brecon and the low lying Usk Valley. It was a good spot, sheltered and unseen from above or below though most of the tourists (coming up the shorter route from the A 470 were headed straight to the next peak Pen y Fan. That indeed was my next objective and a brief battle with the wind brought me the short distance to where they congregated around the large cairn marking bthe highest point in South Wales and southern Britain.

The views from here extend from the Bristol Channel and the Devon coast to the South while the northern vista leads far into Mid Wales though today the distance was somewhat hazy. Camarthen Fan which is really the western part of the Brecon Beacons lay to the West while the other way the line of the Black Mountains rose along the horizon beyond large areas of lowlands.It's different to Snowdonia where you are usually surrounded by mountains as other than the immediate peaks of the Beacons the other ranges are a long way off and it gives a huge sense of space. One of those nearer peaks though is Cribyn just along the ridge and this was my next objective.
brecon beacons south wales
Pen y Fan from Corn Du

Heading down the steep ridge from Pen y Fan the crowds are left behind and one feels a sense of return to the wilds. On a sunny day like this the grassy ridge beween Pen y Fan and Cribyn is a wonderful rest spot with a small tarn - more of a pool really - and a good place to regain energy before the steep ascent to Cribyn. It's a good path but is about a 400 foot climb after an easy couple of miles. The path right from this col misses out Cribyn if you really can't face it but it would be a shame to miss as it's the finest of the 3 peaks despite being slightly lower. Here as on the ridge below, far from the day trippers, you can experience the peace of the hills once more.

The path continues on down the ridge again with no difficulties to reach the old Roman road that traverses through the Brecon Beacons from north to south so at the col - Bwlch ar y Fan - it's a case of turning right and marching south as the Legionaries once did. I could have used a bike here but it was a pleasant enough if long trudge back passing a small group of wild ponies along the way. The distance was only noticable once I reached the top car park and had to go the extra mile to Taf Fechan Forest but on a day like this I was not complaining.

Start at Taf Fechan Forest >>> 15.5km/9.7miles >>> Up720m/2360ft >>> Down 720m/2360ft

Corn Du 873m/2864ft >>> Pen y Fan 886m/2907ft >>> Cribyn795m/2608ft

east along the brecon beacons ridge
Cribyn from Pen y Fan

brecon beacons ridge south wales
Looking back to Corn Du and Pen y Fan from Cribyn

pen y fan from taf fechan and neuadd reservoir south wales
The route as taken. You can park slightly nearer the reservoir!

Monday, 21 September 2015

A Short Ride in the Highlands - Lochearnhead and Glen Ogle

cycling the glen ogle path
Between Strathyre and Killin and to the north of Callander lies a bike trail that despite being short, ranks among the best rides I've done. A walk along here a few years ago actually prompted me to take up cycling again after a ten year absence due to busy roads though it was only recently that I finally got to ride it. As well as being a section of the Rob Roy Way, this trail is part of a much longer National Cycle Network route linking Glasgow and Inverness with this ride being from Strathyre up over the viaducts to the Glen Ogle car park on the forested ridge just south of Killin. As with my West Highland Way outing I had
to do this in both directions but I'm not complaining there.

The rain was just about holding off as I left Strathyre; just after the bridge a bike track led northwards beside the river and soon brought me to Balquhidder on a good trail that is at first flat then undulating as it heads through woodlands. There's a short section beside the A84 but you're not riding on the road and for the most part it's a quiet trail. As Lochearnhead is approached the route starts becoming more interesting and there's a dip down to the lowest point of the day at about 120m/400ft where the river flowing into Loch Earn is crossed on
the lochs and glens route
a viaduct then an iron bridge above thick woodland. After this is a steep climb of almost 100 metres by a switchback track to rejoin the old railway track and head up Glen Ogle - the most spectacular section - at an easy gradient.

At first  stunning views of Loch Earn and the surrounding hills are revealed through the trees stretching away eastwards then an increasingly wild Glen Ogle is followed with the road far below as the pastoral country around Locearnhead is left. The highlight of the route are the original railway viaducts which are crossed above boulder strewn slopes while mossy streams fall from the mountainside up to the left. Despite the rugged terrain and often precipitous drops to the valley, the path remains easy all the way
cycling in the highlands
and is suitable for kids and road bikes. The sides too are well fenced against cyclists going over the edge!

Soon the trail enters more of a gully in deep woodland (an old railway cutting blasted through the rock) and heads under an old bridge before the road is reached again. Just off to the left and seen through the trees is the water of Lochan Lairig Cheile then the road is crossed. The highest point of the route (about 315m/1030ft) is reached on the short section of path between here and the car park which was as far as I went due to forecast storms. This ride was 14.5km/9 miles so far and it's another 6km/4 miles on to Killin but you'll have the hill to ride back up again if returning to Stratheyre but on balance Killin and the Falls
cycle path from lochearnhead to killin
Spectacular viaducts in the upper part of Glen Ogle
of Dochart are well worth it.

As for me all that remained was an effortless mainly downhill ride to Lochearnhead and the easy trail to Strathyre. I'll definitely come back an do a longer section of this as after Killin the route follows the full length of Loch Tay past the mighty Ben Lawers - pure joy!

lochearnhead to glen ogle
Lochan Lairig Cheile near the end of the ride

Friday, 28 August 2015

Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse - the West Highland Way on a Bike...

The West Highland Way is an iconic trail leading almost 100 miles from Milngavie near Glasgow to Fort William at the foot of Ben Nevis through some of the finest scenery in Scotland. The route is a long distance hiking trail not a cycle path and I have read reports of people having to carry bikes for long distances over part of the route along the eastern shore of Loch Lomond. This section though was all rideable by mountain bike if pretty rough in places.

The section I chose to ride here is possibly the wildest and remotest part of the whole route, crossing the wilderness of Rannoch Moor between Bridge of Orchy and Kingshouse in Glen Etive. It's worth noting that there is no shelter and in bad weather it's probably a good idea to think twice before setting out on foot or on a bike. I rode the route in both directions as I had to return to my car at Glenorchy and covered 40k or about 25 miles with the lowest point (150m/500ft) at Bridge of Orchy; and the highest point (450m/1500ft) on Rannoch Moor just before the Glencoe Ski Centre.

The last descent to Kingshouse consequently had to be reversed uphill - something I was aware of as I sped happily down it - but the ride south from the high point to Inveroran was nearly all downhill with some exhilarating descents that made all the effort worthwhile. Beyond Kingshouse the WHW continues to the Devil's Staircase - a steep pass at about 550m/1850ft - before descending to sea level at Kinlochleven 9 miles on while south of my start point it's an easy looking path for 7 miles to Tyndrum.

One notable advantage of being on a bike in the Highlands - aside of course from the stunning views - is that that you are faster than the midges and so avoid their efforts to turn you into a meal. They were not so bad today owing to wind and showers but last time I rode from Kingshouse, hikers were being subjected to sustained attacks while I on my trusty steed remained immune - had to keep going though! Here's the day's route in pictures...

the river orchy from the west highland way
The route from the car park by the hotel first crosses the stone bridge over the River Orchy that gives the village its name

cycling in the highlands
Views from the minor road that leads from Bridge of Orchy to Inveroran - it just keeps getting better!

west highland way at inveroran
The end of the road - after Inveroran the track becomes rougher as it begins the climb up over Rannoch Moor

mountain biking in the highlands
Looking back down the track on the approach to Rannoch Moor - this climb was quite rough but not too long

mountain biking in scotland
The climb soon led to some great riding over Rannoch Moor

mountain biking in scotland
Looking back from my lunch stop on Rannoch Moor - it doesn't get much better than this!

mountain biking in the scottish highlands
Looking south from near the high point of the day - it is remote country this

buachaille etive mor from the west highland way
The route onwards down to Kingshouse is rough and steep but the ski centre road is met soon
views from the west highland way
The approach to Kingshouse is down a much easier track (the old road) with views of the Munros, Creise and Buachaille Etive Mor

Monday, 10 August 2015

Beyond the Ben... Two More Nevis Range Four Thousanders

Ben Nevis at 4409ft or 1344m is the highest mountain in Scotland and the UK. As a consequence of this the normal tourist route to the summit is busy throughout the summer but there is more to these mountains than the endless trail of stones leading from the car park near Fort William to the usually mist shrouded summit.

the far side of ben nevis
Head instead to the Nevis Range ski area a few miles north of Fort William on the road to Spean Bridge - gondola and mountain bike trails in summer - and two more Scottish "four thousanders" are easily accessible without following any crowds - I saw only a dozen or so people once I'd left the gondola station behind. These summits - both Munros - are Aonach Mor (1221m/4006ft) which rises directly above the ski area and the more remote Aonach Beag (1234m/4049ft) that overlooks the upper reaches of Glen Nevis and the normally unseen side of the Ben.

The gondola ride (which cost £12 return) is a worthwhile activity in itself especially with kids or if you're not feeling particularly energetic and it took me over the forest and the open mountainside
above to a height of 2150ft and some awesome views of the Western Highlands. It's worth mentioning that a couple of mountain bike trails leave from here - the red downhill which looks awesome and which I might attempt next time and the suicidal looking World champs downhill which I'll definitely not be attempting - it's a steep black descent with big rocks and jumps so only for experts!

There is a viewpoint a short distance from the top station that's well worth a visit so after this I set off to climb Aonach Mor which is the eighth highest mountain in Scotland and the UK:

Returning to the station I followed the wide track roughly south going under a chair lift - these only run in the ski season - and approaching the edge of the plateau where I branched off left and uphill before reaching another viewpoint. The going was fairly hard at first as there is no real path for the lower section but I headed up to the right of the ski lifts. Soon though a faint path appeared and
the mamores seen across glen nevis
became more distinct as I got higher, passing the building marking the top of the chairlift and then reaching the top of the ski area itself. Here I sheltered from the cold wind behind a hut - it was only 3-4 degrees above freezing and snow showers were forecast at this height despite it being July.

Ahead the path led out across the tundra landscape of the high plateau that makes up the top of Aonach Mor. It is really a very wide ridge leading south and "Big Ridge" is the translation of the Gaelic name. With views of the unfamiliar side of Ben Nevis looking distinctly alpine to my right I crossed this high barren looking plateau without climbing very much to reach my first summit which was marked by a large cairn 4006 feet above the sea which was visible away beyond Ben Nevis. Ahead the ridge narrowed a little before
looking south from aonach beag nevis range
rising up to Aonach Beag - "The Little Ridge which is actually slightly higher.

My way led down an easy slope on a wide path to the bealach or col between the two peaks where deep drifts of snow filled the eastern corrie. Aonach Beag rose imposingly ahead and from here looked as though some scrambling might be needed to reach it but aside from being steep and rocky the way was easy and passed an interesting feature that reminded me of a mini Napes Needle for those familiar with Great Gable in the Lake District. On most mountains at the point where you think the top is near it comes into sight still a long way off but here, as the path begins to level out, the summit is revealed just ahead and the views to the South of which we've seen only tantalizing glimpses are revealed in full.

hiking the munros in the scottish highlands
From this lofty vantage point the eye was drawn to the mysterious ridges of the Grey Corries in the East and over the wilderness of Rannoch Moor. Closer at hand the ridge of the Mamores was seen across the depths of Glen Nevis while the Ben itself towered just to the West, its peak in cloud.

Heading back, Aonach Mor appeared of gentler character though a journey along the eastern edge of the plateau between the summit and the ski area reveals vast sheer cliffs falling to a beautiful lochan or tarn far below - an aspect of the mountain completely unseen from the ski area. Having paused to admire these views I returned to the top of the ski area just as the weather began to clear and headed down to the warmer zones below where it was still summer.

This route contains no difficulties under "summer" conditions though in bad visibility it's important
munros of the scottish highlands the grey corries
to remember that the wide easy ridge of Aonach Mor has steep drops along both sides as does Aonach Beag. There is a route off to the west from the bealach between the two Munros to the lower gap (822m) between here and Ben Nevis with acess to Glen Nevis or the north. Only attempt this in bad visibility if you know it. Equally a route ascends Aonach Beag from Glen Nevis but I've not done it - that side of the mountain is precipitous and of alpine scale so again research those routes before attempting!

The other "four thousander" in this area is Carn Mor Dearg (1220m/4003ft) immediately north of the Ben which is normally ascended as part of the Carn Mor Dearg Arete route to Ben Nevis. It crosses an exposed ridge but is a walk rather than a climb and descent is made via the normal tourist route. I did it some years ago but don't have photos - if I do that one again I'll post it here as it's way better than trudging up and down the Pony Track. As for the walk described here; its 12km or a shade under 8 miles return from the top gondola station and has almost 900m/3000ft of ascent and descent. Not using the gondola adds 600m/2000ft and makes for a much longer outing. More from this Scottish trip here soon...
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Pete Buckley July 2015
nevis range ski area spean bridge
The eastern side of Aonach Mor is of a different character to that seen from the gondola

The wild looking terrain on the far side of Aonach Mor unseen from the ski area

Looking back down to the Nevis Range ski area from its upper reaches