Mountain Walking: the Welsh Arans Wednesday May 12, 2010

The first time I’d walked in this general area, it was Cadair Idris. I felt like a change, and moving on from Beddgelert where I’d been camping, and the otherwise long drive from Manchester was thus divided. I’d seen exciting pictures of Cadair Idris and these, and its name, had captured my imagination. It was a well known hill and I’d not done it: evoking not a peak bagging lust but desire for unknown pleasures further south in Wales than I’d currently been, except for a trip to Carmarthen.

You have to go through Dolgellau, a town I rather enjoyed: quite busy in the rural way of things with a few shops to explore, but still attractive. The map indicated three camp sites at the base of ‘Cadair’, as it gets called, one just an empty sloping field, the other a scenic field but still no facilities, and the other a field at the back of a farm house. It felt odd sleeping there that night like I was in their back garden, and odd again watching the house hoping no one would wander outside, or appear at a window, invading my privacy. It did however have some facilities; a cold shower which was better than nothing and the possibility of cooking inside a large barn area presumably very busy at certain times – catering for a dormitory style barn room sleeping space.

I enjoyed Cadair Idris finding the walk, in parts, as aesthetically enjoyable as Lake District hills. At that time, I’d been finding Wales a little grim. I don’t recall clearly, but I suspect I’d been walking in the Devil’s Kitchen before driving down further to Nant Gwynant and Beddgelert. Like Grasmoor and Skiddaw in the Lakes Cadair Idris rises up, alone and solitary, with no neighbouring peaks (although one side of the former adjoins further hills). This has a certain charm, a certain interest; though a more immersive mountain area is more dramatic and rewarding, a mountain standing alone is quite enjoyable: you see all around, not more hills but the outlying land.

I chatted with a couple on the peak, who lived in the Phillipines. He was a Brit, she wasn’t, they were returning for a visit. I lingered a long time on the returning route, investigating its photographic potential. I spoke with another couple who were staying in a distant but clearly discernible valley, noting how beautiful it looked. I’d like to explore there, I thought, and though I never established what the valley was called it was down towards the Arans. A year or two later, I walked up to Aran Fawddry from Lllanwuchellyn and this confirmed my interest in these hills. The long ascending ridge gives extensive views and at the top, the adjoining hills were particularly enticing. I’m not sure, but it may have been the area I’d seen from Cadair Idris. In any event, it was the kind of area I’d enjoyed seeing from a distance.

The night I spent below Aran Fawddry was perhaps the foulest I’ve experienced. On the quiet side of Coniston slopes it was grey, cold, and grim. In Upper Eskdale’s Great Moss the wind and rain thrashed my tent around making me wonder if it was sufficiently robust (the answer, if I’d spent more hours there, was no). This was worse. I was camped in a boggy peaty hollow which while very exposed, was at least substantially below the height of Aran Fawwdry. But the rain was heavy, the wind made it worse, the night was grim and I had to go out into it for the return route up to Aran Fawddry and back down. This was after the wind had whipped under my groundsheet and lifted and spilt my precious hot coffee, the only pleasure of the morning. I decided though, from the brief views I’d had, it was an area worth returning to – which is what I’ve just done, in May 2010.

The choice I had was whether to more or less repeat my previous route adding the section across to Glasgwm, or alternatively drive further afield and tackle the walk from below Glasgwm in another valley. The latter was the more interesting plan; the former was more convenient with less driving. Since it was only a moderate walk and the days were long enough to be relaxed about the light – sunset about 8.30 or 9, light until 9.30 or so – I decided on the latter with the further benefit of exploring Wales a little more: different angles of the hills, a greater understanding of how they connect, a general increased understanding of what an area has to offer

It was a peaceful, undemanding, but perfectly satisfactory trip. On my first walk, I hadn’t understood where Glasgwm was and how far it was. Quite possibly, if I’d walked a little further, I’d have found a somewhat more sheltered place to camp but only in terms of elevation and corresponding exposure; the terrain itself is more or less uniformly exposed until you commence the steep descent from Glasgwm.

I went up to Aran Fawddry again and enjoyed reliving the views I’d seen before, which had enticed me back. The Arans are quite modest, almost Peak District-like in terms of their minimal demand and height (although Fawddry is nearly 3000 feet), but shapely enough to gaze at for an extended survey letting the eye wander as if admiring an accomplished sculpture or the female form. The curves and undulations are not the most attractive – the Lakes are supremely beautiful – but taken with their quiet (I saw no one else on the hills), the fact that they are unknown (to me), and the combination is satisfying. I didn’t walk big miles on this trip, in fact my route could easily be achieved in less than one day; the point was rather to be there, sleep in the hills, lengthening it pleasurably with no need for exertion. Wild camping allows this: the days extend languorously, not as athletic itineraries but as meditative rambles. You can, in theory, pitch a tent when you have to or feel like it; although in practice it has to be remote, sheltered, and near some water. The higher peaks of both Wales (Snowdon) and the Lakes (Scafell Pike etc) do require some effort, and the sleep at the end of the day balances you accordingly. In the Arans, if you’re not romping across several peaks in one day this is not the case. However I slept ten peaceful hours in my tent, recuperating from accumulated lack (rather than tiredness of the day), and that was enough to enjoy.

Wales Photographs

Wales Book