Tuesday, March 12, 2013

High Plains Drifter

Bracing weather on the top of Craig yr Iyrchen

It's funny; you think you have a good knowledge of your local area and are au fait with the best walks and high points, but new trails and even peaks keep cropping up. Yesterday, on a bitterly cold day here in NE Wales, I went up towards the Alwen Dam area near Cerrigydrudion to walk through the furthest reaches of the vast Clocaenog Forest to gain a high point which I only discovered a couple of years ago and which offers superb open views of the North Wales mountain ranges.

It's a pleasant 4 or 5 mile return trip which I've been doing fairly regularly since I discovered it. An old track which runs down towards the little village of Cefn Brith emerges from the forest onto open rough ground. A few hundred metres to the north is an unnamed little top with a memorial cairn and bench. On a clear day it offers a fantastic view of the main Snowdonia peaks to the North and if you have a decent camera with a zoom lens, then you can really get right into the remote cwms of the Carneddau and Ogwen. To the west and south, The Arenig, Aran and Berwyns ranges stand out, while nearer to home lie the little peaks which contain the main A5 highway.

 To the West

The walk up through the forest was accompanied by snow flurries which were quite severe at one time and then, within five minutes, the sun would break through and everywhere would be bathed in a warm glow. I didn't spend much time on the top when I got there. The clouds had rolled in and obscured the mountains to the north. However, I noticed that the Berwyns had as usual, caught the snow and were currently basking in the sun. I decided to detour from the usual return leg and break out across the moors to get around a forest spur which was obscuring all but the tops. As I wandered across the moor with my springer Fergus enthusiastically investigating all odours fox related, I noticed a sizable cairn. From the cairn, the ground dropped away fairly steeply and the upper slopes offered a collection of boulders and outcrops. Perhaps this is how the nearby village of Cefn Brith gets it's name -'Speckled Ridge'? I believe this might be Craig yr Iyrchen which was the name I'd afforded to my original cairned peak.

By now I'd forgotten about taking a shot of the Berwyns and was more intrigued by a decent track which wound its way across the hillside. As it dropped down I noticed yet another cairned peak in the distance, by now catching the mid afternoon sun. Close to the top, a fence line offered a stile and footpath sign-brand new- which advised that I was on 'The Hiraethog Trail'. Never heard of it?

'New'unnamed peak to the south

This little top which like its neighbour was only a wee thing at around 450m- around 1500'- but in common with all the high points on this ridge, the view from the cairn was rather excellent.
Fingerposts pointed the way to a tiny back lane which was unexpected. Passing an old quarry,I reached a cottage which marked the dead end of the lane. I knew that it continued as a track into the forest beyond the cottage but a sign saying 'visitors by appointment only' dissuaded me to tramp through their yard. I wasn't sure if it was a public right of way?

The Hiraethog Trail sign pointed west,along the lane but after following it for a while there was no sign it would reappear and guide me back in the direction I wanted to go so I turned around and went back up to the quarry where, contrary to past experiences, I then plunged into the forest in an attempt to reach the track I knew was not far away.

It had turned out to be a rewarding walk. Two new little cairned peaks discovered, a new long distance-33 miles- trail unearthed, bracing winter weather and one well exercised dog and master. I now realise that the new peaks are just part of a long upland ridge which runs from the high point of Mwndwl Eithin to the south.( not to be confused with another Mwndwl Eithin a few miles to the north) and appears to have a natural termination at a peak called Mynydd Poeth ( warm mountain) near Cerrig. Mwndwl Eithin is the high point at 532m (1745') and sports one of the largest cairns I've seen in North Wales and a stone shelter. They certainly like their cairns on these hills. I imagine that to walk the ridge in it's entirety there and back would be a rewarding longish mountain day. In the mean time, I need to find out where the hell the Hiraethog Trail got to?

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