Monday, October 7, 2013

The John Muir Trust enters 'The Celtic Badlands'

Rhinog Fach showing the South Ridge above Llyn Hywel

In a recent blog on access issues in Wales-since published as an expanded piece on UK Hillwalking-I bemoaned the insensitive practices in the area of access and mountain estate management from the National Trust. I’ve since learned about the Trust’s hydro electric scheme above Nant Gwynant. A scheme which if carried out by a US energy corporation instead of the the trust, would, I'm sure, have provoked more of a backlash from mountain activists and conservationists  See Tom Hutton’s piece on the various proposed hydro electric schemes in North Wales. One area in which I suggested the NT does excel in, is in paying vastly over the odds for upland estates-An area in which I commended the John Muir Trust for its skill in negotiating fair prices for its estates and it’s sensitive management policies. 

No sooner were the words on screen when news came that the JMT was negotiating to buy 100 hectares of mountain estate in the wild Rhinogs of North Wales.The JMT is setting up a fund to raise £500k to purchase the estate. A sensible amount it seems. The NT would probably offer £5m! I was an early member of the John Muir Trust and attended their first meeting in North Wales at Plas y Brenin. My membership lapsed quite a while ago but I’ve always retained a keen interest in their activities and admired their overall conservation strategies. I guess the difference between the JMT and the NT is down to its membership. While the latter contains a huge swathe of what I’d described as ‘middle England types’, The JMT counts on an overwhelming number of mountain activists within its membership; Hillwalkers,climbers, canoeists etc. The very people who value the spiritual dimension of a mountain environment.Little wonder then that the JMT actively campaigns against the industrialisation of our uplands from wind farms, while the NT places it’s well padded backside on the fence-NT chair Simon Jenkins excluded.

 The Rhinogau is the perfect environment for the JMT to make its first North Wales purchase. Described by Harold Drasdo as ‘The Celtic Badlands’, the wild terrain is still largely pathless and offers strenuous but rewarding walking amongst impressive outcrops, small lakes and hidden valleys. It’s actually quite a few years since I was in the Rhinogs but it’s always provided great mountain days. Not least when I rediscovered a lost 500’ mountaineering route. I had been idly flicking through an old mountain book by Edward Pyatt-‘Where to Climb in the British Isles’.Under Rhinog Fach-South Face it mentioned ‘One straightforward ridge climb, once but no longer ‘the most interesting mountaineering route between Snowdon and Cader Idris’.

This ‘lost’ route turned out to be a 1930’s Showell Styles route which had never appeared in any guidebook. In fact it wasn’t until the Climbers Club’s 2000 Meirionydd guide that Rhinog routes first appeared. I wrote up the experience for High magazine which I republished on Footless Crow as ‘The Climb that time forgot’. Rhinog area author, Martin Crocker used the route description I had given in High, graded it ‘severe’ and gave it a star...which was nice! In fact, I notice on the UKC logbook that it’s quite well regarded these days with some punters believing it worthy of two stars. I wouldn’t go that far as it is escapable and a bit contrived in that it seeks out difficulty, but it is a fantastic spot. High above the deep clear waters of Llyn Hywel and looking out to Tremadog Bay...worth checking out if you like long mountain days.

Pitch Three of The South Ridge

So...let’s hope the John Muir Trust manages to secure a slice of this special mountain range. An upland environment which is perfect stepping stone for hopefully, more JMT  managed estates in north and mid Wales in the future.

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