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Western Hirnants & Aran / 3 days / 30 miles (48km)

OS Route Map → Map GPX Route file →

Date: 01 Apr 2009
Start / Finish: Llanuwchllyn car park.
Maps: Explorer OL23 Cadair Idris & Llyn Tegid.

Day 1Lledwyn Mawr to Mynydd Coch11.5 miles / 3530 feet (18.5km / 1076m)
Day 2Moel Llygoed to Gwaun Lydan11.6 miles / 3050 feet (18.7km / 930m)
Day 3Aran ridge6.9 miles / 1480 feet (11.1km / 451m)

A solo circuit to traverse the western hills of the Hirnant range and return on the Aran side via the waterfall of Pistyll Gwyn and the Aran ridge.

Hirnant moorland

The Hirnants to the west of Llyn Efyrnwy form an upland area several miles long around the 500m contour that presents an impressively steep and incised facade to the upper Dyfi valley, yet I don't recall so much as a passing mention of walks in these hills anywhere in the literature. We have often gazed at these hills from the familiar Arans across the valley but never resolved to walk them, due mainly perhaps to our suspicion that the going would be rough. The region does have several Dewey 500m tops which form the outward leg of this circuit, a neat linear traverse of the broad moorland crest with a short out-and-back to Mynydd Coch.

On the Aran side there is one new top: Pen Foel-y-ffridd. This is a classic case of a virtually unknown hill drawing attention from a list and delivering more than expected when climbed. On previous walks further north in the region we have looked down the valley and seen the impressive shape of a hill, so striking that we thought it must be a familiar mountain seen from an unusual angle, but this is it. Not only is it a grand viewpoint, the descent route northwards leads to an excellent walk around the rim of the cwm hosting the waterfall and long cascades of Pistyll Gwyn, and this section was the real highlight of the new territory I explored.

As for the moorland traverse from Cefn Coch to Tir Rhiwiog, it has its moments and there are some easy bits, but it's largely even rougher and boggier than I expected and very hard going at times. It feels really wild and secluded with wide vistas of rough moorland where very few feet have trodden, attributes that lend a real magic to other regions we have walked, but here I found a different atmosphere, desolate and uninspiring. A late summer visit with the vibrant heather in flower and a drier passage would probably have made a difference, but on the evidence of this trip I couldn't honestly recommend it to anyone but peak baggers and those who relish a challenge, although if you walk it with a partner you might have some fond memories to laugh about afterwards in the locker room.

Day 1 - Lledwyn Mawr to Mynydd Coch

Walking eastwards on the B4403 and turning R then L on the minor roads, I left the narrow lane at a footpath sign pointing to Gyrn Farm. Keeping a careful eye on the map I turned R uphill immediately inside the farmyard and quickly L through a gate onto a grassy track that follows the field edges to a tiny stream. The easy cropped grass track can be seen ascending ahead, curving around towards the forest edge, and higher up approaching the trees I forked R on a fainter damp track to the first top Lledwyn Mawr, an unmarked grassy rise where I dropped my pack to sit and cool down. There was hardly a breath of wind and the air was thick, dank and grey with poor views today.

I followed the forest edge eastwards and the next grassy top came into view: we have often remarked on the steep shapely cone presented by Foel Figenau when descending from the Arans, and the small summit is marked superfluously by a wooden post. Unfortunately the views had still not improved much.

I descended the grassy slopes to rejoin the tractor track that continues to ascend SE, enjoying easy walking for a while before leaving it to tackle Cefn Coch, the first of the true Hirnants. The first stage over the minor rise of Mynydd Carnedd Hywel is a mixed affair, some grassy bits, some typical rough heather and tussock, then some bog is added to the mixture before the very rough and tiring slopes of Cefn Coch. Some extra toil was required to tramp around and locate what I thought was the highest point. The views were clear enough on the ascent for a photo looking NE to the Foel y Geifr ridge.

The continuation to Foel Tyn-y-from was more of the same... only worse... occasionally needing some muscular strength and a good sense of balance to move forward at all, and the sprawling summit area of bog and peat hags was something to behold: like a mixture of Kinder Scout and Black Hill in the Peak District.

Foel y Geifr from Cefn Coch
Foel y Geifr from Cefn Coch (01 Apr 2009__11:31:47)
Near the summit of Foel Tyn-y-from
Near the summit of Foel Tyn-y-from (01 Apr 2009__12:21:45)

The descent southwards was a lot easier: I bog-dodged my way along the fence a short way and once clear of the summit morass, where the land starts to drop, I veered R towards a grassy ravine and was able to stay on easy but increasingly damp ground to the stream confluence at the foot of Moel y Cerrig Duon. There is some marshy ground to cross beyond the valley fence but the subsequent main ascent alongside the ridge fence is quite easy. Llyn Efyrnwy can be seen to the east through the folds in the hills.

An easy descent on grass to Bwlch y Groes gave a sombre and moody view of the upper Dyfi valley.

Llyn Efyrnwy from Moel y Cerrig Duon
Llyn Efyrnwy from Moel y Cerrig Duon (01 Apr 2009__13:27:50)
The upper Dyfi valley from Bwlch y Groes
The upper Dyfi valley from Bwlch y Groes (01 Apr 2009__14:06:56)

The county boundary fence continues from the minor road, crossing a short boggy patch and climbing easily to the broad grassy top of Bryn Glas. The map shows the 558m highest point near the fence and that looked about right. Shortly afterwards I spotted a sheep ahead, motionless and pressed against the top of the fence with one leg raised: I knew the score right away from experience and prepared for another woolly rescue, she had a horn well and truly locked in the wire lattice and the fleece around her ear was blood red from her futile struggle (I'm amazed this doesn't happen more often, the grass is always tastier on the other side...). A fairly easy rescue this time, I grabbed the fleece behind her neck to lift her weight with one hand and worked her horn free with the other. Once free she was unsteady and fell down a couple of times but she should recover well.

The fence marches on, giving views down the steeply incised side valleys to the upper Dyfi, and passing a prominent cairn on a minor hump to reach the side fence leading out to Mynydd Coch. The view eastwards is a vast expanse of unrelenting rough heather and tussock moorland forming very broad shallow stream valleys: the rather dull photo below shows the Hirddu Fawr, it would look a lot more inviting with some sun and flowering heather.

A little further on I pitched the tent and did the out-and-back walk to Mynydd Coch without my pack, using a convenient tractor track for the initial short descent but then struggling through more dense heather and tussocks.

The rough shallow valley of the Hirddu Fawr
The rough shallow valley of the Hirddu Fawr (01 Apr 2009__15:57:13)

Day 2 - Moel Llygoed to Gwaun Lydan

A surprising gusty wind blew throughout the night and at one point I awoke with the tent inner sagging around my face: the tape tensioners at both ends of the tent had worked loose and slipped back to the start of their travel. In typical LaserComp fashion there was no tape left to get hold of, and I struggled around by torchlight to decouple the connector and retension them. A few more notes and mods to be added to the LaserComp website page.

Setting off in the rapidly clearing mist I quickly reached the top of Moel Llygoed, remarkable only for the sense of apprehension it gave me when looking onwards to the south: ahead was the boggiest section of the route, the wide birthplace of the streams that combine to form the Afon Twrch, and whose length is emphasized by the seemingly endless fence disappearing into the wilderness.

The rough boggy wilderness south of Moel Llygoed
The rough boggy wilderness south of Moel Llygoed (02 Apr 2009__09:22:27)

The rough moor became gradually wetter and the crux of this traverse was between Carreg y Fran and the 531m spot height, a wide expanse of reeds and sinuous emerald green velvet bog that required some tramping around and strategic planning to cross dryshod on the reachable protruding tussocks. Such is the nature of this frustrating terrain: one minute I'm cursing the gruesome tussocks and heather, the next when faced with a really nasty bog I'm shouting "where are the tussocks when I need them!...". Once across this patch the worst is over and there are no more difficulties.

The fence zigzags around towards the prominent cairn on the small hump of Drum Ddu, passing a small rocky knoll where I saw one of those rare very small shepherd shelters - two vertical slabs of rock forming a V with a third slab across the top. This area at the head of the Nant Badlon is marked on the map as 'Y Berwyn National Nature Reserve' and there are more showcase bogs nearby.

Bog at the head of the Nant Badlon near Drum Ddu
Bog at the head of the Nant Badlon near Drum Ddu (02 Apr 2009__10:01:02)

Just by the Drum Ddu cairn there is a new forestry gate and fence. From here I descended S through the heather to the dense forest edge and joined a new rough track between the fence and trees, hoping to find a way through to the established track marked on the map that ascends to the top of Tir Rhiwiog. Sure enough after only a few yards a damp side track branched L into the forest and did precisely that, joining the surfaced forest road and taking me easily to a track junction at the summit contour. I explored the tracks in both directions but unfortunately the trees are very dense and right down to ground level all around. Since I was within yards of the true highest point (my head might have been level with it, it's impossible to tell) and as close as humanly possible within reason, I count this one as bagged!.

The westward branch of the forest road descends quickly out of the forest to give a view of the Nant Badlon valley.

Upper Nant Badlon from the Tir Rhiwiog forestry track
Upper Nant Badlon from the Tir Rhiwiog forestry track (02 Apr 2009__10:39:38)

The forestry track is a very pleasant walk, giving good views of the valley as it descends the flanks of the hill to cross a stream - this was my departure point for the next objective. Again I was lucky: a convenient tractor track ascends the hillside to the left of the trees and curves southwards across the wide grasslands through a fence directly towards Mynydd Maes-glas. As the track started to swing SE I left it and headed for the forest corner on easy ground, leaving a short easy climb to the 532m summit.

I followed the forest edge westwards to the next corner, crossing the last boggy depression of the trip, and turned north along the adjacent edge. As the ground begins to drop I veered L across easy grass to avoid the very steep slope ahead and descended to the familiar footbridge on the Afon Clywedog, joining a surfaced track down to the valley road.

A short way along the road I crossed the bridge and climbed to the higher parallel road and walked along to a mapped track that zigzags upwards through Coed y Ffridd forest. Above the trees this becomes a good grassy track that climbs at a very civilised angle to the 350m contour. Looking up the narrow NE ridge of Pen Foel-y-ffridd was a bit of a shock after such a gentle climb, a succession of very steep tiers with just a narrow sheep trod to follow, but the views down and ahead to Cwm Dyniewyd were mouthwatering. The slope levels out to a gentle climb and the summit is an elongated rise of grass and rock with great views of the surrounding hills.

View back to the Hirnant side from Pen Foel-y-ffridd
View back to the Hirnant side from Pen Foel-y-ffridd (02 Apr 2009__14:34:39)
View from the summit of Pen Foel-y-ffridd
View from the summit of Pen Foel-y-ffridd (02 Apr 2009__14:53:00)

Remembering the precipitous hill profile I had seen from afar, I wondered about the descent of the NW face: the map confirms some viscious contours here. I walked down to the obvious stream head and climbed a little rib of rock to be met by a near-vertical drop, I would have to investigate a descent by the stream. Descending steeply around the rib I picked up a thin path that slanted down neatly to the foot of the cliff and continued over the grassy shoulder of a second cliff, leaving a fairly steep but easy descent on grass to the bwlch.

A short sharp ascent by the fence gains the forest corner and a splendid view of Pistyll Gwyn and its long cascades with the Arans as a backdrop, while the bulk of Pen Foel-y-ffridd is well seen rearwards. The map shows the contours of the calamitous drop into Cwm Dyniewyd starting right at the forest edge, but in fact there is plenty of room and, surprisingly, a good path that follows the rim of the cwm crossing some dry little gullies on the way.

Pen Foel-y-ffridd from the NW
Pen Foel-y-ffridd from the NW (02 Apr 2009__15:24:50)
Pistyll Gwyn from the rim of the cwm
Pistyll Gwyn from the rim of the cwm (02 Apr 2009__15:30:53)
Cwm Dyniewyd from the rim path
Cwm Dyniewyd from the rim path (02 Apr 2009__15:42:28)

The path drops somewhat untidily to the attractive ravine above the waterfall, where I found the best line was inside the forest fence for a short way and out again to find an easy crossing point. A long steady climb of the grassy slopes of Gwaun Lydan lay ahead, and higher up I kept well R to head for the fence as soon as possible to avoid crossing a large area of peat hags. The summit is marked by a small white cairn and I made a pitch.

Pitch on Gwaun Lydan
Pitch on Gwaun Lydan (02 Apr 2009__18:07:50)

Day 3 - Aran ridge

There was almost no wind in the cold night and the air was evidently very moist, producing a lot of condensation in the tent and extremely hazy views in the morning. Setting off up the slopes towards Drysgol I saw an inversion in Cwm Llaethnant through the thick haze, and it persisted until I reached the memorial cairn where it was hanging around the lower slopes of Gwaun y Llwyni. The views to Creiglyn Dyfi and the ridge were muted to say the least and needed much processing to brighten them up.

Soft hazy inversion in Cwm Llaethnant
Soft hazy inversion in Cwm Llaethnant (03 Apr 2009__07:43:04)
Aran ridge and Creiglyn Dyfi through the haze
Aran ridge and Creiglyn Dyfi through the haze (03 Apr 2009__08:08:01)
Hazy inversion below Gwaun y Llwyni
Hazy inversion below Gwaun y Llwyni (03 Apr 2009__08:17:54)

Reaching the ladder stile I took the route away from the fence that winds its way upward through the rocky slopes to arrive at the small subsidiary rise to the south of the summit. Despite the haze it was a gorgeous day to stroll along the silent deserted top and there were even a few small patches of snow lingering in the crevices. Llyn Pen Aran below Aran Benllyn was a perfect spot to linger a while before the long descent back to Llanuwchllyn.

Approaching Aran Fawddwy
Approaching Aran Fawddwy (03 Apr 2009__08:49:49)
Llyn Pen Aran
Llyn Pen Aran (03 Apr 2009__10:31:07)