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South Western Arenigs 4 days / 31 miles (50km)

OS Route Map → Map GPX Route file →

Date: 16 Jul 2021
Start: / Finish: Bala / Dolgellau.
Maps: Explorer OL18 Harlech & Bala + Explorer OL23 Cadair Idris.

Day 1Moel y Garnedd & Simdde Ddu7.6miles / 2331 feet (12.2km / 710m)
Day 2Arenig Fawr, Foel Ystrodur Fawr & Foel Boeth7.1miles / 1646 feet (11.4km / 501m)
Day 3Moel y Feidiog to Rhobell Fawr8.1miles / 2066 feet (13.0km / 629m)
Day 4South-west ridge & Nannau Park8.0miles / 351 feet (12.9km / 106m)
Pitch on Foel Boeth

A linear 4-day trek in the South Western Arenigs from Bala to Dolgellau.

A weather forecast of several sunny days, including a weekend, and the imminent easing of lockdown restrictions: just the time to escape the inevitable hordes for another visit to one of our favourite areas of old, the generally forsaken and often trackless wild Arenigs. Always a reliable plan, in four days of almost unbroken sunshine, we saw just one couple ascending Arenig Fawr in the evening of day one, thereafter nobody at all - the whole area was deserted.

Eleven years have flown by since our last backpack in this region. This time we found the large tracts of rough tangled terrain much harder, the effort intensified by the unrelenting heat and struggle to maintain a good level of hydration. Regarding the latter, we were very glad to have packed a full tube of High 5 electrolyte tabs to maintain a better salt balance:- by the end of this trip my blue top had large patches of white all over it. Designed as a slackpacking trek with time for leisurely ascents and exploration, it turned out quite the opposite.

On this trip the prevailing irritants were those fairly large biting insects, clegs I think, that left numerous itchy red lumps on the hands, wrists and lower legs. Very oddly though, despite the calm humid nights, we were not troubled by midges at all.

Day 1 - Moel y Garnedd & Simdde Ddu

Inscribed stone on Moel y Garnedd

We alighted from the T3 bus on the main street of a bustling Bala to locate the footpath heading westwards from Heol Arenig that joins the lane bound for the golf club. Passing the club entrance, the footpath to Access land starts at a smart new gate a little farther on, though it seems little used on the ground. The line crosses a footbridge and a metalled track to arrive at a marker post at its intersection with a crossing bridleway, from here there is a discernible trodden line ascending towards the copses of trees ahead.

Skirting a wet area festooned with bog asphodel, the 360m trig point is soon reached. Gazing to the Arenig ridge, our intended pitch spot seemed a long way off.

This time we noticed the pictured inscribed stone lying on the ground a short way from the summit. This local Bala hill is evidently climbed by at least a few people, but only from the eastern and southern sides - the western slopes are rough and trackless with no sign of the footpath on the ground. This flank is named Gwastadros, meaning heathland, and seems extensive and somewhat confusing: careful mapwork is required to locate the exit point from the common land and reach the footbridge on the Afon Isaf, where the tortuous going relents on an easy track to the road corner.

Ascending Moel y Garnedd
Ascending Moel y Garnedd (16 Jul 2021__12:51:49)
Moel y Garnedd summit
Moel y Garnedd summit (16 Jul 2021__12:57:50)

A hike on the lane westwards brought us to the byway track heading northwards following the Nant-hir to a smart new footbridge at the border of Access land. A vague path ascends a short way to a ladder stile but quickly peters out and, once again, a vast sprawl of rough tortuous terrain lay ahead. Progress was very slow and eventually we decided to head directly north-westwards towards the corrie path above Llyn Arenig Fawr dam.

The tangled ascent took ages but we finally joined the good corrie path with a splendid view of the lake. What a difference a good path makes: despite the previous tiring rigours, we climbed to the top of the corrie at a great pace. Despite the long daylight hours, it was getting late and we stopped for the evening meal before reaching a pitch spot, a rare occurence.

At Bwlch Blaen-y-nant we contoured around to Simdde Ddu, an attractive spur that has long beckoned on our previous visits. We found a very good spot and pitched the tent, just in time to catch an attractive sunset behind the Snowdonia mountains.

Llyn Arenig Fawr
Llyn Arenig Fawr (16 Jul 2021__18:39:30)
View to the Arans from Simdde Ddu
View to the Arans from Simdde Ddu (16 Jul 2021__20:03:30)
Sunset from pitch on Simdde Ddu
Sunset from pitch on Simdde Ddu (16 Jul 2021__21:25:31)

Day 2 - Arenig Fawr, Foel Ystrodur Fawr & Foel Boeth

A clear dawn gave us time to savour the views and take a pitch shot before continuing the ascent, rather surprisingly on a pretty good path considering the isolation of this spot. The path follows the ridge fence until Arenig Fawr bursts into view, a splendid sight despite a series of stupid marker posts. The summit trig point and windshelter have a memorial to the eight airmen who perished when their American B17 Flying Fortress crashed here in 1943. A new silicon bronze plaque replaced the ageing slate one in 2019 and is accompanied by a photo of the crew.

The early views were excellent as we continued to the south top with a broad vista of the south ridge, another delightful area of small lakes and rocky knolls including Arenig Fawr South Ridge Top.

Pitch on Simdde Ddu
Pitch on Simdde Ddu (17 Jul 2021__06:45:44)
View towards Arenig Fawr from Simdde Ddu
View towards Arenig Fawr from Simdde Ddu (17 Jul 2021__07:18:11)
Approaching Arenig Fawr
Approaching Arenig Fawr (17 Jul 2021__08:13:59)
Memorial on Arenig Fawr
Memorial on Arenig Fawr (17 Jul 2021__08:25:29)
Arenig Fawr South Top
Arenig Fawr South Top (17 Jul 2021__08:45:49)
View over Arenig Fawr south ridge
View over Arenig Fawr south ridge (17 Jul 2021__09:05:04)
Arenig Fawr south ridge
Arenig Fawr south ridge (17 Jul 2021__10:27:47)
Arenig Fawr from the south ridge
Arenig Fawr from the south ridge (17 Jul 2021__10:33:32)

At the southern end of the ridge we found that the corner fence is now barbed wire, heavens only knows why but we crossed it without difficulty to descend towards Ceunant Coch and around the head of the Afon Erwent to climb a new 500m Dewey top, the isolated and very rarely trodden Foel Ystrodur Fawr that gave a grand view of Moel Llyfnant and the big Arenigs. The descent line was around the northern side of nearby Foel Ystrodur Bach and down to the pass road.

A short walk westwards along the road, passing and ignoring the public footpath on the map, a good track enters the Blaen Lliw valley and ascends a little all the way to the forest edge, again ignoring another public footpath alongside the river - we judged that it was far easier in terms of terrain to reach the forest on the track and descend back to the river on easy grass.

Arriving back at the river, we crossed easily and weaved our way through the trackless landscape towards Craig y Ffolt, a prominent rocky outcrop with sheepfold and the last chance to collect water from the meagre flow in the rock cleft. The last few contours to Gallt y Daren were eased considerably by a cooling breeze through the valley.

Continuing around to Foel Boeth, the eastern side of the fence has been grazed by cattle since we were last here and all good pitch spots were liberally dotted with cow pats. We had noticed a small herd of cattle on the summit area of Moel Llyfnant across the valley, no doubt laying waste our lovely pitch spots of past trips!. Here at least, the western side of the fence was out of their reach and gave us a very good pitch with great clear views.

Moel Llyfnant & Arenig Fawr from Foel Ystrodur Fawr
Moel Llyfnant & Arenig Fawr from Foel Ystrodur Fawr (17 Jul 2021__12:54:37)
View up the Afon Lliw valley
View up the Afon Lliw valley (17 Jul 2021__14:47:58)
The Arans & southern Arenigs from pitch on Foel Boeth
The Arans & southern Arenigs from pitch on Foel Boeth (17 Jul 2021__19:58:53)

Day 3 - Moel y Feidiog to Rhobell Fawr

Another clear, still morning and we set off along the fence, encountering the only brief bog that remained very wet and badass despite the hot weather. From the pass road we made an easy but slow climb along the forest edge to another new Dewey 500m top of Moel y Feidiog, unremarkable and unmarked.

The fence continues south-westwards in a dead straight line for about a mile and intersects with a public footpath close to a fragment of stone wall, crossing a lot of rough trackless ground that again made progress slow, arduous and very hot. Although not signed and having no trace on the ground, the footpath does have a stile here and we crossed it to make our way southwards and locate the next fence junction and stile, from which we dropped down to the Afon Bryn-llin-fawr alongside the trickling side streams.

The valley footpath passes through the farm buildings and numerous vocal dogs to join a surfaced byway to the valley road. We did try to follow the obvious eastern arm of the byway from the river bridge, but it soon entered the dark forest and looked absolutely horrendous, nigh-on impassable at a glance. We walked along the narrow open lane to Cwm yr Allt-lwyd.
View back to Foel Boeth
View back to Foel Boeth (18 Jul 2021__07:56:22)
View south-west from Moel y Feidiog
View south-west from Moel y Feidiog (18 Jul 2021__09:00:25)
View ahead to Bryn-pig
View ahead to Bryn-pig (18 Jul 2021__10:35:37)
The Afon Bryn-llin-fawr valley footpath
The Afon Bryn-llin-fawr valley footpath (18 Jul 2021__12:34:37)

The final ascent started well enough on the zigzag public footpath heading towards Rhobell-y-big on a fairly clear line, but it soon vanished leaving an expanse of more trackless terrain, later requiring an arduous course correction to reach the ladder stile we knew from past trips. Very slowly we tracked our way around the lower edge of Rhobell Ganol to reach the easier slopes of Rhobell Fawr and the wall leading to the summit and a great pitch.

Ascending towards Rhobell-y-big
Ascending towards Rhobell-y-big (18 Jul 2021__15:27:11)
View back towards Rhobell Ganol
View back towards Rhobell Ganol (18 Jul 2021__18:16:53)
Pitch on Rhobell Fawr
Pitch on Rhobell Fawr (18 Jul 2021__20:57:28)

Day 4 - South-west ridge & Nannau Park

The last morning and another beautifully clear one with more fine views, the long south-west ridge follows the wall to Bwlch Goriwared. On the lower rocky knolls the heather was surprisingly already in bloom giving a colourful scene. The byway southwards arrives at the road head where we followed it to a junction and joined a lovely wooded track heading for the Precipice Walk car park in most welcome shade.

The final day was originally planned to include Foel Offrwm, but looking ahead to the long steep climb that we have done before, the debilitating heat and effort of the first three days put paid to that idea, we just couldn't face it. Instead we walked down the road from the car park and used a small section of the Nannau Park walk to cut out some tarmac, a pleasant alternative although the ponds were all but dry. Our original thoughts of traversing Foel Offrwm north-south and entering the park at its north boundary were dashed when we saw the steep broken south face with trees and jungle-like bracken bordering the stone wall.

Setting off on Rhobell Fawr south-west ridge
Setting off on Rhobell Fawr south-west ridge (19 Jul 2021__06:37:20)
The Cadair range from the south-west ridge
The Cadair range from the south-west ridge (19 Jul 2021__06:57:39)
Early heather approaching Bwlch Goriwared
Early heather approaching Bwlch Goriwared (19 Jul 2021__09:00:01)
Nannau Park reedy pool
Nannau Park reedy pool (19 Jul 2021__11:21:51)

Emerging back on the road, a short hike westwards leads to a RUPP and byway that descends into Dolgellau.