A meeting in Bangor always raises the prospect of a possible day in the Mountains of Snowdonia and today was no exception. I'd had my eyes on the Minffordd trail route up Cadair Idris for some time. I stayed at its foot in the Gwesty Minffordd Hotel last February en route between Bangor University and the Millennium stadium and looked nostalgically at the mountain as I set off that morning. Now that was in the days of my obeseness, although I had started the take on long distance walking again but in the softer south. But do do the walk was a pipe dream back then with the diabetes diagnosis and drastic life style changes eleven weeks away. Now fit again it was an obvious candidate for a walk and required a minor but scenic diversion on the route home. The Hotel itself I liked, its unassuming not too expensive, the landlord likes to chat and the food is good so I booked it.
I've always had a fondness for this mountain by the way, if only for the wonderfully evocative poem written and recited by Reverend Eli Jenkins in Under Milk Wood from which the following extract comes as well as the title if this post:
By Cader Idris, tempest-torn,
Or Moel y Wyddfa’s glory,
Carnedd Llewelyn beauty born,
Plinlimmon old in story,
Now when I made the booking the long range mountain forecast was optimistic. However as the day approached it became dire with weather warnings blinking at me from the Met Office app. The weather was one source of conversation yesterday evening I was sat in the bar with three women from Glynneath who had done Snowdon earlier that day and planned Cadair Idris and Pen-y-fan on Saturday. Apparently the three peaks in one day is a challenge of some sort, but they were spreading it over two days. They were camping and in two minds about the wisdom of their action, but the idea that a Cardiff boy was in anyway tougher than three Valley's girls confirmed them in their intent! For those not in the know, the attitude of the Valley's to Cardiff is similar to that of the Welsh as a whole to England.
So after an extended discussion of the relative merits of various stars of the Welsh rugby and some extended advise on routes (they had never walked the area before) I retired to bed having been guilted into a shot of Penderyn by the Landlords He complained earlier that people only had two courses these days and no spirits which made business difficult. I shared the prayers not only of the Gynneath party but also a trio of other hotel residents also planning the same walk, namely that the promised weather front would come through early. At 0630 I was woken by torrential rain and a massive thunderstorm that from the timings was directly overhead. I confess to a certain wry thought that the toughness of the Valleys was being severely tested in the adjacent campsite but overall things were starting to look up.
So a delayed breakfast to give the weather time to clear and I was off. The early part of this trail is via a stepped path through the remnants of an 8000 year old oak woodland with waterfalls to delight until you reach open ground and the majesty of the mountains becomes apparent. This is also a bifurcation point for the day. To the right a slate bridge (pictured) shows the route back from what is a horseshoe walk normally carried out in a clockwise direction, although both directions have their attractions depending on the time of day and overall conditions.
It was at this point over forty years ago that I got an early lesson in the role of experience in knowledge management. At that point my only essay up Cadair Idris had been from the north on a Youth Hostel organised one week walking trip across mid wales in 1966. In the days were we walked most weekends Cadair was still a long drive from Mold so mostly we went into the main areas of the Snowdonia National Park. I however had recently passed my driving test, and even more recently got to a level of trust with my father by which I could take his car without panicky supervision. So I made the trip and set off in pouring rain. It had brightened up by the time I reached the bridge pictured. It looks placid in the photograph above but then the stream was a raging torrent and the bridge (then something more crude as I remember it) was the water level. I took one look and settled on taking the anti-clockwise direction. I knew without really thinking about it ( a result of walking the hills since the age of five) that the water level would rise and there was a strong chance it would be impassable later. So best to cross it now and not take the risk of a wet passage later in the day. A school party had come up behind me and I suggested a similar strategy. I was supported by two other experienced climbers who has also caught up but the school teacher was having none of it. He informed us that he had a mountain leadership certificate and was better qualified than anyone present to make the decision.
You can probably see where this is going. Some three hours later I returned, wet but elated to find the school party on the wrong side of a river which was now three to four foot above the bridge level. The school master was attempting to persuade his party to cross the submerged one at a time with a rope around their waists which he would hold. Very sensibly they were refusing. I'd kept with the two climbers as it happened. They had decided it was too wet for climbing so had joined me in the hiking circuit which proved fortunate as they were fully equipped for the rocks including ropes and belay equipment. We got a rope across and secured, upstream of the bridge where we also secured a safety line. The bridge is just before a step descent through waterfalls, you want a backup! We then got all of the children and a still protesting school teacher (one of my companions threatened him with Trotsky's end – this was the seventies so all knew what that meant – which silenced him) into a crocodile arms through the rope and around the next persons waist and moved them gradually through the stream. Of we were soaking wet, but everyone was safe and only half an hour from cars and shelter. It turned out the famous certificate had been secured over a weeks course in the Lake District in summer. No substitute for experience and to be honest Snowdonia is a lot tougher than the Lake District (as Scotland is much tougher than Wales as I discovered in my own arrogance a year before this event).
That was one memory, the others, more private were of my last time on this path with my parents where they returned to the car and I carried on down the ridge to meet them in Dolgellau. Today it was looking good and as I ascended to Lyn Cau I came across the Gynneath party who had survived the storm but then packed their car intended to give up. They changed their minds with the clearing weather but were now unsure of their route and had seen me ascending the trail blow so had waited. No GPS and a map but no compass, but such is <irony> only for effeminate city boys </irony>. I pointed out the route and gave them some heuristics – the key one is that if you have not passed two stone shelters and two styles you have not gone far enough. That done I set off at pace left them trailing in my wake; well you have to make a point when you can. The ridge up to the top of Craig Cau is a delight of stone and scree and views were unfolding from time to time through encroaching cloud. The ridge between Craig Cau and the summit saw the rain return, now driven horizontally by a strong wind and visibility dropped to zero. I was never more grateful for the mountain refuge below the summit when I finally made it. So I settled down there to dry out and eat lunch, preparing myself for the worst. But then all of sudden the weather front ran through and the view was one of those magical moments you get on the mountains where the clouds add texture to a landscape cleansed by the storm. The picture to the left is from the mountain refuge door.
Now the camera could come out of its dry bag and I took the path that follows the cliffs on the ridge to Mynydd Moel. The mist was billowing against the line of those cliffs, engulfing me from time to time then clearing to display more panoramas. I'm reproduced one below but there were many more. I caught myself singing Calon Lan to the various sheep dotted around the landscape, it just seemed right. The picture which opens this post is from the summit of Mynydd Moel. From this point my pace slackened as the descent is steep and unremitting. Some years ago I could have run this, but now my knees require more tender treatment. The view of the cwm shows the full path and that retrospective is one of the reasons I prefer the clockwise routing.
I was down early in the afternoon so after a quick visit to the hotel to retrieve a pair of trousers and a wedding ring, both left there that morning I headed home. I took the scenic route through Machynlleth and then the moorland routes to Rhayader (reliving memories of the Wye Valley walk the previous year) and thence via Abergavenny and Newport to a long awaited bath and Game of Thrones catch up to a good local beer (local that is to Machynlleth) and a curry. Now there are other walks up Cadair Idris, including the path taken by Mary Jones to secure one of the first Welsh Bibles and also the adjacent, all too neglected, hills to the east and south. So I will be back.
Panorama looking west from Mynydd Moel