Visitors to Snowdonia, almost without exception – myself included – head first to Snowdon itself and then branch out to the other ‘glamour heights’ of the Glyders and the Carneddau. However they are surrounded by a varied group of smaller hills that are well worth discovering in their own right, and not simply on the way to something bigger.
This certainly was my own approach, with a prelude of the two classics, the Snowdon Horseshoe and Tryfan and the Glyders right at the start of my serious hillwalking. I took on the Carneddau traverse as part of my cross-Wales walk in 2006, which the year before had also featured the excellent 2861ft Moel Siabod.
Of the sub-3000 footers, Drum, Pen yr Helgi Du, Llwytmor, Bera Mawr and Drosgl all featured on ascents of the Carneddau 3000-footers, the last three during a trip in 2011 devised specifically to pick them up alongside the remaining hills of Tal y Fan, Pen Llithwrig y Wrach and Creigiau Gleision.
Tal y Fan is the most northerly Hewitt in Wales, and at 2001ft it qualifies by the skin of its teeth. It would be a shame if it were ever downgraded, for it punches well above its weight: its isolated position gives it great seaward views, including Anglesey, the high moorland of the Clwydians eastwards, and mountain views south to the main Carneddau massif. I travelled up from London on a morning train and early afternoon bus to the village of Rowen, a couple of miles from the top. I’d planned to take the northwards path from near Rhiw hostel before gaining the ridge, but forgot to turn off so ended up off-track but through an interesting area of old settlements. Once back on the ridge, I continued over the summit and the accompanying, slightly lower, Foel Lwyd before dropping down to an old Roman track which took me easily towards my destination, the B&B of Rhwiau Isaf.
The following day took me over Llwytmor etc via Foel-Fras to Bethesda, and thence bus to the bunkhouse at Gwern Gof Isaf. From here I was well placed to walk over my last two Carneddau Hewitts.
Pen Llithwrig y Wrach (2621ft) is reached by a path to Tal-y-braich and then farm track to a leat contouring around 1400ft that drains the deepest lake in Snowdonia, Llyn Cowlyd. From the leat, it’s just a case ENEish towards the summit ridge. From the top, Creigiau Gleision (2224ft) is only a mile away, but with the llyn and the two steepest slopes of the two hills in the way, a direct line is not going to work! So it was a case of retrace steps down the ridge and keep going to a path junction just below the llyn outflow. From here there’s a lot of heather, ENEish again, though I found a way without too much bashing. When you get to it, the ridge is a delight, sporting two tops – the further is the lower, and while it’s not strictly necessary to climb it, the there-and-back is not much more than a mile and much too good to miss. In good weather anyway – mine was passable, cloud well over the tops if a bit overcast. The descent route was fun too, over a knobbly little ridge of sorts which included the subsidiary hill of Crimpiau. The Nant y Geuallt then leads down to Capel Curig, and for me the Sherpa bus back to the bunkhouse.
Snowdon’s western satellites
There’s a distinct group of hills to the south-west of Snowdon, Moel Eilio (2382ft) being the highest; its ridge continues SE to Foel Gron (2063ft) and the non-Hewitt Foel Goch (1985ft). Of the sub-3000footers in the Snowdon group, they’re the most distant from Snowdon itself, and hence the ones least easy to fit into a climb of the dominant peak. Indeed, the remaining hills of this class – Y Lliwedd (2947ft), Yr Aran (2451ft) and Moel Cynghorion (2211ft) – all feature on my Snowdon page because I’ve linked them to that grand summit.
I took the Moel Eilio group as a half-day on my way to Rhydd-Ddu in March 2012, part of a varied few days in the hills around the village. Travelling up in the morning from London to Llanberis, I had a mug of tea in the town’s legendary walkers’ cafe Pete’s Eats before heading up the lane to the youth hostel. Beyond, you’re soon in open country, and the Braich y Foel ridge of Moel Eilio presents itself. It’s straightforward, easy gradient, and wall then fence to follow to the summit. It’s a great viewpoint for the Nantlle ridge, the next day’s objective, as well as Snowdon itself.
The continuation to the next two hills is scarcely more demanding, being mostly downhill and with a steep scarp slope on the left to handrail you forward. The biggest difficulty was surmounting the barbed wire fence which inconveniently stuck itself between the path and the actual summit of Foel Gron, just a few yards the wrong side. From Foel Goch, Bwlch Maesgwm is an easy stroll, and from there a track runs down towards the enclosed lands, field paths then taking me to the road just 1km from Rhydd-Ddu itself.
East of Tryfan
The Glyders have more 3,000-footers (five) than lower Hewitts (four). I had picked up the two northernmost of the latter (Carnedd y Filiast 2695ft and Mynydd Perfedd 2665ft) alongside Y Garn and Elidir Fawr in 2006, but had to wait five years to climb Y Foel Goch (2636ft) and Gallt yr Ogof (2499ft), the easternmost of the range.
This was the last half-day of the same trip that features in the Carneddau section above. From my base at Gwern Gof Isaf, the first of the two hills is reached by slowly ascending the ridge to the west of Nant yr Ogof, keeping just below its crest, as far as Llyn Caseg Fraith, at 2430ft one of the highest bodies of water in Snowdonia, nestled in a saddle below Glyder Fach. I had started early – I had a timed ticket on a train at a station that was still many miles away – but had a peach of a day, early mist and dew soon going. And of course Tryfan is rising in its grandeur, lit by the morning sun. A wild camper was just preparing to strike base at the llyn, and we both had broad smiles on our faces.
Y Foel Goch is hardly any height above the llyn and easily gained. Gallt yr Ogof, barely half a mile away, follows without difficulty. Then it’s just a case of descending by a broad ridge, one slight rise of substance to Cefn y Capel, and dodging any boggy bits that may be around until the village of Capel Curig is attained. All one has to do then is kill some time (this may have involved breakfast) before the Sherpa bus to Betws y Coed hoves in to view. What a nice way to spend a morning.