The wild land west of Snowdon has two major hill groups and one outlier. In 2012 I booked myself a stay at Rhydd-Ddu with a view to picking all of them up, as well as some of the Hewitts around Snowdon itself.
The Nantlle ridge
It’s barely six miles long, and only scrapes the 2400ft barrier, but with seven Hewitts packed along a tortuous and sometimes scrambly ridge, and great seaward views all the way, it’s no wonder this is rated one of the great hill walks of Wales.
The ridge gets itself up and running straight away, with a sharp 1500ft in barely half a mile to the top of Y Garn (2077ft). It’s a straightforward ascent, but the arete linking it to Mynydd Drws-y-Coed (2280ft) is the crux of the route, over in moments but moments as thrilling for the hillwalker as anything in Wales save Crib Goch. There are crags on the other side too, before grass leads up to, and from, Trum y Ddysgl (2329ft). From the rocky saddle, the imposing obelisk on the central hill, Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd (2148ft) is in view.
From the bwlch below, there’s another rocky ridge up to the highest point, Craig Cwm Silyn (2408ft). Here though the character of the range changes – and for me, the character of the day too. I’d had clear if overcast weather so far, all helping me enjoy this intricate route; now though, I was in cloud, on a much broader, flatter ridge, stones abounding on the summit of Garnedd Goch (2296ft) – some of them fashioned into ancient tumuli. It used to be that Hewitt-baggers dropped down NW to Llyn Cwm Dulyn to finish their day, but now, thanks to a resurvey, one more hill remains, Mynydd Graig Goch (2000ft and six inches, roughly): it is, in all honesty, something of an anti-climax, but I was back out of the mist now, not a bad thing for otherwise it would have been compass work all the way.
From here, like most walkers, I dropped down to the village of Nebo, the end of a bus route from Caernarfon. The bus came, turned round, and went again without so much as opening its doors. Happily there was mobile signal, and I’d earlier punched in a couple of taxi numbers. It was a few quid more, but a much quicker way of getting back to Rhydd-Ddu.
The Moel Hebog group
A couple of days later I set off for the three hills of the Moel Hebog group, which lie west of the road and railway that link Rhydd-Ddu and Beddgelert.
It’s a complex start. To begin, take the same path as for Y Garn (above), but where the climb to is summit branches right, continue towards and into forestry. My B&B owners gave me a hint for gaining the right path at a complex junction which proved invaluable. Out of the forest, this leads to Bwlch-y-ddwy-elor, from which a ridge leads NW up to Trum y Ddysgl, sometimes used in routes linking the Nantlle ridge with the Moel Hebog hills. For me though it was a case of descending on an old track before picking up a track which hang left through mining relics towards the edge of forestry.
From here it’s a case of working up through crags until easier ground, and a path, leading to Moel Lefn (2093ft). Moel yr Ogof (2149ft) follows without much difficulty. From the bwlch below the latter, there’s a tough pull up to Moel Hebog (2565ft) itself. The weather had been a bit spit-and-spotty but at least the cloud kept high, and stayed that way for the return – a nasty descent, quite steep with far too much slippery slate and bits of scree to be enjoyable. Halfway down, below the worst of the ground, mid-afternoon, I met parents and two youngish children on their way up – they had been staying at the campsite below: we had a few words in which I told them of the rigours ahead, which I hoped would be enough to turn the round in the event of their first concern. I always want children to come back to the hills.
I was due to climb this isolated hill two days after Moel Hebog, on a half-day before returning home. However I woke to a white-out and I was pleased enough that the bus was still running, so instead it became an afternoon hill on my return to Rhydd-Ddu the following year.
This was my first trip with my new tent, and so I could use the campsite at the head of Llyn Cwellyn, below the hill. Indeed the route starts along the lake’s western shore as far as a quarry before heading up steeply below the rocks of Castell Cidwm. This leads into Cwm Planwydd, which is followed to its head, where swing round R to the summit of Mynydd Mawr (2291ft). For return I reversed the first quarter-mile or so, then kept on going down its easy ridge, forking right to stay above forestry before entering it just above the campsite itself. Another grey day, but the rain held off – at least until I was in the village pub later, needing a brisk walk back down the road after my meal and couple of pints.