All the secret places

_MG_8730_resultOne of the great joys for me of living in an area has always been the thrill of exploring all the hidden corners and less well-known places scattered around. It seems very often to be the case that people generate a certain set of ideas about an area and then act accordingly. So it is that Snowdonia has certain areas that are overwhelmed with tourists and visitors every year (Snowdon, the Ogwen Valley area, Cadair Idris) and others, sometimes mere miles away, that see virtually no footfall whatsoever, such as the Arans, Rhinogs and Berwyns.

As I make my hour long drive to work every morning I see roads leading off enticingly into high moorland, and narrow little one track lanes leading off the main trunk roads towards hillsides, forests and lakes, and I try to take note and promise myself I’ll get around to exploring them when I have the time.

Travelling south out of Aberystwyth on the main highway towards Llangurig and Rhyader, you sweep around the flanks of the Plylimon massif, a region of territory in which, as is the case with its larger neighbours to the north, finds itself beset by crowds tackling its namesake peak, but which features vast swathes of wilderness largely unkwon to the casual tourist. Long before you reach the convenient lay by near Eisteddfa Gurig from which the most direct ascent of Plynlimon can be made, you sweep through Ponterwyd, a hamlet a few miles from Devil’s Bridge (home of the famous waterfalls) and itself a place with secrets hidden away, like the mountain bothy tucked into the forests over the ridgeline.

Take the road north out of Aberystwyth towards Machynlleth and distant Snowdonia, and you pass through a chain of hamlets whose names have become etched in my memory as gatekeepers along the road back towards my university town and the many friends I made there down the years; Tre’er Ddol, Tre Taliesin, Glandyfi, Bow Street, Talybont.

Between Ponterwyd, to the south of Aberystwyth, in the heart of the Plynlimons, and Talybont to the north, stretches a fifteen mile long road which climbs steeply up from Talybont, hugging the side of Cwm Ceulan with precipitous drops into the valley below, before reaching a high mountain pass and turning in a series of sweeping corners towards mighty Nant y Moch reservoir. From here the road bowls along through the high, wild moorland plateau before eventually crossing the reservoir and dropping down towards sleepy Ponterwyd far below.

The terrain crossed by this gem of a road is every bit as ancient, windswept, wild and remote as the moorland that cloaks Plynlimon’s subsidiary peaks, where last year I wandered for hours without seeing a soul on my way to the source of the River Severn and the River Wye. It is a land of heather, boggy upland and forest where the wind rushes freely and where you can easily stop and listen to absolute silence.

 

Having recently discovered this wilderness playground, I drove out a few weeks ago and climbed up to the pass from the Ponterwyd side, making mental notes of likely good points for photography and stargazing as I went. Parking my car at the pass, I crossed the infant Afon Ceulan and hiked up to the summit of a small rocky prominence to take in the full sweep of the mountain road plunging into the valley below. From here, nestled among the crags, I could see for miles down into Ceredigion’s coastal plain, and far out to sea. I lingered, taking photographs and playing with perspectives, admiring the stunning view and savouring the solitude.

Turning back, I wandered back to the car and left it behind as I struck off ahead onto the minor track that led away from the mountain road, into the hills beyond. The trackway led to some long-abandoned mining works, traces of a long dead industry that now, as they crumbled slowly away year by year, were being reclaimed by nature, and rebeautified by her. Moving on in the bright sunlight of early afternoon with a sky of intensely deep blue throwing a lovely contrast with the gold of the moorland slopes and the deep greens of the evergreen forests, every view that caught my eye lifted my spirits, and the solitude of my sojourn was refreshing.

Distantly on the map was marked a point which intrigued me, a ‘Plas Y Mynach’ marked as an angler’s retreat by the side of a huge lake apparently generated through the construction of the reservoirs that throng the area. As readers will know I’m always ready to go on a mission to find a secluded cabin in the wilderness, and so I pressed on, wondering what I’d find, and whether it’d be open when I got there. The trudge there was warm in the clear heat of a mid spring day, the year reaching that lovely tipping point where you know that warm days have once again become the norm, and the promise of summer is just around the corner.

I made my way along side trails, crossing, and criss-crossing the main track just to see what lay around each corner, part of my process of exploration, of getting to know the land and of taking the time to uncover its secrets. Gradually, I reached a vantage point from where I could see the hut nestled below, and worked my way down to the trail which led over boggy ground towards its back gate.

Here, unfortunately, I found the gate padlocked, and the whole building sadly locked up, although the carefully mown lawn outside the front door by the path leading down to the small jetty and boathouse showed that someone clearly looked in on the place on a regular basis. It was definitely a secluded spot, and I knew just from a cursory view of the skyline that this would be an incredible place for astronomy on a clear night. I vowed to come back.

After a placid half hour just taking in the peace and tranquility, I made a gradual way back along the tracks and pathways towards the road over the pass. It had been an excellent afternoon of hiking and general exploration, and underpinning it all was the knowledge that this entire vast landscape was mine to explore freely, whenever I had the chance. I will never be a rich man in worldly goods, but I have the freedom of the hills, which give riches beyond measure, and fill my life with treasures of peace and fulfilment which money could never buy. Not for the first time, as I drove back down towards civilisation, I left the hills feeling incredibly lucky, already planning my return.

Wisdom from the saddle

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the fact that in an average year, I hike a hell of a lot in spring, summer and autumn and not so much, if at all in winter. This then leaves me spending spring trying to remember what hill fitness feels like as I slog up the side of a mountain somewhere, wondering vaguely at the back of my mind what on earth I’m doing.

But not this year. Because this year, I’ve bought a bike! Yes, that’s right, I’ve now joined the countless legions of speed demons on two wheels, and I have no idea how I’ve survived all these years without one! Besides being a self-evidently civilised mode of transport and a whole new way of getting out and about in the great outdoors, it has the added bonus that every time I head out on it I get a decent cardio and leg workout, and the benefits for my hillwalking are already paying dividends, as a recent hike into Bwlch Nant Yr Arian demonstrated.

As with hiking though, I find cycling allows my mind to wander and I inevitably end up pondering the meaning of life. What life is actually about has been a subject that’s occupied my mind more than usual of late (and I freely admit I’m someone that spends a lot of time pondering it anyway). But what spurred this recent soul searching was happening upon a fragment of poetry as I cycled along the Ystwyth Valley Trail earlier today:

Hold fast to dreams, for if they die,

Life is a broken-wingéd thing, that cannot fly.

Rather than dreams I think it’s probably better to re-phrase the above (though it would butcher the poetry!) as ‘things to work toward.’ Without things to work toward you do become a bit listless in life, and, after events in August last year I’ve realised that I need new challenges to press on towards achieving. These will probably present themselves in time, but what is key for me is not to go off the boil, but also not to get too hung up on the detail. Let me explain.

A Catholic saint (I don’t know which one, but I probably ought to) once explained the difficulty in finding ‘the meaning of life’ as he described corporeal existence as essentially looking at the back of a tapestry. What we see around us in the confusion of life, particularly when we endure difficult or painful experiences, are the knots and loose threads, and only a semblance of the true image. In experiencing the rougher parts of life, the bits that don’t go according to our plan or our perception of ‘how it ought to be’ we traverse the knots, bumps and rough cuttings of the tapestry, but we don’t really ever get a full appreciation of the overall picture, in this life at least.

In the end, to my mind trying to work out the meaning of life stuck at home is rather pointless, as is trying to measure my life against anyone else’s. Doing so causes you to get lost in the detail, and lose focus on reality. I’ve seen my fair share of disappointment and my fair share of joy. I’ve got my health, a fantastic group of friends and colleagues, a great family and a beautiful place in which to live. I’ve already achieved one of my things to work toward this year just in having finally bought a bike, and hence not being a lumbering, wheezy wreck on the hill at the close of winter this year. The nights are now firmly drawing out, spring is approaching and though I’ve hit my thirties very differently to how I was expecting to, I hope I’m now a little wiser than I was at twenty. Most importantly of all, wherever I’ve been in life and wherever I go, I have good people around me, really sound and inspiring people. In that sense and in so many other ways, as I belt along through the scenery, slog up the hills and hammer down the drops, I’m a rich man.

So as the year goes on I’ll update this blog with the things I’m working toward, because it’s important not to go off the boil. At the same time I’ll be out in the wild places again, hitting the trail on foot or two wheels (or four hooves if I can get round to booking some horseriding lessons again!) and continuing to count my blessings, because to be honest, I’m a pretty lucky bloke. If I manage to find any more wisdom from the saddle on my travels I’ll post it here.

Grief

This particular blog entry departs from the norm in not being particularly upbeat. I thought a lot about whether to write it at all, but in the end I decided to on the grounds that it first of all explains the drop off in my writing here, that second, I created this space in the first place in order to write, and third, there are many characteristics to what I am about to relate here that tie in with the theme of exploration and journeying that this blog was set up to engage with.

Recent events in my life have resulted in a total sea change in almost every aspect of it, in a very short space of time. These changes were not chosen by me and are to the negative. Those who know me well will be well aware of them and I needn’t go over them here, but suffice it to say that every major area of my life has been impacted by them.

I have always found a deep catharsis in writing and in the end I believe that every negative experience in life can be used in some way shape or form to help others, and it struck me that it might be worth writing about this experience in part for catharsis and in part for the benefit of anyone else enduring something similar who might stumble across this and find some solace in what I’ve written.

Being engulfed by grief is very akin in a sense, to a sudden and unexpected change for the worse in the weather when out on the trail. Suddenly and in its worst cases without warning, all of your familiar reference points are gone as a thick fog closes in. With grief, the landscape you’re traversing is an interior one, and unlike a hike you have no map or compass on which to rely once the gloom descends. The reference points you relied on are not just gone but shifted from their original positions and orientations altogether, and in order to work out where you now are, you first have to trudge through the murk and rediscover each one, and find out where they now lie, with all that that implies.

One of the peculiar qualities of grief is that it hits with a double blow in that on top of the loss itself, you are also immediately robbed of those qualities (confidence, self-assurance, self-belief, and trust in your own intuition) that you will most need in order to get to the point from which you can recover. Grief is an all consuming emotion in its initial stages and in truth there are some losses that you never really recover from, but merely learn to accommodate. The wound is still there, covered over by a thin scab, like the wafer-thin sheen of ice that forms as a mountain lake first freezes over at the end of autumn. There is a distinct surface in place, but not one that can yet bear any weight.

Over long time you come to an accommodation with (though perhaps never a true acceptance of) the loss, because just as out on the trail, you can no longer stay where you were when the fog first descended; to leave it and get back to some sense of the familiar, you have no choice but to push on. But still, for months afterwards, in the darkness of the long watches of the night it creeps back in unwanted, sullying sleep, and it is always there despite exterior appearances, walking with you as you go about your day.

It’s true of course that grief is a necessary part of life and of human experience. Without it, there could be no true appreciation of joy; it is a malignant counterpoint in life’s melody but also an inevitable one. Most of the old certainties of my former life are gone. What, if anything, will take shape to replace them is completely unknown. As you grow older you come to appreciate that your life has a landscape but that none of the features in it are ever truly permanent. They are all like wind-sculpted sand dunes, wandering on their own paths towards the horizon to be replaced in time by new, equally impermanent features. As you grieve and mourn the loss of those that leave, you hope also to welcome the new with joy.

I don’t have any answers to offer about all of this and I probably never will do. All I have is an experience to share and describe as best I can, and to attempt to learn from. In truth I have barely begun to process all that’s happened over the last few months and the enormous ramifications for my life that the consequences, rippling out one by one from the central shock wave, will have.

There are some moments in life that are so profound that you know that they will permanently affect your future course, whether you want them to or not. This event was one of them. I’m absolutely baffled about the course to take now, but I do know that I want to continue writing and retreating into the hills, and so hopefully, as the fog clears, I’ll be able to start writing here again more regularly.

Trail into the unknown

There’s a misconception out there that basically says that adventures have to be grandiose things, expeditions requiring supply drops, remote unexplored territories and, if the weather’s polar, a team of huskies for good measure. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking epic adventures and I’m the first to admit I’m captivated by the great tales of exploration out there brought to us by the likes of Shackleton and Magellan.

But we mustn’t forget that the unknown is everywhere around us, and that unless you happen to know every inch of your local area in detail, there’s very likely an unexplored corner of your world just on your doorstep. Seen in this light, adventure is all around us waiting to be had; all it takes is to don on a pair of hiking boots and decide it’s time for a hike.

I’ve been exploring the trail local to chez moi for a few months now, and it never ceases to amaze me how much beauty and tranquility there is packed away in this peaceful little valley in which I live. Not far from my home runs a trail which, in one direction, beelines towards the hills and high moorland around Cwmystwyth, and from which I could strike out onto the rest of the national trail network, hiking or biking as far as the Welsh border, if I wanted to (and further beyond, too). Until now however I haven’t hiked along the trail in the other direction, because that direction heads eventually after a peaceful mile or two towards a well-known Welsh seaside town and it was the direction that led off into the hills that had my interest first.

But the thing is, much as I might be very familiar with the eventual destination of the trail, I hadn’t a baldy what really lay along the route to get there as I hadn’t actually bothered to hike it yet. Therefore, a trail into the unknown lay at my feet, and I decided to hike. I set off under a beautiful blue sky, the storm of the previous evening having well and truly passed through leaving warmth and far more summer-like conditions in its wake. The trail ran along the river, eventually meeting a side trail to a secluded beach, probably known only to locals. As I headed further on, I moved past the disused railway bridge at which there is a junction for a minor road back onto the main road through the valley, and pressed on down the bridleway that led enticingly into the trees beyond.

The trail afforded sweeping views over peaceful meadows, and once again I felt lucky to live in such a beautiful little corner of Wales, with pastoral  vistas everywhere I looked and tranquility to be found around every corner. About a mile further on I stopped to take a look at a noticeboard and a few benches placed just off the trail, to discover that Natural Resources Wales had handed the woodland here over to a charity community group who were replanting ancient native species in order to improve biodiversity. They’d set up trails in the forestry beyond, and looking at my map I began hatching a plan for my return route.

I hiked the next mile into the hamlet beyond rapidly, and as the trail dropped down to meet the main road into town a few miles beyond I turned about and began heading back, with the weather still holding up nicely. It wasn’t long before I was back in the forestry again and, taking a more detailed look at the map, I plotted out a route that would take me up to the top of the ridge and then over the farmland beyond, from where I could intercept the tiny minor road that would then drop steeply back into the valley and leave me with only a short walk back to the house.

I set off up the trail taking the highest of the available routes, steadily climbing on the graded tracks. Here and there, information boards had been placed by examples of particular species of tree, including one I couldn’t remember encountering in the UK before, the Noble Fir. As I pressed on I spotted a wooden building through the trees, and sure enough, it looked as though the volunteers who’d built all the benches by the trail below had put together a small shack in the trees, complete with a fully enclosed roof, benches and seats for a group. It had the feeling of a secluded, secret hideaway, nestled as it was amongst the trees, hidden even from the other nearby trails that formed part of the woods. This in a nutshell pointed up what I love about hiking around with no particular aim in mind but to explore all the local trails and side trails. If I’d just stuck to the main trail through the valley below and not come exploring, I’d have had no idea that this place even existed; I felt as though I’d been let in on a secret known only to a few people.

Leaving the shack behind, I pressed on upwards and gained impressive views through the trees to the other side of the valley beyond. Eventually the trail left the treeline and broke out onto high pasture. Crossing fields, I got ever improving views in all directions as I neared the height of the land, before finally topping out as I joined the minor road and got a brilliant view out to Cardigan Bay behind me with the grey-green brooding hills of Plynlimon, Cwmystwyth and the Elan region completing the panorama.

Wherever I go on my travels I try to keep an eye out for good sites for astronomy, and this place seemed ideal. There was an almost completely unobstructed view of the sky in all directions, and high up at the top of the ridgeline overlooking the peaceful valley below, there was no chance of light pollution posing any real problems. With a clear night, especially in winter, this spot should provide an excellent base for observing deep sky objects such as the Andromeda Galaxy and the beautiful Triangulum Galaxy, three million light years distant.

As I headed back down the road wended its way through wildflowers, and butterflies were making the most of the sunlight and warmth. It wasn’t long before I was back down at the original trail again, and making the short journey from there back to the house. It had been an enjoyable afternoon hike and, as with all good hikes, I’d found plenty of interesting details just off the beaten track where they’d been waiting to be discovered. If I’d not headed out this afternoon, I’d still be oblivious to the existence of a peaceful hideaway in the woods, and I’d have had no idea that there’s a window to the deep cosmos less than a mile from home. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how to find adventure on your doorstep.

Thoughts

It’s occurred to me that one feature that might be nice to add to this blog would be range profiles. A few of my blog posts stray pretty close to giving a detailed description of some of the mountain ranges of Wales anyway, so creating a distinct feature on the site for each range struck me as a logical step forward.

Another reason for doing this is that as I continue to make progress on the Welsh 2000+ list, I’m going to be delving into all sorts of uncharted territory that I’ve never hiked before, and it’s only natural that I’ll get to know a given range of mountains quite well as time goes by. As such, readers who might not be all that familiar with the Welsh mountain ranges can discover them with me as I encounter them for the first time myself. Readers who know the ranges well will doubtless have suggestions as to interesting places to visit within each range, good routes to try or wild camping options. Hopefully, the range profiles can become another way in which I can interact with readers as the blog grows and gather a bit of a community of hikers around it. Also, they’d provide a logical place to attach my trip reports to, helping to anchor these more firmly into the fabric of the blog’s content.

Well, those are my thoughts for now, let me know what you think, and if you have any other suggestions for the direction of the blog, let me know.

Plans, plans plans!

I’ve found over the years that much of the fun of striking out on the trail is in the planning of a trip, and planning is something of an art form. In the ideal plan, you need to have the basic elements of an adventure but you also need to leave things flexible enough that things don’t become too prescriptive and you end up becoming a slave to your timetable. After all, the purpose of having an adventure in the first place is to get away from the normal and for most of us that involves a 9-5 routine.

At present I’m planning the details of an upcoming week off work in mid-August. Towards the end of the week I’ve got plans to hike the ten mile Mawddach Trail which runs between Dolgellau and Barmouth along the route of the old Barmouth-Ruabon railway line. In terms of distance it’s not a huge trail but I’ll be hiking it with some old friends and we’re likely to be investigating the pubs en-route so it should be memorable!

So that’s the end of the week sorted, what about the rest? Well my partner Liz is off to go and train in Kung Fu at a Shaolin temple in Maylasia soon (as you do!) and should be returning mid week, so I think a spot of bivvying or bothying somewhere in Snowdonia should be in order. With regard to mountains I have two big target ranges to investigate at the moment, the Arans, a spectacular set of peaks rising not far from Cadair Idris, and of course the Carneddau. I suspect the eventual winner of the ‘which range will I go and climb’ contest will have a lot to do with my general energy levels, the weather and how far I can be bothered to drive, but I have good reasons to set myself up for a hike of either range.

For one, both are ranges I’ve never set foot on before which is a good enough reason to go to either of them in itself, but also each range harbours several peaks on the list of Welsh 2000+ ft mountains, with the Carneddau hosting a whopping 22 of them. Don’t worry, I’m not planning to do all 22 Carneddau peaks in one massive outing, but each of the ranges has interesting options for camping and bivvying, and there’s a little-known bothy tucked away in a quiet corner of the Carneddau which needs to be visited.

All in all there’s plenty for me to get my teeth into and there should be a good few trip reports generated by it all, so watch this space!

A new Corbett!

Scotland has a new Corbett! Yes that’s right, it turns out there’s another mountain north of the border that qualifies as a member of the Scottish 2500-3000ft mountain club. The ‘new’ Corbett in question is the mighty Cnoch Coinnich, which lies close to Loch Goil in Argyll and Bute. How can there be a ‘new’ member of a list of mountains above a certain height, I hear you ask?

Well the answer in this case lies in improvements in surveying technology. The process of mapping the British Isles has been one of continual improvements since the original nineteenth century surveys were undertaken by the Ordnance Survey, those brilliant folks who not only mapped our mountains for us but have left their iconic calling cards, the venerable trig pillars, as testament to their hard work, effort and expertise. As time has gone by, errors and discrepancies have been ironed out, improved datasets have enabled more stringent calculations to be made, and technological advances have enabled ever more accurate measurements of even the tiniest details of the terrain to be mapped out. A major improvement over the 1930s-era surveys came when the Ordnance Survey began a comprehensive aerial study of Britain from the late 1940s onwards, and one of the favoured technologies used to refine contour mapping datasets these days is the use of air to ground lasers to build up a detailed picture of the exact nature of the surface, in the same way that a ship might use sonar to create an accurate map of the ocean floor. Additionally, the Ordnance Survey have two aircraft as part of their Flying Unit which, equipped with 196 megapixel cameras, take high resolution images of the ground from November to February every year in order to refine mapping information (by capturing, for example, newly-built areas of towns, changes in field boundaries, etc).

Despite the increasing precision of measurement afforded in general surveying however there is incredibly still room for refinement, and there are numerous mountains whose height is at or near the borderline of a category that might end up being promoted or demoted as survey accuracy improves. So it is that Sgurr nan Ceannaichean and Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh, previously considered Munros, were recently demoted to Corbett status following more detailed survey work.

For a mountain to reach Corbett status it must pass the magic 762 m (2500 ft) mark, and must have at least 500 ft of vertical height separating it from its nearest neighbours (a requirement that doesn’t apply to the Munros, interestingly). In the case of Cnoch Coinnich, a survey team headed up the previously 761m mountain in May with a Global Navigation Satellite System receiver and allowed two hours to pass as the relative altitude of the receiver to the satellites above was precisely calculated. The result? Cnoch Coinnich is actually 763.5 metres high, comfortably making it a Corbett, and meaning that future editions of OS maps mark it with a rounded up 764m height. I suppose this means I’ve got another one to put on the list now!

Cadair Idris, Land of Legend

I promised in a recent trip report to write a post about why it is I have such a soft spot for Cadair Idris and its surroundings, and this is it. I’ve been hiking Cadair several times a year since my first year of university and in all of those years and all of those trips to its summit, I’ve never once had a bad hike, regardless of the weather. This is because, for me, Cadair has it all.

The Cadair Idris massif rises near to Dolgellau in the far south of the Snowdonia National Park. As such, Cadair is one of the closest and most accessible of the large peaks of Snowdonia for anyone venturing here from mid or south Wales. Once you hit the Snowdonia National Park boundary at Machynlleth, crossing the River Dovey, you need only drive another twenty minutes or so to reach Cadair Gates, the National Trust car park marked on the map as ‘Dol Y Cae’ near Minffordd.

If you were to hike the standard ‘tourist path’ up from Cadair Gates, you’d be struck by several immediate impressions of the mountain. The first is the awesome glacial cirque housing Llyn Cau, Cadair’s largest lake, and a popular destination in itself for many of the tourists hiking up from the Cadair Gates car park. Cadair has mountain architecture on a truly massive scale, and the Minfordd path route up to the summit sweeps around the full arc of the glacial cirque on its way to the summit and back. Hidden from view as you hike up from Minfordd, but in view for much of the route up the Pony Path from the Dolgellau side is the stunning Cyfrwy Arete, a jagged knife-edge of rock that in winter comprises a serious Alpine-level challenge.

But as you move through this landscape towards the summit you may also be struck by traces of the ancient history of this mountain and its grand place in Welsh mythology and legend. Cadair Idris means the ‘Chair (or throne) of Idris’, a figure reputed to have been either an ancient Welsh giant or a great Welsh warrior. Welsh tradition held that the Druidic bards could not be considered to have completed their training until they had spent a night on the summit, a feat which to this day is meant to bestow the gift of poetry, madness or death upon those who attempt it. Having done this several times over the years I’m either mad, or a poet. I’ll let you decide which.

Llyn Cau, which nestles at the floor of the cirque as you approach from Minfordd, is named for one of King Arthur’s knights, known in the English tradition as Sir Kay, but more properly Cau. Arthur himself and his band of warriors were in fact Welsh, and the key agents of the propagation of the Arthurian legends in England, medieval chroniclers like Geoffrey of Monmouth, borrowed the tomes detailing the exploits of this great Welsh warrior from Welsh monasteries. The patrons who paid for this research weren’t about to allow these men to set the stories in their true setting of Wales, however; they were to be set upon the lands owned by the patrons in English counties such as Somerset and Gloucestershire. When you look at the map of Cadair Idris however the truth of Arthur’s real origins in Wales is laid bare.

For those wishing to spend the night on the summit, Cadair obliges, since its summit plateau is crowned with a stone shelter large enough to accommodate a good number of people, plus there’s ample space for camping if the shelter is full. Hallowe’en, which falls on the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain is an especially interesting time to climb to the summit, since if you camp there on Hallowe’en the Hounds of Hell are meant to tear across the mountain top, plucking up the souls of the damned as they pass. There is also a much gentler aspect to Cadair Idris’ nature too though. The National Nature Reserve through which the Minfordd path passes after leaving the car park contains a small Site of Special Scientific Interest, set up to preserve the extremely rare Purple Saxifrage which blooms there each year.

Altogether, the Cadair Idris range has a little bit of something for everyone. If you want Alpine-style challenge, do the arete in winter. If you fancy a good scrambling route to the summit, take the path up from the head wall of Llyn Cau. If you want a straightforward ascent that gives you the full sweeping view of the mountain’s guts, take the Minfordd path, and if you fancy something a bit different, hike up the Pony Path from the Dolgellau side. Whatever you do and however you chose to hike Cadair Idris, make sure you take it all in. This is an incredibly special place, hallowed and steeped in ancient legend; savour your time here, for this is a mountain to be treasured.

 

Photoshop Working Again!

Just a quick update this evening to let you all know that I have Photoshop working. I’d not updated it in some time due to my recent house move but it’s finally back up to speed and fully updated, too. This is good news because it means I can fairly effortlessly update this blog with photographs from my various hikes, and to start as I mean to go on, I’ve uploaded the image given here to my recent trip report about my hike up Goatfell last year.

This view was taken from the summit of Goatfell in the early evening September sunlight, looking out to sea over the island. I hope it conveys what a brilliant place Arran is. I can highly recommend this island and I plan to go back in the not too distant future and tackle the remaining hills that I’ve not yet done. That’s all for me for this evening but there’ll be plenty more to follow tomorrow.

When you can’t be on the hills

When I’m not actually hiking on the hills and mountains, I’m usually reading something related to them. This doesn’t always have to be a book of course (I spend far more of my time than is probably healthy poring over maps planning out new routes to try out one day, even more so now I have the excellent OS Maps app for Android). But, generally speaking, I’ve found that I tend to have a book about the hills relatively close at hand most of the time.

From time to time I’ll do reviews of mountain-related books, but for today I’m going to go over a few of the books I’ve really enjoyed reading over the years, many of which I dip into time and again, especially on the winter nights where darkness precludes hiking (unless I get into night hiking at some point in the future I suppose!)

An absolute favourite series of books (I’m sure a great many of you reading this will concur) has to be Alfred Wainwright’s classic Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, produced in seven volumes. I was lucky enough to get a copy of the 50th Anniversary edition at Christmas a few years ago and they’ve travelled with me everywhere since, always kept close at hand. These books, from the character of their presentation, to the traces of Wainwright’s humour sprinkled throughout, to the beautiful imagery within them, are a true homage to hill walking, managing to capture something of that sense of adventure we all feel when heading out onto the fells and contain it within each volume. Each individual fell is lovingly presented with all sorts of details about the surroundings, local traditions and individual features that no other guide somehow manages to capture. These are books to relish.

Another of my favourite books is Robert Macfarlane’s Mountains of the Mind, which explores Western civilization’s changing perceptions of and attitudes to mountains. Macfarlane charts the change from a general shunning of mountains to the veritable mountain worship we see around us today, where every high street has an outdoors shop and hiking up to the hills is one of the nation’s favourite pastimes. More than this however, Macfarlane also details his own changing attitudes to the mountains (going from adrenaline junkie to more placid connoisseur of the hills) and parallels this with Mallory’s obsession with climbing Everest, an obsession which eventually proved to be fatal. I’ve read all of Macfarlane’s books bar his latest (which is on my list of books to buy) and can highly recommend them all. They’re beautifully written and thought-provoking works that’ll inspire you to put on a pair of boots and get out to the hills.

Another must have for all British peak baggers has to be The Mountains of England and Wales by John and Anne Nutall. The Nutalls catalogued the English and Welsh peaks over 2000ft, for which service to peak-bagging these peaks now hold their surname as an eponym, in just the same way that Lakeland fells are now often referred to as ‘Wainwrights’. We can go further down the rabbit hole by saying all Wainwrights are Nutalls of course, but not every Nutall is a Wainwright…anyway I digress. This two volume book is an essential resource for anyone seriously contemplating bagging all the Welsh 2000 footers (as I am), but one of the many things I like about it is that the artwork and drawings for the book hark back to Wainwright, having something of that surveyor’s hand-drawn quality about them. This is a great book to read while you can’t be out hiking, and it’ll spur you on to making many more trips into the hills.

Finally, I love reading about a bona fide adventure, and in my younger years was seriously contemplating emigrating to Canada, spurred on in no small part by the sheer beauty of Canada’s vast wildernesses. In my avid quest to find out as much about Canada as I possibly could stumbled upon the writings of R.M. Patterson, a former banker from England who emigrated to Canada in the early twentieth century and settled first in Alberta and latterly in British Columbia. During his time there he took up ranching and also went to great lengths to explore the Canadian interior both on foot and by canoe as the voyageurs, the commercial fur-trappers who explored so much of Canada, had done. His accounts of his epic trips make for fascinating reading, and two that I’d recommend are Trail to the Interior and Finlay’s River.

But enough from me; what are your favourite mountain/exploration books, and why?