Friday 27 January 2017

Dolgellau Precipice Walk

Whether we were going to do another hike the day after Moel Eilio was the subject of some earnest debate on our overnight trip to Wales. Eventually, over dinner, we compromised on the Precipice Walk just outside Dolgellau. It was a short walk and on a managed trail but it was high up enough, it seemed, for us to get some good views of the surrounding hills, weather permitting.

We were staying in Caernarfon and tucked into a breakfast at the hotel that wasn't much less hearty than the one we'd eaten in Llanberis the morning before. Fortunately, we had an hour's drive to get to the Precipice Walk and by the time we got to our starting point the it didn't feel like we were walking in lead, diving boots as it had done the previous day.
The car park at the start of the walk is about 3 miles out of Dolgellau, although we were approaching from the opposite direction that morning. It's quite a steep climb up from the A470 and involves some disconcertingly narrow lanes but whether you've travelled by car or on foot, once you get to this point there is little in the way of ascent on the walk as whole.

Our first glimpse of Rhobell Fawr to the north east.
The Precipice Walk is a very straightforward route and the hill Foel Cynwch, a minor subsidiary summit of the Arenig range. I won't say it's impossible to get lost here as that'd be tempting fate and no doubt leave me open to all manner of outraged emails but, given the clarity of the managed path, if you do get lost I'd say there's a fair chance you weren't on the Precipice Walk to start with. There are also plenty of guides online, such as this one from the Snowdonia National Park Authority - click here - or this one from Visit Mid Wales - click here.

We caught a brief glimpse of the first impressive view of the day, Rhobell Fawr, as we passed the northern end of Llyn Cynwch. The latter is a small upland body of water and, like the hill and the walk itself, it's privately owned by the centuries-old Nannau Estate. All access in the area is therefore on permissive paths rather than public footpaths and this access has been granted since Victorian times. The lake is the subject of local legend, which tells of a palace belonging to the faeries, hidden beneath its quiet waters. With or without folklore, its enclosed position and submerged trees make Llyn Cynwch an atmospheric place.

Passing the northern end of Llyn 

Once we joined the formal path that skirts the hillside, we got proper sight of Rhobell Fawr's rough-hewn bulk, which was dappled with snow. Volcanic in origin, this mountain stands at 2408 feet and, like the hill we were standing on, its parent peak is Arenig Fawr.

Rhobell Fawr.

Rhobell Fawr.

To the east, across a deep valley along which the Afon Wnion flows down to the sea, lay the Aran mountains, source of that river's waters. There was cloud clinging to the tops that afternoon but on a clear day such as we'd had on Moel Eilio you should be able to quite easily see Aran Fawddwy, the highest peak.

Heading north, near the beginning of the Precipice Walk.

The Aran Ridge on the horizon to the east.

Close up of the Aran Ridge.

Gradually, as we came around the northernmost point of Foel Cynwch, we left behind the farmland that had been on our right hand side. The hillside below began to pull away from the path ever steeper and the next section soon made it clear how the Precipice Walk got its name.

Across the valley from us now was Y Garn, an outlying member of the Rhinogydd mountains. It just qualifies as a mountain itself by 64 feet and is one of several peaks in Wales that bears that name. It stands over the thickly forested sides of the Mawddach Valley, which is part of the extensive Coed y Brenin Forest Park.

Y Garn.

Looking north into the tree-lined valley below Y Garn.

The most precipitous part of the Precipice Walk.

As we followed the trail south west, the famously beautiful Mawddach Estuary began to come into sight and the hillside began to broaden out both above and below us, making the path feel less exposed. We took a last look back at the route so far as we were approaching the southernmost end of the hill and would soon lose sight of the tree-lined Mawddach Valley.

The Mawddach Estuary.

Looking back along the Precipice Walk.

The south western end of Foel Cynwch widens out considerably. There is a viewing point and a seat here, and with good reason: to the west, the Mawddach Estuary expands towards the Irish Sea, through green farmland and below rough crags; while to the south the massive northern escarpment of Cadair Idris dominates the horizon. Somebody just beat us to the bench, so - after milling around aimlessly for a bit to see if they were going to move - we decided to leave our snacks for later and carry on.

The Mawddach Estuary.

Cadair Idris.

The prominence at the southern end of the Precipice Walk is the site of the Foel Faner (in some sources, Moel Faner) hill fort or, more properly, the scanty remains of it. The original structure is thought to date from the Iron Age, although it may have remained in use later than that. As a site of archaeological interest it pales beside a location like Tre Ceiri on the Llyn Pensinsula, which we'd visited the year before (see here: Yr Eifl), but there are some stretches of wall and earthworks. To visit it, you have to deviate from the official path, which is pretty much level all the way round, and climb sharply up a grassy slope but it's worth it for the vistas the hilltop affords.

Y Garn again.

Foel Offrwm stands over Llyn Cynwch; Rhobell Fawr (l) and Glasgwm (r) in the background.

Panorama looking north east along the summit ridge of Foel Cynwch.

We followed a stone wall south east from the summit to rejoin the Precipice Walk by the southern end of the lake, though you could retrace your steps back down the hillside and follow the official path around to the same point.

Heading back down to the Precipice Walk.

Lichen on the stone wall.

Joining the Precipice Walk where it ends by Llyn Cynwch.

From here, a path leads around the eastern side of Llyn Cynwch's tranquil waters and this brought us back to the head of the lake, from where it was just a minute or two's walk to the car park.

At the southern end of Llyn Cynwch.

Date: November 2016

Walk length: 5.5 km

Total ascent: 267 metres


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