Sunday, 22 January 2017

Moel Eilio

Sitting in the mist that swirled around Snowdon's summit last July, I nursed my steaming coffee with gloved hands and resigned myself to a cold, view-free experience during my first time at the top of the iconic mountain. I was cursing the stiff breeze that'd forced me to don an extra layer and various other bits of winter paraphernalia when the wind did something uncharacteristically useful and blew some of the clag away. There below me lay the Moel Eilio ridge, its green slopes made all the more vibrant by contrast with the murky cloud I'd been sitting in. I resolved there and then that I'd return to walk those inviting and - from this vantage point at least - modest and gently rolling hills as soon as possible.

Moel Eilio from Snowdon summit, July 2016.

Capel Coch 
It was several months before we did return and by that time the higher peaks of Snowdonia were crowned with the first significant snowfall of the season. We were neither experienced enough nor properly kitted out for for heading up onto that sort of terrain in winter conditions so Moel Eilio and its two neighbours seemed like the perfect location for a walk under chilly but unblemished blue November skies. In fact, the weather forecast was so promising we decided to stay in Caernarfon overnight and make a weekend of our trip to Wales.

We parked up in Llanberis and made our first port of call Pete's Eats, the brightly painted, hard-to-miss cafe that has been helping walkers and climbers stoke up their energy levels for several decades. Greedily, I went for the large vegetarian cooked breakfast which was delicious, humungous and left me with the urgent desire to curl up under the table and take a nap. Usually I eat fairly lightly before a walk and the food coma I found myself battling for the next hour or so demonstrates why I should stick to this plan in future.

Walking slower post-prandially than perhaps we would have done otherwise, we left Llanberis town centre via Capel-Coch Road, passing the attractive and imposing chapel that gives the street its name. We were ascending from the start but the incline was a steady one along a proper, tarmacked lane and not too strenuous. As we gained height, the road shook off the houses and bungalows that clung to its sides and farmland began to open out around us. We could see Moel Eilio now and our route to the top. There were fine views to be had of the grander peaks as well - our first glimpse of Snowdon's icy summit, from this viewpoint looking rather dwarfed by the bulk of Garnedd Ugain even though the latter is some 20 metres lower; looking back, the Glyderau were in their winter garb too, though the dark, quarried terraces of Elidir Fawr remained snow-free, louring over the valley like a vast piece of Brutalist architecture.

Moel Eilio

Our first glimpse of Snowdon's summit.

The Glyderau.

Although some trees had completely shed their foliage, others still bore a surprising number of leaves. They glowed warmly in the bright sunshine even as their tenure approached its inevitable end. The gorse, revelling in its year long vigour, flung sprigs of yellow blossom into the air with scant regard for the lingering decline of the flora around it. The day was shaping up to be one of contrasts, mellow and autumnal where we were, the peaks above held fast in a wintery grip. When we zoomed in on the upper reaches of Snowdon with the camera, we could make out hardier walkers than us traversing the frozen slopes, tiny black dots against the gleaming snow.

The last of the leaves, warmed by the sunlight.

"When gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of season."

Walkers silhouetted against the snow beneath Snowdon's summit.

We'd passed through a metal gate and the lane had become rougher underfoot now, more of a farm track than a public road. We were to come across several cars parked further uphill though and these were decidedly not working vehicles so it seems like the track is accessible to the public. Ruined farm buildings dotted the landscape and by one of these our route turned sharply uphill across grass. We bade goodbye to Snowdon and the valley for now, striking out north and then west to get to the end of the Moel Eilio ridge.

The landscape was dotted with ruined farm buildings.

The lane had become a rough track by this point.

Our route to the top of Moel Eilio followed the skyline from the right.

Following the ridge to the summit.
That short loop accomplished, it was pretty much a straight line south now to the summit of Moel Eilio. This we could see ahead of us. Above us in all directions stretched blue skies, still unblemished save for the blazing sun. I was glad of my sunglasses but the day was turning out to be unseasonably warm and walking uphill into the sun was draining. We both took our outer shells off but given it was almost December I hadn't thought to pack any t-shirts and had to carry on in just my sleek, body-hugging base layer. Unseen footage - which will remain unseen - confirms that contrary to received wisdom black is not slimming and I apologise unreservedly to anyone who passed me and my beer belly that afternoon.

And of course, plenty of people did pass us, as usual. In fact one group said their hellos to us on the way up and then, shortly afterwards, on their way down again while we were still trudging past the halfway point on the ridge. "I'm getting some great pictures from here," I remarked casually but slightly louder than normal to Rich as they moved off, in a vague attempt to suggest to anyone listening that photography was the reason for our slow progress.

Looking back down - Caernarfon, the Menai Strait and Anglesey.

Elidir Fawr, Y Garn and Glyder Fawr; the Lechog ridge, Garnedd Ugain and Snowdon (l to r).

Glyder Fawr with the Llechog ridge in the foreground.

Almost at the top.

Looking south east along the ridge from Moel Eilio's summit.
The final pull up to the summit of Moel Eilio was steep but for a while the change in incline hid the sun from view, which was something of a relief and made the climb much easier. We crossed a ladder stile and it was a short tramp from there to the small shelter on the summit. There were no rocks big enough to sit on within its stone walls, however, so we decided to sit cross legged on the ground outside. Here we had a coffee, still too weighed down by our fry ups to even contemplate breaking out the butties. We exchanged pleasantries with a couple who arrived there just after us with their elderly terrier, which was enviably still full of beans despite its age. As we chatted, we watched its little legs going like the clappers as it darted around in search of new smells.

The walk from this point was to be mostly a downhill affair, Foel Gron and Foel Goch being relatively minor humps along the ridge. To the south west we could see the hills of the Llyn Peninsula, including Yr Eifl, against the hazy backdrop of the Irish sea; to the south, though, the position of the sun affected our views of the Nantlle Ridge and sadly it wasn't possible to make out much of the detail in this beautiful range or, come to that, in the hills to the east that culminate in Moel Hebog.

Yr Eifl on the Llyn Peninsula.

The Glyderau, Garnedd Ugain, Snowdon and Yr Aran, with Moel Hebog on the right.

Tryfan peeps over the main Glyder range.

The descent to Bwlch Cwm Cesig, the small col between Moel Eilio and Foel Gron, wasn't quite as "gently rolling" as it had looked from my vantage point on Snowdon all those months ago and at times the closely cropped grass was a little slippy underfoot, which made it slower going than we expected. There are two tops to Foel Gron, the highest - and the one closest to Moel Eilio - at 2064 feet and the second at 1945 feet above sea level. In contrast to the smooth slopes that lead down from the summit towards Llyn Cwellyn, the opposite side of the ridge comprises a line of rough-hewn cliffs that overlook the glacial valleys below; this ragged edge provides various promontories from which you can admire the precipitous rock faces.

Looking back up to Moel Eilio from Bwlch Cwm Cesig.

The jagged northern edge of Foel Gron.

Fell runners descending the highest point of Foel Gron.

Foel Goch ahead.
The ridge proper continues to Moel Cynghorion, the second highest top in this range after Moel Eilio at 2211 feet. Like Foel Gron, its northern face is scarred by vertiginous crags. Our planned route stopped short of this final climb, however, since it offered no direct route back to Llanberis, without retracing our steps. Below Moel Cynghorion is Bwlch Maesgwm, a pass that cuts through the ridge. From the junction of paths here, a bridleway traces a course north to Llanberis and this was to be our passage back to the car.

There was still one more peak to cross before we got to this point, though, and this was Foel Goch. From the col below Foel Gron, it's bulky and round, with the path to the summit clearly visible as a line through its bright green, grass-covered slopes. It didn't take long to get to the top - in fact, I think it was quicker getting up there than it was negotiating its steeper, southern aspect down to the pass. We paused at the top to take in the wide-ranging views for the last time before heading into the valleys.

From right to left, the ridge continues up to Moel Cynghorion. 

The pass at Bwlch Maesgwm dead ahead; our route lay down into the dark valley on the left.

Y Garn in the Glyderau to the north.

After being in bright sunshine all afternoon, it came as a bit of a shock to the system walking down Maesgwm. Here the ridge behind us blocked out the sun, so it was quite gloomy; the lateness of the day and the fact that we were hardly exerting ourselves as we walked now combined to suddenly make it feel very much like the late November day it was. Fleeces and outer jackets went back on quick sticks.

Looking back up the bridleway through Maesgwm.

We followed the bridleway around the lower slopes of Cefn Drum, a spur that juts out from the Moel Eilio ridge, until we reached a ford below its northernmost end. The walking was good here on the maintained path and by that point we had descended nearly 700 feet, although on the long and gently inclined trail it really didn't feel like we had.

We left the bridleway to take a shortcut along a public footpath. It looked rather boggy as we drew near the Afon Arddu and it certainly was muddy in the more well-trodden sections but happily the ground was pretty solid and we remained dry. A bridge took us over the picturesque river that flows down to the meeting point between Llyn Peris and Llyn Padarn. As we crossed we could see a layer of mist forming as the day drew to a close in the valleys.

Crossing the Afon Arddu.

Mist forms in the valley below.

Behind us, Snowdon still basked in the light of the sinking sun, glowing above the mighty cliffs of Clogwyn Coch and Clogwyn yr Arddu. It was a fitting final view of the mountain at the end of an afternoon that had been marked by beautiful weather and stunning vistas.

Snowdon as we drew near the end of our walk.


Date: November 2016

Walk length: 7.5 miles

Duration: 4.5 hours, including breaks.
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