To Bala and Back

Saturday 4th May 2019

A lot of time has passed since my most recent trip to Snowdonia. Or, to look at it another way; it was only two months ago and the average daily temperatures have risen by nearly 200%!

It was another weekend away with Brunel Walking Group, to make the most of the early May Bank Holiday Weekend. Most of us pitched up in mid/north Wales on the Friday night. Saturday was the first day in which group walks were available.

One was too short for my liking, while the other involved a good hour’s drive to the Carneddau, the morning after snow had fallen upon the Welsh mountains and with a forecast ‘feels like’ temperature not greater than -11°C at midday!! I’ve been meaning to visit the Carneddau since exploring the Glyderau in July 2018. But to travel that distance and brave those conditions just for the sake of being there… I decided to stay closer to our home for the weekend.

In fact, the walk I went on set from the camp site we stayed at: Bwch-yn-Uchaf in the village of Llanuwchllyn, with Bala Lake (Llyn Tegid) no more than a stone’s throw away.

Our destination was the edge of Bala, a few miles north-east of our tents. To get there, we’d follow a route across the hills to the south-east of the lake and overlooking the expanse of water.

Aran Fawyddwy was a sight that would haunt me across the weekend. Clearly visible from the campsite, on a routine walk to the showers and ‘luxury’ toilet block. Standing tall and snow-capped in the background of this particular walk. At 905m above sea level, it’s higher than any point of the Brecon Beacons.

Yes, it really did snow during our first night in Wales. Here, we were probably starting at the heart of Snowdonia and the Carneddau was in there somewhere. How were other members of our group faring? A good ten or twelve has set off that morning. Still, I held no regrets over my decision not to follow!

Mountains all around us, as we climbed one hill and crossed over to the next. I believe this is the Moelwyn range. Another familiar view from the campsite. I was out of my tent before 7am to capture it with a dusting on top. It wasn’t even mid-morning by now and it had all burnt away.

As for ‘The Aran’ (as it was said to me by a local in the pub on Sunday night)… When I was plotting walks and ideas for the next day in advance of this trip, I saw it on the map, recognised the name from other people’s photos and experiences but I didn’t research it. I decided to play it safe and go for a route elsewhere (my next blog post) that I’d already walked (…Most of). If I’m allowed one regret from this weekend, it’s that I didn’t climb Aran Fawddwy.

I had it in mind for a solo jaunt on the Monday (departure day) but, when I did the maths, I realised I was looking at a good two-to-three hours of ascent, following by the same to get down and back to my car, which would then be followed by a four-hour drive home… That’s without mentioned the ascent, close to 1,000m. I don’t like to rush or tire myself too much and I would need to be in work the next day.

Next time I visit Snowdonia (sometime in 2020, I hope), I’ll be looking to tick it off, along with the Carnedd Dafydd, Carnedd Llewellyn and perhaps Pen yr Ole Wen.

Other mountains visible from our sub-500m linear walk include Cadair Idris. One we conquered as a group in May 2017 and still, to this day, one of the best mountains I’ve climbed.

As for naming the hills and identifying the route we followed… I wasn’t paying close attention with the GPS on my phone or anything but, I’m quite certain we crossed Cefn Gwyn first of all. We may even have had our first break up there ahead of a challenging descent.

From the photos so far, you may notice that we were each wrapped up in an array of colourful windproof layers. I believe it was forecast to ‘feel like’ something above freezing. But it was still less than comfortable for us all.

To cross the next valley after our break, we’d have to enter what can only be described as a ‘forest graveyard’.

There was a right of way. It was clearly signposted and there was a precarious stile to send us down the slope. But the path ahead was as well-maintained and easy-to-follow as many that I’ve found in rural Somerset… We did well to avoid injury, tripping over tree routes, fighting through vegetation and stumbling along loose rocks.

We crossed a river and, heading up the other side, we followed an easy forest track that was almost wide enough for us to walk side by side.

We passed the ruins of a stone building in the woods. Unable to determine what it may once have been, a few people decided to use it as a privacy screen for a toilet break.

Emerging from the woods and out in to the strange mix of sunshine with cold wind, I’d guess that we were crossing Is-Afon before contemplating a longer lunch stop.

 

It would’ve been impossible to have found the perfect wind break up there. We did well to shelter as much as we could and enjoy the rare sight of the sun shining over Wales (it wouldn’t survive the weekend). With Bala coming in to view, we knew that a final descent was nigh.

I’ve seen signs that warn of frogs crossing a road in Somerset… But never before had I seen a warning for ‘Free Range Chickens’. It does make a welcome change to the bleating of sheep, though.

Possibly to the east of Mynydd Cefn-ddwy-graig… We descended along a path above small waterfalls, soon to cross the Hirnant river.

While some headed in to the town for essential supplies, the majority of our group walked to the Bala Lake Railway.

From here, we would take the lakeside steam train back to Llanywchllyn and our tents.

There was a period of waiting involved before the steam train would arrive from the south. Perhaps forty minutes. Maybe only twenty. At least it was a dry day, if slightly cold.

There’s no station here. Not even a ticket here and so, we’d have boarded and been seated before the conductor arrived at the windows to take our money in exchange for tickets.

Somehow, I was the first in line and I was surprised when he asked what I would like… I thought it was obvious that the train only ran to Llanuwchllyn and I wasn’t prepared to try and pronounce that in front of a native! I suppose I some people want return tickets.

My response: ‘£7 please!’ …Through the language barrier, I got what I had desired. As did the rest of the group.

Last time I was on a steam train in North Wales (October 2015), I rode in an open-sided carriage. This time, I joined the group in seats beside functioning windows.

Views of the lake would come and go. Thanks to fencing, hedgerows and the ever-prominent eye-catching Moelwyn mountains beyond.

We passed a campsite more secluded than our own and one to which the occupants would’ve had to drive across the train tracks to reach (fortunately, the train travels slowly and so, accidents are less likely).

I don’t remember how long the journey was. Twenty minutes? We were soon back at the station in Llanuwchllyn and a very short walk from the campsite at Bwch-yn-Uchaf.

A very scenic walk along a route that I wouldn’t even had considered on day here by myself. It’s not always about climbing the highest mountains. A pleasant surprise and a good start to the weekend. Chilly but none-too-taxing and still above zero.

Distance of this walk: 10 miles

Thanks for reading.

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Author: Olly Parry-Jones

I live in North Somerset, close to the Mendip Hills and I enjoy spending time outdoors. In particular, going on long walks and camping across the summer months. I also get around to explore other parts of the UK. In 2018, I hope to find a new workshop because I miss woodworking and no day-job will ever provide the same sense of satisfaction as making your own. I have two blogs: Olly Writes (woodworking, DIY, baking) Olly Outdoors (walking, hiking, camping) You can also find me on YouTube and Facebook (where I have respective channels and pages for each blog). I'm also on Twitter and Instagram (@OllyPJ).

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