I just spent a weekend in a cottage with no TV, no Internet and surrounded by hills. I could have stayed for a month or three. This, coming perhaps surprisingly from a blogging, tweeting, instagramming, facebooking chap. It’s really very nice to just sit quietly and read a book or have some thoughts. Although I’m not that good at sitting still actually, as Anita kept telling me. But I tried to do some ‘mindfulness’. Then realised maybe you just have to be mindful.
I got into the mindfulness groove a bit more up on Moel Penamnen. The things I was mindful of:
– Both my boots are leaking now
– that wind really is very strong
– my achilles tendon has been aching a lot on the last few walks
– the clag up here just isn’t going to lift is it?
I’d marked Moel Penamnen as the outward destination of a circular walk that I had fashioned a week or so ago, from looking at the OS map I have for this part of Wales – and also a couple of gpx routes that I’d found and added to my viewranger account. This was in readiness for a weekend stay in Cwm Penmachno. At 623 metres, Moel Penamnen looked to be the highest vantage point in the area.
My friend Chris has one of the quarrymen’s cottages that make up the little hamlet of Cwm Penmachno, settled into the hillside below the slate quarries and mines above. Chris is an outdoorsy person (and lovely man to boot) so he’d also sent me some suggested walks based on those he’d completed since buying the cottage. One of his suggestions coincided with what I’d read up on.. so Moel Penamnen it was.
Viewranger map of the walk:
The forecast had suggested an ‘okay’ day of cloud and unseasonal warmth. But I’d been looking out of the cottage windows at sheets of rain being driven across the hills for a good couple of hours. And as this was the only full day I had, I decided to head out as soon as it brightened up (I’m being generous here).
I started from Rhiw Fachno quarry which starts at the edge of the Cwm Penmachno and walked up through the imposing workings. Abandoned quarries/ workings always have a weight to them I think. These places may not be ‘natural’ but they can still have a numinosity about them (I picked up that word from a recent Francis Pryor archeology book).
I soon gained a fair bit of height. After a short walk through the bottom end of a forested area I walked through the 19th century quarries of Rhiw-Bach and Blaen-y-Cwm, before traversing around to the two remote reservoirs of Llyn Bowydd and Llyn Newydd.
Rhiw Back / Rhiwbach had its own little settlement at one point, around the 18th century, to accommodate some of the quarry and mine workers who had families. I had a brief explore of the derelict buildings which were at one time a chapel and school, houses and a chimney/ engine room.
From here on in the photos start to look a bit more atmospheric, taken as they were through my waterproof pouch (the rain and low cloud both in evidence).
From this abandoned quarry I headed along the old tramway to the reservoirs, by now up in the low cloud.
Looking west from the Res’ should have given me views of the Moewlyns and Snowdon, according to the ‘Walks Around Penmachno’ (kittiwakes guides) booklet I’d spotted on Chris’s shelves. And those same views should have been had up on Moel Penamnen.
It wasn’t to be. The clag put paid to that, views being fleeting and mostly out of the corner of my eye for most of the 7 mile jaunt.
I almost got to the top of Moel Penamnen but the wind was so strong at that stage that I was lurching forward in the cloud like a belligerent crab. Only to stagger back as another gust smacked me in the chest and shoulders and put me on the back foot.
After hunkering down in a sheep scrape to eat some food and have some welcome coffee, I decided there was no point waiting for a break in the clouds so stood up to head back. To be pushed forcefully from behind by a now gale force wind. I don’t know if it was my standing up, appearing as if from nowhere, or the very loud “oh, just .. f##k off!” I shouted at the weather, that sent a couple of sheep zig-zagging away over the boggy peat.
Sheep, peat bogs, claggy weather, lonely reservoirs, remote industrial heritage, a roman road – (Sarn Helen) which I was on briefly (by my map calculations) – and the occasional startled clatter from a grumbling Grouse:
Cwm Penmachno should be twinned with Marsden! They’re soul mates.
The views of course are more extensive and commanding in this part of North Wales (not that I saw too many) and there’s more elevation. But it felt a nicely familiar type of hike and would have been fantastic on a sunnier day.
Actually the geology is different to Marsden’s sandstone and shale. The purple-toned grey of the slate is lovely and the occasional outcrops of white quartz boulders that you encounter are beautiful.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the walk, despite sounding curmudgeonly (and the miserable face below). I do like a bit of yucky weather, I’m a natural stoic I think. Although I wouldn’t have minded some sun stained peaks. Maybe next time!
As I headed back down to Cwm Penmachno via the valley that’s behind me in the photo above, I spotted a guy out with an energetic black dog. Took me a while to twig that he was a farmer, as he was whistling instructions to his dog to gather in the sheep. By the time I was flanking the forest that’s to the right of the photo, I was way below him. When I looked up behind me I could see a broad arrow of tiny white shapes flocking (not surprisingly) at speed down the funnel of the valley. Quite some sight.
I’d love to visit Cwm Penmachno again and do some more extensive hiking in the region. I’ve been reading Paul Shorrock’s excellent blog for two or three years now and I’ll be looking at some of his walks for ideas..