Moel Eilio

A circular walk of 7.5 miles including 2,500 feet of elevation overall. Start Point: The disused quarry by Donen Las, Groeslon, Waunfawr. Map References: SH 5509159893  or Lat: 53.116473  Lon: -4.166625

adult-blur-boots-1452784Moel Eilio is situated approximately 3 miles north-west of Snowdon. It has two subsidiary tops, Foel Gron and Foel Goch. From the elevated start point below Cefn Du, Moel Eilio looks remarkably modest; a mere hill alongside its more impressive neighbours, but then mountains nestled in the foothills of Snowdon will always look like the poor relation. In terms of endurance this route is not to be underestimated as the undulating nature of this cluster of 3 summits requires some stamina. And then, just as you might think it’s all easy going as one heads for home through Telegraph Valley, there’s a final ascent to return to the start point. But the climbing is well worth the effort. On a clear day the scenery is spectacular across the ridge, affording views across to Anglesey and Llanddwyn Island, the Llyn Peninsular, the Rivals, the Nantlle Ridge, and of course, the Snowdon Horseshoe. The way is well defined on grassy tracks or bridleways.

The Telegraph Path is so named after the first successful Marconi long-wave transmitting station, situated on the west-northwest slopes of Cefn Du. The station was in use between 1912 and 1938 and was for many years the most important long-wave station in Britain, handling imperial and international communications. The site closed in 1938 but remains of the buildings are still visible. Historical evidence of the slate industry is another strong feature of this landscape, as nearby Llanberis clearly illustrates via Dinorwic Quarry – a vast scar embedded in the hillside above Llyn Padarn. The first commercial attempts at slate mining in the area took place in 1787. By the late nineteenth century, Penrhyn and Dinorwic were the two largest slate quarries in the world. 

The route

  1. From the parking area, turn left along the track past the slate tips until the fingerpost sign directs you onto the main route across Moel Eilio. It’s a well-defined ascent and the summit is denoted by a large stone shelter.
  2. Ignore the ladder stile by the shelter and, following the fence-line on the right, continue downhill in a southerly direction, keeping Snowdon ahead at all times. Take the next ladder stile over the wall, keeping the fence-line to the left.
  3. Tackle the curving ridge of Foel Gron, then take the next stile, keeping the fence-line on the right. The next two stiles crop up almost together forming a right angle, before ascending the final grassy knoll of Foel Goch.
  4. Once over the summit, the track begins to descend the short but steep flanks of Foel Goch. Bear right here on an eroded track heading towards the bottom of the valley where the Telegraph Path skirts the foot of Snowdon.
  5. On reaching the bottom, loop back by turning sharp left along the Telegraph Path, a long bridleway which heads down towards Llanberis and runs parallel to the Moel Eilio trio of hills. Good views to the right of Llanberis, Dinorwic Quarry, and Llyn Padarn.
  6. Follow the bridleway for some 4 miles, passing the Marconi Tower to your left and ignoring all right-hand routes down to Llanberis. Pass through all the boundary gates and stiles and continue straight on as the path begins to ascend.
  7. At the T junction turn left and continue the ascent along the slate trail bridleway until a final kissing gate returns you to the start.

The described route is a guide only, it’s always advisable to use a map or a GPS device.

Beddgelert and Cwm Bychan

A circular walk of 7 miles including 1,500 feet of elevation overall. Start Point: Layby on the A498 by Llyn Dinas, Nantgwynant, Beddgelert, Gwynedd, LL55 4NG. Map References: SH 6124149371  or Lat: 53.023590  Lon: -4.070265  

adult-blur-boots-1452784This route offers a great variety of scenery from panoramic, mountainous views across the heart of Snowdonia, to wooded valleys smothered in bluebells in the springtime, to the iconic village of Beddgelert and the pretty River Glasyln.

The village is probably named after an early Christian missionary called Celert who settled here early in the 8th century, although the folk tale of Gelert the dog is more often associated with Beddgelert. There is a raised mound called Gelert’s Grave – a significant tourist attraction. The dog is alleged to have belonged to Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Gwynedd, a gift from King John of England. In this legend, Llywelyn returns from hunting to find his baby missing, the cradle overturned, and Gelert sporting a blood-smeared jaw. Believing the dog had savaged the child, Llywelyn drew his sword and killed it. But then Llywelyn heard the cries of the baby, unharmed under the cradle, along with the dead wolf which had attacked the child – killed by his faithful hound, Gelert. Llywelyn was overcome with remorse and buried the dog with great ceremony, haunted by his dying yelps. After that day, Llywelyn never smiled again. A sad tale, but the grave was actually built in the late 18th-century by the landlord of the Goat Hotel, David Pritchard, who created it in order to encourage tourism.

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The route

  1. Go through the gate by the footpath sign, walk the short distance along the edge of the lake before passing over the bridge and turning right to follow the River Glaslyn as it flows downstream towards Beddgelert – for almost two miles.
  2. At the copper mine, ignore the road bridge to the right and turn left towards the car park before turning sharp right to take a footpath alongside the drystone wall. At the end of this short track, turn right on the single-track road and continue towards Beddgelert. At the next road bridge go through the metal gate to the left alongside the river, taking the path into Beddgelert.
  3. Cross the pedestrian bridge over the river then turn left to walk alongside the Glaslyn for about half-a-mile – the route here is sign-posted to ‘Gelert’s Grave.’ At the next bridge, pass beneath it to emerge onto the road. Cross the road and take the stile opposite into grazing land. Keep left alongside the drystone wall, ignoring the first stile by a metal gate into the woods, taking the next stile which crosses over the wall.
  4. Pass a ruined barn to your left and continue along the well-defined grassy track that climbs steadily towards Bryn Du. The lower slopes here are covered in bluebells in springtime, and throughout summer the tooting of steam trains echo across the valley. Follow the National Trust posts as the route winds up towards a small stone enclosure on the summit. Some of this path can be boggy after heavy rain but there are stepping-stones in the form of well-placed boulders.
  5. At the top, far-reaching views towards Snowdon and Moel Siabod make a good stopping point for a tea-break, before turning right towards Aberglasyn Woods. Take the stile over the wall into the woods, and continue to follow the National Trust markers, taking care on the steep sections as the route begins its descent.
  6. At the bottom of the woods, turn left and emerge onto the road. Turn left and walk along the road for a short distance before taking the stone road bridge on the right. Go through the metal kissing gate on the left and turn sharp right to ascend the track which leads through a copse of trees, arriving at a car park.
  7. Turn left and head towards the railway arch, following the route through a small picnic area before taking a well-defined, gradually ascending track towards Cwm Bychan.
  8. The route opens out into a narrow valley, with evidence of copper mining. Head up towards a wooden ladder stile which passes over a drystone wall and onto the summit of Cwm Bychan. Again, panoramic scenery as the route heads towards Llyn Dinas.
  9. Take the steep steps back down to the lakeside and retrace the route back over the footbridge to the starting point. This walk works equally well in reverse, allowing for a well-timed pub stop in Beddgelert towards the end of the walk.

The described route is a guide only, it’s always advisable to use a map or a GPS device.

More Beddgelert photography: https://janruth.com/2017/06/01/beddgelert/

Wild, Dark, and Silent.

Wild, Dark and Silent: A testimony to the Welsh Hills…

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Wild Water is the story of Jack Redman, the wronged alpha male who’s trying to make the best decisions for his family but more often than not, gets kicked in the teeth. How often we read novels in the contemporary genres which consistently root for the female character – nothing wrong with a strong woman, of course – but no one seemed to be telling these stories from the male viewpoint, at least not twenty years ago when I began my quest. Divorce still seems heavily weighted towards the partner with the children, and the mother is usually awarded custody unless there are extenuating circumstances which can be proved. Most of the time this is all well and good, but there are a great number of cases where our ancient system is fully exploited. Sadly, a lot of the initial storyline was prompted by real-life experience but there’s no better starting point than this for fiction in the family-saga genre. Jack Redman is a victim not only of the court system injustices but of its inability to deal with the speed and complications of contemporary family life.

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The Wild Water series is strongly rooted in Conwy, a medieval town in North Wales. In the main I’ve used real places, and I do love the mix of historical buildings as a backdrop to a modern tale. Links to Welsh history and heritage are unavoidable in Wales and it’s the visible remains of quarries, castles and farmsteads which give the area a strong sense of the past. And there’s richness in the landscape here which has certainly inspired my writing. St. Celynnin’s 12th century church in the hills for example, is an evocative piece of living history and a landmark which is included throughout the series. It’s exactly the sort of place Anna, with her natural spiritualism, might seek sanctuary. Nestled in the hills 927 feet above the sea, it’s pretty inaccessible and best approached on foot, but this is no great hardship.

Some of the area is chocolate-box pretty, a lot of it isn’t. The struggle to make a living in this community is mostly based on farming or tourism, although the mussel industry is alive and well. Since I know little about these subjects, Jack Redman emerged as an estate-agent. I like to be slightly unconventional with my characters because another great killer of readability is sameness, and cliche.

 

It was both daunting, and a pleasure to write the follow-up, Dark Water.The story picks up three years after the end of Wild Water and Jack is in for another bumpy ride. Dark Water is, as the title might suggest, a darker story partly because my writing style has changed over twenty years, but also because I introduced an element of crime. It’s too easy to become lazy with a sequel and repeat much of what has gone before. The resurgence of Simon Banks created plenty of tension, and a fresh challenge for me to write some of the story from his perspective. New characters such as Clarissa Harrison-Smith and Peter Claymore, breathed new life into the original cast. When I brought Claymore into the story, he had to have a purpose and a passion, and his persona took root in one of the most fascinating buildings in Conwy – sadly in a state of disrepair – but the real life situation fitted perfectly with what I had in mind for the plot.

This house was built in 1589 by the vicar of Conwy. Since then it’s been a pub, a tearoom and an antique shop. It’s full of spooky atmosphere with cellars, trapdoors and secret passages, and apparently there used to be an escape tunnel which led to the quay. Haunted? Most certainly! It’s exactly the sort of place someone like Claymore would want to renovate and bring to life, and the perfect setting for Anna to develop in her own right as a serious artist. Her portrait of Llewellyn the Great is the centrepiece of her launch but of course, this is fiction and nothing goes to plan! The comedy and tragedy of Jack’s life rumbles on. In his own words: ‘Raping and pillaging is still rife, even in the modern world.’

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St Rhychwyn’s Church in the Forest

Beautiful is the large church, with stately arch and steeple. Neighbourly is the small church with groups of friendly people.
Reverent is the old church with centuries of grace, and a wooden church or a stone church can hold an altar place. And whether it be a rich church, or a poor church anywhere, truly it is a great church if God is worshipped there.

DSCN5332It’s a long, long climb from the village of Llanwrst but well worth the effort to scramble up through Gwydir Forest above the spa-town of Trefriw, to visit the oldest church in Wales, dated 11th century.

This remote location above the Conwy Valley may have been used for Christian worship since the 6th century. Rhychwyn, or Rhochwyn, was one of the 12 sons of Helig ap Glannog, who lost his court, known as Llys Helig, when the sea inundated it. As a result of this loss, the sons lived devout lives, some as monks. The church is also known as Llywelyn’s Old Church and the reference to age is perfectly justified. Llywelyn Fawr, Prince of Wales, and his wife Princess Joan – the illegitimate daughter of King John of England – worshipped here in the early 13th century when they stayed at their Trefriw hunting lodge at nearby Lake Geirionnydd.

DSCN5328Joan, also known by her Welsh name Siwan, complained that the walk to church was tiring; 2km uphill from Trefriw followed by 2km downhill. It’s said that Llywelyn founded St Mary’s Church in Trefriw to save her this effort. Since we chose to walk this route on a humid summer’s day, I could fully sympathise with her! At least the long trail through Gwydir Forest was shaded. We passed several warning signs about the old mine workings in amongst the bracken and the broken stone walls. The heyday of metal mining here was between 1850 and 1919. Both timber and metal was transported from the forest to the quay at neighbouring Trefriw, from where it was shipped downstream to the coast. This historical industry is blamed for the lack of fish in Geirionnydd today: the result of the poisoning of the waters from the metal mines?

Interesting that there are literary connections to this diocese too, the most notable being Taliesin – a 6th-century Welsh bard living on the shores of the lake – and the earliest poet of the Welsh language whose work has survived.

DSCN5329Once out of the forest, the climb continues past hill farms and uphill through twisted iron kissing-gates, into fields where only sheep manage to remain upright. Any sign of the original settlements here have long gone and the historical relevance becomes more pronounced. Once the past is delved into, these cruel and pretty surroundings give tremendous weight to their own stories and I couldn’t wait to get inside the church. Although we were surrounded by the magnificence of Snowdonia the immediate location of this lovely building is rather nondescript, not as pretty as St Mary’s church on the river, nor does it hold the charm of St Celynin’s church in the hills. DSCN5334It seems tucked away in a corner and hidden by trees, and rather strangely, the back of the church faces outward. But the sense of history here is both compelling and unique. The ancient wooden door, complete with wooden hinges, closes behind you with a thunk, and those thick walls block out every sound apart from the wind as it continues to find a way through the innumerable gaps and crannies of the building. It really does feel like you’re inside a time capsule. DSCN5335The roof beams are some 800 years old and the bell is reputedly from Maenan Abbey. The east window has coloured images of the Virgin Mary and of the Holy Trinity. Apparently, this type of colouring is rare, and this example is probably the oldest of its kind in Wales. There are a number of dusty Welsh bibles still open on the creaking pulpit, and services are still held here despite its lack of nearby road or level track. There’s something mystical and magical about buildings as old as this, so I can fully understand why someone would still choose to attend a service here and brave the incline. 

I think I spent almost as much time wandering in the churchyard and reading the wonky gravestones, bordering the path like a set of crooked teeth. No point looking for Llywelyn here… DSCN5331The church in Llanrwst is now famous for containing his carved stone coffin, whilst his wife rests in Beaumaris church on Anglesey. Although this was an arranged marriage, it was clearly a love story too. In 1230 William de Braose, a young Marcher Lord was discovered with Siwan in Llywelyn’s bedchamber. De Braose was hung for adultery and Siwan was placed on house-arrest for 12 months. In time, though, he came to forgive her and Siwan was restored to favour. She gave birth to a daughter in 1231 and died at the royal home at Abergwyngregyn, on the north coast of Gwynedd, in 1237.

As for Taliesin, he is at the bottom of the lake…

Words and photography by Jan Ruth.