The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Saturday 20 December 2008

Rhinogau Bogs and Fog: Day 1

I was on the platform at Wolverhampton Station by 6.35 (thanks to my sister getting up at an unaccustomedly early hour to drive me), with a cup of tea clutched in my hand and my backpack at my feet, ready for the first train to Machynlleth.

Six people shared the blissfully quiet carriage with me, and after a change at Mac, it was in the company of stunning scenery along the mouths of the Dyfi and the Mawddach that we trundled along to arrive in Barmouth on time.

View from the train window as we make our way along the mouth of the River Dyfi

My first port of call was the Co-op for some flowers, snacks and lunch and after de-stemming the flowers at a bin outside of the supermarket doors (watched with interest by the person who had just served me), I started huffing and puffing my way up Dinas Oleu.

The flowers were left at my father’s memorial (once I’d put it back together; it had been taken apart by sheep since my last visit), and now that I had two hands free out came my poles: I do so prefer to be a quadruped!

Fine, if a little hazy as I look up the Mawddach

All was quiet at the climbing slab as I passed on by, glowing with the effort and enjoying the sunshine. It was obvious, looking at the dark clouds ahead, that the good weather wasn’t going to last and I could see that much of the ridge was in cloud.

Cloud covering the ridge ahead

Despite having made the same direct, pathless ascent up onto the ridge twice before, my memory had made it shorter than reality. My memory had also made the ridge much flatter than it is. Some of the undulations up there are really quite violent, as I was soon reminded.

Approaching the most violent descent-to-reascend on the ridge

Although the views were curtailed, it was a bonus that I didn’t get up into the cloud until the latter parts of my walk. By the time I approached Diffwys, however, not only was visibility severely limited, but the wind had picked up (as forecast) and I was passing patches of snow.

The occasional gap in the cloud allows me a fleeting glimpse of the ground below me

A while later I lost all shelter and caught the full force of the wind. Unfortunately, that was just as I came to the place at which I planned to camp. Looking over the wall it was to the sight of the tiny llyn boasting quite a sea-state, with spray being blown off the tops of the waves.

I didn't think to take a photo on this occasion, but here's how benign the llyn looks on a calm summer's day

Once over the wall (via a stile further along the ridge, I should add) my pack was plonked down just as my phone went beep. It was a text message from Mick telling me that it was 3pm, night would soon fall and that I needed to be inside a tent with a cup of tea, not still walking.

I didn’t respond. Instead it seemed like the best order of events was to descend the killer-hillside a short way to a trickle of a stream to gather some water whilst I still had good light, then pitch the tent and get myself settled, before reassuring Mick that I was not floundering around in the dark.

It all started to go awry when I put the tent up and found that even with the shelter of a wall, it was too windy for comfort. The tent was moving around like a blancmange on a wobble board and although I had every faith that it could withstand the wind once I had it properly pitched, it didn’t seem conducive to a good night’s sleep.

It was 3.30 by this time, and a quick calculation told me that I had no more than one hour of daylight remaining. What to do? There clearly wasn’t enough time to get down to Llyn Hywel, where I could have had a good pitch with good shelter. I ruled out a quick descent down the west side of the ridge on account of the wind direction and there was nowhere within an hour’s walk back the way I had come that sprang to mind as a suitable and sheltered pitch.

That left just two choices: to stay where I was and try to find the best position for the tent, or descend quickly down the east side of the hill and take my chances that there would be a tiny patch of bog- and tussock-free terrain down there. Without the luxury of time available to me for dithering, by 3.35 I had the tent packed back away and, trying not to get blown off the edge, I made a swift descent.

It was a bit of an inadvisable route, really, considering the steepness. I lost 400 feet in 200 yards and then found that when the ground did level out it was, as suspected, all bog and tussocks or heather and boulders.

There’s nowt like a bit of adversity in failing daylight to make a trip more interesting, is there?

On I ploughed, covering the ground as fast as my little legs could carry me, searching the whole time for just the smallest bit of ground exhibiting a modicum of dryness and levelness.

Finally, at 4.30 the progression of dusk was making it difficult to see and it was clear that I wasn’t going to find the elusive dry and level patch. However, with the onset of desperation, it’s amazing how I was able to convince myself that a small slither of flatness between tussocks was big enough to accommodate my small frame and thus I threw the tent up on the most ridiculously tussocked ground on which I have ever camped.

The only virtue of the pitch was that it was reasonably dry, but it was far and away the worst pitch ever.

Make no mistake: the ground under the tent is no less lumpy than that around it!

No point crying over spilt milk. I was where I was, needs must, and all those other good clich├ęs. Into the tent I crawled – having a good giggle at the immense lumps in the floor.

A bit of wriggling around did reveal the Gayle-sized flat ground that had attracted me to the spot and I was content that I wouldn’t be having a wildly uncomfortable night.

With dark now fully upon me, I set out my kit, crawled into my sleeping bag and within five minutes of having pitched, it started to rain. What fortuitous timing!

With tea eaten I settled down for the night, realising that the expected terror had not materialised; I was not in the slightest bit concerned about monsters and bogeymen patrolling outside of the tent. I was a good mile away from the nearest path reassuring me that no-one was going to stumble across me and there weren’t even any animals around to make scary noises. The only sounds I could hear were the gurgling of the nearby stream and the wind hitting the tent.

And to those sounds, a couple of podcasts and an audio book, I drifted off to sleep.

The stats for the day were 9.25 miles with 3,500 feet of ascent.

To be continued…


  1. Such excitement ... it feels like you need to add a bow-tie wearing BBC Radio announcer to end that episode ;-)

    Glad that you felt comfy enough to listen to the mp3 player.

  2. In anticipation of not being up to listening to audio, I'd taken a book - and having carried it all that way, didn't even open it until the train-ride back. So much for lightweight!