Mark Rowe's walk in Snowdonia: Day two
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Environment and travel journalist, Mark Rowe, brings you his experiences of day two of a two-day walk in Snowdonia's National Park.
The steady climb from Abergwyngregyn
It’s a lengthy but pleasant plod from the car park to the summit of Drum (770m), and you’re unlikely to get there in less than an hour and 20 minutes. The route soon veers away from a row of pylons and swings uphill.
As you approach Drum, the valley below comes into full view - with the distant speck of Llyn Anafon, a reservoir joined umbilically by a narrow access road that hugs the contours of the mountains. Look out for ponies and chough, which benefit from a National Trust project to remove bracken and open up the ground for them to seek out their favoured seeds.
From peak to peak: Drum to Carnedd Llewelyn
It’s a long haul from Drum to Foel Fras up a grassy plateau that, while boggy, has the makings of a medieval race course. A clear day will make for a sensational, long-remembered walk. Anglesey lies to the far-north-west. The Menai Straits and bridge are clear too - the straits looking estuarine at low tide. To the north-west you can see an array of offshore windfarms and (just) the Lake District. The western flanks of the Peak District and the Pennines lie to the east, and southwards you can pick out the Cambrian mountains.
Beyond Foel Fras and Carnedd Uchaf, huge, wafer-thin flint stones appear to have sprouted from the ground. The Carneddau range is also the UK’s southernmost example of montane heath, more typically found in the Arctic and features you might spot include dwarf willow and juniper.
You can also bag six peaks higher than 900m. Each has a different character and feel: Foel Fras (942m) has a trig point while its substantial ruined cairn hints at a fortification in its Neolithic past; Carnedd Uchaf (926m) is boulder strewn; Foel Grach (976m) feels marooned and lonely in moorland; Carnedd Llewelyn (1064m) - despite being the second highest mountain in Wales and just 20m lower than Snowdon - feels more like a plateau. In front is the stirring sheer face and Cwm of Yr Elen. Carnedd Dafydd (1040m) - nearly an hour’s walk away along a narrow ledge of spiky stones that echoes Striding Edge - is the classic peak, a satisfying full stop to the ridgewalk before the path lurches south to the last summit Pen yr Ole Wen (978m).
It may be Llyn Idwal that draws the Darwin fans and the GCSE geography students, but the Carneddau provide their own open-air tutorial. As you snake across the ridge from Carnedd Llewylyn to Carnedd Dafydd, look down and trace the wriggling course of the Afon Llafar. Meadow pipits are abundant on the western flanks of the Carneddau and that, in turn, makes for a rare stronghold for the cuckoo, which likes to lay its eggs in the nests of this unsuspecting bird.
The final summit, Pen yr Ole Wen
Thirteen miles in the bank - and the last of the climbs behind you - you might think that dropping down to Llyn Ogwen should provide time for a pat on the back. Not a bit of it. The scramble to the valley from Pen yr Ole Wen is one of the UK’s great descents. It has everything, and even the mountain goats among you won’t do it in much under an hour.
Things start off easily enough but soon you’re squeezing down gullies, using your hands for the first time on this walk. The boulders are unrelenting. You can take your mind off the painstaking process of picking your way over them by feasting on the spectacle of the north face of Tryfan, looking every inch the classic mountain. Finally, you cross a dry-stone wall via a fence and you’re back in the land of bracken, foxgloves and gurgling streams.