Sunday, 23 August 2015

Cadair Idris, Dolgellau

We conquered Cadair Idris today. I don't really like that term. You can't conquer a mountain. That belittles the mountain. They shouldn't be conquered. I didn't know if I'd even make it out because I felt coldy and stomachy this morning, but I wanted to do it. We got in the car and started off through a grey morning, only forty minutes after we'd meant to leave, It's quite a long way to Cadair Idris from the Conwy Valley. It's down near Barmouth, which is under the armpit of the Lleyn Peninsula. 
It was about one and a half hours in the car to get to Dolgellau, which was a surprisingly pretty town as we drove through. So many of the towns in North Wales, the ones up away from the coast, are built of dour black-grey stone or are very run down looking. Blaenau Ffestinog, for instance, is so run down and unpleasant that even the National Park shy away. It's full of slate tips from quarrying, and the National Park drew a ring around it, exempting it from their control. So Dolgellau was a lovely surprise. Narrow winding streets, but not too narrow, past old buildings that were stone, but not dour black stone. It had a feel of pleasant history, like something from a rural Elizabeth Gaskell novel.

We didn't stop there. We carried on to the car park at the bottom of Cadair Idris, the Chair of Idris, who I think was a giant of legend. I'm not sure why he chose that mountain to sit on. According to dad it's the highest mountain at that end of Snowdonia. Nothing taller between there and the south end of Wales. I think the views should be stunning, but we had no views. Mist abounded. We parked up and the payment machine refused to take the full amount for a day's parking. Dad gave a nice German man with a Japanese wife advice about how he should rely on maps not GPS. Then we struck out, onwards and upwards. 
It was an easy climb at first alongside a rushing stream that was almost big enough to be called a river, under small trees that were a little stunted by a harsh climate. The mist and cloud got lower and the wind picked up a little. We broke out from the trees and bracken onto open mountainside. It's a surprisingly gentle climb. I wouldn't recommend it to the stiff and mobility impaired but it didn't involve cliff climbing. A lot of the way is paved or gravelled paths and steps winding back and forth across the mountainside. But the higher we got the more the weather came down. Sometimes we caught glimpses of the valley floor far below. At one point we saw the sea at Barmouth. We hunkered down behind a wall and ate crisps and then pressed on again. At that point suddenly we were more exposed. We went into a fenced off area that was a nature reserve, and my eldest suddenly got excited because he thought nature reserves have shelters and cafes. This one didn't. This one had a fence to stop sheep getting in. But we found spreads of bilberry bushes across the ground and we crouched down and plucked and ate tiny bilberries, which are like little blueberries. All the taste of a blueberry (not much) is condensed into something three times smaller, so they actually taste, they're tart and sweet and have a tiny hint of mint. My fingers got stained.

We carried on up, donning waterproofs permanently, with mountain clouds driving into our faces as rain. I found it better visibility if I took my glasses off. The path was marked with cairns, and at times we were just moving from cairn to cairn because we couldn't see much more. We bumped (not literally) into a lovely group of Asian men on their way down who discussed the Biblical origins of the name Idris. I think they must have been from Birmingham, and were very nice. I suppose a lot of people would suspect they were on some terrible terrorist team building exercise. We met a mountain rescue man with a lovely golden retriever that ran back and forth and sniffed our hands. For a dark, wet, misty day the mountain was amazingly populated. 
As we climbed higher the weather closed in so far that we couldn't get very far away from one another. The path winds alongside the edge of a precipitous drop, but we couldn't see that either. We just knew it was there, and dangerous. The land looked like someone had thrown down all of the stones from a dry stone wall and evenly scattered them over the ground.

And then we suddenly found we were nearing the summit. The land suddenly became closer to vertical. Instead of a wide rocky path it was a steep rocky climb. My eldest, who had been complaining of coldness, tiredness, of having been hoodwinked into coming, suddenly got a second wind. This was elf climbing, and he's an elf. He scampered up over a jumble of rocks from one false summit to another, and then finally we were there, up at the trig point, where it was so misty we could barely see. We sat in the lee of the rocks and ate Mars bars or Snickers, and then made our way down again. Near the top there's a stone cabin, but we hadn't been able to see that at all on the way up. Apparently if you spend the night on Cadair Idris you come down either mad or a poet, and I must say I was half tempted, but maybe not in that weather. 
The way down seemed so much easier, of course. We met three mad mountain bikers on their way up, pushing, and a little later they sailed back down past us. We met an absolutely adorable woman who was fell-running up the mountain. On her way down she was on an adrenaline high and ecstatic about her progress, absolutely lovely and so well spoken. The weather lifted a little. We saw the valley floor again. We ate more bilberries. Our legs began to tremble. In the car park we met the lovely fell runner again and found she was so pleased with her time, and that this was her first ever run. We got back to the car and sighed and turned on the heater. On the way home I fell asleep. I think I deserved it.

The walk starts off very easy, along a nice stone path.

At the first kissing gate there's a very poignant memorial to Will Ramsbotham, who died while abseiling on the mountain a day after he had set a record time for climbing it. He was a geologist who had almost completed his PhD. He was only 26 when he died.

Over a lovely single slab stone bridge and ever onwards...

Just starting to climb out of the trees onto a hillside of bracken.

The sheep probably wonder what all the fuss is about.

The views were pretty as we got higher, but would be more impressive with less cloud.

One of the many little mountain streams.

Sacks of rocks. There were a lot of these at intervals up the path. It seemed to me like a modern version of the legend about the giant couple walking across the mountains on their way to build a cottage. They had an argument which led to the wife dropping all the stones where she stood. I assume these were dropped by helicopter or something, and are meant for the path.

In the distance we could just see the sea, where Barmouth sits on the coast.

Stone walls, and more of those sacks of rocks.

A couple of bilberries in the hand are worth many in the bush.

Bilberries are usually quite hard to find in the low little spreads of plants, but there were a lot here. Not so many in this photo, though.

Not only bilberries, but carpets of purple heather.

The mist lowered and rose, showing us glimpses of a little lake in the valley.

A lot of the time the view was like this, or worse.

These paved pathways look like they should be in a twee film version of Tolkien.

When this stone was dark and square on the horizon above us dad told me it was a cafe. It's not. It's a rock. The wind started to get stronger past this point, and it turned into a different kind of ascent.

Into the nature reserve area. No cafes there, either.

It got to the point where we couldn't get too far apart because of the visibility.

The pleasant group of Asian brummies, emerging from the mist.

This is where you grab hold of the kids and tell them sternly not to run off. If you could see through the mist to the left, you'd see a steep drop.

One of the many cairns marking the path, but this one had been built into something of a shelter. It doesn't look much, but when you can crouch down out of the wind it's wonderful.

A solitary sheep living its life on the edge.

I loved the ground here. It looked like a Mars-scape that had been grassed over.

The precipitous drop again.

We kept seeing spiky rises of rocks and thinking it was the summit. It wasn't.

A steeper climb now, and we came across this little construction. I'm not sure what it was and what led to quite so much work atop a rather inhospitable mountain. We're not far from the summit.

That construction from a distance. It almost looks like there was something large here.

Finally, finally, after a lot of 'elf climbing' as my son put it, requiring hands and feet, we saw the trig point in the mist. I can't wax lyrical about the amazing view because the view was a cloud. We huddled down in a lee behind a rocky outcrop and ate chocolate.

And so down again... Despite the mist the greens and greys and mist colours really were beautiful.

There were some amazing turquoise and yellow colours in the rocks too, in a surface well-worn by water.

The crazy mountain bikers on their way up. They were very cheerful and pleasant.

And the crazy mountain bikers on their way down again. This part looked like fun, and because there were such good paths it probably wasn't as risky as it looked.

The mist started lifting again as we started down. There's that lake again.

And Barmouth in the distance, with a little golden sand showing too.

At times there was even a little sunshine in the valley.

A lovely stone wall and some heather to end. Goodnight.

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