Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Guest Contributor – Carole Engel

Introduction – I have approached a number of people to write articles, but if readers would like to contribute an article please contact me.  The only two stipulations I make are that the article has to be hill related and that I don’t end up in court through its publication!  Otherwise the choice of subject matter is down to the Guest Contributor.

Guest Contributor – Carole Engel

Carole Engel enjoying her celebration on the summit of Aberedw Hill - her last Pedwar

Y Pedwarau - The Fantastic Fours of Wales


I became a hill-bagger purely by chance, on being bought the book “The Mountains of England” by John and Anne Nuttall.  My first thought being, “what do I want a walking book for?  They only have short boring routes in them”.  How wrong I was.  The Nuttall’s describe lesser walked routes which introduced me to many new and exciting paths and even a bit of heather bashing.  Yes, they were a bit short for a member of the Long Distance Walkers Association but could be combined to make longer walks.  I soon became addicted to getting those ticks and encouraged Anton Ciritis to join me on a hill-bagging weekend in Trawsfynyyd, organised by the LDWA.  Sadly, the leader would not disclose his routes and we decided we would “do our own thing”, which on this occasion was to walk the length of the Rhinogs.  Being August bank holiday, it rained constantly but we were totally hooked and when Anton asked (jokingly) “back for dinner or one last top – its 5mls out”, I opted for the top!  And so began a long hill-bagging friendship involving firstly the Nuttalls, then the Deweys and lastly the Pedwars.  As often as possible, Anton would sneak off without me and so ensued many catching-up trips, on which I found I actually quite liked being on my own in the hills.

From then on we often walked together, sometimes independently.  I gradually gained confidence in exploring the hills.  I learned the art of climbing barbed wire fences, stone walls and eventually dense forest held no fear for me.  Anton taught me never to give up and we bagged every last one of them, one taking three separate attempts on three separate trips.  I have been ripped to shreds by heather, brambles and gorse, stumbled for miles over exhausting tussocks and painstakingly picked my way across newly felled forest – the worst.  I found that proposed routes were not always possible due to vegetation or terrain, how to find fire breaks in a forest (Google Earth) and how to stay awake on the long car journeys there and back (plenty of strong coffee!).  A particularly hard lesson was that Wales has a no tolerance policy on speeding, much to my cost.  I have experienced everything the weather and the terrain could throw at me but never once thought of packing it in - every time without fail, standing on a summit was reward enough.  One piece of excellent hill advice I was given by Norman Baxter (of 5,003 trigs fame) – “you will get there eventually”.

My Pedwar journey began in June 2009, using the list found on the V-G website entitled “Myrddyn Phillips Welsh Hills 400-499m”.  This was in two parts, one being definite tops and the other (significant but smaller list) To Be Surveyed (TBS) Tops.  Finding many were in forests, I telephoned Myrddyn to ask if he could suggest routes in.  I was a little surprised to find he had not walked very many on the list at that time and realised it was to become a true voyage of discovery.

Slowly working though this early list stood me in very good stead for the final push, as by May 2013 the hill list had become named – Y Pedwarau – and updated and co-authored with Aled Williams. Myrddyn very kindly alerted me to the fact and sent me details shortly before publication, in the form of a beautifully presented e-booklet.  This time the list included all 400 to 500m Welsh tops with inclusion in the main list still requiring a hill to have a minimum drop of 30m all round.  I had been concentrating on those with 30m drop, following on from my completion of the Deweys, all of which must also have a 30m drop all round and with Anton’s guidance, he and I had visited many of the TBS tops looking likely Pedwar candidates, carefully selecting and measuring the height of their bylchau – not always easy and not always obvious to me!  In consequence, the newly named list held very few extra tops to be visited.  This was good news as some areas of Wales have been visited several times, firstly for the Nuttalls, secondly for the Deweys and thirdly for the Pedwars (and currently for any outstanding trigs!).

Very few hills summit on a footpath, so much creative route finding will be required.  This should be done with respect – best not to climb walls or fences if a gate is handy, give livestock a wide birth and keep calm and polite if challenged.  Several tops are in thick forest.  Depending on the maturity of the trees at the time of your visit, you will be required at the very least to stumble your way through the detritus that carpets plantations.  Some are quite open and walker friendly but many involve brute strength to push through the branches.  Old kit is best.  How many times have I said that but not done it!  I have heard of baggers donning motor cycle helmets for forest bashing, gauntlets for gorse clearance and way marking trees with strips of colourful (never green!) plastic bags to facilitate an easier retreat.  I inherited a lovely pair of long handled loppers from my father and swear by them – well worth the extra weight when faced with a young forest.  Some forests are approached along long, winding logging tracks, some of which are driveable with care.  Strictly not allowed but I have it on the good authority of a local in the Mynydd Epynt that it’s OK to do so.  They all ignore the signs (apparently) when all is quiet in the woods.

Not all of these hills require determination and struggle.  Many have been a pure delight, climbed in balmy sunny weather but always solitary.  I think I have only ever met one other walker in the wilderness who was as surprised to see me as I him.  I have however met many farmers and gained an insight into their tough way of life.  Most have been very friendly but a little suspicious until I have explained why I am wandering about on their hills.  Sadly, they are required to be concerned about Health and Safety and have alerted me to the fact that they are liable if one of their animals were to harm me.  On such occasions, it is best to have a lengthy chat and without fail you will both part best of friends (and be allowed to continue up the hill).

A liking for dogs is helpful as every farm has one or more.  I have been bitten once.  By a new mother mindful of her young puppies.  She got me from behind and nipped a nice little hole in my ankle.  The farmer was very concerned and insisted I follow him to the farmhouse for some medication.  All I could think about was getting on with my walk but to be polite I agreed.  This proved to be a very time consuming visit.  Firstly, the farmer slowly hauled himself into his Land Rover to drive a matter of yards to his front door.  He then slowly clambered out of his vehicle and step by step, dragged himself indoors.  This continued to kettle (I was to have a cup of tea), to cupboard and medicine cabinet culminating with the offer of a dab of Sudocrem.  As far as I remember, this is magnificent for nappy rash.  I slapped a bit on, drank the tea and half an hour later was on my merry way.

The Long Day in the Hills

There has been the odd time when Anton and I have bitten off a little more than we could chew.  One that particularly comes to mind is July of last year (17th July 2014 to be precise).  Anton planned a lovely long day of thirty seven miles of hill bagging, spread over six walks of varying length from one mile to twenty miles.  My first reaction was that this would be impossible, despite the fact that we were giving ourselves a sporting chance by getting down to the Elenydd group of hills for 7am.  It was also sunny and hot which Anton loves but I find very draining.  Nevertheless, the journey went well and we happily set off at the allotted time, breaking ourselves in with a nice little one miler, Cefn Bach (SN 704 417), close to which was a driveable forest track – always a good start.  Smiles were soon wiped off our faces when we found the deforested top had been replanted and the firs were about four to five years old, densely packed and dripping wet with heavy dew.  It might well have been raining.

The big walk

The second walk, circumnavigating the Blaen Rhisglog Plantation and comprising of four tops, was out of the woods but into the rough, almost six miles of the nine and a half mile route was rough, very rough - endless huge tussocks.  By this time we decided we had best make a start on the “big” walk.

After refuelling back at the car and a rest as we drove round to Llanwrtyd Wells, we found ourselves once again relishing the prospect of a good afternoon’s “work” in the wilderness of S.W.Wales.  We were to tackle eight tops in a walk of twenty miles.  Every single top was a struggle.  Once off path and track, there were deep, endless tussocks, making progress painfully slow, two tops deep in forests (actually easier than the tussocks) and one on a recently deforested top, which was horribly difficult.  By far the lengthiest and slowest section was the two and a half miles up to and between Bryn Mawr (SN 880 535) and Cefn Waun-lwyd (SN 863 522).  I thought we would never make the crossing and all the while we could see the long, one and half mile, 777ft of ascent climb to our next top, Cefn Cwm Irfon (SN 845 495), nicely snuggled in yet another forest, looming ahead.  It was too much.  Neither of us could face it and we reluctantly found the easiest and shortest way back to the car – down a road.  Three and a half miles of road – usually to be avoided at all costs but not this time, by the time we got back to the car park we had walked 17.3 miles and climbed 3,234ft.  It was 9.30pm and dusk fast approaching.  We just had to be satisfied with a day’s total of eleven tops, 27.7 miles and 5,287ft of ascent.

The New Tops

Myrddyn has meticulously kept me informed of new Pedwar discoveries and two I shall remember for some time were Craig y Ganllwyd (SH 707 258) and Pt. 499m (SH 665 310).  Craig y Ganllwyd was not a top I wanted to visit.

The New Tops and a devised walk between them

I had passed very closely by both these tops on a fourteen and a half mile walk circumnavigating Rhinog Fawr in August 2013.  I was aware of Craig y Ganllwyd but not Pt. 499m.  After almost seven miles of very rough going throughout the walk, culminating in very difficult terrain up and down Craig Aberserw (SH 695 265), I decided not to press on to Craig y Ganllwyd, thought to have a drop of about 26m and therefore not of particular interest to me, a big mistake.  This necessitated a re-visit just over a year later.  After studying the map and Google Earth, I decided the safest approach was from the north (as not all forest footpaths actually exist) and would be at least four and a half miles long.  The final half mile of ascent to the top was quite a struggle, through forest and over tussocks.  I managed to find an equally difficult alternative route back and thanked heaven that I was at last done with this rough but beautiful part of Wales.

One of the new tops - Craig y Ganllwyd (SH 707 258)

Not so, less than a month later Myrddyn informed me of Pt.499m (SH 665 310).  Where on earth could that be?  Excitedly I looked it up.  Oh no!  Back to the rough Rhinogs and another five mile walk, typically rocky and heathery as opposed to tussocks and forest – never mind, should make a change.  Once again, it was quite a walk, this time over large rocky outcrops.  Just as I thought I was getting there, another chasm appeared before me, three in total.  Eventually the inevitable happened; on 11th October 2014, I was stood on the large erratic boulder that was Pt. 499m, alone in the majestic wilderness of the un-walked Rhinogs.  What could be better on a pleasant autumnal afternoon, away from the crowds and eyesores that are the evidence of the presence of man.  I loved that moment, as I have loved every open summit I have reached since I began hill-bagging, made even more special by the extra effort needed to be there.

Another of the new tops - the summit of Pt. 499m (SH 665 310)

And Finally

In Anton’s own words: “It’s a fantastic List.  Get out there people and do ‘em!”  Couldn’t say it better myself.

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