Thursday, 30 April 2015

Y Pellennig - The Remotest Hills of Wales - Western Mail Wales Online article

Hill sleuths' book uncovers Wales' most remote uplands

Wales' best-known beauty spots trip off the tongue with ease - Snowdonia, the Beacons etc. But what of the gems we have to search for?

They are at least 2.5 kilometres from the nearest road and have a drop of 15 metres or more from the summit to a path connecting them to other peaks.

And in some cases you would have struggled to find them in any guide. Until now.
Because some of Wales’ wildest spots have a guide book all of their own.

Myrddyn Phillips’ and Dr Aled Williams’ new booklet Y Pellennig: The Remotest Hills of Wales catalogues the undiscovered gems of the Welsh hinterlands.
The list evolved out of an attempt to pinpoint the most remote spot in mainland Wales from the nearest road.
Some of the spectacular images from the new booklet
This point was identified in the heart of the Black Mountains in South Wales. This soon led the pair to investigate all the hills in Wales.
But they had to decide on an objective measure of remoteness. They came up with the definition based on the closeness of roads that also tries to ensure individual hills are identified rather than bumps in a range.
They settled on the 2.5km measure in relation to roads and the 15m drop to distinguish one hill from another.
It resulted in a list of 166 hills across Wales catalogued in their recently published booklet.
But after publishing the work, the keen walkers discovered another hill they had overlooked.

The complete list includes 42 island hills

On a journey to Bardsey Island off the Llyn Peninsula, in Gwynedd, Mr Phillips discovered Pen Diban on the south of the island also fits the criteria for their booklet.

The work included another of Bardsey’s hills, Mynydd Enlli, but made no mention of Pen Diban. Now the pair plan to republish the work with Pen Diban included.
Retired printer Mr Phillips, 54, from Welshpool, Powys, said: “I surveyed that hill (Pen Diban) and it just squeezes into the list so we have a new remote hill.

Some of the spectacular images from the new booklet
Yr Wyddfa, part of the gallery of photographs on view

“The main point of access for the list is the booklet and it hasn’t been put in there because it’s only been published two weeks and already we’ve got a new hill to enter the list.”
The complete list includes 42 island hills, the majority of which are out of bounds during the summer due to seabird nesting colonies, or their inaccessibility.
So a mainland-only list was also devised that would be feasible for walkers to complete.

A few of the hills will be unknown to many walkers

The booklet features a diverse range of peaks with contrasting summits, geological features and locations.
Included are the lofty tops of the dramatic Worm’s Head, on the Gower, the lonely sentinel of Ynys Llanddwyn on the south-western tip of Anglesey and the handful of hills found on Ramsey Island, off Pembrokeshire.
Carnedd Uchaf, in Snowdonia’s Carneddau range appears, as does Snowdon itself.

Snowdon is the highest mountain in England and Wales, but not the most remote

But a few of the hills will be unknown to many walkers, as the booklet represents their first appearance in a list.
The remotest hill in all of Wales also proved to be one of the lowest – West Tump, which is a 17m high wave-battered lump of rock 16km out in the Irish Sea, on Grassholm Island off Pembrokeshire.

Tyle Garw, the remotest hill of mainland Wales, was found in grassland to the south of the Black Mountain peaks in the Brecon Beacons.

Scientist Dr Williams, 29, from Porthmadog, said: “These distances are not great by Scottish standards, but the perception of remoteness is, of course, relative to a particular country.
“The remote land found in Siberia is on another scale when compared to the Scottish Highlands, and so are the Welsh hills when compared to the Highlands.
“The booklet will assist walkers in getting far from the madding crowd, visiting the loneliest, wild and scenic spots in Wales”.

The book marks the latest in a series of works

The writers say every hill name has been painstakingly researched, and the booklet also publicises some unrecorded names from the duo’s research.
These names were given to the pair by farmers, shepherds and landowners.
The authors say they want to safeguard local upland names and encourage their use over invented terms with “no or minimal historical and cultural merit”.
They hope to publish the entirety of this place-name research to help ensure the names survive.
The book marks the latest in a series of works Mr Phillips has been involved in cataloguing Wales’ hills and mountains.
In 2013 Mr Phillips and Dr Williams published what they believed was the definitive list (dubbed the Pedwars) of the more than 400 hills in Wales between the height of 400-499m.
And with friends Graham Jackson and John Barnard Mr Phillips has measured mountains and hills throughout Britain to ensure they are properly classified.
In 2008, Mynydd Graig Goch on Snowdonia’s Nantlle Ridge was designated as a 2,000ft mountain as a result of their work – it made mountain status by just six inches.

And in 2009 they proved that one of the accepted 3,000ft Scottish Munros was below the 914.4-metre line that defines qualification for that list.

Please click to see the original article published on the Western Mail Wales Online website

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Mapping Mountains – Trimble Surveys – Aran

22.04.15  Waun Camddwr (SH 848 207) and Pt. 779m (bwlch only) 

Graham approaching one of the twin summits of Waun Camddwr (SH 848 207) with Aran Fawddwy in the background
Twenty six years ago John and Anne Nuttall had their guide to the Welsh 2,000ft mountains published by Cicerone.  This book would become essential to any prospective completer of these mountains, within the book were listed 181 hills that met the minimum 15m of drop qualification.

Six years later and Dewi Jones surveyed a top just to the north of Cnicht in the Moelwynion with an ingeniously adapted walking staff; he concluded that this top should also be in the Nuttalls list.  This hill was later line surveyed by Harold Morris and Tudur Owain as having 65ft (19.8m) of drop.

A year or so later and I was fortunate to meet Dewi in the car park at Bwlch y Groes, as we chatted I spotted the Nuttalls guide in the boot of his car, he soon told me about this as yet confirmed new top and the way that he had surveyed it.  I found what Dewi had done fascinating; this coincidental encounter had ignited a spark in me, and one that is yet to be dimmed.

Within a few weeks I had manufactured a simple measuring staff and noted a multitude of points (single ring contours at or above 610m in height) and proceeded to spend the next 15 months measuring over 160 of them.  This was during 1998 and the early part of 1999, through these surveys and ones conducted by Dewi another six new tops were discovered, bringing the total upto 188.

Two hills remained of interest; Castell y Gwynt and Fronllwyd, both are in the Glyderau and both had been surveyed as having over the required 15m of drop to qualify for John and Anne’s list.  However, they had also surveyed these two hills and concluded that they had less that the requited 15m of drop.  In time both would be accurately surveyed and enter the Nuttalls list.  With these two additions the overall number of new hills added to this list and whose qualification was instigated by a basic levelling survey was now set at nine.  One of these hills is Waun Camddwr in the Aran.  I last surveyed this hill in January 1999 as having 53ft (16.15m) of drop.  The hill has three potential points vying for the highest, two are rocky and near one another, whilst the third is separated and comprises moorland, I surveyed the moorland summit as a teense higher than the rocky summits.

Having joined John and Graham in pursuit of fun and accuracy as part of G&J Surveys, and having now got a Trimble, enables all of these hills to be more accurately surveyed, hopefully all will in time.

We hadn’t surveyed a marginal Nuttall for almost a year and the time was due to get out onto the hill and see if one of these ‘new Nuttalls’ stood up to a line survey and a GNSS survey.  The hill we picked was Waun Camddwr.

We met in the car part toward the end of Cwm Cywarch, conditions for the day on the hill were forecast to be good, albeit it with a brisk easterly breeze.  As I set off with the tripod strapped to my 75 litre rucksack the crags of Craig Cywarch loomed overhead with an intense blue sky above.

Craig Cywarch from the upper part of Cwm Cywarch
John and Graham set off a few minutes after me, but soon caught up as we followed the green path beside the dulled and crisp bracken up toward the high cwm which would give us access to the bwlch between Waun Camddwr and its much higher south-westerly neighbour.

Looking down Cwm Cywarch with John and Graham quickly approaching
The path towards the bwlch is good with a solid footbridge crossed about a third of the way up.  In the upper part of the cwm the ground steepens and the path weaves its way through small patches of broken ground.  By now John had pressed his motorised button and was disappearing off into the distance and I slowly followed with Graham in between.

The path ascends steeply up the cwm to the low point on the horizon on the left of the photo
Once beyond the connecting bwlch a path next to a fence can be followed with a series of wooden boards laid over intervening bog.  As John and Graham approached the first option for the summit of Waun Camddwr the blue sky towered all around with the bulk of Aran Fawddwy dominating the background view.

Approaching the first of the rocky summits
As I arrived beside the two rocky summits the wind blew and soon we had all put on extra layers of clothing.  The first thing to do was ascertain which of the two rocky summits is the higher, this was done with the level and staff with the conclusion being that the more north-easterly is 30cm higher than the south-westerly.  The lower rocky summit has a small cairn on it; both are separated by an intervening fence which forms a T-junction with the ridge fence and where a ladder stile is situated.  The higher of these two rocky summits does not possess a separate 620m ring contour on the 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey maps.  However, their enlarged mapping available on the Geograph website includes the same contouring but the fence line is correctly positioned.

Taking a reading from one rocky summit to the other
John had previously Abneyed these rocky summits and using the level and staff confirmed his previous survey, it also confirmed what John and Anne concluded ‘Head down north-west along the line of the old fence to rejoin the path which is boggy in places, but helpful planks of wood cross the worst bits.  Follow the fence left to this new top, which is on the left, just before the next fence junction.  Nagged by Myrddyn to go and have another look at this summit, we found the rocky knoll rises by 16m, though the OS have overlooked it and omitted an encircling 620m contour’.  I nagged them as this hill had appeared in their ‘Deleted Tops’ list with an estimated 12m of drop.  Sometimes persistence pays dividends.  The detail in their guide was written before the Ordnance Survey enlarged map on the Geograph website became publicly available.

We now set the level up to look over toward the moorland top where Graham had walked to and positioned the staff on a couple of points.  Roles were then reversed with Graham at the optics and John with the staff on the moorland summit.  The conclusion was that the highest of the two rocky summits was higher than the moorland top by about 27cm.

Graham with the staff on the moorland summit
Roles now reversed and Graham looks through the level toward John with the staff on the moorland summit
Our next port of call was this hill’s critical bwlch which lay between it and Aran Fawddwy.  Once there it brought back memories of when I was pottering around these and many other hills with my old measuring staff, I hadn’t investigated this bwlch for 16 years and my memory was of a heathery land with a slime infested boggy pool next to where the bwlch lay.  The land hadn’t changed much in the intervening years and considering the territory hereabouts the point of the critical bwlch was easily identified as a slight rise in a heathery gulley that fed down to the infant Camddwr to our south and into the boggy bog bog to our north.

As the Leica GS15 collected data from the critical bwlch we had some eats and I took data from an elevated rock with the Trimble which we had taken a measurement offset to, so we could compare the Leica data set to that of the Trimble.  Once all complete we started the line survey.

The Trimble gathering data on a rock near the Leica GS15 which is positioned in the heathery gully at the critical bwlch
Graham and John with the Leica GS15 at the bwlch of Waun Camddwr
We hadn’t done a line survey as a threesome for a long time and it was good to have the opportunity to do one as the sun baked down.  John operated the level, I held and positioned the staff and Graham noted the figures.  We headed toward the wooden boards as this gave easier access.  Slowly we made progress until roughly level with where the moorland top is positioned and over the fence we climbed and proceeded to survey upto the highest point.

Graham doing the sums as we make progress with the line survey
Many years ago when I identified this moorland top as the higher of the three I had wedged the remains of a truncated fence post into the peat near to its summit, I looked for this when we arrived at its top, it had been 15 years since my last visit and the truncated fence post has long disappeared.

We took readings to a number of potential high points and found a large boulder to be the highest; we left a yellow flag beside it, as we had done with our starting position at the bwlch.

A few minutes later and we had line surveyed from the moorland summit over to the highest of the rocky summits.  Calculator in hand the sums were now done with a rather surprising result; the moorland summit was 5mm higher than the rocky summit!  This was unexpected as we had looked through the optics between the two summits when we had first arrived and measured a difference of approximately 27cm.  We checked the height difference between where the level had been placed for its last reading and the top of the rocky summit, this came to 7cm.  John then walked back with staff in hand to the moorland summit and Graham looked through the optics and said that the reading was 8cm, I looked and said 7cm, split the difference and it matched the 5mm difference we had obtained from the line survey.  We soon realised that when the initial reading had been taken to the moorland summit we had not identified the highest point and had instead just positioned the staff on a couple of points to get the general lay of the land in comparison to the highest of the two rocky summits.

On our way from the moorland summit to the higher of the two rocky summits
As the two summits were so close in height we decided to do another line survey back from the rocky summit to the moorland summit, once this was done the sums were added up and we now made the rocky summit the higher by 2mm, hee, hee!!!!

I’m not an expert on the technical aspects of the technologies being used, but these readings basically told us that we could not split what summit is the highest, so we now have a twin Nuttall top, the first time this has happened, I love stuff like this!

As John retrieved the yellow flag at the bwlch I positioned the Trimble on the rock at the summit of the moorland top for five minutes of data, we then positioned the Leica GS15 over the summit.  After a number of compulsory summit photographs I left John and Graham at the moorland summit and scampered off to get Trimble data at the rocky summit and then continued down to the connecting bwlch with the hill that the Ordnance Survey have the name of Glascwn emblazoned across its summit.

Gathering data with the Trimble from the top of the moorland summit
Graham and John beside the level at the moorland summit
John and Graham beside the Leica GS15 at the top of the moorland summit
Gathering data with the Trimble from the top of the rocky summit
The connecting bwlch comprised a large dried up bog, I placed the Trimble at its southerly end which to my eye looked higher than its northerly end, collected five minutes of data and waited for John and Graham.

Gathering data at the bwlch of Pt. 779m
All that remained was for Graham to puzzle over the 4mm and 2mm readings and for us to reverse our steep inward route back to the cars in the valley below.  A very fulfilling and enjoyable day on the hill and a great twin Nuttall result – YYIIIPPPEEEEEE!!!!!!!!

Descending our inward route back to the valley below

Survey Result:

Waun Camddwr

Summit Height (moorland summit):  621.6m (converted to OSGM15, Trimble) 621.7m (converted to OSGM15, Leica GS15)

Summit Height (rocky summit):  621.5m (converted to OSGM15, Trimble) 621.7m (converted to OSGM15, Leica GS15)

Summit Grid Reference (moorland summit):  SH 84828 20709

Summit Grid Reference (rocky summit):  SH 84726 20550

Bwlch Height:  606.1m (converted to OSGM15, Trimble) 606.3m (converted to OSGM15, Leica GS15)

Bwlch Grid Reference:  SH 85069 20707

Drop:  15.5m (Trimble) 15.4m (Leica GS15) 15.5m (Line Survey) (Nuttall and Uchaf status confirmed)

Dominance:  2.48%

Pt. 779m

Bwlch Height:  564.1m (converted to OSGM15)

Bwlch Grid Reference:  SH 84139 19997

Drop:  215m

Dominance:  27.60%

For further details please consult the Trimble survey spreadsheet click {here}

Monday, 27 April 2015

Mapping Mountains – Trimble Surveys – Cefn Digoll

21.04.15  Caus Castle (SJ 337 077)      

Caus Castle (SJ 337 077)

Nestled in the green Shropshire countryside are some of the best hills of border country, many are steep sided and concentrated around the Long Mynd and Stiperstones area, others are seldom visited and almost hidden from view and knowledge.  Today’s wee expedition visited one of these hidden little gems.  It was a hill suggested by Charlie who had arranged access.  I’d never heard of Caus Castle, but Charlie re-assured me that it would be full of interest, and so it proved.

We met mid-way between Shrewsbury and Welshpool and drove one car to where the critical col of the hill lay, this we would explore after visiting the hill.  Conditions were perfect for exploring with a big blue sky and unusual warmth for mid-April.  Just as we pulled up the sheep from an adjacent field were being rounded up and led down the lane.  We set off over a gate with the heat haze obstructing any distant view; it was similar to a day in mid-June rather than one in spring.

Rounding up the sheep

Ahead lay our hill, from our approaching vantage point it was no more than a copse of mature trees perched at the top of a field.  Soon we gained the boundary of the trees and entered a totally different landscape, one full of earthen ditches; ancient mounds of earth with the highest being impressively steep sided.

The view of Caus Castle from the narrow lane to its west

The tranquil beauty was enriched by dabbled light as the canopy of trees and their sprouting fresh green leaves accentuated light and shade.  Small banks of primroses and violets added warm colour against the green of grass with a multitude of tall, mature trees adding vertical height.
Beautiful colour of the Violet

Primrose yellow against wooded undergrowth

Behind these trees lay a huge mound of earth, we wondered if this mound was man-made as its gradient was similarly steep on all sides.  As we approached it the trees gave way for a distant view of the Stiperstones and the Shropshire countryside.

Distant view of the Stiperstones

We had both read an account by Rob Woodall that the westerly point of this hill is the higher; with the Ordnance Survey spot heighting a point further east.  Charlie led the way to the summit up an earthen sided bank next to wooded undergrowth.  As we arrived at the top the remains of a stone wall confronted us, we’d seen one or two similar remains lower in the wood, but this was particularly unusual perched as it was at the summit.

Our first view of the summit

The natural high point was easy to identify and I balanced the Trimble on a small rock to align the internal antenna with another small embedded rock, the waiting process began as the whole area was enclosed by trees; thankfully spring growth had not yet turned to a summer canopy when satellite coverage would be next to impossible.  However, even today the wait went on and on, after around 20 minutes the magical figure of 0.1m appeared on the Trimble’s screen and I pressed ‘Log’ and scampered off to re-join Charlie on the other side of the wall.

At the summit of Caus Castle
Gathering data at the summit of Caus Castle

Once five minutes of data were collected we headed over to the spot heighted summit and found an old well on the way.  Charlie had read about this and wanted to find it; it shot downward and was fenced off, with the sides of the well built up with slate.

Beyond the well lay the other summit, this proved a slender affair, one positioned under another dabbled canopy.  As we stood on this top we tried looking back to the point that had been Trimbled, although the tree coverage did not give us a clear view we agreed that Rob had been correct and the more westerly top was obviously higher.

The summit where the 223m Ordnance Survey spot height appears
Charlie at the top of the spot heighted summit

As we made our way down into the centre of the wood the higher earthen mound rose up, grey silhouetted and slightly mysterious, I thought it looked like an upturned jelly mould as its steep gradient was symmetrical.

The higher summit looking grey and mysterious through the wooded canopy
Symmetrical in shape the summit of Caus Castle looms over its surroundings

Circling these earthen mounds are a series of ancient embankments, there are a number that are obvious within the wood, whilst others existed in the adjacent field, but these are now slight and sometimes hard to distinguish.  These banks and their ditches gave a perfect enclosure to the wood, which sprang up with mature trees and bird song.

Part of the earthen embankment and ditch
Charlie on one of the embankments

The earthen mound which supports the high point of the hill is part of a later Motte and Bailey, a supplanted addition on a much earlier construction.  However, periods of architectural time in such a place does not detract from the overall beauty and one fortified construction next to another enhanced the landscape.

One of the embankments with the high point of Caus Castle towering over it on the left of photo

We walked part of one of the embankments and had now circled the compound as we headed back toward the car.  Once out of the wood the dabbled, gentle light gave way to the full strength of the sun.  Soon we had climbed the inward gate and walked past the car to look at a track that crosses the critical col of the hill.  This track rose at its high point above the surrounding ground which seemed to have been dug out for its construction.  On one side was a hedge where the height of the track plunged down to the bottom of the hedge, all of this meant pinpointing the position of the critical col was unexpectedly difficult.  Once a spot had been picked it had the customary five minutes of data gathered from it before I joined Charlie at the car.

Charlie at the col of Caus Castle
Gathering data at the col of Caus Castle

What a great little hill and a very enjoyable afternoon spent in the company of Charlie Leventon.   

Survey Result:

Caus Castle

Summit Height:  233.6m (converted to OSGM15) (significant height revision)

Summit Grid Reference:  SJ 33713 07792 (summit relocation confirmed)

Col Height:  180.4m (converted to OSGM15)

Col Grid Reference:  SJ 33384 07622

Drop:  53.2m 

Dominance:  22.78%

For further details please consult the Trimble survey spreadsheet click {here}