This page heading on the Mapping Mountains site features articles from Guest Contributors, with the only stipulations being 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. For those wishing to submit an article please contact me via the email address given on the ‘About Me’ page heading.
Guest Contributor – Dewi Jones
Over the years, when asked which was my first hill, I have tended to say Cnicht in 1950, a memorable ascent of which, more in a moment. For when I think back, I am reminded of an earlier walk, during the summer of 1948, when our father took my brothers and I up Moelfre Isaf, (317 metres) some three miles inland from Abergele – where we lived at that time. There even exists a couple of photographs of the event, one of the three of us striding toward the summit and one posed at the top with me sitting on the trig pillar. They were taken with a pre-war bellows camera which leaked light so that my face is fogged out in the summit photo.
Now we come to that ascent of Cnicht. I was at a camp near Prenteg with the Porthmadog Scouts and a group of about ten of us decided to go up Cnicht for it is a shapely hill and a striking feature of the view of Eryri from Porthmadog. We were walking all the way, and chose the most direct route following the Croesor tramway, a disused narrow gauge railway that had brought slates down from the slate quarries in the Croesor valley to the coast at Porthmadog. Flat at first and then up two steep inclines to reach the village of Croesor, from there we did not choose the best of routes for we went on up the valley then climbed steep precarious scree to reach the summit ridge. By then it was raining and our clothing would have appalled a present day hill walker, but we did reach the top and got back down again intact. The one other incident I remember is, on setting off along the old railway a cow came trotting towards us. We panicked! And there was a mad scramble to get back over the gate. However, our friend Jeremy, who lived on a farm, knew better. He stood his ground shouted shooed it off and we came shamefacedly back over the gate and continued on our journey.
Despite the discomforts of that wet ascent something must have clicked with me for within a week I had been up Moel Ddu, a fine 1800ft hill behind our campsite where I remember witnessing a fine sunset and then, on the following weekend, over Snowdon and Lliweddd. I was hooked.
My parents must have been happy to encourage this new interest as a birthday present at about that time was an OS map, New Popular Edition, Sheet 107 Snowdon, Price (Cloth) Three Shillings. I still have it, and can trace my earlier walks, for I diligently inked them in on the map, until I had to stop for the area around Porthmadog had so many lines on it, it was becoming illegible.
It seems that it was not until the beginning of 1951 that I took to doing a lot of hill walking. Also at that time I started keeping an account of what was done – proudly called my Log Book. Here it is recorded that, on the 3rd January, myself and two friends went up Mynydd Gorllwyn in the snow. Had it not been written down I would not be able to recall it. But on reading I find that we were attracted by deep snow, which was laboriously deep and drifted on the upper slopes of this 1200ft hill. We seem to have taken a childlike delight in being able to walk unhindered over stone walls thanks to the depth of drifted snow.
Later that month I went with two older friends up Cnicht for the second time. Taking the bus to Llanfrothen and walking the three miles up to Croesor before going over Cnicht and the adjacent Arddu, then steeply down into the Nantmor valley and up again over Moel Dyneiwyd to catch the six o’clock bus home. It must be remembered that in the immediate post-war years not many people had cars and we were totally dependent on public transport or our bicycles to reach the hills. As a result we rarely were able to venture further than the area to the south of Snowdon. Clear evidence of how restricted we were can be seen on that ancient OS map mentioned earlier where virtually all the inked in lines are on the southern half of the sheet.
Our next outing was to Moel Lefn and Moel Hebog early in February of the following year. Memorable for long slides on our backsides on hard frozen snow, which unfortunately wore away the seat of my trousers (demoted school flannel) leaving me with an embarrassing and self-conscious walk home from the bus which we rode down from Beddgelert.
Equipment was always a problem in those days. During the war and in the years of ‘austerity’ that followed clothing was in short supply, and indeed were rationed during the war, a system that continued until 1949, when it came to an end. But the feeling of shortage prevailed and there was a considerable dependence on garments that were passed on from older relatives that had outgrown them. Hence the trousers that wore out on Moel Hebog. The one redeeming element was the availability of cheap ex-war department equipment. I had a camouflaged anorak which lasted years and finally disintegrated on an ascent of Great Slab on Clogwyn Du’r Arddu many years later. The Commando Rucksack was good for camping trips despite being very heavy because of its iron frame and there was a smaller sack, good for day trips. I still have my ex WD ice axe from that time, but ex WD karabiners from that time were a disaster area (literally) for they easily twisted out of shape and were the cause of a number of accidents before their inadequacy was understood.
1951 was the year I really got going being out on the local trips maybe twice a month for finding days when like-minded friends were available could be a problem, especially as my father was a deacon in the chapel and going out on Sundays was not allowed. One walk from April of that year, I have dramatically titled ‘My First Failure – Tryfan’. We had cycled to Pen-y-Gwryd, but encountered hard frozen snow and blizzard conditions while crossing Cwm Tryfan. We turned back, but I do remember a dramatic view of Tryfan as mist cleared briefly as we crossed the flat ground below Glyder Fach. In June we completed the Snowdon Horseshoe having had a lift to Pen-y-Pass from E. G. Rowlands, an elderly gentleman from Cricieth, who later produced one of the early walking guides to Snowdonia, which might, in an updated form, still be in print. I am ashamed to say that we left Mr Rowlands behind on the way up Crib Goch, and ended up in Nant Gwynant from where we hitch hiked home. And so the year continued, so that by the end of it I had visited some thirty different mountains and been up Snowdon five times.
The following year continued in much the same vein, one of the more memorable outings was an ascent of Snowdon by the Rhyd Ddu path in particularly wintry conditions, where we had to resort to cutting steps on particularly hard frozen sections. Not many photos are available of these days but my companion on that day did have a camera and there survives a shot of me cutting those steps on Bwlch Main, with the summit hotel visible in the background.
I was sixteen in 1952, and I recorded the shock of having to pay the full bus fare to Pen-y-Gwryd, three shillings and six pence! We were bound for the Horseshoe once again, and I see that two of us kept right on to the crest of the ridge on Crib y Ddysgl, even going over the top of the trig pillar on the summit.
During the summer of 1953 I was fortunate to be able to go on an ‘expedition’ to Arctic Norway – glaciers and unclimbed peaks at the tender age of sixteen. During the following summer I was on the Cuillin in Skye. Then it was University at Aberystwyth, with limited opportunities for going on the hill, the same old problems, nobody had cars and very limited public transport. By then my erstwhile companions at home had become scattered – away on apprenticeships or on national service in the Army or the Royal Navy, so that when I was at home I usually went out on my own, something that I still enjoy to this day.
List Ticking Hill Bagger
I think I have to admit to being something of a list ticking hill bagger, for one of the first things I did when I started going to the hills was make a list of the two thousand foot summits of Snowdonia in the back of an old school exercise book. I still have it somewhere in the house. This was soon superseded by a book called Hill Walking in Snowdonia by the aforementioned E. G. Rowlands of Cricieth. Which listed fifty summits over two thousand feet in Snowdonia. A book with a long publishing history, indeed it is still in print but has undoubtedly been revised many times. It was some years before I had reached all fifty tops, not least because rock climbing rather than hill walking became my obsession, but that is another story.
Moving to live and work in Scotland in 1970 was a significant development, for as is well known Sir Hugh Munro had compiled and published his listings of the Scottish three thousands’ at the end of the nineteenth century, a new edition had appeared in 1969 and one of the first things I did was get hold of a copy. I had already visited Scotland a few times and was immediately able to tick off twenty or so Munros in areas such as Skye, Torridon, Glencoe and the Cairngorms. Even then I did not set out to ‘do the Munros’, but as time went by and I had worked both in the western and eastern Highlands and in 1975 I found I had done about 150 and decided to try and ‘compleat’. It was four years later during August 1979 that I was walking down the long glen from Mount Keen, having ticked off the last one. There is a reason why Mount Keen was saved until last. My first Munro was Sgurr na Banachdich in Skye, which happens to be the most westerly, it seemed logical to keep the most easterly until last. The whole process had taken twenty five years.
I did think about tackling the Corbetts, but have not got very far with them. Indeed I consider them to be more of a challenge than the Munros, they are to be found over a wider area, and are not so easy to link together in single walks. However, I did spend some time on the third list in the Munro’s Tables book, that is Donalds Tables of Hills in the Scottish Lowlands 2000 feet and above and got close to completing them before I moved back to live in Wales. I cannot see myself setting off on a six hundred mile round trip to put a tick beside (for example) Bloodybush Edge, 2001 feet in the Cheviot Hills.
I did, during the 1980s, go about tackling the Welsh 2000ers, but in a rather half-hearted way. A project that was given a particular boost by the appearance in 1989 of the Nuttall’s comprehensive list in their guide to the 2000 foot mountains of Wales, at last a clear target. Completion of three rounds of these hills was made easier for me because at that time I had occasion to head for the Severn Bridge quite often.
The Nuttall’s book was followed three years later by Alan Dawson’s Relative Hills of Britain, an interesting concept being a list of every hill in Britain with a re-ascent of 150m from the highest land around it. In the original list there were 149 Marilyns (as they are now known) in the Principality, and once again there was something attainable to tackle. As with any list one is drawn to hills and parts of the country that one might not otherwise visit. Especially as quite a number of these hills are on private (and sometimes very private!) land. Dodging gamekeepers and thousands of young pheasants on the approach to Upper Park near Welshpool was particularly challenging.
The danger is that when a list if hills is compiled with precise definition of the required height and re-ascent, it becomes an open invitation to look for errors and omissions. Sir Hugh Munro in his list of the 3000 foot hills of Scotland (first published in 1891) gloriously avoided the problem by abiding by his 3000 foot definition and avoiding a precise definition of the re-ascent, although a figure of about 500 feet seems to have been in his mind.
The revised edition of Munro’s tables that was published in 1969 includes Corbett’s list of summits over 2500 feet in Scotland – which was not published in his lifetime – and Donald’s listing of 2000 foot hills in the Southern Uplands of Scotland, both of which use a defined re-ascent. Doubtless, over the years others have compiled lists of hills for their own interest and possibly motivation; indeed I was guilty of this myself, putting together a list of ‘Snowdonia Two-thousanders’ in the back of a school notebook.
It is not the intention here to delve into the history of hill lists although there may be a place for that at some time, but rather to recall my own small contribution to what I like to think of as bending the lists. In 1989 John and Anne Nuttall produced the first of their two books listing and describing a way of visiting all the hills of England and Wales, defining them as summits over 2000 feet high with a re-ascent of 50 feet.
At that time I was a fairly frequent visitor to Cnicht, that shapely hill that overlooks the Glaslyn estuary to the south of Snowdon and began to wonder at the amount to be climbed to reach a subsidiary top about 400 metres north-east of the main top. I became convinced that the re-ascent was more than 50 feet and used a crude levelling system to measure the height becoming convinced in my own mind that I was right.
|Dewi with his rudimentary measuring staff, an ingenious way to measure drop|
I did n0t think much more of it until on a day in late June 1996 I was descending Cribyn in the Brecon Beacons. I was a bit behind my friends and when I caught them up they asked me did I know who we’d passed on the way down. I did not, and when they told me John and Anne Nuttall I did a quick about turn and galloped back up the hill to speak to them. They very kindly took note of what I said and told me they would take a look next time they were in the area. They were as good as their word and in the second edition of the book published in 1999 Cnicht north-east top is included. So are a number of other ‘new’ summits, for in the spring of 1997 I met Myrddyn Phillips on the top of Bwlch y Groes near Aran Fawddwy, who at that time was doing multiple rounds of the hills listed by the Nuttall’s. Not only was he interested, he took up the baton and ran with it and it is he, more than anyone else who is responsible for finding the extra summits that have been identified.