While Cadair Idris always gets the attention, but Aran Fawddwy is still the high point of Southern Eryri. While Cadair has all on show, for all to see; Aran Fawddwy and Benllyn are much more modest, keeping their most attractive faces only for those who are willing to put some effort in to get to know them.
They have a hard, rocky side up on the higher summits, and distinct steep grassy slopes that only enhance their height. There are even peat hags on some of the lower summits. Well worth a punt if you like your hills a little quieter.
Distance, Ascent and Time 23km, 1240m ascent, 8 hours
Difficulties Distance, ascent and routefinding.
Start and End Llanuwchllyn
Facilities Limited parking
Public Transport Buses from Dolgellau and Bala.
The Route Start at the National Park Car park at SH879 297 and follow the obvious track opposite, which is an easy to follow farm track heading up to the knoll. You may continue on the bridle way, but it skirts the knoll, surely no better excuse for a very early lunch than the summit of this as it presides over Llyn Tegid and the surrounding hills. The path seems never ending! Steady as she goes, boggy in places. The summit of Aran Benllyn dominates, if not taunts, for the entire climb. It’ll be another 6km before you reach that, and nearly 9km before you reach Aran Fawddwy! If in doubt, there’s a fence that accompanies you most of the way, but navigation is generally straightforward.
On this occasion, I was training for a Scotland trip and this sort of convoluted ascent was ideal practice as you barely get ascents longer than 6km in Northern Eryri outside the Carneddau.
Eventually, you’ll start the real climb up to Moel Ffenigl, a minor top, but it relents again, before climbing steadily up to what you hope is the first proper summit of the day, and have hoped for the last hour or so. Again, parts are steep, but then it eases off through a magnificent landscape of knolls and pools, before finally you reach the first summit of five you’ll climb today.
From here you can finally see Aran Fawddwy in all its glory – pyramidal from this angle – somewhat reminiscent of Yr Wyddfa’s summit. Continue across the knobbly terrain, over the featureless, grassy brow of Erw y Ddafad-ddu (though the name technically refers to the grassy slope below) and across similar terrain to Aran Fawddwy. You’ll cross a wall and stile before the final climb, which is a little scrambly in places, but should not pose too much trouble. It did today, as there was also plenty of rotten snow about.
The summit sports a tatty trig and a small shelter, and despite queuing all night when they were handing the altitude out, was just behind sneaky Tryfan (who queue jumped, so I hear) and ended up being barely 9m short to be a member of the elite 14/15 peaks, but is still clearly the highest point all around. This is quite convenient I suppose, as it keeps the highest peaks within an area that’s just do-able by mortals in one day. It was historically thought to be lower than Cadair Idris, and a friend of mine says that her father was one of a party that went up from Dinas Mawddwy and apparently tried to add to its height in an act of one-upmanship, but no sign remains today.
Retrace your steps to Erw’r Dafad-ddu and keep an eye out for the tall, well built cairn to the right. While I’m not certain what this signifies, keep left of this cairn as it does mark steep ground below. Shortly after passing this, you’ll find that you can start to descend a steep grassy slope. In mist, your best bet would be to find the summit of Erw’r Dafad-ddu and descend on a bearing.
You’ll start considering that the second part of this walk will be over two reasonably low and insignificant mountains and that the best bet is to descend back the way you came, much in the same vein as most walkers who tackle this ridge. Wanting to cover as much new ground as possible, and bag some awkward hills, it made sense to strike off over these green lumps and make the day worthwhile. The almost pyramidal slopes of Esgeiriau Gwynion looked enticing, but I still was not convinced. However, including these hills on a day with a view will make your trip complete as you’ll be able to see the ridge you ascended in its full glory, and only then appreciate the route you walked today. You also get to include some weird and wonderful peat hag terrain, which is totally unexpected (though, it won’t be for you as I’ve provided you with a spoiler).
The above becomes apparent as you descend the painfully steep slope and views of Creiglyn Dyfi and Aran Fawddwy dominate, being somewhat reminiscent of Glaslyn and Yr Wyddfa. Creiglyn Dyfi is a lonely and unfrequented lake, unlike its many cousins at Cadair and the north of the park, and worth a snack spot if you have time. You could shorten the day and descend via Cwm Llwydd if you need to.
It’s an easy grassy ascent over Foel Hafod Fynydd and all you need to do is follow fence along a faint path through the hags. You’ll need to descend at around SH883 225 where the fence takes you very steeply down to Bwlch Sirddyn. Poles definitely help with this section. If in doubt, continue along ridge until slope is less steep, and contour along bottom to fence. Crossing Bwlch Sirddyn looks intimidating from the descent, but while the first section is wet, you’re never concerned you’re going to get a bootful. The last section is peat hag, and it was perfectly solid underfoot, though your mileage might well vary. There’s a really decent track that crosses this bwlch – but it all but vanishes into the bog here. You can cut the walk short by descending the track directly to Cwm Ffynnon. It’s puzzling why this ancient pass has become disused, while barely a few kilometres away there’s a similar road over Bwlch y Groes at over 500m.
The final ascent is steep, and at this point, the mountain became Esgeiriau Gwirion – Stupid Slope, or rather we wondered why we hadn’t taken the direct route down and gone up this killer instead. But at least at the summit you get an unrivalled view back over your entire walk. If you don’t think this was worth ascending then it was probably cloudy that day. Descending it bring the surprise of peat hags like giant mushrooms, with similar visible on the neighbouring top of Llechwedd Du.
Continue descending an increasingly rough slope – rushes and deep grass makes it unpleasant. There’s a ditch with a bank further on, and this makes going a bit easier. Again, it looks as if it should be very boggy, but is surprisingly dry underfoot. At the staggered fence boundary – cross the gate – then you need to be setting off cross country west towards the path shown on the map. It’s difficult to spot, and a little boggy. If you do miss it, follow a bearing to Cwm Ffynnon farm at the head of the valley or better still to the ruined hafod that’s built of white stone. You’ll see a lot of this white quartzite in the valley – there are a few walls made of the rock as well as fragments just lying on the ground.
Cross the green turf bridge to Cwm-ffynnon, through the deserted farm, across the fields where the path isn’t clear but the walking is very pleasant across short cut turf, continuing in the same direction as you start should see you find the minor road at Nant y Barcut and a mammoth, if pleasant enough, road yomp back to the start through Cwm Croes. Just make sure you find the final little stretch of footpath opposite Pen-rhiw-Dwrch to finish off one of the understated classic horeshoe walks in Snowdonia. Surely what some of the writers of olde would have called a walk for the connoisseur.