This is a slightly easier option than the tougher Llyn Cowlyd route, returning through the pastoral Cwm Crafnant which...
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Tal y Fan and Penmaenmawr Uplands from Llanfairfechan Walk
Llanfairfechan is an ideal starting location for the Northern Carneddau. I usually walk up from Aber, but that’s an absolute honeypot in the summer. There’s a couple of convenience stores on the way up as well, so you can stock up when you arrive but I’m not yet sure which of the pubs (if any) would suit a thirsty walker. Any suggestions in the comments welcomed!!
Starting off high up in Llanfairfechan at Nant y Coed nature reserve, there’s plenty of parking available either at the location officially noted on the OS map, at the hairpin at the bottom of Newry Drive or at the bridge where we parked today (the road beyond was iced up).
You can follow the Valley Road by crossing the bridge, or continue up Newry Drive and cross later on. We chose to take the valley road which takes you in a few minutes to the official car park.
From the car park, the track you need to take is to the left. The right hand lane is clearly marked ‘ Cammarnaint’. Keep an eye out for the granite waymarkers along the way as the initial section is a confusion of ancient lanes and tracks that would otherwise be less than obvious to follow.
You’ll quickly gain height and you’ll be treated to the views up and down the wooded valley that were pleasant on a winter’s day, and more so once spring arrives. Make sure you follow the markers and you’ll be fine on this initial section.
Somewhere around the 290m contour, the path becomes less clear and there’s an option to go left or right. Keep right, parallel with the river and after a few minutes you’ll spot the granite waymark just ahead. If you’ve got a compass, then it may be worth setting a bearing if in doubt.
The path now travels through the rougher uplands, characterised around here with short cropped turf and huge gorse bushes. Paths are plentiful, too much so, as they’re made by the Carneddau ponies in all directions. It can be rather boggy in places too. Or treacherously icy on rare occasions like today. The certainty is the expansive views behind you towards Liverpool Bay and Anglesey.
You can follow the route directly to Bwlch y Ddeufaen, and it’s probably recommended that you do that and follow the wall up Foel Lwyd directly from there. We took the direct route – as Tal y Fan is one of those hills that’s almost climbable from all directions. While I’ve ascended it many times, I can’t recall having ever duplicated any route to this summit. Following a re-entrant, we were soon at the wall that marks this mountain’s ridge, though it was rather slippery in the thin coating of snow and hidden heather underneath.
Foel Lwyd is perhaps the most underwhelming summit I can think of. Not that it isn’t a special spot that you can stop, lunch and savour the view. More that you’ve past it before you realise it, and you’re climbing Tal y Fan.
Tal y Fan is best ascended by keeping the wall to your right (the OS map shows the path on the opposite side, but the path is fainter than the one on the opposite side of the wall and the views are less open). There are a few scrambly sections, and the first summit is a false one. You have to climb down and then climb to the proper one, which was today over crowded. A group of about 20 had made it up with dogs, so I stayed on the other side. I don’t mind dogs, but mostly they have no sense whatsoever of food ownership – not ideal when you’re trying to eat your sandwiches at ground level.
Descending provides just as many options as the ascent. The best option, I think, is to continue along the summit ridge and descend either to the quarry at Maen Pendddu or keep with the wall as it changes direction from a roughly NE to SE direction and follow the green track around to Maen Penddu.
The route actually taken does not merit much description. Needless to say, we made it down to the track at SH732 735 where there’s a dilapilated sheep shelter, by the most inelegant means.
The trail continues, contouring under Cefn Maen Amor and passing above some largely disused reservoirs to the left. When the trail starts to turn east, take a path directly ahead and towards a dilapilated smallholding. This is where you join the North Wales Path. This follows the wall of the small holding towards the river, and can be boggy. Cross the river and head uphill, following the plentiful markers, until you arrive at a well made green track where you turn left towards Bryn Derwydd.
Bryn Derwydd is a surprising building to find in this largely desolate upland, but is surrounded by improved pasture and quite possibly sheltered by the higher ground behind it. An idyllic place to live, of you’re not burdened with the need to drive to work.
Keep following the way markers, you’ll need to fall asleep to get lost on the rest of the route to be honest as they’re at every turn and junction. The next section is just underneath Cefn Coch, but you really should follow the track up along the slighlty higher ground to see the stone circles. You’ll see them on the horizon before you reach them.
This is the most obvious sign of stone age man, though anyone interested in such matters can find remains all over this area which must have been densely populated for the time in pre-historic times and into Roman times. The most obvious sign of man today is the huge granite quarry, which you fortunately cannot see from this track.
It’s downhill all the way now, with initially a green lane and then a tarmac lane known as Newry Drive. You’ll notice the scree topped hill that dominates the valley to the left, another ancient settlement in these hills and you can see how difficult it must have been for anyone to have tried to attack.
Once at the end of Newry Drive, you’re finally back at the start of the walk.