Walk up Rhinog Fawr and Roman Steps from Cwm Bychan
|13.46 km||838 m||7 hours|
Activivity Type: Hard Walk
Calculate the time using Naismith’s Rule and factor in your own pace.
Summits and Places on this Route
Parking and portaloo only!
Very complex terrain, scrambling.
Walk up Rhinog Fawr and Roman Steps from Cwm Bychan Ordnance Survey Map and GPX File Download
Download file for GPS
Walk up Rhinog Fawr and Roman Steps from Cwm Bychan
Cwm Bychan is one of the more remote areas of Snowdonia. There’s just a narrow, unclassified road leading up to the cwm and no through route. In summer it’s a beautifully wooded valley, but today the lake was frozen over and the place felt like winter. There’s parking noted on the OS map, and it costs a reasonable £2 per car, but unfortunately charges an additional £1 per passenger as well – not very encouraging for car sharers. Payment was an honesty box, and for that you got a portaloo and a parking space.
Rhinog Fawr from Cwm Bychan Full Route Description
The walk can be done in either direction; we decided on ending the walk on Rhinog Fawr as if we’d started there we’d have descended the Roman Steps as the easier option at the end of the day. There are a couple of signposts at the corner of the car park near the farm house that helpfully tells you which way to start. Left to Clip, and right to the Roman Steps. We’re off to Bwlch Gwilym and so we need to follow the sign for Clip.
There’s scant path to start off with, and your best bet is to head roughly North towards the stile in the wall at SH646 318. So long as you aim for the wall then you should then be able to find the stile! If you can’t, then your best bet is to turn back as the navigation does get very tricky later on (and downright nasty if you lose the path!).
The path is easily followed from here, being a bit boggy in places. To your right your destination is clearly visible. A broken skyline, looking like a stubby bar chart, all of which you’ll need to climb and descend in the next few hours. Rhinog Fawr dominates behind, only a few kilometres as the crow flies but arguably some of the most difficult in Snowdonia. The sun was rising and rays spilt through a deep bwlch on the skyline. It was a perfectly clear morning but cloud was starting to form at Rhinog Fawr’s summit.
You are soon at Bwlch Gwilym, where you leave the path and head off cross country. Head to the left of Craig Wion towards a gap, roughly SW, there should be a faint path. As you approach the gap, the going becomes easier as it becomes flatter and you find yourself at Llyn Twr-glas.
I wandered off towards the flat rocky outcrop to the north of the lake to take in the view and undertake a futile search for my sunglasses. It was comforting in fact that I couldn’t find where I’d ‘been’ the previous weekend, but there was no sign of them. I wondered about again, realised that every comfortable looking rock looked much like any other rock gave up and found them frozen white, resting on top of some heather. I happily wore them, even though there was nothing to be seen. I supposed that I was probably the last person here as it was such a quiet area.
Back to the path, and it wanders off vaguely SE and on to Llyn Pryfed, following its eastern shore. Once at the far end of the lake, the path crosses the outflow and continues uphill. Navigation really does get a little awkward from this point onwards – but downloading the GPX file will give you some idea. It initially descends before you reach your first challenge of a short gully scramble (approx SH666 310) and almost as soon as you’re up, there’s another gully to descend.
Back up a steep heathery slope and keep following the faint path that’s easy to lose when it crosses the rock. Your first top of the day is the spot height at 518m (SH663 306), and this is attained by climbing up another heathery slope and an undignified scramble before things get a little easier and you’re on top. There’s no names given to these tops, they should probably be classed as subsidiary tops to Craig Wion (which was bypassed in favour of Llyn Pryfed).
Descending from spot height, the path winds its way around some final tops and passes high above the secluded Llyn Morwynion, recommended in one of the national papers as one of the best lakes for skinny dipping. It was rather too cold for that today and when you think about it, the lake’s not at all far from the Roman Steps. It’s an easy matter now to descend to Bwlch y Tyddiad where you need to turn right until you reach a wall climbing steeply to the left.
It may be steep in places, but this wall takes you all the way up to the western shoulder of the mountain. You pass Llyn Du on the way, spectacular with its crags and the unmistakeable slab sloping into the water at the far end. With a bit of judgement, you need to leave the wall when the path veers left (SH652 291) but there’s another path further on if you miss the first one. It takes you to a junction of paths and a cairn (SH654 291), where the cairn marks the start of a very steep path to the summit. A better option is to follow the path that returns parallel to the one you arrived on, and this takes you up a much easier path.
Like last time I was here, there was no view. The clouds threatened to clear, but only to give tantalising glimpses of Gloyw Lyn and the Crawcwellt. Descent is by the same route to the wall, or you can return to Llyn Du by the opposite end. Either way, you need to descend the same path (either the easier or steep) and return to the cairn. Follow the path east and you can pick the path down with little problem other than it being a little steep and the rocks a little icy today. Even the non icy rocks were slimy.
On reaching the lake, it’s worth taking a look at the crags to the south. The overhangs look like some sort of unnatural union of Mt Rushmore and the Easter Island heads. The photograph does it no justice, and you’ll just have to see how many faces you can see in the rocks. Follow the outfall stream, through a gap in the wall (avoiding the faint path that junctions off before it) and then to the bwlch. We took the path directly down to the bwlch, but it would be better to contour around and follow the path shown on the OS map.
The return is now simple enough. Or it will be if the path isn’t iced up as it was today. Follow the path, which soon becomes a series of steps that are easy to follow before the path turns to pasture and finally woodland. Roman they may be called, but Roman they certainly aren’t; most likely being a mediaeval packhorse trail. Looking up into the crags, you can imagine that this would have been bandit country, and this crossing of the bad lands was likely undertaken with some trepidation. With such difficult terrain, such outlaws would have been able to hide with ease, any pursuit being hampered by the difficult terrain. Something you’ll certainly be appreciating by this point!