Southern Rhinogydd from Nantcol
|21.85 km||1085 m|
Activivity Type: Strenuous Walk
Calculate the time using Naismith’s Rule and factor in your own pace.
Summits and Places on this Route
Southern Rhinogydd from Nantcol
Having explored the north of these rugged hills, I couldn’t keep away from collecting the full set. Compared to the northern Rhinogydd, these are much easier underfoot but can still spring a surprise or two!
Getting to the start of this walk can either be by the old gas guzzler into Cwm Nantcol, or you can start at a number of points on foot from the coast and add a few more kilometres to the walk. Being winter and seeing as the only way to get here in time for a walk is by car (the nearby youth hostel in Llanbedr is no more. The only one in South Snowdonia now is at Kings near Dolgellau. Unfortunately, they’ve sold off the more remote ones and only kept the popular ones which are all within bus range of my house! Take one guess why I’m a member of the SYHA instead!)
We drove up into Cwm Nantcol past Capel Salem (link to wikipedia) and up to the viewpoint at SH614 258. There are plenty of parking spaces here, but the road up is very narrow in places and you’ll have a lot of fun if you meet another car on the way. There is very little scope to park in Cwm Nantcol itself unless you park at the end of the minor road. This didn’t appeal to us as we’d have to backtrack to the path, and it would leave us a long road yomp at the end to get back.
From the viewpoint car park, take the minor road NE and simply follow this as far as the farm known as Cil-cychwyn. The minor road starts turning left here, but our path continues in the same direction and is marked as a path. If the weather is kind, you should have been able to see the two Rhinogydd hills along with Llethr from the route. Today, only Rhinog Fawr was clear of cloud, taunting me as it was shrouded the last two times and reveals itself to me only as I move on to it’s neighbour.
The track now is a decent and wide green track, no doubt an old mine road. You pass an old farm, un-named on the map, but marked as Graig Uchaf (Higher) on old maps – mirroring the Graig Isaf (Lower) that you pass on the way. The going is good until you eventually reach SH652 267, or a fork in the path. It’s not that obvious on the ground as the main track continues left and around the ridge. If you follow the main route though, it leads to a wall where it disappears but you can follow that wall to the main track. According to the map, both paths rejoin further up but the terrain here starts showing it’s true colours. Having been led into a false sense of security, the heather, boulders and the amazing vanishing paths of the Rhinogydd pounce on the unwary. There are also open mine shafts in the area which would be obscured by the heather.
The path, once you find it again, should pose no more problems. You’ll pass a few mine shafts to the right, horizontal ones, along with some ruins before pulling up towards Llyn Perfeddau nestling in the crags below Y Llethr. A final pull and the spire of Rhinog Fach becomes visible, before the improbable looking Llyn Hywel is reached. This lake fills the entire cwm, leaving nothing but steep crags and boulder scree on most of its shore. Fortunately the area near the outlet stream has enough flat ground to pitch a few tents.
There’s an obvious path to the south of the lake which Poucher recommends in his Welsh Peaks. It leads to a fine viewpoint over the lake where we had lunch in the bitter wind, but no obvious means to reach the col for Rhinog Fach. Instead, when you reach the lake, turn left and skirt the lake in that direction. As we did this section three times in all, we found that staying as close to the lake as possible gave the easiest route over the boulders. At the far end of the lake, a steep path pulls up to the main ridge and the going becomes easier. From the path you can see right along the almost vertical slabs that dip into Llyn Hywel.
At the ridge, you reach a stone wall which has steps built in to cross that aren’t apparent from afar. Cross the wall and you find yourself high above Llyn Bi and as these hills stand apart from the others, you’ll be confronted with a wide open vista. So long as the cloud keeps away, you’ll have this expansive view all the way to Diffwys. Once over the wall, there is a path that follows it directly, but an easier path considering our packs and the ice contours up and around to the right. Make sure it does go uphill as a clear path also leads off the hill towards Llyn Bi. The path leads you to a stone wall that you can follow, on either side, up to the summit. This route is easy and no scrambling is involved.
There was a keen wind and no shelter on top. A small group had reached the summit a few minutes before us, but they were long gone when we arrived. Normally the wall that reaches the summit would provide shelter, but the wind was blowing along it and it offered no respite.
We followed the wall down on it’s right this time, and it takes you down to the same path. There is a path that temptingly leads directly towards Y Llethr from the summit, but other than a decent view there’s no easy way down that way. While we’d seen something at least from the summit, it was cloudy. Of course, thee cloud cleared completely ten minutes later once we were down in the col.
Once at the col, we retraced steps to the outlet stream of Llyn Hywel to pitch for the night. Behind the tents, Rhinog Fach towered above us with its summit barely 300m away but looking much larger. The lake side was frozen but fortunately the stream was still liquid. It’s also a very exposed site, despite no wind in the forecast we were battered by gusts of wind till past midnight and barely slept. The wind was severely bitter as well, so leaving the tent for whatever reason was too cold. I bared it once during the evening as the lake and surrounding hills were clearly visible in the moonlight.
The morning was much brighter and the end of the walk was looking promising. Once over those dreaded boulders again and on the col, the walk becomes straightforward. From this col south the Rhinogydd are a normal range of hills, to the north of it they’re alone in their nature. Follow the wall for a short distance before the path contours right. Before long, you’re at the bottom of a very steep path that’s visible from the lake and requires care to ascend as it is loose. Looking back from here you can see Llyn Hywel and Rhinog Fach in one of the iconic Snowdonia views, definitely worth a photo if it’s clear. Once this steep path is ascended, there is one more steep pull and the slope eases, becoming flat and grassy.
Follow the wall and the summit of Y Llethr, the highest peak in these hills at 756m, is quickly reached and as summits go, is a disappointment but views wide and unobstructed. The wall needs following again, a faint path leading to a stile and onwards to the minor top of Crib y Rhiw. Diffwys is the next top and like all these hills, there’s a fair bit of reascent involved between each one, though only 148m to this last top meaning it just fails to reach ‘Marilyn’ status.
Again, follow the wall and a pretty clear path, contouring below the minor 688 top before the final sharp pull to the summit. Cross the stile to the trig point, and you’ll suddenly realise you’re on a cliff top. Take care in the mist at this point! The Mawddach estuary to the south, Bae Ceredigion to the west, Cadair Idris to the South and a sheer drop towards Llyn Cwm-mynach to the east makes this a summit that I’d happy linger on.
The descent now is quick and grassy underfoot. It would be a little wet, but not overly boggy were it not frozen solid. The wall has been replaced with two barbed wire fences with a collapsed wall within. Our target is the old coach road that crosses this ridge at a height of 550m. It’s incredible to imagine them crossing such hostile terrain. You can’t miss the coach road, there’s a gate left that leads towards Bontddu and a path that continues along the ridge towards Barmouth. Our descent is right, and in no time you’ll arrive at Pont Scethin that looks out of place in such a place. Up on Moelfre, roughly directly in line with the bridge is the ruin of the old coaching inn.
The track continues to offer very good going, pulling uphill for a short while before you reach a gate to the right of the path at SH622 237. This could easily be missed and you’d end up in Dyffryn Ardudwy. Once you’re through this gate, follow the old drover’s track to the minor road at SH603 249 and turn right along the road to reach the starting point. There are a couple of footpaths that cut across this section, but decided on this instance that the longer route was more straightforward and probably quicker.
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