Monday 30 April 2012

A Trip to Wales: the Berwyn Range and Llangollen Hills

The summit of Y Foel with the Berwyn range on the horizon
Some of my first hillwalking was in Wales, on school trips to Snowdonia, and later I was at college in Lampeter and explored the Pumlumon hills and climbed Cadair Idris. I’ve walking in the Black Mountains too and the Brecon Beacons. However I’d never been hillwalking in the steep country of north-east Wales around the attractive little town of Llangollen. Some old friends having moved to the area I visited it recently and was surprised and delighted at the ruggedness, steepness and height of the hills. This is splendidly complex country; a wonderful tangle of winding rivers, moorland hills, limestone escarpments and beautiful woods.

While staying with my friends I climbed three of the local hills; two of them easy short ascents, one a real mountain day. Firstly Denise and I with our friend Alain went up a gentle little moorland hill called Y Foel. Only 522 metres high and no more than an easy stroll this top still has a rough stony summit that gives it the feel of a bigger hill plus spreading views in every direction, views enhanced on my visit by the wild skies and racing clouds. Squalls could be seen sweeping across nearby hills and we were glad to be back down before the rain came.

Cadair Berwyn
The big hills in this area make up the Berwyn range, a long moorland ridge with some big craggy corries (or rather cwms as this is Wales) on its eastern edge and a high point of 830 metres on Cadair Berwyn. On the southern side of the range is the great waterfall of Pistyll Rhaedr, at 80 metres the highest in Wales and England, which crashes dramatically down a wooded gorge. There’s a car park here and a good café. After fortifying ourselves with coffee and cake (it was raining) Alain and I set off into Cwm Nant Y Llyn, bracing ourselves against the keen wind and heavy showers. Ahead dark clouds were ripping across the hidden summits. As we climbed the wind strengthened and I wondered if we’d make the tops. Suddenly below us the dark waters of Llyn Lluncaws appeared, tucked into a rugged bowl. Two tents were pitched on the far shore, a fine wild site.

On the ridge above the little lake the rain turned to sleet and hail and gusts of wind threatened to blow us over. Struggling on we reached the gentler slopes of Moel Sych where, surprisingly, the wind was less strong. In thick mist now we followed the edge of the crags to the summit of Cadair Berwyn then turned to cross Moel Sych and descend a long heather and bog broad ridge back to Pistyll Rhaedr. As we dropped down the clouds began to lift and there was even a touch of sunshine. Behind us we could see the hills we’d climbed.

Castell Dinas Bran
Two days later Alain and I walked down through the woods from his house to Llangollen. Across the valley we could see the ragged ruins of an old castle on a steep hilltop. This is Castell Dinas Bran, a medieval castle that commands an extensive view on all sides. From afar the jagged crown of stones reminded me of Amon Sul in the film of J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, where the Black Riders attack the Hobbits, which has a similar ruin on its summit. From the town we climbed the steep grassy slopes to the summit and admired the remnants of the castle and the tremendous vista on all sides. Looking down the Dee valley to the flatlands of England it was clear that an approaching army would be seen many miles away.

I have to admit I didn’t know the country round Llangollen was so rugged or interesting. I feel I have discovered a new outdoor world. I’ll be back.


  1. Keep it quiet Chris!... But, seriously, it is indeed lovely country. Nice report.

  2. Having visited Pistyll Rhaedr on the way back from a holiday in Pembrokeshire, walked to the top and seen the countryside from there I have had it in mind to come back for a more detailed exploration with a few wild camps.

    Jim Perrin has written about the Berwyns from time to time, adding further to my interest in the area.

  3. know it round there quite well, its lovely. Nant Y Llyn and Cadair Berwyn are favourites, the cafe at the waterfall is pretty good too. Even a nice camp site for families who aren't up for camping wild.

  4. I had the impression that area was a little dull so I've never bothered with it. But if you enjoyed it Chris, I shall investigate. First time exploration - especially - being the best of hill walking.

  5. We discovered this gem of an area when we moved just over the border from Cheshire a couple of years ago. Llangollen is less than 30 mins away and it's great having such interesting countryside so handy - we often stop here rather than driving on over to Snowdonia.
    From the Berwyns to the Ceiriog valley to Llantysilio Mountain (turned into a linear walk by a trip on the Llangollen to Carrog steam train), the Dee valley with its canal and aqueducts, there so much variety to explore. But for us the gem has to be the limestone cliffs and heather moors of World's End and Eglwyseg Mountain - we find something new every time we go and it's lovely to have a "local patch" to really get to know through all four seasons.

  6. The Berwyns are the place I head for when I want a bigger hill day without too much planning involved. Approached from either side (Pistyll Rhaedr, or Llandtillo) they have become one of my places to revisit time and again.

    If you're lucky, you'll see Hen Harrier up there, or peregrine. Polecats too on occasions.

    And, best of all, it's quiet

  7. Some super aerial perspective in the first photo Chris, you really get the feel of the weather!

  8. 'Looking down the Dee valley to the flatlands of England'...
    Chris! Mind you, it's Wales! ;-)