Arenig Fach is always going to remain in the shadow of its big sister across Llyn Celyn, the latter attracting far more visitors, assuming my own experiences - not to mention inclusion within numerous guide books - are reasonably representative. Such is life, I guess. We're never going to overcome the general human tendency to believe that 'biggest is best', to take things (and situations) at face value. And, of course, Arenig Fawr is a fine mountain, crowned by the remains of a Bronze Age cairn and dominating the shoreline of the reservoir, whilst the smaller peak is all but invisible to the passing motorist upon the A4212. All I'm saying is that Arenig Fach is very much worth primary focus as well, providing a much more intimate experience, with no reduction in quality of landscape... just on a somewhat smaller scale. To prove the point, take the (very) minor road traversing The Migneint (literally, 'The Bog') to descend towards the Machno valley... where the mountain suddenly takes Centre Stage, as if this brutal, hostile - not to mention wet! - landscape and the peak are inextricably linked. From this direction it's hard to see how any 'stonehead' would not want to see the Bronze Age cairn upon THAT?
Suffice to say I have wanted to return ever since a short visit way back in 1995. But then you never seem to get around to things, do you? Carnedd Llewelyn may have usurped perfect conditions for a visit the day before, but for some reason I simply must see Carnedd y Bachgen before I return home. Hell, the weather doesn't look that bad today. Does it?
It has to be said that, despite rising to the relatively modest height of 2,260ft, Arenig Fach does not tolerate visitors lightly. A-ha! Perhaps that's why it receives so few, then? The first problem, appropriately enough, occurs right at the start.... where to begin? Unless you are a fan of long distance bog bashing - and fancy following the Afon Serw to approach from the north-west (I'm not) - the only real, practical option that I'm aware of is from the A4212, near the north-western tip of Llyn Celyn. Driving north, I park at the entrance to a concrete track [at approx SH413845] and take a very obscure (unsigned) public footpath opposite a corrugated iron sheepfold, a little north of a prominent waterside boulder, just before power lines cross the road. Advance uphill, with pylons rising above to right and left, cross a lateral footpath and.... basically..... continue roughly uphill to the west, keeping north of Beudy Fron-wen. At (very approximately) SH840413, I chance upon what looks to me a possible trashed, round cairn, or perhaps hut circle? Maybe. Needless to say, what with fence posts piled on top of what looked like the remnants of a cist, the site - if indeed it is a monument - is in a very sorry condition. A small, ruined, drystone structure stands forlornly to my left, a substantial drystone wall impedes progress westwards (there's a gap a little to the south) towards the ridge of Bryn Du. Skirting the high ground to the right, I eventually arrive at the hidden jewel that is Llyn Arenig Fach, just as the sun breaks through the overcast mantle to flood the landscape with light, drab colours suddenly metamorphosised into hues of indescribable intensity. Worth the effort alone, despite the cloud base which is now swirling across the crest of the majestic cliffline which towers above the lake. This crest must now be attained.
The obvious route is to ascend by a fenceline to the left [although the right hand option is probably easier in retrospect], not as easy as it at first appears, the terrain deep heather, concealing many an ankle twisting undulation. Eventually I reach the top and realise how far conditions have deteriorated, particularly in respect of the wind. Pretty bad. However Carnedd y Bachgen calls and I've a fence line as a guide. I follow this to a junction with another, cross over as best I can and head approx westwards to the summit and the Bronze Age cairn. Although clearly heavily robbed - there's an dry-stone shelter at the actual summit, together with an OS trig point - the monument remains impressive, utilising the form of the crag upon which it stands in the same manner as Foel Grach, and to equally great effect. The interior of the cairn is somewhat camouflaged by moss, but nonetheless appears somewhat hollow, albeit with some substantial stones in situ. Yeah, I'm glad I came. Trouble is, Nature appears progressively peeved by the impertinence of my presence......
Sure, the wind is severe, the lowland drizzle transformed into horizontal, lashing rain. But, hey.... this is Wales. So I'm not expecting to be picked up and dumped unceremoniously on my back as I attempt to venture towards the trig! Point taken, mam. Subsequently I decide the best place to be is on my back within the cairn to see if this front will pass and afford me the views I crave. It doesn't and I am therefore denied the vistas, too. It's also somewhat difficult to eat lunch, but I refuse, on point of principle, to use the shelter. Oh no. If you talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. And besides... Carnedd y Bachgen is incredibly, evocatively ethereal today, what with the mist swirling around. Eventually, however, I must begin the descent, shaken and most definitely - definitively, even - stirred. But the waterproofs hold and, after pausing lakeside to reflect upon past times with mum and dad, I reach the car none the worse for wear.
So, yes. Arenig Fach is very much worth the effort. Even in some of the worst conditions Snowdonia can throw at the traveller.... I reckon you can suss why this isolated summit was chosen as 'somewhere special'. Quite simply, it is.
The Gwynedd Archaeological Trust has the following to say about Carnedd y Bachgen - the great cairn surmounting Arenig Fach - under PRN4727:
1) 'A circle of stones about 33ft in diameter represents all that is left of Carnedd y Bachgen. The material of the cairn has probably been taken to construct an ordnance cairn about 100ft to the W.
2) A flat topped cairn 11m in diameter and up to 1.4m high. The top portion may well have been removed to form an old trig station some 37m to the WSW. This in turn has been superceded by a modern trig-pillar immediately beyond it and now forms a windbreak....
3) The structure cannot be a hut circle, in view of the altitude (880m OD), its very exposed position and the very rough interior space, which is composed of large slabs of rock and bedrock. In addition the NW edge of the wall is at a lower level, below a small scarp of rock.'
[Sources: Merionethshire , Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments (1921); SH84SW 2 , Ordnance Survey (1974); Prehistoric Funerary and Ritual Sites Survey: Meirionnydd , Smith, G. (2001); Archaeology in Wales , Crew, P. (1985)]
The 2,260ft summit of Arenig Fach, known as Carnedd y Bachgen, is crowned by the remains of a Bronze Age funerary cairn. This is Coflein certified, but - unfortunately - the database currently has no further information available.
The mountain is, in my opinion, best ascended from the east from the A4212 at the NW tip of Llyn Celyn, this route taking the traveller past the delectable mountain lake Llyn Arenig Fach - ideal for a paddle in complete solitude on a summer's day.
The cairn boasts great views across to nearby Arenig Fawr and of the heathery bog wilderness of The Migneint, providing foreground for the great Central Snowdonian peaks to the west.