We approached from the south west, parking in Gerlan on the east side of Bethesda. As we gain some height, the wind which had been negligible down by the car began to get stronger, fortunately at this point it was pushing us up the hill, TSC reminded me of the wind on Carnedd Llewelyn last year and I make the unwarranted assertion that it's not that strong yet. The wind soon began to be the third member in our highland walkabout, we shall call him windy.
We make for the Drosgl summit as directly as possible, the walk was mostly nice and easy, it's not too boggy, other parts of Snowdonia are mostly boggy, but here it is obligingly firm and dry. To the east the mountain views are long and wide from on top of Gyrn Wigau, all the high Carneddau are strung out before us from Foel Fras to Pen yr Ole Wen, all speckled with snow hidden from the sun.
In the opposite direction is cairn topped Moel Faban, ditto for Moel Wnion, and beyond these shapely hills Angelsey floats amid a tropical looking sea.
Behind us is the not so pretty site of the Penrhyn quarries, a massive ugly scar forced upon the most lovely countryside in Wales, a constant reminder of Mans willingness to sell even the ground under his feet.
Half way between Gyrn Wigau and Drosgl are two rock stacks, the path, such as it is , weaves between them.
As we approach them they appear to us as rocky sentinels, guarding the higher "heavenly" lands, we pick one and sit out of the wind as best we can. Just below us three wild-ish ponies are grazing on the wide ridge, they seem utterly ignorant of old windy. The sight of the high mountains to our east growing dark in cloud shadows, then bright and colourful in the bright sunlight, are really very easy on the eye. We head on.
The footpath wont take us to the top of Drosgl, instead it passes by on the south side and carries on up to Carnedd Uchaf, now renamed as Carnedd Gwenllian (Why, how and by whom I dont know). We take the path as long as we can and then bolt off to our left just making for the highest point, it gets very rocky on the summit, thousands of tonnes of broken shattered rock, enough cairn material to create a whole cairn cemetery. There are three cairns here, the highest point is occupied at the moment by a small walkers cairn. It also has the best view of the mountains.
Away from the mountain view, on the north west edge of the summit plateau are the other two cairns, obviously the view this way was far more important to them, but is it the sea ? or is it Angelsey that holds such captivation ?
Windy is now in a far more playful mood, if you turn your back on him for a moment he'll try and push you over, if you turn and face him its like being continuously hit in the face by an eleven year old with a heavy pillow, just like it in fact.
We sit in the wind shadow cast by the big cairn admiring the view over Moel Wnion, immediately beyond our feet is the strangest cairn up here, sited as to be oblivious to the geographical grandeur behind us and the big cairn. It is apparent it's been reconstructed, the large kerb stones are perfect and obvious, no slippage here. But among all the superfluous cairn material it is hard to discern, it only reaches a height of perhaps two feet, regarding it from the north it is all but invisible. The big cairn overshadows it somewhat as well, being at least ten times the size, it is flat topped and hazardous to walk across, not vengeful spirits, nor some overwhelming respect for ancient monuments, just trying to protect your ankles.
It is roundabout now that I internally concede that it is now as windy or windier than it was last year up on Llewelyn, you have to brace yourself against it just in order to take a picture. Windy is fair screaming in my ears like a Harrier jump jet hovering before me, I cant hear a word Alken says and instead try to read his lips/facial expressions/ posture. We decide that this isn't the time for sitting around and watching, so we agree that a walk over to the twin rocky citadels of Bera Mawr or Bera Bach would be most beneficial. In the end just one wouldn't do, so we have a scramble all over them both telling ourselves it's training wheels for Tryfan in the summer. I hope so.
But now it is time to move on some more, sadly all on the way back to the car, we head for Moel Wnion but change our minds as windy has brought his mate with him, Drizzle.
Minds changed we head straight for Moel Faban, via a mellow gorge named Bwlch ym Mhwll-le, the weather likes our decision and shows it's sunny side. But from here, it is somewhere else's field notes.
A rather narrow and meandering path heads up the slopes of Drosgl from Gyrn Wigau, fairly gentle at first then steepening after we cross a footpath running up from the direction of Moel Wnion. Rounding the shoulder of the mountain it becomes obvious that the path will not take us up to the summit, so we head off and upwards over increasingly rocky terrain. The wind that has been at our backs so far now blows across our route, trying to steer us off course and making progress difficult. At length we make it up onto the rounded summit plateau. The main prehistoric cairn here is enormous. As Gladman notes, it doesn’t crown the summit itself (that honour being left to a pointy modern effort) but instead turns its face to the northern panorama. The vista is awe-inspiring, the wonderful Ynys Mon to the northeast, with Moel Wnion in the foreground. To the north the sea stretches away, and there is a fine view of Llwytmor to the northwest with the Orme in the distance beyond. At our backs, the highest Carneddau tops drift in and out of the clouds. Oh yeah.
Just a few metres north is a smaller cairn (apparently restored after excavation) with a neat kerb of larger blocks. Plenty of suitable material to choose from on this entirely rocky summit. It’s interesting to ponder the relationship between the two cairns and the people who were lain to rest in them. Were they contemporaries? Or did hundreds of years separate their interments? Only the wind might know the answer, but it’s speaking in a language we don’t understand.
We sit in what little shelter we can find, contemplating the next move. My leg feels okay, and the rocky tops of Bera Mawr and Bera Bach look sooo close. Happily Postie is up for an extension of our walk to take them in, so we leave the cairns and head off the top. It’s a blessed relief to get out of the wind as we descend the eastern slopes to the boggy col below.
According to my ancient log books, my only previous visit to Drosgl was way back on 28/6/94 during one of those mammoth mountain treks I used to do in those days... yeah, right. That was then, but this is now. However a chance discovery of an archive print suddenly put a return back on the agenda. To be honest I wish it hadn't, but what can you do? So, with 'mammoth mountain treks' clearly not an option, an approach from Bethesda, via Gyrn Wigau seemed the best bet in order to avoid humiliating failure...... sure, no-one would know, but you can't fool yourself, can you?
I wake before dawn, the tent and car encased in a thick carapace of ice and promising a fine day. Right on!... now where's that de-icer? In the garage. Doh! Anyway, with care it is possible to park in Gerlan, the community perched above Bethesda, a stereotypical 'slate town' at the northern end of Nant Ffrancon. From here, passing a bunkhouse and derelict Spar, a named minor road leads to Ciltwllan, a small cluster of houses, beyond which tarmac reverts to rough track. Even in the early stages the scenery is dramatic, Carnedd Dafydd - one of Wales' premier mountains - dominating the skyline to the right. Nice. At a large sheep enclosure an ancient iron gate allows access to the open, grassy flanks of Gyrn Wigau which rise to the north east. A couple of stiles assist the traveller across dry stone walls until the freedom of the hills is yours! Yeah, a minor, but obvious sheeptrack-cum-path then leads the way up the ridge towards Gyrn Wigau's craggy summit - an excellent viewpoint, particularly looking towards the coast to Moel Wnion and Moel Faban's cairns and related prehistoric settlements. Not to mention Ynys Mon - Anglesey itself - lying in splendid isolation across The Menai Straits. Note also a further settlement below Gyrn Wigau's southern flanks within Cwm Caseg.... Hmm. All may be silent now in this unfashionable corner of The Carneddau, but clearly this was once far from the case.
Eventually, however, the eyes are drawn further up the ridge to an apparently small cairn upon the next summit, that of 2,484ft Drosgl. Moving on, a well made track swings in from the left heading towards the spiky, castellated crags of Bera Bach which rise beyond. Although this steadily gains height, it actually skirts to the south of Drosgl's summit... I followed it before circling back, but, in retrospect, a direct approach is probably better. Whatever way you arrive, the sight of the summit plateau, liberally covered with boulders, is memorable and somewhat unexpected after all the preceding grass. Plenty of raw material for cairn building, then.
Needless to say the cairn builders did not disappoint. No sir. OK, the (I assume) modern cairn marking the summit is a very average effort, but the prehistoric versions, significantly sited to the north overlooking the coast and NOT overlooking Cwm Caseg and the heart of The Carneddau, are anything but. Hell no! Excavated in 1976 (see miscellaneous post), two cairns are readilly seen, the southern of which is by far the larger and very impressive by any standards, the northern much smaller, but with visible kerb. Both cairns apparently contained cists when excavated, the southern two (one of them intact), the northern 'just' the one. The larger cairn has clearly been restored to present what I assume is as near as dammit its original appearance. No dodgy storm shelters deface this beauty, contributing to what would be a fine mounument in any location. However placed up here...well... I'll spare you the usual cliches. Suffice to say these two cairns pay host to a superb hang with exceptional, contrasting views of coast and brutal upland landscape.
But that's not all. Very strong walkers may wish to continue past Bera Bach (I got this far) and on to Garnedd Uchaf/Foel Grach, both the latter crowned by their own funerary cairns..... needless to say keep an eye out for mist, however, since this is very serious terrain indeed. On the return back to Gerlan I'm greeted by a somewhat idiosyncratic Irishman dressed in shorts... 'bejasus, I've been warmer in the snow, so I have', he says. Or something like that. Yeah, don't come to the Northern Carneddau and expect the ordinary......
According to The Gwynedd Archaeological Trust (PRN758):
[the] 'Two cairns on Drosgol were excavated in July 1976. The main, originally 2m high, with a flat top, was slightly oval, and was constructed on a prepared surface of small chippings. It consisted of an inner oval cairn 7m by 5m, with a well defined kerb of pillar shaped blocks standing on end, and two further concentric skins of cairn material, each with revetments surviving up to 1m high. The cairn covered two cists, the larger had been robbed but cremated bones were recovered. The smaller cist was polygonal, its capstone still in position, the only find here was a 1921 silver three penny coin and bottle glass. A second cairn 10m N has a well defined kerb of orthostatic and laid blocks, 4m by 3. 5m by 75cm high. This contained a previously disturbed cist with an intact cremation deposit.'