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Moel Ysgyfarnogod, Y Rhinogydd


<b>Moel Ysgyfarnogod, Y Rhinogydd</b>Posted by GLADMANImage © Robert Gladstone
Nearest Town:Ffestiniog (8km NNE)
OS Ref (GB):   SH6584534594 / Sheet: 124
Latitude:52° 53' 30.04" N
Longitude:   3° 59' 39.61" W

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"Radioactivity is in the air for you and me". So noted an apparently nonchalant Ralf Hutter back in 1975, the detached delivery, glacial tempo and verging-upon-nursery-rhyme simplicity combining to suggest the notion that we are but children subject to nutters with their 'fingers upon the button'. Perhaps such a simplistic, fatalistic interpretation was inevitable, given the fact that the threat of nuclear annihilation is naturally too harrowing for most ordinary folk to contemplate, let alone undertake rational analyses. And let's face it, there was zero chance of the latter occurring within Western popular culture... not following catastrophic Soviet incompetence at Chernobyl; not with the trendy, so-called 'intelligentsia' of the far-left (aided by various 'useful idiots') vilifying democracy, their appeasement of oppressive doctrine thus ensuring the cancerous rise of Putin - mirroring that of Hitler and Stalin - would cancel out the momentous achievements of Gorbachev, so once again enslaving the Russian people. Indeed, one could be forgiven for assuming the civilised world had been infiltrated by a Marxist death cult intent upon pursuing an end of days 'utopia' every bit as nonsensical and dangerous as monotheistic constructs? Communist/Fascist? Same difference.

Yeah, so while it was one thing to enjoy watching Arnie's dystopian terminator deliver those catchy one-liners in the cinema, or appreciate how well John Foxx's ARP evokes a bleak post-apocalyptic soundscape during 'Underpass'.... the thought of beginning any walk within sight of the twin, beyond ugly reactors of Trawsfynydd nuclear power station has, over the course of some 35 years, never appealed one bit. Better to avoid the issue, sweep it under the proverbial carpet, right? And yet... in a UK where narcissistic, hypocritical Climate Change 'rebels' violently rage at the government's inability to not immediately ban all fossil fuels... while, er, inexplicably somehow 'forgetting' the aforementioned active campaigning against nuclear power back in the day, the vehement protests in favour of the continued extraction of coal... surely ALL options must be back upon the table of rational debate if we are to survive at all? Do we really have a choice but to adopt a new atomic outlook as a matter of urgency? Taking my symbolic cue from this I - at long last - find myself heading towards Trawsfynydd this morning to finally check out a couple of 'Cairns' shown on the map upon the foothills of the northern Rhinogydd.

Although ongoing decommissioning of the site was initiated way back in 1991, I admit the initial approach beneath the dam feels a little 'creepy' - sinister even - rhythmic heartbeat seemingly substituted by the erratic output of Kraftwerk's 'Geiger counter'. Upon forking right, however, the scene soon becomes idyllic, the single track road terminating at Moelfryn-isaf. A little prior to this it is just possible to leave a car and take an overgrown walled path/track - signposted 'Cambrian Way' - heading approx west towards Cwm Moch, wherein the map depicts a cairn in that wondrous antiquarian typeface. That'll do. As they apparently like to say in Yorkshire... among many other things. The route initially resembles a rocky stream bed subsequently accessing very soggy hillside (despite the relative lack of recent rain). Nonetheless, it all looks within the 'comfort zone', leaving time to check out another cairn to the approx southeast (SH68383416) later on in the day. Needless to say, however, life doesn't always go to plan when walking the mountains. Tell me about it?

As I labour to gain height and enter the cwm, what appear upon the map as 'minor' subsidiary tops of the northern Rhinogydd rear up to my left with an overwhelming, disorientating presence that makes a mockery of even the masterful OS cartography. I cross a drystone wall and, instead of taking a bearing to the cairn, am instinctively drawn towards the col between Moel y Gyrafolen and Craig Fawr, electing to ascend the former in order to obtain that all-important landscape context. It is a short, yet brutal climb upon trademark Rhinogydd terrain: rock and heather, never an accomodating combination underfoot, I find. Upon reaching the summit (1,755ft) and experiencing the full force of the freezing wind, I pause in an attempt to regain my composure... only to completely lose it once again in very short order as I realise where I am. It's a wondrous vantage point, the rugged Rhinog ridge stretching away to the west in a linear array of incrementally amplified, progressively disintegrating gritstone; the ambiguous beauty of Llyn Trawsfynydd resplendent below to the east; northern Snowdonia to the, well, north. I decide to seize the moment and continue along the ridge. To see how far I get. Guess the cairn can wait for the return, then?

Now a cursory perusal of the map may well suggest an easy stroll upon what are relatively minor 'hills': The Harlech Dome? I mean, according to said map this is the route of The Cambrian Way, after all? Haha, yeah, right. The devil is in the detail, however, the struggle to the top of Moel y Gyrafolen but a foretaste of the pretty extreme topography lying ahead of me, each top requiring a descent/ascent to attain the next. Diffwys (not to be confused with its much higher namesake to the south) may initially appear relatively benign, gently rising towards a seemingly indeterminate 1,893ft high point to the west... but serial slab outcropping of rock alternating with bog soon lets the traveller know where it's at. Another, more substantial defile isolates Diffwys from Foel Penolau. I hesitate at the cusp of what will clearly be much additional physical endeavour, should I choose to accept the challenge? Hey, the views and vibe are great here, so why bother? That'll do. Surely? However, while logic must always play a crucial role when upon the uplands - one cannot arse about if one wants to return in one piece - the very fact of being here accepts that the 'heart', pure emotive response, will have a significant say. Sure enough, as with Darwin before me (the Great Man of course walking the Rhinogydd during August 1831) the 'siren call' is too overwhelming to resist.

So, following a steep descent this traveller, having unwisely rejected an apparent low-level option to his left, is immediately required to ascend almost perpendicular, grassy crags to attain the summit plateau of Foel Penolau. The form of the latter is, quite frankly, bizarre for a 2,014ft mountain: a more-or-less horizontal mass of rock preceding a Dartmoor-esque apogee... as if some mountain god/goddess had, in a fit of pique, sliced the top off with an - admittedly rather large - cleaver. Only to miss a bit? Or maybe it was Idris trying out perches before literally settling upon another, larger version across the way? Think mythological forerunner of 'The Sofa Company'. Whatever, a small tarn offsets an otherwise spartan landscape, rippling surface water adding a degree of extemporization to the otherwise brutal scene. As I sit and contemplate, mind duly blown (and not just by the wind), I notice the cairn upon adjacent Moel Ysgyfarnogod appears to possess a not insignificant profile from the northeast. A lone walker adds relative scale by plonking himself a little below for a short time and the worm begins to burrow: hey, why not revisit and check it out? The descent to the col negotiating a chaos of shattered rock and boulders is much rougher than earlier in the day, the subsequent grassy ascent to the summit of Moel Ysgyfarnogod a welcome relief.

At 2,044ft, the "Bare hill of the hares" is considered Foel Penolau's 'parent' peak. Indeed, pursuing the analogy further, one might say the latter represents the recklessly unkempt, youthful antithesis of the more refined, mature former? As per my only previous visit here - a somewhat 'easier' ascent from Eiddew-bach to the west years back - the summit cairn does not exactly seize one's attention. To be fair the expansive views have a significant bearing upon this state of affairs: the sublime, muted colours of the Dyffryn Dwyryd leading the eye to Tremadog Bay and, beyond, The Llyn Peninsula... the hillforts Tre'r Ceiri and Moel y Gest... Y Eifionydd, Clough Williams-Ellis's Italianate fantasy Portmeirion; Y Moelwynion and the heart of Eryri to the north; while to the south the personal terra-incognita of Craig Ddrwg and Clip form a seemingly structureless, craggy wilderness prior to the recognisable profiles of Rhinog Fawr and Fach beyond Bwlch Tyddiad, 'The Roman Steps'. I advance to the north-western prow of Moel Ysgyfarnogod and gaze down across the curious horseshoe of Llyn Dywarchen to the uncompromising site of the wondrous Bryn Cader Faner. Try as I might, I cannot pinpoint the exact position of the magical coronet of stone... but no matter. It is enough to know it is there.

I return to the cairn and, as is The Citizen Cairn's modus operandi, proceed to go walkabout to view the structure from differing angles, to gain more than one perspective. OK, so forget the modern surmounting 'marker cairn' and idiosyncratic OS trig station and attempt to determine what lies beneath? Sure enough, a substantial, embedded, 'roughly circular' footprint extending from the summit crags gradually moves into focus, a structure which, in my opinion, is totally inconsistent with any relatively recent 'walkers'' construction. The monument is not marked upon OS mapping, nor mentioned by archaeologists... however I maintain that it is there nonetheless. To be honest - what with experienced observers such as former Snowdonian Warden Terry Marsh asserting "The whole northern section of the Rhinog range is some of the most testing walking to be found anywhere in Britain, compelling lowly Moel Ysgyfarnogod to become one of the most challenging hills in the country" - perhaps this is not so surprising? Suffice to say, if I had known what I was letting myself in for before setting off, I would never have made the attempt at all. But there you are.

I revel in the unique vibe to be sampled here until, mindful that the return leg will be just as taxing as the outward, I reluctantly set off back to the car. Now the intention was to simply reverse my steps... however, upon attaining the summit of Foel Penolau once more I find no way down to the north. Doubling back, a very rough route beside a drystone wall eventually sees me arrive back upon Diffwys, negotiating the copious rock outcropping sapping my remaining strength at an alarming rate. So much so, in fact, that I opt to cut across Moel y Gyrafolen's eastern flank in lieu of further ascent. It is a schoolboy error, in retrospect, the roughness of the terrain quickly overriding any benefit I might have gained. D'oh! Cwm Moch seems a long time coming, but in due course, I manage to locate the cairn depicted upon the map (although looking at TMA back in Essex it is clear there are others not shown). Ironically, with time now at a premium, the realisation that the monument is rather small and of very simple construction is not a big deal. Horses for courses. Speaking of which, the final descent to the car is made upon legs not unlike those of a newborn foal.

Gazing out across the expanse of Llyn Trawsfynydd sipping tea... I reflect upon the day: my first, long overdue, high-level venture into the Northern Rhinogydd from the east. A day subject almost entirely to improvised actions with glorious, yet utterly unintended outcomes. Granted, the twin reactor blocks of the former power station remain beyond ugly. Granted, suspicion and prejudices - from whatever source and with whatever degree of justification - may have kept me away until now. However, as I drive beneath the reservoir dam in the soft early evening light it is Blondie's 'Atomic', not Kraftwerk's classic dirge, which enters my head. Haha, replacing a song with such negative atomic undertones with one with an overwhelmingly positive, futuristic vibe? Yeah, if we can somehow isolate the extremists of both left and right and instead focus on rational debate... who knows what our future soundtrack might be? Perhaps my tiny epiphany may presage a brighter future for everyone? But only if enough of us stop and think.
28th May 2022ce
Edited 28th May 2022ce


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Moel Ysgyfarnogod, Y Rhinogydd

Sometimes one is just drawn back, you know? You have no say in the matter.
3rd June 2022ce