When we woke at 4.15am it was already light, but it was too early to set off again, so we snuggled down and managed a few more hours sleep. Never again, we vowed, as we packed away our rucksacks later. Never again would we leave it so late to look for somewhere to wild camp.
We were on the road before 8am, forsaking breakfast to put some distance between ourselves and that unnerving hillock. Interestingly, when Harri checked the OS map later that day, he discovered we’d pitched out tent atop a prehistoric settlement, most likely Bronze Age. Neither of us is the slightest superstitious, but there was no denying we’d both on edge all night… if fact, I’d say we’d been downright spooked!
I couldn’t wait to reach (modern) civilisation again but first we had a fair few miles of this bleak landscape to cross.
We climbed steadily on a gravel path, passing Llyn Eigiau on our right. Originally a natural lake, Eigiau was dammed in 1911 to supply water for Dolgarrog Power Station. Fourteen years later, on November 2 1925, the dam wall broke after heavy rainfall. Water flowed down to Coedty reservoir causing its embankment dam to burst. Millions of gallons of water flowed into nearby Dolgarrog and 16 people died.
Llyn Eigiau itself is now just half the size it was before the tragedy but the towering dam walls remain, the wide breach in its line and nearby deep gully ugly reminders of man’s desire (and failure) to control the elements.
We found the Eigiau valley rather bleak and depressing. As soon as we left the track, the ground underfoot became boggy (and squelching through water is not one of my favourite experiences).
Llyn Cowlyd loomed into view mid morning. This long, narrow lake 1,164 feet above sea level is the deepest in north Wales (it has an average depth of 108 feet/33 metres). You can somehow tell it’s deep – very deep – just by staring into those murky waters. From the far end, the water appears to extend to the horizon like an infinity pool; the menacing slate-colour clouds overhead merely added to the dramatic landscape.
As we climbed from the reservoir, we encountered our first fellow humans of the day, a large group of walkers spread out over a considerable distance (guided tour?). Very soon, we were passing more and more hikers; we guessed we were nearing Capel Curig.
The weather was improving rapidly and the lifting of those black clouds exposed the mighty Yr Wyddfa, at 1,085 metres (3,560 feet) the highest mountain in England and Wales (most people know this majestic peak by its English name, Snowdon).
We were silenced by the stark beauty surrounding us, humbled by the towering peaks which dominate the north Wales landscape. We were reminded, if we needed reminding, how frail and transient the human experience is when compared to these massive geological wonders, created by erupting volcanoes and widespread glaciation millions of years ago.
This is the wonder of Snowdonia, the reason millions of people visit the National Park each year (it is the third most visited national park in England and Wales). Like us, they come to be bowled over by the outstanding beauty of the natural world, to stand quietly and witness something special, something awesome.
I could have stood there and gazed up the valley for hours, but Capel Curig was beckoning down below and we still had several hours walking ahead of us.
It’s probably fair to say that Capel Curig is one of the prettiest villages in Snowdonia and on this beautiful June lunch-time it was teeming with outdoor types and holidaymakers. Needing a treat after our miserable night, we stopped off at the ivy-covered Bryn Glo cafe for a beer. It’s a quirky type of place, where pizzas are cooked on an outdoor oven and it’s quite okay to leave your small dog tied to the fence outside where it is frequently attacked by flying beer cans (it was an accident, I promise… it just kept happening!).
The owner clearly enjoys erecting signage as there’s a lot. My particular favourite was a notice on the door stating ‘Please note: NO purchase, NO pee! Thanks!’.
We’d have loved to stay in Capel Curig longer (stocking up on Kendal Mint Cake and beer) but we needed to push on to the next valley, which meant only one thing… more climbing.
Our initial route was familiar as we were here in March when Harri was doing work for AA Publishing. This time, however, we weren’t climbing the stunning Moel Siabod so we took the lower track out of the valley then climbed steeply all the same!
Eventually, after a hard uphill stretch, we emerged from woodland to be greeted by amazing views over the incredibly pretty Lledr valley, where the little village of Dolwyddelan lies (the village name means ‘Gwddelan’s meadow’). The tranquillity of this lovely valley comes as a surprise after bustling Capel Curig. Where were all the tourists?
Dolwyddelan has one major claim to fame – its original wooden castle on a rocky knoll known as Tomen Castell is believed to be the birth place of Llywelyn the Great (c.1172). The stone castle which perches dramatically on a precipice above the A470 was probably built soon after 1200 and was restored in the middle of the nineteenth century (when there was a renewed interest in Welsh nationalism – and Llewellyn himself).
We had planned to camp in Dolwyddelan, but in a moment of weakness, we found ourselves enquiring about rooms at the four-hundred-year-old Y Gwydyr.
A few hours later, with a few more drinks inside us, we lay down on one of the most comfortable mattresses we’ve ever encountered and were very soon two sheets to the wind.
‘Never too old to backpack: O Fôn i Fynwy: a 364-mile walk through Wales’ by Tracy Burton is available from Amazon’s Kindle Store and other online bookstores priced at £2.99.