Last weekend I at last made it to the top of the hill that inspired my Twitter name and the name of this blog – Pen Llithrig y Wrach, or the Slippery Hill (or Head) of the Witch. We’ve been saying for months that we should climb it, and we really ought to climb it, but somehow there have always been other, more appealing hills to go up, or other, more urgent things to do. The fact that Pen Llithrig y Wrach is a rather uninspiring looking brown, heathery lump didn’t help matters…

But on Saturday we decided today was the day, and packed our picnics and headed for the Ogwen Valley and the Carneddau, parking underneath the imposing dragon’s back of Tryfan (we’ll save that one for another day…)

Looking back towards Tryfan

Looking back towards Tryfan

The plan was to do a circular walk, with a choice of which way round: do the boggy slog up Pen Llithrig y Wrach first and then nip across to Pen yr Helgu Ddu (hill of the black hound – maybe it was named after the witch’s dog, who knows?) and come down the other side with a gentle finish walking along the metalled access road to the reservoir; or begin with the road and finish with a boggy slog downhill. We decided to get the bog over with first.

It wasn’t actually too bad, bog wise, but we did have to bash our way through a fair stretch of heather and bilberry, which may be lovely to look at but is a bugger to walk through. Especially when sharp bits work their way into the very fabric of your socks, and stick in you at every step but refuse to be winkled out of the material. Poor old Bert had the worst of it, being barely able to see above the vegetation and not having the satisfaction of at least being able to pick the odd berry and refresh himself with it.

It didn’t take long to make it to the top, though, and we sat down just under the summit to have a picnic lunch and soak up the views along the length of the Llyn Cowlyd reservoir past Conwy and Llandudno and right out to the windfarms out at sea. Apparently on a very clear day you can see the Lake District and the Isle of Man (and there’s proof of that coming…) We were joined for our picnic by a harvestman sporting bright orange appendages – we thought they were eggs, but were later told (oh the marvellous, educative power of Twitter) that they were in fact mites, feeding on the spider’s blood. Ugh. I’m glad I didn’t know that while I was eating.

It was on the other side of the summit, though, heading for Pen yr Helgu Ddu, that things got really interesting. Looking down Cwm Eigiau, along the meandering river of the same name to the lake, with binoculars you can see the remains of the inadequate dam, which just 14 years after it was built, burst, causing the Coedty Reservoir to also burst, and flooding the village of Dolgarrog, killing 17 people. Apparently the shoddy workmanship can easily be seen, with lumps of unmixed cement and flaky, crumbly material clearly visible. Despite that unpleasant bit of history, it is a beautiful valley and we plan to visit it and get a closer look at the lake and dam.

As we left Pen Llithrig y Wrach behind, and climbed higher towards the summit of Pen yr Helgu Ddu, looking back the slippery one presented quite a different face. From this side she’s not such a boggy, mossy-looking lump after all…

Reaching the summit of Pen yr Helgu Ddu was easy enough, and we sat down for a second picnic, looking across at the crags of Craig yr Ysfa, and here I was given the proof that you can see the Lake District on a clear day. Apparently this now-well-known climbing spot was first discovered by climbers from the Lake District – no, I don’t mean the climbers were from the Lake District (though they were): I mean, they were in the Lake District when they discovered it – looking across at the Carneddau through a telescope from Scafell. Until then, climbers in north Wales hadn’t realised the crags were there. There were, in fact, a couple of climbers on Craig yr Ysfa while we watched.

Tea and cake over, we made our descent down a horribly slender, rocky ridge with steep drops to each side and uneven deep, slithery steps – which gave me the heebeegeebees, so much so that I ended up doing a lot of it sitting at the top of each step and sliding off my bum to get down. But we made it safely, reaching the bottom next to our third body of water of the day, the Ffynnon Llugwy Reservoir, which taunted us with its cool-looking depths and the promise of a paddle for our hot, tired feet and downhill-walking-battered toes – but it was too far from the path to be worth the effort.

As we trudged along the metalled road back to the carpark, tired, hot and with sore feet, Mother Nature kindly distracted us from our discomfort with linnets flitting and skipping down the thistles in front of us, a flock of young speckle-headed goldfinches congregating on the fence, a kestrel soaring high above us, a family of stonechats clacking to each other, and, to crown it all and cap off a great day, fabulous views of a female Hen Harrier flying down the river.

So that’s ‘my’ mountain done. What’s next…?


4 thoughts on “IT’S ALL IN THE NAME

  1. As soon as I saw you’d done the hills that way round, I wondered how you’d get on with the descent from Pen Yr Helgi Ddu! I did the round the opposite way around – it was quite a nice ascent but I thought at the time I’d hate to descend it. There is a bypass path which slants down below the craggy bit from further to the left as you approach the narrowness but I think it would be hard to see from above.

  2. Yes, we did see another path, but that one’s for wimps! I got a lot better with heights when I was climbing regularly, but now that I don’t so much my fear seems to have returned.

  3. How ironic, that I should reach Pen Llithrig y Wrach a few days after you, the only difference being I ascended from the Dolgarrog side. The views from there were absolutely superb

    A lovely write up and very interesting reading.

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