Old haunts revisited (a day in The Berwyns)
Some might question the sense of returning time and again to familiar hills when there are others – plenty of them – still to be visited for the first time. The Berwyns exert a pull for me: whether it’s because they are the most accessible of big hill days from where I live, or is simply a desire to reprise some of the best days out, I’m unsure. Whatever the motivation, they are a place to which I regularly return.
When it comes to the Welsh hills I’m used to walking alone but on this occasion I had family in tow. Within a few hundred yards of leaving the car we’d had to cross a stream on slippery stones and climb a steep overgrown slope to gain the path we were looking for. Having assured both wife and son that this was to be an enjoyable walk and well within their capabilities, the question “Is it all going to be like this?” was probably inevitable, and the response “That’s probably the worst bit over already” met with twin looks of scepticism.
But the path is a good one – springy, close-cropped turf offering gradual but progressive ascent for a good part of the route. Things do get a little boggy for a while (and more about that later) and they also get a little* steeper for a while, but the ridge tops out at well over 2,700 feet so some exertion is a given.
The first refuelling stop was taken a little sooner than would usually be the case; an inevitable consequence of having a teenage boy in the group. This was to prove fortuitous: a short while after we’d settled a large bird of prey – which we all assumed to be a buzzard – rose from the ground, where it had been disturbed by a pair of ravens. But something about the wing shape and then the pattern of its flight was wrong for a buzzard and, keeping very still, we were treated to the sight of a female hen harrier quartering the adjacent moorland; probably looking for grouse, of which there were plenty around.
This set the pattern for the rest of the walk: short, regular stops for refreshments and the opportunity to scan 360º with the binoculars. Not a bad approach on what was quite a warm day. By the time we made the main ridge, at Moel Sych, a haze had gathered and the views north and west were less distinct than we had hoped for; but there was still a certain drama to be had from the shadowy, indistinct forms of the main Snowdonia ranges.
If there was to be one minor gripe it was that, for the first time in many months, I walked in boots; partly in anticipation of the boggy sections of the walk, but mostly because my Terrocs are now on the threshold of total disintegration and – as is typical for me – I have failed to organise a replacement pair. There were times, particularly during the descent, where I felt leaden-footed and clumsy and was glad of the assistance of a trekking pole.
We took the final refreshment break beneath the tree canopy adjacent to Pistyll Rhaeadr. It had been a golden day; I must go back sometime.
* May contain traces of understatement