From the vaults: Magic and loss (Cwm Elan)- (21/04/2011)

DSC02449“There’s a bit of magic in everything and then some loss to even things out”Lou Reed

Viewed from the path which hugs the shoreline, the intrusions are evident enough: the lakes themselves created by artificial means; the great bulwarks of the restraining walls of a succession of dams; the incongruous scar of an expanse of densely-planted conifer. There are compensations too: the ever-present accompaniment of birdsong; kite and raven drifting effortlessly from the high bluffs; the sanctuary offered by deciduous woodland glades. And the water: whatever its provenance, this is now, more than anything, a place of water.
Forestry aside, the surrounding tops remain mercifully unadorned. Not many miles away, other hills have already been lost to inappropriate development. More, and worse, will follow if politicians, planners and energy conglomerates have their way. But there are times sanity demands we set aside that mixture of nostalgia and anxiety, which can weigh heavily. Times when the right thing to do is park the car, heave on the pack, and spend a few hours enjoying some of what still remains to be enjoyed.
One of the surprising aspects of this part of Wales is that, despite the presence of way-marked trails and markers for the Sustrans cycle network, it seems to attract a surprisingly light footfall. Away from the immediate vicinity of car parks and the visitor centre it’s not a place where you’ll be meeting too many others, even on the easily accessible sections.
There’s some wild – really wild – terrain in the locality. A favourite day of mine is to climb onto the high ground above the Afon Claerwen and simply make a bee-line for the twin cairns of Drygarn Fawr: it can be an arduous and draining trek across seemingly never ending miles of peat hags, circuiting expanses of liquid bog, finding trails, losing them, finding them again (or finding others – who really knows?). The word ‘trails’ is relative in this context: those marked on maps may not be apparent on the ground; others can be followed which have no corresponding line on any chart. Generally they are narrow, indistinct, inclined to come to an abrupt end in the most unlikely of places: the best principle is probably to make use of them when they are available but be prepared to manage without them at the shortest of notice.
Acknowledging that you need to be a particular kind of deranged individual to actively seek out the dubious delights of upland bog, and having the company of family members for the day, good sense and diplomacy dictated that we stay low on this occasion. In all honesty, I didn’t mind, and never do: getting out there is what matters most.


Trees, their root systems completely exposed by the passage of water, manage to cling on and survive.




It’s not always easy to drag yourself away after a food stop: I could easily have pitched up here for the night.




Expanses of scoured, stunted, woodland cover some hillsides, almost down to the water’s edge in places. By this point in the year they are just showing definite signs of springing back into life.