Revisiting Llangollen and a walk on Llantysilio mountain, Denbighshire

If you’re a regular blog reader you’ll have probably seen my posts about our walks around Llangollen and over the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Little did I know when I booked our earlier trip that I’d be returning so soon!

Every year I treat myself to a walking break with Country Adventures, usually in the Lakes or Peak District. But this time the destination was Llangollen, staying a mile or so from the holiday house I’d rented with the family two months earlier. I had mixed feelings about heading back somewhere so soon but I needn’t have worried. The walks, the weather and of course the people were all different.

Our base was the White Waters Country Hotel in Llangollen; a step up from the usual youth hostel accommodation. I met the rest of the group for a welcome talk the first evening; lovely to catch up with some familiar faces from previous holidays before settling down to our evening meal.

Day 1 – Llantysilio hills

Icy feet!
Icy feet!

The day started with a minibus journey along the Horseshoe Pass to the Ponderosa cafe. We’d driven up here on our previous visit but only stopped briefly, rather put off by the sights and sounds of a hundred or so motorbikes. This time we were walking along Llantysilio mountain, a range of hills running from the Pass, before dropping down into Rhewl and back to Llangollen.

View from Llantysilio towards Llangollen
View from Llantysilio towards Llangollen

Leaving the minibus behind we headed towards our first peak, stopping frequently to enjoy the glorious views of the mist settled over Llangollen. Although the sunny picture above doesn’t manage to convey how cold it was!

Heading down Llantysilio Mountain
Heading down Llantysilio Mountain

Our route ahead was plain to see; an up and over track taking in the summits of Moel y Gamelin, Moel y Gaer and Moel Morfyyd. We’d already started from a high point so the walking wasn’t too strenuous. However there were a couple of steeper downhill stretches to negotiate, complete with icy patches, which slowed some of the group.

View from the trig point on Moel Morfydd
View from the trig point on Moel Morfydd

We eventually reached the far summit of Moel Morfyd. Looking back from the trig point I tried to work out the ramparts of the Iron Age hillfort on Moel y Gaer but had no luck. Although it’s immediately obvious when you look at aerial photos afterwards.

Moel Morfydd summit (Llantysilio mountain)
Moel Morfydd summit (Llantysilio mountain)

The summits of Snowdonia were much easier to spot. It’s rare that I’ve seen them bathed in sunlight and clear of cloud. I’ve walked in Snowdonia many times and can barely remember a trip where it didn’t rain!

Walking from Moel Morfydd towards Rhewl
Walking from Moel Morfydd towards Rhewl

After a lunch break we headed downhill towards Rhewl, passing near some paragliders taking advantage of the weather. It was great to chat with the group members as we walked; both those I already knew from and others who I hadn’t met before.

Walking from Rhewl to Llangollen
Walking from Rhewl to Llangollen

Our route took us along an old drovers track. In years gone by drovers moving their livestock would stop for a drink in the Sun Inn at Rhewl. It’s a pity it was closed when we passed as it looked like the kind of place where you could easily while away an afternoon.

The view whilst walking from Rhewl to Llangollen
The view whilst walking from Rhewl to Llangollen

We paused for a while to peer down the driveway of Llantysilio Hall, a large Victorian house once owned by the locomotive designer Charles Beyer. Rather fittingly he’s buried in the graveyard at nearby Llantysilio Church, which he’d helped restore and modify.

View over to Castell Dinas Brân from Trevor Rocks
Frosty path between Rhewl and Llangollen

We’d been spoilt by the glorious sunshine up on Llantysilio. It was a stark contrast as we walked through the fog that cloaked Llangollen. How different Horseshoe Falls looked from my previous visit!

Horseshoe Falls in the fog
Horseshoe Falls in the fog

Fortunately the warmth of our hotel was only a short  walk from the Falls. Plenty of time to relax before one further walk; a trip to The Corn Mill in Llangollen for a tasty curry and an evening of enjoyable conversation.

Day 2 – Trevor Rocks

Our walk on the second day covered some of the places I’d visited on my previous trips so I’m focussing this report on Trevor Rocks, my favourite part.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

We started out from Ty Mawr Country Park, initially walking to Pontcysyllte aqueduct and then onwards through Trevor Hall wood towards the limestone escarpment of Trevor Rocks.

View near Trevor Rocks
View near Trevor Rocks

I hadn’t realised how popular the area around Trevor Rocks would be. With the dead. After spotting several memorial plaques it became apparent that a lot of people have enjoyed the views during their lifetime.

View over to Castell Dinas Brân from Trevor Rocks
View over to Castell Dinas Brân from Trevor Rocks

It’s easy to see why as they stretch for miles in all directions. If you live in Llangollen I guess this is your local beauty spot. We stopped for lunch and to enjoy the views too but when it became obvious that a family group were meeting to scatter ashes nearby it was time to move on.

View from Trevor Rocks over to Dinas Castle
View from Trevor Rocks over to Dinas Castle

We worked off our lunch with a short uphill climb. It was worth the effort when we reached the top, being treated once more to views of Dinas Castle, on the hill opposite.

Trevor Rocks, near Llangollen
Trevor Rocks, near Llangollen

This ruined medieval castle stands on top of an Iron Age hill fort. Climbing to the castle from Trevor Rocks gave me a completely different perspective from my previous visit when I’d walked from the town centre. It certainly seemed much steeper!

View from Dinas Castle
View from Dinas Castle

After mooching around the ruins and experiencing the buffeting winds we returned to Llangollen where the group split and we headed our own ways for coffee, photographs and a spot of shopping.

View from Castell Dinas Brân
View from Castell Dinas Brân

Day 3 – Llangollen walk

Some of the group were leaving early on day three so it was a depleted number who set out for a morning stroll from Llangollen.

Looking down over Llangollen
Looking down over Llangollen

It was only a short walk, from the town up into the hills and back down to Berwyn but a perfect leg stretch before a long drive. The sun didn’t make much of an appearance but this didn’t seem to bother the kayakers on the River Dee. Rather them than me, the water must have been freezing!

Kayakers on the River Dee, Llangollen
Kayakers on the River Dee, Llangollen

The highlight? Finding the cafe open at Berwyn Station and enjoying bara brith before an impromptu trip on the steam train back into Llangollen.

A little later we headed our separate ways, another excellent break over. Roll on next year!

More info:

  • If you’re looking for a guided walking break in the UK I highly recommend Country Adventures. Joe, the owner, runs day and weekend trips primarily  in and around the Lakes, Yorkshire, Peak District and Welsh hills. Pop over to their website for further details.
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2016: a year in review – my top 10

It’s almost time to say goodbye to 2016. What can I say? It’s been a mixed year. Huge political shake ups, continuing civil wars, the Rio Olympics and Paralympics and Planet Earth II.

Personally, there have been sad times and happy times. I’ve had some great adventures and ticked off a couple of long held ambitions. Focussing on the positives, and in no particular order, here are my top 10 of 2016:

1. Running the London marathon

The first three months of 2016 were spent pounding roads and muddy footpaths in preparation for running the London marathon. My once in a lifetime challenge.

Finished!
Finished!

The day itself was incredible and by far the most physically demanding thing I’ve done. There were tough parts (the last six miles), amazing parts (spectator support and running over Tower Bridge) and emotional parts (finishing). Would I do it again? No way! But I’m very glad to have completed it.

2. Walking the Yorkshire Three Peaks

View from Pen-y-ghent descent
View from Pen-y-ghent descent

We spent a week in the Yorkshire Dales and were blessed with ideal walking weather. Perfect for tackling the Yorkshire Three Peaks – Pen-y-Ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside. Often walked as a day long charity challenge, we chose the easy option and spread them over three separate days.

3. Family backpacking adventures

Rest break near the gallops, Lambourn
Rest break near the gallops, Lambourn

I’ve cheated here and combined two trips into one. At the start of the year we decided the kids were old enough for backpacking. We bought a couple of lightweight tents and chose a couple of weekend routes close to home.

Swinford Lock camp fire, Eynsham
Swinford Lock camp fire, Eynsham

It wasn’t all plain sailing. I oversetimated the mileage we could comfortably walk on our Lambourn Valley Way weekend. And the weather was just a tad too warm on our Thames Path walk. But both weekends were fun, we rewarded ourselves with lovely meals out and made some great memories.

4. Going underground at Zip World Caverns, Blaenau Ffestiniog

My scary but exciting birthday present. Zip lining in caves, crawling through tunnels and scaling the side of the caverns. Are you brave enough to tackle Zip World Caverns?

Zip World Caverns training
Zip World Caverns training

5. Watching a Midsummer’s Night Dream, Creation Theatre, Oxford

“Quick, follow me. Walk in zigzags and blink your eyes really fast. Get in the van, hurry”. Think of Shakespeare and you don’t generally think of being bundled into a van in a public car park. Or taking part in an audition. Or popping into the printers to pick up wedding invites.

Part immersive performance, part treasure trail around Oxford this was an incredibly imaginative version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Creation Theatre. It was simply the best production I have ever seen.

6. Descending into Gaping Gill

Waiting for the Gaping Gill descent
Waiting for the Gaping Gill descent

This was an unplanned, but welcome addition, to our Yorkshire Dales holiday. After spotting an advert in a local cafe we siezed the opportunity to descend 100m by winch into Gaping Gill, a large pothole. We had to contend with an early start and a couple of hours queuing but it was worth the wait!

7. Finally finding a bee orchid. And then another. And another.

Bee orchid, Warburg nature reserve
Bee orchid, Warburg nature reserve

You know the saying about waiting for buses? Well this year I could have substituted the words ‘bee orchid’. I was so happy to find my first bee orchid at Warburg Nature Reserve, closely followed by several more discoveries. I even found one on a roadside verge whilst out on my lunchtime walk. How could I possibly have missed them in previous years?

8. Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim

Giant's Causeway
Giant’s Causeway

I’ve wanted to visit Giant’s Causeway for many years. It has been on my bucket list forever. With expectations so high, thank god it lived up to them!

9. Watching coypu at our campsite in France

Coypu at Milin de Kerhe campsite, Brittany
Coypu at Milin de Kerhe campsite, Brittany

Whilst on holiday in Brittany my favourite activity was watching a family of coypu living near our campsite. I’d head down to the river every evening, about half an hour before dusk, and wait patiently for them to appear. I was childishly excited at the first glimpse of the coypu each night, and even more so whenever the young appeared.

10. Starlings and moon rise at Otmoor

Moon from RSPB Otmoor
Moon from RSPB Otmoor

Over recent years we’ve made an annual pilgrimage to watch the starling murmuration at RSPB Otmoor. This year, in addition to 40,000 starlings, we were treated to the most amazing moon rise. Two spectacular natural sights in one day!

What are my plans for 2017? We’re keeping things flexible at the moment but I have a very long UK bucket list which I’m hoping to make a dent in. How about you?

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Pen-y-Ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside: walking the Yorkshire Three Peaks with children

As we took our seats in the Pen-y-Ghent cafe it was hard to ignore the bright red arms and necks of the two men on the table beside us. The Yorkshire Dales aren’t usually known for their sunny climes but we had somehow managed to coincide our holiday with a week of good weather.

Inspired by the lack of rain we spent part of our holiday walking the Yorkshire Three Peaks with the kids. This 24 mile challenge, with 5200ft of ascent, is often completed by charity walkers in around 12 hours. That wasn’t a sensible option for us so we climbed the hills individually on different days.

Pen-y-Ghent

Start of our route up Pen-y-Ghent
Start of our route up Pen-y-Ghent

Our first hill of the week was Pen-y-Ghent. This is the lowest of the Three Peaks but its distinctive shape, as seen in the photograph below, helps makes it one of the most popular.

Walking up Pen-y-Ghent
Walking up Pen-y-Ghent

Our route up Pen-y-Ghent followed the well worn track from the cafe in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, up past Brackenbottom Farm. Although this is the classic route for Three Peaks walkers it was pretty quiet. I guess we timed our departure well.

Pen-y-ghent summit path
Pen-y-ghent south face

The path took us up beside a stone wall until we reached a junction on the ridge, signposted the Pennine Way. Turning left we encountered a steeper section followed by an even steeper section. We had to use our hands a couple of times to pull ourselves up but it was pretty straightforward, barely a scramble.

View from Pen-y-ghent descent
View from Pen-y-Ghent descent

The summit was much busier than our walk up. We spent a while pointing out the other hills in the Dales, before climbing over the stone wall stile. I love a good stone wall and always wonder at the logistics of building them on top of the hills.

Our descent path was clear, snaking down across the hillside like a white ribbon, so no chance of getting lost. Adventurous walkers might want to visit Hunt Pot, a fissure in the ground off to the left of the path.

Looking back up to Pen-y-Ghent, Yorkshire
Looking back up to Pen-y-Ghent, Yorkshire

A little further on we detoured a couple of hundred metres to visit Hull Pot, a collapsed cavern which is the largest natural hole in England. We peered carefully in; although inaccessible to walkers it is popular with climbers. In wet weather a waterfall flows over the sides but it was completely dry on our visit.

Hull Pot, visited on the descent from Pen-y-Ghent
Hull Pot, visited on the descent from Pen-y-Ghent

From Hull Pot it took us about 45 minutes to walk back along a walled lane into Horton-in-Ribblesdale. Hill number one successfully completed!

Ingleborough

Our walk up Ingleborough was an add-on to our Gaping Gill cave descent. We’d already walked for 1.5 hours to reach Gaping Gill, on the flank of Ingleborough, so it seemed a shame not to climb the hill.

Whilst I thought it was a good idea my son didn’t. He was, he said, starving. Instead of a picnic on Ingleborough summit we ended up stopping halfway up to eat the remains of our sandwiches (which we’d partially eaten at 9am whilst waiting for our cave descent). Suitably refreshed we continued up the hill although my son still wasn’t impressed by the climb.

Summit trig on Ingleborough
Summit trig on Ingleborough

It turned out to be a good decision to eat our picnic early. As we emerged from the last few steps up to the summit plateau the wind took our breath away. Even though there’s a small stone shelter it wouldn’t have been a pleasant picnic stop. Instead we headed over to claim the trig point before quickly retracing our steps off the hill.

Route down from Ingleborough, Yorkshire
Route down from Ingleborough, Yorkshire

Once back out of the wind and heading downhill my son perked up. We retraced our steps past Gaping Gill, down Trow Gill to Ingelborough Cave. The show cave conveniently sold ice-creams, a perfect reward for completing hill number two.

Whernside

We hadn’t planned to walk up Whernside. My original idea for the last day of our holiday was a gentle stroll around the Ingleton Waterfalls Walk. But how could we resist the appeal of the highest hill in Yorkshire on such a gorgeous sunny day?

We decided to walk the standard Three Peaks route from Ribblehead Viaduct but in reverse. This turned out to be a good decision.

Ribblehead viaduct and Whernside
Ribblehead viaduct and Whernside

After walking under one of the arches of Ribblehead Viaduct our route took us into a couple of livestock fields and then through meadows full of buttercups. Definitely one of my favourite memories of our Yorkshire Dales holiday.

Buttercup meadows near Whernside
Buttercup meadows near Whernside

After the meadows we started our climb. We passed a few people already heading down off the hill, some finding the steepness quite tricky and resorting to their backsides. Something I’ve also done in the past on other hills! Although our ascent was steeper than the reverse route my knees definitely prefer a more gradual descent.

Whernside summit family photo
Whernside summit family photo

As we reached the summit a couple of fell runners overtook us. I almost felt jealous of them. Obviously the sun must have affected my head.

We ate our picnic lunch in one of the ingenious curved shelters designed into the dry stone wall. We didn’t really need protecting from the elements but I imagine they’re very welcoming in inclement weather. Sadly the second shelter appeared to have been used as a toilet; how can people have so little respect?

Track along Whernside summit, Yorkshire
Track along Whernside summit, Yorkshire

The stone wall along the ridge defines the boundary between Yorkshire and Cumbria. It’s evidently possible to see Blackpool Tower on a clear day but I was obviously looking in the wrong direction. However we were treated to fabulous views of the Lake District peaks.

Stone slabs marked the long descent down. Either side the bog cotton and dried peat reminding us that the weather in Yorkshire isn’t usually so dry.

View from Whernside
View from Whernside

Near the bottom we stopped for a while to admire an aqueduct carrying the stream from Force Gill waterfall. It was interesting to consider man’s impact on the landscape around us. The aqueduct, viaduct and Blea Moor Tunnel were all major projects of their time; impressive structures but no match for the natural beauty of the hills.

Finished the Yorkshire Three Peaks!
Finished the Yorkshire Three Peaks!

There was time for one last photo stop to celebrate the completion of the Yorkshire Three Peaks.

The viaduct finally came into view, marking the end of our walk. Even better was the sight of the snack van as we’d all run out of water. As we sat relaxing by the stream and enjoying our drinks we were even treated to the sight of a train crossing the viaduct. The perfect ending to hill number three.

More info:

  • Thinking about walking the Yorkshire Three Peaks with your children? Please consider your abilities and check the summit weather conditions before setting off. We were incredibly lucky with the weather on all three days but ice, rain, wind and fog are pretty common.
  • We followed the classic routes up all three of the Yorkshire Peaks (although walked one in reverse). I found the Walks in Yorkshire and Where2Walk websites helpful with route planning.

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Twixmas walking in Ambleside, Cumbria

It’s a tradition in our house that during Twixmas (the boring bit between Christmas and New Year) the rest of the family fly over to Ireland to catch up with family whilst I head north to walk in the mountains. This year I was a little worried that the combined efforts of Storm Desmond and Storm Eva would curtail my plans but I was assured the Lake District was open for business. Waterproofs packed, I headed out of the door ready for the long trawl up the M6 to Ambleside.

Rydal Water
Rydal Water from Nab Scar

A minute later I realised the brown liquid dribbling out the car wasn’t normal. I lifted the bonnet to find oil dripping down on me; something was horribly wrong. It soon became apparent that when my other half had helpfully topped up the oil he’d forgotten to screw the cap back on. I’d driven 40+ miles the day before (accompanied by an ominous smell of burning) but luckily the oil cap itself was still safely nestled on top of the tank. I took this as a good omen; where would I have found a replacement at 9am on a Sunday morning? Oil tank refilled and car cleaned up; I was ready to go once more.

Several uneventful hours later I arrived at my base for the next few days, Ambleside Youth Hostel. I was returning, once again, to walk with Country Adventures and it was great to see familiar faces and some new ones already in the lounge area.

Joe, the owner of Country Adventures, briefed us on the walks on our arrival evening. There were two options, high and low level, on both full days of walking and a third half day walk for those who wished to get a last taste of the hills before heading home.

Fairfield Horseshoe

The start of the Fairfield Horseshoe
The start of the Fairfield Horseshoe

On day one I chose to walk the classic Fairfield Horseshoe. I like to take advantage of long walks when I don’t have the kids as there’s no worrying about whether they’ll enjoy it or not. Our 11 mile route would, amongst others, take in the summits of Great Rigg, Fairfield and Dove Crag; around 3000 foot of ascent over the day.

Whilst Joe led the low level walk we were by accompanied by two experienced guides, Pete and Andy, on the high level route. One of the things I enjoy most about the holiday is leaving the route finding to someone else; navigation is not one of my strengths.

Fairfield horseshoe

Starting from Rydal we tackled our first fell, Nab Scar. This warmed us up and got a lot of the day’s ascent out of the way early on. At the top we stopped briefly for a breather and to enjoy the views down to Rydal Water and Rydal cave which the low level group were visiting. It was also a good chance to catch up with the other guests, many of whom I’d walked with on previous holidays.

Fairfield Horseshoe
Fairfield Horseshoe

Our route continued on to Heron Pike, Great Rigg and eventually the plateau of Fairfield. There was a fair bit of up and down along the way but nothing too hard. All around were spectacular views although many of the higher peaks were hidden in clouds and the mist briefly interrupted views on Fairfield itself. We ate lunch in a relatively sheltered spot before following the horseshoe route back towards Ambleside.

Heading towards Great Rigg and Fairfield
Heading towards Great Rigg and Fairfield

The return walk took us alongside a seemingly never ending, but impressively built, wall which provided shelter from the wind. Towards the end there was a short scramble down from some rocks; I was quite glad for the warmer weather as I’d have had kittens if they’d been covered in ice.

Sunset over the Fairfield Horseshoe
Sunset over the Fairfield Horseshoe

However, the highlight of the walk was still to come. The sun sets early in December and although we’d hardly seen it all day it made a spectacular appearance as it sank behind the hills. The sky turned pink, yellow and orange; I took way too many photos. I’ve rarely viewed sunsets whilst still on the hills so this was a real treat although it did mean a quickening of pace to get down to Ambleside before darkness. Yet we still took time to watch a barn owl hunting low over the land. Definitely a sign that night was on its way.

That evening we dined in one of Ambleside’s Thai restaurants. Our waiter kept us entertained, the food filled us up and I think we all managed to pay the right contribution towards the meal. Afterwards the hardened drinking crew went to the pub whilst the lightweights, including me, headed back to the hostel to sleep.

Red Screes

On our second day the high level walk option took us to the summit of Red Screes. The group was smaller than before; the appeal of a pub visit on the low level walk being more attractive than a day of wind buffeting (as the forecast aptly described the approach of Storm Frank).

We started with a walk through Sykeside campsite, pretty empty at this time of year, but in a fantastic location and one I’ve bookmarked to return to during summer. A young sheepdog accompanied us through some waterlogged fields before taking itself off to round up some sheep.

Start of our route up Red Screes
Start of our route up Red Screes

The weather forecast hadn’t mentioned any rain but within about 15 minutes we stopped to pull on our waterproofs. I was envious of those with more expensive waterproof trousers that could be pulled on over the top of walking boots. I meanwhile hopped around on one leg whilst undoing muddy boots and gaiters in an attempt to get mine on.

Our route took us up gradually beside Caiston Beck, an easier alternative to the steep 1000ft ascent straight up Middle Dodd. However it was sometimes difficult to work out if we were walking in a stream or on a footpath and I couldn’t help thinking the other option might have been drier underfoot!

Caiston Beck
Caiston Beck

It felt much harder walking than the previous day. Even after we left the stream-path the slopes of Red Scree were pretty boggy and most of us ended up ankle deep in the mud. It also became progressively windier but I love walking in strong winds; they certainly make you feel alive. And they dry your waterproofs off.

Path up Red Screes
Path up Red Screes

The view from the top is evidently excellent in all directions but as you can see we were beaten by the mist. The group paused for Andy to take a summit photo before Pete pointed out that we weren’t quite on the highest point. No-one will ever know though and it was way too cold and windy to take another in the right spot!

The view on Red Screes!
The view on Red Screes

The bogginess and mist accompanied our descent for a while and then suddenly we saw Lake Windermere emerge from the gloom. Lunch was eaten whilst sheltering from the wind beside another wall; I felt a little sorry for the solitary walker who had probably been enjoying some peace and quiet before we invaded.

Rather than head straight back to Ambleside by the road we took a short detour via a farm track past a field of Highland cows. Being a southerner I don’t get to see many of these so couldn’t resist a few photos.

Highland cow, near Ambleside
Highland cow, near Ambleside

We finished our day with a walk through the grounds of Stock Ghyll Force. One benefit of all the rain is that the Lake District waterfalls are at their most impressive. Stock Ghyll is on the outskirts of Ambleside so relatively accessible and it’s definitely worth popping to see if you’re in the area.

Stock Ghyll Force, near Ambleside
Stock Ghyll Force, near Ambleside

We were back in Ambleside pretty early and had a couple of hours spare before dinner at the hostel. I had vaguely thought about bringing my running gear with me to help with the marathon training but am glad I decided against it as my legs were starting to signal dissent. Equally optimistic I’d bought two books with me. I fared a little better with these and spent an enjoyable hour catching up on my reading.

Storm Frank arrived in the night and faced with a long journey ahead of me I chose not to walk on the third day. However the storm had the last word and followed me home. Six hours of driving along motorways in torrential rain was a stressful finish to the holiday but I’m already looking forward to next year’s walking break.

More info:

  • Country Adventures offer a variety of walking and activity breaks around the Lakes, Peak District and Yorkshire and I highly recommend them. You can read more about my previous trips with them in Elterwater and the Peak District.
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