Carnedd Llewelyn via Drum and Foel-fras

A substantial walk in the beautiful Carneddau mountains. Amounting to almost 13 miles in length with about 3,250 ft of ascent. Choose a clear day and allow 7+ hours to enjoy the scenic views and, if you’re lucky, a sighting of a wild pony or two.

To reach the car parking (free at time of writing), travel northwards from Llanrwst along the B5106. Pass through Trefriw & Dolgarrog, then turn left & uphill just after the river in Tal-y-bont. Now carefully follow the twisting single track lanes to the small car park at the lane’s end SH 72058 71556.

Start the walk by leaving the car park westward along the old Roman road (walking beneath the power lines). After approximately 1/2 a mile there is a gate across the track, go through the gateway and then turn immediately left uphill alongside the stone wall.

Looking back along the Roman Road before turn uphill away from it.
Looking back along the Roman Road before turning uphill away from it.

The small path now winds up the ridge to Carnedd y Ddelw. Having started our walk just after 7am on a gloriously clear autumn morning, we thoroughly enjoyed the fine westward views towards the coast and Anglesey.

The morning view NW towards Puffin Island from the slopes of Drosgl
The morning view NW towards Puffin Island from the slopes of Drosgl

Upon cresting this rise there is a panoramic view encompassing Drum, Foel-fras, Llwytmor and Llyn Anafon.

Looking southerly to Drum, Llyn Anafon and Foel-fras from Carnedd y Ddelw.
Looking southerly to Drum, Llyn Anafon and Foel-fras from Carnedd y Ddelw.

Turning slightly to our left we now approach the summit of Drum (Carnedd Penyborth-goch) and join the larger stoned track just prior to the summit. It was at this point that we had our first view of one of the Carneddau Ponies; silhouetted by the low sun through some morning haze.

A mountain pony grazes amongst the glare of morning sun and haze.
A mountain pony grazes amongst the glare of morning sun and haze.

She looked like a veteran mare who was perhaps the matriarch of the small group of 9 ponies that we now saw on Drum.

The Old Mare stands grazing on a mountain skyline.
The Old Mare stands grazing on a mountain skyline.

We now proceed SSW, initially downhill, then across some marshy ground before rising steadily up the long haul to the summit of Foel-fras. Definitely worth pausing occasionally to enjoy the changing westerly views.

Looking down to Llyn Anafon from Drum
Looking down to Llyn Anafon from Drum

As one approaches the summit, you come to the corner of a stout stone-wall; bearing left around the corner, the stony trig-pointed summit comes in to view.

The stony trig-point marked summit of Foel-fras
The stony trig-point marked summit of Foel-fras

We noted more wild ponies just beyond the summit and as we began to drop away towards Carnedd Gwenllian (Uchaf) a trio of young ponies came over to investigate who was wielding a camera.

A group of young mountain ponies come to a fence-line - investigating who's taking their photograph.
A group of young mountain ponies come to a fence-line – investigating who’s taking their photograph.

From here we rise again slightly to the peak of Carnedd Gwenllian, a flattish stony peak.

The view looking SW across the summit of Carnedd Gwenllian
The view looking SW across the summit of Carnedd Gwenllian

Bearing left from here, we fall & then rise again to the summit of Foel Grach. After the rocks of Foel Grach we drop again before making the final climb to the summit of Carnedd Llewelyn. It was on this last section that we spotted a third group of ponies. Stood enjoying the autumn sunshine with the peak of Yr Elen behind them, a beautiful view of these Carneddau Ponies in their natural environment.

Carneddau ponies enjoying autumn sunshine, high on Carnedd Llewelyn. With Yr Elen and Menai Strait in the background.
Carneddau ponies enjoying autumn sunshine, high on Carnedd Llewelyn. With Yr Elen and Menai Strait in the background.

Now for the push to the 1064 m summit of Carnedd Llewelyn – 2nd highest mountain in Wales, after the peaks of the Snowdon massif. It was becoming quite hot for mid-September and we appreciated our cold drinks with an early lunch stop, sat enjoying the huge views all around.

Tamsin on top of Carnedd Llewelyn
Tamsin on top of Carnedd Llewelyn

The view south from here is dominated by the cliffs of Carnedd Dafydd with many of the main Snowdonian peaks visible beyond.

Looking from Carnedd Llewelyn to Carnedd Dafydd - with Tryfan, Glyderau and Snowdon beyond.
Looking from Carnedd Llewelyn to Carnedd Dafydd – with Tryfan, Glyderau and Snowdon beyond.

After a brief lunch break we re-traced our steps back to the car, enjoying the peaceful wander back.

As an alternative: If one had two cars & drivers available, a 2nd car could be left at the Youth Hostel Car Park by Llyn Ogwen. Then instead of retracing ones steps, one could walk across to Carnedd Dafydd to then descend via Pen yr Ole Wen.

Either way this is a challenging but very enjoyable walk across big open country.

Map:

Tamaris (my horse of a lifetime)

Tamaris – Here is a brief introductory tale about a young teenager & the thoroughbred horse that she fell in love with. A short story that horse fans might enjoy; a tale of learning, perseverance and understanding. Gees, what a ride it was!

I Meeting

I had not had the opportunity to ride horses until I was almost 13 years old. I’d grown up on farms, around all sorts of livestock but a pony wasn’t a possibility until my parents had kindly bought me ‘Ginger’ a chestnut 13-2 character with a huge heart & a bigger sense of humour. He had taught me to ride over the previous year & a bit; by the simple premise of “If you do something wrong it’s my responsibility to dump you”. As you might imagine dear Reader, for 6 months I fell off on a daily basis. However, when you got things right ‘Ging’ was so much fun, but that’s a different story; so back to the tale in hand.

I was just 14 years old when a neighbour’s groom rode this beautiful but desperately thin bay thoroughbred past our drive gate. He caught my eye and I called out,

“Hey, that’s a new one you’ve got there M”

“Yes, the boss has picked him up to sell on – fallen on hard times this young lad has”

“He’s gorgeous”

“Hmm maybe, but I’ll be glad when he’s gone. I’ve told the boss I’ll not ride him on grass; to damn fractious this one – I call him Reggie”

{giggles} “M, you call all the geldings Reggie!”

“True enough – well I’d better be getting on, see you again”

“Bye”

At this point I had already decided that this Reggie was the horse for me. Whilst briefly patting him, it had been like a meeting of minds; almost as if he was asking me to be his friend. Just how could I make it a reality?

I spoke to my parents but my Dad would have nothing of it:

“Look at him, he’s just skin & bone – wrong shape and a bit of a wild look too. No, you get all of these silly ideas out of your head. You’re not ready for a horse yet anyways.”

Well I have to concede that last bit might have been correct, maybe I wasn’t ready. But when an opportunity comes along that feels so right – you don’t just pass it up. I spoke to people that I knew in the farming & hunting communities. They all came back with similar answers: You’re mad – nobody ‘ll ride that one – he’ll do for you – look elsewhere.

But I was a determined young teenager and you know how much notice I was going to take of all these warnings. So I arranged to sell Ginger, on a buy back agreement to a young pony clubber who desperately wanted to compete him. I sold 2 of the 4 young cattle that I had started breeding 2 years previously and I cycled to see my neighbour & horse dealer.

I begged the dealer’s wife (who had been an Olympic Show-jumper) to ride ‘Reggie’ over some jumps. He jumped like a stag, pinging the 3ft 6in fences as if they weren’t relevant. Two days later, after a vetting and also promising to ask the dealer for an escort the first time I went hunting on Tamaris (his real name) – Tamaris was stood in my stable at home. I was the happiest teenager around and it would only take 3 years for my Dad to calm down (no I’m not kidding, 3 years!)

II Building Trust

The next year was hard but fun. Tamaris had been bought as a yearling to be an amateur rider’s future steeplechaser. He had wanted for nothing. His backing & basic schooling had been excellent and he had obviously been treated with great kindness. Sadly, at the time of the Lloyds insurance crash, the family had fallen on hard times. They had kept T as long as possible but finally he had to be sold as they simply couldn’t feed him anymore.

T’s condition score was very poor. It took 12 months of careful & imaginative feeding (T being the fussy gastronome that he was) to get him back to a good condition. I did jobs for the local horse folk & the neighbouring farmers, just to earn the funds for all the extra food. Oats from Scotland, Lucerne from Newmarket, Linseed Tea, grains from the Ovaltine factory, a bottle of stout every Saturday! You name it, I fed it, T loved it. Huge thanks go out to friends who chipped in, like Mr B who found an old copper for me to boil up mashes in and everyone who gave advice not minding me picking & choosing which gems of information to take.

It was an invaluable 12 months. The hours spent grooming, the evenings sat in T’s stable reading equine nutrition books by torchlight. The outreach lectures I attended, given by local vets disseminating advice on equine therapy & fitness. As time went by the bond of understanding between T & I became stronger & stronger. And then, when the time came, the riding. We started with short hacks out along the local lanes. The short hacks became long ones – exploring the Buckinghamshire bridlepaths – visiting different villages – by the next summer (10 months later) we were covering 70 to 100 miles per week.

III First Jumps

Our first jumps were 45 gallon barrels with a pole on top and another pole on 5 gallon drums a yard in front. This makes an inviting jump of about 3ft 4in in height. I was soon to learn that T loved jumping especially from pace. In a field with an island fence in it, he would actively pull to the jump – if he hooked off with you, it would be over a jump. He certainly wasn’t the fastest TB out there but he had a strong will & loads of stamina; about as honest a fellow as you’ll ever meet. It was this strong will that had caused no one to want to buy him. Going across country he became so excited. You could, by negotiation, maintain a little degree of control but you could not bug out – once on-board you were fully committed, no turning back.

If I hadn’t understood before, I definitely did now:

  • consistency & quiet determination are always better than aggression
  • you will never win a physical battle with a horse
  • understanding the horse’s perspective is invaluable
  • think ahead of time, otherwise it will be too late
  • keep a conversation open with the horse, don’t give in to fear, anger, or whatever
  • throw your heart over that jump – the rest should follow, hopefully!
  • you can do it – if you’re committed enough

As an example of Tamaris’ character and the things above, let me tell you of one typical occurrence:

IV No backing out

Picture the scene, it’s a late autumn morning. The frost & mist have lifted, save for the steam coming off the horses. You are galloping across glorious grass & hedge vale. There are about 5 horses & riders in front of you and about 120 behind. Across the field in front of you looms a boundary hedge, a large hedge, probably a little over 6ft high. You’ve never jumped that high before ..

Hmm, that looks pretty big. I wonder if discretion would be better than valour.

{you sit up slightly}

Yep that’s bloody big!

{you start to put pressure on the reins, undecided whether to shorten the horse up a bit (a novice mistake) or just to chicken out completely} [your horse ignores you]

Tamaris will you please slow down & think about this!

{you pull firmly on one rein, hoping to do a circle} [your horse turns his head and grabs hold of your foot in his teeth]

Oh crap! No bailing out now and he’s not even looking where he’s going. We’re going to die.

{after a moment you commit to the jump, retaking a forward seat & pushing your horse’s neck onward} [your horse releases your foot from his grasp, faces the fence, extends his stride and ..]

Weeeeee …  this is f**king amazing!

Beneath you, on the landing side of the hedge there is a deep ditch, freshly dug out, the spoil heaped up beyond the ditch. You clear the lot – thanks to your horse teaching you another invaluable lesson. Only 17 others clear it, wow!

V And so ..

Once you gain the trust in each other, that Tamaris & I eventually did, there really is no stopping you. Perhaps it takes the horse of a lifetime and someone crazy enough to go with it but its one of the best things you’ll ever experience.

I read a lot of Surtees, love the art of Snaffles and got to live it for real with Tamaris. We had many adventures, many lovely moments and a few disasters. I had the privilege to care for my best friend for another 23 years. He died aged 30 in his field, he’s buried looking over the fields & hedges that he would love to jump. Perhaps I’ll tell you more of his tales another time, but for now I’m tearing up too much. Thank you dear friend – it was a blast.

Carneddau Ponies

Living in the Carneddau range of mountains (being the largest contiguous area of high ground in Wales & England) are a true gem of wild Wales – the Carneddau Ponies.

These rare ponies are a glorious insight in to British equines of the past. It is believed that they have roamed freely across these beautiful but bleak hills for some 2,500 years or more, at least since 500BC. A genetic study carried out earlier this decade by Aberystwyth University, concluded that the ponies have been genetically isolated for several centuries minimum.

Living up and around 2000ft, these ponies have survived cold snowy winters, potential predation by wolves (before they were eradicated from the hills), the enforced historical culls of wild ponies and more recent regulatory pressures. Thanks to the hard work of local farmers & the Carneddau Mountain Pony Association, the ponies hopefully have a long future on Snowdonia’s wildest of areas.

In February of this year I was lucky enough to take the picture below, of one of these hardy little ponies:

A wild Carneddau pony bounces off a rock on the slopes of Pen Yr Ole Wen (with a wintery Y Garn in the background).
A wild Carneddau pony bounces off a rock on the slopes of Pen Yr Ole Wen (with a wintery Y Garn in the background).

More recently, in great autumn weather, Tamsin & I set off on a long day in the Carneddau, photographing the ponies & their environment. Here are a few photos for you to enjoy:

Horsey Companions

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I’d like to give a shout out for all those wonderful equines that many of us are fortunate enough to be able to spend time with …
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