Dawn trip to Ynys Llanddwyn

Ynys Llanddwyn, Newborough Forest / Warren and Nature Reserve – our Anglesey destination early on a fine February morning. Ynys Llanddwyn is a tidal island that is home to many tales including:

  • St Dwynwen and her church
  • The birth place of RSPB Cymru in 1911
  • Tŵr Mawr – the main lighthouse, built in the mid 1800’s (pictured above)
  • Tŵr Bach – a smaller & older warning tower by the old lifeboat station
  • Fascinating geology with both pillow lava & red jasper outcroppings

See a gothic view (monochrome infrared) of Tŵr Mawr on my Natures Universe site.

It’s a couple of hours drive north for us, so an early start was necessary. We top up on petrol & breakfast supplies in Bangor supermarket before driving the last stint over on Anglesey. Take the turn in the middle of Newborough village to reach the lovely forest / beach-side parking. At the time of writing, I believe parking fees are £5 for the day – unless you arrive really early (when the barriers may be open).

We parked up and quickly made our way through the dunes and on to the beach at 6 something or other am, where we were greeted by this beautiful view of a deep red pre-dawn sky over Snowdonia.

Maybe the shepard's warning but as a photographer ..
Maybe the shepard’s warning but as a photographer ..

I’d already expected to have to move around promptly to achieve the different shots I was looking for but the westerly jog up the beach with getting on for 50lbs of photography backpack certainly woke my leg muscles up! But oh was it worth it 🙂

The ponies that graze Ynys Llanddwyn start the day next to St Dwynwen's church ruins.
The ponies that graze Ynys Llanddwyn start the day next to St Dwynwen’s church ruins.
The 1903 Celtic Cross on Ynys Llanddwyn

St Dwynwen

Wales’ patron saint of lovers. There appear to be various versions of Dwynwen’s story. She was said to be the fairest of the many daughters of King Brychan Brycheiniog. She fell in love with a young man called Maelon, who reciprocated, but unfortunately her father had plans for her to marry another.

When she is forced to spurn Maelon, some say she runs away, prays to fall out of love or that she is raped by Maelon in his frustration. Either way, Maelon ends up frozen in a block of ice and an angel grants Dwynwen three wishes:

  • that Maelon be released
  • that God should, through her experience, care for the wellbeing of lovers
  • and that she, Dwynwen, should never become married

After this Dwynwen founds a convent on Ynys Llanddwyn, where she lives out the rest of her life. Her church became a place of holy pilgimage during the middle ages and the ruins can still be visited today.

The views from Ynys Llanddwyn are spectacular. With both Snowdonia & Llyn Peninsula as backdrops, whilst having various points of foreground interest too. It is no wonder that various feature film scenes have been set here.

Beautiful softlight and so many choices of subject.
Beautiful softlight and so many choices of subject.

Having photographed Tŵr Mawr at dawn we watched as the seabirds started their day with gulls calling overhead and a pair of Oystercatchers who stood together on a tide sprayed rock observing the coming of sunrise.

And what a sunrise it was. With renewed tangerine orange in the sky, the sun burst forth above central Snowdonia; whilst (from our shared rocky viewpoint) Tŵr Bach stood almost silhouetted to one side.

The sun gradually rises into a tangerine sky above the mountains of Snowdonia. In the forground stands the beacon tower (Tŵr Bach) of Ynys Llanddwyn.
The sun gradually rises into a tangerine sky above the mountains of Snowdonia. In the forground stands the beacon tower (Tŵr Bach) of Ynys Llanddwyn.

Having enjoyed spectacular dawn & sunrise, we sat and enjoyed our breakfast snacks before moving on to explore more of this beautiful & spiritual island. I always like achieving some pleasing shots early on a trip, the rest of the day becomes more relaxed and everything seems like a bonus. On Llanddwyn the surroundings almost beg you to sit back and enter a contemplative mood – what a source for inspiration.

Mountain, sea, sunshine and peace - where better for an artist's inspiration.
Mountain, sea, sunshine and peace – where better for an artist’s inspiration.

As we continued to explore and then walk back to Llanddwyn Bay, we enjoyed not only the views but also the geology, the information signs, the ponies (again), the expanse of empty beach and then found a swing on the forest edge. Have a look at the gallery below for some extra pictures.

Finally we left around mid morning, time to move on and recce some other local spots for another day’s ‘golden hour’.

There’s a map beneath the gallery if you’d like to consult it. The only 2 bits of extra advice I would give is to be careful about the tides (it is a tidal island) and to respect all restrictions posted, particularly in seabird breeding season.

Gallery (click on picture to enlarge / bring up more details) :

Map (as a guide only) :


An enjoyable scenic route over Arenig Fawr

The Arenigs are a less walked group of Snowdonian peaks, yet Arenig Fawr with its central positioning, enjoys huge panoramic views across most of Snowdonia. Here’s a circular route that we walked early on a very frosty January morning. The GPS track reported 7.25 miles of distance with about 2000 ft of climb. Allow 4 hours or so – more in adverse conditions. The ascent follows paths that are generally obvious whilst the descent & return crosses un-pathed grassy slopes before following tracks & lanes back to the start.

Morning path to Llyn Arenig Fawr
Morning path to Llyn Arenig Fawr

We start at a small lay-by on the minor road south of Llyn Celyn (if no parking is available here, then park at the old quarry just west of Arenig village). Cross the lane and follow the track uphill away from the road in an initially south-westerly direction. This path twists and turns over the moorland of Moel y Garth with beautiful views down on your left towards Bala and Llyn Tegid.

Golden light pours into the valley and begins to lift the sleepy mists of night.
Golden light pours into the valley and begins to lift the sleepy mists of night.

The track gives access to the small dam of Llyn Arenig Fawr and we shall soon find ourselves descending slightly to this beautiful lakeside. Here you will find a small walker’s bothy that could provide some useful shelter on a less pleasant day. Cross the ladder style next to the bothy and head across just below the dam.

Arenig Bothy a useful place to know of.
Arenig Bothy a useful place to know of.

If your are lucky enough to have great weather (as we did) the morning reflections in Llyn Arenig Fawr are glorious and it is well worth while pausing to soak up some of the tranquillity.

Llyn Arenig Fawr in the winter golden hour. Reflections and warm glow on a frosty morning.
Llyn Arenig Fawr in the winter golden hour. Reflections and warm glow on a frosty morning.

Now we must climb up the hillside to the south of the lake, via Carreg Lefain and on to the point known as Y Castell. The climb is steeper here and follows a smaller path but the way is clear and there are no significant obstacles.

The pull up to Y Castell
The pull up to Y Castell

Having crossed an old dilapidated fence-line near Y Castell, we continue ahead, slightly less steeply for the moment. Shortly we will find ourselves walking parallel to another fence-line and with great views of Arenig Fawr ahead. Whilst there are various options here, we chose to cross the fence-line to our right and head uphill on to the shoulder of Arenig Fawr.

Arenig Summit in view
Arenig Summit in view

Now progress consistently uphill south westerly towards the summit. There’s a little patch of scree and boulders but the path makes for easy crossing along its upper edge. Eventually you will notice the summit trig point ahead of you.

Trig point on the summit of Arenig Fawr
Trig point on the summit of Arenig Fawr

The views from the summit are spectacular, though you will need a clear day to appreciate it at its best. Rhobell Fawr & Cadair Idris to the south (see header feature photo), Snowdon a little over 17 miles to the north plus Rhinogs, coastline and more to the west. As so often, there was a little haze on our morning but still very enjoyable views.

From the summit of Arenig Fawr: Moelwyn, Cnicht, Nantle Ridge.
From the summit of Arenig Fawr: Moelwyn, Cnicht, Nantle Ridge.

There are lots of possibilities for the descent from here, we chose to partially retrace our steps for a few metres to the NE. A westerly facing gully will be noticed just beneath you (headed by an old post when we were up there). Drop down through this gully and then bear to your right (NE again) to carefully descend on to the rough grassy western slope of Arenig Fawr.

Descending to the track by Amnodd-wen
Descending to the track by Amnodd-wen

From here we are crossing pathless open access land to descend towards the old abandoned farmhouse of Amnodd-wen. As you get lower down the slope, head for the gateway through the stone wall and then down onto the track just south of Amnodd-wen, turning right (northerly) when you reach it. It’s worth pausing at Amnodd-wen to look back at the mountain you’ve just crossed, as well as to perhaps consider what life was like living here in years gone by.

Looking back from Amnodd-wen
Looking back from Amnodd-wen

Now follow this track to the north. When you meet the old railway line do not stray on to it, just continue to follow the track back to the local lane. When you reach the lane, turn right on to it and follow it back through Arenig village to where you parked. A beautiful walk which you may well have all to yourself.

The lane back to the start of the walk.
The lane back to the start of the walk.

Maps & more photos below.

Altitude:

AreningFawr-altitudeprofile
AreningFawr-altitudeprofile

Route Map:

Gallery:

Carneddau Excursion (Cwm Eigiau loop)

A glorious circular route in the Carneddau, from the remote parking near Llyn Eigiau (SH732663).
A Snowdonia walk for the more adventurous, taking in less walked peaks and an enjoyable ridge.

Summary:
Approximately 9 miles and 2800 ft of ascent.
Section 1 – mainly stoned tracks to Cwm Eigiau quarry.
Section 2 – craig ascent & ridge-walk – mixed rock & grass, some exposure.
Section 3 – descent – unmarked pathless heather & grass.
Allow 6+ hours for an enjoyable day.

The attached map shows our approximate route; given the nature of the terrain you may wish to modify this to suit your own needs. There are several rocky traverses that would become quite challenging in wintry conditions and the potential drops are significant; please be well equipped for the conditions and be confident in your own skills.

Approach:
Take the B5106 alongside the Afon Conwy to Tal-y-bont. In the village turn west up the single track lane to Llyn Eigiau. Note: During snowy spells the lane may become a challenge, even for well shod 4x4s. Park in the car park at the end of the road, SH 732 663.

Walk:
Leave the car and walk down the access track to Llyn Eigiau. The break in the dam wall that caused the 1925 disaster, resulting in the loss of 16 lives, can be noted on the right of this track.

Craig Eigiau towers up behind the broken dam wall of Llyn Eigiau.
Craig Eigiau towers up behind the broken dam wall of Llyn Eigiau.

Continue onward until meeting the main dam wall, at which point turn left over a bridge and then right to follow the lower path along the left side of the wetland. After a short while follow the main path as it crosses the valley floor to the right and bridges the Afon Eigiau.

Crossing Afon Eigiau and the marshy area that would have been flooded when the dam was built.
Crossing Afon Eigiau and the marshy area that would have been flooded when the dam was built.

The track now climbs steadily upwards in to Cwm Eigiau, passing by a small lone dwelling. It is well worth pausing to look back at the view of the valley, as well as keeping an eye open for the Carneddau ponies that live here.

Looking back along Cwm Eigiau from the upper quarry track.
Looking back along Cwm Eigiau from the upper quarry track.

In due course you will come to the old quarry at the end of this track. At this point, we now need to swing right and proceed northerly up the rough grass slope, heading for the waterfalls that feed the Afon Eigiau and located on the north-eastern edge of the craig.

The old quarry workings at the head of Cwm Eigiau with Craig yr Ysfa beyond.
The old quarry workings at the head of Cwm Eigiau with Craig yr Ysfa beyond.

Skirt the left-hand side of this small cascade and head uphill amongst grass & boulders to reach a small plateau. We paused here for a few snacks before moving on again. From here the going is both rough and steep heading up to the higher plateau of Penywaun-wen, beneath the summit of Carnedd Llewelyn. After a careful clamber up to this point, we found it to be a good place to pause for some lunch. The views around are stunning, Carnedd Llewelyn immediately to the NW, Cwm Eigiau down to the east, Tryfan & Glyderau to the SW – you may even spot Snowdon beyond.

The shimmering blue waters of Ffynnon Llugwy.
The shimmering blue waters of Ffynnon Llugwy.

Now continue south-easterly along the ridge to Bwlch Eryl Farchog and then up to Pen yr Helgi Du. This section does include a short stretch, that some consider to be a scramble; if wearing a backpack, as we were, you’ll definitely want to be ‘hands on’. Furthermore in windy / icy / snowy conditions even more care should be taken – its not desperately narrow but the drops are big. Once at the Pen yr Helgi Du end, you can enjoy the view back of what you’ve just crossed.

Looking back across Bwlch Eryl Farchog on approach to Pen yr Helgi Du.
Looking back across Bwlch Eryl Farchog on approach to Pen yr Helgi Du.

Having negotiated the rocks to Pen yr Helgi Du summit, there is a more relaxing & grassy descent to a ladder style at the top of Bwlch y Tri Marchog, before climbing the grassy bank of Pen Llithrig y Wrach (Peak of the slippery Witch), what a name! More interesting views open up from here, especially looking north over Llyn Eigiau, past where you parked, to the N. Wales coast and its offshore windfarm.

Looking north from Pen Llithrig y Wrach over Llyn Eigiau to the North Wales coastline.
Looking north from Pen Llithrig y Wrach over Llyn Eigiau to the North Wales coastline.

It’s now time to descend. We headed NE at first, before heading towards the disused quarry workings. There are no paths here, it is rather damp walking across boggy heather. At the old quarry (care needed), pick up the path that will quickly lead you back to the original outgoing path. Now simply retrace your earlier steps, back to the car parking. See below for a few further photos and for the route map.

You may also enjoy my earlier blog post “Carneddau Ponies” with pictures of the ponies that live on this highland region of Wales.

Altitude:

CwmEigiau-walkprofile
CwmEigiau-walkprofile

Map:

Gallery:

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:

Craig Cwm Silyn

Craig Cwm Silyn, a morning walk at the western end of the Nantlle ridge.

This walk starts at a small parking area that the landowner kindly allows visitors to use. Having walked most of the Nantlle ridge earlier this year (see this post), we wished to visit Craig Cwm Silyn at the western most point (the one peak that we didn’t visit before). Here’s the morning view from the permissive parking area:

The view from the permissive car parking for Craig Cwm Silyn.
The view from the permissive car parking for Craig Cwm Silyn.

We followed this track ahead into the sunrise. It passes through a gate, over a ladder style, and then starts to drop downhill towards the lakes at Cwm Silyn. Just before reaching the lakes, turn right, to climb over another ladder style (see photo below).

Early morning sunlight illuminates Tamsin on the ladder-style above the lakes of Cwm Silyn
Early morning sunlight illuminates Tamsin on the ladder-style above the lakes of Cwm Silyn

Now follow the grassy track ahead before turning uphill to your right (away from the lakes) to meet the path that ascends along the edge of the crags. It is from a point early along this section that I took the feature image (top) of the sunrise.

The path steadily climbs and as one nears the top it curves to the left, continuing along the top of the cliffs. The view back towards the coast can be excellent providing that the coastal cloud has lifted sufficiently.

A autumn morning view looking towards the coastline and Anglesey from Craig Cwm Silyn.
An autumn morning view looking towards the coastline and Anglesey from Craig Cwm Silyn.

Continue walking ahead, still gently rising to cross another ladder style before finally climbing to the highest point, a little over 2,400ft above the coast. The summit is fairly rocky and enjoys views towards Moel Hebog, as well as along the further peaks of the Nantlle ridge. On our walk, the morning clouds descended briefly before lifting again to show us this fine view across Mynydd Tal y mignedd (with its obelisk) & the Nantlle ridge in general:

Early sunlight illuminates the Nantlle ridge on an autumn morning.
Early sunlight illuminates the Nantlle ridge on an autumn morning.

There are various ways to extend this walk but as you will see from our way map below, we followed a similar route back down to the car. An enjoyable & rewarding walk to start the autumn with. The scenery and weather inspired me to produce an artwork in Digital Oils of the view towards a cloudy Moel Hebog. You can see the image on my pro site, Natures Universe.

Route Map:

Photo Gallery: