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Extended Nantlle Ridge Traverse 3 days / 26 miles (42km)

OS Route Map → Map GPX Route file →

Date: 05 Jun 2023
Start: Waunfawr / Finish: Porthmadog.
Maps: Explorer 254 Lleyn Peninsula East.

Day 1Moel Tryfan & Mynydd Mawr7.1miles / 2544 feet (11.4km / 775m)
Day 2The Nantlle Ridge11.0miles / 3911 feet (17.7km / 1192m)
Day 3Craig-y-garn7.7miles / 344 feet (12.4km / 105m)
Mynydd Mawr from Y Garn

A superb 3-day extended mountain traverse of the Nantlle ridge, including the outliers of Moel Tryfan and Mynydd Mawr to the north and Craig-y-garn to the south.

The deeply quarried Moel Tryfan is designated as a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) for its geological importance and historical significance in the development of Glacial Theory. For walkers the slate quarrying operations have left a striking landscape of rocky cliffs and vividly coloured pools that briefly adds great scenic interest to the route.

The isolated rocky dome of Craig-y-garn has often caught my eye whilst perusing the map and is honoured with an OS 360° viewpoint icon, yet I've never seen it mentioned in any report or forum. Though modest in stature at 360m compared to the Nantlle mountains, there is more subtlety to a viewpoint than height as I discovered on this little known and great rocky gem.

The Nantlle ridge is of course famed as one of the grandest ridge walks in Wales, including the very engaging rocky clamber up Mynydd Drws-y-coed (I wouldn't call it a scramble), yet on this clear sunny day I saw just a handful of walkers spread over the entire traverse. No doubt many day-walkers are discouraged by the logistics of returning to the start point for a circular route, but it's no problem for backpackers.

My strategy for the last section to Porthmadog involved footpaths in totally unknown territory and, as has happened before, it turned into another Welsh footpath adventure that ended partially in retreat to reliable minor roads.

Day 1 - Moel Tryfan & Mynydd Mawr

Coincidentally the first section of my route coincides with part of the Snowdonia Slate Trail (SST) and starts at a lane a short way south of the Snowdonia Park hotel on the A4085. I alighted from the S3 bus from Bangor and ascended the lane to the first of the SST waymarks and followed them on a lovely ascent through the trees as far as Hafod Ruffydd farm with the rear view dominated by Moel Eilio.

The discernible path to Moel Tryfan is surprisingly not well worn, it skirts the western edge of the spoil heaps and makes a beeline for the summit and its trig point at 427m adorned with a bunch of flowers today. There were extensive clear views from here.

Ruined buildings on Moel Tryfan
Ruined buildings on Moel Tryfan (05 Jun 2023__12:09:30)
Moel Tryfan summit trig point
Moel Tryfan summit trig point (05 Jun 2023__13:07:58)
View to Lleyn from Moel Tryfan
View to Lleyn from Moel Tryfan (05 Jun 2023__13:08:28)

The path up Mynydd Mawr can be clearly seen in the distance but how best to reach it?. I wanted to visit the intervening quarry workings, but they presented an extensive foreshortened sprawl from this angle and very little could be inferred to decide the best way. However there was a distinct path heading down to the south-western tip of the quarry that looked feasible to circumnavigate it and I chose that line.

Quickly reaching the edge of the deep quarry chasm, I evaluated the situation again: this was an extraordinary landscape that begged for exploration. I judged that I could follow the easy quarry track through the deep workings and climb out at the north-eastern end, then use the chasm perimeter fence as an initial guide on the far side. Though man-made, the sheer cliff faces and vividly coloured pools, seen against the dazzingly bright background substrate in the intense sunshine, was more akin to exploring another planet.

Entering main quarry of Moel Tryfan
Entering main quarry of Moel Tryfan (05 Jun 2023__13:36:50)
First pool in Moel Tryfan quarry
First pool in Moel Tryfan quarry (05 Jun 2023__13:39:46)
Second pool in Moel Tryfan quarry
Second pool in Moel Tryfan quarry (05 Jun 2023__13:41:52)
Second pool in Moel Tryfan quarry
Second pool in Moel Tryfan quarry (05 Jun 2023__13:46:41)

Emerging at the north-eastern rim of the chasm and scanning the various quarry tracks at the scene, I took the track heading for the perimeter fence and followed it to a high point. From here I descended mainly trackless but easy slopes south-eastwards past a small quarry working to join the public footpath, easily discerned from the yellow-topped waymark posts where the SST logo reappears. I followed the easy footpath north-eastwards to the feature shown on the map as "Water Works" - I'm not sure what that means here, but there is a small clump of stunted trees at that spot and a clear path descends from them that joins the required path up Mynydd Mawr.

A long and slow ascent gained the stony summit and here I met the only other person I would see today. There were good clear views from the top, but more pleasing ones were found on the descent above Craig y Bera and out to the minor rise of Foel Rudd, with sheer gullies below and a particularly fine prospect of the Nantlle ridge. The rocky prominence of Clogwynygarreg and its grassy environs were well seen from above, an area where I was planning to scout for tonight's pitch, but the forest had other ideas…

View from Mynydd Mawr
View from Mynydd Mawr (05 Jun 2023__16:10:27)
Foel Rudd and Llyn Cwellyn
Foel Rudd and Llyn Cwellyn (05 Jun 2023__16:25:16)
Nantlle ridge from Craig y Bera
Nantlle ridge from Craig y Bera (05 Jun 2023__16:31:45)
Clogwynygarreg from Craig y Bera
Clogwynygarreg from Craig y Bera (05 Jun 2023__17:12:00)

After a long dry spell, water was the main consideration and I planned to divert from the descent into the forest. Unfortunately, the last and only time we climbed this mountain was 27 years ago and the forest is now very different. A new entrance point from the Access Land has been established and our old internal route was now impassable, with only one path available (where the SST logo appears again) and that was down to the current campsite almost at lake level. From there I had to cross a half-rotten ladder stile and follow the forest track north-westwards, passing dried up streams one after another but knowing that reliability increased the farther I went. I finally found a very good stream and replenished the bottles, but time was getting short.

Returning to the campsite, a path is signed to the Cwellyn Arms that climbs a fair way into the forest on its way over to Rhyd-Ddu. I followed this until it joined the forest road where our original ascent route started years ago but is no longer viable as a route to the open hill as far as I can see. Still no sign of a remotely possible pitch with only the forest road available and zero chance of inserting any pegs but… since my Big Agnes is a freestanding tent, I thought of pitching just the inner, as I've done several times before, but with no pegs at all. Nothing for it, I found a slightly vegetated layby on the forest road, erected the inner, placed it in position and got in. The bathtub floor couldn't be stretched out fully but it was pretty damned good, even if not scenically great. Another little victory!.

Day 2 - The Nantlle Ridge

The forest road pitch had one advantage: I was well placed to start the longest and hardest day with an easy descending walk to the road at Rhyd-Ddu. The classic ascent of Y Garn is infamous: while there are longer and steeper ascents dotted around the hills, there's something about this one that makes it seem a lot more arduous than it really should be. My ascent was a long and slow business with numerous rests, being overtaken by one much fitter man with the advantage of youth and a lighter pack, the only other person I would see until Trum y Ddysgl.

There isn't much to say about the splendour and enjoyment of the Nantlle ridge on a superb day like this with fantastic clear views, except that I'd forgotten how much I relished the rocky climb of Mynydd Drws-y-coed where some clambering up and down boulders is needed just to reach the start of the main climb. There are many places where you need to peer around and over a feature to decide the best move: often by far the easiest way is on the right but most walkers choose the left, maybe the long sheer drop immediately on the right has something to do with it… A magnificent day.

Llyn y Dywarchen & Clogwynygarreg from ascent of Y Garn
Llyn y Dywarchen & Clogwynygarreg from ascent of Y Garn (06 Jun 2023__07:44:34)
View to the ridge from Y Garn
View to the ridge from Y Garn (06 Jun 2023__08:02:07)
Mynydd Mawr & Llyn Nantlle Uchaf from Y Garn
Mynydd Mawr & Llyn Nantlle Uchaf from Y Garn (06 Jun 2023__08:03:32)
Trum y Ddysgl from Mynydd Drws-y-coed
Trum y Ddysgl from Mynydd Drws-y-coed (06 Jun 2023__09:01:02)
View ahead to Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd & Craig Cwm Silyn
View ahead to Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd & Craig Cwm Silyn (06 Jun 2023__10:06:33)
Craig Cwm Silyn
Craig Cwm Silyn (06 Jun 2023__10:29:28)
Summit area of Craig Cwm Silyn
Summit area of Craig Cwm Silyn (06 Jun 2023__12:20:12)

From Mynydd Graig Goch I retraced my steps almost to Bwlch Cwmdulyn and turned SSW for a long descent on the footpath by the stone wall towards Bronmarlwyd. In its lower reaches after the wall ends, there is a barely discernible thin path following the right-of-way over open ground, it will assist progress considerably if you can find it and follow it.

Immediately before a sheepfold at the crossing wall at Bronmarlwyd, I followed the footpath line eastwards near the wall through some messy country that hosted a good stream that was flowing well. Watch out for the unsigned gate where a good track can be seen on the far side, this is the turn-off point.

As shown on the OS route map above, the access point for Craig-y-garn is at SH 50588 44701, a farm gate with no waymark but a faded little warning notice about the danger to farm animals posed by dogs. The gate has no walker's latch, it is secured by blue string. Here was a trio of very friendly ponies intent on delaying me for a while. A short way from the gate, turn right around the corner of the wall to the obvious ladder stile ahead. From here a very good well worn path ascends towards the upper boulder pile of Craig-y-garn.

After the hot exertions of the day, I decided to leave the exploration of the summit until morning. Once again I pitched just the inner tent, this time with pegs, for a relaxing evening with a cool breeze through the mesh.

Mynydd Graig Goch from the south
Mynydd Graig Goch from the south (06 Jun 2023__16:12:04)
Approaching Craig-y-garn
Approaching Craig-y-garn (06 Jun 2023__17:54:00)
Pitch below Craig-y-garn upper rocks
Pitch below Craig-y-garn upper rocks (06 Jun 2023__18:23:32)

Day 3 - Craig-y-garn

At dawn the western sky was dull but the east was clear except for a few wisps of cloud, later giving a fine sunrise with a small cap crowning Moel Hebog.

Sunrise at the pitch
Sunrise at the pitch (07 Jun 2023__05:23:59)

I broke camp in the gradually brightening sky and resumed the path up the final tier of boulders to the summit. On the ascent I had sensed that Craig-y-garn would be a commanding overall position, but here the last few metres seemed to make a much bigger difference than usual: only at the very pinnacle of the rocks does the final panoramic vista solidify and reveal itself like the last piece of a jigsaw. The OS viewpoint symbol is well earned, these pictures towards the east giving merely a flavour of it.

View from Craig-y-garn
View from Craig-y-garn (07 Jun 2023__07:17:58)
View from Craig-y-garn
View from Craig-y-garn (07 Jun 2023__07:18:34)

Surveying the surroundings, I contemplated my plan to join the public footpath to the south of the summit. As expected, the southern slopes looked far too rough and unpredictable for a direct descent, so I retraced my steps back over the ladder stile to the gate where the friendly equine trio were again there to greet me. A short way south on an excellent track, the target footpath is waymarked over a step stile in the wall, but the deeply vegetated terrain beyond is awful with no trace of a path on the right-of-way (there is a thin trodden path directly uphill that I followed for a few minutes but led nowhere useful).

On the map I noted that three public footpaths converge into the target footpath but none of them showed a physical line on the ground. Sensing more time-consuming frustration, I decided to retreat to byways and reliable roads as shown on the OS route map above, heading first for Garndolbenmaen.

One section I retained from my planned route was the bridleway from Penmorfa beneath the slopes of Allt-wen to Tremadog hospital, a lovely woodland track involving no ascent. From the hospital I followed the cycleway through to Porthmadog station.