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Western Tarrens 2 days / 12 miles (20km)

OS Route Map → Map GPX Route file →

Date: 04 Sep 2023
Start: Machynlleth / Finish: Llanllwyda.
Maps: Explorer 023 : Cadair Idris / Llyn Tegid.

Early view from Tarrenhendre
Day 1Foel y Geifr, Mynydd Rhyd-galed & Tarrenhendre6.5miles / 2645 feet (10.5km / 806m)
Day 2Dolgoch Falls & Llanllwyda5.7miles / 787 feet (9.2km / 240m)

A curtailed hike of the western ridge of the Tarren hills, culminating at Tarrenhendre, descending via the Dolgoch Falls and climbing around Craig yr Aderyn to Llanllwyda.

This is the first section of our longer planned route of three to four days that was effectively cut short by a dramatic mishap at the Dolgoch Falls on day two - detailed report below.

The ridge is gained at the eastern end via a new route through the forest north of Machynlleth. We had intended to explore Craig yr Aderyn but lack of time and energy due to the Dolgoch incident ruled it out this time - a possible destination for another day.

Day 1 - Foel y Geifr, Mynydd Rhyd-galed & Tarrenhendre

From the station we threaded our way northwards through a major road construction project on the A487 to cross the Afon Dyfi and turn westwards on the A493 to the start of the ascent route into the Tarrens forestry. The route is mainly on forest tracks with pleasing intermittent views through the trees, very easy walking notwithstanding the blistering heat of this late Indian Summer.

We were somewhat apprehensive about the water situation: it's usually quite easy on forested slopes from the map, but we took nothing for granted since the most obvious places sometimes fail to bear fruit. The first good water source we found was fairly low down at the 220m contour marked with the "W" symbol (Well) at SH 73281 02847 and we filled our bottles. Annoyingly, having lugged that water uphill for ages, there is an even better source much higher at 460m marked Springs on the map, excellent water and right on the route at SH 71919 05397 just before exiting the forest (the most likely source might seem to be the ford at SH 72823 03962 but it was just a group of large muddy puddles).

The route turns westwards along the northern edge of the forest and southwards on the eastern side of a forest fence to reach Foel y Geifr, once a 500m Dewey top but now demoted.

View from ascent to the ridge
View from ascent to the ridge (04 Sep 2023__12:39:20)
View from ascent to the ridge
View from ascent to the ridge (04 Sep 2023__12:50:52)

A decent path continues along the ridge, traversing the 502m top of Mynydd Rhyd-galed and climbing to the untidy flat top of Tarrenhendre. There is a cairn off to the left as marked on the map, but the true 634m summit is a short way farther on and marked by a few stones and a forlorn leaning post.

After the calm heat of the initial ascent, the wind had picked up a great deal on the ridge and was now blowing strongly with significant chill. We made our pitch near the cairn with barely a modicum of shelter. Later we caught a lovely colourful sunset over the sea.

View southwards from Mynydd Rhyd-galed
View southwards from Mynydd Rhyd-galed (04 Sep 2023__16:59:08)
Tarren y Gesail from Mynydd Rhyd-galed
Tarren y Gesail from Mynydd Rhyd-galed (04 Sep 2023__17:16:20)
Rearward view along the ridge to Foel y Geifr
Rearward view along the ridge to Foel y Geifr (04 Sep 2023__18:02:12)
Sunset from Tarrenhendre pitch
Sunset from Tarrenhendre pitch (04 Sep 2023__19:54:10)

Day 2 - Dolgoch Falls & Llanllwyda

The wind strengthened even more in the night and battered the tent constantly, but our stakes held firm despite the alarming sight when we were both outside at the same time with the doors open and the pole hub structure almost flattened inwards to a shallow concave shape: it sprang up again with no damage. The morning was crystal clear with a fine view to the Tarren Cwm-ffernol ridge and the sea beyond.

We descended westwards along the fence from the summit but the thin path was poor and quite arduous at times. If doing this route again, it would be far better to descend southwards along the fence from the marked cairn and drop down to what appeared from our vantage to be an excellent track along the southern flank of the valley leading directly to the sheepfolds on the Nant Dol-goch.

We joined this good track for some easy walking by the Nant Dol-goch past its confluence with the Nant Sychnant and onwards above the Dolgoch Falls woodland.

Early view along the Tarren Cwm-ffernol ridge
Early view along the Tarren Cwm-ffernol ridge (05 Sep 2023__08:03:22)
Descending to the Nant Dol-goch
Descending to the Nant Dol-goch (05 Sep 2023__09:20:30)
The Nant Sychnant
The Nant Sychnant (05 Sep 2023__10:59:38)
View from the track above the Dolgoch Falls
View from the track above the Dolgoch Falls (05 Sep 2023__11:13:03)

The map shows a pecked path descending to the south-eastern tip of the woodland and more paths entering the trees following the river on either bank. We had decided to try the path on the northern side. At the woodland edge the fence wire had been purposely cut back to make a sort of stile onto an inviting, densely wooded path high above the river.

I crossed the fence, descended a small stone ledge and helped her down and then it happened: in mid manoeuvre, my foot caught on a tiny post stump and I fell backwards over the edge, taking her with me. We tumbled very steeply down, doing two complete 360° turns and trying to clutch at anything to hand, coming to rest a short way above a sheer drop to the roaring water at the base of a waterfall. Just a couple of feet more and I would have been in the foaming water with a heavy pack, which doesn't bear thinking about.

Regaining a degree of composure we checked for serious damage: we were very fortunate not to have injured our heads or legs, they were safe and functional and we were thinking clearly. She had lost her glasses but we soon found them just above the current position where she was clinging to a solid tree root. Despite this relatively good fortune, the gravity of the situation quickly became apparent: we had fallen down a near-vertical, heavily vegetated rocky face of large boulders liberally covered in thick moss and ferns that often gave the illusion of solidity but merely covered deep voids between the rocks. Worst of all, it was also infested with ripping brambles: I'm on anticoagulant therapy and my hands were soaked in blood and dripping from numerous cuts, as were my legs but at least I couldn't see those - I found out later. She had also badly bruised and injured her shoulder and could barely use her left arm.

A strategy was needed and quickly: one side of the drop was impenetrable and totally cut off, the other was a sheer rocky drop to the river - no possible exit to either side at this level. The only exit was back up the way we had fallen, which was bound to be very awkward with a heavy pack if even possible, and would need to be doable for both of us. I set about probing the thorny sheer boulders and clefts for any indications of a feasible line, failing several times but eventually settling on one possible sequence of delicate moves that would need considerable power to execute. It took ages to test and the final nervy step was a leap of faith but it worked, I was back on the path and I unloaded my pack. Now I could return unencumbered to retrieve and secure her pack, then carefully map out the moves and help to heave her up. In combination with a truly heroic effort on her part with only one good arm, that regular weight/strength training paid off here.

Bloodied, bruised and battered but at last safely back on the path, we retreated over the stile, washed off the excess blood and patched ourselves up as best we could, resting a while by the river and raiding the food reserves to replenish the lost energy. Maybe due to the elation of extricating ourselves successfully, we continued the hike with measured enthusiasm on the route shown on the OS map above via the good track and path to Dolgoch Falls with the quaint steam engines of the Talyllyn Railway.

At the top of the Dolgoch Falls woodland
At the top of the Dolgoch Falls woodland (05 Sep 2023__13:05:54)

Our continuation route was northwards across the B4405 to Craig yr Aderyn (Rock of the Birds). Our enthusiasm and energy quickly waned as we made the ascent on the far side, not much and unremarkable but very heavy, exhausting work in the afternoon heat now that the cooling wind had forsaken us. Maybe the intense effort and stress, both physical and mental, of that earlier adventure had exacted a far greater toll than we first thought.

We reached the highest point on a metalled track with a good elevated overall view of the Bird Rock peaks.

Craig yr Aderyn
Craig yr Aderyn (05 Sep 2023__16:35:59)

We descended to the road at Llanllwyda. Here it was getting quite late and we couldn't face the prospect of another ascent to find a pitch, we were all but finished. We made the decision to end the hike and allow due time for rest and recuperation.

In hindsight that fall was perversely a satisfying and vivid memory insofar as we dealt with a serious situation rationally and methodically and got ourselves out of trouble. We will certainly never forget it.