This group of hills stretches from the Nantlle ridge in the west to a small group of hills east of Blaenau Ffestiniog, much-scarred by slate mining. 

In essence, the A4085 Caernarfon to Porthmadog road splits the hills into two.

To the west, there’s the outlier of Mynydd Mawr, with the Nantlle Ridge to its south and the Moel Hebog group south of that.

All but one of the other hills cluster around the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog; the fascinating Moelwyns to its west, and the scarred Ffestiniog Hills to its east. Six of them are indeed, strictly not in Snowdonia, in the sense of being within the National Park, for the town and its environs are excluded from its boundaries. A safe distance north rises another outlier, the excellent Moel Siabod.

Y Garn - - 22398

Alas, no photographs owing to a PC theft and lack of backup. The very nice pic above is the Wikipedia pic of the crux of the Nantlle ridge as seen from Mynydd Mawr, with all the correct Creative Commons attributions embedded. Also, when in 2022 I checked the gpx files from 2013, they didn’t always make sense; I’ve reconstructed them as best I could, but be warned, in case you fall into a quarry [etc]!

The Western group

Saturday 31 March 2012: The Nantlle ridge – Rhydd-Ddu to Nebo, eight miles

It’s barely six miles long, and only just scrapes the 2400ft barrier, but with seven Hewitts packed along a tortuous and sometimes scrambly ridge, and great seaward views all the way, it’s no wonder this is rated one of the great hill walks of Wales.

The ridge gets itself up and running straight away, with a sharp 1500ft in barely half a mile to the top of Y Garn (2077ft).

It’s a straightforward ascent, but the arête linking it to Mynydd Drws-y-Coed (2280ft) is the crux of the route, over in moments but moments as thrilling for the hillwalker as almost anything in Wales.

There are crags on the other side too, before grass leads up to, and from, Trum y Ddysgl (2329ft). From the rocky saddle, the imposing obelisk on the central hill, Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd (2148ft), is in view.

From the bwlch below, there’s another rocky ridge up to the highest point, Craig Cwm Silyn (2408ft). Here though the character of the range changes – and for me, the character of the day too. I’d had clear if overcast weather so far, all helping me enjoy this intricate route; now though, I was in cloud, on a much broader, flatter ridge, stones abounding on the summit of Garnedd Goch (2296ft) – some of them fashioned into ancient tumuli.

It used to be that Hewitt-baggers dropped down NW to Llyn Cwm Dulyn to finish their day, but now, thanks to a resurvey, one more hill remains, Mynydd Graig Goch (2000ft and six inches, roughly): it is, in all honesty, something of an anti-climax, but I was back out of the mist now, not a bad thing for otherwise it would have been compass work all the way.

From here, like most walkers, I dropped down to the village of Nebo, the end of a bus route from Caernarfon. The bus came, turned round, and went again without so much as opening its doors. Happily there was mobile signal, and I’d earlier punched in a couple of taxi numbers. It was a few quid more, but a much quicker way of getting back to Rhydd-Ddu.

A nice alternative finish, unavailable in 2012, would be to drop down to Cae Amos bothy and overnight there. A stroll up Cwm Pennant the next day and the Moel Hebog hills would be on your doorstep.

Monday 2 April 2012: Rydd-Ddu to Beddgelert over Moel Hebog and its companions, 7½ miles.

It’s a complex start. To begin, take the same path as for Y Garn (above), but where the climb to is summit branches right, continue towards and into forestry. My B&B owners gave me a hint for gaining the right path at a complex junction which proved invaluable.

Out of the forest, this leads to Bwlch-y-ddwy-elor, from which a ridge leads NW up to Trum y Ddysgl, sometimes used in routes linking the Nantlle ridge with the Moel Hebog hills. For me though it was a case of descending on an old track before picking up a track which hung left through mining relics towards the edge of forestry.

From here it’s a case of working up through crags until easier ground, and a path, leading to Moel Lefn (2093ft). Moel yr Ogof (2149ft) follows without much difficulty. From the bwlch below the latter, there’s a tough pull up to Moel Hebog (2565ft) itself.

The weather had been a bit spit-and-spotty but at least the cloud kept high, and stayed that way for the return – a nasty descent, quite steep with far too much slippery slate and bits of scree to be enjoyable.

Halfway down, below the worst of the ground, mid-afternoon, I met parents and two youngish children on their way up – they had been staying at the campsite below: we had a few words in which I told them of the rigours ahead, which I hoped would be enough to turn them round in the event of their first concern. I always want children to come back to the hills.

Thursday 18 April 2013: Mynydd Mawr from Llyn Cwellyn, 4½ miles

This was my first trip with my new tent, and so I could use the campsite at the head of Llyn Cwellyn, below the hill. Indeed the route starts along the lake’s western shore as far as a quarry before heading up steeply below the rocks of Castell Cidwm. This leads into Cwm Planwydd, which is followed to its head, where swing round R to the summit of Mynydd Mawr (2291ft).

For return I reversed the first quarter-mile or so, then kept on going down its easy ridge, forking right to stay above forestry before entering it just above the campsite itself. Another grey day, but the rain held off – at least until I was in the village pub later, needing a brisk walk back down the road after my meal and couple of pints.

The Eastern group

All but two of these hills – Moel Siabod and Cnicht – I climbed in a circuit in 2013, wild camping for the first time (62 was clearly not too old to start) with a pitch at Llyn Cwm-corsiog.

Tuesday 18 October 2005: Penmachno to Pont Cyfyng via Moel Siabod, 10 miles

Moel Siabod (2861ft) is the principal  hill of this group, but it’s some distance from the others, rising above Capel Curig. I climbed it in 2005, as part of my cross-Wales walk, using the excellent Daear Ddu ridge in ascent.

Tuesday 3 April 2012: Cnicht from Nantmor, 7½ miles.

I was staying in Rhydd-Ddu. Best public transport option to Nantmor? The Welsh Highland Railway, re-opened just two years before. But I’m not sure if you can use it any more, post-Covid, as the WHR seems to corral passengers onto limited stop specials with names like ‘Snowdonia Star’. A triumph of marketing over accessibility. But there’s the Snowdon Sherpa bus service instead.

It’s a nice way up and down, over what is now a section of the Cambrian Way. You climb the prow of the mountain, the best way to get to the top, with a little scrambly section included.

Friday 19 April 2013: Ysgafell Wen and Moel Druman, followed by the Moelwyns and Moel-yr-Hyfdd, 10 miles.

After having parked my brand-new tent at Rhydd-Ddu for the climb of Mynydd Mawr the day before (above), it was time for a proper wild camp, with a few hills involved.

The plan was to get the Snowdon Sherpa bus to Nantgwynant, walk to a wild camp, pitch up and then do a circuit of the Moelwyns. With improving weather, it worked very well, though I’m not sure why from the bus stop I walked back down the road before turning left onto a lane when the path by Plas Gwynant has less road, is shorter, and probably nicer too.

But no matter. After a mile I was climbing the hillside to Llyn Edno, passing the Dog Lakes (Llynnau’r Cwn) with their view of Snowdon, and reaching the first of the two Hewitt tops of Ysgafell Wen, its north top (2165ft), the main peak (2204ft) only a half-mile away.

Neither quite overtop Moel Druman (2218ft), another half-mile on. Three Hewitts in a mile! But it was now time to scout out my first wild camp. I’d reckoned on a spot by Llyn Cwm-corsiog. I was a bit nervous as I saw a farm worker on a quad bike as I neared the llyn, but as I was far above the intake wall and well over 1700ft up, I doubt if he would have minded if I’d asked for help in putting the thing up.

My first wild camp morning view

It was a lovely day now, and I had a cracking view of the Moelwyns, just a couple of miles away. I settled in for a while – I was pitched soon after 1.30 – but set off around 3 for a round of these hills. By the miracle of Facebook (not an endorsement of Mr Zuckerberg), a photo from the following morning survives, showing llyn, Moelwyn Mawr and a bit of ice on the tent.

I was thankful for the great visibility; route-finding is intricate, and involved me finding out for the first time what an electric fence feels like. I took Moelwyn Mawr (2527ft) first, by way of Llyn Croesor, before climbing its neighbour Moelwyn Bach (2334ft) by a sharp up-and-down into Bwlch Stwlan.

The third hill of the round, Moel-yr-Hydd (2124ft), followed by going back to the bwlch and taking a track that contours high above its eponymous llyn. By the time I was back at my tent, it was getting close to dusk, but there was still plenty of light for my first really yummy dehydrated meal.

Saturday 20 April 2013: the Ffestiniog hills, 10 miles.

I wasn’t as yet so confident about my capabilities that I’d planned only one more wild camp on this trip, with a B&B overnight in Blaenau Ffestiniog hills, a tour of the three Hewitts that rise to the east of the town en route.

Perhaps just as well. In a rookie error, I’d not brought with me enough water treatment tablets, nor did I know how long my gas cylinder would last, so apart from allowing myself a breakfast and a litre of ‘safe’ water, that was my hydration ration for the day – I certainly wasn’t trusting any raw slate-industry hill-water – and it was to warm up quite significantly.

Anyway. To get to those three Hewitts, I had to cross to the other side of the main road north out of the town, at the Crimea Pass – and to get there, I had to cross another Hewitt, Allt Fawr (2287ft). Straightforward enough.

At the Pass, I walked down to the car park from where I thought my onward path would start, only to find that fences had been reconfigured and it wasn’t obvious where to go. Eventually I indulged in a bit of fence-climbing and indeed soon met another walker who had had to do exactly the same thing – or nearly, we were on opposite sides of the same fence. That was resolved without too much difficulty, and I soon reached the first of the three Ffestiniog Hewitts, Moel Penamnen (2044ft).

Things now get more complicated.  There’s just one hill left, Manod Mawr, with a north top and a main top, both Hewitts. The problem is that the space between them has been blasted apart by slate quarrying.

That doesn’t matter too much on the way to the north top (2159ft), though I remember some squelchy ground in the depression and another fence argument in the complex ground south of it. But it does matter after it. I think the gpx shows what people do these days, but please don’t take it on trust; it’s a reconstruction nine years after the event, and anyway things might have changed.

But eventually I was safely on top of the main top (2168ft). From here, rather thirsty, I was pleased to freelance down to a track that would lead me a bit tortuously to the main road into the town from the south, and my B&B.

Footnote. My plan had been to spend the next day walking into the Rhinogs, climbing Moel Ysgafarnogod, wild camp nearby, and on the Monday walking out to the Cambrian Coast rail line and a journey home. But (a) the weather broke and (b) I wasn’t coping too well with the extra load. I stayed an extra night at the B&B, went for a train trip on the spare day, then went home. Much more sensible: but I’d been if not bitten then at least nipped by the wild camping bug, and much more was to follow.