East of Snowdonia, indeed barely ten miles from the English border, rises this range of lofty rounded hills high above the valley of the Dee.
The main ridge rises to the not-inconsiderable height of 2723ft at Cadair Berwyn, which I chose to be my last Welsh Hewitt of all, in 2022. A few years before, I’d picked up the couple of lonely hills to the north, which aren’t easy to fit into a round with the main group, but I still had to think carefully about how to structure the six hills that remained.
The two northern Berwyns, Sunday 19 April 2015, 12 miles
These two hills, Moel Fferna (2067ft) and Moel yr Henfaes (2037ft), lie a couple of miles north of the main group. There are no difficulties in the ascent, with not a crag in sight, unless you count a few bits of boggy ground – no doubt this could be much worse after prolonged rain. I climbed them with an LDWA group the day after we’d covered Plynlimon and its neighbouring heights (see above).
We started from the village of Cynwyd, rising through forestry until reaching the open hillside and following an easy track to a fence, then turning left to the summit of Moel Fferna. Later the fence was a secure guide on the lonely miles south to Moel yr Henfaes.
For a long time this hill was known by the indignity of ‘Nameless’ but it’s since acquired two, the afore-mentioned and also Pen Bwlch Llandrillo Top, this admittedly being unflattering – it just means ‘the top of the top above the top of the lane to Llandrillo’. We dropped down to it, but soon veered off for the easy descent NW back to Cynwyd.
Moel Sych and Post Gwyn from Tan-y-pistyll, Saturday 9 June 2022, nine miles
As I started to tick off the Welsh Hewitts post-lockdown, one question started to come into my mind; which hill should be last?
It soon became apparent the the final hill-group would be the Berwyn. I had six of its Hewitts left, after finishing the Hirnants the month before. Five of them fit into a very obvious round, but that ends on Moel Sych (2712ft), which not only doesn’t sound very nice, it’s not a very exciting hill. So I determined to add Post Gwyn (2182ft), something of an outlier, onto my ascent of Moel Sych.
It was actually quite a nice day out. Unusually, I hadn’t settled on my route between the two hills when I set out on the day.
The start was a much-used track that heads north up Nant y Llyn from the café at Tan-y-pistyll. There are a few bits of bogginess where the stream is crossed but the disappointment was the condition of Llyn Lluncaws, a nasty brown colour owing to something invasive spreading over its surface – what a contrast to the beautiful deep blues of the mountain lakes on Cadair Idris the month before!
But I was soon at the cairn, and it was decision time. The direct line to Post Gwyn meant getting to grips with the valley of the Afon Disgynfa. How to get there? The south ridge of Moel Sych perhaps, or down Cwm-Rhiwiau? A few sketchy paths were shown on the map, but who knows how much heather or bracken might be hidden? And of course, height lost would have to be regained later.
The path to Moel Sych above Nant y Llyn
The summit of Moel Sych
There is one other way, and that is to take the sketchy ridge heading WSW and then branching left for the last mile to the second hill. It’s boggy, allegedly, but there had been no rain for ages, so it couldn’t be that bad. Indeed it wasn’t. I started off along a path with a fence on my right but it soon became clear that a better path ran on the other side – and best of all, solid railway sleepers led me over the roughest stuff.
I knew I had to leave this path about 750 metres from a prominent cairn – in fact, something of a wind shelter – at SJ 040 309, and there find another path that led to Post Gwyn. I might have turned off a few metres too early, because I thought I could see the path heading in the right direction below a bilberry bank, but found it soon enough anyway. Conditions underfoot weren’t too bad; the path seemed to disappear nearer the summit, but there were no real difficulties.
I was a bit surprised to see anyone else on this lonely summit. They were, I found out, Rachel and Digby (“My parents had a sense of humour”). Rachel had brought Digby here because it is her ambition to climb all the Welsh Hewitts! She was just 26 hills in, but had the advantage of youth; and we had a good chat, me feeling quite the elder statesman, passing on my experience to a younger generation.
The railway-sleeper path, heading up to the wind-shelter cairn
Digby and Rachel on Post Gwyn
There’s still a good few miles to get back to Tan-y-Pistyll, with little in the way of paths early on, apart from a stretch above a patch of forestry. Eventually, you need to head down the hill – there is a right of way shown on the map, but not the ground – down to Craig-y-Mwn. From here a steep track takes you down nearly to the valley floor, and the base of the wonderful Pistyll Rhaeadr.
It was thronged today, and why not in such beautiful weather. I reflected that I had now walked to the three highest waterfalls in the nations of Great Britain: this, High Force on the Pennine Way, and Eas a’ Chual Aluinn in Assynt. Only when doing the responsible fact-checking for this page, I found out that Cautley Spout in the Howgills is higher that High Force. But the Howgills are on my list, so that should be remedied soon.
Sunday 10 July 2022: Berwyn circuit from Tyn-y-ffridd, ten miles
Yesterday was pleasantly warm, with a bit of a breeze to cool things down; today would be hot, in the mid-20s even on the tops, with barely a hint of wind to take off the edge. Just as well I woke early, so that I could be off the hill before mid-afternoon and the worst of the temperatures.
This round is essentially a horseshoe walk around Cwm Maen Gwynedd, with Cadair Berwyn at its head.
Cwm Maen Gwynedd, with the Berwyn ridge in the distance
It’s a sharp start. The first of the day’s four Hewitts, Mynydd Tarw (2234ft), is barely a mile from the car, with over 1100ft of climbing – a relentless 1 in 5 all the way. Still, even a 71 year old with a dodgy hip and recovering from his first-ever bout of Covid can do that in 33 minutes, and by some measure it’s the steepest stuff of the day.
A mile further along comes Foel Wen (2267ft), a bit of a lump where the summit is nowhere near as clear as on the hill before. There’s a stake in the ground just the other side of a fence, which I skipped over just in case the stake was the high point. Another intervening hill, Tomle (2406ft), is higher than its predecessors, but does not have the re-ascent needed for Hewitt status. Just beyond, there are a couple of peat hags to negotiate.
Cadair Berwyn from just beyond Tomle
It’s easy to reach Cadair Berwyn (2723ft) from here, but I had to veer right to reach the col between it and Cadair Bronwen (2575ft). At the latter hill, I looked out over the two northern Berwyns that I had climbed in 2015 before turning back and making for my final Welsh Hewitt.
I wanted to meet someone on the summit. A reappearance from Digby and Rachel of Post Gwyn would have been very welcome, but wasn’t going to happen. I’d only seen a couple of mountain bikers, a hill runner and, far away, a couple of walkers heading down from Cadair Bronwen towards the northern hills. Surely, there must be someone up there – it’s a summer Sunday after all? Maybe the heat had put people off.
Cadair Berwyn has three bits of summit. There’s first the trig point, then a wind shelter, but the summit, the most southerly of the three, is pure rock. It was at the wind shelter that I met Gwyn – hooray! He spoke to me first – he’d wanted to eat his summit sandwich at the true summit, but the midges were a nightmare, and he was looking for somewhere lower. (I had a summit sandwich today too, a chicken and stuffing that had been steadily heating up in my pack for the last three hours and became the prime suspect in a food poisoning incident the following day.)
But we dodged the insects long enough for me to tell him of my personal milestone and appreciative he was too. That was enough. I touched the top rock of the summit, took a few selfies – not shown here, but each of them has flying beasties buzzing round my head – and dropped down far enough to have my salmonella buttie in relative peace.
Railway sleepers, like those on Moel Sych, lead to the summit of Cadair Bronwen
The trig point on Cadair Berwyn with the summit beyond
Home time now. There’s still four miles to go, the heat is building, my target is achieved, and the southern arm of the horseshoe is the least attractive part of the day. It starts well enough, a nicely graded path heading down from the col between Cadair Berwyn and Moel Sych, but there’s more fence following to come, and one section where it looks as though a fence-free path cuts a corner but the path disappears and there’s nasty heathery stuff before the fence is regained. It leads to Godor (2228ft), like Tomle not a Hewitt but a pretty good mountain name all the same.
Llyn Lluncaws from the Berwyn ridge
The path heading down from the col
It’s now relentlessly downhill from here, into calmer sheep pastures. Proper tracks start to appear, and finally a right of way turns out to be a gravelled farmers’ track. Complete with farmers, taking in the hay harvest. I have a chat with the farmer’s brother, he’s well impressed, and I get a handshake. Made my day.
The track home