Photo Essay: Snowdonia

First posted in November, 2005

On the day before my departure from the United Kingdom, Sam and I joined his parents on a health-giving walk in Snowdonia National Park.

We departed Fields Cottage on what most would term a somewhat dreary morning: light rain, fog, mist. I rather like that sort of weather though - probably explains why I've been so happy living in southeastern Alaska for the past few years. As we drew closer to the mountains, it became clear that any trail we picked uphill would lead into the clouds. The rain grew heavy for a bit on the windshield, and we decided that it might be wise to trust the weathermen who had predicted that the day would start off wet but later clear; we drove into Dolgellau for a cup of tea/coffee.

The coffee was good, and the eavesdropping on nearby tables as people casually dropped in and out of Welsh as suited the topic and mood was interesting. (I will not, however, comment on the toilets or the food. (Yikes.))

On our way back to the car we stopped at the park's visitor center, the first such interpretive center I've ever visiter outside the United States or Canada. It was... well, it was somewhat informative, but that's about the best I could say for it. Then again, the general philosophy of Parks Canada and the US National Park Service, do, I think, differ greatly from the philosophy of park management in the United Kingdom, so it's perhaps to be expected that the exhibits would do little more than convey information.

This sign was one of my favorites. A state of the art light-up push-button display, you would be given two options and asked which you prefer. You would push a button, and one of the two signs would light up to tell you which one you prefer. No explanation as to why one is better than the other. I think they thought this would be obvious, but that was not always the case. Most of the exhibits fell into two groups: those that just told you facts about the resources, and those that preached to you but didn't give you a good reason to think about changing your point of view if you disagreed with the management strategy in question.

As seen in the previous two photographs, displays were written in both English and Welsh, just as all official signs are throughout Wales. I'm pretty good with languages, but here, as in when I visited Hawaii, I had difficulty with keeping all the town names straight. Fortunately, Mash was driving so that I didn't have to worry about navigation and could instead sit back and take in the countryside, which became more and more dramatic by the second as we drove into the park.

This is a map of the area we hiked. I show it only to give you an idea of the terrain. I should have perhaps traced our route on this map, because very little of our route (less than half) is already on here. But basically we walked the dotted red line that leads north from the end of the yellow road. At some point we left that path and took another path which isn't marked on this map, toward Llyn y Fign - the tiny lake on the mountaintop. We then took a path southeast, down through the cliffs and back to where we started.

We followed the stream for the first little bit. Due to the terrain and generally rainy nature of the area, there were little cascades all over the place.

The break in the rain that we'd been looking for was... elusive. While in Dolgellau there'd actually been a brief moment of blue sky, though it disappeared the second we got back in the car. As we hiked it rained intermittently, but never very hard. The day was misty and wet - the trail was therefore muddy and slick in places, but it was easier to make the climb in the cool air.

Here's a photograph of Miranda and Mash that I took on one of our short but numerous breaks. It gives you a pretty good idea of the terrain, I think.

(the only) Wildlife Sighting of the Day, a common frog.
(Rana temporaria).

As we approached the top of the ridge, we found ourselves very much in the clouds. Here is a photograph of the Ashwells uptrail of me in the mist: Sam on the left (carrying food in the belly pocket of his fleece top - pretty much the most unflattering place to keep your apricots), Miranda in the middle, Mash on the right.

(I love how taking lots of photographs gives you an excuse to take more breaks - "No, really, you hike on up the hill and I'll get a great shot of you in that mist!")

And then we found the lake, Llyn y Fign. Sam was pretty dismayed that I couldn't hold back comments on how much it reminded me of entering Avalon.

Morgaine never showed up, but the mists did eventually part, revealing that this is actually a really tiny lake. More of a pond, really.

With the clouds lifted, we were able to negotiate the cliffs safely and make our way down in a different direction than we'd come.

A rock cairn on an adjacent ridgeline.

We took a lunch break at the ruins of a shepherd's house.

At this point we were sort of off the beaten path. As in, there wasn't much path. But Mash knows the land owners here, and had hiked down this ridge many times in the past. Problem is, sheep are no longer grazing on this portion of the hill, and it's really grown up with brambles, heather, and bracken. Gorgeous, delicious perhaps, but difficult to navigate without getting torn to shreds; poor Mash broke trail, and I think he ended up with more than a few thorns and cuts.

This is the rock wall near which we stood for quite some time, trying to determine the best path through the black berries.

View upslope, through the undergrowth toward the cliffs above.

And the view of the Cywarch Valley that stretched out before us.

We might have cursed how the bracken and thorns caught our feet and tried to send us tumbling downhill, but the autumn colors were amazing to behold.

In brief, we made it down the hill. We drove through some amazing country toward Lake Vyrnwy, where we found a small café and warmed our chilled insides with tea and coffee. And we walked a bit along the Victorian-era dam on the resevoir.

The straining tower, where fresh water is filtered
of debris before the water continues along the aquaduct
and pipeline to Liverpool, seventy miles distant.

And the back side of the Lake Vyrnwy dam:
the first large stone dam constructed in Britain,
and the loveliest dam I've ever seen.