A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Thursday, 5 June 2008

The Roman Steps

It was Wednesday 16 April and the campsite turf was drying out nicely. I'd planned a circular walk in the heart of the Rhinogs taking in 2 mountain passes - Bwlch Tyddiad on the way out and Bwlch Gwylim on the way back. It was a fine morning and I followed the River Artro for a few miles to the head of Cwm Bychan. There's a farm here with space for parking and camping. It's a beautiful spot next to Llyn Bychan, a glacial lake formed 1 and a half million years ago (1st pic). The lake is home to the brown trout and the red bellied char - the latter a very rare fish found only in these high mountain lakes. This whole area is known geologically as the Harlech Dome - significant because it contains some of the oldest rocks (350 million years old) on earth.

I walked in bright sunshine through old oak and birch woods - where pied flycatchers flitted about among the trees - towards the 1st pass, Bwlch Tyddiad. The steady ascent was delightful, made easier by the presence of a rocky stairway known as the Roman Steps. The origin of these man-made steps is obscure - they're almost certainly not Roman - but it's likely they were built as a packhorse route in medieval times. I'd been here before when the children were young but we had never made it to the top. This time - 20 years later - I scampered up the ingeniously placed slabs of rock and reached the cairn at the top of the pass. The 2nd pic shows the route I'd come.

A herd of the Rhinog's famous feral goats was grazing in a forestry clearing on the other side of the pass. Once out of the woods the going got tough. I looked out on a vast bowl of wilderness. The vague path soon disappeared and I headed north-east over boggy and uneven ground in the general direction of Wern-fach, a small abandoned farmstead by the River Crawcwellt. Here I faced west and began the slow, hard climb along the river to Bwlch Gwylim. There was no real path, but there were plenty of unstable tussocks of grass and squelchy areas of marsh formed by numerous tributary streams. Occasionally there was a short, rocky scramble where I had to use hands as well as feet. I disturbed a snipe which zigzagged away up the valley.

Eventually I left behind the bare, open spaces and the cliffs closed in. At the top of the pass I took a well-earned rest. Another solitary walker gave me a wave as he deliberately picked his way down from the complex, northerly massif of Moel Ysgyfarnogod and Foel Penolau. He crossed the pass and continued up the other side of the gulch onto yet more high ground. Myself, I was weary. And glad it was now downhill all the way. The views around were magnificently desolate (3rd pic). I quickly descended steep, grassy slopes to Cwm Bychan and the car.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My sister and I walked the steps today. even the heavy rain could not mask the beauty of this green and purple heaven. Near to the top of the steps you can hear the roaring of the river deep under ground in amongst the tumbled boulders. We feasted on wood sorrel and billberys on our way, my hands still blue from our stolen harvest. The bumble bees buzzed noisely away from us as we disturbed them in amongst the purple heather and billberys.
Our walk was not a planned one, just an impulsive wish to show my sister one of my favourite places to be, but what a happy diversion on our route home. your circular route will have to wait for a sunny day.