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South to North of the Park….

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

This is just adventurous, there’s no other way to describe this, start from the south of the National Park and head north until you reach the sea, simple! There are so many variations to this, too many possibilities to mention here, I’ve been lucky enough to have done variations of it numerous times and once was work, how lucky was I!

I remember when Trail magazine first came out and there was a brilliant series of a couple who were backpacking around the world taking in all these amazing treks every month, I think that really captured what I wanted…adventures.

It’s good old fashioned backpacking over the mountains carrying what you need, dropping into villages to resupply and not worrying too much about the detail of where you’re going each day… who knows if that footpath in the valley is there, what will the terrain be like under your feet, will that stream be passable and so on. I guess who cares until you get there and surely isn’t that part of the fun!

Over 20 years ago I worked for the Outward Bound Trust in Aberdovey, which still to this day ranks as one of my best full-time contracted jobs. No 2 courses were the same, what you got up to with each team was generally left for you to decide and you could have some incredible adventures across the southern part of the park. The range of courses offered was wide, but the summer 3 week course was the one you wanted to work, they offered 2 types, a Classic or a Rover. One was mainly centre based and the Rover was essentially a 3 week expedition around North Wales doing some pretty cool things on the way, who would not want to escape from the centre for that time! I seem to remember there were only a handful of these every year, so you had to earn your spot to work on them, it was definitely a privilege.

Ordnance survey map

We literally walked out the back of the centre which is as far south as you can get in the Park and over the low lying hills that sit above Afon Dyfi, crossing Happy Valley and Tarrenhendre dropping through the woods into Abergynolwyn and into Dyffryn Dysynni which is packed with history and cool things to see! A single sentence that sums up a fabulous journey through different terrain and vistas looking out across Cardigan bay and towards Cadair. Navigating in the mountains is relatively straight forward - you’re either going up or down, but this first stage will test what you have!

Where to stay certainly needed some thought on some days, personally a wild camp in the right conditions is unbeatable, the slightest hint of any falling moisture and these days I’m more likely to be heading for 4 stone walls with a roof, commonly called a B&B or hotel…

Ordnance survey map

An ascent of Cadair Idris called obviously, it’s always been one of my favourite mountains in Snowdonia and I’ve stayed in the shelter at the top countless times with groups, it was always special (although the benches could’ve been a few extra inches wider -rolling over in your sleep was a big no no!) and I wonder how many folk look back when they were younger and remember staying in some ‘stone building with a corrugated roof on top a huge mountain’?

Getting off Cadair and crossing the Afon Mawddach was always a challenge - classic case of footpaths never really appearing on the ground or hadn’t seen intrepid walkers for years…the Mawddach is a good paddle option to mix up the journey too, especially if you get the tide either way.

Ordnance survey map

Walking across Barmouth Bridge felt like leaving the first stage behind and then straight in to the chippy to share your lunch with the resident gulls. On a non work trip beers, Sandancer (if you know you know) and sleeping on the beach seem to register as a memory! The steep walk out from Barmouth probably wasn’t conducive to a few beers the night before, or the fry up breakfast. The next part through the Rhinogau was definitely more remote, following the main ridge quickly ate up the mileage and you rapidly headed north, I guess although seemingly a little further out from everywhere, you could always track west, hit the coast and pick up the bus / train network - we used to do that as a much shorter version of this journey.

I remember a really wet bivvy below Rhinog Fach once, one that your bivvy bag fills with water and the realisation that drowning in a sealed bag was a very high possibility - a valuable lesson learnt that however good marketing is, it doesn’t mean it’s going to work! I’ve had a few folk turn up on my courses over the years adamant that their single skin breathable bivvy will do the job, quiet words have fallen on deaf ears and the inevitable bailing out soon starts and maybe a little bit of laughter!

Ordnance survey map

It’s worth having a little knowledge beforehand I reckon of this area, there are some fantastic routes through the main summits and the Northern end of the Rhinogau and there are some true shockers which I reckon might encourage you to end the trip a little earlier than you wanted. I think it’s worth taking a couple of days to explore this stage and not rushing it, with the right weather it’s truly stunning.

Getting into the Vale of Festiniog and out has never been easy, there’s a big river in it, so you need to use the few bridges on it and this needs some planning around access and paths and so on - with a little research, there’s the potential to visit a very decent pub - their ribs being the speciality.

The Moelwynion are notoriously awkward to navigate in poor weather and a few years ago I happened to be working up there and saw this lone figure in the distance walking towards us. It turned out to be someone who had been on one of my courses previously, was into his long distance walking (in a big way - he’s walked a few big rivers in Africa since from source to sea amongst a few other impressive strolls!) and was walking this journey I’m describing here with a little excursion out to the Arans I seem to remember! It was minging weather and we chatted for a few minutes, he emailed a few days later saying he’d completed it - I’m a bit of fan of blue skies so was bowled over by his commitment.

This is a real decision point, do I leg it the shortest route to get to Conwy and the Albion (bit like the Winchester!), do I turn left, head over Moel Hebog, Snowdon, the Glyderau and then the Carneddau or….there are too many options and variations on those and I guess time is the deciding factor, you’ll have to decide!

And then we used to return to the Centre via the Arans - an incredible tour of the Park!

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