FROM CONWY TO NEBO over the Carneddau, Glyderau, Snowdon and the Nantlle Ridge, the route I’ve called the Snowdonia Skyline is one I’d wanted to try for years. Last summer, during a period of settled weather and on a night with a full moon, I finally set out to walk it. Head west then south-west out of Conwy, keep Anglesey to your right, the rest of Wales to your left and carry on climbing those lovely ridges until you get to the other end of the National Park… sound simple?
In principle, it is. But this is also one of the most rewarding 24 hours available to the British walker. Starting in the early evening, I blundered westwards from Conwy town centre. Strangely, although Conwy has a direct path out onto some of the most scenic territory anywhere, the route is positively hidden. But after a couple of missed turns I finally found the route onto the open hill. In front of me lay one of the great concentrations of spectacular mountain ridges in Britain.
Conwy Mountain may be less than 250m high but it feels like a mountain alright, with views down and out to the shimmering Lafan Sands and Anglesey floating above the sea, all in soft evening sunlight. The next five miles or so contain no summits, just a gradual gain of height up to Tal y Fan, the first 2000-footer. But the scenery is magnificent. Sections of the early route reminded me of the first miles of the Lyke Wake Walk, with widening views to town and country as the sun set. Tal y Fan is a curious summit, a rocky spine running east-west above the heathery moor. After that there is a heathery trundle over Foel Lwyd followed by a disconcertingly deep bwlch – the first of many – and the long pull to Carnedd Y Ddelw and then Drum. Anglesey had also now landed again; very quiet.
The ascent of Foel Fras is a dull, long grass slope, so mindless that I counted to 600 plantings of the left foot. You know you are close to the top when you encounter the designers’ only acknowledgement of it as a 3000-foot mountain: a rash of boulders. But the next miles are the easiest on the whole trip, grassy uplands leading to Carnedd Gwenllian and then on to the stone shelter on Foel Grach. By now, I had moonlight, which was reflecting brightly off Yr Elen, a tempting top, but not on the Skyline.
I spent the three darkest hours of the night in my bivvy bag and then moved on as the cold started to seep through. Ahead lay the easy ascent to Carnedd Llewelyn, far left for the summit, then the long tramp to Carnedd Dafydd. From here I needed light and I got it as, slowly, dawn organised itself from somewhere north of Merseyside. I remembered to watch for the steepening ground from Pen Yr Ole Wen, into that gully above Afon Lloer and remembered also to replenish my water supplies. But I had forgotten how slippery the next bit – all wet and dewy grass – could be. I even saw another torch, briefly, but was soon concentrating on trying to use my feet rather than my backside to progress. By the time I reached the track I was thoroughly relieved to be sprain-free, although I now possessed two very wet feet. This was a very low bwlch, but, in front of me, emerging into daylight beyond the A5, was Tryfan. It was 5am and I already had 18 miles and 6000ft of ascent under my feet but in front of me was 2000ft of infinitely varied scrambling on sound rock: the north ridge of Tryfan, served up with a blazing sunrise. My watch told me I ascended in 90 minutes but looking back, it felt like 19. And at the top were Adam and Eve: the best piece of summit design anywhere. Then the swift descent to Bwlch Tryfan and Bristly Ridge… of which I made a pig’s ear, straying left and emerging from there into Great Pinnacle Gap. The presence of discarded tape slings was disconcerting but, in the absence of skeletons and the like, I trusted in the pattern of Snowdonia scrambles: that if you wave your arms about long enough a jug hold will usually appear. Soon the Cantilever came into sight and then – surely the designers put these two on the wrong plinths – a pile of discarded dinosaur torsos at the true summit of Glyder Fach. Castell y Gwynt is another rock feature that looks to have been designed for a summit and then plonked somewhere temporary, so I climbed it. Glyder Fawr lay beyond, a less spectacular summit but a great view to Snowdon. From here, there is a mystery. Pen y Pass is one of the great honeypot sites and Glyder Fawr one of the significant summits. And yet the connecting path, although marked by the odd red paint splash, is a bit scatty. At the bottom a path did coalesce, just in time to run into a fenced-off building site.
I picked up a coffee at the cafe and, with my eye on my watch and my mind on my 24-hour target time, carried it up the PYG track. It was just about cool enough to sip by Bwlch y Moch – maybe I exaggerate – but then the adrenaline rush of Crib Goch provided its own stimulation. At the top I encountered the first mists, which eventually lifted at Crib y Ddysgl, where Snowdon (and its hordes) came back into view. I downed a juice at the summit cafe then headed of towards Yr Aran, realising pretty quickly that I needed to turn and hit the path that descends gently to Rhyd Ddu, the lowest point on my watershed. Rhyd Ddu was pretty quiet but, again, there were provisions available (you don’t need a long-suffering support driver to walk this route). Ahead of me lay Snowdonia’s best kept secret – the fantastic landscapes of the Nantlle ridges. But first was the purgatory of 1500f of grassy staircase to ascend Y Garn. It didn’t help that I now met the single happiest school group I have ever seen, gambolling down the steep ground with shared noisy glee. By contrast I was by now the possessor of that crazed hollow stare of an addict reaching the end of the fix, the sort you see eyeing up the last pint of a bender or putting the last coins in a Vegas slot. Eventually the slope slackened but I had acquired company. Yes, I had a voice in my head, a female companion who was convinced that we would finish this together, even if we had to run the last bit down.
As I later read, one of the local Welsh poets had written of this area: “T ere are voices and phantoms throughout the place.” Spooky? No, comforting, really. Y Garn is a fantastic viewpoint… but I cannot recall appreciating it on this occasion. Soon enough, the route became really interesting again, with care required to negotiate the bouldery staircase up to Mynydd Drws-y-Coed, and a view down one of the cleanest of vertical drops in the whole of Snowdonia. And from here on I met not a soul. No-one else was there to admire the ridge curving perfectly round the cwm to Trum Y Ddysgl, or the upland grass promenade – with that short rough gap – to the obelisk on Mynydd Tal-y-Mignedd.
The next bwlch is one of those disconcertingly low ones, but my female companion kept pointing out a path that struck out half right from the low point. Her judgment was perfect as I took it and it led me round the crags on the ridge, to the summit of Craig Cwm Silyn. More great views and, at last, no more major ascents. I could sense a nearing of journey’s end, complete with its metaphors for life itself; the going easier, everything more rounded and the sea nearer. Garnedd Goch was easy up but bumpy down and looked unexpectedly huge in retrospect. From a level bwlch I picked up the thinnest path to Mynydd Craig Goch. It was all downhill now and I had 40 minutes left of my 24 hours, much of which I wasted by straying too far to the right. ‘She’ – the voice in my head – was right, I reflected, as I hobble-ran down the hill on a path that led unerringly to a new fence. Down towards Llyn Cwm Dulyn I lurched, to a stile, which led in turn to one of those mysteries of the countryside, a one-in-five grass slope that somehow holds ankle-deep water. When I eventually reached my target, the National Park boundary, the only sound I could hear – splurch, splurch – was that of water sloshing around in my runners. The time was 5.36pm. I had been going for four minutes short of 24 hours and can have rarely felt worse; then again, I had just found a fantastic route and have rarely felt better. So, there is the challenge: keep the sea to your right, Wales to your left and climb the skyline in front of you. You might want to wait till the wind’s in the east. Then enjoy.
- The route has a single theme: the skyline.
- The best views in Snowdonia are looking west, and they are in front of
- The route includes several outstanding scrambles and all bar one are
used the best way, in ascent.
- The route has a continuity of line; there are no ‘out and back’ elements.
- The route is navigationally obvious, with no temptingly daft options.
- Each of the major descents are on gradual slopes or civilised paths.
- The route includes two areas which deserve greater attention: the
northern Carneddau and Nantlle.
- The start and end points are on the road network and readily connected
by public transport.
- There is comfortable accommodation at both ends.
- The start is at the start of the mountain skyline and the end….is at the other end of it.