Camp­ing in the sub­lime, un­fa­mil­iar sway of this north­ern out­lier of Snow­don.

A sub­stan­dard camp­site be­neath a lowly hill? In Snow­do­nia, this sub­lime wild night equalled more than the sum of its parts.

Trail (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS SARAH RYAN PHOTOGRAPHY TOM BAILEY

Hor­ri­ble places to camp in­clude bogs, very slopey slopes, boul­der­fields, car parks, lay­bys, round­abouts and too close to the sea. But not marshes. You would think that this list would def­i­nitely in­clude marshes but not nec­es­sar­ily. One night in Snow­do­nia made us think that there are some ben­e­fits to mak­ing your bed among the reeds. Or very near to them at least.

I should be clear that we didn’t ac­tu­ally sleep within the marsh – that would be cold, wet, smelly and in­sec­trid­den, not to men­tion life-threat­en­ingly dan­ger­ous and prob­a­bly im­pos­si­ble. Could you re­lax thus? We camped on a lit­tle patch of dry land be­side it. Our level, dry plat­form cropped out on the edge of a small lake, cupped to­wards the end of a long ridge.

I guess the first ques­tion is why on earth you would even make the at­tempt to sleep in a soggy lit­tle cwm rather than, re­ally, any­where else. There are two an­swers to that, both of which lie at points along that long ridge. At the halt­ing end is Moel Eilio, a peak ris­ing in al­most per­fectly spaced con­tours to its 726m top – ex­cept on its western face, where those con­tours are pressed much more closely to­gether, the cliffs drop­ping down to our lake. One of the an­swers is up there on its grassy lit­tle top. The other is 7.8km away, along that ridge, down-andup-down-and-up un­til you reach its high­est point, which is also the high­est point in Wales. This rock­ing-rolly lit­tle ridge leads straight to Snow­don and the sec­ond an­swer can be found right on its sum­mit. So here was the idea: camp at the base of Moel Eilio in the shel­ter of the cwm, with a ready water sup­ply from the llyn, and watch the first of the sun’s rays il­lu­mi­nate those dra­matic cliffs. Then pack up and fol­low a dis­tinct rocky spur to its sum­mit, and from there sur­vey Snow­do­nia be­fore nip­ping down to Llan­beris and head­ing home. With only a brief morn­ing to play with, it seemed like an ex­cel­lent use of time. That is un­til we started the walk in, be­cause, in all hon­esty, this was not a per­fectly formed plan. It seemed it un­til, laden with overnight kit, I lifted my foot and placed it on what was not a per­fectly formed hum­mock. Squelch. Down went the boot, through the sur­face of the ground and into the roots of the grass, a pond of murky water ris­ing around my laces. I shifted on to the other foot, which was safely

“TWO SUM­MER-FAT PONIES AMBLED TO THE SHORE, NIBBLING AT THE GRASS”

pressed into the firm ground and re­bal­anced, stood up and looked ahead. Pho­tog­ra­pher Tom and I had fol­lowed a nar­row road out of Llan­beris and joined a wide track be­fore break­ing off it to fol­low the river flow­ing out of the lake and into Llyn Peris. It was only a short dis­tance and we were al­ready in the mouth of the cwm. Be­tween us and that lake though, lay a puz­zle of reeds, hum­mocks, rushes, vivid mosses and cropped grass. The map around it was marked with sym­bols for rough grass­land heath – and, more con­cern­ingly, the lit­tle blue sym­bol with float­ing dot that in­di­cates marsh. The only safe sec­tion lay to the north-east and the only dry land also to the east of the river. Care­fully tuck­ing the map away, I sur­veyed the saturated land ahead. Marsh is se­ri­ously dan­ger­ous and we didn’t want to ac­ci­den­tally wade any­where near it. For­tu­nately, a few years of hillwalking will give you a good eye for changes in ground con­di­tion. The types of grasses or reeds, the height of the veg­e­ta­tion and its colour all pro­vide valu­able in­for­ma­tion. Stick­ing to the slightly higher ground we cau­tiously made our way to­wards a heath­ery bank – this rough plant be­ing a good in­di­ca­tor of firm earth. The ed­u­cated guess­work proved fruit­ful and, backed by that heath­ery rise, on the edge of the llyn, we found the ideal lit­tle camp­site. Tents up, stoves blaz­ing, the light started to fade from the cwm, the sun drop­ping early be­hind that high ridge. We couldn’t see Snow­don but not far away its empty café and stony plinth would be catch­ing the last light of the day. An early night. In the morn­ing, the llyn was ice-still; a re­flec­tion of Moel Eilio flipped per­fectly on its sur­face. I climbed out of the tent and breathed in the damp, fresh air with a tang of heather, walked down to the shore and stretched. The sky above was scat­tered with cot­ton-wool clouds and the sun hit the tops for the first time that morn­ing. It was quiet, not a soul any­where – af­ter all, who would think to camp in a marsh? This lit­tle cwm was per­fectly framed by Snow­do­nian hills and ut­terly silent, even though Llan­beris was prob­a­bly only 30 min­utes’ walk away. Two sum­mer-fat wild Welsh ponies

ambled to the shore, nibbling at the grass and we sat, munch­ing a less fresh break­fast as the bright sun­light worked its way down the hill­side and over the water, eras­ing the cool shade of night.

Soon we packed up and set off, crossing the river and me­thod­i­cally work­ing our way around the east­ern shore, gain­ing height fast to avoid the marshes. We could have crested the bank be­hind our camp­site and fol­lowed a gen­tler, log­i­cal spur onto that rolling ridge. But no. Where we clam­ber-ad­dicts can see a dif­fi­cult, steep and spiny way, that’s what we’ll take. This one was re­lent­lessly tall, the bright morn­ing al­ready hot. I pressed my hands

onto my knees, ex­haled and pushed up­wards, the weight of my pack strongly de­sir­ing to go the other way. As soon as we reached the top of our spur, the gra­di­ent re­lented and we stepped onto the rolling ridge. Moel Eilio’s sum­mit was just 1km away, a rise which passed as briefly and gen­tly as the day’s light breeze. At its bald­ing sum­mit, we dropped our bags and turned to face along the ridge and into our view. It was so much more than ex­pected.

I said ear­lier that there were two an­swers to the ques­tion of our camp­site – it turns out there were a hun­dred, and all of them had names. Gly­der Fach, Gly­der Fawr, Try­fan, Y Garn, Pen yr Ole Wen, Elidir Fawr, Moel He­bog, Moel Si­a­bod, the Carned­dau, and Snow­don, of course. That’s not an ex­haus­tive list – merely a few high­lights. Lo­cated as it is at the end of Snow­don’s long­est limb, and at the edge of the moun­tain range, Moel Eilio’s sum­mit is a per­fect view­ing plat­form for the north­ern ranges of the Na­tional Park. With more time, we would have set off into that view, as daz­zled by it as moths by lamp­light. It’s a view to be savoured, so we took our time about do­ing so, brew­ing coffee as we al­lowed our eyes to trace the un­fa­mil­iar an­gles of some very fa­mil­iar hills.

I of­ten wish there were bet­ter ways to de­scribe a view: that I could phys­i­cally con­jure up the green hills lay­ered over blue, the sharp an­gles laid against lazy ones; the de­light of be­hold­ing al­most all of your favourite hills in one or two mo­ments. It’s like scan­ning an old school pho­to­graph, point­ing out fa­mil­iar faces, won­der­ing at how oth­ers had changed, gaz­ing cu­ri­ously at those you don’t recog­nise. There was Elidir Fawr’s old mine-pit­ted face; the lit­tle heads of the Nantlle ridge pok­ing up at the back; Es­gair Fe­len, Gly­der Fawr’s shapely shoul­der. I mar­velled at see­ing so many moun­tains I loved in blink.

Too soon we had to head down and re­turn home. But that view would stay with me, as would the camp­site in the reeds. Noth­ing about this brief trip to a sub-800m hill screamed that it would be spec­tac­u­lar, but al­most ev­ery­thing about it was.

TOM BAILEY

Cover pho­to­graph: Fleetwith Edge, on its name­sake Pike, Lake Dis­trict.

An enor­mous view be­gins to emerge. Stand­ing cen­tre, Elidir Fawr, de­spite in­ten­sive quar­ry­ing, re­tains its grandeur.

Any sen­si­ble per­son would turn around and walk to­wards Snow­don (seen in the dis­tance – fol­low the line of the wall edge straight up to the peak above). This ridge leads nearly 12km over its sum­mit to ter­mi­nate on Gallt y We­nallt.

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