Sunday, 1 April 2018

Mapping Mountains – Trimble Surveys – Rhinogydd


26.03.18  Ben Tŵr (SH 661 311)

The central ridge of the northern Rhinogydd is an intriguing place as it seems few people accustom themselves to its delights.  Although a narrow path edges its way over and around numerous rock calved peaks it remains a land of wonderment that few seldom visit.

The last time I ventured in to this heather strewn land was 3½ years ago, then the use of ten figure grid references led from one bylchau and rock strewn summit to another.  However, not all prominent hills were surveyed; there was one in particular that I wished to visit, I remember it standing out to the north-west of the main ridge when I last ventured this way.  When back home I compared map detail to what I saw on the ground and reviewed the photographs I had taken on the day.  There seemed to be something amiss, ever ready to investigate a hill I wanted to reassure myself that on that day in September 2014 I had not missed a potential new P30.

During the many months following my last visit to this area the intrigue remained, and when, during the continuing place-name research I conduct, I was put in contact with an elderly farmer who used to live in the upper reaches of Cwm Bychan, the intrigue was only enhanced.  I was put in contact with this person by a National Park Warden who called him Dai the goat.  His name is Dai Williams and he used to shepherd the central section of the Rhinogydd for upwards of sixty years, he is now aged in his 80’s but his mind is pin sharp and when we did meet and I asked him about the hills and their names, his eyes glinted with good memory as hill name upon hill name were given.

The Park Warden who I originally contacted described Dai as a one off, someone who had immersed himself in these hills.  He was described as a rugged but gentle soul who probably knew more about this particular patch of land than anyone who ever lived.

The opportunity to visit Dai came about through a chance meeting with the same Park Warden when I was descending from the summit of an outlying peak of the Aran range.  When we met we exchanged greetings and started to talk, both of us soon recognised one another’s voice from the numerous phone calls we had had over the previous few months.  During our meeting the name of Dai cropped up and the Warden kindly offered to set up a meeting with him.

The meeting with Dai took place in a darkened cottage that only had a forgotten track to its front door.  His presence seemed to illuminate the cottage and within moments anecdotes and names were free flowing.  I had come prepared with a number of photographs of the summits between Craig Wion in the northern part of this central ridge and Bwlch Tyddiad in its southern section.

Dai had now stopped going to these hills as although his mind was sharp his body would not let him go to the land he knew so well.  As each photo was shown he would name the cliff, bwlch and hill, one after another, many being evocative names with few ever appearing on any form of map.

As Dai looked at the photographs he kept coming back to the ones that showed the rocky summit of a hill he named as Ben Tŵr, he asked if I had been up it, I said no as although I’d visited the ridge on a number of occasions I had bi-passed its summit.  He looked at me straight in the eye and said it is a mysterious hill, one where sheep would go but would not return.  He said that he was once placed there when a boy, by an older farmer who was gathering the flock, the sheep were driven off the hill toward Bwlch Tyddiad and they wanted someone on its summit so that the sheep would not go there and disappear.

I told Dai that the Ordnance Survey had probably missed contours off their map as it looked quite a prominent peak and was not shown as such on any map.  He smiled and said that they probably tried to survey it and disappeared the same way as the sheep.  I laughed at this but Dai then gave me a quizzical look and said ‘don’t be going up there boy, you’ll find no goodness in those parts’.  I explained that I did want to visit the hill and told him all about the Trimble and how it gathered data.  He said that if I went to its summit I should be quick and not stay on its highest point long.  He also told me that if I visited the hill and saw any goat from its summit to turn away from it immediately and walk in the opposite direction, I asked why, he replied ‘just do it lad, don’t want answers up on that mountain’.

When back home I contemplated what Dai had said, the place-names he had given were a priceless addition to my continuing research, seldom had so many names been given me to an area that is almost devoid of detailed names on the map.  I also thought about his tales of Ben Tŵr, I passed this off as country superstition, but thought that if I did see a goat when on its summit I would turn the other way and head in the opposite direction.

I waited for a good spring day when the sun shone and the forecast for the day gave a light breeze, this at least would lessen the heat of the day.  I’ve always found that springs first warmth is welcome but it can also be quite debilitating as one’s body seems accustomed to winter’s cold and the shock of warmth can be uncomfortable.

I set off early in the morning from the gravelled parking area in the Coed y Brenin forest (SH 684 301) and walked up a well maintained path through the forestry, past the old house of Graigddu-isaf and onward beside Nant Llyn-du to emerge back in to sunshine as the conifer plantation gave itself over to open hillside.

To my left stood the great rock peak of Rhinog Fawr, one of the jewels of Wales.  Ahead the path continued to Bwlch Tyddiad where I sat and listened to the early skylark, one of springs heartening sounds.  From the bwlch I made good progress in to the wilds of the Rhinogydd past a number of summits and down in to the tussocky depths of one bwlch after another.  All of this would have to be re-traced later in the day as it was by inward and outward route.

I could distinguish the summit of Ben Tŵr from quite some distance as it had a small early morning mist patch rising above its rocky perch.  By the time I reached the slopes leading to its connecting bwlch the mist had fallen and although the sun was doing its utmost to burn it away I entered a land of mist, rock and heather.  I took my bearings and proceeded toward the bwlch.

I traversed a jumble of boulders and heather and made my way down toward the connecting bwlch, when reached this consisted of more of the same.  The critical point was not hard to judge as the land on the hill to hill traverse descended quite steeply to connect with the land rising from each valley.  To be sure of the correct placement I marched up and down the tussock laden bwlch, chose my spot, put the Trimble on top of my rucksack, measured the offset between its internal antenna and the ground below and waited for it to gather five minutes of data.

As I packed the equipment away the mist slowly rose from the hillside but clung to the upper reaches of summit rock.  To the west I looked out toward the sea, blue and tranquil casting its lure to the holiday maker.  To my north lay Craig Wion and Clip, two impressive hills, and in front lay the summit of the hill that all paths seemed to bi-path, this was strange as I had memories from my first visit to this section of ridge that a prominent path diverted toward this hill, whereas on my last visit I can remember looking toward this hill and wondering why I wasn’t surveying it.  On that particular day I kept to the main path that bi-passed its summit.

The way to its top proved quite an interesting scramble where heather root helped hand purchase.  As I reached its top I was back in mist which stubbornly clung to its side.  I set the Trimble up and waited until its 0.1m accuracy level before data should be logged was attained.  Occasionally this accuracy level takes an age to obtain and unfortunately today was one of those instances.  As I waited I thought back to the meeting with Dai and his warning about seeing a goat.  It took over twenty minutes for the Trimble to attain its 0.1m accuracy level and when the number appeared on the screen I quickly pressed ‘Log’ and headed down so I would not obstruct any satellite signal, as I did so something appeared at the top and bounded down the opposite side of the summit rock.  I crept back up to check on the Trimble; it was still in place and thankfully had not been pushed off its rocky perch.

I descended back down the steep slope and stood clinging on to clumps of heather as the Trimble gathered its allotted data, occasionally looking up toward it and wondering what had appeared next to the summit rock.  Once five minutes of data were gathered I closed it off and headed southward and out of the mist, I wondered if it had been a sheep or one of the many feral goats that inhabit the northern Rhinogydd that had appeared and just as quickly disappeared at the summit.

As I re-traced my steps toward the first of a succession of rock and heather strewn slopes that I would have to re-cross to get back to Bwlch Tyddiad I looked back toward the summit of Ben Tŵr, the mist was quickly dissolving from its upper reaches and standing on its top was a single goat silhouetted against the blue sky.  I only looked its way once and thought of Dai, and turning away from the hill I headed off as quickly as I could and did not look back, country superstition is one thing but better safe than sorry I thought. 



Survey Result:


Ben Tŵr

Summit Height:  460.8m   

Summit Grid Reference:  SH 66149 31184

Bwlch Height:  428.6m

Bwlch Grid Reference:  SH 66180 31139

Drop:  32.2m (Pedwar addition confirmed)  

Dominance:  6.99%





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