2 December 2016

Cadair Idris - Snowdonia at its best


As I tentatively sip from a can of Idris Fiery Ginger Beer (Try me if you dare!!) sitting on a rock high in the RSPB Mawddach Vallley - Coed Garth Gell Reserve, it slowly dawns on me that rising majestically to the south is the source of this elixir.

The highest point of the six and a half mile long Cadair (sometimes spelled Cader) Idris ridge, in the middle of the range, is Pen y Gadair, which is 893 metres (2930 feet) above sea level; this is the top of the back of the Chair (from cadair, which itself derives from the latin cathedra) of Idris, who was a philosopher and poet Giant, who lived right here. Possibly this legend derives from the metaphorically great stature of King Idris ap Gwyddno of Meirionydd, who lived from 560 to 632 AD.

A pretty good story, which includes accounting for some of the boulders strewn on the slopes, said to be stones from his shoes. Anyway, this was enough to inspire Thomas Howell Williams (1842 - 1925), son of a Baptist Minister from Pembrokeshire, to found Idris & Co, soft drink manufacturer, in Camden Town, in 1873 (in 1967 the loss-making Idris was acquired by Beecham, which owned the Lucozade, Ribena and Corona soft drinks brands; then in 1987 the Beecham soft drinks business was acquired by Britvic). But even today, near the visitor centre at Minffordd, there is a ruined building said to be the original Idris laboratory.

Anyway, that's one of the reasons I suddenly feel fired to climb the mountain. Though I have another, unrelated desire, which is to test myself in preparation for the challenge I am committed to undertake to raise money for Alzheimer's Society next Spring, when I shall walk the 100 mile South Downs Way in five days.....

So, being a guest of aptly named old friend Hilly at her wonderful Rhuddallt (White Horses) on the Mawddach Estuary,

within sight of Barmouth railway bridge, I am perfectly poised to set out bright and early.  It is a glorious morning and the light is splendid.

Mist wreathes through the forest on the opposite slopes,

But it is going to be a glorious day. There is a hard frost, and as I approach Minffordd on the A 487 from Dolgellau the sky has cleared and I get a splendid view of Gau Graig at the north eastern end of the ridge. 

It is icy in the car park, and so I start well wrapped up, though within an hour my back is damp with sweat as I toil upwards in the sunlight.

The first part of the climb (which is 788 metres in total, over a distance of about four miles each way the route I take) is conveniently stepped, rising through an ancient oak woodland.

Then, having made a fairly serious error of judgement, I skirt a pine forest, making my way towards Mynydd Moel (863 metres) instead of taking the recommended trail that goes to the south of the supposedly bottomless (if you don't count Idris's bottom, which he rested here) corrie (cym) lake of Llyn Cau (which is actually 130 feet deep).

The reason I made this mistake was that from my map the path above Llyn Cau seemed fearfully steep, and I am no mountaineer. I thought the way I was going would be easier..... Sometimes we learn the hard way.....

Indeed, at first, the track was well made and, though steep, it was not scary.  

But, fairly soon, the path became a loose mess of rubble and not only was it hard going but it was increasingly steep, so it was certainly not a stroll in the park....

And looking back down, I suddenly felt slightly wobbly, my knees weakening step by step, my lungs regretting the second (I lie - it was the third that did it!) bottle of Prosecco we had opened the night before....

But I was determined, and before too long I was able to stand upright again, and to begin to enjoy the wonderful views,

And to appreciate just how steep the other way would have been (or so it seemed).....

And how perfectly glaciated Idris's Chair really is....

And, looking East and South, just how very flat the rest of Wales is (joke, Cadair Idris is only the 19th highest Welsh Mountain, even if it is the second best....)

Anyway, after about two and a half hours the summit was in sight, with a chap and his two dogs having beaten me to the Trig Point by sneaking up a different (easier?) way.  And note how the air swirls up, the updrafts like circles in a stick of rock.....

And so there I was, breathlessly clasping the Trig Point at 893 metres above the Mawddach....

But, after all that crisp morning clarity, the very top was shrouded in mist, and my views were not as crystalline as I had hoped....

Pretty damn fine though, considering what it could have been on November 30th!  This picture shows Coed Garth Gell, in the middle distance, from where I got the pictures the previous evening, and, just hidden behind the shoulder of the foothills, to the right of the buildings by the estuary, is Rhuddallt, where we are staying.

Still worried about the precipitous looks of the ridge around Llyn Cau, and the steepness of that path, I return the way I came, and stop for a rest and a picnic to take in the views.

It really is very fine.  And, with the exception of a couple of other solo wanderers (and the occasional ear-splitting roar of Tornados and Hawks flying out of RAF Valley and then round what is known as the Mach Loop

Passing below me as they turn hard left about 250 feet above the A 487 to Corris) - it is wonderfully peaceful,

If a little bleak,

And chilly.....

A couple of walkers catch me up, and tell me what I have missed by not attempting the horseshoe trail. Easier, I am told, than this track. Steep, the other says, but it's better going, and not exposed..... [I will have to come back and do it all again....] I hear how busy Snowdon would be, even at this time of year, and how this is more like a real mountain (no trains, no cafe!)  And then we part again, and they go their separate ways, leaving me to follow, keeping my eye out for the few birds there are  - Ravens, honking across the air, a sprinkling of Bramblings - too quick, or too distant, for me to frame.

And then, after six hours, weary but in one piece, I make it back to the car park. It was very hard in part, and I have been lucky with the weather, but I am glad I have done it.  It gives me confidence to know that even though I don't spend time in the gym, and I am by no means as fit as I should be, the prospect of walking the South Downs Way in five days in the spring is not an impossible task.  I will need to get in shape, but I can do it!

I get back to White Horses in time to catch the sun kissing the horizon. The perfect end to a perfect day......




Time for a can of Welsh Fire!

By the way, should you wish to sponsor me for the South Downs Way in Spring 2017, please visit my JustGiving page

Thank you!


  1. Fab pictures (great lighting)! Not a mountain I know. Will you guide me sometime?

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