Where the mountains meet the sea
In the northernmost part of the Snowdonia National Park is a little frequented region of remote valleys and high mountain ridges known as the Carneddau. The northern part of this region, populated by small herds of wild ponies, contains the last outpost of the high summits of the Welsh Mountains. From the 3000 foot elevation of the windswept cairn on Foel Fras, the land drops away sharply to the North Wales Coast. This is where the mountains meet the sea.
At the higher car park there were 2 other cars and a covered trailer which was home to several sheep. I don't object to the £2 per day charge at Aber Falls lower down but the walk up the road adds a mile and isn't much fun. To get here you cross the bridge by the Falls path and follow the single track road steeply uphill. There's only space for a few cars here so at weekends or in the holidays it's likely to be a road walk. If you have to do this, once you're under the power lines, you're almost up.
From here there's a sign marking the North Wales Path which heads across the hills overlooking the North Wales Coast - that will be our return route - but a track leads off to the right up a remote valley and heading into the mountains in a roughly southerly direction.
Following this track with the river below and to my right, I passed just one person, the farmer and his dog out to round up more sheep presumably to join those already in the trailer. Beyond the river on the hillside above its far shore, I passed an ancient stone sheepfold and then on my side, a small herd of the wild ponies which are local residents, grazing just above the path. They eyed me with some curiosity as I passed - clearly not many people passed this way. The local farmers actually round them up generally once a year and they are checked by a vet for disease, but the rest of the time they wander the mountainsides of the Northern Carneddau unchecked. Now ahead as the path began to climb a steeper gradient and curve to the right, could be seen the snow covered bulk of Foel Fras, the northernmost 3000 foot peak in North Wales and my object for today. Patches of grey cloud skimmed its summit but the weather, though chilly was still fine.
Presently I arrived at the lonely tarn of Llyn Anafon, actually enlarged by a small dam across this side, in a wild hollow in the hills below Foel Fras and the rugged tors of Llwytmor. Here I parted compant with the track which leads along the low dam wall, and branched off across the hillside climbing the heathery slopes steadily. I was aiming for the saddle between Foel Fras and Drum, the nearer peak up on the left. Being pathless, the going here immediately became harder though the only real hazards to watch out for are getting wet in the boggy patches. I wouldn't recommend this route in mist though. If you lose visibility half way, a bearing of just south of SE or 135 to 140 will see you on the ridge in about the right place where a clear path is found.
The wind rose and it became very cold as I approached the col. Soon with views opening out over the snow covered Carneddau Range and the green lowlands between the Afon Conwy Estuary and Llanrwst on the far side of the ridge, I began the last part of the ascent of Foel Fras. The path here is obvious and when it vanished under the snow cover, the ice encrusted fence and wall on the left provided clear directions up the broad ridge.
The highest point was soon reached and is marked by a trig point a few yards from a wall which runs across the top. I was treated to intermittent views out to sea and south over the snow covered Carneddau as the grey cloud base was just level with the summit. The temperature was well below freezing and the stiff wind made it feel even colder so I didn't linger for long. After a brief lunch in the shelter nearer the wall I was off again.
The descent to the col seemed to take no time at all and this time I continued on over the summit of Drum - itself a good viewpoint - before joining a wide track leading back down with expansive views out to sea. I briefly left this main trail to visit the summit of Carnedd y Ddelw which is seen ahead before the path bears left. This minor summit is crowned by a vast and ancient looking cairn and affords views across to Llandudno with the Great Orme clearly outlined against the sea. Back again to the main path which I followed steadily downhill stopping to remove layers as it warmed up and the wind dropped in strength.
This section is particularly easy, all being a steady downhill and I soon reached the crossroads in the path where I turned left following for Aber. This was now the North Wales Path and it descended gradually across the hillsides following a line of pylons until after a bend to the left the car was again in sight.
The route could be done in either direction but my preference is this way round, taking the shorter steeper route up to Foel Fras with its brief pathless section and finishing with a long easy downhill stretch.
Pete Buckley February 2008
Essentials >>> Up 800m >>> Down 800m >>> How Far? 14.5km How High? 942m/3091ft
For more walks in Snowdonia please see my walking routes homepage or the table of contents below.