Walking Among Ancients
Callum Dickson examines the beauty of hiking in North Wales, as well as the impact of industry on ancient cultural heritage.
At 2003ft, Tel y Fan just makes the cut for mountain status in the British Isles. It is an unassuming mound of rock and earth that rises up amongst the various smaller hills that surrounds its base.
However, being on the outskirts of Snowdonia National Park, means this mountains is rarely visited by the usual crowds of hikers and walkers that tend to swarm over the more famous peaks during sunny days. This, coupled with its status as the most northerly Welsh mountain, means that from its summit you are greeted with incredible and unspoiled views over both the Carneddau range and the North Welsh coast. In my opinion this is more than ample reason to stop reading this article and go conquer this summit for yourself.
Fine, I’ll keep typing then.
Beginning my walk at 11:00am, I was, after half an hour of being lost in the small, but impossibly steep town of Penmeanmawr, on my way up. In all honesty the beginning is the hardest part of the day, you walk up a steep asphalt road from near sea level to a height of about 200 metres. The sun shines hard and because the area is sheltered by the mountains there’s no cool breeze to keep the heat down. Soon I was entering the walker’s delirium; sweat pouring down my brow, mindlessly singing and rambling to myself, begging to turn back. But I endured and once hitting the 200 metre mark, a strong easterly breeze rushing through my body and into my grateful lungs.
Cooled and refreshed, I continued onwards, soon finding myself in the foothills that mark the beginning of the Carneddau Range. In comparison to the hills that surrounded, it Tal y Fan appears to be a giant, rising up out of the sunny haze, but in truth it is an easy walk to the summit. Good paths show a direct route to the summit and you can reach its peak by 1.30.
I was not at all disappointed. If from below Tal y Fan looks like a giant, then from the top it seems to be only a child in comparison to its parent peaks of the great Carneddau Range. Patches of glittering snow still adorned the peak of Carnedd Llewelyn and the river Conwy stretches out before you, lazily meandering through the valley. My view stretched from Great Orme to Bangor Pier, with a beautiful intense blue sky serving as a backdrop. Written descriptions do it no justice.
Most interestingly, among the rolling hillocks and course grass of the Penmaenmawr plateau lies a hidden history. What initially appears to be a rather empty landscape to most, is in truth an archaeologist’s playground. Ancient Neolithic monuments covered the land, from stone circles and standing stones to barrows and burial cairns.
With time, I found myself standing in the middle of one such monument, known as the Druid’s Circle; a stone circle built almost 3,000 years ago and perhaps the most obvious of the prehistoric sites on show. One additional site I managed to find was the Fridd Wanc barrow which has been unceremoniously crowned with a rather ugly telegraph pole, which at least made it easier to spot.
In retrospect, despite the large amount of prehistoric sites here, most of them go unseen by the average walker, mistaken for a small collection rocks or an unassuming mound of earth. The ordnance survey map of this area is littered with words like stone circle and cairns, but they usually remain hidden in plain view.
Throughout this journey however my eye was continuously lured towards the unignorable site of Penmaenmawr Mountain, or at least what remains of it. Throughout the late 1800’s and early 20th century the mountain was unrelenlessly mined for slate and is now considerably shorter that it once was . Sadly, the site was previously home to the ancient Braich y Dinas Hillfort; one of the largest of its kind in Europe. However this status could not protect it from the drive of industry or the power of dynamite. Today nothing remains, except perhaps a few chunks of stone, lost amongst the enormous piles of discarded slate. From Braich y Dinas, to Nimrud and the great Buddhas of Bamiyan it is a terrible tragedy that we should never again bare witness to such ancient wonders.
Whilst driving back home, I considered myself lucky to live in a country where, at least these days, so much care and protection is given to our precious historical sites.
But then I remember that telegraph pole on Fridd Wanc and I am left doubting.