North Wales County Tops

Now that I've done most of the Southern County Tops, the rest are getting higher and further away from home. Expeditions have changed from day-trips to a few days away, bagging multiple tops in one region. The plan for this trip was North West Wales, bagging Snowdon, Holyhead Mountain, Moel Famau and Cadair Berwyn. Ideally we would have also squeezed in Aran Fawddwy but we only had 3 days off work and we wanted to get in some zip-lining action too.

1: Snowdon

Also known as: Yr Wyddfa
Highest peak in Caernarvonshire (Historic CT), Gwynedd (Council Top), Wales Country Top
Member of: Marilyn, Furth, Hewitt, Nuttall, Welsh 3000s
Elevation: 1,085 m
Date climbed: 25th July 2016 (and several times before) 
Coordinates: 53°4′6.59″N 4°4′34.43″W
Route Start / End: Pen Y Pass car park
Route Stats: 12.4 km in 5 hours 34 mins. Elevation gain +874 m
Subsidiary tops on route: Y Lliwedd

Before the trip I wasn't hugely excited about doing Snowdon again. I'd been up there at least 4 times before and would have rather spent the time on a new peak. Mark, my fellow County Topper, hadn't done it before so we needed to include it. Chris, the third of our group had literally no idea where he was so had no opinion on the matter.

Our plan was to do the Snowdon Horseshoe including the knife-edge Crib Goch. This excited me as I hadn't done any of that route before, normally sticking to the Watkin or Llanberis paths. I was a bit nervous about Crib Goch so I did a bit of Internet research on it the night before. I'm fine with heights but get nervous of slipping so I wanted to find out more about it. It turned out that this kind of research is much the same as looking up the cause of an itchy rash in the Web (You are definitely going to die). Our breakfast time meeting about the route was a good decider to not do it. We were discussing kit and Chris was talking about how proud he was of his new £9.99 waterproofs. He was also not sure about whether he would need to take a backpack or any water. That was it ... Pyg Track to the summit, no Crib Goch.

Despite leaving the B&B early, we soon became an hour and a half behind schedule. The Pen Y Pass Car park gets full really early so we had to go to the next lay-by a couple of miles along the road to Llanberis. The good news was that there’s a regular bus service connecting the stops on the road. The bad news is that non-one, including us, could work out what the bus timetable was telling us. Convinced that the bus would be imminent, we waited an hour before getting into a taxi exactly 30 seconds before the bus came round the corner.

Heading away from Pen Y Pass on the Pyg Track, the sky was overcast and the rain came within 10 minutes. This was further confirmation that our plan to avoid Crib Goch was the best idea ever. I also got the opportunity to stoke my amusement of people on mountains who are unprepared for the the conditions. £9.99 waterproofs were the height of preparedness compared the the walkers in jeans and t shirts and some carrying babies up the highest mountain in Wales.

Just beyond the cloud line we joined the familiar Llanberis Path and reached the summit. Apparently the view is amazing, but in the 5 times I've been there, it's only been dirty fog. After a quick stop at the summit cafe we started the descent along the Watkin Path. I done the Watkin a couple of times in reverse and remember the steep part near the top to be a bit of a wobbly scramble. We must have gone off track on those previous attempts as the path down was significantly more straightforward than I remembered.

At Bwlch Ciliau we left the Watkin and ascended again to Y Lliwedd. This was a new summit for me and, at 898m, it was taller than the majority of County Tops. With some amazing views, my previous disinterest in climbing Snowdon again was long gone.

At the bottom of Lliwedd Bach, the final peak of the Horseshoe,  we joined the Miners Track on relatively flat ground. Mark, who was just ahead of Chris and I, had got talking to a lone walker by the reservoir. The guy had done Crib Goch that morning and still looked petrified by the experience. He'd got to the knife edge relatively easily only to have got caught in a strong downpour right at the top. After our breakfast decision Mark and I were worried about whether missing it would take some of the enjoyment out of the day. As it happened, the day was awesome and the had the added bonus of not shitting ourselves and/or falling off.

Snowdon done ... Next stop: Holyhead Mountain.


2. Holyhead Mountain

Significance: Highest peak in Anglesey (Historic CT)
Member of: Marilyn
Elevation: 220m
Date climbed: 25th July 2016
Coordinates: 53°18′47″N 4°40′35″W
Route Start / End: Car park opposite Ty Mawr Hut Circles on South Stack Road
Route Stats: 4 km in 1 hours 10 mins. Elevation gain +141m
Subsidiary tops on route: none

The problem with Holyhead Mountain in that it's a massive pain in the arse to get to. Holyhead an island off an island in the far North West corner of Wales and takes a long time to get there from anywhere other than Snowdonia. At only 220m high and an hour and a half up and down, it not worth the trip unless you’re in the area anyway. Having just completed Snowdon and with several hours of daylight left, we decided to squeeze in Holyhead Mountain before evening beers.

The last time I’d been to Holyhead was in 2010 for the start of the 4-day NCR Route 8 Wales End-To-End cycle trip. Holyhead was once a thriving town supporting the ferry to Dublin, but had long since fallen on hard times. With a fast road and rail connection straight through to the port, there’s now no need to stop in the town. We were staying there overnight before setting off on the ride and really struggled to find anywhere to eat. Only 1 out of 3 shops in the high street were open with the rest either shut or housing a weird local charity. The Anglesey Feral Cat Action Trust was my favourite. If only I’d got the County Top obsession back then I could have bagged Holyhead Mountain then and avoided a return trip.

The walk, like so many of those I’m not expecting much from, turned out to be surprisingly pleasant. From the RSPB car park, its a gentle incline for about 20 minutes towards the big chalky cliff. A relatively straightforward and well sign-posted path leads through beautifully coloured heather to the trig point at the top. We had a warm but cloudy day so couldn’t see all the way to Dublin, just bits of Holyhead harbour and the ferries coming in and out.

Holyhead Mountain

elevation_profile - Holyhead Mountain.jpg

3. Moel Famau

Significance: Highest peak in Flintshire (Historic CT)
Member of: Marilyn
Elevation: 555m
Date climbed: 26th July 2016
Coordinates: 53°09′16″N 3°15′21″W
Route Start / End: Car park opposite Pen Barras Lodge on Bwlch Pen Barras Road
Route Stats: 4.4 km in 1 hours 23 mins. Elevation gain +271 m
Subsidiary tops on route: none

Just like Holyhead Mountain, Moel Famau isn’t a County Top that you’d make a big effort to get to just for itself. The summit itself is surrounded by a Country Park with various routes to the top and nice views. We picked the main route from the car-park at the bottom making the round trip in an hour and a half.

The main highlight of Moel Famau is the ruins of the Jubilee Tower, an Egyptian-style monument built in 1810 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of George III. It was never completed and the actual tower was destroyed in a storm 1862 leaving the base that you can see today.


5. Cadair Berwyn

Significance: Highest peak in Denbighshire (Historic CT), Wrexham (Council Top)
Member of: Marilyn, Hewitt, Nuttall
Elevation: 832m
Coordinates: 52°53′02″N 3°22′49″W

4. Mole Sych

Significance: Highest peak in Montgomeryshire (Historic CT)
Member of: Marilyn, Nuttall
Elevation: 827m
Coordinates: 52°52′34″N 3°23′19″W

For both peaks:
Date climbed: 27th July 2016
Route Start / End: Car park at Pistyll Rhaeadr Waterfall
Route Stats: 10.5 km in 3 hours 58 mins. Elevation gain +597m
Subsidiary tops on route: Cadair Berwyn North Top

Two tops in one trip: this was the highlight of the 5-County Top adventure as it was one that I’d not done before and a long, interesting trek. We’d saved this one for last as it was on our way back down South from our base on Betws-y-Coed.

The obvious starting point is a car park at the base of Tan-y-Pistyll Falls, the longest single-drop waterfall in the UK. Jonny Muir’s book recommends a there-and-back route to Cadiar Berwyn via Moel Sych. We followed this route up, but descended via a parallel path on the East side of the valley, ending up a mile further South from the car park. I definitely recommend this as is a far more interesting walk.

Navigation is easy for most of the route except, we found, for a small section near the top of the waterfall leading up to Moel Sych. It took a couple of attempts to find the small path however once on it, its an obvious route to the summit.

We read that Moel Sych was once considered the County Top of both Montgomeryshire and Denbighshire until someone noticed that Cadair Berwyn was higher and both counties got their own summit. When you’re at the top its obvious which one is the higher and hard to imagine how it too so long to discover it.

The route down follows a path curving down the side of a steep drop. Safe enough on a clear day like we had, however I’d seriously consider returning via the Moel Sych route on a low-visibility winter’s day.  

route-28201389-map-full Moel Sych & Cadair Berwyn.png

All in all, this was a packed 3 day trip with some great walks. With an extra day I would have added Aran Fawddwy too but I'm sure it will still be there next time we visit. 

Richard gowerComment