Western Wales County Tops


“Remote” and “obscure” are relative terms. If you live in Aberystwyth then Arran Fawddwy, Plynlimon and Foel Cwmcerwyn are all local and accessible peaks. If, like the rest of the us, you don’t then they’re a bugger to get to.

Over my 7 years of County Topping I’d managed to pick off the rest of Wales. Snowdon came first and I’d repeated it several times. The rest of the North was ticked in one trip in 2016, the South in 2014 and all between came on weekend adventures over the years. The final 3 are pretty well spaced out so they could only be done on a road trip rather than a single location adventure. If I’d known earlier that this trip would be such fun I’d have tackled these much earlier.

As is mandatory for all weekend trips now, travel happens on a Friday after work. Saturday starts with the nearest parkrun not yet done. This time is was Dolgellau, a beautiful course along the Afon Mawddach river and Madwddach Trail. The Sustrans signs along the route reminded me that I’d passed through here before on my NCN8 end to end Wales trip in 2010.

  1. Arran Fawddwy

Significance: Historic County Top of Merionethshire
Member of: Hewitt, Marilyn, Nuttall
Elevation: 907m,
Date climbed: 22/06/2019
Coordinates: 52.7880° N, 3.6881° W
Route Start / End: Out and back from Llanuwchllyn, LL23 7TR
Route Stats: 18.2k / 11.3 miles + 898 / - 898 m elevation
Subsidiary tops on route: Arran Benllyn (885m), Erw y Ddafad-ddu (872m)
Other routes touched: none

Llanuwchllyn, our start point for the Arran Fawddwy, walk was only 20 minutes from Dolgellau so we were on the trail by 11:00. We were lucky with the weather and had a the most amazing sunny day with clear skies and view for miles. The 360° view from the summit was a rare prize amongst so many cloudy summit days in my Welsh trekking experience.

Arran Fawddwy is a long but easy trek with only a small bit of scrambling in the last 20 minutes. It’s quiet up there too. At 2976 feet it narrowly misses out on being in the Welsh 3000s and the nearby Cadair Idris gets much more attention. If it wasn’t for it being a County Top I’d likely never have gone there either. That would have been a shame as this was one of my most enjoyable UK hikes in several years.

Once off the mountain we drove an hour South to the YHA at Borth. I didn’t know what to expect when I booked this one. My friend who was in charge of accommodation booking had made such an arse of it, I had to take over with only a month to go. This one was booked on the only criteria that it was near Plynlimon and still available.

As it turned out, Borth was a hidden gem. It’s an old Seaside resort that missed the memo about the need to become cheap and tacky. Our room in the YHA was spacious and had a sea view. Dinner in the seafront Victoria Inn and a beach walk back topped off a perfect adventure day in Wales.


2. Plynlimon

Also known as: Pumlumon Fawr
Significance: Historic County Top of Cardiganshire
Member of: Hewitt, Marilyn, Nuttall
Elevation: 752m,
Date climbed: 23/06/2019
Coordinates: 52.4675°N 3.7828°W
Route Start / End: Out and back from parking place on Nant-y-Moch eastern road plus a loop of Pumlumon Fach
Route Stats: 8k / 5 miles + 400 / - 400 m elevation
Subsidiary tops on route: Pumlumon Fach (664m)
Other routes touched: none

Plynlimon is just a few miles as the crow flies from Borth. We were driving though so it took a winding 45 minute trip so many hairpin bends and a route around the Nant-y-Moch reservoir.

The start of the trail is a small parking spot on the Maesnant road where it meets a farm track. There's 2 options from here: an out and back following the Maesnant stream or a circuit of the Pumlumon Fach. As we were following Jonny Muir's guide an wanted a more interesting route. We opted for the circular plus a couple of detours to bag the summits of Pumlumon Fach and an unnamed peak nearby.

Plynlimon was a much shorter trek than yesterday's Arran Fawddwy trip so we were back down by lunchtime and quickly on the road towards Newport YHA. Even with a short stop to bag a bonus Trig Pillar near Cardigan we arrived at the YHA by 15:00. I'd not read the check-in instructions so didn't realise that we were 2 hours too early. We could get a whole other mountain bagged in that time.


3. Foel Cwmcerwyn

Significance: Historic County Top of Pembrokeshire
Member of: Marilyn
Elevation: 536m,
Date climbed: 23/06/2019
Coordinates: 51°56′44″N 4°46′29″W
Route Start / End: Out and back from parking place on B4329
Route Stats: 8k / 5 miles + 400 / - 400 m elevation
Subsidiary tops on route: Pumlumon Fach (664m)
Other routes touched: none

By the time wed reached the parking spot for Foel Cwmcerwyn it was proper rainy. The summit was apparently not far away but we couldn't see anything. Sticking to the GPS route and a straightforward path we arrived at the Trig Point in under and hour. The completion of the Welsh County Tops was a bit of an anticlimax in a damp field with views stretching across the nearest 15 metres.


4. Werfa

Also known as: Mynydd Llangeinwyr
Present-Day County Top of Bridgend
Member of: N/A
Elevation: 568m,
Date climbed: 24/06/2019
Coordinates: 51.6412°N 3.5726°W
Route Start / End: Out and back from parking place on B4329
Route Stats: 8k / 5 miles + 400 / - 400 m elevation
Subsidiary tops on route: Pumlumon Fach (664m)
Other routes touched: none

Having conquered both Plynlimon and Foel Cwmceryn in 1 day we had a spare morning before heading back home. We researched the Welsh Present-day County Tops we settled on Werfa, the high point of Bridgend. It ticked off our main criteria of being an actual mountain, not far from the M4 and having a Trig Pillar.

Based on other people's Blog Posts we parked at a layby on the A4107 and took a bearing up through the fields to the Trig just behind a radio transmitter. In a clear day the massive wind turbine would have been a useful target. Low cloud meant that we could see the bottom 10m of it and only when we were already up close.

From the Trig Pillar we followed the access road back down to the road, crossing it and heading North to Crug Yr Afan, another Trig Pillar. In hindsight the parking spot on the road between the two trigs would have been better. The map here shows the route using that spot.

All in all, this was a great weekend adventure and an efficient way to bag these 3 relatively remote Welsh County Tops. With Wales and Northern Ireland now completed, next year's summer trip must surely be the final 3 in Northern England.


Richard gowerComment