Trail magazine’s 'Walks of a Lifetime' series takes you on a guided tour of the greatest mountain routes in Britain. This time we’re heading to Snowdonia and the mighty Moel Siabod, with experienced mountain connoisseur Tom Bailey as our guide.
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On those long drives into north Wales, one peak in particular lets you know the mountains of Snowdonia are imminent – Moel Siabod. And it’s this 872m beauty that we’re going to climb today.
Normally overlooked in favour of the usual suspects down the road, Moel Siabod deserves your attention. Proof of this is just east of the village of Capel Curig, as the drive along the A5 nears its end, where you’ll see the most dramatic aspect of the mountain. Thrusting skywards, it forms the most perfect pyramid. Add to this an airy ridge, plus the best view of Snowdon, and you have the recipe for a mountain day you’ll remember for a long time.
There’s a couple of car parks by the cool, shady woodland south-east of Capel Curig, by Pont-Cyfyng (map point 1, grid ref SH736571). This is the ideal place to start the route. Think of Moel Siabod as a cake with a quarter of it missing. Luckily for us, it’s this missing piece that creates the interest, for the mountain’s south-east ridge, the formidable south-east face and the quiet waters of Llyn y Foel all exist in this quadrant. And that’s where we’re going.
Crossing the Afon Llugwy at (map point 2, SH734571), follow the lane for a short distance before branching off to the right, heading brazenly along tracks in a south-westerly direction. At (map point 3, SH728565) you’ll notice several things. Firstly just how wonderful Snowdonia is, and secondly the inevitable signs of quarries. The slate quarry at Rhos (where we stand now) was a successful venture, unlike the more impressive one we’ll come to in a bit, which nestles under the crags of the mountain. This was known as the Foel quarry, and despite the owner’s best efforts it never proved profitable in the same way as the lower one. If you scratch the surface of anything there’s always more to the story, and walking through the quarries with this knowledge, the signs of human endeavour seem that much more poignant.
Continuing in a south-westerly direction you’ll brush by the side of a reservoir that supplied the Rhos Quarry. We soon start to work our way under the rapidly forming south-east face of Moel Siabod, a short climb bringing the previously mentioned Foel quarry into touching distance (map point 4, SH718555). A careful explore is well worth it. You don’t have to go far off the path to get the feeling of what it might have been like to live and work alongside the mountain, as several slate-built buildings survive with fragmentary roofs echoing the shape of the mountain. The view back to the lower quarry from here is very impressive.
The path continues towards the south-west, rising up into the bowl, or the missing cake slice. Once you catch sight of Llyn y Foel swing away from the path and head for the south-east corner of the island-encrusted lake. I’ve walked the normal route to the north of the Llyn several times – it’s boggy and not that rewarding. Heading on a wider bearing minimises the bog and brings rewards in the way of views across the water to the object of desire – the Daear Ddu ridge.
A small curving stone dam at the outflow (map point 5, SH716548) leads onto an elongated band of rock that plunges into the depths, and provides a walkway towards the base of the Daear Ddu ridge.
In its lower easterly section, the ridge lacks the definition that the higher south-easterly portion offers, but be patient, it’s well worth the wait. With each metre of height gained, the Llyn seems to shrink back another 20. Before long you’re looking for the best line up the rock. Never scary, this is one fun ridge (provided you’re comfortable on Grade 1 scrambling terrain). The rock slants to your right, soon forming near-vertical cliffs. Progress is swift, too swift. You want this to last, so sit and take it all in, but that nagging voice will keep dragging you to your feet and onwards, upwards, with fistfuls of rock. Why this gem of a ridge isn’t more widely known I’ll never know. One thing is for sure, anyone who knows their stuff is aware of it. Welcome to the club.
All good things come to an end. In this case, they just get better but in a different way. At the summit (map point 6, SH705546), which conveniently lies pretty much at the top of the ridge, you’ll be struck by something awesome. The view towards the Snowdon Massif. To start with, there’s a stone trig point, constructed on a band of cresting rock; a last-ditch attempt by the mountain to reach upwards. Moel Siabod’s not going down without a fight. Looking westwards, the foreground is littered with angular boulders. Look into the distance at the far-off mountains of Snowdon, Crib Goch, Y Lliwedd, Yr Aran, Moel Hebog… Looking eastwards gives you the chance to relive the excitement of the ridge and look along the crags you’ll be walking on top of in a few minutes. There are distant rumours that gold was found somewhere on the south-east face. Alas they are of such dubious veracity that maybe they were never more than that. One place you will find gold is in the marshy bog above Llyn y Foel, for if you choose to walk around that side in late June you’re bound to see the golden flower stems of bog asphodel, with their star-shaped yellow flowers appearing to glitter.
Enough botanising, let’s head along the length of Siabod’s summit, towards the north-east. It’s rocky going, so stay close to the crag on your right. Ignore the path for now – we’ll catch up with it in a bit – we’re going to milk this mountain for all it’s worth. The further you get away from the summit, look back with more regularity. A side-on view of our ridge is what we’re after, complete with Llyn and summit. After about 1km, at map point 7 (SH713555), turn abruptly to the north-north-west, where you’ll head off the crest of the now forming downward ridge and head onto the wide, bland flanks of Siabod. Before long you’ll bisect the ‘normal’ path. Follow this in a north-north-east direction. This bearing continues more or less all the way down the mountain, it wiggles a bit through large areas of plantation, much of which has been felled recently, before spitting you out at a bridge over the river (map point 8, SH716577). A path back to the car gives you the opportunity to explore the expansive strip of broadleaved woodland, largely sessile oak. If it’s May or early June you’re in for a treat if you keep your eyes and ears open, for this type of woodland in the west of our great nation is home to two or three stunning little birds. Redstarts, wood warblers, but most of all the beautiful pied flycatcher (the male is unmistakably black and white).
There’s the choice of making a short detour to the Moel Siabod Café back out on the A5, before rejoining this country stroll that will roll you back, alive with the wonders of nature. But before you arrive back at the Afon Llugwy, you’ll see an old, derelict stone barn near the track. Look south-westwards over it, over the billowing oak woodland to the now familiar mountain that I guarantee you’ll come back to. I think you’ve fallen, ever so slightly for this Welsh princess. After more giddy reflection return to the start, and the metal box that will whisk you away to the madness of regular life.
WHERE DO I START?
You’ll start and finish in one of the car parks at grid ref SH736571 at Pont-Cyfyng. The nearest town is Betws-y-Coed, a few miles east down the A5.
WHAT’S THE TERRAIN LIKE?
A real mixture of road, track, boggy moorland, plantation, deciduous woodland, riverside path, rocky mountain ridge, boulder field and mountain stream crossing.
HOW HARD IS THE WALK?
This is a classic, rocky Snowdonia mountain route. It’s not too long or too high, but you’ll need to be comfortable with Grade 1 scrambling terrain on the Daear Ddu ridge.
WHAT MAP SHOULD I USE?
OS Explorer OL17 & OL18 (1:25k); OS Landranger 115 (1:50k); Harvey Superwalker XT25 Snowdonia North (1:25k)
WHERE CAN I STAY?
The Rocks at Plas Curig is very fancy for a ‘hostel’. The Plas y Brenin National Outdoor Centre has B&B rooms and bunkhouse options. Live it up self-catering with a group of friends at St Curig’s Church.
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