Apologies for the subterfuge, I will do anything for a snappy headline. The "horse" of the title refers to the dizzy heights of Allt y Ceffylau, in English, "the Hill of the Horse", a hill that circles the north east side of Cwmorthin and allows a high-level journey with many fine views.
The photographs were taken on several different visits during the summer, showing the considerable vagaries of the weather!
However you choose to make the ascent up to Allt y Ceffylau, the climb will be a tough one. I've done it a few times, but most recently I slogged up through the shattered remains of Cwmorthin quarry to the bwlch, where one can look down on the Oakeley workings and the Crimea Pass far below. Earlier this year, I also climbed up via the precipitous face of Craig Nyth y Gigfran, thinking to gain some new views of Wrysgan quarry across the way. It was an exhilarating, if exhausting, scramble but the photos were worth the effort.
You realise, though, that once having attained the bwlch and savoured the views on either side, you have achieved nothing. The vast mass of Allt y Ceffylau looms above, like the back of an enormous, well, horse.
I took quite a few photos while on the bwlch, using the photography as a pretext for getting my wind back. There were good views over to the Manods and to Moel Penamnen. The sounds were interesting, too- the constant crunching and gnashing from the slate reprocessing plant down at the Oakeley, mingled with screams of terror from the Zip Wire thrill-junkies at Llechwedd. The occasional whistle from the Ffestiniog Railway down below completed the soundscape.
But the climb could not be put off. I hadn't been farther than the bwlch before, so this was new ground for me. It's immediately apparent that you are climbing up over folds in rock, rising in a series of ledges with relatively flat areas in between, sloping down slightly towards the edge of the abyss to the cwm below.
On the way up, I discovered a couple of little sheep folds, crudely built from rocks found lying about. I can't imagine how difficult it must have been to gather sheep in this terrain. Each sheepfold appeared to have a rudimentary shelter for the shepherd, too...I can see that such a refuge would be welcome in the capricious weather up here.
Eventually, with knees screaming, I made it to a plateau, giving respite with easier vegetation and walking. Except that the area all around was crossed by what I could only describe as crevasses, huge cracks that had opened up in the ground. I'd seen some a few years earlier, on an expedition to the Nyth-y-Gigfran mine but wasn't quite prepared for larger versions, further up the mountain. I can imagine that, in winter, these must be a real hazard.
These disturbances happened back in 1884 when a major part of the Cwmorthin Quarry's Back Vein workings, above and below ground, collapsed. This brought over six million tons of rock down and started a major blame dispute between the Oakeley and Cwmorthin, whose boundaries met deep underground. Production at Cwmorthin was severely affected, falling from 11,600 tons in 1884 to 6,900 tons by 1896. It effectively closed off half the workings.
While on this level, I encountered the remains of the Llyn Bach reservoir. It makes a mysterious sight, and it was only with some imagination that I could visualise what it must have looked like before. There was a curious tap house at one side and various makeshift walls, obviously to increase the water capacity of what was a fairly small lake. But right down the middle of it was a mighty crack, which must have drained the place fairly rapidly. It was dry now, what water that might collect these days draining down to the depths below. There were more remains here of what looked like another sheepfold, perhaps pre-dating the reservoir. A line of leat pillars runs down the steep slope to the Oakeley from here- they must have supported a wooden channel for the water, as there were no remains of pipes.
At last, the rounded summit of Allt y Ceffylau was reached. It's a bit of a disappointment as, being so domed, there aren't many views, apart from to the north and to Snowdon. I took a shot of Snowdon- as far as I know, this isn't National Trust land, so the NT can't come after me for fees.
I chanced a walk to the edge of the hill above Cwmorthin, too...the light is tricky in the afternoon during the summer from the North, but it is certainly a different view. I was almost directly above Cwmorthin Uchaf farm house, which I've covered in other posts, but basically it's claim to justified fame is that it was inhabited by the same family for 500 years...ordinary folk, that is, not a bunch of snorting arsitocrats. It is a delight, sitting up high above the cwm and gazing down on places that I have photographed at very close quarters. Incidentally, in the photo below, those white specks in the bottom left hand corner are sheep!
A lens was changed at this point on my old Nikon- I normally use am 18-50 Sigma on my much-loved, steam-driven Nikon D80, but here I loaded a Nikon 150mm to try and catch a shot of Rhosydd quarry, sitting high on the bwlch at the end of the cwm.
It's at times like this that I wish I was a Raven... I become gripped by a desire to visit all the places that I can see from a distance...I want to wander round the mill at Conglog, check out the slopes of Moelwyn bach, or stand and sense the ghosts at Cwmorthin Uchaf. I could buzz over them all, wings "wuffing", making those cool Raven sounds.
I was very fortunate on one of my trips, to have the fine company of Ben, a hill walker with a great deal of experience of the French and Italian alps. He hadn't walked before in Snowdonia apart from ascending Cadair the day before...but he seemed to be enjoying the views. I had a great deal of fun pointing out the sights, but I hope my enthusiasm didn't drive Ben potty.
Once on the plateau from Allt y Ceffylau, the terrain changes subtly. There are many small Llyniau all of which were used by the water-hungry Rhosydd Mine to power their equipment. Back in the 1850's, water was a big deal, more important than steam, as coal couldn't easily be brought to these high mines without a lot of effort. And this is Wales- it rains a lot!
After this, it was a relatively straightforward descent down to the Rhosydd plateau, over spongy, soft ground that was easy on the old knees. I returned down the jarring path to the cwm, passing all those features that I'd recently seen from high above...a nice feeling of perspective.
The walk took about four hours, it should be within the scope of any reasonably fit person equipped with good waterproofs and boots. A compass is handy in case the mist descends while on the summit of Allt y Ceffylau, as it has a habit of doing!
Thanks to Ben, for his excellent company.
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