Friday, 26 October 2012

Some mysterious promised land

Once I met a man on the Migneint. The shock to each of us was almost disabling. Then he changed course and made haste to intercept me. I went forward with mixed feelings since I could see at a distance that he was a shepherd, and the area is a National Trust restricted access estate. But he greeted me warmly, telling me that he:d been out there every day for six weeks and hadn't seen a soul. It wasn't easy to get away.

East of Ffestiniog two roads diverge, enclosing a triangle of high moorland. Just inside and just above these roads a gentle ridge sweeps round, nearly encircling a shallow desolate depression, a secret place, the Migneint. This is a landscape insistent on a single theme. Long miles of heather, spacious stream systems, bottomless sphag­num bogs, a couple of tiny lakes, juncus marshes. Neither roads nor paths may be seen in any direction. A solitary feature dominates the waste. From the east Arenig Fach looks into it: a little hill which, with a powdering of snow and nothing to lend it scale, sometimes assumes an aspect of indefinite distance and colossal bulk.

There's nothing theatrical about the Migneint, and in fact it's sensed as much as seen. A first crossing ought really to be made by compass in thick cloud, and the ability to walk fairly long shots to precise locations would be helpful. The experience, though memorable, would not appeal to everyone. But if it tempts you, follow me. Firstly, pull on your wellingtons, then start from 776 443,where you may or may not find a milestone A bearing on Llechwedd-mawr will take you straight into peat hags. Work through  around these and find the spot height. Then make your way to Llyn Serw and down to the stream to the west. Soon you will come upon a lost little cliff on the bank.

Take a break at this mysterious place while I explain what's so good about this walk. In a fair number of excursions, I've discovered less than a dozen positive features on the Migneint. There's the small cliff you are sitting by; the tiny lakes of Serw and Dywarchen; an ancient slate mine, its approach route now swallowed by the swamps; a crude shelter high up the Arenig. And there is Cefngarw, a lonely habitation now used only for sheep-gathering. When I first entered it, a few outlandish Welsh names were scribbled on the plaster and the signatures- get ready- of two Germans POW's. A life-size ram was drawn in meticulous detail on one wall and a short verse was written on another:

Look after all the kettles / Be careful with the wood / We leave the door unbolted / As long as you'll be good.'

It feels like the last place on earth but once a post­man walked here twice a week if occasion demanded. Lately some fencing has reaches up the valley to this area. A new generation makes its doomed but courageous attempt to subdue the sodden moor. Now when, after a half-hour of driving rain or mist, you suddenly stumble on one of these landmark-, you experience what I can only describe as a sense of encounter. There is a curious atmosphere, preternatural though by no means hostile. You tend to loiter for longer than there is good reason. The faculties dazed by the endless jewelled particularity of vegetation, pool and stream, suddenly regroup in some sort of force field.

To continue. Make your way to the top of Arenig Fach. If, after a few days of heavy rain, you visit Cefngarw and then head for spot height 1,507 you may find the trivial Afon Serw slightly awkward to cross. From the summit the most appropriate route of return is to follow the long procession of boundary stones on the ridge west and north. You will take in Carnedd Iago. (From the south-west, forestry plantation threatens the Migneint skyline.) You can visit Dywarchen‑ And you can strike out for the road early or late according to inclination. If time presses, a shorter route would use the Nant y Gangen and Nant Llwyni-howel.

By now I can fancy murmurs of protest. The party has been marched up the wrong side of the mountain and then sent back home the same way. The east face with its fine lake A shapely structure has been deliberately concealed from view. The point is this: there are plenty of mountains around here but only one Migneint. The route described makes the most of it, permitting no early overview. If you can fix the transport, you could work out your own descent to the Llyn Celyn road. The going is difficult over most of this ground but in fine conditions a strong walker would make nothing of it. It is, after all, a quite small piece of land. So for those with support and with no objection to crossing a metalled road the logical extensions may be worth noting.

Arenig Fach is matched to the south by Arenig Fawr. The match is perfect. And the Migneint develops more scenically to the north-west, around the Llynnau Gamallt. This is a beautiful complex of lakes and crags offering excellent short walks, but it would be wrong to single out just one of these. There remains the big Arenig and this time, I suppose, we take the popular route: up to the lake; easily round the east and south shores or, more daringly, nearer climbers' territory, by the west, and up the Bryn y Dyfrgi. On approaching the top of this admirable hill you cross a rock-strewn plateau. Here you will see a scatter of aircraft wreckage, the remains of a Flying Fortress, and close by a memorial to the eight Americans who died here on August 4, 1943.

The names slide off the memory but the states of origin are added and strike a strange resonance: Idaho, Wyoming, and the rest. The huge machine, its crew at ease maybe, pounding steadily through the cloud so many years ago, to meet the very summit of the immovable Arenig.

Harold Drasdo: First published in Classic Walks: Photos John Appleby