At the far end of Cwm Cywarch, one of the quieter corners of Snowdonia, a faded tatty information poster framed in wood describes the old system of transhumance. Farmers would move their livestock around the mountains between higher and lower pastures in time with the seasons, staying on higher ground during the warmer summer months and retreating down to the valleys for winter. Hafod was described as the ‘summer resting place’, whilst a winter dwelling was known as Hendre.
With a few days to go before before summer solstice, I went to find my own Hafod at the base of Aran Fawddwy high above the Cwm Cywarch valley. A long backpack in the sun through the valleys and over the ridges before a wild camp on the shore of a tarn at the foot of one of Snowdonias finest but often overlooked mountains. I’d been introduced to the Arans a few years ago by James, it’s a striking mountain range and from certain angles Aran Fawddwy looks menacing. A canine pointed summit cresting a long ridge, holding that almost pyramidical shape that children make when asked to draw mountains. Summer was absent for the first few hours, thick clouds were smothered thick overhead. As time passed some promising shafts of sunlight found their way through the grey and lit up the green slopes of Y Berwyn, bright bursts of rhododendron made the empty valley feel a little more like midsummer.
An easy climb up the valley led to a series of deep pools and waterfalls at the edge of a pine plantation, amongst the mossy rocks of Pistyll Gwyn made an ideal spot to stop and refuel for mid morning coffee and cake, this was supposed to be all about resting after all. Leaving the waterfalls behind, the land opened up and spread out in a grassy plateau covered in hares cotton grass, thousands of soft white heads on thin stalks bobbing back and forth together in the breeze under the dark Aran ridge which dominated the skyline in the north. Rather than heading up to the ridge I turned left and made for the rounded hill of Waun Goch and followed a further track path to Pen yr Allt Uchaf. Walking up steep hills usually prompts a few breathless pauses to rest aching legs, but here it was the descents that were exhausting, warranting a break every few minutes to save trembling knees find a safe way down. The drop into Cywarth required a little patience, without trekking poles to lean over it was necessary to use all fours and contour back and forth to get down into the valley. Crossing the valley and climbing to the lower slopes of Glasgwm became warm work with a sudden change in the weather, the thick grey clouds of the morning had mostly gone and blue skies reigned overhead allowing warm summer sunshine to break through.The good conditions remained for much of the afternoon as I passed over the top of Glasgwm and joined the ridge. You have to pinch yourself when the conditions turn out like this, perfect backpacking weather under warm sunshine, a gentle breeze and endless views in all directions. The weather gods were indeed smiling this afternoon. The sky stayed clear for just long enough, the summit of Aran Fawddwy is the highest point for many miles in most directions. As the sun started to dip and make the air hazy, the land out to the east turned golden in the warm evening light, an endless vista of hills and deep valleys. After leaving the summit an unexpected thick mist blew in and took away much of the evening light, it all looked very dramatic for a few minutes before turning into a gloomy shade of grey. After many hours of walking high and low with a pack on I was more than happy to retire and find my well earned summer resting place on the shores of Llyn Lliwbran. By the time a tent had been pitched, the top of Aran Fawddwy had been swallowed by the mist. Sat down by the waters edge I fried up some chorizo and a few vegetables with rice and proceeded to eat until I could eat no more. I did my resting place proud and slept through the night till well after nine the next morning, although it was grey and cloudy again I knew the weather was due to brighten up and considered waiting for the sun to come out to allow a quick dip in the lake. Then again this was supposed to be a resting place and the idea of a cold swim lost out to idling, drinking coffee and laying around doing nothing for a few hours.
A tributary flowed from the lake all the way down to Afon Dyfi where I’d parked in Llanymawddwy, it made good sense to follow the stream from its source all the way down to the road and let the water do all the navigation. The stream trickled thin through cotton grass before widening and rushing over rocks as waterfalls into deep plunge pools. Even under the mornings dull grey sky the greens of the treetops and valleys seemed to shine. I ignored the footpaths in favour of following the stream all the way to the road, wading in the cold water when the banks became overgrown with trees. A fine way to end a walk in the heart of summer.
Back at the starting point I got a good old fashioned ticking off from a local old woman for leaving my car overnight in the village, she told me it was irresponsible to not leave a sign on the dashboard saying when I’d be back. A fair point, but I always think this can be an open invitation to get your car broken into, not that I have any sentimental attachment to the scratched CDs and empty coffee cups on the inside but getting back home could be a problem. I tried to explain that I always let friends know where I’m going she wasn’t having it. We left on good terms and when I return in December to find my Hendre I was given strict instructions to post a note through her door to say when I’d be back.