Tel y Fan

At 2003 feet, Tel y Fan just makes the cut for mountain status in the British Isles. It is an unassuming mound of rock and earth that rises up among the various smaller hills that surrounds its base. However, being on the outskirts of Snowdonia National Park, means this mountain is rarely visited by the usual crowds of hikers and walkers that tend to swarm over the more famous peaks during sunny days. This, coupled with its status as the most northerly Welsh mountain, means that from its summit you are greeted with incredible views over both the Carneddau Range and the North Welsh coast.

The really steep village of Penmaenmawr

I began my walk at 11:00 am, taking the A55  from Bangor to Penmeanmawr, luckily I found that parking near the village library is free, although it did leave me with quite a hill to climb.  After half an hour of being lost in the small, but impossibly steep town of Penmeanmawr, I finally stumbled upon the aptly named Mountain Lane which led directly up to plateau above. In all honesty the beginning of this walk was the hardest part of the day, as the route led up a steep asphalt road from near sea level to a height of about 200 meters. The sun was shining hard and because the area is sheltered by the mountains there was no cool breeze to keep the heat down. Soon I was entering that delightful phase I call the walker’s delirium; sweat pouring down my brow, mindlessly singing and rambling to myself, begging to turn back. But I endured and before long a strong easterly breeze rushed through my body and into my grateful lungs. Cooled and refreshed, I continued on the single path, which by now had turned into a mud track, and I soon found myself in the foothills that mark the beginning of the Carneddau Range.

The Penmaenmawr plateau

Normally here I would describe my route however the area around Tal y Fan is filled with a series of meandering and entwining paths and although the land appears deceptively flat there are actually many dips and falls that can make it hard to get a clear bearing of your own whereabouts. I had already tried to complete this walk with some flatmates but had gotten lost and the bitterly cold wind made checking a map almost impossible. Even towards the end of this walk I lost the path and began simply slogging my way up the mountainside. Therefore if you want a good clear route to the summit check out  these sites because you won’t be able to find one here. Long story short, by 1:30 pm I had reached the summit of Tal y Fan.

Conwy from the Penmaenmawr plateau

Thankfully the view made it all worth it. If from below Tal y Fan looks like a giant, then from the top it seems to be only a child in comparison to its parent peaks of the great Carneddau Range. Patches of glittering snow still adorned the peak of Carnedd Llewelyn and the river Conwy stretched out below me, lazily meandering through the valley. My view reached from Great Orme to Bangor Pier and Anglesey, with a beautiful intense blue sky serving as a backdrop.

Tal y Fan summit and the Conwy Valley below
The Carneddau Range from Tal y Fan

However among the rolling hillocks and coarse grass of the Penmaenmawr plateau lies a hidden history. What initially appears to be a rather empty landscape to most, is in truth an archaeologist’s playground. Ancient Neolithic monuments cover the land, from stone circles and standing stones to barrows and burial cairns. It is reckoned this area had been inhabited for over 5000 years and that this plateau was once the site to one of Europe’s most important polished stone axe manufacturing sites (because if there’s any business that’s going to be booming in Neolithic times, it’s going to be the stone axe business). With time, I descending off the summit and headed as directly as I could across fen and farmland towards one such Neolithic monument, known as the Druid’s Circle; a stone circle built almost 3,000 years ago and perhaps the most obvious of the prehistoric sites on show. One additional site I managed to find was the Fridd Wanc barrow which has been unceremoniously crowned with a rather ugly telegraph pole, which at least made it easier to spot. In retrospect, despite the large amount of prehistoric sites here, most of them go unseen by the average walker, mistaken for a small collection rocks or an unassuming mound of earth, the ordnance survey map of this area is littered with words like stone circle and cairns, but they usually remain hidden in plain view.

The Druid’s Circle and Tal y Fan

Throughout this journey however my eye had been continuously lured towards the unignorable site of Penmaenmawr Mountain, or at least what remains of it. Throughout the late 1800’s and early 20th century the mountain was mined for slate and is now considerably shorter that it once was due to the sheer scale of the mining that took place there. Sadly the site was also home to the ancient Braich y Dinas Hillfort. One of the largest of its kind in Europe and the crowning glory of the Penmaenmawr plateau, however this status could not protect it from the drive of industry or the power of dynamite. Today nothing remains, except perhaps a few chunks of stone, lost within the enormous piles of discarded slate. As a student of history it really saddens me whenever I hear stories of such great cultural treasures being so utterly destroyed. From Braich y Dinas, to Nimrud, and the great Buddhas of Bamiyan it is a terrible tragedy that we should never again bare witness to such ancient wonders.

Penmaenmawr Mine: the former site of Braich-y-Dinas

Whilst driving back home, I considered myself lucky to live in a country where, at least these days, so much care and protection is given to our precious historical sites.

But then I remember that telegraph pole on Fridd Wanc and I was left doubting.

Thus concludes my tale, if you have stories you wish to share or if you enjoyed this post feel free to leave a note in the comments, or leave a like and thanks for reading.

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