Date: 19th June 2021.
Weather conditions: A beautiful summer’s day. No complaints at all.
County Top bagged: Moel Famau, the summit of which stands at grid reference SJ161626. There is a trig point on the top with a spot height of 1,818 feet/554m, but the ramparts of the nearby Jubilee Tower are, obviously, a little higher than this even at their base. This point sits on the boundary between the modern local authorities of Denbighshire and Flintshire, and it is the Top of the latter one. Flintshire — albeit with different boundaries — is also a historic county, and so Moel Famau makes both lists.
In terms of altitude it ranks:
- 45th of the 91 historic Tops;
- 40th of the 172 modern Tops;
- 57th of the full list of 196.
This is the highest point of the Clwydian Hills, which extend up through the north-easternmost part of Wales (making this my first Welsh CT in eighteen months, since Craig y Llyn).
“Moel” is a Welsh name that translates as “bare hill”, and “Famau” may mean “Mothers” but there is some dispute about this. “Mothers’ Bare Hill” seems a reasonable appellation to me however; although, is it named for mothers generally, or someone’s mother in particular? We will never know. As far as I can ascertain, the name is pronounced roughly as mool-VAMma.
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Start and end point of walk: The main car park for the Loggerheads Country Park, which stands on the A494, between the towns of Mold and Ruthin. Under usual conditions, you should be able to get a bus to this point from Chester bus station. Alas, we still do not live under usual conditions, so I had to drive today. The walk took me just under three and a half hours.
Pub at end: With regret, I foresook the chance to visit We Three Loggerheads, which is right across the road from the car park. A definite disadvantage of driving. But it looked nice from the outside, at least. There is also a café at Loggerheads, and ample outdoor seating to consume your cups of tea, ice cream, etc.
Feet of ascent: 1,510 feet/460m approx.
Distance walked: I did 8.1 miles/13km approx, but note that I went wrong at one point towards the end and took a detour which lengthened the walk.
Difficulty: ★★★. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by the relatively pastoral scenes lower down. There are steep sections to come, in both ascent and descent. There is nothing difficult enough to demand the fourth star, but the award of three is definitely justified.
Ease of access: ★★★. As noted above, I would have liked to have done this one by public transport but the X1 Chester – Ruthin bus was an early casualty of The Great Fear and has not yet returned. However, should it do so, it stops right outside the Loggerheads car park. Either way, it’s easy enough to get there by car, too. Come off the end of the M56 (Manchester – Chester), continue straight along the A494, following signs to Ruthin, and it’s about 20 minutes from the end of the motorway.
Scenic qualities: ★★★★. Excellent scenery. The view from the summit is spectacular: with Cadair Idris and Snowdon both clearly in view, and each being near the coast, one can basically see all of northern Wales. The early parts of the walk through the Alyn valley are also good to look at.
The area: Flintshire (or as the Welsh call it, Sir y Fflint) is border territory. It has been both Welsh and English at different points in history. At around the time of the Domesday Book, it was part of Cheshire, but the Welsh then took it back in the 1200s, before Edward I marched in and forcibly ended any local notions of autonomy. Until 1974 the historic county was mainly notable for having two completely separate sections, but it was then abolished and absorbed into the short-lived county of Clwyd, before being reinstated, with different borders, in 1996.
The place names are Welsh, and someone did greet me in Welsh on the way up (Bore da — good morning), but in this area one hardly feels like a border has been crossed. I’ve been to the town of Flint in the past, and the dominant accent there is Liverpudlian, closely followed by Polish — accents also very evident on the many walkers about today.
Map: As I passed his cottage at Pentre, some guy seemed surprised that I was still carrying around a paper map. “We don’t see many people passing with those”, he told me. Well, yes, call me a traditionalist if you like, but I still rely on a paper one — today, OS Explorer 265 Clwydian Range. While signposting is decent on this walk, I think you still need it.
The summary map shown here is the longest walk so far that I have fitted on at this scale. The wiggles at the bottom, on the way down, show where I went slightly wrong and needed a detour. I went round this circuit anti-clockwise; Loggerheads is in the bottom right corner.
Route: This is a very good walk, no doubt. The summit is magnificent, not only in terms of the views near and far, but also the interest added by the ruins of the Jubilee Tower. It’s definitely up there with the best of the CT summits thus far (e.g. The Wrekin, Ben Cleuch). The climb should not be underestimated; Moel Famau is in the top third of all the Tops by altitude and you will become apprised of this fact as you haul yourself up the slope from Pentre. It’s well worth doing, though. The limestone underfoot makes it a dry walk, too. It’s fairly well signposted, though there was one point on the way down where I went wrong.
The easiest way up, and the way by which, I imagine, most of those present on the summit had ascended, involves starting at one of the two car parks on the minor road between Tafarn-y-Gelyn and Llanbedr-Dyffryn-Clwyd (don’t you love Welsh place names). But these points cannot be reached by public transport even in normal conditions, and in any case, I bet my route gives a greater diversity of scenery and a fuller impression of the immediate area. So let’s do that, starting at the Loggerheads car park.
From there, head past the café towards the limestone cliff visible ahead, and then turn left to begin the trek through the gorge of the River Alyn (Afon Alun), a very attractive spot. Being on limestone, the river is rather less frisky than you might imagine, but it has carved a substantial gorge, nowhere more evident than about 3km in, when you suddenly find yourself suspended on a footbridge across a dizzying drop, known as the Devil’s Gorge. I could barely cross this with my eyes open, so Christ knows how the pictured climber (and his unseen mate) get through their Saturday entertainment: rather them than me.
One could stay on this path all the way round to the village of Cilcain and rejoin my route at Pentre, but I tried something else. Shortly after this, turn left at a crossroads, down a path which drops to the Alyn and crosses it via a footbridge before climbing again. The way becomes somewhat overgrown for a while, then comes out at the lane of the farm of Maes-y-Groes. Once you hit tarmac, turn right and take this road through the hamlet of Pentre (keep your ears open for traffic: there are some narrow sections). Keep going straight on past Pentre Farm, then, where the tarmac drops to the right, bear left, then immediately right through a field, and begin the ascent proper.
The path is good, and dry, but becomes increasingly steep, particularly once you reach the end of the coombe to your left. The gradient does not let up from this point to the summit, another 200m above (in less than 1km of lateral distance).
But the effort is definitely worth it. The view is awesome, in all directions, and the ruins of the Jubilee Tower are great fun to scramble around. This construction was begun in 1810, for the Golden Jubilee of King George III, but it was never finished. And perhaps it is better this way; it makes a magnificent platform from which to admire the panorama, and brass plates fixed to the old walls inform you just what you are looking at.
Drop off the summit over the stile closest to the trig point, with a “Loggerheads” nameplate to confirm this is the best way down. It offers excellent views of the forest below as it goes up and over the unnamed peak at 464m (pictured) and then drops steeply down to a farm track at the bottom. Here, there seemed little difference on the map between going left or right. Left would have taken me up past the farm of Brithdir Mawr (a name straight out of Tolkien, presented in the appropriate Gothic font on the OS map) and with hindsight, would probably have ended up a more straightforward route down.
As it turned out, I got a little lost in the woods after this point; the map makes it clear that I should have turned left immediately after crossing the ford. No matter. I retrieved matters, eventually doing what I wanted to be doing, that is, heading down the valley until reaching tarmac again near a junction with a signpost back to Loggerheads, and the car.
Second anniversary Commentary: When I started this County Tops project on 22nd June 2019 (with Holyhead Mountain) I did not anticipate that I would have done 34 within two years. And only 12 were done in the first 12 months, too; I’ve done 22 since the beginning of July 2020. Two years ago, though, who could have foreseen future events. The stupidities of lockdown have encouraged an expansion of the scope of the project. It was not until the end of that first year that I added most of the modern Tops, and only in January 2021 that the full list of 196 was set out; deliberately, I was giving myself more opportunities to bag CTs, particularly local to home.
But hey — it’s certainly been fun. The reason I admire the landscape of Great Britain is its fundamental diversity; almost every Top so far has had its own distinctive character, and Moel Famau today was no exception. From the start, the intention of this project was to give myself reasons to experience the many parts of my country to which I’ve never been before. The Clwydian Hills were virgin territory as far as I was concerned, and this was a very good introduction to them. Great weather too, which is by no means always the case in Britain in June.
Not only that, I could double up with my pastimes and attend one of the last acts of the 2020-21 football season, unnaturally broken and extended due to lockdown, but the Cheshire Football League at least had the decency to run to a conclusion; Blacon Youth FC (a couple of hundred yards over the English border) was there to be picked up on the drive home, and Moel Famau was just visible from some parts of the ground, as shown here — its identity confirmed by sight of the tower on the summit. (BYFC are celebrating winning the league, or at least, its Division 2.)
I frankly have no idea whether I was ‘supposed’ to be travelling into Wales to walk or not, because I have stopped looking at ‘government guidance’, most of which now seems a total irrelevance. There were multitudes up at the Jubilee Tower today, and Welsh accents, or the language, at a premium. None of them were sat at home leading an unhealthy life.
Next walk in mid-July I hope. I have a conference to go to in Oxfordshire — yes, it’s still running — so the plan is to pick up something around there, whether in that county or nearby, Warwickshire maybe. The fun of it is that I can just go where the feet take me.
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