Moel Fferna: mountain climbing in North Wales
Getting to the summit of Moel Fferna in North Wales has lots to offer both the novice and expert walker alike. For us, as novice walkers, this was to be our toughest challenge to date having only recently taken up mountain walking more seriously. Starting this climb from Grouse Inn on the banks of the River Dee at Carrog, might have been deemed sensible for our first big walk in the Berwyn mountains. However, having long since adopted the Grouse as our 'local' since moving to a remote village in North Wales four years ago, we walk to it regularly for Sunday lunch on their terrace. From our home in Bryneglwys, this trek to the Grouse represents a round trip of about seven miles along part of the Clwydian Way. It adds around an hour to the overall time it takes to climb to the summit of Moel Fferna.
On the appointed day for our walk, we also had new kit to trial, not least a pair of brand new boots. On top of that, we had new, lightweight jackets embedded with serious water and wind resistance technology. Both were almost immediately put through their paces when we got caught in a shower of rain and strong wind early on during our walk to Carrog. Suffice to say, the new boots and jackets served us well. Thankfully, it was to be the only rain on the day.
After a brief pitstop at the Grouse Inn to top up with water, and a short photoshoot on the banks of the River Dee, we set off up toward the train station at Carrog; itself, busy with tourists taking the steam locomotive to Corwen. We crossed the main artery of North Wales, the A5, at Llidiart Y Parc. Immediately, we were taking the steady ascent heading toward a plantation of fir trees alongside Nant Ffriddisel to our right. Translated from Welsh to mean "stream of low frith", Nant Ffiddisel is a narrow, tumbling water course which hurtles down from Moel Fferna bound for the River Dee. Dense with sky-high pine trees, the sun was out as we started up through the forest. The path was littered with pine cones and flanked by the last of the spring flowers. Common Mallow, Speedwell and Blue Bells were making way for the more statuesque Foxgloves. Earlier rainfall and subsequent hot sunshine had raised the humidity levels on this part of the walk, but it was of little consequence and it was not to last for long.
Once we cleared the forest track, we took a right turn through a gate onto the lower slopes of Moel Fferna bristling with heather and ripening bilberries. A welcoming committee of two or three sheep was the only witness to our endeavour. The higher we climbed, the blacker the earth, the steeper the path. On nearing the summit, there are three high points to climb up and over; from below, each one fooled us into thinking we were almost there. Finally making it to the top was a blessed relief!
At 630m, Moel Fferna is 100m lower than the highest point in Berwyn mountain range and is higher than some of the celebrated peaks in Snowdonia National Park. This area of Denbighshire landscape is a designated Area of Outstanding Beauty. A worthy accolade, since the views are magnificent in which ever direction you look; be it out to Snowdonia or across the Dee Valley. On a clear day, you can just make out that incredible feat of 18th century engineering - the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct at Llangollen.
The pile of rock at the summit of Moel Fferna represents a cairn of sorts. It provides shelter enough to sit for a few minutes, to take the weight off weary feet, and soak in the achievement of getting there whilst marvelling at your surroundings. The changeable weather conditions here demand attention. A blue sky can quickly become overcast and the temperatures can be quite cold at this height. Keeping a watchful eye on the dark clouds, we were soon on our way back down the mountain, this time walking on the opposite side of Nant Ffriddisel and past the game bird breeding pens in the forest. Back at the Grouse Inn, we collapsed in a heap in the bar. It was all we could do to order our drinks and a late lunch. Suitably revived an hour later by the land-lady’s bill of fare, we launched ourselves into the 3.5 mile walk back over the Clwydian Way to a beckoning bathtub.