29 June 2021

Guided walk with archaeologists and ecologist

 If you want to get up to considerable height from my front door, your best bet is the Carneddau. I can get onto the foothills from my house by walking some 20 minutes; in that time I can get into the national park on three of the arms of this range. There is the Glyderau range too, but in order to get onto it you need to first get past the quarry. And whether you go clockwise or anticlockwise, there are no public footpaths leading up to the ridge. Anticlockwise is a big detour, and the paths are rudimentary. Clockwise first takes you several kilometres along my running route, and then goes up very steeply, also on a rudimentary path. So I didn't go that way very often, so when we were only allowed to exercise from home, I got to know the Carneddau quite well! And when a Carneddau partnership was announced, I started following it on Facebook. So when there were activities advertised organised by this partnership, I paid attention.

My first event was an online lecture about the archaeology of the Carneddau. That is exactly up my street! There were three archaeologists talking, and I would have liked to know a lot more about the topics they were tackling, but it was time well spent. And then I saw an announcement of a guided walk up Carnedd Dafydd, with the guides including two of the archaeologists from the online lecture! That sounded great. I drew the attention of some friends to this, and figured out if I was needed for the University Open Day that day. I wasn't needed, and one of my friends was interested, and had even never been on top of Carnedd Dafydd, I registered, expecting her to do the same. It turned out she hadn't! And by the time I realised that it was too late and the trip was fully booked. But I was going anyway.

That Saturday I made sure to drive up rather early, as you are gathering in the part of the valley that gets really busy in summer. But there was plenty of space still! I parked up, grabbed my bag, and headed in the opposite way. I figured I could just drink some coffee in the hills and read the bit of newspaper until it or time to come to the gathering point. And that is what I did! On the Saturday morning I like to do a bit of coffee drinking and newspaper reading, and then I might as well do it with an amazing view. It was a bit chilly, but I had my down jacket so I was okay.

When the meeting time approached I went back to the car, reorganised my bag so I had everything for a considerable day in the mountains, and went to the meeting point. There were quite a lot of people already! And I recognised one of the archaeologists from the lecture. They took my name and I had a bit of a chat with the nearest person. It looked like a really nice group! And very Welsh. It turned out we had four leaders and nine participants; everybody spoke Welsh except two of the leaders. This was going to be a good day to practice!

When we were complete we did a small round of introductions, and then we set off. The previous time I had been on this part of the path had been with Dani; the last time I had walked up to Carnedd Dafydd from this direction had been in the snow with Kate, and the last time I had been on Carnedd Dafydd altogether had been earlier in spring, when I had been on my way to yr Elen. All quite different days!

The first thing we looked at was something that was on the map as a sheepfold. One of the archaeologists explained that there was every sign that this had been a summer farm, but that when these structures ended up being no longer used, only then had it found a new use as a sheepfold. He said that hidden underneath the bracken, there were plenty of enclosures and old summer farms! Their organisation was in the process of having the whole area scanned with radar, as that can look through vegetation to a certain extent, and detect patterns like that better than the human eye.

The next stop was at a wall. I had my first snack there! I can get quite hungry during the late morning. And here our ecologists took the stage. He took out a stack of laminated cards, each with a particular plant on it, and gave all of us two of these. He encouraged us to go look for our particular plants, and shout when we would find them. Then we could all gather, and the person who had found the plant could tell the others what interesting facts the cards held about this particular species. I got heather (which must be a bit of a bucket category; it did have a Latin name though, so it must have been a particular species) and lousewort. I hadn't heard of that! That would be my challenge. From where I received the cards I could already see heather, but I wouldn't call it until we would find it actually along the path.

We followed our way up. From time to time we stopped when one of the plants of interest was found. It was interesting to hear what they would be used for; most had known or suspected medicinal uses. And it was also interesting to compare the English, Latin, and Welsh names.

All together we tackled the steepest bit; some of us were more confident than others, but with some helping hands and some spotting we all made it. It was a really nice group with a nice group feeling, even though most of us had never met each other before! And from somewhere along the ridge we spotted the centrepiece of this walk. This route had been chosen because it has an impressive array of Bronze Age Cairns. The last one we would see was the one on Carnedd Dafydd, but that was not the most prominent one; that one was built in the saddle between Pen yr Ole Wen and Carnedd Dafydd. It probably was not a coincidence that you can see that for miles and miles away.

From the moment we reached the first peak (Pen yr Ole Wen) I suspect it wouldn't get much action from our ecologist; the whole landscape is just barren rock. But that was naïve! On a regular basis, he would get super-excited, sink down onto his knees, and draw people's attention to some barely noticeable plant or lichen. But soon we were at the main cairn anyway. Finally, we were going to have lunch! It was already 1 PM and I tend to have lunch a lot earlier than that.

It was gorgeous weather, and even though we were sitting on a mountaintop I was happy there in my T-shirt. And we had a nice chat. When lunches had vanished into our mouths, the archaeologists took to the stage again, and spoke more about these Cairns. Unfortunately, there was very little from the Bronze Age still visible. For centuries, people had taken the stones of the cairn and used them to create wind shelters and suchlike. Nothing of the original shape remained! That is a bit of a pity. The reason they knew they were Bronze Age Cairns in the first place was because different ones had been excavated, and released their secrets. I suppose a bit of extrapolation was used here.

When I put my lunch away and wanted to hoist my bag back onto my back I noticed it was wet. Oh dear! That was bad news. I checked, and the tube of my water bag had partly come off the actual bag. The bag had, of course, emptied itself into the backpack. Luckily there wasn't much in there that shouldn't get wet. It did mean, though, that I had no water left for the rest of the trip! And we were on the ridge. And there is no water there. I had faith, though, that soon enough we would come to some stream, so I didn't quite worry.

We went on. We saw a few more of these Cairns, and one of them even still had a small array of curb stones still in position. These Cairns originally seemed to have had concentric rings around them, executed in big stones. And here some of that was still visible! But, of course, the main cairn had been turned into a wind shelter. And I can't blame people for doing that; I myself had had no idea they were Bronze Age monuments until the lecture I had attended a few weeks earlier. I am sure most of the people rearranging the stones didn't either. But the partnership wants to change that, and raise awareness of the heritage of these places.

After we had seen the last cairn, we just chose an arbitrary route down back to our cars. There was no public footpath here, but it wasn't steep. And we saw most of the remaining plants! Including the desired lousewort. And we found a stream too! I was saved. I filled one of my now empty flasks, and drank a lot from the stream. A lot of people were a bit shocked by that; they figured I would get ill. I drink from Snowdonia streams all the time, though, and I figured I was going to be perfectly fine.

The trip was supposed to end at 5 PM back at the cars. And 5 PM it was! One of our archaeologists was a bit disappointed at that; Wales was playing in the Euros at five, and now he had missed the kick-off. He had hoped we would accidentally be back some half an hour earlier!

When we were back where we had started, one of us took the opportunity to thank the organisation for this excellent walk. We all had had an excellent time! And the weather had held too. It couldn't have been better. If they organise anything like this again, I'll register like lightning! It had been a great day and I had learned lots! And I suppose what had drawn me and was the archaeology, and I hadn't learned an awful lot about that due to having attended that online lecture, but I have learned a lot about plants like hoary rock moss, dwarf willow, common butterwort, and fir club moss. And, of course, lousewort! And it had just been really nice to share this walk with all sorts of like-minded people!

Jim, the ecologist, getting enthusiastic about some plan he is gesturing at

me admiring cowberries in bloom (pic by Jim Langley)

the Cowberries in bloom in qustion

the ridge to Carnedd Dafydd

one of the Cairns

landscape with moss and berries; I'm not sure what kind of berries, but my guess is bilberries


bushwhacking back to the cars

 the risks of going off the beaten track

No comments: