Spring 2014 part 1: the best side of Plynlimon


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It's May 10th and this blog is getting behind itself: not as a consequence of shortages of interesting weather or wildlife but mainly down to the (estate) Agents of Chaos. Starting to get back into the swing of things following my mother's death and mid-February funeral, I was brought up sharply when I was given notice that the house I've rented this past thirteen years was now in the control of LPA Receivers and that I could either buy it or go away, thank you very much. It was not rocket science, unfortunately, that the latter would have to be my course: the good news is that I have found an alternative location just a mile out of town, to which relocation is taking place in a relatively orderly manner. Once installed there, I will once again have decent starry skies to enjoy at night and an excellent viewpoint for noctilucent clouds is very close to hand. Silver lining and all that!

So let's take a look at March 2014: springlike it indeed was and before the housing crisis erupted there were some fine days to enjoy and not a few storms too, these of the convective variety as opposed to the Atlantic-wide crammed-isobar bearing monster cyclones of January and February. I'll focus on two such outbreaks further down - following a bit of a celebration of a favourite and, I think under-rated local mountain, Plynlimon.

At 762 m (2468 ft), this is the highest point in the Cambrian Mountains, that empty wilderness of acid moorland that forms the spine of Mid-Wales. It isn't much to look at from the south or west, but it has one route of ascent - my favourite by far - where the scenery gets a bit dramatic in places and owing to its height there is some fascinating botany to look at too. The approach is via the Nant-y-Moch reservoir, from where roadside parking gives access to a rough track that climbs steadily away, with good views of the lake looking back:

retrospect of track to Llyn

On the day in question - March 11th - high pressure was firmly in charge of conditions, so that distant views were hazy. Closer to hand, across the valley of Hengwm, the peaty stream coming down from Hyddgen slithers its dark way across flats of eroded glacial drift covered in peat-marsh and dense, clumpy molinia or moorgrass - ankle-twisting territory indeed!


The track gradually climbs for a few kilometres before turning south up into the headwaters of Afon Rheidol and its source, Llyn Llygad. Not ideal light, at around midday, but a better chance would come later in the day....

Approaching Llyn Llygad

Llyn Llygad is always a quiet, lonely spot with its dark, brooding headwall beyond....


The climb now begins in earnest. The most direct route is to skirt round to the R and ascend the steep grassy slopes before the crags are reached.....

Llyn Llygad

There is a semblance of a path in places and height is quickly gained....

Llyn Llygad

Arriving on the shoulder of Plynlimon Fach, the final climb to the summit of Plynlimon Fawr now lies ahead....

Llyn Llygad

Here, frost-shattered rock lies underfoot and the views really start to open up (on a non-hazy day!)...

                      Plynlimon summit

Soon, the summit trig-point comes into sight...

Nearing Plynlimon summit

Last few paces...

Nearing Plynlimon summit

And a skyline of haze!

Plynlimon summit

Because this is the highest point between Cadair Idris and the Brecon Beacons, on a clear day the view is simply vast....

Plynlimon summit

I stopped for lunch in the stone-walled shelter
, out of a chilly easterly wind. Departing half an hour later, the place was inspected by the local ravens in case I'd dropped any food - no such luck!

Raven, Plynlimon summit

For the descent-route, I decided to traverse all of Plynlimon Fach and drop directly off its northern end to regain the track. This should offer some better photographic opportunities in the afternoon light with its lower-angle sun....

Plynlimon Fach

One fascinating aspect of Plynlimon is its Arctic-Alpine flora, which occurs in abundance above the 600 m contour. In places it dominates underfoot, and consists of sedges, dwarf bilberry and crowberry, mosses and clubmosses. This is the Alpine Clubmoss:

Alpine Clubmoss

Here with a Fir Clubmoss:


These primitive-looking plants form densely-branched masses in places where some shelter is present....
Alpine Clubmoss

...whereas in exposure, more prostrate forms mat the ground together with mosses.

Alpine clubmoss and other mosses

Hollows in the bedrock are filled with acidic dark water - pyrite (iron sulphide) occurring in the bedrock hereabouts tends to lead to low pH values in such places.


Here's a retrospective of the first part of the descent from Plynlimon Fawr:


Looking back from the summit of Plynlimon Fach:


Later afternoon light starts to throw shadows down the hillside towards Llyn Llygad.....



There followed the steady tramp back down the track, with a pause near Fainc Ddu. These small lakes contain an interesting community of acid-loving plants, including Bogbean...


Disgwylfa Fawr is the hill in the background...


And so back down to the road and home, passing the Highland cattle that graze hereabouts.

Highland cow

Timewise, that round trip took me about 4 hours, but it could be extended to take in Y Garn at the SW end of the ridge. A direct descent of Y Garn's N flank is tough-going though - it is easier to return towards the main summit and make a descending traverse back towards Plynlimon Fach, in my experience!

March 22nd saw the threat of a few heavy showers and thunderstorms and in the afternoon, with a promising clump of convective activity showing up on the radar, I headed down to Borth for a look. I was greeted with a mature storm-cell complete with a shelf-cloud marking its gust-front:

Approaching storm, March

Some serious precipitation going on in there!

                              storm, March 22nd

I headed round to Ynyslas sands as the gust-front trundled over the Dyfi Estuary:

Gust front over
                          Dyfi Estuary

Gust front over Dyfi Estuary

Quickly, the storm headed off up the Dyfi Valley, displaying crude mammatus on the underside of its anvil:

Storm receding

Storm receding

March 31st again saw conditions that favoured strong convective storms and on this instance I caught a corker - again at Borth. It was coming up from the south, having already caused some flooding in Aberystwyth. Quite frequent lightning accompanied it as it approached my vantage-point but the main feature again was a massive gust-front which was spreading out in all directions from its core....

31st March thunderstorm approaches

Here, its leading edge is almost overhead and the intensity of the rain and hail beyond is impressive:
                                  March thunderstorm approaches

Gust front goes over

As the rain began to get too close, I jogged inland ahead of it, stopping for photos here and there: this was at Ynyslas Turn looking up into the inside of the gust-front. Some serious turbulence going on up there!

turbulence on gust front

These two were taken by Aberleri Boatyard:

turbulence on gust front

turbulence on gust front

The front had sped up by then and with the rain arriving and lightning striking nearby, it was time to bail out. Driving back up the valley to Machynlleth, the gust-front was heading on out past town by the time I arrived and new thundery downpours were affecting the Tarennau.

Well by the time the next post is done I should be in Forge, enjoying the view out of my kitchen window! More soon.

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