Part Cambrian Way 2017

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 5 - Day 7 and Afterthoughts


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Day 7 - Thursday 20th July - GPS 8.3 miles, 1770 ft ascent

The GPS mileage figure includes small detours, meandering around, and errors in route finding. In general this is about 5% to 15% greater than the mileage calculated from a map depending upon the type of terrain, but in some cases is considerably more.

YHA Rowen to Finish at Conwy via Conwy Mountain, then Home

Today would only be a half day walk with about 7 miles of walking, so there was no great rush. However, my daughter was going to pick me up from the finish at Conwy Castle and I had suggested that I might get there by about midday, but I would let her know a more definite time once I had a better estimate. I got up at my usual time and went down to breakfast at about 8am. Looking at the free food that remained, I could have some cereals and a repeat of last night's pasta with pesto sauce plus a cereal bar, so I set about making that and was able to get enough nourishment for my walk. There was no need to worry about lunch, as I would be in Conwy by then and I still had a few snack items left anyway.

After a chat with the wardens, I was off by 9.15, retracing my steps of yesterday. This time the weather was clear, though dull, but pleasant enough for walking with fine views across the Conwy Valley. My left boot was now in a dreadful state, as the Gore-Tex lining was well and truly worn though giving free access for water to flow in, but also to flow back out again, so apart from my foot feeling colder, it didn't affect me very much. Now that I could see where I was going, it was easier to make out the best route, as my GPX file was based on aerial photographs in which the paths were not very visible. The first mile was just getting back to join the main route, but this was made easier by not having to go back to the point where I turned off last night, but cutting off the corner and joining the route about 400 ft lower down. My energy had now returned, so I wasn't finding it as difficult climbing uphill as it had been for the past few days and I made good progress without having to rest very much.

Once I was back on the main route, it was much easier walking with a steady descent along easy tracks and views across the valley to Conwy Castle for much of the way. Further along, the route crosses to the western side of the ridge, so the views of Conwy are replaced by views of the hills near the coast: Penmaen Mawr and Foel Lūs. The path that cuts across passes a small tarn, Llyn y Wrach (Witch's Lake), which is often dried up, as was the case now despite all the recent rainfall. Further on, Allt Wen beyond Sychnant Pass comes into sight. Here, it is easy to latch onto the main North Wales Path, but careful study of the guidebook shows that the Cambrian Way route does not take this but instead goes down a narrow lane close to the wall, then veers right where it emerges onto a narrow path running along the steep hillside. It is only recently that I realised this and have always taken the more obvious North Wales Path route on my previous walks of the Cambrian Way. On day walks in this area, however, I have often taken the narrow path, considering that the views from there are far superior, as it has a fine view down the steep valley to Capelulo and Dwygyfylchi on the coast and across to the eastern tip of Anglesey with its lighthouse at Penmon Point and Puffin Island not far away. This route is also slightly shorter as it is more direct. After passing Echo Rock, which is a good viewpoint, it descends to cross the old road from London to Holyhead, built by Thomas Telford, at Sychnant Pass. In modern times, the road route was modified to follow the coast by blasting out the Penmaen-bach Tunnels, thus avoiding the original hilly and winding route, but the old route is widely used as a scenic route for tourists and walkers. There is a car park there, which provides a good pick-up point, though it is now less than three miles to the finish.

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Maen Penddu Standing Stone and Quarry
Maen Penddu Standing Stone and Quarry
Towards Conwy Mountain
Towards Conwy Mountain
Site of Iron Age Fort on Conwy Mountain
Site of Iron Age Fort on Conwy Mountain
Coast and Great Orme from Conwy Mountain
Coast and Great Orme from Conwy Mountain

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Conwy Castle from Conwy Mountain
Conwy Castle from Conwy Mountain
Conwy Castle
Conwy Castle
Left Boot at End of Walk
Left Boot at End of Walk

Note: There are many more of my photos taken in better weather conditions on the Cambrian Way website

I rang my daughter again to tell her it would be more like 12.30 before I reached Conwy Castle, so that she didn't have to pay for parking whilst waiting for me, it being better for me to arrive first so that she could just pick me up from the castle car park. To conclude the route in style, there was one more peak to climb; Conwy Mountain. As mountains go this hardly qualifies, as it is only 810 ft high, but in every other aspect it is a fine mountain, giving excellent views of the coast and the Great Orme as well as overlooking Conwy itself, the Conwy Estuary and the castle. There are also the remains of an old hill fort on top with information boards. To add to it all, the purple heather was just starting to bloom, mixed with the yellow of the gorse to give a very colourful end to the walk, even though it was still somewhat overcast. Dropping down from Conwy Mountain, the town and castle were in full view until the route joined roads in a residential area on the way into town. I was just walking along the road to the castle when my daughter rang to see how I was doing. She had just finished some supermarket shopping so came to collect me a few minutes later along with my one month old granddaughter and we returned home, then went out to the local pub for a meal.

Afterthoughts

Looking at the unsettled weather pattern that had been predominant through the year I was not anticipating good weather for the walk, and I certainly had a fair mixture of weather conditions, from beautifully clear sunny weather to oppressively hot and humid conditions and from torrential rain and thunderstorms to low cloud, mist and drizzle. There was generally not too much wind, though any wind at all was appreciated in the hot weather when there was often not enough, whilst some of the heaviest rain was not accompanied by much wind, which helped avoid me and my belongings getting too wet.

One thing that struck me about this walk is that I have always done this section of the Cambrian Way after two weeks of walking from Cardiff, which had given me chance to build up my fitness and stamina and get used to carrying the weight of my pack. This time, I launched straight into tackling continuous, rugged high mountain walking from the start. I generally reckon that it takes me about four days to really get into a walk and overcome some of the fatigue that comes early on. If the early days of a walk are not too strenuous, then this works out a lot better as it gives the body chance to get used to the constant demands for energy. For this reason, most of my long distance walking has been on walks of two weeks or more as, on a one week walk, over half of the time is spent building up stamina, by which time the walk is nearly finished and that feeling of being comfortable and settled into the walk is over almost as soon as it has begun. One of the reasons given by Tony Drake for walking south to north rather than north to south, is that the mountains are not as high or as steep at the start, so it possible to build up stamina before the more difficult challenges come. Consequently, I found that there were times when I was finding it quite hard going and did not progress as quickly as I had hoped. However, the Cambrian Way is one of those walks where it is always worth allowing more time than might be expected for each stage, as it seldom works out any other way.

In addition to factors such as mileage and ascent, bad weather can slow things down as there is more chance of slipping or falling, which tends to make walking slower, especially when going downhill. On the other hand, there is less incentive to stop for long breaks in the cold and rain, so this can work the other way and speed things up at the expense of extra tiredness by the end of the day. The other thing that slowed me down was the attempt to survey the route whilst walking it, so I was trying to take more note of where I was going and what there was to see as well as taking hundreds of photographs of the parts of the walk that were on the main Cambrian Way route, weather permitting.

One thing that made this walk somewhat different from long distance walks in general was that much of the route covered areas that I often visit for day walks, as most of it is within reasonable driving distance of home. This, plus the fact that I had walked the whole route three times previously, made it lack some of the sense of adventure that there is in embarking on a completely new walk, or one that has not been done for a long time. However, day walks almost invariably end up as circular ones and lose the sense of progressing a long way, so there is still some merit in tackling a continuous section, even when it is near to home.

When I came to download the track logs from my GPS and my camera, I found the GPS had overwritten most of the first two days, as expected when it ran short of memory, but my backup was in the log from my camera. I had been careful to switch the camera GPS on at the start of each day and switch it off again at the end of the day to save on battery charge, so I expected a good set of logs. However, I couldn't find any trace of logs on the camera anywhere. After a bit of checking around, I realised that in order to get track logs, it is not sufficient just to switch on the GPS but also to switch on logging, which I had not remembered to do. I did use this function for a short while before I got my latest GPS, but had never used it since, so I had forgotten what had to be done.

Not to worry, all my photos would be geo-tagged, and I had taken the trouble to download the latest 'GPS Predict' file which shows what satellites will be visible at what times of day for the month ahead, thus speeding up the generation of the geo-tag. However, when I downloaded all my photos, most of them lacked a valid geo-tag and just had an effectively blank set of GPS coordinates. Perhaps 10% of photos had a valid tag and there seemed no logical reason why they didn't all have them, unless it was because I took the photo before the GPS was ready or because I switched off the camera before the tag had been written. I still do not know the cause, but I would have thought that in either case there should have been some sort of warning or delay to allow a tag to be recorded properly. It is not exactly clear from the user manual what the cause is either, but it is probably necessary to wait for the GPS icons to indicate that it is ready before taking the photograph. By taking a quick photo on the move, it probably has not had the time to decide where it is even though it is supposed to be tracking all the time that GPS is switched on, even when the camera is turned off. I will have to investigate this further in more controlled conditions before relying on this function again. Another possibility is that the GPS is not as sensitive as my latest Garmin, so may lose the satellite signals whilst I am carrying my camera on the belt round my waist where my body blocks some of the signals. I used to get this problem with my earlier Garmin and found that the only way I could get reliable logs was to carry it in the top pocket of my rucksack. Even having it in my hand could result in loss of signals. This would mean that it would take time for the camera to locate the satelites again as I was preparing to take a photograph.

The net result is that I have a lot of photographs that are not accurately pinpointed, but this can be aided by matching the time stamps on the photographs with the log from my GPS where it is not so obvious. Of course, this precludes the first couple of days of the walk for which I have no GPS log at all, and for the rest it will take a lot more time and effort. So much for technology. It is great when it works properly, but it can also be a big let-down when it doesn't.


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