About the Club
The February sun was setting as we descended the northern slopes of Moel Sych, the highest point of the Berwyn Mountains in Wales. The western sky faded rapidly from salmon pink to creamy yellow and finally a delicate pale green. The valleys were pools of darkness but the summits still glowed. We had a couple of miles to go, at the end of a marvellous day’s mountain walk with the Bridgnorth Walking Club. Many hours ago the day had begun with the ascent of a remote and little-visited peak at the western end of the Berwyns, and then a climb up and along the glorious switchback ridge to the highest summits. What had brought us together was a love of the mountains …
Mountain lovers fall into one of four different groups: amblers, ramblers, scramblers and danglers. There are many clubs in our area catering to the needs of the amblers, offering their members a choice of enjoyable but shortish walks. The Bridgnorth Walking Club, however, offers a varied programme of walks for the more serious rambler. Some of these are lowland or low hill walks of 8 to 12 miles, but there are also walks for those who like a bit more of a challenge, especially in the hills and mountains. These take advantage of our proximity to the Shropshire hills and the Welsh Marches, some of the best hill-walking country in Britain, with Snowdonia, the Peak District and west-Wales also within easy day’s reach. In addition, the occasional scramble is thrown in for the delight of those who love a bit of rock and a touch more excitement. Scrambling (steep walking requiring some use of the hands) gets you into some wonderful situations amidst mountain rock-faces, normally the province of the danglers (rock climbers).
There are 14 mountains in Wales rising to a height of 3000' or more, the highest and best-known being Snowdon itself. (Despite Ordnance Survey maps having gone metric a long time ago, many mountain walkers still think in terms of feet; 3000' was the magic height chosen by Sir Hugh Munro to define ‘mountains’ in his well-known tables of Scottish peaks.) In addition, Wales has around 160 more summits between 2000' and 3000', so the scope for mountain and hill walking is immense. Because of the railway to the summit of Snowdon, the top does tend to be rather crowded, and this can deter some serious mountain walkers. However, out of season one can appreciate the mountain more fully. It has five grand ridges sweeping up to its summit, including the exciting knife-edge of Crib Goch (once described as “vertical on one side and overhanging on the other”!) and the soaring turrets of Lliwedd. Even in high season the latter is often almost deserted. In between these ridges are some of the wildest cwms, as anyone who has penetrated the higher reaches of Cwm Glas will know. Last July the club did the classic Snowdon Horseshoe, a walk (with scrambly bits) of 8 miles and over 4000 feet of total ascent (equivalent to going up and down the average flight of stairs some 450 times, but rather more rewarding). Although it was my twelfth time round the horseshoe it was as enjoyable as ever!
[Mervyn and Mike looking casual on Crib Goch- " I just do not know what all the fuss is about!"]
Snowdon may be crawling with people which is not to everyone’s taste, but just across the Llanberis Pass is the Glyders massif. On a recent club weekend we went up Tryfan (the only mountain in Wales that cannot be climbed without using one’s hands) by its rocky North Ridge. Tryfan’s summit is unusual in that the highest point is actually two vertical fingers of rock, called Adam and Eve. The purists, the brave and the posers jump from one to the other, which entitles you to the freedom of Tryfan. Most people don’t fancy this, and never actually stand on the highest point. We then continued over Glyder Fach by its Bristly Ridge, another delightful easy scramble, and after posing for a group photograph on the Cantilever Stone (a projecting flake of rock that looks flimsy but will bear the weight of at least 10 climbers and their kit, thank goodness!) descended via the rocky Gribin Ridge. Despite it being a fine, June Saturday we had seen perhaps only 20-30 other people.
[Picture of Club Group on the Glyders Cantilever]
Finally, in complete contrast, the club walked over the Northern Rhinog mountains. These are one of Wales’ best-kept secrets. The summits are only just over 2000' high, but the terrain is rough, with a lot of exposed rock pavements and abrupt drops to wild valleys, many enclosing little mountain tarns. This is not a place to go in bad weather or even low cloud, as the paths are often difficult to follow and the ground very confusing. You can walk here all day and not see another soul.
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What is it that makes mountain walking so enjoyable? For a start, mountain scenery is great to look at. The thousands who throng Zermatt just to see the Matterhorn are testimony to this. (Incidentally Wales has its Matterhorn too — Cnicht — which provides a fine traverse over its rocky summit.) On the right day, mountains are wonderful to look from, as well. After a gruelling climb there’s nothing better than to collapse on the top and soak up the views (well alright, a drink comes a close second). The sight of other peaks brings back fond memories of previous adventures scaling their heights. Mountain walking can give a great sense of achievement, not just in getting to the top but in traversing difficult ground or linking several summits in an aesthetically pleasing route. Although we all like good weather, there is a perverse pleasure in battling with the elements (especially in retrospect when nice and dry again in the pub). The right mix of adventure, difficulty and achievement is a heady and addictive drug. For me, lowland walks can never provide the same kicks as mountain wandering. Finally, there are those who enjoy the spiritual and often mystical dimension to the mountains (“And did those feet in ancient time / Walk upon England’s mountains green?”). It is a cliché but somehow life’s problems often seem smaller and more tractable when viewed from the mountain tops; it’s easier to get a better sense of perspective.
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Back on Moel Sych, the sky behind us became inky black. The stars shone with incredible brightness, undimmed by the light pollution of our urban countryside, and we learnt from an expert with us the names of the major constellations. Out came the torches, and with a bit of banter at the leader’s expense (walks are not supposed to finish in the dark) the last two miles were put behind us. The tea back at the cars was, as ever, wonderful! All agreed that it had been one of the club’s best days yet!
With thanks to Mike Flavell