Snowdonia Walking: The Nantlle Ridge
Looking for a ridge walk in Snowdonia away from the chatter and the chaos of summer crowds? A place only the ravens seem to know of? Terry Fletcher has the answer: the ever quiet, always queue-free Nantlle Ridge, as described in Cicerone's Mountain Walking in Snowdonia guide.
OK let's start with the confession: the Nantlle is not the best ridge in Snowdonia. Nor is it the highest, the narrowest nor the most spectacular. It is, however, far and away the most enjoyable. All the other superlatives in that list belong to the Snowdon Horseshoe and therein lies the problem if you have the slightest hankering for solitude. On any half decent day the Horseshoe, superb as it is in all other respects, is not so much an away-from-it-all mountaineering expedition as an exercise in queuing and crowd dodging.
On a weekday you will probably be sharing the opening section up the Pyg Track from Pen-y-Pass with umpteen school parties, the younger ones chattering enthusiastically while the older ones display the compulsory ostentatious boredom of the teenager. At weekends they will be replaced by zombified Three Peakers, already exhausted from having climbed Ben Nevis the day before followed by Scafell Pike during the wee small hours. On the knife-edge crest of Crib Goch your companions will be a long line of eager scramblers, whippet-thin runners swiftly ticking off the Welsh 3000s and the odd white-faced novice wondering how they ever allowed themselves to be talked into this madness and fervently wishing they had not. The upper slopes are shared with the Llanberis Railway and the summit maybe, just maybe, with your granny if she has popped up on the train. But there is always the summit café, exuding all the mountain charm of a motorway service station.
All of which, happily, brings us to the delights of the Nantlle. Most importantly this, too, is ridge walking of the very highest quality, but with the bonus of also being lonely and exhilarating. If you're lucky, you’ll have only the ravens for company. The reasons for this wonderful peace and calm are simple: along its delectable crest there are no summits topping the magic 3,000ft contour and it all takes a bit more organising than the Horseshoe since it is a long crest of summits strung out for 13km/8miles east to west rather than a convenient circuit. So it demands either two cars, a willing chauffeur or perhaps a pre-booked taxi at the far end. If all that seems too much like hard work you could just do the walk in both directions. It is also possible to work out a circular variation dropping into Beddgelert Forest for the return leg but it is so inferior to the ridge that it seems almost perverse to even consider it.
Your reward for sticking to the ridge is a delectable airy tightrope, tracing the rims of scalloped cwms between lonely Cwm Pennant and the Nantlle valley.
Along the way it contains everything a ridge walk ought to have: steep slopes, the occasional vertigo-inducing glimpse down into rocky chasms, superb distant views of the Snowdon Massif, all spiced with a few bits of fairly gentle scrambling. All in all, the perfect mountain day out.
It starts from Rhyd Ddu, either using the tiny station served by the narrow gauge Welsh Highland Railway, which runs from Caernarfon to Porthmadog, or the adjoining National Park car park. Most other walkers rummaging gear from the back of their vehicles will be heading for Snowdon or perhaps just a gentle stroll round Llyn y Gader so it pays to be careful who you follow.
So ignore the hordes, turn your back on Snowdon and look across the road to the beckoning, if slightly off-putting initial climb to the 633m/2076ft summit of Y Garn.
It looks like hard work first thing in the morning – and it will be. But it will be worth it.
Take an elaborately-decorated gate on the other side of the road and set off across the fields on a path made of slate chippings.
A good path takes much of the sting out of the climb and after an hour or so of steady plodding it reaches the cairn of Y Garn on the edge of a precipitous drop down the north face. The views back to Snowdon and Lliwedd are superb and will probably have already provided welcome excuses to stop to admire them on the ascent. Now, however, even more exciting is the razor-sharp arête leading to the next summit, Mynydd Drws-y-Coed. The path clings to the edge with views down Clogwyn Marchnad. In places the hands come into play but there should be nothing to bother an experienced walker with a steady head.
The next section over Trum y Ddysgl is broad and grassy but on the next descent the ridge narrows again to form a slender neck of rock and grass with the ground falling away steeply on either side. Once past it the ridge again swells to a more comfortable width and the next summit, Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd is unmistakeable, crowned as it is by an obelisk built to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897.
With your back against the monument and a cup and butty in your hands, it is a good place to contemplate the final obstacle: 230m/750ft of the serrated edge of Craig Cwm Silyn, which at 734m/2408ft is the high point of the ridge.
After crossing the pass of Bwlch Dros-bern, once used to take Cwm Pennant's sheep to market, the ridge offers a choice. Keen scramblers can hurl themselves at the arête while more cautious walkers may prefer to take a path that outflanks the first crags before climbing the slope. As it makes its way through craglets and boulders it occasionally flirts with the ridge for thrilling glances down the faces below.
The summit of Craig Cwm Silyn is the end of the day's excitement and those planning a there-and-back trip will probably opt to return from here. Those intent on a linear crossing will continue to the next summit, Carnedd Goch, which offers a simple descent to Cors y Llyn, the handiest place to have left a car.
All that remains is to plan your return for another near perfect day of ridge walking.
Terry Fletcher has walked and climbed among the mountains of the Costa Blanca for more than 30 years. His love of wild places has taken him all over Europe and North America, where he has a particular fascination for the sandstone canyonlands and deserts of the American South West. As a full time professional writer and photographer for more than 40 years, his work has appeared in almost every national newspaper as well as specialist magazines. He has also appeared on network television and radio as a commentator on the outdoors. He is a former editor of Cumbria and Lake District Magazine, Dalesman and The Countryman. He lives in the Yorkshire Dales.View Articles and Books by Terry Fletcher