The Glyders – And a Descent into Hell

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THE Glyders are two of the highest and most spectacular mountains in Snowdonia, and a traverse of the ridge between the peaks should be high on any walker’s agenda. It’s been on mine for decades, I’ve just never got round to it. By the way, do you know what it feels like to have your thumb sucked by a sheep? Bear with me . . .

Glyder bound, I leave the car park at Idwal Cottage and take a path up the fellside past the tranquil waters of Llyn Bochlwyd to Bwlch Tryfan, a high col that separates the rocky summit of Tryfan from the most easterly of the Glyders – Glyder Fach. (Click pictures for high-res versions)

glyder 2 glyder 4 glyder 5 glyder 6I must mention two things at this juncture: the weather and Tryfan. When I arose at 7am in my tent on the Swallow Falls Hotel campsite, just outside Betwys-y-Coed, damp clouds were scraping the treetops. By 9am the mist had cleared and only high clouds remained – promising a fine day’s walking.

As for Tryfan (pictured below), I had a vague plan to climb this massive rock sculpture by its south ridge, but on reaching Llyn Bochlwyd the mist and rain rolled in from nowhere, obscuring everything and ensuring all the scrambly routes to the summit were wet and greasy. The vague plan became so vague it evaporated.

glyder 3Back to the present. I’m sheltering from the clammy wind behind a wall on Bwlch Tryfan, and there’s a German couple and two elderly Welsh lads sheltering with me and we’re discussing which route to take in the mist.

The German couple apologise for their poor communication skills because English is their second language. Then the two old grisly Welsh boys apologise because English is their second language as well. I feel I should apologise for speaking neither German nor Welsh, but I don’t.

Is that mean? I did become quite fluent in Polish once. Here’s a useful phrase to use at the end of a night out with your wife: Ta Pani za wszystko zapłaci.

glyder 7 glyder 8 glyder 10The old boys take a path skirting around the head of the next valley – Cwm Tryfan. The German couple intend to climb the steep screes beneath the descriptively named Bristly Ridge. This is the option I choose, and as I set off heavenwards the mist breaks to reveal a panorama of dark fells, and ragged clouds rolling along deep valleys many hundreds of feet below. It really is a wild and haunting scene, and one that takes me completely by surprise.

glyder 9The zigzag path up the scree is steep and rough. I’m expecting a thigh-tearing, calf-burning struggle to the top and I’m not disappointed when I get one. The views back over Tryfan are tremendous (above). I pause frequently to savour them. Unlike the path up Bristly Ridge itself – which involves a certain amount of exposed scrambling – the scree route demands nothing expect brute force and determination. I can do both sometimes.

glyder 12 glyder 11But when I reach the summit (994m, 3,261ft), a little bit grimy and panting like a friendly dog, the mist rolls in and that’s the end of the views for a couple of hours. So let me tell you about the thumb-sucking sheep of Glyder Fach.

glyder 19The trouble with the English language – and I don’t know whether German and Welsh have the same problem – is that “sheep” is both singular and plural, like fish and grouse. So to dispel any misconceptions that may have arisen, only one sheep appears to have a habit of sucking thumbs on the summit of Glyder Fach. For all I know it might well be a herd instinct thing, but I have seen no evidence to suggest this is the case.

I’m sitting on a rock beneath the rather ungainly pile of stones that appears to be the summit, eating a ham bun with lashings of English mustard, and this sheep saunters up as bold as brass and attempts to stare me out. It really does. It puts its face right up to mine – not in an arrogant or a threatening way – and just looks at me. If it did that in a Darlington pub it would get nutted. But we’re on a Welsh mountain and the sheep is on home turf, so I humour it.

I stick my hand out to pat its nose, because I can’t think of anything more appropriate to do – and it sucks my thumb. This is not an unpleasant experience. I had no idea how soft and warm a sheep’s tongue can be. Perhaps some of you know this already. Let’s move on.

glyder 13 glyder 14 glyder 15 glyder 16 glyder 17 glyder 18The mist is down well and proper when I resume my walk along the connecting ridge to Glyder Fawr. I check my bearings at regular intervals. This mist is pretty annoying because I was expecting spectacular views along this section of the walk. But such is life. Disappointment is an old friend when you’ve supported Barrow since childhood.

glyder 20The summit of Glyder Fawr (1,001m, 3,284ft) is a bit of an anti-climax – it’s just a heap of rocks at the end of the ridge, standing fuzzy grey in a landscape of fuzzy grey. By now I’m yearning for views and the spice of adventure – and all that remains is a steep descent to the valley through something called the Devil’s Kitchen.

glyder 21I’ve reached a stage in my life where geographical features attributed to the Devil no longer stir my curiosity. There are Devil’s Elbows all over the place. There’s a mountain in the Cairngorms called the Devil’s Point, which was known as something less prosaic until Queen Victoria visited the area and it was hastily renamed to save her blushes. And as for the Devil’s Punchbowl, isn’t this indicative of the type of person who had the influence and arrogance to name these places? How many peasants had punchbowls on the sideboard while the hens and pigs scratched under the table? Devil’s Punchbowl, my backside. So what’s this Devil’s Kitchen?

I descend a rough and rocky gulley between high crags, and the mist tears itself apart with perfect timing to reveal a steep funnel – down which the path plummets – surrounded by unsurpassable mountain scenery. This must be the Devil’s Kitchen. The mist rolls in again, then parts almost as swiftly. I am treated to glimpses of phenomenal rock architecture that swoops down in folded and broken crags to the dark waters of Llyn Idwal.

glyder 22 glyder 24 glyder 25 glyder 26I apologise to the Devil. This really is a hell of a place. The sweeping clouds emphasise the drama and add a sense of menace. Vertical rock faces; gushing waterfalls; the moan of the wind; and a seemingly endless flight of crude stone stairs descending into the earth and taking me nearer to the Devil with every step – it’s all there in this gigantic amphitheatre. This is what mountain walking is all about.

glyder 23Later, after the sun has gone down, I’m sitting in a corner of the Swallow Falls bar when I hear two farmers discussing local legends. One draws a sharp breath as he recounts a tale of the Devil wandering through the mists of the high Glyders.

Apparently, the Devil appears in the guise of a sheep and peers into the eyes of the feckless to devour their thoughts, leaving their minds disturbed and their lives blighted by drink. It’s not a common occurrence, but it happens.

I might have made that bit up.

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About McFadzean

Alen McFadzean, journalist, formerly of the Northern Echo, in Darlington, and the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still. Now lives in Orgiva, Spain.
This entry was posted in Camping, Climbing, Environment, Footpaths, Hiking, Legends, Mountains, Walking and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to The Glyders – And a Descent into Hell

  1. CairnStoner says:

    Great read and some fabulous pictures. Are you sure the sheep didn’t, literally, suck out your soul 🙂

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  2. Hanna says:

    Exceptional exciting and humorous tale, Alen. It’s healthy 😉 to know what decisions to make in that kind of mountains and weather.
    Devil’s Kitchen, I can understand the name. I’m glad I did not have to cook that day. The pictures gave me a rush 😯
    Take care!
    All the best,
    Hanna

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    • McEff says:

      Hej Hanna. Barbecued lamb chops would have been the order of the day, I think, with chilli sauce.
      The weather was far worse than the pictures suggest. For most of the day it was just thick, damp fog. Those conditions don’t lend themselves to photography.
      Cheers, Alen

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  3. Hanna says:

    Thank you for having reassured me in terms of weather.
    Lamb chops sounds delicious. But I don’t know what will happen if you ate that kind of disguised sheep. Perhaps you would have the magical ability to remove the fog but also have four legs instead of two.

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  4. I’d have said the hellish part of the walk must have been the scree up the side of Bristly Ridge! 😮 I’ve looked at it before but always steered clear. The Miners’ Path (which the Welsh guys would have taken) is really nice if a bit longer…

    The sheep must have been young – a yearling (shearling) – they will suck your thumb when they’re lambs and this one’s still obviously missing his or her mum! Calves will such your thumb too – it’s just a teat-like thing to them 😉 Didn’t you feed the poor thing? They wouldn’t like ham and mustard but would eat the bread. They also love grapes (preferably green), apple cores, crisps or whatever else you’ve got to eat.

    Great atmospheric photos 🙂
    Carol.

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    • McEff says:

      Carol, you’ve made me feel bad now. All I can think about is that little baby sheep walking about in the night on a Welsh mountain looking for its mother so it can have a cuddle and a sup of milk. If I hadn’t had a few beers I would jump in the car right now and drive down to Wales with some bread and green grapes. Perhaps I’ll go down in the morning.
      The miners’ path was one of my options and the only reason I went up the scree was because the German chap said he’d been up it before and it wasn’t as bad as it looked. As it happened, the scree was a slog but not too unpleasant.
      Cheers, Alen
      PS Still thinking about that poor little sheep.

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      • I’ll have to give the scree a go now! 😉

        Don’t worry about the sheep – I’m sure another walker will give it some titbits if it keeps on begging like that.

        There were some Welsh sheep when I was little and walking with my parents who, as soon as we stopped and opened rucksacks, barged over and stuck their heads in our packs to get at our dinner! LOL
        Carol.

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  5. Paul says:

    Hi Alen,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading that, so much so when I received the RSS feed this lunch time I thought…no, I’ll read it in the comfort of an armchair instead of at my work desk.

    A real feel for a proper climbers mountain which every picture in your report depicted, very menacing they were…the crags not the sheep that is!

    I shall find myself at the summit of Glyder Fawr very soon thanks to this post.

    Thank you for the inspiration & a fantastic report.

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Paul. Glad you enjoyed it. You’re a lot nearer to Wales than me, so I hope you do get yourself down there soon. I’d like to read your take on that neck of the woods. There are some good beers down there and the car parks are mostly free, so I’m sure you’ll agree that’s two points in its favour!
      Cheers, Alen

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  6. willc88 says:

    Sounds like a nice trip – loved the photos of the curious sheep!

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  7. David says:

    A brilliant and funny read, very enjoyable. Cheeky sheep. I kid you not I have a pic of one peeping around a tree puckering its lips at me, honest its on my website here http://www.bluestoneimages.com/_photo_7749404.html. They are wily blighters when it comes to food. I suspect while you were distracted by the thumb sucker another was checking through your rucksac for titbits. Looks like you fell for it mind:-)

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    • McEff says:

      Ha! That sheep looks like it has got made-up ready for a Friday night out in the Bigg Market. You might be right about the distraction ploy, David, because I wondered where my bar of Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut went to.
      Cheers, Alen

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  8. I was walking near Ullswater a few years back wondering how different the landscape would be if sheep were carnivorous. A week later at Brotherswater, a pack of five sheep attacked me in an unprovoked assault. There’s something unnerving, and dare I say it, diabolical about the way they stare. But what would walking be without the views, the drama, the Devil’s Whatnot and the wildlife, be it thumbsucking or ankle biting.

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    • McEff says:

      Ha ha. I’m glad it’s not just me. Perhaps there’s a conspiracy and one day soon they are going to rise up and take over the world. Or the lumpy bits anyway.
      Cheers, Alen

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  9. Tracey says:

    I love your write up. Me n himself were planning to do that walk a year or so ago, we ended up going up the North Face of Tryfan instead. (Peter’s famous last words …..”How hard can it be?”), so we never got round to do the Glyders. But they are on my list of things to do, and you’ve just made me even more keen.

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    • McEff says:

      Blimey. The North Face of Tryfan – I am hugely impressed. I looked at that route in my guidebook, laughed nervously into my pint, and turned the page over. I don’t think you’d get me up there with a cattle prod.
      Cheers, Alen

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  10. James Lomax says:

    It is indeed a moody and (in my experience) mist laden place. But a wonderful primeval place which should be high on a Wales mountain list.

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    • McEff says:

      Hi James. You had a perfect day for ascending the Devil’s Kitchen and with spectacular views, which just goes to show what I was missing on my walk. Interesting what you were saying about your memories and impressions of places changing since your first visit when you were 15. I find that happens to me a lot. I return to a place I haven’t visited for decades and the reality is sometimes totally different to the mental image I think I have retained in pristine condition. Strange how the details distort and the memories alter over the years.
      I shall return to the area next year, and if I get a day like that to walk in the hills I’ll be more than satisfied.
      Cheers, Alen

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  11. Jo Woolf says:

    Stunning pictures, Alen, and great descriptions as always! I almost laughed out loud at the first pic of the sheep, though it was undoubtedly even more surprising in real life! Nice to see some familiar places again, though I never made it to the summit of the Glyders (Colin climbed Tryfan). I can imagine what a hard slog it was – it never looked easy, even from the road! Beautiful scenery. I remember Betws and the Swallow Falls well.

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Jo. Yes, it certainly is a sheep with attitude. I thought I’d made a friend for life because it hung around for ages.
      It’s a great area and one I intend to return to the first chance I get. You were lucky to have lived among that beautiful scenery for so long.
      Cheers, Alen

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  12. Hanna says:

    Reblogged this on HANNASWALK and commented:
    Take a look at this awesome hike among devils in a decent to hell 🙂

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  13. Superb post and the photos are exceptional. I did this many many years ago and it is on my list to do again one day.

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    • McEff says:

      Hi James. I don’t know Wales much at all, but after that walk I’ve really caught the bug. I’d like to do it again as well, but on a day when there are better views.
      Cheers, Alen

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  14. Steve says:

    The Welsh name for Devil’s Kitchen is a sight more to the point: Twll Du, Black Hole in English. There’s any amount of politics behind the English (eg the leisured and the landed) blotting out the local language because they can’t be bothered with learning how to pronounce a language which is 99% phonetic. The OS doesn’t always help. Just look at Nameless Cwm not much more than 800 yards away to the SE: it does have a name in Welsh – Cwm Cneifion – cneifion is about shearing sheep.

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Steve. Thanks very much for that information. Twll Du is a much finer name, and from now on I will use it. I think the OS can be blamed for many things. Once a hill or a valley has been officially labeelled, then that’s it. The name sticks.
      Cheers, Alen

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