Llyn Cwmystradllyn and The Lynn Peninsular from the Bryn Banog Ridge
Only a couple of days left to go. So much to do, so little time. Since the storms, the weather has been fabulous. The Sun has appeared very high, almost as though we were at Mediterranean latitudes. A cool onshore wind from The Irish sea has kept the work more than simply bearable, it has been fantastic. Yesterday I only had to climb 1700 feet to a smallish mountain called Bryn Banog. Getting to its ridge/summit afforded amazing views of Snowdonia, Harlech and The Llyn Peninsular all the way down to Bardsey Island and out to the Irish Sea. It was clearer than usual, the mountains were in bright crisp aspect, like an HD projection. Still couldn’t see the Mourne mountains of Northern Ireland though. But I could see the South West face of Moel Hebog, I could see its pyroclastic flows and tephra beds. Some very clear fault structures were visible, more so than when one is actually standing on them. Its very much a case of not seeing the wood for the trees we have discovered, very often standing high up on adjacent mountains – looking across the valleys, a white weathering blocky outcrop next to a dark bulbous mass shows the contact between a vitrified rhyolite ashfall and a basaltic lava flow. The previous day, walking right on top of them was like a game of Pin The Tail on The Donkey – your guess was as good as mine. Mind you, it helps when everything is dry. When its wet, and this July it has been unseasonably wet, they all look the same, grey, sullen and indifferent to comprehension – as 450 million year old rocks are wont to be when rained upon. As I was off piste as it were, away from the walkers and tourists who were just happy to be out in the good weather but not all the way up that big hill thank you very much, there was a great feeling of solitude.
The Sorting House at Moel Hebog Copper Mine
Well, if you don’t count the incessant racket over the two way radio. Jill was back at camp so I took a walkie talkie, ‘phone reception being what it is here, poor to zero. On channel 7, I heard a man from the Midlands claim that he had, “… reached the Summit”. His friend congratulated him, saying that he had just left the little train that takes tourists within strolling distance of the top of Snowdon and that he would soon be joining him. The man at the top of the world acknowledged this with much rodger dogers and copying of that, adding that Brenda, Steve, Jaqueline and several others were all there too – he did this in a somewhat breathless and stoic manner, much like Chris Bonnington would have at the top of K2, but with less of the comedy accent. I hope my lovely friends from the Midlands will forgive me but I had to titter a little when I heard the bloke say he had “rayched the soomeet.” I had some decent high powered binoculars in my back pack, I trained them on Snowdon. I kid you not, it was like a Glastonbury festival up there. The crowd waiting to get to the big cairn were shoulder to shoulder and the approaches from all angles, Llanberis, Farmers and Pyg tracks were thronging with people. There was also a well spoken woman unhappy with the “difficult going underfoot” who was convinced that somebody in her party had her cardigan, in fact she insisted upon it. Several times. There was also a group of exited young children in the Beddgelert Forest Camp below all shouting ” ..repeat, repeat!…” at one another. Then there were the busy farmers in Cwm Pennant valley east of the three sisters of Moel’s Hebog, Ogof and Lefn – rounding up thier wooly charges presumably, speaking in that easy drawl that is the North Welsh dialect. So with the babble of surreal proximal humanity, I called Jill and suggested switching to channel 4. It wasn’t much better, so when I was out of range of camp – a thousand feet of volcaniclastic sediment blocks a radio signal quite effectively, I hush the radio completely and got back to silence and sunshine. Back to the rocks. I’d seen quite a lot on the way up – a suspicious looking dolerite that had no business being there but clearly was, strain gashes in dense brecciated acid tuff, infilled with free quartz in the shapes of chevrons and streaked out diamonds at the tail of long linear white fracture, which looked for all the World to me like a big arrow pointing to a long fault within a cleft in the valley slope. Which as it turned out later, as the sun hit it from a different angle as I was making my way back to camp just before the sun was going down over the mountain – is just what it was. The descending sun hit the beds of siltstone delineating their structure very conveniently too, as it did another fault structure that I was unsure of until the play of light work its magic. I also saw some very threatening beef cattle who pawed the ground on my approach (or is it hoofed?). They are the size of Volkswagen Campers, but a bit more aloof and staring. I’d seen how Gareth the farmer was with them, matter of fact and nonchalant – it works. Walk right up as if I mean to part them with a wave of the hand, comin’ through – and they did! They lumbered a bit while doing so, and somewhat grudgingly, moving all that sirloin and rump around requires proper preparation perhaps. I also saw the biggest Hornet I’ve ever seen, two inches long easily, poised on a dry stone wall in the lee of the wind. I thought I’d take a picture and faffed about trying to get my phone camera ready – after jabbing the screen for an eternity – the usual procedure when one needs to take a picture in a hurry, the insect, alerted by the blurry hand motions at close quarters took offence and started buzzing in a tight formation hither and thither, a low buzz, well down in the register, I did the the only sensible thing and exited stage left – run awayyy!! Blimey that thing was huge.
Rock Canon at Pen Y Groes near the entrance to the railway tunnel at Nantmor.
I also saw my second Craig Cannan. Its a rock canon. We’d been walking right by it almost every day. Its a rock, usually a convenient erratic lying at the right sort of angle, drilled with holes about 200mm deep and 35mm in diameter. It was a nineteenth to early twentieth century device of celebration. Apparently, one filled the hole with the right amount of black powder, inserted a goose quill - also filled with black powder and insert it into the former. Then the hole was topped up and packed with slate dust. Light the goose quill and retire – a long way off. Get it wrong and there could be panic, scenes, even dismemberments.
The Craig Cannan or Rock Cannon near Gareth and Llinos' farm at Moel Hebog
The holes had to be drilled at right angles to the cleavage or discuses of slate would be scything through the air as the resulting bang proved the axial planar delineation or something. They must have had a local geologist who knew about these things, or more likely, a quarry master who knew rather more. They were used for royal visits, the pyrotechnics were quite spectacular, the echoes around the valleys and mountain walls were lauded in the press of the day.
A couple of things they don’t tell you about mapping in the field – yes take plenty of water, yes for the wet gear even if its sunny (more British climates than Spain I think) and Steve Covey-Crumps back up/emergency Snickers Bar ration is a must… but as important as any of this, of equal import – is a sachet or sandwich bag of wet wipes. You heard me. You never know when you are going to get caught short in the field, and you don’t want it to be the day when you decided not to pack them. A dodgy sausage or some iffy five day old water in a cloudy bottle left out in the sun the previous day and you’re off for the nearest bush or rock cover. Anybody who did the Barreme field trip in the South of France in 2010 will confirm this. Also, don’t go out mapping early after a skinful the night before. Beer, wine and spirits are a traditional part of Independent Mapping, always has been. It helps the camaraderie along, the days work schleping about the scenery takes on a rosier hue, and you might even sleep better. There are two ways students can disfigure the countryside and this is the second of them. Heaving into the greenery isn’t fun on an empty stomach and a full back pack, it slows you down and after the initial amusement of your mapping partners it begins to lose its comedy appeal for all concerned. Wishing for sweet oblivion in full wet gear in the rain, or in shorts and blistering sunburn while your friends stand impatiently with hands on hips, all because you thought the voddie slammers might be a fun way to round off the evening, is not how you imagined this trip would be. So pace yourselves, there’s six weeks to get through and gushing at both or either ends is not how you want to remember this formative experience, nor how you would wish to be remembered. Maybe next year they’ll put this in the manual under the chapter heading; How to avoid the twin peril of Vodka Vom and Toilet Troubles. Yes, they should.
So would I do this again if I knew what mapping in North Wales entailed? I’d do it in a heartbeat. I imagine my friends in North and South Spain, Donegal, and South Wales are saying the same thing. I have lived for six weeks with a view of the mountains out of a cheap but very cheerful caravan bought on eBay for the purpose of avoiding the high billeting costs sometimes involved with Independent Mapping. It can be done inexpensively too with a bit of planning and if funds allow, a reccie to the area (students with willing and malleable parents, get to work early on suggesting a jaunt – they’ll love it). My Fab mapping partner Jill and I have raised glasses of cheap red wine and even cheaper but surprisingly good Tescos Port – to a lot of red sunsets out of that west window of the caravan. We have had games of Fish, Poker and Snap around the table, with our fellow mappers next door, the Glam Campers from the tent just fifeteen metres away – Laura, Jacinta and Chloe. Yes I’d do it again, and I’m going to. I have Spain to do next year, but the year after, I’m coming back here to try and finish what I started for the Msc and perhaps beyond. Maybe even extend it to the Precambrian of Anglesey and the Mesozoic limestones of Llangollen to the East. So much to do in Britain, its geology shaped the Earth sciences, there is nomenclature used the world over that are derived from the rocks beneath my feet, and villages a few miles from here. Yep, in a heartbeat.
I’ll bung some pictures up in a bit.