My mate Andy has headed over from Birmingham for a few days and as he’s planning on doing his ML as well we decide we are going out and having a crack at Yr Aran and just navigating off the bat rather than planning a route. The weather is pretty horrible but eventually we get out of the shack and head towards Beddgelert to pick up some supplies. After loading up on food on the painfully expensive local shop we sit in the car, waiting for the windows to de-fog, staring out into the rain and steel grey clouds. The fact it’s so unappealing just to leave the car in the little town doesn’t bode well for being up top. I have to fight with myself not to just turn the car round and go back to sitting around to tea and biscuits instead proper British style. The only thing is I know myself and I know I won’t forgive myself if we don’t get out there, because it’s not dangerous weather, its just proper grim. Additionally my mates come all this way to see me and the mountains and we both need to get out. I say we will get a beer at the Saracens head later, to reward ourselves for going out in this miserable weather without a gun to the temples.
We drive to Pont Bethania and get our gear ready, the first part of this should be pretty straightforward as it involves heading up Snowdon’s Watkin Path which is a beautiful route even in the shitty weather we are getting at this very minute. The Watkin Path was the first designated footpath in Great Britain, named after Sir Edward Watkin, a liberal MP and opened officially in 1892 by then Prime Minister William Gladstone. He announced the opening from a large rock on the side of the path which is now known as Gladstone Rock, to a reported crowd of 2000 people. Was the aforementioned Watkin a walker? No idea if I’m honest. Was he a rich successful person who had something named after him? Definitely. Our plan is to head off the Watkin path and ascend to Yr Aran via the old mine workings on it’s slopes. Visibility is pretty rubbish but regardless of this we are going to have a go at navigating this just using the map and no compass, and determine our position as best we can while using the OS locate app to confirm how close we are. It might seem a little weird but what would you do if you lost/forgot your compass / backup compass? I’ve already had the luck of accidentally reversing polarity on one my mine during ML training no less and another ML trainee snapped one in half on the same course. But that’s part of another story.
I’ve not hiked the full Watkin path yet, as if I’m honest I’m getting a little tired of Snowdon itself. I usually go outside to get away from people, and Snowdon these days is constantly busy, however the Watkin is a beautiful trail from the amount of it I’ve explored so far, with it’s amazing views and deep blue plunge pools beneath the many waterfalls you see along the way. It is of course even better in summer but that means of course far more people. That aside we aren’t here for the Watkin path, we are here for Yr Aran. After a short hike we turn off the Watkin path about 2k from where we’ve parked in Pont Bethania and fairly soon we start to hit the obvious signs of old mine workings, which in this case is solid bridges / dams made of the local stone. Before long there is no trail as expected so we just try and keep a pretty straight course in the direction the path was heading which is also approximately where we are going. We start to see the more obvious signs of mining, spoil tips staining the mountain side which in this case the rocks have rusted a deep brown red, like blood or the presence of iron ore.
Soon enough we see the avalanche style spread of spoil down the mountainside, a red brown streak that usually indicates what we are looking for which is an open mine adit, and this one looks pretty old. We stop a moment outside this gaping maw in the mountains flank and barely take a moment before we go to have a peek. The entryway is pretty low so we have to duck past the standard group of cave spiders having a meeting round the first metre or so. Cave spiders on my face isn’t my idea of a good element of a day out.
Steeping fully inside the passage we can see that it’s not totally flooded but as with most of the adits I’ve ever been down, the water has collected enough for there to be parts of this little journey where getting wet feet is pretty much unavoidable. I’m already regretting not having wellies with me but that would just be more to carry, and they are not light. I can’t say the soaking wet tunnel is that inviting, especially during the moment in which I feel the cold water seep into my approach shoes, which sends a shiver down my spine. Despite the discomfort there’s always going to be a curious bit of me that wants to find a mine with a cavern or some old equipment in it, which I’m sure I will at some point. Every time I head down one of these mine adits I get little flashbacks to when I was a kid growing up in the Black Country being taken by my Mum and Nan with my older brother to the Black country museum where they have an old coal mine as an attraction. They used to simulate a cave in and kill all the lights and I remember holding my Mum and Nans hands super tight when it happened. And my Nan laughing and tell me there wasn’t anything to be scared of. I couldn’t imagine being stuck down a mine in the dark. And now I go down these things for fun. And now there really is something to be scared of because you really don’t want to be stuck down here.
Me and Andy end up going for more of a paddle than a walk down the narrow passageway hewn into the rock. Eventually we come to a part of the tunnel which is clearly the beginning or end of a cave in. The very old logs that are sticking up from the floor of the passage like a set of rotten busted teeth have either come from holding up the ceiling above, also known as either thousands of tons of rock or the floor of the level above us. Andy fearless as usual heads slightly past it and exclaims ‘look there’s light coming through’ what looks like a tiny hole in the ceiling. The only thing is it probably isn’t a tiny hole, it’s probably a huge hole in the ground really high above us. We both agree at this point would be a good time to head back where we came, especially if all this stuff is unstable.
When we get back outside we decide that we will trace the cave in and see how bad it is, if it’s even visible at all from the ground level rather than Satans back passage. And it’s not long until we find it and where that light was more than likely coming from.
This huge hole in the earth goes so far down I can’t see the bottom. I couldn’t even guess how deep it is, and we can see the mine levels ending in mid air above the pit. Stopping after the collapsed part was definitely a good idea. If Andy had kept walking he’d have just vanished from sight, down the pit. It looks like it’s developed into a sink hole, or maybe collapsed into a Cavern below. Who knows, but I know it’s here now so maybe with more underground / caving training and meeting a few like minded people here in North Wales, I might end up abseiling down it one day. Right now I’m just thinking of the fatal consequences of tripping over a pebble, or a misplaced sheep. Well we found our hole in the floor anyway, so now it’s onto Yr Aran and it’s summit.
After making our way up some steep ground we get a little confused in the mist when we see a wall ahead of us the realise we are not as far along our route as we thought and actually we are standing looking at the cause of one of two ring contours. Definitely neither a summit, luckily the wall pretty much splits Yr Aran in half for most of the way up it’s ridge and is the most bloody obvious handrail you could ask for in this visibility. Neither of us had been using pacing to get a better idea of our position, though it would have been difficult considering the terrain anyway.
We pass lots of what looks like cotton wool, spread by an explosion, though upon finding a few bones just turns out to be what I could only imagine was a sheep originally. Morbidly spread and melted into the landscape only its waterproof wool and hard bones left as testament to how mountains break down everything, even themselves eventually. I’d have taken a picture but somehow that seems more morbid than the description. The summit of Yr Aran is pretty wild looking with rocks coming out of the floor in places at about 45 degrees, a reminder of the immense forces of the earth, the never-ending march of erosion through constant freezing and thawing year after year. I can imagine there’s some amazing views from up here in good weather but today clearly isn’t the day.
We make our way down what turns out to be probably not the best route to go, we can see the Watkin path but with no actual safe way to get down to it but find ourselves a easily identifiable wall which takes us to the imposing looking quarry works, and before long we are heading back down the Watkin with the faint golden glow of the sun illuminating the path. Next stop, pub.