Carnedd Llewelyn, Foel Grach and Garnedd Uchaf from Bethesda

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The Carneddau Range in North Wales is big and I do mean big! It's the biggest upland mass south of the Scottish border and you could comfortably move the Snowdon Range and the Glyderau into the space that the Carneddau occupies and still have room left over. They are surprisingly quiet hills, though. The reasons for that soon become apparent: long walks in and out, high summits and an almost featureless plateau that in bad weather can be a navigation trap for the unprepared.

The word Carneddau means Cairns and there is an abundance of cairns in these hills, most of them ancient. Walk 5417 visited Carnedd Llewelyn and Carnedd Dafydd, two of the mountains that give the range its name. The story of the brothers Llywelyn* and Dafydd, the last true Princes of Wales, is not a happy one. In the 13th Century the English, under Edward 1st, were in the process of bringing Wales under English control. In the course of this power struggle, Llywelyn and Dafydd were both captured and killed.

To complete their control of Wales, the English also took Llywelyn's daughter Gwenllian and imprisoned her for life, as they did with Dafydd's sons, Llywelyn and Owain. Edward subsequently gave the title 'Prince of Wales' to his own son and the title has gone to English princes ever since. Gwenllian, the last heir of a Welsh dynasty, has recently been commemorated by the Ordnance Survey, who have renamed Garnedd Uchaf ('High Cairn') as Carnedd Gwenllian.

This walk revisits Carnedd Llewelyn, but from the north-west this time, from the town of Bethesda. The first summit of the day is Yr Elen, followed by Carnedd Llewelyn, the highest peak in the Carneddau and the third highest in Wales. From there the character changes from steep ascents and rock ridges to rolling plateau, as the route visits Foel Grach and the renamed Garnedd Uchaf (Carnedd Gwenllian). From there a broad, grassy ridge leads to Drosgl and a gradual descent to Bethesda.

The Carneddau are similar in feel to the Cairngorms. The range isn't as high or as exposed as the Cairngorms, but it's big and wild compared with the neighbouring areas. It's the kind of place where you might need good navigation skills; bad weather or mist would certainly make a walk much more demanding. If the demands are higher, so are the rewards.

* Note that the names of Prince Llywelyn and Carnedd Llewelyn have different spellings.

Wales - North Wales - Gwynedd - Snowdonia