Furth mountain [n.]
a Munro Peak (+3,000ft / +914m) outside of Scotland. There are 34 across the British Isles: 15 in Wales, 13 in Ireland and 5 in England. In the Carneddau Mountains of Snowdonia, there are 7 Furths
someone who has summited all 34 Furth mountains
This Snowdonia bikepacking adventure was built around a simple concept: pick an alluring 12 x 12 grid area of an OS 1:50,000 Landranger map and spend 24-hours exploring its 576km² of roads and tracks. This sea of un-crowded Carneddau contours between the honeypot village of Betws-y-Coed and Foel Grach peak appealed given the collection of Furth mountains, forest trails, reservoirs, quarries, service tracks, chevron roads, sparsely-sprinkled buildings, and traces of infrastructure and industry. Little did we know how fascinating, and connected all the mapped features would turn out to be…
Our riding started straight out of low-lying Betws-y-Coed, through the abundance of Gwydir Forest tracks and trails, and up into the high hills; closing in on the clouds and Furth peaks. This was a much less ridden region of Snowdonia National Park and leaving the modest crowds in our honeypot base behind there wasn’t another soul in sight, once through the forest.
Within the first hour the story was definitely one about water – whether riding through the relief rain, skirting Llyns, or dodging debris and land-slipped hillsides along the sodden lanes and tracks. The saturation from Storms Ciara and Dennis hadn’t helped. And it was mid-February. Into the second hour, the story turned to infrastructure and discovering a whole network in the mountains, as the distinct line of the Cowlyd-Dolgarrog Pipeline came into view. As way-markers in the landscape go “the service track along that huge black pipe” was a good one, as we descended a baltic beeline for said pipeline. Raised, and a good couple-of-metres in diameter, the cast-iron pipe followed the contour line of Llyn Cowlyd’s shore. What is connected to what, here? What was this currently silent supply line for?
At 70m, Llyn Cowlyd is supposedly the deepest lake in northern Wales and supplies water for the towns of Conwy and surrounding Colwyn Bay via underground pipe. Turns out, our eight-kilometre long pipeline sends water directly down to the power station (and Aluminium works) in Dolgarrog. After ducking underneath it, before the pipe dropped sharply down to Conwy Valley and the three of us rounded into the next valley, we met a couple who walk up the 600-something steps, following the line of the initial construction tramway, on a daily basis with their dog: “nippy out, isn’t it” one of them said, as we pulled extra layers on. “Where are you off to? Just up to Coedty? If you’re up for a real adventure, you should head up to Dulyn. It’s about an hour from here.” It wasn’t, of course. Doubling an estimation is generally a good gravel bikepacking rule.
Next up was the colossal concrete wall…
As dusk began to fall, we rode through and along what turned out to be the poignant, powerful remains of the Eigiau Dam Wall. At 1.2 kilometers long and 10.5 metres high, the wall was initially built in 1911 and owned by the Aluminium Corporation. The dam was built by transporting materials up from Dolgarrog by tramline. Seeing it today in a wider valley context, the concrete installation was reminiscent of the remote redundant soviet buildings dotted through the Stan’s mountains. The beauty of restricted internet access in the mountains lies in the mystery, and subsequent detective work. Was it a dam wall? It could’ve only been a dam wall, really. There was no other explanation for it. Had it broken by accident, or been made redundant and left to crumble? The two gaps were intriguing for sure. It wasn’t until we descended the next day to the villages of Tal-y-Bont and Dolgarrog – 8km away and -390m below – on the River Conwy valley floor, that we unearthed the full story…
“AQUI SE LO MIO – COMPARTE, ES TUYO”
Here we share, what’s mine is yours…
– soup, pottage, broth; gruel; mixture; hodgepodge; mess
– traditional Welsh soup, typically made with salted bacon or beef with potatoes, swedes, carrots and other seasonal vegetables
– borrowed from Latin ‘caulis’: “stick or stem of a plant, cabbage-stalk, cabbage”
There are reasons Cawl has been a staple on Welsh menus since time began(ish?) and it’s for the same reasons that it makes an ace bikepacking evening meal option: one-pot, tasty, full of simple ingredients, and nutritious. Cawl is regarded as one of the Welsh national dishes. The longer it simmers, the better. Traditionally, cast-iron cauldrons full of cawl would have hung over rural fireplaces for hours-on-end during the winter months, with meat and vegetables chucked in as-and-when, ready for workers to come and devour. As with the majority of our Pannier outdoor cooking, we’ve kept this vegetarian and added some carbs:
Veg Stock Cubes
Known to have been linked to the construction and servicing of the reservoir in the mid-1800’s, Dulyn bothy felt like the right place to spend the evening and night, following the day’s infrastructural journey. Solitary amongst shattered rock fields, the two-roomed stone hut offered solace and shelter in the Snowdonian storms.
Two roaming lights across the valley and a light emanating from one tiny window, through the Dulyn dark, let the three of us know that we would be sharing the bothy that night. Great; nothing better than sharing treats, trips and tales of treacherousness. We’d all find some sort of spot to sleep. Once we’d made the icy-hike down the track, across the old stone causeways and spillways, we were greeted through the sleet at the doorway by two pals and their young kids (it was half-term holidays), and the two walkers warming up around their bubbling stoves. Ten of us in total. They’d all arrived on foot – the walkers had been forced to traverse contours to keep off the tops and seek shelter after attempting the Carnedd Ridge stage of their Cambrian Way thru-hike, ultimately en-route to Conwy the following next day. It had sounded like quite the battle for them, and didn’t half look it once they’d finished their meals – soon snoozing, sat-upright, wrapped to their waists in down sleeping bags. The two pals and kids had hiked in from the last tarmac spot, with a bucket of firewood, and sat around the heated hearth playing cards all evening, leaving Dave, Duncan and I some space to cook up that storm of our own – that Welsh Cawl.
Dulyn translates as ‘black’ and from afar, the small lake hemmed in amongst the shade of the steep cliffs above the bothy sure did appear as black, but stood on her shores she was foreboding – whipping up white tops in our stormy winds. No sign of any club anglers that day, funnily enough. As a reservoir, both Dulyn and the adjacent Melynllyn provide water to Llandudno on the north coast, just above Conwy, whose lights were in our sight-lines at such a high-point. Water from these reservoirs also feeds into the neighbouring Llyn Eigiau via a tunnel. Traces of the valley’s quarrying past were evidenced everywhere: old quarry tracks and ruined, rubbled stone building footprints studded with giant iron flywheels…
“One must have a f̶a̶r̶m̶h̶o̶u̶s̶e̶ bothy
Looking tired and snail-small
Against the stirring cauldron of the mountains,
And from it slate and rock walls
Numb through stretching to hold the cold land”¹
“That lonely dwelling stood amongst the hills,
By a grey mountain-stream; just elevate
Above the winter torrents did it stand,
Upon a craggy bank;
With that grey mountain hue; the low stone lines,
Which scarcely seemed to be the work of man,
The dwelling, rudely reared with stones unhewn,
Adown the vale,
Broken by stones, and o’er a stoney bed,
Rolled the loud mountain-stream”²
Something hadn’t quite clicked for me after seeing and riding both through and along that colossal concrete wall. Speeding along through the villages of Tal-y-Bont and Dolgarrog, on the banks of the River Conwy and secondary road back to our base at Betws-y-Coed, a memorial caught my right eye through the relentless rain. I stopped and low-and-behold, it was for the Dolgarrog Dam Disaster – that dam wall we had ridden through, holding back all the water of Llyn Eigiau, burst and breached in November 1925 killing 16 folk in the village where we stood. Weak foundations, apparently. The story goes that it would’ve been more, had the majority of the village not been gathered at a film night at the theatre, out-the-way of the fatal surge. Engineers deliberately punctured the second hole in the dam wall to prevent further disaster. That explained it. A sobering story for us to digest on the last section of road riding and over one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had in Wales, at Hangin’ Pizzeria.
“The disaster at Dolgarrog led the British parliament to pass the Reservoirs (Safety Provisions) Act in 1930, which introduced laws on the safety of reservoirs. This has since been updated, and the current one is the Reservoirs Act, 1975”³
Whether it’s the dams and reservoirs for water and power, the local slate and stone quarries to build the dams, or the buildings that were required to service and house the workers, there are traces of human influence and infrastructure everywhere you look in The Carneddau. As gravel riders, we have a lot to be thankful for: well, fresh water and power in towns and cities, for one, but also the network of service tracks and roads that were built and are still facilitating fantastic riding access amongst these stunning mountains today.
The Dolgarrog Dam Disaster: a humbling result of somewhat necessary human influence in the mountains…
Water – the gold of the 21st Century?
Words & Illustration
1 / Landscape: North Wales – Tony Curtis
2 / Cadwalla’s Lonely Hut – Robert Southey
3 / Wikipedia