Many times in the past I had passed this way, for the Clwydian Range in North Wales form the gateway to Snowdonia – a common destination of mine for childhood holidays, camping trips or general adventuring. Apart though from several ascents of their highest summit Moel Famau – on one occasion by bike – it is an area I was unfamiliar with despite its proximity to home lying just to the West of Chester. So it was that I decided instead of heading off to the mountains further west, I would follow part of the Offa’s Dyke path that here follows the crest of the Clwydian Hills.
Offa’s Dyke itself is an Eighth Century earthwork constructed by Offa – then King of Mercia – to separate the ancient kingdoms of Mercia (England) and Powys (Wales) and the path roughly follows its course from Prestatyn on the North Wales Coast to Chepstow on the Severn Estuary in the South a distance of 177 miles. My walk today would cover a small section of its course from where I was dropped by the A494 Mold to Ruthin road to where we were staying with friends at Bodfari – the northern end of the range.
The first part of my walk was through an area of verdant meadows lit by a pale autumn sun with short woodland sections to add contrast. The land sloped gently away to the East as the path gradually approached the crest of the Clwydian Hills. Directions need not be given here as any fork or junction was clearly marked with an acorn symbol for the Offa’s Dyke Path and an arrow indicating which way the walker should go though it was usually obvious as the main path.
Presently after skirting left well before a farm, my route reached the watershed which rewarded me with some fine views across the Vale of Clwyd – the broad valley to the West where are sutuated the small towns of Ruthin and Denbigh. At the ridge I turned right and followed the trail past a small forest and steeply up to the first summit of the day – Foel Fenlli. At 511 metres or 1677 feet the height is modest but the views are wonderful with the forests surrounding Moel Famau ahead glowing with autumn colours.
The next stage of the route lay to Moel Famau via the car park at Bwlch Penbarras – a reguar cycling destination from years before though I used to have it to myself. Not today though – the mild sunny weather had brought everyone out of the woodwork and it seemed they were all here today. I had had Foel Fenlli to myself but Moel Famau was like Blackpool Beach in the Summer Holidays. I climbed it quickly and admired the view from the jubilee tower on the summit – for five minutes – then continued northwards. At 554m (1818ft) this was the highpoint of the route today so the rest should be mainly downhill – I thought…
The crowds were soon left behind and once again I had the hills to myself as I traversed the heathery expanse between Moel Dywyll and Moel Llys y Coed. Here as on the initial stage of my walk I saw only the occasional walker while the open terrain exuded a timeless quality and atmosphere and I was reminded of George Borrow’s account of his journey in the 1850’s described in the book Wild Wales. This place would have changed little since then.
Presently though another car park was approached – that below Moel Arthur which rose impressively ahead. This hill is crowned with an iron age fort and is a popular destination though not so much as Moel Famau.
The climb up to Moel Arthur was a short but steep haul and to visit the summit and the remnants of the fort one must deviate a short distance left (west) of the Offa’s Dyke Path which skirts the side of the hill. The top was far quieter than Moel Famau being occupied by only myself, one other person and a friendly labrador dog who came over to ascertain what I had brought for my lunch. Onwards again and the path led easily downhill to a third and busier car park where there was a choice of routes. Remember I said that it’s hard to get lost on this route? Well I nearly did here – I followed the footpath sign through the gate and had a very pleasant walk in the forest before I realised that whilst this trail was nice enough, it wasn’t the Offa’s Dyke Path and didn’t go to Bodfari. A short detour and I returned to the car park. The path is signposted just after the top gate and it’s the trail on the right that leads off along the upper edge of the woods and not through them.
Another longer ascent made me check the map that Moel Famau was indeed the highest point of my route but the views looking back from here were some of the best yet with the late sun shining on the golden woods below. The trail leads along the upper border of the forest before emerging on the hilltop at Penycloddiau Fort – another ancient site where the tumulus or burial mound has been restored to resemble its original state – apart from the plaque – but the effect is good in the early evening light.
From here it really is downhill all the way as the next hill of Moel y Parc is missed out by the Offa’s Trail which descends off to the left before it is reached. At the end of the descent from this hill there was again the potential for getting lost where an unsealed road is met after a gate and stile at the bottom of the hill.
Keeping straight on for a few metres though reveals the acorn sign for the Offa’s Dyke path heading down to the left – a look at the map also revealed that if I had continued with my wrong turning of earlier I would have ended up here by a more circuitous but flatter route. From here to Bodfari was down a farm track and then through open fields with the route being well signposted throughout. In total I had covered about 12 miles or 20km and even arrived back before dark (just) and in time for tea.
Pete Buckley November 2011