Pen Llithrig y Wrach: “The Slippery Hill of the Witch”

Now there’s an interesting title for a blog, if ever there was one!

All will become clear as you read on, but first, a little personal history as to why I chose to ascend this mountain in the North East Carneddau.

But first: a word of warning. This walk took me up on to the Carneddau, which is very exposed land and if you take a wrong turn, could put you right in the middle of a vast and wild landscape.

This walk is also virtually all off path and across a lot of sodden ground, which the map clearly shows to be marsh or bog land.

There is virtually no mobile signal, for you are obscured by ridges and mountains blocking any chance of a signal penetrating through to a mobile phone.

So ensure that you know exactly what you are doing and know exactly how to call for help should you get in to a situation.

Therefore good navigation skills and being suitably kitted out are two very vital necessities among many of the hill skills.

Something to think about before embarking on a walk in a place like this, would your call for help be heard?

Incidentally, to call for help using your whistle is:
6 clear whistle blasts (or flashes of a torch if at night and in the dark) in succession - repeated at 1 minute intervals until a reply is heard which should be 3 clear whistle blasts (or flashes of a torch if at night and in the dark) in succession - repeated at 1 minute intervals.

Once your call for help has been heard and you’ve heard the acknowledgement, it might be wise to consider using a torch, for it could help your rescuers to locate you a bit more easily and quickly.

When walking in countryside and across the hills, especially in an environment as remote as this, a whistle and torch, or headtorch, with spare batteries should be standard kit, irrespective.

Something else to consider, depending on the conditions at the time, you could end up benighted, so seriously consider, especially as daytime summer temperatures could be close to winter temperatures, as you will see later on.

So could you survive the night?

If you would like to know what I carry when I’m out in the hills or across the moors, have a look at What's in my pack? where I list many of the items I carry and why.

You might like to read Beinn Bhreac and a Trig Point on Carn an Fhreiceadain where I raise on Twitter the question would anyone recognise my call for help!

I have family near to Conwy, a town on the North Wales coast, with superb views down the Conwy Valley. Part of the view includes a section of the North East Carneddau, where one hill Moel Eilio has caught my eye for a long time, and one I intend to conquer one day.

The view down the Conwy Valley
Moel Eilio on the left and Pen Llithrig y Wrach on the right

I just wanted to view where I was staying, which was also an area where I holidayed a lot as a child with my Grandparents, and see the view from up there, for a change.

So it was decided, Moel Eilio it was to be, so with my route planned, all those that needed to know informed of the route and off I went.

Incidentally, there are two Moel Eilio’s in Snowdonia. The one everyone knows is near Llanberis, and then there is the one I intended to ascend near Dolgarrog.

First stop, was to get some food, so I called in to Conwy Bakery, who I’ve used many time before and I can assure you, there batches are absolutely beautiful.

So off I went, the drive to the car park near Llyn Eigiau via Conwy to get my lunch, driving down the B5106 heading for Tal-y-Bont, except I needed to pick up the single track road to the car park and start point.

The steep and narrow track from Tal-y-Bont

The first of the gates along the track to the car park and start point

This single track road was almost a trek in itself, a twisty and steep single track road, with plenty of passing places, where around halfway I encountered gates across the road.

No, I hadn’t encroached on to a farm track; these gates are where you would often find cattle grids, but required that you stop to open the gate, drive through, then stop and close the gate behind you, before continuing your drive.

I had three of these gates, but to be honest, for me, it made the drive more interesting in a pleasant way. Anyway, after a slow, but pleasant drive I finally arrived at the car park near to Llyn Eigiau.

Well, my intention, this particular day, to conquer Moel Eilio. All the plans were in place, maps, kit and my wife was briefed as to where I was going. But at the last second, those plans changed once I saw what was in front of me when I’d parked the car.

No, I hadn’t suddenly got cold feet, quite the opposite, my ego took control and I saw a higher peak, which I could also view down the Conwy Valley, the peak of Pen Llithrig y Wrach, standing tall at 805 metres according to my Ordnance Survey map.

The small, but adequate car park

The view along the long footpath with Pen Llithrig y Wrach
peaking above on the left

Noting I had no mobile signal, there was no way I could let my wife know my change of plan, so I powered down the phone to save the battery. Being encircled by many peaks and ridges, there was no way for quite some time, would I get any form of a signal.

Incidentally, I haven’t forgotten to tell you why I’ve chosen the title of this blog, there is a very good reason why I’m deliberately saving it for later.  ;)

It’s all part of the story……

Now you may recall from my last blog: A wander from Monyash to Magpie Mine via Flagg and Taddington I usually print a map out on Toughprint paper and keep copies of an OS and where available, a Harvey’s Map in my pack for back up.

I had done just that, a map covering the prospective area I’d be walking to get to Moel Eilio and surrounding area. By pure chance, I had stretched the coverage to encompass Pen Llithrig y Wrach!

Not that there would have been a problem, for I had both an OS and Harvey’s map with me, so there would be no issues.

So I got suited and booted and set off from the car, walking a very long and straight track towards Llyn Eigiau.

Breaches in the dam on Llyn Eigiau

As I got nearer to Llyn Eigiau, it looked like the dam appeared to have been breached at some time. Well, if it hadn’t, then there was no way it was a proper reservoir.

As I got closer, it was very clear that the dam had been breached at some time. So my curiosity started to get the better of me. No mobile signal, so there was no way I was going to search online, so I began to wonder if it had been decommissioned, as with Barbrook Reservoir, which I mentioned in Froggatt Edge, Big Moor and some Stone Circles where the reservoir was decommissioned due to problems with it silting up.

However, post walk research, revealed that the dam burst on the 2nd November 1925, flooding the village of Dolgarrog someway below in the Conwy Valley, killing sixteen people!

Apparently many of the villagers were in a theatre watching a film on that fateful night, or the death toll would have been a lot greater!

The sad outcome of that disaster resulted in the Parliament of the day making legislation that dams would need to be more resilient to failure to prevent future disasters occurring.

At this point, you cannot see whether there is any water left in the lake/reservoir, but I can assure you there is. A clear notice painted on a slate tab telling people that the fishing is private for the Dolgarrog Angling Club is proof enough.

Anyway, continuing along the footpath, hand railing the breached dam, I take a track leading off to the left and start my ascent in the general direction to Craig Ffynonn.

The track took me past this remote cottage

The ascent from the remote cottage heading for Craig Ffynon initially

Here it gets interesting, for if you study the map, as I had done in the car park, you will notice there are a lot of boundary features around the area, which could, and did, make the walk even more interesting.

However, not to be undeterred, nor do I have any intention of doing any environmental damage; I managed to negotiate these boundary features.

The walk started with the temperature around 16ºC and the wind a nice refreshing 15 mph, but as I was getting higher, the temperature was dropping and the wind was getting stronger, with short but heavy showers descending quite regularly.

Onwards and upwards, slowly but surely making the ascent up some very steep grassy inclines, often wet and boggy, I start to reach the first level, but very small plateau.

Lunchtime was nigh, my tum was telling me I needed food and the thought of those two ham salad batches was even more tormenting, I needed to find a wind break, so I could settle and eat my lunch.

So I hunted along this small plateau, checking out each rocky outcrop to see if it made a suitable wind break, only to find they were almost as useful as a chocolate teapot!

The only thing for it was to wander down wind, which took me to a spot sufficiently below the plateau level and out of the wind, to sit and eat my lunch. Added to that, I had some superb views looking down on to Llyn Cowlyd Reservoir and also to my left, along the Conwy Valley towards Conwy and Llandudno.

Just over the ridge on the other side of Llyn Cowlyd Reservoir, would be Llyn Crafnant, then the next range of hills to the south from there would include Crimpiau, where I did my navigation training some years ago. I walked up Crimpiau last year and wrote about that walk in Crimpiau, a nostalgic walk from Capel Curig.

My lunchtime view towards the North Wales Coast

Along with views along the Llyn Cowlyd Reservoir
above and below

Although it was still a bit blowy, I was out of the worst of the wind and able to enjoy my lunch along with the views around me.

Are you still wondering why the title is Pen Llithrig y Wrach: “The Slippery Hill of the Witch”?

The answer is coming very shortly.

Lunch over, it was time to assess my route, check the time and also monitor the weather, for the cloud seemed to be getting lower, the showers slightly longer in duration and the wind was getting stronger, for I only had about 170 metres to ascend before I had reached my goal, but a long walk back.

I decided to carry on, but, with the view to aborting if the weather became too bad to consider safely continuing.

Looking at the steep slope ahead, I started to look for the best route up, and headed off for the south east side, which seemed to be a better route up.

...."what started to become apparent
was an almost sheer drop down to Llyn Cowlyd Reservoir

Whilst making the steep ascent, I was continually assessing the route and found that although the best route took me to the south east side of Pen Llithrig y Wrach, what started to become apparent was an almost sheer drop down to Llyn Cowlyd Reservoir.

When I say sheer, I couldn’t see anything but the edge, then the water of the reservoir below!

Now I’m not generally nervous of that situation, however, with the wind building up as I gained height, I was a little too close to the edge for comfort, so a diversion to head away from the edge was made.

Onwards and upwards, I was nearing the summit; I could see a small pile of stones marking the summit of Pen Llithrig y Wrach.

I’m teasing you why the title is Pen Llithrig y Wrach: “The Slippery Hill of the Witch”, but the answer is close now, trust me…..

As soon as I was reaching the summit the view I had was jaw dropping awesome!

I could see Tryfan, the Glyderau, Pen yr Ole Wen and the Carneddau, oh and not forgetting Llyn Ogwen along with the Ogwen and Nant Ffrancon valleys!

Approaching the small summit cairn on Pen Llithrig y Wrach

The North Wales Coast viewed from Pen Llithrig y Wrach

Llyn Colwyd Reservoir from Pen Llithrig y Wrach

Tryfan,The Glyderau and Pen yr Ole Wen from Pen Llithrig y Wrach

A general view across the Carneddau from Pen Llithrig y Wrach

Apart from Crimpiau, the other occasion where I had such an awesome view was when I ascended Moel Siabod about two years ago and wrote about that day in Moel Siabod and my old Navigation Training Ground.

Here I had a mobile signal, so armed with my camera, my new Canon SX280, which replaced my old SX220 which met its doom on my last walk, A wander from Monyash to Magpie Mine via Flagg and Taddington I clicked away, composing the shots between the brief heavy showers that were pounding me and snapped some on my mobile too, ready to tweet to my friends and followers.

I also had some cracking views over to the North Wales coast, and also to the east and south east, Crimpiau, Moel Siabod was almost visible through the cloud, and I guess if it was clearer, Llyn Mymbyr and the Snowdon Massiff.

I also had an absolutely perfect vista of the Carneddau, at a one day route I was considering, but had grave reservations on due to the contours on the map. I can assure you, I wasn’t surprised at what I saw, but that won’t stop me tackling another part of the Carneddau, tailored to the available time I have and especially armed with that view….

I guess I could wild camp, but the availability of water on the parts of the Carneddau I’ve walked, is pretty sparse.

While I’m briefly on the subject of water, as you will be aware, generally it’s not wise to be drinking water straight from a water source. However, I do carry a Sawyer Mini Water Filter, which does a very good job filtering the water to a reasonable drinking standard.

I’ve filtered peat filled water while out in the Dark Peak and enjoyed drinking water as clear as tap water!

My first experience with the Sawyer Mini Water Filter was when a fellow walker introduced me to the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter while we were walking across Axe Edge Moor, and I covered that walk in Axe Edge Moor, the Cat and Fiddle pub and a Stag Do.

It was also catch up time on Twitter….

For here it was where I caught up with some gossip from a friend on Twitter, David, a Welshman, and told him where I was.

This was his reply;
is that what its really called?? ‘the witches slippery head’.. ;)

So a quick search on google, confirmed exactly that, but with a little more info. Another variation: albeit a minor variation was “as slippery peak of the witch“, which could refer to the boggy conditions along with the fact that it can look like a witches hat.

Remember, Pen Llithrig y Wrach would have gained its name from the days when people were very superstitious and believed in witches among many other fantasies of the day, which were very real to them.

I must confess, while looking down the Conwy Valley, I had never thought of that, but in hindsight, yes, it does almost look a little like a witches hat!

Dave, thank you for that tip off, it fed nicely for my blog title.

Now, you know why the title is Pen Llithrig y Wrach: “The Slippery Hill of the Witch”?

I guess from the right angle and in the right conditions, it could look a little like a witches hat!

Even though at 805 metres it’s technically a mountain…..

Even though this walk was in August, it was quite cold and windy on the summit of Pen Llithrig y Wrach. The temperature was down to 3.9ºC and the wind was 24.2 mph.

Summertime temperatures!

Time was pressing on, time to consider making my way back to the car, but the views around were stunning. I really didn’t want to leave quite so soon.

So, map out and a good survey of the general direction I need to be heading, revealed a basic route, for I wanted to head initially for the river, Afon Eigiau, to pick up the footpath and bridge GR SH 718 640 across the river, back along the river to the car.

A quick assessment revealed a basic direction, along with various route alterations as necessary depending on the ground conditions, steepness of descent and any other factors that might have an impact on a relatively safe descent.

The start of my descent from Pen Llithrig y Wrach

Quite a steep descent from Pen Llithrig y Wrach

A general view looking down my descent route
and somewhere down there is the bridge I was aiming for.
So off I went, leaving that fantastic view behind, just as the sun started to appear. I almost made my way back up, but then it disappeared almost as quickly, so there was no distraction….

The descent was steep and required a few changes due to the angle of descent being a little too steep to be safe, considering I was walking on wet grass and to avoid what was once a quarry with lots of loose stone.

Nearing the bottom, I was looking at the map for any signs of a straightforward route to the footpath while observing the ground in front of me, which unsurprisingly looked a little boggy close to the river.

...." I continued my descent, I spotted a style,
not that there was a footpath marked on the map at that point

A little clearer now, the bridge that I was aiming for

The gate that led to the footpath back to the car

As I continued my descent, I spotted a style, not that there was a footpath marked on the map at that point, so I headed for that.

Crossing the style and continuing along I hand railed the boundary feature, keeping away from the water’s edge to keep up above the water table and avoid becoming bog ridden, when I eventually met up with the path and the bridge, the feature I used for a landmark.

From here it was straightforward, all I had to do was follow the clearly defined path that was shown on the map, past the breached dam of Llyn Eigiau and back to the car.

That was a thoroughly enjoyable walk with some awesome views from the summit of Pen Llithrig y Wrach and one with memories I’ll treasure for a long time.

Perhaps next time, I’ll tackle Moel Eilio, you know, the one I was supposed to tackle!

Finally, happy rambling and thank you for reading,
Peak Rambler

Twitter            @PeakRambler
YouTube        Peak Rambler on YouTube

Links to some of the areas I’ve mentioned and written about here:


  1. What fabulous views - beautiful place to walk :)

    1. The Carneddau is blessed with a lot of fabulous views.

  2. I'm planning this soon. So from Llyn Eigiau, do you suggest to get up on the plateau ASAP or is it possible to gradually climb up the NW slope?

    1. First, I have no idea of your mountain experience, so my apologies in advance if I’m telling you the obvious. However, there will be some with little or no experience who will read these comments, so I’m sure you’ll agree with my reasoning for what I am about to type.

      The ground can get very wet and slippery underfoot, especially at this time of year, so make sure you have the right weather and adequate daylight for your ascent.

      I’ve covered some of the kit I carry and why in another blog:
      What’s in my pack?

      A lot will depend on your fitness and hill-walking experience, along with good navigational skills, the area is very featureless and exposed, so adequate outdoor gear and survival kit is recommended.

      Pen Llithrig y Wrach can be reached from the opposite side, from Capel Curig, there are paths marked on the map, a few outdoor magazines have covered the routes up.

      I chose this route for personal preference, I have family in North Wales, and the view they have down the Conwy Valley is to that side of Pen Llithrig y Wrach and Moel Eilio.

      Yes, there is another Moel Eilio, other than the more common known Llanberis one.

      So, it really is a matter of access, preference and ability depending on your desired route.

      Plan your route, use Naismith’s to check times, make sure you’re kitted up and have your map and compass with you.

      I hope that helps, and please accept my apologies if I’ve stated some of the obvious to you.