Four summits, 12 miles, 5,000ft of climbing — and one unforgettable day in Snowdonia

Fiona Reynolds heads to Snowdonia for a day's walking. Twelve miles, four summits and 5,000ft of ascent later, the water’s cool and the air is clear... but she's very glad her husband is there to give her a lift back to the cottage.

A week in Snowdonia after months of lockdown feels like liberation. We are hungry for new surroundings and the chance to see two of our daughters. We pack our puppy, Ruskin, and cats Octavia and Miranda (no prizes for guessing the inspiration for these names!) into the car and leave Gloucestershire in sweltering heat.

Snowdonia is a full 10˚C cooler than south-east England, but that’s hot for North Wales and it’s busy: Llyn Padarn, reputedly the deepest and coldest lake in Snowdonia, is attractively swimmable in this weather and we join many others for a cool dip several times. The sea, too, is gorgeous, although Ruskin is surprisingly ambivalent.

However, for me, the joy of Snowdonia is getting high up and the Glyder range is my favourite group of mountains. I end up twice on the top of Glyder Fawr (3,284ft): once after a thrilling scramble up Bryant’s Gully from the Llanberis Pass led by my son-in-law and daughters, the second time on a long solo walk, which I liken to walking the rooftops of Snowdonia.

Lake Idwal, Snowdonia National Park.

Setting off early from our cottage in Fachwen, I track the north shore of Llyn Padarn and pass through the long-abandoned Dinorwig slate quarry. It’s going to be a glorious day; the sharp outlines of the Snowdon horseshoe are already crystal clear. Emerging from the piles of broken slate into the farms of Nant Peris, my first challenge is Elidyr Fawr (3,031ft), where the only way up is a long, hard slog straight to the top.

I know this from bitter experience. I also know that my dear (departed) friend Esmé Kirby, founder of the Snowdonia Society, ran up here with her first husband, Thomas Firbank (of I Bought a Mountain fame), when they broke early records for doing all the 14 summits in Snowdonia above 3,000ft (the famous ‘three thousanders’) in one go in the late 1930s.

I’m on that route today, but not intending to break any records. Once I reach the top of Elidyr Fawr, the path eases and it’s a wonderful swing down from the top, circling Bwlch y Brecan and around Foel Goch, before the steep pull to the top of Y Garn (3,106ft).

Now, the view is stupendous, with the distinctive spiky mound of Tryfan and its big sisters the Glyders ahead of me and the Snowdon horseshoe to my right. To my left, above Llyn Ogwen, is the massive bulk of Pen yr Ole Wen (3,208ft), the start of the Carneddau range, with another six summits needed to complete the route.

I drop from the top of Y Garn to Llyn y Cwn, the little lake above the Devil’s Kitchen, where the first people I’ve seen all morning are resting. Then I begin the long, familiar slog up the scree path to the top of Glyder Fawr, a massive, rock-strewn, almost lunar landscape that is so familiar, yet can be dis-orienting in mist and driving rain.

Rugged Welsh landscape in autumn. Route to the mountain peak of Cnicht.

A route to the mountain peak of Cnicht, Snowdonia.

There’s no risk of that today, however, and the half-hour walk to my last summit, Glyder Fach (3,261ft), is a joyous experience, past the mad chaos of tumbled rocks that is the Castle of the Winds and the perfectly poised Cantilever Rock.

Now it’s downhill all the way, but the descent of Bristly Ridge is the least pleasant part of the whole walk. I slip and slide down the dry scree, landing with some relief at the stone wall that sits in the dip — Bwlch Tryfan — between Tryfan and the Glyders. I’m boiling hot and gulp water from the first stream I see before taking the beautifully maintained path (thank you, National Trust) to Ogwen Cottage, where my kind husband is waiting to pick me up.

Twelve miles, four summits and about 5,000ft of ascent are enough for me for one day. I think of Esmé and her gritty determination with renewed admiration.