Jim Perrin celebrates Moel Siabod’s fantastic Daear Ddu scrambling route and its wonderful summit view
Its Daear Ddu ridge is one of the finest routes to a summit in all of Wales, and the view from the top of Moel Siabod is something special too, says Jim Perrin
FROM CAPEL CURIG on a fine day in June, the flycatchers dipping along the lane under the oak trees, I crossed Pont Cyfyng and took the Rhos Farm track, branching off to follow the green former quarry-way that contours the flank of Moel Siabod’s north-eastern ridge. From the silent pool at the old Rhos Quarry workings, a squelchy quarter-mile took me to flats of russet grasses around the outflow from Llyn y Foel.
That fine old hillwalker E.G. Rowlands, in his classic little period-piece of 1951, Hill Walking in Snowdonia, writes that ‘most of the pundits say that the ascent of Moel Siabod from Capel Curig is dull, but the pundits are not always right’. Indeed they’re not! I’ve two glowing watercolours on my wall, studies in different light of Llyn y Foel and the ridge behind, by the Cornish artist Clifford Fishwick. Another artist and sculptor, my dear late friend Jonah Jones, described it thus:
‘Once the entire corrie comes into view this lake reveals itself as one of the finest [in Wales]. First the synclinal rock barrier at its foot is beautifully delineated, as though the slabs and layers had cooled and crystallized only recently. Then the ridge behind the lake, superb granite slabs ascending to the summit, is surely one of the most conspicuous in the area.’
Of this ridge, which drops down south-easterly from the summit before curving round to the east and embracing the lake with that remarkable synclinal rock barrier of which Jonah Jones speaks, Patrick Monkhouse wrote that it ‘gives half a mile of very entertaining scrambling on dark, rough rock. There is neither danger nor difficulty; if there was, it could be avoided by keeping to the left…’ That seems to me if anything rather lukewarm about one of the most pleasant and satisfying lines of ascent on any of the central Snowdonian peaks.
The ridge is called Daear Ddu, which means ‘black ground’. I look at these two paintings above my desk, both of which capture the lovely circling form of it. In both of them it gleams, and in neither is it black. I recall being high on one of its slabs and looking down to see, in one of those startling visionary moments that the hills fine into your consciousness, the edge beneath as a gleaming silver transect across the ink-dark lake. I think of how satisfying is the directness of the ridge’s arrival at the summit OS pillar, with Yr Wyddfa and its satellite peaks shapely from this angle beyond Nant y Gwryd, and against the sunset too if you’ve timed your ascent right. I ponder on where the great field botanist of these hills, Evan Roberts, who worked in Rhos quarry, found the purple saxifrage that set him on his life’s journey into the study of mountain plants on that long-gone spring day when his wife threw him out of their house for getting under her feet, as a proper Welsh woman of her generation would. All this attaches to the mountain feature and forms a part of its texture of attraction, and an element of explanation for my affection for it. But the basic reason is far simpler. It’s the texture of the rock itself.
Old Harry Griffin – for over half a century before his death in 2004 a Lakeland institution – in one of his books about the Cumbrian fells had this to say on the subject: ‘It is hardly correct to think of scrambling as an end in itself – like rock-climbing. Rather is it a pleasant incident in a mountain day, a more invigorating way of reaching a summit. Rarely have I set off to do a particular scramble; usually, on a mountain walk, I have spotted a possible route away from the tracks and gone off and climbed it – or, sometimes, have failed to do so and had to find another way. Scramblers are, I think, people who itch to get their fingers on rock.’
Harry went on to elaborate charmingly and idiosyncratically around the spirit of exploration and adventure, the more complete nature of the physical exercise as compared to fell-walking; but he has surely captured the essence in that final sentence:
‘Scramblers are… people who itch to get their fingers on rock.’
Which brings me back to Moel Siabod and Daear Ddu. Maybe it’s the long years I spent rock-climbing, but I still ‘itch to get [my] fingers on rock’, still find it difficult to pass by the smallest craggy outcrop, or even the coursed masonry of some grand building, without wanting to experience the feel, the tactile essence of it. And if you’ll take the word of a super-annuated climber in a lifetime’s thrall to Welsh hills and rock, the latter doesn’t come much better than on the Daear Ddu ridge of Moel Siabod, which ends a few short feet from the summit itself. It’s as good a way to reach a summit as any in Wales, and the panorama of the Eryri hills from the top is intimate and marvellous. Descend by the north-east ridge down to forestry tracks and they’ll lead you straight to the Bryn Tyrch, best of Capel Curig’s pubs. Do you need any more convincing?