Black Dots - Snowdonia, February 2016


Mountain weather is difficult to predict at the best of times, it's generally advised to prepare for all eventualities and expect conditions to change quicker than you can scramble through your backpack to get the waterproofs. We had apparently one of the warmest winters on record, but as the weeks rolled closer to Spring the temperatures were slowly dropping from one day to the next. As I packed the car ready to loose myself for a week in the mountains of North Wales, I prepared for the schizophrenic monster that is the Great British weather. Storm Imogen was still whipping the country with 100mph gusts when I arrived late at the Pen-Y-Pass Youth Hostel. Ideally situated at the starting point for the Snowdon ascent, this hostel is pretty isolated - standing alone at the top of the Pass. I was being joined by Andy again for this trip, but he wasn't due to arrive until the following night so I made plans to walk out to Dulyn Bothy for a scout, to assess the conditions of the bothy itself and also time how long it took to reach. Leaving the car on the road to Llyn Eigiau Reservoir and taking the higher track towards the bothy, the trail is pretty easy to follow; a simple stone pathway which snakes it's way around Clogwynyreryr and eventually down towards Melynllyn and Dulyn Reservoir where the bothy is situated in the shadows of Craig-Fawr and Craig y Dulyn. This higher route offers a spectacular aerial view of the bothy and it's surroundings, and as I made a mental note of possible compositions from this higher vantage point I sat and watched a flurry of snow close in.

Dulyn Bothy - according to Pheobe Smiths wonderful publication, The Book of the Bothy, is "thought to be a shepherd's hut, or remnants of workers' quarters built when they were damming the lake". It's a small, single story bothy comprised of two decent sized rooms with a fireplace in the central wall. No sleeping platforms here, just wooden floorboards and an array of sporadically placed hooks crudely shoved into the walls. Oh, and some monsters in the loft apparently. As is the case with most bothies, even after your eyes have adjusted - it's pretty dark inside! I stomped around on the floorboards with my light-meter taking various readings and trying to figure out whether a rising or setting sun would bring any more light into the bothy.  After some lunch, I walked out on the lower track in the snow through a boggy flat trek which crosses a number of streams, until eventually meeting up with the road where the car was parked.

The next day, I returned to the same location with Andy in tow. We were to walk the same route into Dulyn Bothy as I had done the day before and planned to spend the night, making work in a number of locations I'd scouted and figured out compositions for. The first location was from the higher track, looking down onto Dulyn Bothy with the black rock of Craig y Dulyn looming behind. The bothy looked like a modest speck on the landscape, you'd be forgiven for missing it from this track. The grandeur of the surrounding landscape was accentuated by the rapidly changing light and weather conditions, from dappled sunlight to a flurry of snow - 90 minutes sat here and all four seasons play out in front of you!

Continuing down the trail, we followed what I assume is an old miners path - passing an old wheel house and mine workings, before reaching the first of two lakes - Llyn Melynllyn (Welsh for Yellow Lake). From here we picked our way up and over the crag and followed the faint, ice covered track down towards the second lake - Llyn Dulyn - from which the bothy takes its name. 

We found ourselves alone in the bothy, so busied ourselves clearing the floor space and unpacking our bags. Priorities were:

  • Ensure we had enough fuel to keep the fire going during the night (we'd carried in a fair amount of dried firewood, but realised that we'd definitely need to source some more for the night ahead.)
  • Work out the best place to keep the Ales at the right temperature (carrying a couple of bottles of Jail Ale courtesy of Dartmoor Brewery has rapidly become a tradition)!
  • Do this before the light fails and in time to head out to shoot a nearby copse which I'd scouted the day before.

The nearby copse is a well known feature for walkers trying to locate the Dulyn Bothy. In a landscape scarcely populated by anything other than grass and rock, this leafy, wind-gnarled oasis has managed to thrive in it's environment. Comprised of only a handful of trees, it's about a 15 minute walk east from the bothy. As a general rule, firewood for bothying should never be cut from nearby trees and I'm a huge supporter of that. However, a section of this copse had fallen victim to the intense winds the UK had been experiencing over the past few weeks and entire branches lay strewn on the floor in and around the copse. We spent time gathering these up, bundled them together and hauled the lot back to the bothy for fuel - there was plenty there to keep us going throughout the night and then some. After a quick firewood drop-off, we headed back out towards the copse to catch the evening light. There was a great view of the isolated copse further down the valley, looking west with the snow covered black-rock face of Craig-fawr in the distance. With a couple more sheets of film in the bag, we headed back to Dulyn Bothy to get the fire lit and settle in for the night.

One of the most interesting aspects of bothying and indeed one of the themes driving this project, is the people you meet. When you arrive at a bothy, you may find it to be empty and it will remain that way for the whole night. In other instances, you might be greeted by any number of fellow walkers & climbers. You share the warmth of the fire with these strangers, pass around a drink or two and exchange stories. Your paths have crossed and intersected at this small hut in the mountains and no matter how wildly different you may be - you all share this same interest and you all find your joy and fulfilment from embracing the outdoors. And when you're completely our of signal range and a hefty walk from the nearest road - that's all that really matters at that moment in time. We had just got the fire roaring, when the cracks and pops of the wood were disturbed by a rustling outside. A bright flash of a head torch cast over the window, and in staggered two weary walkers. Mike & Val had travelled up from Malvern to stay at Dulyn. They don't own a car, yet have somehow managed to visit pretty much every Bothy in the UK conducting research for Mikes new book about Mountain Bothies. Andy & I sat and watched Mike - pencil in mouth - measuring the interior walls of the bothy with the intention of making illustrations at a later date. The following morning, Mike was kind enough to allow me to shoot a portrait of him in the bothy - the sun rose and shone a perfect ray or light directly through the bothy window, illuminating the corner. As soon as I'd taken my shots, the clouds moved in and the snow started again. After exchanging details with Mike and Val, we went our separate ways and hiked out on the low path in a flurry of snow, with the smell of wood-smoke clinging to our clothes.

We made it back to the hostel around mid-morning for a super-quick turnaround and reshuffle of equipment. Today was a break from project work and was reserved for a scramble up Crib Goch. I'll blog about that in a separate post! Our final day in Snowdonia was relatively tame in comparison to the previous days antics on Crib Goch. Project work resumed, and we packed up the cars and headed south towards Dolgellau in search of the popular Penrhos Isaf bothy. A simple forest walk on clearly marked tracks about 20 minutes from the car park, this bothy is a two story cottage with plenty of space for a number of people. It's in good condition, and is a popular stop-off point for mountain bikers riding the trails nearby. After spending some time exploring the bothy, I decided to make some images of one of the outbuildings nestled in the nearby woodland. With my last two frames of the trip made, I packed up for the final time and headed  to the car to begin the 6 hour drive back to Devon.