Moel Famau

Late in July we spent a few days at Helen’s family home in Bolton, which is always lovely and a wonderful springboard for exploring the peaks and moors of the north west. Since my ankle was improving and I was desperate to try out the awesome gear given to me by the lovely folks at Iffley Road Running Wear, I had decided it was time to start running again, safe in the knowledge that with a relaxed pace and forgiving terrain underfoot I was unlikely to cause any further damage. A short preliminary leg-stretch around Winter Hill reassured me I was well on the road to recovery, and after letting my legs settle for a couple of days it was time to move on to a slightly bigger challenge – and one that I knew I wouldn’t have a chance to do again for a while. It was a county top, but it wasn’t in England…

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Moel Famau is a small mountain in North Wales, the highest point in the Clwydian Range which stretches south from Prestatyn for around twenty miles. It’s not super high for the UK, but at 554m with significant prominence it was to be a good test to see how much fitness I’d lost in the fortnight since getting hurt. I planned a route which would be tough on the way up but easier on the way down, with shallower gradients in order not to stress my joints too much.

Taking a punt on the odds of finding somewhere to park, I dropped Helen off in Chester and set my satnav for Cilcain, just inside the Welsh border about half an hour to the west. My start point was to be just outside the sleepy village and I was surprised to find not only ample parking, but several other cars and a two groups of ladies preparing to set off up the hill. One of the pleasures of avoiding a nine-till-five lifestyle is you often have these places to yourself, but it was nice to have some company as I got ready to run.

Very cautiously I jogged away from the car on the stony bridleway heading WSW, past two ponds towards the small reservoir at the foot of a valley. The gentle incline was the perfect way to warm up before the real climbing kicked off, and in the lee of the grassy lower slopes it was beautifully warm.

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Crossing the small stream on a bowed and rotten plank, I made my left turn and quickly gained a little height over the babbling brook. The path climbs steeply at first but settles into a fairly consistent gradient up through the bracken, and I found it to be runnable without too much trouble.

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Narrowing to a singletrack the path twists ever higher, and without intention I disturbed the first of many sheep in a slow-motion chase to the sky. I think one had a half-hearted go at chasing me in reply – for what reason I suppose I’ll never know – but a quick glance over my shoulder was enough to send it diving for cover into the undergrowth.

At the head of the valley I took a left to join the path along the ridge, a short flat section helping me to get my breath back before the very steep final push. The green pastures below gave way to striking fields of heather – a magnificent purple expanse capping the peak, topped by ruins of the Regency era Jubilee Tower at the summit.

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I arrived at the top panting and barely able to keep myself upright against the howling southerly wind, but managed to stay on my feet to take it all in and get a few pictures. There are huddled families with grumpy looking teenage sons, young children rushing around, and excitable dogs all enjoying the far-reaching panoramic views. It’s worth every second of the climb.

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Once I’d had my fill, I took the northerly route off the mountain on a well marked path, with the wooded plantation to my right. Fast and flowing in places, yet steep and technical in others, it was a real joy and one I’ll have to reprise once I can descend at full speed.

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The ground begins to level out and into grassy pasture, and crossing a damp and springy field I complete my loop. My ankle is still in one piece and my spirits are lifted by a fabulous hour spent exploring new terrain, and the opportunity to push my body to climb further than anywhere the south of England has to offer. What more could you ask for on a blustery Monday afternoon?

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Map: OS Explorer 265 (Clwydian Range)
Start: Cilcain, SJ1717364751
Distance: 7km
Climb: 425m
Difficulty: Hard

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