If you find a dryish day in amongst the November downpours, or just want to keep a few walks in mind for summer, this is a good one. Plus, you get two who Iron Age hillforts for the price of one, which can’t be bad 🙂 I haven’t done this for years, and cannot find the photos, but if this is a terrific walk, not at all strenuous, in spite of the stunning views that you are rewarded with over Cader Idris, the Mawddach valley and estuary, and the surrounding hills. Incorporated into the walk is also a lovely lake, actually a reservoir for supplying water to Dolgellau, at the foot of the hill on the carpark side. Updated info is below the leaftlet, plus a little bit about the hillforts. You can also download the PDF here.
For those who are using GPS, I’ve noted the postcode on the leaflet above (LL40 2NG). There’s a good sized carpark.
The walk is on private land, so access is at the courtesy of the Nannau Estate, which allows public access via the marked footpaths. It is a very easy route to follow with easy gradients, mostly level once you get to the main walk, and the route around the hill is a circular one, as the name implies. It is quite narrow and not recommended for anyone with vertigo. The return leg takes walkers along the reservoir, Llyn Cynwch. It takes about an hour an a bit, on average.
The Foel Faner hillfort on the Precipice Walk requires a small diversion from the main route, also accessible via a footpath, and well marked (marked as “camp” on the above leaflet). This also provides some more great views. The hillfort is an irregular oval and has a single line of defenses, quite substantially built and easy to identify (unlike some hillforts in Gwynedd). The entrance is at the northeast, about 12ft wide, and has an additional bank to protect it. It has very few natural defense, and the main advantage of the hillfort’s position is the visibility over a very wide area.
The second hillfort is on the hill opposite the precipice walk, so you can use the same car park and head over the road and follow a gentle footpath that runs along the base of the hill, Foel Offrwm. When you reach a wall, turn right and follow it for about half a mile, which takes you to the entrance of the hillfort, but between where the wall ends and the hillfort begins is a steep stretch of open hillside, a much more ambitious walk than the Precipice Walk. Unlike Foel Faner, the location is strategically good, and the views are probably even better. There is a single line of drystone defence that is reinforced with an additional line of defence to the southeast. There is a single in-turned entrance to the east. Well worth a visit.
On Thursday, November 19, 2020, Aberdovey Londoner wrote:
> Andie posted: “If you find a dryish day in amongst the November downpours, > or just want to keep a few walks in mind for summer, this is a good one. > Plus, you get two who Iron Age hillforts for the price of one, which can’t > be bad :-). I haven’t done this for years, an” >
I have walked Precipice Walk on numerous occasions, and years ago climbed Foel Offrwm to see the hillfort there. However, I had never realised before that there was another hillfort on Foel Vaner which Precipice Walk skirts around the foot of. So on Sunday last, when we finally had a spell of dry weather, I armed myself with my 1:25000 Outdoor Leisure Map and set off to explore.
The leaflet does not show how to access the hillfort, and I could see no signs on the ground – one of the reasons why I was previously unaware of it. Having done the Precipice section of the walk in an anti-clockwise direction, as I came to the southern end of that section I was looking out for routes up to the fort, and followed what looked like a footpath up the hillside in the right direction. However, on reaching the top of the ridge, I found my way to the fort blocked by a substantial drystone wall, and followed that east in the hope of finding a way through. En route I noticed what appeared to be an old trackway leading up from the lakeshore but blocked off by the same solid wall. Finally I followed the wall down to where the main Precipice Walk, coming up from the south end of Llyn Cynwch, passes through a gate. I then followed the wall back up the hillside on its other side and struck across the ridge to Foel Vaner hillfort, which is much as you describe, with a small cairn at the highest point of its interior. The fort’s collapsed walls still show a very large number of stones lying in situ, which made me wonder where the original builders (and indeed the builders of the later drystone wall) sourced their material – I suppose they could have quarried the hilltop, but otherwise they must have brought the stones from somewhere below, quite a major effort even with the help of packhorses or sleds. The view from the fort shows most of the Mawddach Estuary and would have enabled the inhabitants to have plenty of warning of hostile ships coming upriver from Barmouth.
I descended from the fort to the south, where there is another gate in a drystone wall letting walkers on Precipice Walk pass through soon after leaving the walk’s southern viewpoint. Again, there were no signs that I could see advising anyone that they were immediately below the hillfort. However for future access to the fort it seems the best way is to pass through one or other of the gates in the wall and head up the hillside from there – both routes are more like sheep tracks than regularly-used footpaths but quite passable.
On my way back along the western shore of Llyn Cynwch I kept an eye out for the foot of the trackway I had seen on the top of the ridge, and think I spotted it. Intriguingly it was marked by a partly-overgrown bridge over a small stream, made of some very substantial lumps of rock, roughly squared off. Assuming that the main water supply of the hillfort would have been by rainwater cisterns of some sort, it made me wonder if the trackway down to the lake (which presumably existed on a smaller scale before being dammed) would have been used by the hillfort occupants to bring up additional water supplies when it was safe to do so, and so whether this rustic bridge could be a contemporary of the fort.
While we are talking about hillforts, have you been to Craig y Castell, on the ridge to the west of Llyn Gwernan (Grid Reference 695 158) ? Again, it is years since I went up there, climbing up the hill above the lake and then walking along the ridge, though it may be easier to access from the car park at the foot of the Pony Track up Cadair Idris.
Richard Aberllefenni ________________________________
On Thursday, November 26, 2020, Aberdovey Londoner wrote:
> rgcorris commented: “Hi Andie I have walked Precipice Walk on numerous > occasions, and years ago climbed Foel Offrwm to see the hillfort there. > However, I had never realised before that there was another hillfort on > Foel Vaner which Precipice Walk skirts around the foot of. ” >