Moel Famau

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  • Location: Moel Famau
  • Distance: 4.5 miles
  • Walk Description : An upland walk through heather moorland and ancient history to the most iconic peak in NE Wales.
  • BBC Disclaimer: The Weatherman Walking maps are intended as a guide to the TV programme only. Routes and conditions may have changed since the programme was made. The BBC takes no responsibility for any accident or injury that may occur while following the route. Always wear appropriate clothing and footwear and check weather conditions before heading out.
  • Download the map of this walk: Print off and follow in Derek's footsteps (PDF 1.54MB)

The Clwydian Range

This walk in the Clwydian Range Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty begins at Bwlch Penbarras, a car-park with cracking views over the Vale of Clwyd.

In fact they're so good that many people never leave their cars, and that's one of the things that Erin Robinson, Derek's guide on this ramble is trying hard to change.

Erin works for Denbighshire Countryside Services on their 'Heather and Hill Forts' project, and part of her job involves encouraging visitors to enjoy the full range of what this beautiful and interesting landscape has to offer.

There's a chain of Iron Age hill forts in this part of Wales, and this figure-of-eight route takes you to a fine example at Moel Fenlli before heading north to Moel Famau and looping back through the woods to the car-park.

Moel Fenlli

From the Bwlch Penbarras car park, most walkers head directly up the path to Moel Famau. But this route first takes you in the opposite direction to climb Moel Fenlli.

The hill-fort on the top is the highest in the Clwydian range (511m) and its banks and ditches are still clearly visible.

The area enclosed by the fort is extensive, and at the time of the Roman occupation of Britain, two thousand years ago, there would have been a large settlement up here.

It's a bleak place, but any enemies would have thought long and hard before launching an attack on Moel Fenlli. It's walls and defences would have been seen for miles around.

Audio Guide

Looping back down to the car-park, the route now follows the main path to Moel Famau.

Erin's 'Heather & Hill Forts' project has been busy creating an audio guide that walkers can access via their mobile phones.

They simply dial the number indicated on the markers that are placed at regular intervals along the way, and they get a description of of what to look out for at that particular point, plus background information from wild-life experts, historians and local people.

Luckily there don't seem to be any problems with receiving a signal up here.

Bronze age burial site

A recent special study of the soil in this area shows that human activity on the mountain stretches back over many thousands of years, from forest clearances made in the stone age through intensive cultivation in the iron age, to environmental management of the moorland in modern times.

Down below the path to the east there's a good view of another iron age hill fort - Moel y Gaer, which has recently been excavated by a team of archaeologists.

And a short diversion off the main route brings you to the remains of a bronze age burial site.

Although it now looks like a random pile of boulders, 4,000 years ago the inhabitants of the mountain used the stones to form a turf-covered chamber facing out over the Vale of Clwyd.

The people who built Moel y Gaer were as far removed in time from the bronze age as we are from the iron age, and the remains of this burial chamber would probably have been as strange and mysterious to them as they are to us.

Heather moorland

The moorland may seem like a completely natural environment, but in fact it has to be heavily managed. The heather is controlled by cutting and burning strips of land.

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This ensures that the plants are young and healthy, and creates spaces where sheep are able to graze and where wildlife can congregate. The managed moorland is particularly important for populations of black and red grouse.

The black grouse, in particular, is an endangered species. It's an arctic bird and this is its most southerly limit.

But there are encouraging signs in recent years that its numbers are rising on these moorlands: the careful management of the environment seems to be paying dividends.

Moel Famau and the Jubilee Tower

The summit of Moel Famau is marked by the remains of a tower that was built in 1810 to celebrate the golden jubilee of George III.

Moel Famau, translates as 'the mother of mountains' in Welsh.

The Jubilee Tower was devastated by a storm in 1862, and all that's now left is the base. Nevertheless it still forms an impressive platform from which to take in the amazing views all around.

On a good day from up here you see Cader Idris and Snowdon way to the west, to the north the growing collection of wind farms in the Irish Sea, and to the east Liverpool, Manchester and huge swathes of the North West of England.

For those urban centres, Moel Famau is a real icon of Wales, a prominent feature on their western horizon. It draws huge numbers of English visitors looking for a bit of Welsh wilderness.

Back to Bwlch Penbarras

The route back down passes through a large area of Forestry Commission. Some of the pine forest is now being cleared and native woodland and heather moorland are being encouraged to take its place.

Black Grouse are still a rare sight in these parts but keep your eyes peeled. You're guaranteed to see one before you get back to the car park - even if it is carved from wood.

Julian Carey - Producer on Weatherman Walking


Derek and walking guide

Moel Famau photos

Take a look at the photo gallery which accompanies this walk.

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