“ The park lies North East Wales bordering the counties of Denbighshire and Flintshire. It is well known for the prominent Jubilee Tower remains at the summit. „
I have always been an outdoors girl, I've never loved anything more than being out and about walking or riding as a child and homework was very rarely able to compete with my yearning for the outdoors. I hadn't been out other than the occasional dabble until very recently when very sadly my friend passed away unexpectedly whilst working as a mountain leader, doing the job he loved in the environment that he loved and, lets face it, the mountains aren't a bad office. Since then I have thrown myself into hill walking, managing most weeks to get out and up a hill of some description in some part of the UK. Not only has this had the effect of improving my fitness it is also a way of feeling close to my friend and keeping him in mind. The peace and space of the hills is amazingly healing and reunites me with the natural world that I feel so at home in.
It was a result of one of these visits to the hills that I discovered the Clwydian ranges in North Wales and in particular, the highest of the bunch "Moel Famau" or "Mother Mountain" as the welsh translates.
Markos has already written an astounding review on the park and it isn't my intention to mimic that work here, however I took a different path to the summit than Markos and that path in itself is worthy of a new review.
To be honest I have always, extremely unfairly I now realise, dismissed North Wales as a kind of walian Bognor Regis, all buckets and spades and penny arcades. I now know that this area is astoundingly beautiful, the towns of Ruthin and Denbigh nestle in the valley at the base of the hill at the west with Mold lying to the east.
Moel Famau, together with the Loggerheads country park lie just off the A494 Ruthin road out of Mold and easily accessible to the majority of vehicles. Driving along the track I parked at the higher car park that Markos mentioned, also known as the "iron gate car park" and was immediately hit by the feeling that I had returned to a the lake district. A cattle grid and gate bars the path for loose sheep wandering the road, which snakes down through the hills to a picturesque valley below, the sun glinting off the tarmaced surface. I'm making it sound picture book because it really is. The surface of the car park and the pathways leading off and up are covered in stone chippings and give the impression of being suitable for all kinds of weather.
Standing at the far right hand corner of the car park is the entrance to the final 7 mile stretch of the Offa's Dyke National Trail and it was this path that we followed to the summit of Moel Famau and was a much gentler climb than some of the more hilly routes that really do go straight up!
I was fortunate enough to visit on a day that was perfectly still and clear with no wind and very low air pressure. This meant that the panoramic views were second to none. I was fortunate enough to be able to see, from the car park, straight across to Snowdon, the Dee and Mersey Estuaries and the wonderfully named "Hope Mountain."
Due to the time of year the heather that covered the sides of Moel Famau were a gorgeous deep purple in colour and contrasted amazingly with the almost lawn-like areas of cleared heather used for grazing. A part of the hillside from where we were standing looked as though a giant had flicked out a huge green and purple blanket over the rocks below, such was the smoothness of the grass and contrast between that and the heather. The surroundings were simply stunning and as a result I would certainly recommend a visit throughout the autumn months of the year.
The Offa's Dyke route to the summit winds gently around the outside of the mountain, which leads to a much gentler stroll to the top. Bearing in mind that I visited Moel Famau as a result of my friends idea of a "gentle stroll" whilst I was in the grip of flu, I made it to the top relatively unscathed with just a few short breathers on the many benches that line the path. Due to this I would say that although yes, a bit more than a gentle slope in parts, this path to the top would be suitable for people of many different fitness levels although not suitable for pushchairs or wheelchairs unless in a multi-terrain pushchair. The pathway is completely in the open with an amazing view across the valleys throughout. It took me over an hour sans flu to get to the summit and what a picturesque hour it was! The scenery across Wales, the pair of harriers that we watched circling for ages and the Hawk aircraft that zipped down the valley was almost like our own private show. The information boards boast of black grouse within the area but they are very secretive and best seen at dawn or dusk.
My big big big gripe on the path though is a good amount of puppy piles that inconsiderate and uncaring dog owners had failed to pick up. I am immensely for keeping areas accessible to dog walkers and this area is prime for an amazing walk with your dog (must be kept on the lead due to afore mentioned lambkins) but this area will be closed to dog walkers unless this issue is addressed. I do not recall seeing a dog bin within the car park area and perhaps this will encourage owners to do the honourable thing.
The summit stands at 554metres and boasts the remains of the Jubilee Tower, built to commemorate the golden jubilee of George 3rd in the highest location in the region. The somewhat phallic design of the monument coupled with the fact that he built it on the highest point of the highest most visible mountain somewhat indicates the size of dear King George's ego I fear. Unfortunately his marvellous erection was somewhat truncated during a storm and the ruins are all that remain.
Standing atop the ruin, closing my eyes, the peace that I could feel was immense. Only at the top of such a hill, out of prying public eyes and the hustle and bustle of life does the meaning of the term "silence is golden" truly take on meaning.
I sat, I closed my eyes, I listened to nothing, and truly felt relaxed.
Moel Famau is a designated area of natural beauty and part of the Offa's Dyke National trail. It is free to enter but car parking is a pound, essential for the maintenance of this grassland habitat.
Public transport runs from Mold and Ruthin to the bottom of the lane leading to Moel Famau, this would mean an additional 2 miles to walk to the base of the Offa's Dyke, although other paths are available for varying abilities. For further information on other trails please see the review by Markos.
Moel Famau Country Park is in the Clwydian Range Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Moel Famau is the name of the mountain that forms the highest point in the Clywdian range.
The country park is an outstanding place for walkers. The area is aptly designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty; the scenery is gorgeous and the views from the top of Moel Famau are far reaching and, on a clear day, can be breathtaking.
Walking is not the only activity that the park caters for, however. Mountain biking is popular and there are trails from the lower car park.
The country park is signposted from the A494; there are two car parks, the lower and the higher. The lower car park is the one that's reached first. This is a pay and display car park (cost £1), which opens at 8am, but there are a few spaces before the barrier for early birds (like me!). To reach the higher car park, simply carry on up the road for about half a mile.
There are few facilities at the park. There are toilets, and a baked potato van is there at weekends, but that's about it. There are, however, some excellent interpretation boards showing the park and it's wildlife as well as four superbly colour coded and way marked routes (useful for people like me who can't read a map!).
Let me take you on a walk through the country park to the summit of Moel Famau.
From the car park, the posts showing the red and blue routes point up a steep gravel path through broadleaved woodland. The lower slopes of Moel Famau are full of birds and in the summer, will be alive with bird song. Redstarts, willow warbler, chiffchaff, and song thrush will all be heard, and if you're lucky, several cuckoos will be calling their disyllabic, monotonous (but strangely appealing) call.
At the top of this path, I pause for a rest (I said it was steep!) and to enjoy the scenery. The woodland opens out, and the coniferous forest across the valley dominates the scene. In the morning, on a sunny day, the sun will be creeping over the low hills to the east, casting golden rays of sunshine onto this lovely place.
Here, the red and blue routes diverge. I'm going to describe the blue route in detail. The red can be described quickly; very, very, steep. In truth, the blue route is longer, easier, but also more beautiful so I much prefer it to the red route.
The blue route continues level for a while, along the edge of the start of the coniferous woodland. The character of the walk therefore changes; the massive conifers tower above you to the right, whilst the valley drops away to the left. The bird song changes, too. Goldcrests and coal tits will be calling in their high pitched voices and siskins and redpolls will be buzzing at the tops of the trees.
After about 1/3 mile the very helpful maker posts direct you sharp right up through the conifers for a few hundred yards. At the top, there's another clearing with another chance to enjoy the views of the rising sun (OK, I get my breath back here, too!).
Here, a couple of hundred feet up from the car park, the landscape begins to change again. Heather and bilberry can be seen in small clumps at the side of the path; a taste of the heather moorland to come.
Another steep bit follows (it's at this point I often ask myself WHY I'm climbing this mountain!) before the conifers are left behind and the heather takes over.
Here, you can see the summit with its heather clad slopes, although it's often wreathed in cloud. This is a good place to stop as it can be really wildlife rich. Tree pipits can be seen and heard in summer and crossbills may be at the tops of the trees or flying across the clearing calling 'chip chip'.
These birds, like their name suggests have their upper and lower bills crossed. This enables them to prise open pine cones and get at the seeds inside (their only food).
If you're really lucky, in spring, that powerful bird of prey, the goshawk could be displaying above you. This rare, normally secretive bird is hardly ever seen except at this time of year, but most of the forest's inhabitants live in fear of it; it will eat almost anything.
The marker posts now direct you to the left, along a ridge, around the side of the mountain. Here the walk can result in a bit of a shock. You may be walking along quietly when a chicken sized black bird explodes from the heather in front of you and flies off at high speed, calling frantically! This is a black grouse. These are now very rare in Britain, but, due to good management of the moorland, are doing well in the country park. Red grouse, their smaller cousin can also be found here, too.
At the end of this section, the walk joins Offa's Dyke path on a final steep walk to the summit. You'll notice now, a strange structure at the top of the hill; this is the Jubilee Tower. It was built in the 1800's to commemorate the jubilee of George III. The tower was originally much taller than the remains, but a storm in 1862 reduced the impressive monument to the 'stump' that's all that's left now.
The summit has been reached now and the reward is (if the weather allows) the fantastic vista that's all around. There's a display at the top of the tower indicating landmarks that can be seen and their distance. I was amazed to see that one of the tallest mountains in Wales, Cadair Idris is visible; forty miles away! Liverpool and the Dee Estuary can be seen easily as well as the startlingly white church at Bodelwyddan.
The summit will feel colder than the car park and is often windy. This is, however, a superb spot for a picnic; the huge bulk of the tower gives shelter from the wind and some shelter from any rain. As you eat your well earned meal, reflect that you're now 1818ft up; higher than anywhere else in the region, really on top of the world!
Birds such as raven and peregrine can often be seen flying effortlessly around the summit. Tiny meadow pipits will certainly be around. My most bizarre wildlife encounter happened earlier this year at the base of the tower. I found a badger, 1800ft up a mountain, amazing! It was in some distress so I left it well alone (I have no idea what happened to it or whether it survived).
Keen walkers can continue along the Clywdian Range towards Moel Arthur and beyond. Unless I'm feeling really energetic, I usually just spend half an hour at the top before making my way back to the car, retracing the blue route.
Moel Famau Country Park, as I hope I've shown, is a beautiful place to visit at any time of the year. There are many more possible walks than the one I've described; the park covers over 1800 acres so is quite extensive. The mountain, despite it's popularity, has a sense of wildness about it. It's a place I return to again and again.