Myrddyn Phillips and Aled Williams have been busy on the Welsh hills in recent years, focusing on surveying hills for numerical data and research for upland place names. Myrddyn is also part of G&J Surveys who are a team of independent surveyors who have been responsible for the revision of several summit heights on OS maps. The duo have also come up with novel hill bagging lists, The Fours and Y Pedwarau. Here they explain the thinking behind their latest venture - Y Pellennig, a brand new tick list to the most remote hills in Wales.
The development of ideas is sometimes initiated by simple questions. We asked ourselves such a question one day in the grand wilderness of Mid Wales, where the elongated ridges of the Elenydd stretched out, one after another, all seemingly unending. The view was dominated by these extended whalebacks and for miles there seemed to be no sign of man’s intrusion upon the landscape; but as the horizon was scanned one slender grey thread showed itself, a road that snaked its way up and over a high pass. It looked out of place, supplanted in a land not meant for such a thing. Questions immediately arose: where was the most remote spot in the whole of mainland Wales, and which were the remotest of her hills? The seed of an idea had been sown.
"What does remoteness mean, and can it be categorised?"
As maps were opened and scrutinised the very idea of remoteness was considered. What does remoteness mean, and can it be categorised? The dictionary describes the word ‘remote’ as meaning: far off, separated and out-of-the-way, but from what?
In truth the answer is subjective. For instance, the summit of Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa would feel more remote in the early morning of a cold winter’s day than it would on a bright and warm summer afternoon, with a horde of tourists disembarking off a newly arrived train. Perhaps remoteness is personally perceived and therefore transient, thus making it difficult to quantify.
Remoteness has to be considered relative, too. Since the land in Britain and Ireland is very different south of the Scottish Highlands, any hill-listing criteria developed specifically around the disproportionate scale of the Highland wilds couldn't be applied to the rest of the British Isles. One simply cannot be judged against another.
"The main list covers 124 summits in mainland Wales at least 2.5km from the nearest public road"
However we decided that a simple, albeit generalised, method of defining remoteness for the purposes of our list could be the distance between the summit of a hill and the nearest paved public road. This at least is easy to ascertain, and as the great majority of hill walks start from the convenience of public roads, it may facilitate a means of determining a critical aspect of remoteness.
After many days of map study the most remote place in mainland Wales was identified as a spot in the open grasslands of Mynydd Du in South Wales, situated on the northern ridge of the 473m high Cerrig Coegion. This was a surprising result and one that prompted further investigation into what constitutes a remote Welsh hill. The end product of this project would be a list to challenge the bagger, and although the very nature of remote hills would do this, there also needed to be a sufficient number of hills to make the list interesting and of merit.
We initially explored a distance of 3km, and to differentiate one hill from another a drop value of 30m. However, as these criteria did not provide a satisfying list, a distance of 2.5km and a drop value of 15m was settled upon. This proved ideal, with all manner of interesting hills qualifying - some having never appeared previously in a hill list.
"This unique list would take the user to all kinds of hills; from the heart of the country to coastal areas and the open sea."
Some of the qualifying hills were surprising, such as Ynys Llanddwyn (SH388629), a tidal island connected to the west coast of Ynys Môn (Anglesey); or the low-lying top that crowns the Pembrey Forest (SN390021).
Clearly, this unique list would take the user to all kinds of hills; from the heart of the country to coastal areas and the open sea.
The list subsequently developed into two separate lists, one for the whole of Wales and one for mainland Wales. The former included many islands, Ynys Llanddwyn among them, while the latter excluded these islands except for two tidal islands situated on the dramatic Ynys Weryn (Worm’s Head) (SS387877). This was done in order to make the completion of the challenge achievable, as many of the qualifying islands are off limits due to nesting birds as well as their general inaccessibility. It felt unfair to publish a list that had little chance of ever being completed, and a separate mainland list solves this issue. However, as we are now living in times where the great sea stacks of Scotland are being scaled for Marilyn completions, perhaps the full list will also be completed in the future.
With islands in mind, the remotest hill in the whole of Wales was identified as West Tump (SM596093) at an impressive 16.330km from the nearest paved public road. This wave-battered lump of rock is 17m high and found on the western edge of Gwales (Grassholm Island), situated off the coast of Sir Benfro (Pembrokeshire).
Perhaps of more immediate relevance to the majority of hill walkers is the remotest hill summit in mainland Wales. At 4.875km from the nearest paved public road, this is the 467m Pedwar hill, known as Tyle Garw (SN784178), one of the tops found on Mynydd Du in South Wales.
This list has taken many months to compile and all online maps have been checked in combination with their paper counterparts. It also benefits from the latest surveys conducted by G&J Surveys, Alan Dawson and Mapping Mountains. Each employs Differential GPS equipment using a Leica GS15, Leica 1250 and Trimble GeoXH 6000 respectively. These surveys have changed map heights and continue to produce more accurate heights that are used in updating established hill listings.
"As yet no one is known to have completed ascents of all the hills in these two lists"
The compilation of the list did not just concentrate on the aspect of numerical data, as it was also an opportunity for Aled Williams to continue his researches into Welsh upland place-names. These researches have been a major part of past publications jointly produced by the authors, namely The Fours and Y Pedwarau; both of which were lists to the 400m P30 hills of England and Wales respectively. The extensive hill-name research for the remotest list concentrated on current and historical Ordnance Survey maps, old estate survey maps, tithe maps and nautical charts. Local information was also heavily analysed, exclusively supplied from inquiries conducted by the authors.
Each name was carefully chosen and composed. For example, a hill name where the current map composition does not equate to the local pronunciation is Trwsgl (SH633679), one of the 2,000ft peaks of the Carneddau mountains. This name appears as Drosgl on current Ordnance Survey maps and both forms translate into English as ‘rough land’; the two being accepted variations of the same adjective. However, Trwsgl was the form originally recorded for this hill by the Ordnance Survey in 1816 and extensive research for this listing uncovered that this is still the locally-used form. It is hoped that by using a sympathetic stance with the choice of most appropriate name, these publications will be enriched as well as providing an element of historical interest for future research. Many hours were spent analysing and cataloguing hill names for this project, and much gratitude must be expressed to the multitude of local people, mainly farmers and gatherers, who proved generous with their time and patience.
As befits a list to Welsh hills, the publication has been given a Welsh name, ‘Y Pellennig’, which translates as ‘The Remote’. In all 166 hills are listed within the complete list, with 124 of these making the mainland list. As yet, no one is known to have completed ascents of all the hills presented in these two lists.
‘Y Pellennig: The Remotest Hills of Wales’ is part of a continuing series of publications that we are jointly compiling. It is available on the Europeaklist website as an e-version booklet or as a print-version booklet. v-g.me are publishing the two lists: All of Wales and Mainland Wales. All of Wales is also published on Haroldstreet where users can log their progress and download GPS waypoints. And the list will be maintained on the Mapping Mountains site for when numerical and place-name information requires updating.