Cadair Idris via the Cwm Cau Circuit Walking

Cadair is without doubt one of the great Welsh mountains, and this is arguably its finest shorter route, a circular tour around the dramatic southern cwm that also offers a top-down perspective on its extensive northern escarpment. From oak woods, to lake, to ridge and summit, the Minfordd Path gives a varied, and justifiably popular ascent. The second half of the round over Mynydd Moel tends to be a lot quieter.

Craig Cau, llyn Cau and Penygadair (right) from Craig Lwyd on the Minffordd Path  © Dan Bailey -
Craig Cau, llyn Cau and Penygadair (right) from Craig Lwyd on the Minffordd Path
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Detailed description

SH7321011567 Go through a kissing gate and follow the main track through trees, across a bridge over the Afon Cedris, and past the Ty Te Cadair Tearoom. Now turn right through another gate to join the Minfordd Path – the most direct of the standard routes up Cadair, but also with the most ascent. This trail, at first a series of stone steps, zigzags steeply uphill through an ancient native oak woodland – now a NNR - staying just west of the cascading Nant Cadair. It's an idyllic start.

SH7269812026 The path climbs to a gate in a stone wall, marking the upper limit of the wood, continuing steeply uphill beside the stream for a while longer (note the path junction for your return later) and then onto gentler angled ground in the open lower reaches of Cwm Cau. Straight ahead are the rough southern flanks of Mynydd Moel; the right hand skyline will be your descent route later. The path begins to curve left, climbing over a gently-angled slope and then more steeply again into the upper cwm. This section was undergoing path rebuilding work at the time of writing (August 2017), which should alleviate erosion here. With the huge cliffs of Craig Cau looming ever larger ahead, pass left of a long clean rock slab to approach Llyn Cau. The lake is a worthwhile short diversion.

SH7203612351 At the western end of the lake a very rough scree path can be seen breaching the cwm's defences: this is more direct than the Minfordd Path but looks like purgatory. It also misses out the southern arm of the cwm, one of the chief highlights of the day. Don't bother.Instead, at a cairned path junction, go right to make a steep and quite eroded ascent onto the shoulder of Craig Lwyd. Here a wide panorama opens out to the south, the green hills of mid Wales rolling off to the horizon. From this vantage the valley below looks strikingly trench-like, and that's no coincidence: it's part of the Bala Fault, a 30-mile crack in the earth's crust that formed hundreds of millions of years ago.

SH7195912086 The path swings right, following the knobbly ridge uphill around the rim of Craig Cau, with some optional scrambling moments on quartz-streaked rocks. The airy positions looking down over the cliff edge to Llyn Cau are superb. Pass over a broad level section, then make a steeper climb up the rubbly path, cross a ladder stile, and emerge onto Craig Cwm Amarch, the little summit at the top of Craig Cau.

SH7104012115 Follow the cliff edge downhill – roughly northnorthwest – to Bwlch Cau, a saddle at the top of the scree path from Llyn Cau as mentioned above. Continuing north, the path makes another steep ascent, on unpleasantly eroded rubbly terrain, soon curving northeast and passing over the moonscape of Cader's summit area to reach the trig point that marks the high point.
Cyfrwy and the Mawddach estuary from Penygadair  © Dan Bailey -
Cyfrwy and the Mawddach estuary from Penygadair
© Dan Bailey -, Jul 2017
Just downhill to the north a little hut can be seen, a welcome shelter in poor weather, if a bit dingy. The view is stunning, with all the major peaks of southern Snowdonia clearly visible. Snowdon away to the north… the wooded Mawddach estuary running out to sea and on the horizon the conical peaks of the Lleyn. From here, Cadair's maritime position is clear.

SH7110613032 You could descend the same way, but a circuit is always preferable, and from here is not really any more effort. Go northeast, where the mountain slopes down into a broad grassy tabletop between Cwm Cau and the northern cliffs; the path is obvious, though less heavily trodden than those hitherto. After a very gentle descent of nearly 1km reach a wide saddle below the rolling summit of Mynydd Moel. Though there is an entertaining traverse path across the southern flank of Mynydd Moel that misses out the top, the summit is another great viewpoint and it's easily climbed.

SH7273113671 Head roughly south to pick up a path, which descends at first over open slopes and then the SE shoulder Mynydd Moel. Impossible to miss, since it follows the line of a fence, this path makes a steep descent on horribly eroded rubbly terrain, and could really do with some repair work. Height is lost quickly though.

SH7321612491 As you draw level with the floor of Cwm Cau the path cuts abruptly right (SW), descending to the Nant Cadair to rejoin the Minffordd Path for the final stage back down through the oak woods.

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Further Routes

by Dan Bailey UKH

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