The Rhinogydd are a unique range of steep, rocky mountains located east of Harlech in the southern half of the Snowdonia National Park. As one of Wales' wildest and least visited mountain ranges, they form a rolling sea of large rocks and deep heather, only broken by rising waves of small gritstone crags and cragletts. Designated as a National Nature Reserve (NNR), it is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Much of the reserve consists of a broad expanse of upland heath considered so valuable that it has been declared a Biogenetic Reserve; part of a network of habitats across Europe established to preserve the genetic variety of Europe’s wildlife.
Signified by it’s remote nature and rugged landscape, this area possesses a distinct character of it’s own, fostering the sense of a forgotten landscape. This is a by-product of the regions underlying geology, sometimes referred to as the Harlech Dome; these are some of the oldest rock formations in the UK, and they give rise to several markedly different landforms. The range extends roughly 20 km from north to south with the largest peaks found in its southern half. The peaks from which the range takes its name, Rhinog Fawr (720m) and Rhinog Fach (712m), are not in fact the highest, but are by far the most spectacular. With precipitous slopes, both rocky and intricate, the routes to their summits are always interesting.
The upland heaths of Wales present wonderful opportunities to bird watch, and The Rhinogydd range are no exception. Summer visitors include Ring Ouzel, Meadow Pipit and the Wheatear. As for resident birds, Merlins are the rarest members of the Falcon family to occupy this remarkable place. They share the territory with Peregrine Falcons, Hen Harriers and Kestrels, which prey on the smaller birds. Notably, the heath is home to small populations of increasingly rare Black and Red Grouse. A herd of feral goats also inhabit the area and are often spotted meandering across the less accessible parts of the range.
Vibrant blooms of Heather mark the onset of late summer, infusing the landscape with vivid hues of pink and purple. You may also enjoy dazzling displays of Heath Spotted Orchids, earlier in the season. Amazingly, this range is also a site for the uncommon Lesser Twayblade. This tiny and elusive orchid has a tendency to grow under heather and bilberry bushes, and bogs, making it very difficult to spot. The rugged upland and hillside Oak woods located on the lower slopes boast exceptional lichen, fern, moss and liverwort populations.
The peaks of the range are more easily accessed from the west. Two valleys, Cwm Nantcol (Valley of the Nantcol River) and Cwm Bychan (Small Valley), provide two main access points and can be reached from the village of Llanbedr. The most popular walking route begins at the Roman Steps, from the Cwm Bychan car park. The area has plenty of good parking facilities available.
The Rhinogydd Mountains are popular with hill walkers looking for a more isolated, wilder walking experience. This is regarded as some of the most difficult terrain in Wales, so expect paths that are rocky and steep.