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Moel Famau: the Mother Mountain

Walk to the highest of the Clwydian Hills and see a beautiful wooded limestone valley on the way.

Distance 8 miles (12.9km)

Minimum time 5hrs

Ascent/gradient 1,608ft (490m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Well-defined paths and forestry tracks, 9 stiles

Landscape Heather moor, forest and farmland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 265 Clwydian Range

Start/finish SJ 198625

Dog friendliness Dogs could run free in forest and on heather ridges

Parking Pay car park by Loggerheads Country Park Visitor Centre

Public toilets At Visitor Centre

Notes Route can be shortened by taking regular Moel Famau shuttle bus, which runs on Sundays (July to September) and bank holidays, from forestry car park to Loggerheads.

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1 Go past the front of the Loggerheads Country Park Information Centre, cross the bridge over the Alun and turn left along the surfaced path through the valley. Where the path splits, follow the route on the left, marked the Leete Path.

2 Look out for a small and slippery-when-wet path on the left beyond the Alyn Kennels. This takes you down to a footbridge across the river. Across this the path heads west, then staggers to the right across a farm lane and climbs past a farmhouse. Enclosed by thickets, it climbs to the right of Bryn Alyn (cottage) to reach a T-junction of country lanes. Go straight ahead and follow the lane uphill, then turn right to follow the track that passes Ffrith farm before swinging left to climb round the pastured slopes of Ffrith Mountain. Take the left fork in the tracks (at grid ref 177637).

3 The route skirts a spruce plantation and climbs to a crossroads of tracks, marked by a tall waymarker post. Turn left here on a wide path over undulating heather slopes towards the tower on the top of Moel Famau.

4 From the summit, head south east and go over the stile at the end of the wall to follow a wide track, marked with red-tipped waymarker posts, south east along the forest's edge. The track continues its descent through the trees to meet the roadside car park/picnic area ¾ mile (1.2km) east of Bwlch Penbarra's summit.

5 Turn left along the road, before turning right when you get to the first junction. The quiet lane leads to the busy A494. Cross the main road with care and continue along the hedge-lined lane staggered to the right.

6 A waymarked path on the left heads north east across fields towards the banks of the Alun. Don't cross the river at the bridge, but head north, through the gateway and across more fields, keeping to the right and above a substantial stone-built house to meet the A494. It's just ½ mile (800m) from here to the Loggerheads Country Park entrance, and there are verges and paths to walk on.

If you're driving into Wales from the north west, the chances are that the first hills you'll see are the Clwydians, dark rolling ridges that rise up from the sea at Prestatyn and decline 20 miles (32km) or so south in the fields of the Alun Valley. Although the hills are empty these days, at one time they were highly populated. Climb to the tops and you'll see Iron- and Bronze-Age forts scattered about the hilltops, some of them among the best preserved in Wales.

One of the best places to start a walk in the Clwydians is Loggerheads. The path from the information centre follows the shallow but swift-flowing River Alun through a narrow limestone valley filled with wych elm and oak. In July, you'll see excellent limestone flora, including field scabious, wild thyme, rock rose and bloody cranesbill, while in the trees there are spotted woodpeckers, tawny owls and nuthatches.

The climb out of the valley includes a short traverse of farmland before clambering through heather fields to Moel Famau, which means 'mother mountain' and at 1,818ft (554m) is the highest of the range. The monument on the summit was built in 1810 to celebrate the jubilee of King George III. Its square tower and spire were wrecked by a violent gale 50 years later, and the place lay in ruins until 1970 when it was tidied up. Below and to the west there's the much older site of Moel y Gaer, one of those fascinating hill-forts with concentric earthwork rings sculpted into a grassy knoll. Casting your eyes beyond the rings and across the green fields and chequered hedgerows of the Vale of Clwyd, it's fascinating to pick out the familiar skyline summits of Snowdonia. Tryfan's jagged crest is easy to spot, but somehow you cannot quite see Snowdon: that's because Moel Siabod, prima donna that it feels it is, has elbowed its way to the front, to hide the real star, Snowdon, and confuse the issue. Fortunately there are topographs to help you out.

The ridge walking from the summit is delightful, and on a good day you might wish to extend your day by doing the Walk 14 extension. Otherwise, a wide path takes you down to the forest, where it continues down a grassy ride. While the spruce trees are not an attractive habitat for a wide range of species you might easily spot a song thrush, colourful chaffinches or coal tits; or maybe, just maybe, a sparrowhawk. Country lanes and farm pastures take you down to the banks of the River Alun which guides you back to Loggerheads.

While you're there

You could pay to go to prison. Ruthin's Old Gaol, built in 1654, is described as 'the Gruelling Experience' and opened its heavy doors in May 2002. The Gaoler and Will the Poacher will guide you round the cells, including the punishment cells. They will tell you stories about the Welsh Houdini and William Hughes, who was the last person to be hanged here.

Where to eat and drink

The weirdly named We Three Loggerheads, opposite the country park, is an old pub serving Bass and Worthington beers and tasty bar meals.

What to look for

You'll have seen the red grouse on many a British moor, but here there's a chance to see the rarer black grouse, a darker bird with a call more like a tchack than the go-back, go-back of the red grouse. In February the males put on a spectacular breeding dance, fanning their tails to show their white plumage beneath their wings and on their rump. They will also be hissing and crowing, quite oblivious to their surroundings and impending danger.

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