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1 January, 2005

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda

Since my teens, with a gap of the last 6-7 years, a family tradition has been to see in the New Year at the summit of Moel Famau (English: 'Mother of the hills'), the nearest thing to a mountain in north-east Wales.  At 554m (1,818 ft), it's the highest peak of the Clwydian hills, dominating the skyline from Llandudno to Chester.  Consequently, the view from Jubilee Tower, at the summit, encompasses a vast area, including Snowdonia, the Cheshire Plains, the whole Wirral peninsula and Liverpool on the horizon.

The weather at 22:00 was warm (10°C) and dry, with broken high cloud, so we decided to go. My mother's health is unreliable, so a lower temperature or the threat of rain would have meant a repetition of last New Year, when we managed to see much the same view from a layby near Holywell - not quite PKiN, Warszawa, Poland, nor even Albert Square, Manchester, UK, but more enjoyable than it might sound!

Traffic through Mold, over the Rainbow and through Loggerheads was surprisingly quiet (I'm not inventing the names: Mold (Welsh: Yr Wyddgrug) is the county town four miles from my childhood home (where I'm writing this), the Rainbow is the local name for the steep, sweeping road over the 300m-high ridge out of the Alyn valley, and Loggerheads is the tiny ex-lead mining hamlet on the far side of the Rainbow), but the car parks at Moel Famau were rather full.

When we first started going, there were a hard core of people who'd visited every year for decades, informally led by Mr. Bentley, a local pharmacist who'd print and distribute hymn sheets, and we were amongst the few 'newcomers'. Nowadays, the word has spread, and well over 100 attend, taking some young children, several dogs, and fireworks (not so good for the dogs, nor humans if the wind is strong). At each turn in the path on the 45 min walk from the car park (at ~350m asl) to the summit, the next stage was visible as a chain of torchlight - quite pretty from a distance, though not really necessary in the moonlight, and beams inconsiderately directed into one's eyes were an annoyance, destroying night vision.
The walk itself passed much quicker than I remembered, inspiring the thought that on previous occasions I was an undernourished, relatively unfit student. Regular swimming and cycling plainly make a difference.

The summit plateau of Moel Famau is 20-30m across, with Jubilee Tower at the centre. Built 1810-12 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of George III, the central obelisk was destroyed in a storm in 1862 and the corner turrets have been lost since then. Partly renovated in the 1970s following the investiture of the current Prince of Wales in 1969, the remaining structure could be described as a huge square cairn. The sides are held near-vertical by dressed stone, but more natural slopes at the corners allow access to the top and create a sheltered hollow in the middle of each side. Most most people were huddled into these, though there were still a lot of people wandering about, sitting just below the lip of the summit plateau or standing in the open on the leeward northern side of the Tower. We went to the very top for the 360° view, but there are few lit settlements visible in any direction but north-east, so we descended for the 'main attraction'.

From about five minutes before midnight until at least 00:20, the entire view of Deeside, the Wirral and Liverpool sparkled with hundreds, even thousands, of fireworks, mostly white twinkles from this distance but with some longer-lasting red distress flares. It's an incredible sight, and well-worth the walk. I'd taken my camera, but had accidentally left the mini-tripod in Lancaster last week, so the accompanying photos are those few which weren't too blurred by camera shake, and it obviously wasn't possible to take really long exposures which might have captured the fireworks. Maybe next time.

[Update 26/12/05: I've been back, in daylight.]

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