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26 December, 2006

Walk: Clocaenog, near Ruthin

Today's weather seemed dry but somewhat misty, so though we decided to go for a walk, locations offering long-distance views would have been wasted.  As an alternative, I rather fancied visiting Rhuthun (Ruthin in English) and Ddinbych (Denbigh), the principal small towns in the Vale of Clwyd, largely for their post-17th Century architecture.

K. hadn't questioned the destinations when we left my mother's house, but on actually reaching Ruthin, she decided wandering around Welsh market towns would be 'boring' – great timing. Visibility west of the Clwydian Hills was better than expected, so I didn't particularly mind a change of plan; if only we could decide on a plan. The half-hearted result was somewhere we'd been several times before and which I'd rarely enjoyed: Clocaenog Forest.

Considering there was a time when I seriously considered a career in forestry, it's perhaps surprising that I dislike dense coniferous plantations, for their regimented rows of trees and consequent darkness & lack of undergrowth. More profoundly, I find the environment unsettling, somehow even threatening. It's irrational, but I just don't think plantations like humans. I've had nightmares about such places, or rather, because it's the forest I've visited most often (8-10 times since childhood), I've dreamt about Clocaenog. I've never expressed this before, and I don't think my mother & sister would understand, so we went anyway.

It's difficult to describe the exact location, as it's somewhat remote. Halfway along the B5105 from Ruthin to Cerrigydrudion, about 2 km after entering the fringe of the forest, the road crosses the Afon Clwyd (only 40-50 cm wide this close to its source) at Pont Petryal (the river is signposted, not the bridge). About 100 m further on, there's a crossroads; the left turn leads to a car park, artificial lake and some sort of estate lodge converted to a visitor centre, itself seemingly abandoned since I last visited. The few paths lead one onto a roughly oval route into the silent heart of the plantation (actually on the very edge of the 100 km² forest, straying no further than 500 m from the main road). There are no particular landmarks or clear means of judging distance, and no apparent wildlife. There aren't even any echoes. Once, we walked it after heavy snowfall, which was great, but ordinarily it's dreary and, as I said, makes me uncomfortable.

But that's just me. I recently read a description of the sea as 'an element of impersonal horror', which puzzled me; I love the sea and coast. Perhaps other people would find it equally mystifying that I don't appreciate the enclosed solitude and muffled sounds of artificial forests. Still, if you're tempted to visit Clocaenog, I'd recommend the somewhat scenic Brenig & Alwen Reservoirs ahead of the featureless forest itself.

I was happy enough walking in just a t-shirt and fleece, but within a couple of minutes of leaving the car, K. was complaining of the cold, and my mother casually pointed-out that the lake was frozen. Hmm. I think my body must have been burning-off recent heavy meals. The good news was that the others wanted to abandon the full trip, cutting the 3 km walk along forest roads to a 10-minute stroll around the lake, passing the witch trees and sign advertising Clocaenog's red squirrel (the text does imply there's only one) before returning to the car for chocolate biscuits.

At least the return trip was slightly more novel: we followed a tiny road to Cyffylliog for the first time, along the near-gorge of the Afon Clywedog past an impressive watermill (impossible to photograph through the trees) and back to Ruthin, then over the 'unsuitable for motor vehicles' track to the upper car park on Moel Famau. I took a few more photos there, then we headed 'home'.

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