The Aran Mountains – a Shocking Experience

17 01 2016

When I were a lass (as we say around here), I used to get dragged up hills by my parents each and every holiday. Most times, I wouldn’t say I really minded but this particular time, I revolted!

Family in Mid-South Wales(Dad)
Strangely, I haven’t any photos from the Arans but this is that kind of time and area

When I was around 10 years old, we were holidaying in Wales, walking from Youth Hostel to Youth Hostel. On this particular day, the plan was to walk from Bala to Dinas Mawddwy – this looks a long way on the map but we actually utilised the narrowgauge Bala Lake Railway to get as far as Llanuwchllyn at the foot of the Aran Mountains. From what I remember, it was quite a nice day when we set out up the northern end of the Aran ridge.

There is a good, landrover track to start which, in less than a mile, forks and we took the right-hand fork uphill. In just over another half-mile, a small path splits off left keeping to the ridgeline while the main track contours off to the right of a round hill. We took the small path…

The path runs straight as a die over the hill, down into a dip and then up a more defined ridge heading right of the craggy eminence of Moel Ddu (Black Hill). Shortly after Moel Ddu we passed over Craig y Geifr, the crag of the goats. As there are very many wild black and white goats in Wales, this name is probably very apt.

As we ascended, the cloud lowered and a few growlings of thunder were heard. As I was scared of thunderstorms as a child, I started to get very nervous – a horribly black cloud was heading our way…

Shortly after this, before we reached Moel Ffenigl, the storm arrived and the rain started to lash down. As I was by now very upset, my Dad said we should all sit out the storm on the hillside so, after pulling on our rain capes, we hunkered down by the path. Foolishly, no-one seemed to notice that the path was running alongside a wire fence…

I sat on the end of our row with my eyes screwed up tightly so I wouldn’t see the lightning and wished I could block out the loud thunder as it crashed overhead.

Suddenly, the world lit up – despite my eyes being tightly shut, it was the most dazzling light imaginable. At the same moment, a huge jolt of electricity, so bad it was beyond description, raced through me. It seemed to start at my right foot, passed up through my right side and down my right arm and my left leg – all in an instant. The top left quarter of me didn’t feel anything – on reflection that was lucky as that is the quarter with my heart!

I opened my eyes in horror and looked at my parents who were observing me curiously.

“Have I been struck?” I asked

“Yes” they affirmed calmly. They didn’t seem at all worried.

I looked down at my foot (possibly to see if it was still there) and saw my feet were actually sitting in a river of water which was now running down the trench of the path – that wouldn’t have helped! When I quizzed my parents about what had happened, they said that the lightning was travelling along the wire fence top when suddenly it branched off and went for my right foot. They still sounded very calm!

I immediately started a huge fuss (as a ten year-old would). I asked if we could go back down the mountain but my father said no, we were continuing along the mountains to get to our destination. At this point, I went on strike.

When the storm had passed over, I refused point-blank to go any further up the hill and cried and tantrumed until they agreed we could go back down and take the back-road instead to Dinas. This is the road which goes along the narrow valley of Cwm Cynllwyd and then rises up the valley side to the Bwlch y Groes (Pass of the Cross). The road then descends very steeply to Pennant and continues down that valley to Dinas Mawddwy – around 12.5 miles road walking.

I have to say that I found the road walking very pleasant myself. The thunder rumbled away all day on the Aran ridge off to our right so I felt vindicated about the fuss I’d made.

As we passed a house in the valley, there was a lady in her garden. We stopped to chat to her. I told her I’d been struck by lightning on the hills and she looked liked she was looking at a ghost. After a few minutes speechless silence, she said that there had been seven people killed on the Arans so far that year by lightning and no-one had ever been struck and survived so far as she knew. I felt even more vindicated!

Many years passed before I plucked up courage to set foot on the Aran mountains again. My friend Mark suggested a walk along the ridge. I have to say we had a superb day’s walking following the ridge along from Aran Benllech to Mawddwy. At the summit of Aran Mawddwy, we sat with our feet dangling over the edge of the crags above the tarn, the Craiglyn Dyfi – him more relaxed than me I have to say.

After a long sit in the sun and something to eat, we followed the ridge down to Drysgol and then headed back past the llyn to Nant y Barcut in the Cwm Croes where a small road headed back to Llanuwchllyn. A lovely day with no thunderstorms.

I have to say that, since I got struck by lightning, I haven’t been anything like as scared of thunderstorms as I was before – I think it’s that I think I’ve had my turn and won’t get struck again. Of course, it is possible to get struck more than once – apparently a Canadian Mountie was struck on seven different occasions before he was finally killed by lightning.

An interesting fact came to light many years later when I discussed my lightning strike in my Climbing Club hut. There were a good many people on the meet sat in the lounge. When I told them about my strike, around a third of the people in the room admitted to having also been struck in the hills so it’s not uncommon for hillwalkers apparently.

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22 responses

2 03 2016
fedup

Used to visit Wales a lot as a child and was also taken up many a hill – sadly I remember very little about them! Walked Whiteless Pike and a few neighbouring hills once, returning to the car around lunchtime in deteriorating weather and was surprised to see on the evening news the MRT had been called to assist a group who had been struck!

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2 03 2016
mountaincoward

it does happen a lot in the hills – just doesn’t usually make the news unless you have to be rescued or are injured/killed I think

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3 02 2016
Faizan

Excellent walk from the foot of Craig Cywarch following up the stream to the pond and heading over the boggy ground to Fawddwy and descend via Drysgol and Waun Goch. Good steady walk of around 4-5 hours outstanding scenery and solitude pure heaven.

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3 02 2016
mountaincoward

Unfortunately, I think it will be a few years until I get back to Wales – shame as I’m missing it!

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21 01 2016
Mark

Lightening on the hills is always disconcerting. Last January a pal and I scrabbled our way off one of the outliers of An Teallach in quite rush as wind, snow, thunder and lightening crashed all around us.

My main memory of the Arrans at this time was access. It was prime sheep farming country which the owners didn’t want to share with anyone. I remember a few clandestine early morning starts involving a dash across forbidden fields to reach the foot of the hill.

I’m looking forward to some more post from Wales in 2016.

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21 01 2016
mountaincoward

Unfortunately, I’m not going to be in Wales at all during 2016 I don’t think. Despite saying I wouldn’t, I’ve got no end of Scottish trips booked again already.

The Aran mountains are still difficult of access and the landowners are a bit of a pain I think. It’s not as if sheep-farming and walking are mutually exclusive really – I think they go together pretty well providing dogs are controlled near sheep.

I always associate thunderstorms with summer – I’ve never actually seen one in winter. I always think they follow very hot, close weather. I suppose in the mountains they can be any time though?

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20 01 2016
tessapark1969

Ouch! That was a lucky escape..

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20 01 2016
mountaincoward

it was ‘ouch’ too! 😉

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19 01 2016
LensScaper

Good God! What an extraordinary story, and how lucky you were. Were there no burn marks on your skin or clothing where the lightning entered and exited? If I had been your parent I would have taken you straight to A&E for a check over once I got you off the mountain.

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19 01 2016
mountaincoward

I was very lucky and not a single burn mark. I can’t say it actually hurt either – just an enormous shock – probably 100 times worse than sticking your finger in a mains socket or something. I think my walking boots (probably leather then as I wasn’t buying them) saved my foot. I was amazed my parents didn’t fuss more!

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19 01 2016
Shani Khan

WOW! Great bro. You were very lucky….

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19 01 2016
mountaincoward

I was exceedingly lucky!

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19 01 2016
smackedpentax

WOW! What a story Carol! You were very lucky…and I am amazed at how calm your parents were.

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19 01 2016
mountaincoward

I was p*ssed off how calm my parents were!

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19 01 2016
underswansea

Yikes! You were very lucky indeed to walk away from that. I like your philosophy of no longer being frightened of lightening. Very fine post! Bob

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19 01 2016
mountaincoward

I probably should be still scared of lightning. I think I have respect for thunderstorms and, if I’m on the hill, I leave immediately. But I’m not terrified any more, especially indoors – I certainly used to be. I was like a dog quivering behind the sofa or under the bedclothes.

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18 01 2016
Blue Sky Scotland

I know a few folk who have been hit but not a direct strike. Very lucky escape. Your parents were not service personnel or doctors by any chance going by their calm no nonsense outlook? We had sheet and forked lightning every afternoon camping in the Alps and it’s mind blowing lying in a wet tent when bolts are hitting all around you. Nice nostalgic post.

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19 01 2016
mountaincoward

I’ve just re-read your book and all that about the thunderstorms in the Alps – I would have been scared in a tent I think!

No my parents weren’t – no idea why they were so calm but I was upset that they were.

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18 01 2016
Paul Shorrock

The Arans must be a regular hot-spot for lightning strikes – there’s a memorial on the Drws Bach Ridge just below Aran Fawddwy, to a member of the RAF MR Team from St Athan who was killed there in a lightening strike in 1960.

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19 01 2016
mountaincoward

they are – something to do with the rock type just under the surface.

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18 01 2016
45degreesmc

The top of An Teallach for my lighting strike – descended that hill a lot quicker than the ascent to be sure.

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19 01 2016
mountaincoward

An awful lot of hill folk have been struck. I descend very quickly indeed if I’m up a hill and it thunders now. I once had to do a ridge twice with full ascent from the valley when it thundered as I approached the first summit. I finished at 10 at night. Luckily I was quite young and fit and so not too knackered.

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