By Ceri Hughes
I’ve always been one for a winter adventure from long distance walking along the Camino, cycling the length of Vietnam and trekking the Rwenzori mountains in Uganda to name a few. Wales is my home and I love the mountains and countryside here. This year it was time to turn my winter adventure on its head, stay in Wales and explore my homeland a little more.
I’d bought the guide book for the Snowdonia Slate Trail for Chris’s birthday last May and we planned to complete this over the New Year period. Initial thoughts were camping, but with heavier rucksacks, a shortage of daylight and possible weather against us, we decided to carry lighter and have a warm shower and bed each night. Here is our brief tale of adventures.
Day 1 - Dec 20th - Bangor to Bethesda. 6.6 Miles with 2h30m on trail.
Beginning the first section with and our friend Johny, and we walked from Port Penrhyn to Beddgelert. I’d cycled part of the trail along the Lon Las Ogwen, but apart from that the area was all new to us.
It was a little wet and muddy underfoot and it was noisy in parts with the A55 traffic but with the mountains in the distance you knew the cars would soon be a distant sound. Lovely walk and a chance to explore territory we wouldn’t normally walk. Beautiful views on the approach to Bethesda.
Passport stamped and homemade mince pies and fresh eggs received at Caffi Coed Y Brenin.
Day 2 - Dec 29th -Bethesda to Llanberis. 8 Miles with 4h30m on trail.
Continuing the walk 9 days later. Chris and I parked the car in Bethesda and we set off late morning to Llanberis. Hoping to return safely in 6 days after completing the trail. Guide book in hand we set off with a moderate ascent out of Bethesda towards the wild Gwaun misty moors.
Even through the fog we could just make out a distant way marker confirming our direction. Underfoot it was very soggy over the moors and we had to be careful to avoid the boggy areas. This would be a great walk when warmer, the lovely river was inviting me back for a little dip one day in the sunshine.
When we arrived at Lodge Dinorwig we had our passports stamped, enjoyed a steaming hot drink and re fuelled our bodies. This looked like a great bunk house to stay but we had already planned on walking a little further into Llanberis. So, from here we descended into Padarn Country Park, some familiar territory and headed for our night in Pete’s Eats. The slate museum was unfortunately closed but we expected some closures as we were attempting the trail over the New Year period. We also expected possible noise at the bunk house. After a lovely dinner at Pete Eats’ we took a nice hot shower and hit the bed to be welcomed with a party somewhere on the street till 3am! I’m glad I had my ear plugs! Something we certainly didn’t blame Pete’s Eats for and to be fair it was still holiday season!
Day 3 -Dec 30th -Llanberis to Rhyd Ddu. 14.7 Miles with 9h30mi on trail.
We departed a little later than planned at about 7.50am, we had breakfast and visited Spar which opened early for our caffeine fix. Then off we went with the rain pouring down and the mist lurking.
With approximately 15 miles to walk, we sensed this may be a challenging day ahead. After rising high above Llanberis it seemed ages until we saw a way marker. It’s funny how mist and rain cloud your thoughts. But just keep going, don’t divert off the track you’re on and you will soon see a way marker. We couldn’t see forests or slate tips in front of us until they were on top of us so don’t forget to carry your compass and a map for confirmation of direction. The forest has also been harvested so even if it was a clear day don’t expect to see trees in the far distance! Descending now into Waunfawr we couldn’t visit the café to dry off a little as it was closed, and I think only open Mon-Fri, so we continued along to Waunfawr and another steep very misty journey to Y Fron.
We reached the new bunkhouse “Canolfan Y Fron“. Cold soggy and in need of a hot drink. We had the best hot chocolate, a lovely warm welcome and a stamp in our passport. Definitely a place to return for a night, as we missed some lovely views of the wonderful Nantlle Ridge and you could spend hours exploring the Nantlle quarries.
Thankfully as we descend into the spectacular quarry things brightened up, we started to dry off a little and it was a lovely walk down to Llyn Nantlle Uchaf and the Nantlle valley.
With the mist slowing us down earlier on in the day we started losing light as we ascended a field passed Drws Y Coed Isaf Farm. We now had nearly 2 miles in the darkness. Head torch on, we traversed the steep valley with narrow sheep trails. The guide book was great – we saw the hawthorn bush on the horizon and kept a beady eye out for the way markers glowing in the torch light. We had to be careful with our footing to avoid any injuries. Once we reached the woods, we had a steep and slippy descent through the woods into Rhyd Ddu. We were cold, wet and tired and happy to make it down.
A slower than average day due to mist and lack of light making it hard going in areas. On particularly hard rainy days, I would recommend popping the guide book in a waterproof map cover – constant rain was damaging the pages.
Tonight, we were being picked up by our saviour Brian who was taking us to our happy home for 2 nights at his place, Plas Gwyn in Beddgelert. A quick shower we threw our waterproofs into the drying room crossing our fingers our boots would dry before tomorrow and we ran to the Saracens Head aiming to beat last orders. Luckily, we were just in time for a table, they squeezed us in, and 2 steaks were delivered in no time. Delicious and much needed and great service too.
Day 4 - Dec 31st - Beddgelert to Croesor. 4.8m with 2h30m on Trail
As we had walked Rhyd Ddu to Beddgelert previously we decided on a leisurely walk to the lovely Croesor along the Aberglaslyn raging river and to more familiar ground as we love exploring up and around the Moelwyn mountains.
Although a beautiful sunny day on lower ground the summits were in mist, so I didn’t feel bad about not going up to my favourite mountain, Cnicht.
Back to Beddgelert early afternoon for a mooch around. It was beautiful and peaceful, with only a few people about – the calm before the storm of NY Eve we suspected. Speakers were being set up with Stevie Wonder singing his heart out. Great choice! We decided to return to the Saracens for our meal and yet again received great food and service. We felt so comfy in our casuals and loved the relaxed NY EVE so far. At 11.30pm we decided to explore the street to see what was happening – Wow I have never seen Beddgelert so alive. The best and most perfect NY Eve to date. Happy New Year!
Day 5 - Jan 1st - Croesor to Llan Ffestiniog. 10.9 miles with 7h30m on trail.
Early start and a great breakfast with our perfect host Brian. He dropped us off at Croesor where he picked us up from the day earlier. A transfer service that he offers if he has time in his busy schedule. He was an absolute star with us and thank you for a lovely 2-night stay at Plas Gwyn.
The café at Croesor was closed again due to the holidays so no stamp received here and off we went up to the remains of Croesor & Rhosydd mines, and down to Cwmorthin.
This was a magical day for me. I got goosebumps in the Rhosydd mines and it was great to be able to spend time exploring the buildings and imagining the life that was once there. The vistas of the Moelwyns were all around and although the summits where tempting we kept to the trail. We arrived at Lakeside café and you guessed it, it was closed. We must re visit for stamps and cake! We walked through Tanygrisiau a lovely little village that needs some tender loving care in parts. Next stretch was to Blaenau Ffestiniog to find food. Spar was open, so we didn’t risk going further in case of closures and we filled our boots there. Prawn cocktail and salmon whilst sat on the spar window sill was just what was needed! The places where closed for our passport stamps so onwards and upwards we went. The surrounding countryside of Blaenau is beautiful, and we were so pleased the rain stayed away. Fabulous views over to Stwlan and over the Moelwynions.
Next hidden gem was the Afon Teigl gorge, some steep drops here down to the left so as instructed, care was needed especially with large rucksacks and tired wobbly legs.
For the last mile we donned our head torches and walked into Llan Ffestiniog. Just in time for someone to be at the Y Pengwern Arms for a warm welcome.
We had prior notice that no dinner would be available, so we were prepared with our Summit to Eat Adventure pack and the Chicken Tikka was better than any take away that night and filled our bellies full of nutrients.
Day 6 - January 2nd - Llan Ffestiniog to Betws Y Coed. 19miles with 10h on trail.
After a breakfast of cereal, fruit, toast and coffee, we set off nice and early about 6am. The stars were twinkling, the moon with a small crescent had finally appeared. A clear day ahead I thought and a lovely frosty start. Head torches on, we set off early to make it Betws Y Coed, 19 miles away and about 3000ft of elevation. Frosty underfoot so great care was needed in the dark in the Cwm Cynfal nature reserve – one careless slip and I wouldn’t have had to worry if I was going to make it for the burger at the Stables in Betws!
It was amazing to be there in the gentle moonlight and the Cynfal falls gleamed and roared before us in our head light. It was another new discovered gem for us. This day was just full of WOW! And once we reached Rheadr Y Cwm this was another impressive part of hidden Wales.
The next section after the waterfall is explained in the guide book “as the wildest of the entire trail”. Read it carefully and you shouldn’t go wrong.
The weather couldn’t have been any kinder to us in this section, the frost assisted under foot and helped us skip over some of the boggy parts as it hardened the ground a little, we were soon at Llyn Moelwynion and onwards to Rhiwbach quarry and the beautiful vistas above Cwm Penmachno.
We skipped easily onto Penmachno and arrived at the closed Eagles with – you guessed it! ha-ha no stamp! It’s a good job we are local, we can pop back to complete our passport to get our well-earned medals! 5.3 miles more and we would be in Betws, with lots of forest tracks, easy enough to navigate when the light disappeared, which it did just near fairy falls.
Arriving about 5pm to our lovely comfy room at Glan Aber we dumped our bags and went straight to The Stables. Demolished a burger and after a slow walk back a lovely soak in the shower we slept soundly. But not before I dressed Chris’s mahoosive blister! Our muscles felt great, we were naturally tired but poor Chris was having a problem with his left foot……one more day.
Day 7 - January 3rd - Betws Y Coed to Bethesda. 17miles and 8h30m on Trail
Now onto the final leg. With a bad blister and a foot starting to swell we decided to leave Chris’s bag in Betws to pick it up later – hoping less weight would help his journey to Bethesda. The route all the way to Bethesda is a well-trodden route and very easy walking, but with a poorly foot 17 miles felt more like 70 miles for Chris. We passed the closed Ty Hyll, onwards, upwards and over to re-fuel at Ogwen for a pie and hot drink!
We got a stamp here too! The final leg down to Bethesda was with head torches. The Penrhyn Quarry slate tips creating mountains in front of us was so atmospheric and we imagined the life of the quarry folk as we read their tales on the information boards along the way. Arriving just after 6pm – Chris dived into the chip shop and I went to be re-acquainted with my car.
What a fantastic varied walk, full of stunning hidden treasures, and a great start to 2019. Highly recommended and a big thank you to Aled for putting it together.