This day is certainly the toughest of all, commencing with good paths through the hidden gem of Cwm Cynfal gorge, followed by a crossing of the wild, open and sometimes boggy moors of the Migneint. Good route finding is necessary here as it has not been possible to place as many way markers as we would like in the SSSI. A descent through quarry workings takes you to Cwm Penmachno before a final climb and subsequent descent through the forest to Penmachno.
From Llan Ffestiniog, cross the main road and take the way-marked path into Cwm Cynfal. This secluded gorge is well worth the walk. Cross the A470 and continue to follow the river, with the spectacular Cynfal Falls looming ahead. Cross the road and follow the track to Llyn Morwynion. Cross the dam and follow the path along the bottom of Craig y Garreg Lwyd, passing Bryn y Castell fort. From here, cross the Afon Migneint and follow the course of Sarn Helen up the ridge, eventually reaching Cwt y Bugail (Manod) quarry.
Follow the tramway and incline to Rhiwbach quarry and then the track to Rhiw Fachno quarry and Cwm Penmachno. In Cwm Penmachno, follow the markers into the forest, eventually to arrive at St Tudclud’s Church in Penmachno, opposite the Eagles Pub.
Do not be tempted to follow the wall over the Migneint rather than following the Trail down into the valley. The Trail follows dry rights of way; the wall leads you into a morass of bog.
Along the way
The Afon Cynfal is a hidden gem and worthwhile a return visit to walk the section downstream of Llan Ffestiniog where the Cynfal thunders over waterfalls and through the narrow gorge. The waterfall at the head of the valley is particularly impressive.
Llyn Morwynion is probably the lake where, according to the Mabinogion, Blodeuwedd and her Maidens of Ardudwy drowned whilst fleeing from the wizard Gwydion and the men of Gwynedd.
Thomas Pennant recounts another version, where the Men of Ardudwy raid Clwyd and carry off wives for themselves. The Men of Clwyd followed them, and slew the raiders at Beddau Gwyr Ardudwy, (Graves of the men of Ardudwy). The women had already established themselves so well with the raiders, that they flung themselves in despair into the waters of Llyn Morwynion, so the legend goes.
Bryn y Castell
Bryn y Castell is an Iron Age fort located near Sarn Helen and is the traditional site of Beddau Gwŷr Ardudwy.
Between 1979 and 1985, the site was excavated and around a ton of slag waste, smelting furnaces, hearths, stone anvils, several sharpening and polishing stones, decorated glass bangles and game boards were found at the site.
One of the most important discoveries made during the excavation was that of first two round huts to be found in Snowdonia.
This fort has been partially restored, giving an excellent impression of the fortification.
Cwt y Bugail quarry
When World War II broke out, art treasures from major galleries were loaded onto a lorry and brought to the quarry. This operation required lowering the road below the main line railway to Trawsfynydd as some paintings were too big to pass under. The paintings were loaded onto wagons and taken deep into the mine. Here they were unloaded and stored in air-conditioned buildings. One website states
“pictures from the royal palaces, from the Tate and the National Gallery, including 19 Rembrandts, Van Dykes, Leonardo da Vincis and Gainsboroughs, together with the Crown Jewels were brought to Manod’s huge underground workings in vehicles disguised as delivery vehicles for a chocolate company”.
Although the masterpieces were removed after the war, the Department of the Environment kept possession of the site.
Classified documents show that, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, plans were developed to move the nation’s most important art treasures back to Manod to safeguard them from nuclear attack. The plan was abandoned to avoid panic if the public heard about the operation.
If you explore this site, you will find the ruins of quarryman’s barracks, where workers stayed during the week, as well as a number of cottages, pig stys and even a toilet block. In 1908, the population was sufficient to support a school. This eased congestion in the Church School in Cwm Penmachno and avoided the long steep walk for children living in the quarry barracks. Their teacher, Mrs Kate Hughes from Blaenau Ffestiniog, travelled up to the school in all weathers in an empty slate wagon and travelled back down in a “wild car” at the end of the day. (A wild car is somewhat akin to a skateboard on rollers with a wheeled outrigger, which ran along the tramway tracks). The school closed in 1913 as a result of the wartime closure of the quarry.
Rhiw Fachno quarry
Also known as Cwm Machno quarry, this site closed in 1962. It was not blessed with the best of transport links, with slate carted down the valley to Betws y Coed. It was also a very constricted site and tipping space was severely limited. The massive incline is listed and, if you cast around, you will see the fine remains of a drumhouse. The reservoir above the quarry provided water power for the site.
Cwm Penmachno used to have some 500 residents, surviving off work from the slate quarries. Since the quarries closed in the late 1950s, the population has declined to little over 70 full-time residents. About half the cottages are holiday homes.
The church, which is now Trevallen, was never consecrated and was used as a school from 1870 to 1909 when it closed with 120 pupils in two rooms.
The Heritage room is located in the Shiloh Community Centre and contains boards interpreting the history, culture and landscape of the village, together with many local artifacts. An interactive touchscreen provides an entertaining and informative insight into life in the village sixty years ago through a series of oral histories. Also take a look at the railings to the Shiloh, designed by local schoolchidren.
“I left school in Cwm at eleven years old. We used to be in the headmasters room then, and Eifion and Tom Ellis, I remember well, sat the closest to the teacher. What they had done was remove every screw from his desk and sit back down. The teacher would have given them a slap if he knew what they had done! The desk looked fine as it was, but when he came in and put his tea down on the desk the whole thing completely collapsed! There was such laughter in the classroom for which we got lines to copy”
(Huw Lloyd – Cwm Penmachno)
St. Tudclud's Church
This church had been closed for some ten years before villagers decided to spruce it up and re-open it.
St Tudlud`s Church houses some important Roman inscribed stones. One such stone came to light on the opening of Rhiwbach quarry, near Sarn Helen, the Roman road which traverses Wales from Canovium fort (Caerhun) in the Conwy Valley to Brecon. Three more stones were found in Penmachno itself, suggesting that the village was of some importance. One stone includes the word, “Venodotus”, suggesting that “Gwynedd” existed at that time, under its earlier name. The four stones are on display in St Tudclud’s Church along with two others of the 7th-9th century and 13th century.
The modern stained glass window was designed by a local artist, Yvonne Amor, and painted by volunteers.
The Eagles’ centrally heated bunkhouse sleeps up to 30, mainly in 4-bunk rooms; all rooms are private (you won’t be sharing with strangers) and all bed-linen is provided.
Facilities include a secure bike lock-up, drying room and free WiFi.