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Northern Wales (Cymru)

David Cross (DavidX) from England

These notes cover only the largely mountainous area of Snowdonia National Park and Lleyn, the mainland peninsula that juts out westward beyond Snowdonia. Snowdonia will be of most interest to walkers.

ST Google Map - Snowdonia National Park, Wales: Detailed Google Map by DavidX for Northern Wales

The Welsh Language

It will only take a short time of reading the place names below to realize that there is a very different language at work in Wales. Welsh is not spoken in parts of South Wales but is very much a live language in the north and is the main language for teaching in many schools. Knowledge of Welsh is an essential condition for many jobs.

Welsh is a Celtic language, not at all like English. Anybody you meet will be able to speak English, but you may be aware of a change from English to Welsh sometimes when you go into a shop or a pub. I gather that there is a pub in Bangor that will only speak Welsh and only sell to people who order in Welsh, but I have not been there and this is certainly not the norm. However if you come from a country other than England you will do yourself no harm by letting that be known.

"Cymru" is Wales in the Welsh language. Pronounce as "Cumry" with "u" as in "put" and "y" as in "happy".

The Mountains in Northern Wales

The main problems for the mountain area come from its proximity to major conurbations. The area is easily accessible for days or weekends from the West Midlands, Greater Manchester and Merseyside conurbations. This creates the twin problems of parking and erosion.

I am not able to get up into the tops these days because of a heart condition and have not done so for about six years. Already some areas were being fenced off for re-generation - much needed - and anything suggested here may now be impassable, so be sure to get current information when planning your trip. I think, from car trips to see my son and family near Bethesda, that the North side of the Glyders and the Carnedds are still accessible.

The Snowdon Range

Any terminology which includes the word "Snowdon" is necessarily ambiguous but here I refer to those hills which comprise the Snowdon Horseshoe, namely Crib Goch, Crib y Ddysgl, Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon Summit), Y Lliwedd, and the smaller peaks directly associated with them.

The Horseshoe Walk right around the tops and ridges of those named is quite arduous and the ridge between Crib Goch and Crib y Ddysgl is pretty sharp and precipitous but it is a grand walk for those who revel in these things.

There is also a fine route that joins this from Pen y Pass where it starts and finishes via Llyn Glas, a fabulous place, and then on to Crib y Ddysl. The routes up Yr Wyddfa from Llanberis or Snowdon Ranger are not as good and the Miners' Track from Pen y Pass is probably best for anybody wanting an easier route.

There is a mountain railway from Llanberis to near the top. I still say what I used to say when I did not think of reliance on such methods - it is good to have a route up some peaks which allows the disabled to sample them but please, please not many of them. If you do need to use it and can walk just a short way up from the summit station, you will enjoy a superb view and even if you can not do the top bit, the views from the train are well worth the money, once.

The Glyders

The Glyders is a very popular range north of the Snowdon Range. From the Snowdon side they do not look particularly interesting but from the North near Ogwen Cottage they are marvellous Facing them from this side Tryfan is on their left - described below - and Y Garn and Elidir Fawr to their right. These peaks, together with Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach, are all over 3,000 feet although I suspect that none of them quite reaches 10,000 meters.

To those used to higher mountains in Europe it may come as a major surprise to see how grand our peaks can look. (I suppose that for an Englishman to say 'our' here is a bit presumptuous but I do have Welsh grand-children who can almost see these mountains from their house!) Anyway the Glyders and their ridges are superb and, if I had to limit myself to a single walk in the areas covered in these notes, I guess it is these two and Tryfan which I would choose.

Lest I be accused of raving about everything I mention, I confess to hating Elidir Fawr. I have only been up once and that was only because I was doing all the Welsh Peaks above 3,000 feet in a day and I never wanted to go up again. Y Garn is not as bad as this but I still think it a let-down compared to the Glyders and Tryfan.

Tryfan

Tryfan is a mountain which manages to look good from anywhere, being sufficiently detached from the Glyders to appear in its own right in nearly all views. There are some wonderful ridge routes up and no way is not rocky and needing a bit of use of the hands - but there is no need to be a climber. If restricted to a single peak in a day it would be a hard choice between this, Cnicht and Cader Idris but it would be one of the three and Cader Idris is a bit of a cheat as it really has more than one top.

The Carnedds

The Carnedds are the northernmost mountains of the National Park and have known extremes of weather which seem daft at their height - like snow in July! It is an extensive range, having no less than six peaks which top the magic 3,000 foot mark. However the northern part is not particularly interesting except for Aber Falls which are as well visited separately and Foel Grach and Foel Fras have only their height going for them.

Pen yr Ole Wen is only just a separate peak and this leaves Carnedd Llywelyn, Carnedd Ddafydd and Yr Elen. There are enough good walks among these to make for some fine days out.

The Eastern end of this area nearer to Capel Curig provides some of the most beautiful and remote points reachable by car and Llyn Crafnant is well worth seeking out.

Moel Siabod

Moel Siabod is the peak overlooking Capel Curig. It is not one of the 3,000 foot peaks but, being more or less on its own and with nowhere to get a start by road, it looks and seems bigger than it is. Perhaps the approaches on the Dolwyddelan side or from Royal Bridge are more interesting than the top.

Cnicht

Not much over 2,000 feet high, Cnicht is a little beauty. It is a perfect shape and walks to it from the north-east provide terrific scenery. If you just want a quick top and good views from it there is a very quick way up from Croesor to the south-west.

Moelwyns

The Moelwyns mountains above Blaenau Ffestiniog give good views of Cnicht and the Snowdon Group, but are perhaps a bit dependent on slate mining remains for their appeal.

The Nantile Ridge

The Nantile Ridge is north of Beddgelert. This gives an experience of ridge walking at a relatively low level and some parts are quite hard, but to me the lack of height matters here in a way it does not matter on Cnicht, and I have only been once.

Cader Idris or Cadair Idris

Cader Idris is actually a sort of horseshoe of peaks surrounding Llyn Cau. It can actually be walked quite quickly but it is extremely beautiful and one of my favourites. It is best approached from Minffordd on the On the B4405 just off the A487.

The Rhinogs

The area inland from Harlech - sometimes called the Harlech Dome - includes two peaks, Y Llethr and Diffwys, which are actually higher than the two peaks called Rhinog Fawr and Rhinog Fach although the whole group is often known as the Rhinogs.

The best walk is over the four peaks starting with Rhinog Fawr by way of the so-called Roman Steps from Cym Bychan reached by minor roads from Llanbedr. This is a wonderful walk for views but feels surprisingly arduous because of ploughing through long heather. It takes an appreciable time.

The Arans

The Arans range, the highest peaks of which are just short of 3,000 feet, is some way south of Snowdon near Dinas Mawddwy. It is a fine range and makes a change from the more northerly mountains. However holiday makers will probably find they are well satisfied by confining themselves to the latter area.

Lleyn (The Lleyn Peninsular)

Lleyn is the long, narrow peninsular which sticks out to the south-west of Snowdonia and which has some magnificent coastal scenery. The weather is often fine here when it is anything but in the mountains so it can be an escape area on a wet day, but it more than justifies a bit of time in its own right. It is ideal for families with young children. It gets crowded in high summer, especially at weekends but it fairly easy to find some peace at any other time. I have had many happy days in the area.

The more crowded bits are Abersoch, Llanbedrog and Nefyn, all of which would otherwise be great!

The Headlands, south-west of Aberdaron at the end of the Peninsular, provides wonderful walks and views which encompass Bardsey Island. Trips to Bardsea are advertised locally in summer but are rare in the rest of the year. The headlands south of Abersoch are OK but the roads get very crowded and I have never found it very satisfactory.

Minydd Penarfynydd, south of Rhiw, which is on the road from Abersoch to Aberdaron is a real knockout, particularly when the gorse and heather are in flower. Bird watchers may well see both Cornish choughs and peregrine falcons here!

North-east of Pystill on the road to Caernarvon are the Rivals, a set of three hills providing some splendid views. These form headlands on their lower slopes near the sea. This is a beautiful area and at the bottom, near the sea, is what is now a Welsh language centre and was once a quarrying village accessible only from the sea.

Beaches

I have two favourite beaches in this area:

  • Porth Ysgo is usually the least crowded. This is only a small beach but it is delightful and lies among industrial remains a short walk down from the road at Ysgo, to the west of and below the third headland mentioned above.
  • The other beach is Porth Oer or Whistling Sands, on the north side of the peninsular about four miles north-east of Aberdaron.

There are bigger and fine enough beaches at Hell's Mouth, about four miles long, at Morfa Nefin and at Aberdaron itself. There are numerous other tiny beaches and walks connecting them are generally fine.

Inland

Several places are worthy of particular notice in my view.

  • The hill which culminates in Garn Fadron in about the centre of the Peninsular. I have never seen more than a couple of people about and it provides a terrific view over most of the peninsular.
  • Plas yn Rhiw, a cottage belonging to the National Trust. This is only small but is quite delightful and we go there every time we are in the area .
  • The bakery at Aberdaron, just up the road from the Spar shop. The currant loaves are really something.

Also interesting is a cheap rail trip available in the evening from Pyllheli station to Machynlleth - inquire at the station.

Eastern Edge

Lloyd George's old home of Criccieth is a place worth seeing and it would be a pity to miss the old woollen mill, still working, at Bryncir off the A487 from Porthmadog to Caernarvon.

Just Outside

These are not in Lleyn at all but so near as to be easily combined with it or visited from it.

  • Portmeirion: Quite unlike anything else you will see in Wales with Italianate buildings and wonderful grounds - scene of the film 'The Prisoner.'
  • The Ffestiniog Railway: A narrow gauge railway from Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog - fine scenery, much interest (and a legal drink on a Sunday).
  • Caernarvon Castle: The town of Caernarvon does not call for any particular praise other than for the ruined castle but this is a most impressive building. The scene of investitures of Princes of Wales since Edward I invested his infant son up to the investiture of Prince Charles.

Maps and Guidebooks

  • At 1:50,000 the Ordnance Survey Landranger series covers most of Snowdonia on sheet 115 and the more southern part on sheet 124.
  • Best for walking is the Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure series at 1: 25,000. Sheets 16, 17, 18 and 23 are all relevant, with sheet 17 being the best one to start with.
  • Guidebooks are not in short supply but I have no knowledge of recent ones. I still like "The Welsh Peaks" by W. A. Poucher and the photos are among the best I have seen, although it will be a bit historical now.

Google Maps

ST Google Map - Snowdonia National Park, Wales: Detailed Google Map by DavidX for Northern Wales

ST Google Map - Pembrokeshire Coast National Park: Detailed Google Map by DavidX for Pembrokeshire Coast in Wales

Resources

www.snowdonia-wales.net: Snowdonia Wales, by the Snowdonia National Park Authority

www.star-attractions.co.uk: The attractions of Snowdonia.

www.britainexpress.com/wales/anglesey/: Britain Express, Wales, Anglesey & Snowdonia.

www.croeso-cynnes-wales.co.uk/activ/region/lleyn.html: Croeso Cynnes, Warm Welsh Welcome, Llyeyn Peninsula

www.wales-calling.com/guide/lleyn.htm: Cymru (Wales) Calling, Lleyn Peninsula, North Wales

www.greatlittletrainsofwales.co.uk: Great Little Trains of Wales


David Cross was born in Plymouth but is now a "happily naturalized" Yorkshireman. He has grand-children in Wales and Scotland. David is a moderator on the World Travel Experience forums - groups.yahoo.com/group/worldtravelexp/. See David's Slow Travel Member page.

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