A lack of career prospects and a desire to see the world drove me out at a young age, but none of this detracts from the fact that Wales has some of the most stunning landscapes and cute village you’ll ever see. If you venture to North-West Wales, you’re likely to hear Welsh in full flow, too, which might just make you feel as if you’ve wandered into Tolkien’s world (Elvish was apparently based on Welsh). Of course, everybody can still speak English, meaning you can travel without your phrasebook or any worries of getting lost.
It’s hard to write about your own home from a tourist point-of-view, but I thought I’d share some of the places I’ve taken my husband to so you can marvel at their beauty and plan your own visits. Today, we’ll start with Snowdonia National Park.
Of course, you can climb Mount Snowdon or take a train up – a beautiful hike or an expensive train ride. Plenty of people camp around Snowdonia National Park every year. But one of the most popular places to stay – if you’re looking for a guest house or hotel – is Betws-y-Coed.
The town itself is nice, although nothing I’d go crazy for. The real attractions, in my eyes, are Swallow Falls and The Fairy Glen .
Swallow Falls is on the main road when you enter Betws-y-Coed from the West on the A5 (from Bangor), meaning it would be on the way out if you’ve driven up from Porthmadog or from the East. From the train station, walk down onto the “main” road and turn right. There’s a £1.50 charge to go through a turnstile to see the waterfall, though, so be prepared! You can park along the road (you’ll see spaces).
The Fairy Glen is slightly hard to find; from the centre of Betws-y-Coed, head East until you hit the T-junction and take a right towards Llangollen and Dolgellau. After a minute or so, you’ll see a road snaking downhill to the right, going towards Dolgellau and Bleanau Ffestiniog. Take this road for until you see the Fairy Glen Hotel on your left. Go up the small road/path next to the hotel (there’s a tiny brown sign that says “Fairy Glen”) and you’ll see a place to park on your left. Once you’ve parked, go back onto the path and you’ll see an entrance to a walking path. Pay the entrance of 50p (the man in the house will notice if you don’t pay and will chase you!!) and follow the path. You’ll end up walking through the forest for a while, before it leads you down into the glen.
There’s not much “there”, but it’s a lovely, enchanting place that feels so cut off from the stress of the modern world that you might just want to stay there all day.
If you’re driving back from Betws-y-Coed towards Bangor on the A5, it’s worth a coffee stop at Tŷ Hyll (the Ugly House) – which dates back to 1475 and is now run by the Snowdonia Society, a local charity. The house has its own garden, with its own bees, and the House is home to a small information centre about beekeeping and the plight of the honeybee (if you didn’t know, pesticide use in the UK is killing off our bees in droves, threatening our future ability to grow our own food). The Ugly House is actually pretty beautiful, I think, and I also appreciated their compost toilet!
Still have time? Then take a left turn onto the A4086 just before Capel Currig (when you see a left turn sign towards Llanberis, Caernarfon, Beddgelert and Porthmadog). It’s worth the drive just to see Nant Gwynant, where there will normally be time to stop in the parking spaces on the side of the road and see this magnificent beast:
Oh, yes. It’s a stunning drive… here are some more:
After Betws-y-Coed, you can head towards Beddgelert. Alternatively, when heading from Porthmadog to Caernarfon, you can take a right turn towards Tremadog and find yourself on the windy road to Beddgelert. A cute little village, Beddgelert itself is very “quaint” and features a delicious ice-cream shop with tons of flavours; as well as lots of shops (souvenirs, fudge and wood carvings being some of the things there), restaurants and cafés. The village itself is a little expensive, and while a pleasant place to stay, it isn’t the main attraction.
You can park at the car park near The Royal Goat hotel when you first enter the village – you do have to pay to park here, but your alternative is to park out on the main road before entering the village (if you see a spot) and walk down. From the car park, turn left, go past the shops and over the bridge to the right. Once you’ve passed the wood carvings shop and the public toilets, you’ll be able to follow signs to Gelert’s grave.
The story of Gelert is a tragic tale that demonstrates the folly of jumping to conclusions. I’d click the link for a better telling, but basically in the 13th century, Prince Llewelyn of Wales was out hunting. His faithful dog, Gelert, had been charged with watching the Prince’s son. When the Prince returned, he found the cot overturned, blood everywhere, and Gelert smiling at him with blood-stained lips. Devastated, Prince Llewelyn plunged his sword into Gelert’s heart, killing him. It was only when he looked inside the cot that he found his son, alive and well, and a savaged wolf lying dead beside him. So the moral is, when you assume things, you make an ass out of “u” and “me”, and nice dogs die needlessly.
Anyway, please don’t think I would make light of dead dogs… nothing hurts me more than a dog suffering. You can visit Gelert’s grave, read the story and lament human folly for a while, but the real reason to visit Beddgelert is the walk. After visiting the grave, walk back onto the bridge/path where you entered the field and carry on so that you cross the river. Then, turn right and follow the river.
It’s a beautiful walk, which will lead you into the Aberglaslyn Pass if you’re up for it. I would suggest good shoes and relatively good physical fitness, as there are parts of the walk that are not exactly even – we’re talking a few rocks acting as steps, narrow paths and possible slipperiness if it’s been raining. But take a look and decide… you can smell the freshness in the air, barely hear any traffic, and the water here is even safe to drink (well, I drank it once and I was fine).
A few years ago, I went on a mystical walk through some woods with a few friends, and ended up climbing up small hills, grabbing onto trees for support, nearly slipping over on muddy paths and jumping over rivers – but I remembered that it was worth it, because after 30-40 minutes of hiking we saw the most amazing waterfalls. Miles away from any trace of civilisation (or so it felt), we had a small barbecue under a tree. For years, I tried to remember where we had been, until I finally found some mention of it on another website and took Jeff to try retracing our steps. And, huzzah – we found it!
This is not an easy walk, so don’t go if you’re not fit – not super-fit, I’m hardly the fittest person in the world… but there are some pretty uneven, steep bits, and also parts of the path almost overgrown by brambles, so it might be worth taking a small pair of garden scissors with you!
Driving from Porthmadog towards Dolgellau, you would go through Penrhyndeudraeth. At traffic lights halfway through the village, you’ll see a left turn (I think it’s near a Spar and a few other things). Take this left turn – it will take you up a hill that snakes to the right and out of the village. You’ll suddenly be surrounded by trees and on your way down again. Follow the road through Garreg/Llanfrothen and wait until you have to take a sharp left (the actual map co-ordinates are 52.967248, -4.063883). Just after the left turn, there’s a small parking spot – enough for one or two cars. Park here, then turn back on yourself again and walk down the path. It will feel as if you’re walking onto someone’s driveway, and you will pass a couple of houses.
You’ll walk along a path for a while, surrounded by trees, and with the river to your right. Keep following the river until you end up on a slightly less defined path, and have fun! It’s a beautiful walk, and as your elevation increases you’ll encounter more and more waterfalls. At some point, if you see an opportunity, cross the river – because the most stunning waterfall view comes from the other side. Just be careful and all that – it’s far away from everything, and it can be slippery and bramble-infested!
So – have fun, enjoy yourself, and if you’d like to learn some Welsh before you go – check out my Youtube channel!