Conwy Valley Lakes

A circular walk of 9 miles including 1,400 feet of elevation overall. Start Point: Opposite Trefriw Woollen Mill, Main Road, Trefriw LL27 0NQ.

adult-blur-boots-1452784Llyn Crafnant and Llyn Geirionydd are two of the largest natural lakes in the Conwy Valley (both around a mile long) and together, they make for a scenic, varied walk along mostly well-defined paths as part of the Trefriw Trails network. It’s possible to shorten this particular route and reduce the elevation by skipping the climb up from Trefriw and parking instead at either of the designated lakeside car parks.

Spring and autumn are especially rewarding seasons to enjoy this route due to the colour diversity of the trees, the bluebells and the wild garlic. And the falls by Trefriw Mill are especially spectacular when in full spate. Crafnant takes its name from ‘craf’, an old Welsh word for garlic, and ‘nant’, a stream or valley. The lakes run parallel to each other but a mile apart, being separated by Mynydd Deulyn, known as the mountain of the two lakes. Like much of Wales, the Crafnant valley has a long association with mining, and the Pandora Mine and Klondyke Mill (1900-1911) was for a short time an industrial lead ore enterprise. There are few, if any, fish in Geirionydd; quite likely the result of poisoning from the adjacent metal mines. However, the lake boasts a number of literary connections: Ieuan Glan Geirionydd (1795–1855) was born on the banks of Afon Geirionydd, and renowned for his poetry and hymns. Taliesin (c. 534–c.599), was a 6th-century Welsh bard, and the earliest poet of the Welsh language whose work has survived. Taliesin lived on the shores of Llyn Geirionydd, and this is also where many say he is buried.

The route

  1. From the parking area, turn right along the main road then cross opposite The Fairy Falls Hotel and enter the side street, where a Trefriw Trails sign directs you along a footpath to the left. After a short distance, take the right turn indicated by another trails arrow alongside the river and follow the path as it hairpins back on itself, before crossing the bridge.
  2.  Turn right after the bridge along a short path and then at the end, turn right onto a road. At the T junction, turn left, then look for the footpath sign into the woods. Follow the path for more than a mile as it climbs steadily towards Llyn Geirionydd, the way marked by yellow trail markers. At the rocky knoll there’s a good view of the remains of Klondyke Mill.
  3. The route continues over a stream, then up to a wooden gate. Continue on the trail until you reach the final stile which brings you to the outskirts of Llyn Geirionydd. Either walk along the single-track road to the left of the lake or take a right turn at the head of the lake and take the footpath along the far shoreline, close to the water’s edge.
  4. If you choose to walk along the road, take the first right after the end of the lake, then follow the footpath posts denoted by a footprint as they head up into the forest. If you’ve chosen to walk along the shoreline, then both routes conjoin here. Follow the forest track as it winds up and bears right.
  5. Once over the stream, cease following the markers and take a right turn up through the trees to arrive on the forest road again, then pick up the blue markers. Bear left and head towards the next marker nestled in the grass verge. Follow the directions up into the forest and walk along the track which climbs up through the fir trees, then descends towards Llyn Crafnant.
  6. Before the final stile on the track, turn left as indicated by several trail markers and follow the well-defined path within sight of the lake. Pass through the kissing-gate at the end then turn left at the single-track road. At the end, pass through the gate and turn right.
  7. Follow the stone path as it passes through another gate and then turn right to cross over a wooden bridge just before a dwelling. Continue along the stone path as it follows the natural shoreline of the lake. At the head of the lake, turn left onto the single-track road with the stream to your left. At the car park entrance, also on the left, look for a right fork denoted by a footpath sign and follow this wide path as it climbs up towards a gate.
  8. Pass through the metal gate and stay on the forestry road but ignore the sharp right-hand turn and go straight on, following the yellow markers to take a stile into a wooded area with slate heaps either side. The path here undulates through a wooded area and some of the way is hampered by tree roots and boulders. At the fork, take either path as they both conjoin later on at a ladder stile over the wall by a stream.
  9. Once over the wall, the path is distinct again as it heads back up towards Llyn Geirionydd and passes the monument dedicated to Taliesin on a rise to the left. Once back at the lakeside turn left and pick up the trail from point 3 to retrace your steps back to Trefriw.

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The described route is a guide only, it’s always advisable to use a map or a GPS device.

St Mary’s Church on the River

They delved in the meadow where the old stones lie, but deep in my bed, O safe, safe was I. For Christ He was slain where other regions trod, and I shall rise again from thy acre, God.

I have a fondness for local churches, and St. Mary’s at Caerhun has plenty of ingredients to satisfy my historical muse, especially since this particular church occupies the site of a Roman fort, that of Canovium. Even the name itself has a magical, filmic quality. Despite my well-oiled imagination it’s not easy to visualise some 500 Roman guards and over 100 mounted cavalry who were stationed here 2,000 years ago, in such present-day tranquility. Their job would have been protecting the mines and those important trade routes across Snowdonia, and to defend the river crossing as traders moved from Chester to Caernarfon. Scattered in the fields flanking the river are the remains of the ramparts, and a bath-house. The Romans abandoned the fort in the 4th century and thereafter, legend suggests it was occupied by Rhun ap Maelgwn, King of Gwynedd.

It’s presumed the original church here was built around the 13th century but the only datable material is the walls (partly red sandstone blocks which were part of the original fort) and the font. And it was most likely built by Cistercian monks, who had a penchant for dedicating all their churches to the Virgin Mary. It has a twin bell-cote with a date of 1657 inscribed along with the warden’s initials, but no evidence of there ever being a second bell. The lychgate is especially grand, designed to provide shelter for coffins before funerals: the seats at either side were for the pallbearers to sit whilst they waited for the priest. And I love the three yew trees in the grounds, dated at around 1,200 years old. In Christian symbolism yew trees are associated with The Resurrection but the main reason for their existence here was the harvesting of the wood to make longbows! Unfortunately, yew leaves are poisonous to cattle and sheep which is why these trees are usually enclosed within church grounds.

IMG_3162Today, St. Mary’s is a haven for history lovers, bird watchers, walkers and worshippers. And of course, sheep. The birds, the flora and fauna here are well-protected and documented. The church carries a full list of sightings, and from a writer’s point of view, I do like to be able to attach names to local birdsong, to add that all-important authenticity. Buzzards are common throughout Snowdonia, their distinctive circling and mewing always attracts attention, as do the red kites. It’s the smaller species which are more difficult to identify. Apparently, Caerhun is the most likely place in North Wales to see a hawfinch. The finches are attracted by the resident yew trees, along with the mistle thrush, fieldfare, redwing, pied wagtails and brambling. During April, swallows migrate from Africa and nest under the lychgate. These are easy to spot, catching insects on the wing. And down on the river there’s a whole host of waterfowl: egrets, herons, geese and the ever present herring gulls.

Is it a strange pastime to read gravestones? I did this a lot as a child. There was no creepy angle, I think it stemmed more from an interest in people and their lives. One headstone which makes for difficult reading though has been used as edging for the church roof. Apparently it belongs to Richard Hughes of Tal Y Cafn, dated 1702. When restoration work was carried out in 1970, human bones were found embedded into the walls along with a medieval stoup. No one knows if they were anything to do with poor Richard Hughes up on the roof or whether the bones belonged to an important family who needed to remain hidden, perhaps during The Reformation to avoid their destruction.

More conventionally, several victims of The Dolgarrog Dam Disaster in 1925 are buried here along with a 13th century chieftain, the Ferryman and the Nickson family who donated the stained glass window.

Other notables are two Liverpool businessmen, a cotton merchant and a copper-mill owner. Two servants, Jacques Anrioud and Jane Jones married in Paris in 1873 but are both buried here. I’d love to know their story…

Maybe I should write it anyway and it could be a historical time-slip novel, a pulling together of the present and the past. Dashing, romantic Jaques from Paris and a scandalous affair with local Welsh maid, plain Jane from Caerhun.

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Watch: http://www.barksy.tv/videos/canovium-roman-fort/

Words and photography by Jan Ruth.