Roman Bridge to Betws-Y-Coed Linear

A linear walk of 8 miles including 900 feet of elevation overall. Start Point: Roman Bridge railway station, Dolwyddelan LL25 OJG. Map References: SH 7127 5140 Lat/Long: 53.04439926 -3.92163991 
adult-blur-boots-1452784An interesting, easy walk through the Lledr Valley from Roman Bridge to Betws – as the crow flies – and one which is full of ancient history. Begin with a train ride from the busy town of Betws-y-Coed to the request stop at Roman Bridge. If the train isn’t running along the Conwy Valley – which was the case at the time of walking and writing, due to the track being swept away in the floods of early 2019 – it’s easy to take the replacement bus. The route of this walk incorporates much of Sarn Helen, the Roman road local to the area. Sarn Helen actually refers to several stretches of Roman road throughout Wales. The full 160 mile route follows a meandering course through central Wales, and connects Aberconwy in the north with Carmarthen in the west, although debate continues as to its precise course. Many sections are now used by the modern road network and there are sizeable stretches that have been lost and are unidentifiable.
It’s worth allowing time to take a look at Dolwyddelan Castle along the way, reputed to be the birthplace of Llywelyn the Great. Built in the early 13th century, the castle functioned as a guard post along the main route through North Wales. This straightforward, direct route – the Romans loved straight lines – gradually descends to the spectacular River Llugwy, and continues over the steep and striking Miners Bridge. This is likely the same spot the Romans used to cross the river many centuries ago on their way to invade Anglesey and conquer the Druid stronghold there. The name evolved during the nineteenth century when local quarrymen used the bridge to reach the lead and tin mines of Gwydir Forest.

The route

  1. From Roman Bridge station turn right and follow the single-track road as it winds downhill, and then sweeps to the right. Good views of Moel Siabod. Cross the stone bridge and continue up to a farmyard.
  2. Walk through the yard and turn right at the finger-post to join the Sarn Helen road. Where the track forks, keep right and continue walking until the castle comes into view. The track skirts the castle and continues to a metal gate. Go through the gate and walk to the end of the track to the main road.
  3. Turn left here, and walk a short distance along the road towards Dolwyddelan village. Turn right in the centre, along Church Street. Take the first left towards the station, passing the school to your left. Take the single-track road ahead.
  4. Follow the road to the end and pass through a metal gate into grazing land. Follow the track as it winds to the right beneath the railway line and then turn left to go through a gate. Continue along the driveway and turn left at the end onto a single-track road. Pass Pont-y-Pant station, then continue to cross the bridge onto the main road. Take the footpath opposite and turn left.
  5. Take the stile at the end to exit the path, and turn right along the single-track lane. The lane climbs steadily towards a metal gate – go through here and continue forwards along the rough track. At the fork bear right, then the way divides into three options. Ignore the righthand path, and ignore the lefthand path as it heads up towards a fir plantation. Take the less obvious middle path through the copse.
  6. Follow this route for about a mile until it passes through a gate at the end. Cross over the road at the junction to pick up a stony path as it heads downhill. Again, at the next junction go straight ahead on the track and continue downhill to a wooden bridge.
  7. Pass some large properties to the left and at the main road, cross over to take the footpath opposite through woodland down to the River Llugwy and the Miner’s Bridge. Turn right after crossing the bridge, and continue along the river bank into Betws-y-Coed.

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

Chirk

The small border town of Chirk lies in the Ceiriog Valley; the homeland for three of Wales most notable poets: Huw Morus (1662-1709), Robert Ellis (1812-1875) and John Ceiriog Hughes (1832-1887). Chirk Castle was one of several medieval Marcher fortresses sited on the Welsh-English border. Once the home of Sir Thomas Seymour, who married Catherine Parr (Henry VIII’s widow), it has been lived in almost continuously for 700 years. The magnificent 100 feet high stone railway viaduct was built in 1846 by Scottish engineer Henry Robertson, to facilitate the Shrewsbury and Chester Railway. The adjoining aqueduct was built in 1796 by Thomas Telford and William Jessop to carry the Ellesmere Canal.

 

Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle is a fortification in Conwy, located in North Wales. It was built by Edward I, during his conquest of Wales, between 1283 and 1289. Constructed as part of a wider project to create the walled town of Conwy, the combined defences cost around £15,000, a huge sum for the period. The 2017 Medieval Festival included jousting and battle re-enactments.

 

Christmas at Pensychnant

For the peaceful appreciation of nature.

Despite driving, walking, and riding past this place for many, many years I’ve only recently visited Pensychnant House and I’m ashamed to confess that the lure of home-baked cakes was one of the primary drivers.
24255021_1556180557799582_1168942086629676364_oThis isn’t a National Trust or Cadw property attracting an entrance fee (although contributions are always encouraged), nor does it house a lot of cordoned-off untouchable valuables. What it does offer is a real, modern experience of a Victorian house. This is partly down to the fact that the house is still very much lived in. The log fires are burned for a great many reasons. Today, Pensychnant works primarily as a conservation centre; holding exhibitions by local wildlife artists, organising guided walks, and of course, the annual Christmas fair when the Welsh dresser is laden with vast quantities of home-baked cakes. The Billiards Room is also available to hire for meetings. Although traces still remain, the original spectator area has since been removed. The idea of ladies watching the men play billiards was pretty much unheard of in those times, proving that the original resident, Stott, was pretty forward thinking!
The Turbulent History of Pensychnant. Today’s resident warden, Julian Thompson, has much to share about the history of the estate. The original house is a simple farmhouse dating from about 1690. Because of the existence of a second storey – probably originally accessed by an exterior stone staircase – it suggests that this would have been the property of a family of some means. Interesting that the draught generated between the front and back doors was utilised to winnow corn, and later, Stott affectionately christened the boot room in this part of the house as the Wellington Room. But it’s the Victorian extension built in the Arts and Crafts style (started in 1877 by Stott) which makes Pensychnant so unique.
Stott & Sons built about a fifth of the cotton mills around Lancashire. Surprisingly, the house had a central heating system from new, and in 1923 it received an electricity supply. Built initially as a holiday home for the Stott family, Abraham’s wife was less impressed with the house, particularly its rural location. Fearing he’d never encourage his family to move there, Stott fell into something of a depression about his investment. He reputedly left candles alight in vats of paraffin in the farmhouse, and took his absence. His desperate plan failed, since residents of nearby Crows Nest Hall spotted lights in the windows and went to investigate. Amazingly, Stott managed to escape being charged with arson despite harbouring not one, but three insurance policies about his person! In 1882 the wealth and standing of this hugely influential family clearly held the greater power.    
When the mill industry collapsed, Pensychnant was sold to the Collins family before it passed to Doctor Tattersall of Conwy. Then, like the stuff of fiction, something wonderful happened when the great grandson of Stott bought back the entire family estate in 1967. Although the estate continued to function as a working farm, Brian Henthorn Stott regarded it as a nature reserve too and as well as planting hundreds of trees; primarily Welsh oak, birch, rowan and holly. He installed a great many nesting boxes and the variety of birds remains prolific, especially the cuckoo. In Victorian times there was a brisk tourist trade in nearby Penmaenmawr based on collectors travelling from all over Britain to see the Pensychnant moths. There are still two species in residence today, so rare they occur nowhere else in the world…
Pensychnant Today. Sitting in 148 acres of conservation land, Pensychnant house is heavily concealed from the access lane on Sychnant Pass (the mountain road which runs from Conwy across to Penmaenmawr, where it eventually joins the A55 expressway) but if you’re interested in local countryside conservation or historical properties, or if you’re simply looking to escape the modern world for a couple of hours, Pensychnant is well worth a visit. For me, the elegant shabbiness of the house adds a richness not quite quantifiable in words. I guess it has atmosphere. And yes, of course there’s a ghost… the maid, who was murdered by the gardener in the chauffeur’s room.
Brian Stott established the Pensychnant Foundation before he died in 1997.   
The Pensychnant Foundation

The Pensychnant Foundation (a registered charity) was established in 1989 by Brian Henthorn Stott to: manage the Pensychnant House and Estate as a conservation centre and nature reserve; for the benefit of its wildlife; and to foster the public’s appreciation and understanding of nature and nature conservation. The house hosts an on-going exhibition of wildlife art by some of Britain’s most talented artists. Proceeds from the sale of drawings or paintings support the charity’s conservation work.

More information about Pensychnant and its programme of events can be found here: http://pensychnant.co.uk/home.html

Words and photography by Jan Ruth

The Castle on the River

I’ve sped past Gwydir Castle many times and, because it’s local, tend to fall into the trap of thinking I can go anytime I wish. But then one never finds the right time. When a friend lent me Judy Corbett’s book, Castles in the Air – an account of the restoration of Gwydir – I quickly became hooked. And I had to see for myself the result of many years of struggle to bring Gwydir back to medieval life. Passing beyond the boundary wall is stepping back into history, and there’s an instant cloistered atmosphere. The property is described as ‘… an irregularly planned house in late Perpendicular Gothic style with some late 16th century Renaissance detailing. It is of roughly J-shaped plan, constructed of slate-stone blocks with sandstone dressings and slate roofs. Many of the building materials came from Maenan Abbey.’
In 1994 Peter and Judy left London to search for a house to restore. Drawn to North Wales, partly because Judy grew up there and partly down to Hiraeth – the Welsh word for homesickness – there was already a powerful magnet along with an affinity to rain, the mountains, and ancient Welsh history. They discovered a crumbling 16th century stone mansion hovering on the periphery of the flood plains in Llanrwst. Gwydir wasn’t your average ‘doer upper’. Regarded as one of the finest Tudor houses in Wales, the derelict castle was formerly the ancestral home of the powerful Wynn family. Having fallen foul of previous attempts to ‘modernise’ it, the building had lost its majestic identity to a hideous nightclub along with a makeshift recording studio. Despite this, Peter and Judy’s dream of owning such a place had them pursue a sale, and soon they were sharing the marginally less squalid floor space with rats, bats, and a ghost.
The story related by Judy is one of unwavering obsession, and how the sheer size and magnitude of the task they had undertaken almost emotionally and financially defeated them, in part down to a period of ghostly possession in the name of Lady Margaret Cave – the most compelling and convincing account of a haunting I’ve ever read. And this sets a theme for living in Gwydir, where the constantly blurred edge of real and imaginary, past and present, becomes the norm.
In 1921 some of Gwydir’s historic contents – including two panelled rooms – were sold. The Dining Room was purchased by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (of Citizen Kane fame). Hearst was after purchasing historic interiors to furnish his mock castle in California. The fireplaces, panelling and door cases from Gwydir were crated up and shipped to America. In 1995 Judy and Peter discovered Gwydir’s lost Dining Room in a warehouse belonging to the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Following lengthy negotiations, they were able to purchase the 17th century panelling, fireplace and door case, and all were finally returned to Gwydir – six tons of it, in fourteen giant packing crates – after a seventy-five-year American exile. I love how Judy describes this homecoming in her book, the way the very essence of Gwydir seemed to fill the air the moment the lids were eased off the crates…
The restored Dining Room wing, with its reinstated panelling and folded leather frieze was opened by HRH Prince Charles in the summer of 1998. The search continues for the Oak Parlour… Inconceivable then that these treasures should be at risk of flooding, and yet the Conwy River is prone to bursting its banks and Gwydir has fallen foul on more than one occasion. But plenty of locals are willing to pitch in and a band of volunteers are helping to build a sandbank wall.
If you’d like to get involved: https://www.facebook.com/GwydirCastle/

Dinorwic Quarry and Llyn Padarn

A circular walk of 6.5 miles including 950 feet of elevation overall. Start Point: car parks on the A4086 by Llyn Padarn, near Llanberis, Caernarfon, LL55. Map References: SH 5723 6130  Lat/Long: 53.12969971 -4.13530846 
adult-blur-boots-1452784Llanberis lies at the foot of Snowdon alongside one of the largest natural lakes in Snowdonia. The area is steeped in historical interest, from 13th century Dolbadarn Castle to Dinowic Quarry, the Lakeside railway, and the miner’s hospital. The earliest activity at the quarry is dated 1787 and Dinorwic developed into one of the biggest quarries in the world, finally closing in 1969. The workings are extensive – spread over some 700 acres. Brave explorers scaling the heights of these galleries and tramways have found miners boots and clothing in some of the abandoned buildings at the top. The miner’s hospital, largely maintained by the quarry workers contributions, housed one of the first x-ray machines in North Wales. Surrounded by some of the biggest summits in Snowdonia Dinorwic remains a deeply evocative place.

The route

  1. From the car park turn left to walk south-east. Keep left along the service road then walk a short distance along the main road before a finger post directs you to Padarn Country Park. Take up the path by the lakeside and continue to the bridge at the end. Access to the miner’s hospital is just ahead; for the lakeside railway and the slate museum turn left.
  2. To continue the walk, turn right. At the small roundabout turn left, and look for the footpath to Dinorwic Quarry, set between slate walls. Take this steep path and follow the obvious route, taking care over the iron bridge by the old winding gear. Look for the quarrymen’s cottages on the right, opposite a yellow and blue marker post.
  3. Walk between the rows of cottages and turn left up the long slope which used to carry the slate trucks, up towards a shed housing more winding gear. Bear left to pass around the shed then continue up the track towards the top, where it passes between tall slate heaps.
  4. At the top, turn left. There are extensive views here, especially from the viewpoint, which is another optional detour to the left. Otherwise, pass the old Telegraph building and the slate sheds to pick up a wide track, which drops down to the road by Ger y Coed.
  5. Pass through the gate and go straight across the road and through the gate to walk along the driveway to Ger y Coed – a colourful smallholding – then pick up the footpath to the right of the property as it continues to wind through the trees. At the fork, turn right.

  6. At the next fork in the path keep right, and bear right again at a yellow and blue marker post to continue the route through an oak wood. Pass through the old iron gate – the boundary to Padarn Country Park – then turn left and drop downhill towards the lake, following the yellow marker posts. Go over the bridge at a small waterfall.
  7. Pass through the kissing-gate, then turn right up the stony track which turns into a single-track lane. Follow this lane for some distance, until it begins to bear sharp right. Take the footpath to the left, up to a set of stone steps by a white marker post. Turn left on the road
  8. Follow the road down towards Brynrefail and continue over the stone bridge as the road swings left around the lake. Keep left, and go through the kissing gate to walk along the short service road. Great views of Llyn Padarn, Snowdon, and the ruins of Dolbadarn Castle from here. Pass through two further gates onto the main road and keep left for a short distance until a break in the wall reveals a footpath.
  9. Go down the steps to a walkway alongside the shore of Llyn Padarn and continue for around a mile to arrive back at the car park. IMG_3023The described route is a guide only, it’s always advisable to use a map or a GPS device.

Llangollen: 1

A circular walk of 9 miles including 1,000 feet of elevation overall (excluding Dinas Bran) Start Point: Panorama Walk, Llangollen LL20 8ED. Map References: SJ 2340243187 or Lat: 52.980530 Lon: -3.142302 
adult-blur-boots-1452784Llangollen is a small town in Denbighshire on the River Dee, and this walk takes in some of its major points of interest ie: the ruins of Castell Dinas Bran, the Llangollen canal with its horse-drawn barges, and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (pronounced ‘pont-kur-suck-tay’). The town is known for its network of canals and no less than 21 locks. Built by Thomas Telford in 1805 the Pontcysyllte remains the longest and tallest aqueduct in Britain. For those wanting something a little more challenging, it’s easy to increase the elevation of this route by including the optional walk up and over Castell Dinas Bran, which adds around an extra 1,000 feet of climbing. Castell Dinas Bran translates to English as: The Castle of the City of Crows. Perched on a conical hill above Llangollen it enjoys fantastic aerial views and despite its dilapidated state, commands not only a strong historical presence, but also one of love, legend and fairytale. But don’t be fooled by the romance of it all, epic battles and crimes against king and country have plundered across these soils for centuries. If this was a walk through fiction, we could expect every genre under the sun.
More on the castle: https://janruth.com/2015/07/21/castle-of-the-crows/
  1. Park on Panorama Walk; a narrow elevated road with plenty of parking space and fantastic far-reaching views across the vale of Llangollen including the River Dee, the castle ruins, and the canal. Keeping this panorama to your left, walk towards Castell Dinas Bran, following the markers denoting the Offa’s Dyke Path. Turn Left over a cattle grid and walk a short distance along the narrow lane to locate a kissing-gate to the right, just beneath Castell Dinas Bran.
  2. The optional path to the summit is clear. Alternatively, bear right and head downhill on the pasture between the gorse. Ignore the vehicle track to the right and keep following the basin/dip in the land as it heads towards trees. The path becomes clearer as it skirts around the base of Castell Dinas Bran and heads into a wooded area, with farm buildings up on the right.
  3. Pass through a wooden kissing-gate and continue along the obvious path keeping the fence-line to the right. (If you’ve chosen to climb Dinas Bran, rejoin the route here by taking the path to the right of a small mound and this will join the alternative lower path.) Pass through the metal Kissing-gate and continue along the cobbled lane.
  4. Turn left at the crossroads and continue past a couple of dwellings into a wooded area. Go through the gate at the end and into pasture land, where the track follows the ridge and arrives at another gate onto a narrow road. Turn left here and go over the stile ahead into farmland. Keep right.
  5. Bear left across the second field to a stile, then turn left through the gate where a footpath marker confirms you’re on the ‘Community Miles Route.’ At the next marker post, turn right and go through a metal gate to cross a field to a stile by a farm track, at Llandyn Hall. Bear left here, and cross in front of a row of cottages.
  6. Take the gate on the right up by the finger-post and walk through pasture along the ridge towards the line of trees, and on to a wooden stile. Turn right along the lane, passing some cottages, then go through the metal gate and descend on a wooded footpath.
  7. Go straight on to the end of this track and once at the road, turn right, then cross the road and take the stile onto the canal towpath by the lay-by. Follow the towpath then for almost 3 miles, heading towards the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
  8. Leave the canal just after the fingerpost sign for the aqueduct at Trevor Basin via a long metal ramp. Cross the canal using the wooden bridge and continue onto the road at the top. Cross into Trevor Boat Yard for access to the aqueduct, pub, shop, cafe. It’s possible to walk across the aqueduct if you feel so inclined, but you do need a head for heights. Alternatively, head for the pub.
  9. Return along the same path back to the canal, but don’t cross over the wooden bridge and instead, continue towards a kissing-gate into a field. Walk to the next gate at the far side and turn left along an obvious footpath passing beneath the railway line. Turn right and begin following the Offa’s Dyke path markers as the path zig zags up to a set of stone steps and onto the road.
  10. Cross the road and turn left. After a short distance, take the first turning on the right along Trevor Hall Road. Where the road bends to the right, continue straight ahead on the private, unmade road signed for Offa’s Dyke. After a short distance, turn right into the trees at the footpath sign.
  11. Follow the ascending track as it eventually passes alongside grazing land and then into Trevor Hall Woods. At the fork in the path, take the higher path signed for Offa’s Dyke and continue to follow this route at the next fork where it indicates keep right.
  12. At the end of the trees pass through the wooden gate and turn sharp right to ascend the open hillside, keeping the drystone wall to your right. At the top, turn left and follow the driveway as it winds back up to Panorama Walk.

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

Telegraph Valley Steam Train Linear

A linear walk of 7.5 miles including 1,600 feet of elevation overall. Start Point: Snowdonia Parc Pub on the A498, Waunfawr, Caernarfon, LL55 4AQ. Map References: SH 52664 58825  or Lat:  53-66210 Lon: -4.202379
adult-blur-boots-1452784A pub at the start and the finish coupled with free parking and a short train journey, makes this route a walk of convenience with plenty of scope to stretch the legs in-between. Much of the climb is at the start of the walk, heading up to the point where walkers bound for Snowdon separate from those heading towards Llanberis along Telegraph Valley. The area is named after the first Marconi long-wave transmitting station in Britain, the remains of which are still in situ. Good clear paths throughout, requiring only a modest amount of navigation towards the end of the walk as the Slate Trail leads one back to the start through areas of rough pastureland and the outskirts of Waunfawr. Evidence of the slate industry is strong across the landscape, with the Dinorwic quarry clearly visible above Llanberis and Llyn Padarn.
The origins of the Welsh Highland railway – the oldest railway company in the world – can be traced back to the Nantlle horse-drawn railway in 1828 connecting the slate quarries at Nantlle with Caernarfon, a distance of about eight miles. It was converted into a standard gauge railway in the 1860s. Eventually the line was developed to reach Portmadoc, a journey of 25 miles from Caernarfon, where it then connects to the Ffestiniog line. The romance of the steam and the rattle of the carriages provides a historic atmosphere which feels completely fitting to Snowdonia’s heritage, and the route passes through some spectacular scenery. Times and ticket prices available online. If you’re a North Wales resident, it’s well worth purchasing a member/loyalty card for discounted trips.

The route

  1. Cross over the bridge to the railway platform. Take the train to the Snowdon Ranger. Note: this is a request stop so be sure to inform the guard. Leave the train at the Snowdon Ranger stop, then cross the train track to join the Snowdon Ranger path. This is clearly denoted as a stone track passing behind some farm buildings and then zig-zagging all the way up to a distinct fork.
  2. Turn left towards Llanberis. Pass through the gate and, keeping Snowdon to the rear walk straight on as the route descends gradually through Telegraph Valley; until after the 4 mile point you reach a single-track road.
  3. Turn left. Continue up to a stile and follow the well-defined path as it climbs towards the disused quarry by Donen Las, Groeslon.
  4. Walk between the slate heaps on a stone track which changes to a single-track road heading down towards Waunfawr. Look for a finger-post on the left at Caer Corlan , also signed for the Slate Trail (yellow arrow) and the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way.
  5. Walk along this permitted driveway and after the two dwellings pass through the gate and turn right at the Slate Trail sign. Continue to follow the yellow arrows.
  6. As the path descends, look for a Slate Trail post to the right and pass over a wooden bridge via two metal gates into rough pastureland. Keep straight on with the stone wall to the left. At the single-track road turn left downhill.
  7. Pick up the yellow arrows again, taking a right turn down a footpath through more rough pasture, passing through kissing gates and the rear of some properties to arrive at the junction of several driveways.
  8. Go straight on, picking up the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way sign by the footpath. At the single-track road, turn right for a short distance towards some properties before taking the footpath on the left. Turn left at the end of the path and after a short distance along the main road, the Snowdon Parc is on the left.
The described route is a guide only, it’s always advisable to use a map or a GPS device.

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.

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

Castle of the Crows

Relics of kings, wreck of forgotten wars, to the winds abandoned and the prying stars. Wordsworth, describing his visit to Castell Dinas Bran.

DSCN5428Castell Dinas Bran translates to English as: The Castle of the City of Crows. Perched on a conical hill above Llangollen, it enjoys aerial views and despite its dilapidated state, commands not only a strong historical presence, but also one of love, legend and fairytale. But don’t be fooled by the romance of it all, epic battles and crimes against king and country have plundered across these soils for centuries. If this was a walk through fiction, we could expect every genre under the sun. The name Llangollen is derived from the sacred enclosure of St Collen, who made a name for himself in the 7th century – both here, and on look-a-like Glastonbury Tor – for sorting out fairies gone bad, so I think we’re deep into fantasy before we even start to climb.
dbranThe castle’s first literary appearance is in a 12th-century historical document entitled ‘The Romance of Fulk FitzWarin.’ In this tale the castle is already referred to as a ruin during the early years of the Norman Conquest. It tells of an arrogant Norman knight, Payne Peveril. On hearing that no one had courage enough to stay overnight inside the castle ruins for fear of evil spirits, Peveril decided to take up the challenge, with 15 ‘knightly followers’. A storm blows up and a mace-wielding giant called Gogmagog, appears. Peveril defends his men against the attacks of the giant with his shield and cross, then stabs Gogmagog with his sword. 11755746_750490475060404_7646873740635895243_nAs the giant is dying they hear the story of King Bran and his building of the castle in order to defeat the giant. Despite King Bran’s attempts against Gogmagog, the King had been forced to flee and since then the giant had terrorised all the land around for many years. In his final words, Gogmagog revealed that a great treasury of idols was buried at Dinas Bran which included swans, peacocks, horses and a huge golden ox, but in the true tradition of folklore … he died without revealing their location.
DSCN5435Dinas Bran wasn’t always a castle. The origins of this site go back to a Bronze Age fort, which was destroyed in some bloody battle, followed possibly by a wooden castle … which was also burnt down. This was followed by the 13th century stone version, until Edward 1st invaded in 1277 and it was destroyed again in another bloody battle, i.e: it was burnt down. Sadly, it was never repaired to full glory although the beautiful Myfanwy Fychan resided here in the 14th century. DSCN5437Her admirer, the poet Hywel ap Einion, wrote verse in praise of her, up in an oak tree on the slope of this hill. The final owner, Sir William Stanley from Chirk Castle was executed for his part in the rebellion against Henry 7th, and after his demise the castle’s only recorded inhabitant, was a fierce eagle.
One thing which hasn’t changed throughout the centuries: the view. It’s truly spectacular, a full 360° window across Wales, reaching out all the way towards the Shropshire Plain to the East and into Snowdonia to the West. We didn’t find the hidden treasures of Dinas Bran although according to legend you need a boy, and a white dog with a silver eye to have any sort of success rate. And it was so warm the day we made the climb, once atop we were content to sit and stare, rather than start digging. Even our Yorkies had turned to liquid (that’s the chocolate kind, not the small dogs). Unless … unless those fairies were up to some sort of Celtic mischief …

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Words and photography by Jan Ruth

Watch:http://www.clwydianrangeanddeevalleyaonb.org.uk/castell-dinas-bran/

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.