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 Rhychwyn’s Church in the Forest

Beautiful is the large church, with stately arch and steeple. Neighbourly is the small church with groups of friendly people.
Reverent is the old church with centuries of grace, and a wooden church or a stone church can hold an altar place. And whether it be a rich church, or a poor church anywhere, truly it is a great church if God is worshipped there.

DSCN5332It’s a long, long climb from the village of Llanwrst but well worth the effort to scramble up through Gwydir Forest above the spa-town of Trefriw, to visit the oldest church in Wales, dated 11th century.

This remote location above the Conwy Valley may have been used for Christian worship since the 6th century. Rhychwyn, or Rhochwyn, was one of the 12 sons of Helig ap Glannog, who lost his court, known as Llys Helig, when the sea inundated it. As a result of this loss, the sons lived devout lives, some as monks. The church is also known as Llywelyn’s Old Church and the reference to age is perfectly justified. Llywelyn Fawr, Prince of Wales, and his wife Princess Joan – the illegitimate daughter of King John of England – worshipped here in the early 13th century when they stayed at their Trefriw hunting lodge at nearby Lake Geirionnydd.

DSCN5328Joan, also known by her Welsh name Siwan, complained that the walk to church was tiring; 2km uphill from Trefriw followed by 2km downhill. It’s said that Llywelyn founded St Mary’s Church in Trefriw to save her this effort. Since we chose to walk this route on a humid summer’s day, I could fully sympathise with her! At least the long trail through Gwydir Forest was shaded. We passed several warning signs about the old mine workings in amongst the bracken and the broken stone walls. The heyday of metal mining here was between 1850 and 1919. Both timber and metal was transported from the forest to the quay at neighbouring Trefriw, from where it was shipped downstream to the coast. This historical industry is blamed for the lack of fish in Geirionnydd today: the result of the poisoning of the waters from the metal mines?

Interesting that there are literary connections to this diocese too, the most notable being Taliesin – a 6th-century Welsh bard living on the shores of the lake – and the earliest poet of the Welsh language whose work has survived.

DSCN5329Once out of the forest, the climb continues past hill farms and uphill through twisted iron kissing-gates, into fields where only sheep manage to remain upright. Any sign of the original settlements here have long gone and the historical relevance becomes more pronounced. Once the past is delved into, these cruel and pretty surroundings give tremendous weight to their own stories and I couldn’t wait to get inside the church. Although we were surrounded by the magnificence of Snowdonia the immediate location of this lovely building is rather nondescript, not as pretty as St Mary’s church on the river, nor does it hold the charm of St Celynin’s church in the hills. DSCN5334It seems tucked away in a corner and hidden by trees, and rather strangely, the back of the church faces outward. But the sense of history here is both compelling and unique. The ancient wooden door, complete with wooden hinges, closes behind you with a thunk, and those thick walls block out every sound apart from the wind as it continues to find a way through the innumerable gaps and crannies of the building. It really does feel like you’re inside a time capsule. DSCN5335The roof beams are some 800 years old and the bell is reputedly from Maenan Abbey. The east window has coloured images of the Virgin Mary and of the Holy Trinity. Apparently, this type of colouring is rare, and this example is probably the oldest of its kind in Wales. There are a number of dusty Welsh bibles still open on the creaking pulpit, and services are still held here despite its lack of nearby road or level track. There’s something mystical and magical about buildings as old as this, so I can fully understand why someone would still choose to attend a service here and brave the incline. 

I think I spent almost as much time wandering in the churchyard and reading the wonky gravestones, bordering the path like a set of crooked teeth. No point looking for Llywelyn here… DSCN5331The church in Llanrwst is now famous for containing his carved stone coffin, whilst his wife rests in Beaumaris church on Anglesey. Although this was an arranged marriage, it was clearly a love story too. In 1230 William de Braose, a young Marcher Lord was discovered with Siwan in Llywelyn’s bedchamber. De Braose was hung for adultery and Siwan was placed on house-arrest for 12 months. In time, though, he came to forgive her and Siwan was restored to favour. She gave birth to a daughter in 1231 and died at the royal home at Abergwyngregyn, on the north coast of Gwynedd, in 1237.

As for Taliesin, he is at the bottom of the lake…

Words and photography by Jan Ruth.