There’s something about North Wales – and Snowdonia in particular – which turns this sedentary, slothful, lazy Brummie into an enthusiastic and passionate walker. Just a whiff of a weekend away in this area has me reaching for my Go Outdoors discount card, Googling “Simple hikes in North Wales” and enthusing about fresh mountain air and crystal blue lakes. Climbing Snowdon wasn’t top of the agenda this time round, although we may well have given it another attempt if the Pen-y-Pass car parks weren’t choc-a-bloc at 8:30am. That’s what you get for going on a Bank Holiday weekend. Instead we opted for a couple of lower level hikes, which still managed to provide a few challenging moments…
The area around Ogwen Cottage was our focus on Day 1 after we decided Snowdon was a no-go due to the heaving masses. The car park here was full too, but a short drive along the road provided us with a handy free-to-park layby. It’s Wales, ergo it’s raining. The waterproofs go straight on this time round.
The Cwm Idwal walk starts behind the visitor centre, where Mr Fletche stops first for a handy map. It’s a nice, easy walk along stone paths, just over a kilometre, up to Llyn Idwal, and into the glacial valley surrounded by towering mountain peaks and ridges. Waterfalls tumble down the cliff-face, a dramatic backdrop to this lake with a legend:
During the 12th century, Owain, prince of Gwynedd, decided to entrust the care of his son Idwal to Nefydd Hardd. Nefydd was envious of clever Idwal because his own son Dunawd was untalented. Dunawd decided to push Idwal into the lake so that he would drown. Owain banished Nefydd from the kingdom of Gwynedd and named the lake Idwal in memory of his son. It is said that no bird flies over the lake’s surface and that a wailing voice can be heard when there is a storm in the Cwm. (From the Snowdonia National Park website)
We get to the lake shore, and we decide to take the anti-clockwise path, calling first at the shingle beach on the north-west shore. Everyone else seems to be taking the clockwise path. We take a moment to study the map. There’s a nice simple walk around the lake, or there’s a slightly more strenuous route. We’ll choose which route we take later. Turns out we are not left with much of a choice. The stone steps ascend above the lake and we are climbing up and up and up. Other than a woman and a dog who bounds past us (the dog, not the woman) no-one else appears to be following our path. The woman and the dog disappear. We don’t pay any attention to the path they’ve taken. Which is a mistake when we are suddenly faced with a stream, a bunch of big rocks, and not much evidence of a path.
We have to pick our way across a boulder field, being aware of boggy ground, hidden rocks and plunging holes. No-one else appears to be taking this path. Our walking poles are our best friends as we feel around for solid ground. In labyrinth style, some of the rocks move and we have to choose our path carefully. “Step to the left”. “Don’t step on that one”. “Watch the stream”. It’s like we’re contestants in our own version of children’s tv gameshow Knightmare. Except we’re wearing woolly hats and not a big helmet and there’s no Treguard acting as dungeon master.
We congratulate ourselves on finally reaching the upper path. High fives all round. We’ve definitely taken that strenuous route. We can see that nice easy path around the lake below us, and wonder where we missed the turn. I blame being distracted by the dog. Surely it’s all downhill from here?
We reach that waterfall, the one we could see from the lake shore. It’s rushing down the almost vertical cliff face. And it’s in our way. To traverse this waterfall, we have to leap across the gap. It’s probably only about 5 foot across but to me with my short legs it looks like a ravine. People are cautiously crossing from the other direction, giving each other instructions on where to place their feet, and where to jump from, but from our direction, we are on our own.
Mr Fletche bravely goes first. He doesn’t plunge down the ravine, which is a good thing. It’s my turn. Mr Fletche braces himself to catch me and I can see genuine fear in his eyes. I am more confident in me than he is, but I can still feel my heart beating loudly in my ears. And I leap. I don’t plunge down the ravine. Mr Fletche lets out the breath he has been holding since I first planted one tentative foot on the slippery rock. Reading the National Trust website afterwards, this is how this route is described:
This route should only be attempted by competent hill-walkers as it involves very rough, steep ground and a difficult stream crossing.
From here on it really is all downhill. Descending the steep Idwal slabs is no walk in the park though; now we are extremely grateful we took the anti-clockwise route or we’d be climbing up these monstrous, never-ending steps. Eventually, we are back at the lake, through the gate and heading back towards Ogwen. I am excited at the thought of a sausage roll and cup of tea.
After that sausage roll and a cup of tea, we’re ready to go again. It’s another circular walk, this time just over the road around Llyn Ogwen. The nice lady in the National Trust Visitor’s Centre told us there was a “little bit” of rock scrambling involved, and that the ground was a “little bit” boggy in one place. We trust the lady from the National Trust. She would not lie to us.
Llyn Ogwen is another lake with a legend; this time it’s all about King Arthur and the final resting place of Excalibur. We find no sword on our travels. I however find lots of mud, a slippery rock and a bruised knee. It’s a fun start to the walk though; we cross the A5 from Ogwen Cottage, clamber over a stile and then start picking our way through the massive boulders standing between us and the rest of our walk. After our earlier exploits, we’re becoming quite the expert at feeling our way through the rocks, testing them tentatively for stability and then heaving ourselves up.
Our way becomes a little clearer, but with only the occasional marker to indicate where our path is we are weaving our way up and down the lake’s northern shore, with only sheep for company. The magnificent Tryfan looms down on us. The ground is getting boggier and boggier, and my feet are getting soggier and soggier. It’s not a particularly hard walk now we’ve traversed the boulders, but it’s getting a little tedious now. All my enthusiasm has drained from me, and my newfound lethargy probably contributes to me making a bad foot placement choice so one leg slides down a rock, one stays at the top, and I end up in a rather ungainly position. This is where the bruised knee comes in, along with a pulled thigh and sore arm where I unsuccessfully try to keep myself upright.
I moan every limping step of the way back to the car. But I’m also pretty proud of myself for doing around 6 mile of walking today, in some pretty challenging conditions at times. At least we’ll get a rest tomorrow…
It’s tomorrow. We are not resting. Instead we are setting off on another 6 mile hike, this one from our own doorstep in Beddgelert. Once again we appear to be bucking the trend, this time by taking a clockwise route rather than anti-clockwise. We’d walked the mile-long path to Llyn Dinas on Friday evening, but this time when we reach the lake we take the path to our right and head up the never-ending steps. The views back over the lake are quite spectacular, with Snowdon emerging through the clouds in the distance. I stop regularly to appreciate this view. Very regularly.
The path evens out a little as we head through a heather-lined valley. There’s another set of steps ahead and the lovely Mr Fletche – mindful of my aches and pains from yesterday’s acrobatics – offers me a way out, a return back the way we’ve come. But as tempting as it is, I’m no quitter, and we (slowly in my case) make our way up for the final ascent.
We stop for a breather at the Bwlch-y-Sygun junction, and with a signpost pointing back down to Beddgelert I could opt for the easier route back into the village. I could be in the pub in no time at all. But I’m still no quitter, and we instead follow the path down to Nantmor. This descent into the valley is great fun, and again, something of a puzzle as we decide the best way to step from stone to stone. We pity the poor people coming up the other way as some of the pathway is quite steep.
We walk past the remains of the cableway used to move copper ore down to the railway line for transport to Porthmadog. The pylons create quite the striking sight against the rocks and streams of the Cwm Bychan Valley. Eventually we come to the welcoming picnic benches of a National Trust haven. The toilet there would also be welcome, were it not for it being monopolised by a group of silver-haired hikers giving me evil looks when I politely enquire if anyone is waiting (“We’re ALL waiting”). I know when I’m beaten. After all, the rushing stream ahead won’t remind me of my need to pee will it?
We’re still about a mile and a half away from Beddgelert, and the fun isn’t over yet as we make our way through woodland to Aberglaslyn Gorge. There are even more rocks to clamber over. Eventually the path becomes more path-like and we can take the less treacherous Fishermans Path back into Beddgelert. Where there is a welcome lunch, cider and toilet facilities waiting.
Even this non-hiker loves hiking in Wales, and although some of these were a little challenging along the way – sometimes by accident – there’s little here that can’t be attempted by someone who is moderately fit. No doubt we’ll be back doing simple hikes in North Wales sometime soon, but where else can we find simple hikes for simple folks? I’d love to hear from you!