Saturday 26th to Thursday 31st March 2022
Just in time for my birthday last month, I took myself away to Snowdonia. I’d wanted to do something like this a year earlier, but for the Lockdown restrictions that were in place. I’d thought about staying somewhere closer to home – perhaps Shropshire, North Devon or even Pembrokeshire – but the lure of Snowdonia was too strong. A National Park I’d not been to since 2019 and before the pandemic kicked off.
Day 1: Arrival
I drove up on a Saturday afternoon, having spent the morning in work. It was a four-hour journey in sunshine and warmth. Even if the air-con in my car had been functional, I’m not sure I’d have used it, as fuel in the UK is ever more expensive right now. But as I cycle to work most days, I feel I can mostly offset that cost of a long-distance journey for a few days away.
I would arrive in Betws-y-Coed at around 18:30 – a popular hub for people wanting to explore Snowdonia; I’d not stayed here before but, having driven through in previous years, I liken it to “Snowdonia’s Ambleside”, for the line of outdoors shops that adorn the main Holyhead Road.
I checked in to the Glan Aber Hotel (all photos of which are still on my phone), having booked a single room for two nights. This cost me just under £60 per night and included breakfast the next morning. I wouldn’t normally go for such an expense but I’d suspected it would’ve been too cold to camp anywhere and this was one of the lower-cost items where I’d get my own room.
Day 2: Carnedd Moel Siabod
Upon my arrival that evening, I was suffering an intense migraine after the long drive and heatwave-like temperature of my journey. I got to my room and didn’t leave, even to eat. I spent my first night horizontal, waiting for the first full day to arise.
After breakfast, I drove a short distance to the village of Dolwyddelan, from which I’d begin a twelve mile walk that included Moel Siabod. A glorious day. I’d not experienced North Wales in such unprecedented conditions. I’d come dressed and packed for the worst of a British winter!
I’ll soon write about each of these walks (and my accommodation) in separate posts. There was a decent scramble ahead of my on this one (although it took me a while to get on track with it) and the views from the summit of Moel Siabod were as grand as any other mountain. Many of which surrounded me.
Towards the end, there were a few moments where I lost each of my legs in a bog, on the way down from the ridge of Carnedd y Cribau. It’s an excellent route though. Not too challenging to follow but the scramble had taken a lot out of me and I had several days of walking ahead.
Day 3: The Carneddau
After my first walk, I treated myself to a vegan burger from the bar at the Glan Aber Hotel, having not eaten a thing on my first night. Then, after a full vegetarian breakfast, I checked out and drove in to the Ogwen Valley.
Parked beneath the awesome stegosaurus that is Tryfan, my walk would take me up the other side of the Ogwen Valley. To summits I had wanted to reach three years ago. Finally, I was back in Snowdonia, ready to explore and conquer.
Another walk that began with a climb, after following the Cambrian Way up from the A5. This scramble was pretty straight forward. I was quite tired (and my left knee quite sore) from the previous day but, for the most part, this scramble was easier to find and follow. Or perhaps, my mind and senses had been honed towards finding a route of less resistance.
In short, I enjoyed this ascent of Pen yr Ole Wen.
I met a few others on the wind-less and sunny summit, before walking on towards Carnedd Dafydd. Some people were in shorts and despite being a weekday, it was quite busy up here, as I’d half-expected.
Ffynnon Llugwy Reservoir.
From Carnedd Llewelyn, the highest point on my walk, I continued towards the ridge of Y Braich before descending sharply towards the reservoir. From there, I could continue further to reach the road and return to my car.
Having left the hotel, I would next drive on to my next base of accommodation during this trip. I’d enjoyed my stay at Glan Aber Hotel. My only complaints were that the floor boards – both in the room and communal hallways – were VERY creaky and walls between rooms paper-thin. Staff and service was otherwise very good.
Situated at what was once a golf course (signs for which still exist), this impressive bunkhouse will sleep up to sixteen people across several rooms of varying size. I’d paid £24 per night to stay here and, after a quick phone call to the owner, Dyfed, upon my arrival, I was soon inside, keys in hand, given a quick tour and ready to settle down…
As it would happen, I’d have the entire bunkhouse to myself! No-one else had booked in to stay here that week and I’d been so worried about who I might have to share the living spaces with, how we might get along and how I might fit in socially and all of that!
I’d actually wanted this experience to be a bit of a ‘warm up’ before I travel to Scotland in June, where I’ll be sharing a youth hostel with many others. To be honest, I’m dreading that thought already. I’m a VERY light sleeper, among other needs.
Day 4: The Aran Ridge
Another walk that harks back to memories from May 2019. A group of us had camped at Bwch yn Uchaf near Bala Lake and spent several days staring up at this ridge… I’d driven out to a foggy Llanuwchllyn, parked up and was about to tackle it for myself.
I was surprised and reassured to find the Aran Ridge Path is well recognised locally, with signage from the village (some of these marked paths aren’t even recognised on the OS map). From there, it’s essentially a ridge walk all the way to the highest point, Aran Fawddwy… Straightforward in terms of navigation. But the terrain presents a regular challenge. From rock to bog. Crossing stiles to what might appear to be the least-obstructed side of the fence.
I met no-one else all day. The sun had soon burst out to join me as I made my way to the day, always a bit overdressed for these un-Welsh conditions!
It was the descent that almost finished me off though. By now, my left knee was in some pain and I had to take it slowly. A rest day was on the cards for Wednesday.
A very rewarding ridge walk. But not one in perhaps the “quintessentially-British” vein… Expect mountain-like terrain.
On the way back, I stopped off in Blaenau Ffestiniog for supplies, including ice cream and chocolate from the local Co-Op and fish and chips, from a shop across the way called… Trish and Chips (as they’re known on Google Maps)!
Day 5: Rest Day
If you’ve already seen my thirty-minute vlog of this trip over on YouTube, you’ll be able to see and hear how tired I was on this morning. I hadn’t slept very well either.
I’d taken this day off for a number of other reasons, with a need to rest for the long drive home and next day and also, having noticed that the weather forecast – especially up in the mountains – was set to turn very suddenly. We’re talking! Snow in the air can mean ice and accidents. I was worried about my knee. I’d only planned to head up to Arenig Fawr and back down but soon decided that mountain would still be there on another year.
I took it easy that morning, generally reading and writing my way through the hours. For lunch, I drove a short distance to the village of Penrhyndeudraeth, to find The Eating Gorilla – a vegan cafe where I’d enjoy the best vegan burger I’ve yet tasted. I had a good chat with the friendly owner and even bought some treats home with me.
I filled my car up with petrol on the way back, before heading out again in the evening. A slightly shorter drive this time, to Maentwrog, where I would eat at The Grapes Hotel, upon Dyfed’s recommendation. I did enjoy my smothered chicken, the generous side of onion rings and then the ice cream, which cost only £3. It was my last night in Snowdonia so, why not?! Tomorrow would be my birthday and the long drive home. That snow had not yet fallen but the temperature was dropping fast. Suncream packed away.
Day 6: Departure
I’d thought about checking out and leaving the night before. Mainly in case I was struggling to share a bunkhouse with others. Partly so that I could get back home in good time and have a full day of rest before returning to work.
But there was also the desire to wake up in another country on my birthday. To have a full day and plenty of hours in which to complete that final journey with my car. To wake up to the scene of snow covering the Moelwyn mountains, across the valley.
Although it was so cold outside that the air bit through my clothes with shark-like teeth, this was the proverbial icing on my cake. I left at around 9am and was home in time for lunch. I was sorry to have missed Dyfed and would very happily stay here for my next visit. But my drive down through Mid Wales, the Cambrian Mountains, passing the Elan Valley and then down through the Brecon Beacons – all topped with snow… A beautiful experience.
In case you’d also like to see my YouTube video from this:
Thanks for reading.