slate trail 4: Blaenau – Bethesda

Snowdonia slate trail post 4 – Llan Ffestiniog to Penmachno in the rain, and then down to the mainstream – Betws-y-Coed, Capel Curig, Llyn Ogwen and Bethesda.

Trail notes

Day 6 Llan Ffestiniog > Penmachno o/n

Following the River Cynfal to the top basically – it’s pretty and waterfalls, gorge etc. Path often disappears into shoulder-high bracken and reeds, wet grass. Would stick to the lane between Bont Newydd and Cwm Farm if I come this way again. On the top, life would be easier if jump fence to road rather than walking parallel to it on the trackless rough grass (it was raining). After crossing the river Gamallt a curvy track uphill, then down to road and up again to Manod quarry (next time just contour round). Tiny little white and yellow flowers in the bog grass, pink saxifrage. Tall grasses, mainly foxgloves. Shetland ponies, sheep adorned with bracken fronds. Cwm Farm, sheep in doorway proprietorial. Deadend valleys have atmosphere.

Nice when get up to the reservoir – space and high grass moor. But go down again, and very overgrown leading to the dead farm buildings (romantically pretty). The trackup the bog/moor – Gamallt – is like high rising bog/swamp, our path goes up the lefthand high ground. Quarry tracks and old mine workings etched onto the righthand side and above. A bit like the high trail behind Harlech – Ardudwy Way – often a bit featureless and enclosed, and feeling you’re on the wrong side of the hilltop for the view.

Rhiwbach Quarry has a lot of ruined buildings, easy to wander through. Cwm Machno quarry is pretty – lush growth, lots of inclines and tip outs. Grasses, ferns, bracken, flowers – very romantic ex-industrial. Cwm Machno village is very pretty – obviously a dead end. Lots of community plantpots, especially on the 20 (‘s plenty) signs. A woman tidying her hedge helpfully points out the way (this is where the notes mistakenly send you left instead of right).

Penmachno is about mountain biking. A decorated bus shelter – yurt meets birthday cake – and some energetic shopfitting going on. Overnight in the Eagles bunkhouse, all good, it’s bigger than it looks, and basic, nicely worn. Nice old bathroom “the bath doesn’t work, but the shower’s fine”. “Been a bunkhouse for 30 years.” Lots of Welsh dragon bunting and flags, community bus shelter. I like this valley and it’s spirit of jolliness.

Day 7 Penmachno > Idwal Cottage YHA

Left 7.30, dogwalkers time. Up to forest, bracken and flowers over my head this time. Long forest road down the valley (sensory deprivation) to the road by the mill, which is now dead. Foliated packhorse bridge shadowing the roadbridge. Work-time B road down to cafe, don’t think it’s a cafe any more, big new fence, metal turnstile £1 to see the falls. “Permissive path” in the corner, nice new barbed wire enclosure – grudging, grudging – then folds into old barricades – more acceptable when plants grow on them?

The bridge on the Dolwyddelan Rd and big truck traffic jam invisible but audible behind me “you’ll have to move”. Roll into Betws along the backroad (I didn’t know existed) by the river – the river optimised for fishing. The path diverts prematurely down to the Waterloo Hotel and throws you into the arms of the A5, big vehicles a nosewidth away. Big breakfast in a small caff (cash-only – how do they survive?)

Along the classic and very familiar route to Ty Hyll. Dappled sun. Fresh new growth lines the bluish road with green and orange. Miner’s Bridge the slate reference. From Ty Hyll up the lane, then a lateral route jungly and overgrown. Groups of tall kids with big backpacks being led the other way. Cheery, sunny. Ploughing through the forest, a relief when you come out the other side. Moel Siabod the visual focus and the boggy path is now hard surface, so roll down into Capel Curig with dry feet for the first time.

Capel Curig has died. The YHA has gone, the hotel neutralised, the good cafe on the junction has been swallowed by the Joe Brown (premium) outdoor shop. The garage cafe the only place, depressing, mainly a roadstop and no cards below £5. Makes for an expensive bad coffee, so didn’t stay on principal. Then hit the familiar low straight track to Bethesda. National Trust again, some nice flowery bog, obviously the goats don’t get in here. Tidied and made parkland basically, camping rationalised. It’s beautiful and walking into the hill that create the weather.

Tryfan the icon, becomes the main mountain towards the lake. Cloud coming down and round. Long track, feet hurt, boots collapsing. Past my Dad. A sheep climbs over the full stile to be with her lambs on my side. Footpath around the back of the lake in the mist and drizzly. A bad path for tender feet – bog and boulders – but by the end they had stopped hurting, well stretched and flexed. The old YHA, nice lounge, nice people, mostly from Bristol.

Day 8 Idwal Cottage YHA > Bethesda

2 hrs to Bethesda (so many shops shut, no bank, no post office), mist down to the ground all the way. Soft slow descent through classic valley, full of low flowers. Made distant and remote by the misty rain. Lane walk then turn left onto surfaced cycle track that curves around the base of the slate tips Penrhyn. Wet shiny slate, lush foliage creeping across the path. The grand finale descent to the end of the trail. Curving round, early morning clang and thump workshop sounds through the trees. Side path to another backlane/cyclepath that rolls into town past Hansel & Gretel backwood low cottages, a park and playground (Victorian urban style) across the river onto the High Street. Good classic breakfast in the caff mentioned in the book. Unfussy, local, friendly.

Llwybr Llechi Eryri
Snowdonia Slate Trail
The book: Aled Owen, Snowdonia Slate Trail, Rucksack Readers.