Snowdonia, situated on the west coast of Britain, is the largest National Park in Wales. Boasting a varied terrain of mountains, lakes, forest and moors, the unspoilt scenery stretches over 823 square miles and is steeped in local history. Attracting thousands of visitors each year, lured by the plethora of outdoor activities and the chance to climb the highest summit in England and Wales, Snowdonia has many sides to be explored.
There are however more ways to meet this gigantic massif than the ‘must do’ walking tracks and thrilling ‘seat of your pants’ scrambles, and that is hitting the open road. A road trip evokes surprise, excitement and constant thrills as you manoeuvre every twist and turn in the open road while discovering that sometimes it really is, “all about the journey”.
SNOWDONIA : DISCOVER ONE OF THE MOST SCENIC DRIVES IN WALES
Before embarking on your road trip, what is it that makes Snowdonia National Park so special?
Snowdonia – Interesting Facts :
- Legend has it that King Arthur slayed a fearsome giant on Snowdon’s southern side.
- Sir Edmund Hilary and his team chose the mountain to prepare and train for their successful ascent of Mount Everest in 1953.
- Mount Snowdon stands at an impressive 1,085 metres (3,560 feet)
- The National Park is home to rare wildlife and plants such as the rainbow beetle and snowden lily.
- It is one of the wettest parts in the UK, with Snowdonia’s Crib Goch having an average rainfall of 4,473 mm a year.
THE ROUTE :
Starting Point : Trevor, a village lying on the Llangollen Canal at the northern end of Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a World heritage Site, near my home.
We began our drive from Trevor along the A5 towards Llangollen where you can get a great view of Castell Dinas Bran, sitting forlornly on a distant hill. Llangollen is a picturesque town, famous for welcoming thousands of visitors each summer for the International Musical Eisteddfod, a celebration of world dance and music.
The A5 meanders westward and the green rolling hills are dotted with farmhouses, swathes of forested trees and pastures with contentedly grazing sheep. Passing through Corwen and the imposing life-size bronze statue of Owain Glyndwr mounted on his battle horse in The Square, we take a slight detour onto the B4501.
Known as the ‘EVO Triangle’ after the supercar magazine EVO who use it as a test route, it is a scenic stretch of road akin to a scalextric track. Roughly 20 miles in length, the winding road transports you up to deserted rolling moorland via twists, turns and lengthy straight sections. The views of the magnificent countryside, rolling hills, cattle grazing and sheep chilling out under trees are truly impressive.
A right turn takes you to Llyn Brenig, a reservoir surrounded by forested moorland where we stopped and followed the trail along the shore with panoramic views of the lake. If you are a fly fisher you could try your luck at snagging one of the lake’s rainbow trout.
After enjoying coffee and a slither of cake at the visitor centre café we continued the path of the EVO triangle along the A543, this time downhill with long stretches of rugged yet striking countryside on our descent to re-join the A5 towards Betws-y-Coed and Snowdonia National Park.
On the left hand side is the Conway Falls Café, welcoming ‘muddy boots, beasts and bikes’ into its cosy interior. A 10-minute downhill walk takes you to a viewing platform for the falls followed by a steep climb back up to the carpark.
Just before Betws-y-Coed past the Ty Gwyn Inn with its admiral red window shutters and flower boxes overflowing with a multi-coloured array of flowers, is a right hand turn onto the A470 towards Llanrwst, a short but worthwhile detour.
This small town is set within Conway valley, enveloped by the foothills and Snowdonia and boasts an elegant three-arched bridge over the River Conway.
Pass over Pont Fawr Bridge, built in 1636 and so narrow that traffic is in single file and on the west bank you will spot Tu Hwnt i’r Bont Tearoom. Originally built as a residential dwelling in 1480 and subsequently a courtyard in a former life, this award winning tearoom serves up extremely tasty scones inside its Virginia creeper covered exterior.
Follow the B5106 towards Betws-y-Coed through forested valleys as the road hugs the river. Re-join the A5 at Betws-y-Coed towards Capel Curig, one of the wettest places in the UK and the wettest in Wales. From here the A5 continues to Bangor, Menai Bridge and Anglesey.
We took the A4086 towards Caernarfon, the terrain rugged and deserted. Swathes of rich purple heather and yellow gorse lighten the desolate yet captivating landscape. Continue along one of the most spectacular gateways to Snowdon, the Pass of Llanberis.
The isolated road winds its way steeply up this raw slice of countryside offering views across the valleys below. The scenery is breathtaking and showcases the mountain backdrop to perfection. The road reaches its highest point at Pen-y-Pass, the starting point for two popular and busy ascent routes, the Pyg Track and the Miner’s Track, which cut into the heart of the horseshoe and provide fantastic views.
Also here, is the youth hostel where George Mallory stayed while training for his ill-fated Everest expedition, recently refurbished and welcoming eager climbers.
The car park was overflowing with both pre and post climbers and was extremely busy.
From here you start your descent along winding curving bends amid stunning scenery, outcrops of rocks and impressive crags amidst far-reaching views. This is certainly beauty in its rawest state and shows Snowdonia at its best.
The small cluster of Nant Peris comes upon you quickly, with its ancient St.Peris Church and then you are climbing again, a monolith of grey slate taking stage as you continue to Llanberis.
This is home to Britain’s only rack and pinion railway, Snowdon Mountain Railway which provides the easiest option on your legs for reaching the summit and is extremely popular, so must be booked in advance to ensure you are not left disappointed. If you are looking for the least strenuous walk up to the summit then this also marks the beginning of the Llanberis Path, which is the longest route but popular on account of its more gentle approach.
Llanberis sits at the bottom of the valley on the southern bank of Lake Padarn and offers a variety of activities including mountain biking, climbing, a national Slate Museum, a Lake railway, tours of Dinorwig Power Station and Lake Padarn Country Park.
The A4086 continues to the coastal town of Caernarfon with its mighty castle but we turned off the road at Pont Rug and headed back inland on the A4085 towards Beddgelert.
The road climbs quickly into the foothills which offers a varied landscape before reaching a crest just past Rhyd-Ddu, offering a fantastic view on the left of Snowdon’s western flank. On a clear day it is possible to catch a glimpse of the summit café.
From here the winding road meanders effortlessly downhill into the picturesque village of Beddgelert where we stopped for a late lunch.
Extremely easy on the eye, this is known as Snowdonia’s prettiest village and with good reason. Perfectly formed, in an enviable position with stone built cottages, beautiful St.Mary’s Church and a picturesque bridge at its centre, it is a lovely place for a stroll.
After a tasty lunch we joined the A498 towards Capel Curig for another scenic drive following the course of Glaslyn River north-eastwards through forest and past two idyllic lakes.
Llyn Dinas, a mountain lake in the Nant Gwynant Pass is steeped in history. In fact, according to legend, British King Vortigern is said to have hidden the throne of Britain beneath a great stone by Llyn Dinas.
A shady canopy of trees lining the road leads us to stunning Llyn Gwynant lake, perfectly still and serene against the blue sky and a filming location for Lara Croft Tomb Raider.
A steep climb up the shoulder of the Nant Gwynant Pass renders beautiful views and at the top is a layby and view point encompassing far reaching stunning scenery, views over Llyn Gwynant and Cwm Dyli Hydro-Electric Power Station on the southern flank of the Snowdon range.
Retracing our steps to Capel Curig and the weather had started to close in making the landscape appear desolate. Rain started lashing down and as we descended, amid the heavy cloud ahead of us, was a small portion of the valley bathed in sunshine – like a tiny slice of heaven.
Toffee coloured cattle stood defeated in fields partitioned by dry stone walls and we left the bewitching sight of Snowdon behind us as we continued along the A5.
As the road bends sharply before you cross River Llugwy via a little bridge, look out on the left hand side for the Ugly House, or Tŷ Hyll in Welsh which houses a tearoom.
A few minutes later you will see a lay by opposite the Swallow Falls Hotel which is the best place to stop and walk to view the tremendous, Swallow Falls. We were a bit peeved at the cost of £1.50 per person as the falls are literally just past the turnstile but they are a dramatic sight.
Forty minutes further along the A5 is the quaint village of Betws-y-Coed, principal village of the National Park and where the River Conway converges with its three tributaries.
The main street is adorned with cafes, b&b’s, shops and the 14th century St. Michael’s church and a great place to stop and meander for a while. Watch families playing ball games and picnicking on the pretty village green or go for a stroll across the Miner’s Bridge.
As you have now left Snowdonia National Park you have various options to complete your journey.
- Why not make a night of it and stay at Afon Gwyn Boutique B&B, a short walk from town.
- Alternatively, continue your journey along the A5, back towards Corwen, turning off to the right along the A494, then left onto the B4402 and stay at the truly magnificent Palé Hall Hotel, a luxurious country house hotel. (Journey Time ~ 45 minutes)
- If you want to return to Llangollen from Betws-y-Coed, continue along the A5 and stay overnight at Cornerstones Guest House in the centre of the town.
If you decide to return to Llangollen be sure to wander around this charming town. From here you can take a canal trip along the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a World Heritage Site which crosses the Dee Valley on 19 cast iron spans and a height of 38.4 meters. It is a truly impressive site and known locally as the stream in the sky! If you don’t fancy the height then you can take a leisurely stroll along the tow path instead for ground level views.
Snowdonia National Park is a showcase of stunning scenic beauty which can be discovered comfortably on a day’s drive, and if you are feeling more energetic be sure to plan a return trip so that you can discover this majestic sight from a different perspective, on one of the amazing walking tracks.
Has this post wetted your appetite for a trip to Wales and the chance to explore the highest summit in England and Wales?
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