Up and down the Nant Ffrancon, Gwynedd


Friday May 27th, 2016

My first full day in Gwynedd wasn’t over yet. A good portion of the day was spent scrambling the mountains around Cwm Idwal. Though I knew my muscles would ache, I did not want to stop exploring. Dyffryn Ogwen has many options for hillwalking. There was a path up behind the bunkhouse that I could follow that would lead to a rough track that came out 1/2 mile down the road or so. I decided to check it out. I also wanted to head into the town of Bethesda that night, to try and meet up with my new friends from the Pay As You Feel Cafe. Needless to say, I still had a few miles of walking ahead of me.

Dyffryn Ogwen - Ogwen Valley Bunkhouse
This photo shows the area I walked, the bunkhouse, the woods and hill I climbed up and the lone hawthorn at the top (follow the left side of the cottage to the top of the hill).  The track went to the right and looped around to where I took this photo on the other side of the valley.


Through the woods

First, I had to trek back up the steep hill behind the bunkhouse. The route was treacherous, but after the Nameless Cwm, it was relatively easy. I cut through to the forest path. Wayward sheep were hiding among the trees, I’m not sure why they were in the woods and their eerie cries provided a haunting soundtrack to my hike. A short way up the hill, I found a shack, used by the construction workers who were building a dam at the top of the hill to harness hydro electricity. I was leery of walking past the shack. I didn’t want to run into any strangers in the woods (thanks to the film ‘Under the Skin’ for instilling dread into me while undertaking my favourite pastime). Things were silent and dark amongst the brooding pines, until I heard something cry out. “It must be a sheep, it must be a sheep”, I told myself. Quickening my pace despite my attempt of mental reassurance, I continued through the woods. A little further on, I heard a deep growl. That was no sheep, what the heck! Prepared for a wolf in sheep clothing perhaps, I grabbed a branch as a walking stick/defence staff. Sprinting up the hill, I had to straddle large PVC piping, used for the hydroelectric water system, in order to pass over it. I walked to the far right side of the forested area but reached a sharp drop, where the real stream cascaded down. I skirted the edge of the precipice, glancing back uneasily. These woods were really creeping me out, and I didn’t stop to take any photos!

Under Construction

Finally, I emerged near the top of the hill to the construction site proper and found myself on the wrong side of a “Construction Area – Do Not Enter” sign. The mud here was so deep that I nearly lost my boot, sinking down to the boot brim in muck. It took a huge heave ho to wrench my foot sans boot out and I grabbed it and hopped over to the rushing stream, the Afon Berthen. I stood with one leg in the rushing water, to clean off the muck and followed the narrow beam laid across the stream for passage. The footprints around me were all cloven, sheep cross through here too.  I hopped the gate and continued on to the trail proper, which skirted the brim of the hill. Here I stopped to admire the view and respect the distance I had travelled and express gratitude that I survived it, despite growls, paranoia and muck.

Sacred Hawthorn
The lone tree here was a place to rest. It called out to me as a sacred Hawthorn.

Sacred Hawthorn

Hawthorn is respected as a tree of enchantment under the protection of the faery realms. It guards wells and springs. Its beautiful flowers are said to help prayers reach heaven. If you sit under a Hawthorn on May 1st you are liable to be whisked away for good to the faery underworld.

The path continues and broadened to a track, running halfway up the hillside, parallel to the skyline above and the Nant Ffrancon Pass below. I was on the lower regions of the Carnaeddau mountain range, only about 350m up. Pen Yr Ole Wen lay ahead of me and Carnedd Dafydd, the third highest peak in Wales, and Braich Ty Du ahead and on my left. The Glyderau Mountain range lay across the pass from me on the right. Many sheep were perturbed by my presence and shuffled frantically off the path as I approached. They all had different markings tagged on their wooly coats with spray paint to denote their ownership. The sheep are ‘free’ to roam across the mountainside, land in national trust, during the summer months before being rounded up in the fall. I enjoyed seeing the little lambs scamper behind their mothers. The track slowly angled downward, back towards the road and civilization of the rustic cottages in the valley. The track joined the road at Ty Gwyn, where I hopped a gate, crossed the A5 and went through another field over a bridge crossing the valley river to the side road.

Down in the Valley

The valley was quiet, the occasional car going by on the main A5 road. I could hear the sheep baa and the streams babble. I joined the side road, that goes past a few cottages, including Maes Caradoc. Dogs bark and run out to see who is walking past. The road is like a driveway to some of these cottages and a person came to the door to say hello as I walked past. I had a fleeting worry I was trespassing, but it is not so in Wales. Footpaths are made for walking! I saw a barn door made of local slate. Solid and heavy, slate is an available resource, mined in this community for ages.

Mountain cottages

I passed a cattle grate and a sign in Welsh. As mentioned before, most of the inhabitants of the region are fluent in both Welsh and English and many primarily speaking the former.  I continued up the side road, nearing the entrance to the slate mines, definitely didn’t want to wander in there this evening. I passed the point where my bunkhouse sat across the valley. From here, I could see the house and Floss the dog perched outside on the hill. He spotted me and cocked his head, then ran to his owners door, waited a moment, ran back to his perch and looked at me, ran back the door and back to the perch, tail wagging. That was his attempt to herd me back home I suppose! He definitely recognized me from the distance and was excited that I was nearby! (Here is where I snapped the first image in the post, top of post).

Tyn-Y-Maes bridge
Tyn-Y-Maes bridge

2 miles to town

I didn’t head back to the bunkhouse, yet. I crossed the Tyn y Maes bridge and made a left on the main road instead, heading into the village of Bethesda. It’s about a 2 mile walk and I wanted to see my friends at the Pay As You Feel Cafe and get another home cooked meal! The walk was enjoyable and I arrived with enough time before they closed to get a delicious meal. A few of us hung out down by the river in town for an hour or two, sitting on the banks, happily chatting and watching the dogs play in the water until dusk fell and I had to be on my way back.  I gave hugs to my new friends, knowing I won’t see them again, at least not for awhile.


Nant Ffrancon at Night

Here is a vintage postcard of Bethesda High Street! I didn’t take any pictures in town, but you can google image search the village to see what it looks like today.  Many of those buildings are still standing. I walked back down the A5 in darkness, shining my bike light at approaching cars, so they knew to slow and pass beside me. It was a bit spooky and chilly, walking the 2 miles down the deserted valley road at night. It was also very dark because of the looming mountain ranges on both sides of me, but I knew there was a nice Welsh ale (Cwrw Idris) waiting for me when I got back to the cottage! Onwards across the Irish Sea on the day ahead!




wanderer, adventurer, dreamer

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