The mountains of Snowdonia provide the most dramatic and alluring of all Welsh scenery, a compact, barren land of tortured ridges dividing glacial valleys, whose sheer faces belie the fact that the tallest peaks only just top 3000ft. It was to this mountain fastness that Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last true prince of Wales, retreated in 1277 after his first war with Edward I; it was also here that Owain Glyndŵr held on most tenaciously to his dream of regaining for the Welsh the title of Prince of Wales. Centuries later, the English came to remove the mountains: slate barons built huge fortunes from Welsh toil and reshaped the patterns of Snowdonian life forever, as men looking for steady work in the quarries left the hills and became town dwellers.
Thousands of hikers arrive every weekend to hike up Snowdon massif (Eryri) over steep, exacting and constantly varying terrain. Several of the ascent routes are superb, and you can always take the cog railway up to the summit café from Llanberis. But the other mountains are as good, and far less busy, and give unsurpassed views of Snowdon. The Glyderau and Tryfan – best tackled from the Ogwen Valley – are particular favourites for more experienced walkers.
But Snowdonia isn’t all about walking. Small settlements are dotted in the valleys, usually coinciding with some enormous mine or quarry. Foremost among these are Blaenau Ffestiniog, where a mine opens its slate caverns for underground tours, and Beddgelert, whose former copper mines are also open to the public. The only place of any size not associated with slate mining is Betws-y-Coed, a largely Victorian resort away from the higher peaks.Read More
- Betws-y-Coed and around
A huddle of grey houses, prodigiously brightened with floral displays in summer, makes up BEDDGELERT. A sentimental tale fabricated by a wily local publican to lure punters tells how the town got its name: Gelert’s Grave (bedd means burial place), an enclosure just south of town, is supposedly the final resting place of Prince Llywelyn ap Iorwerth’s faithful dog, Gelert, who was left in charge of the prince’s infant son while he went hunting. On his return, the child was gone and the hound’s muzzle was soaked in blood. Jumping to conclusions, the impetuous Llywelyn slew the dog, only to find the child safely asleep beneath its cot and a dead wolf beside him. Llywelyn hurried to his dog, which licked his hand as it died.
- Blaenau Ffestiniog
- Walks from the Ogwen valley
Whitewater rafting at Bala
Whitewater rafting at Bala
The little watersports town of BALA (Y Bala), on the border of the park, twenty miles southwest of Llangollen, sits at the northern end of Wales’s largest natural lake, Llyn Tegid. Nearby, waters crash down the Tryweryn River, perfect for whitewater rafting.
The National White Water Centre
Water is released on around 200 days a year at the National White Water Centre, crashing down a mile and a half of Grade III rapids where numerous rafting options include the Taster involving two runs down the course: wet-suit hire extra. The two-hour session typically gives you four runs, or you can step up a notch to the Orca Adventure involving two runs down in a normal raft followed by a chance to tackle the rapids in a more challenging two-person inflatable.