Posted on 07/02/2018 by David
Welcome to the first in a brand new blog series! Sunday Afternoon Strolls will explore our favourite leisurely walks in North Wales. You don't need to be an experienced hiker or super fit, you just need to enjoy the Great Outdoors and be willing to explore. At the end of each walk we'll spotlight a delicious place to eat... after all Sundays are as much about the food as the feet, aren't they?
In our first instalment we visit one of the most popular tourist hotspots in the region but go off the beaten track on a walk that takes in stunning scenery, historic landmarks and fascinating geology. We'll try our best to make all our walks accessible so all the family can enjoy it too - if not, we'll be sure to tell you.
Welcome to paradise
Nestled in a pretty valley where the rivers Conwy, Llugwy and Lledr converge, Betws is Tolkien-like in both atmosphere and appearance. The lush, deep green forest that envelopes it is carved in two by a chilly and clear rushing river reminiscent of Rivendell, or any number of mythic and fantastical realms.
In Betws-y-Coed, almost all walkers will start and finish at the same point. This is - conveniently - the very tourist-friendly village centre. There are several popular and easily accessible walks from here, but this particular Sunday we decided to head up to the Miners’ Bridge.
Bridging the years
The Miners’ Bridge is located in the north of the village and heritage hunters will be interested to learn that this is quite possibly the same spot the Romans crossed the River Llugwy many centuries ago on their way to invade the druidic stronghold of Ynys Mon (Anglesey).
During the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century, the bridge was used by local quarrymen to reach the high lead and tin mines of the Gwydir Forest, hence the name.
This walk follows the River Llugwy away from Pont-y-Pair Bridge in the village centre, loosely in the direction of Capel Curig. From the iconic Pont-y-Pair (a popular photo subject and paddling point), you’ll see Cunningham's a minute’s walk away.
This long-established outdoor shop is adjacent to a small Pay & Display car park and public toilets (20p charge), and is the starting point for a selection of waymarked trails into the Gwydir forest, including Miners' Bridge and the tough but oh-so-worth-it hike up to Llyn Parc (we'll cover this in another blog soon).
This walk to Miners' can take anything from half an hour to over two hours, depending on how far you want to go and your level of fitness. Our advice? Take it at your own pace, be mindful of conditions underfoot (which can vary wildly depending on the weather), and enjoy the idyllic surroundings.
We always opt to walk the riverbank side (as opposed to the road side), following the pretty and fully-accessible Coed Tan Dinas Trail until we reach a meadow. This wide open space in the midst of thick woodland is lovely but be sure to put your dog on a lead if he's with you - sheep freely graze this area. In summer it's a great spot for a picnic and there are many places for a paddle too.
Follow the clear path through the meadow until you reach the woods again. The path from here is still obvious but uneven and, after rain, extremely soft and muddy. We've walked it in all weathers just fine but just watch how you go, it would be very easy to tun an ankle on a tree root in slippery conditions*.
Fans of geology will be fascinated by the legacy wrought by glacial processes in the Llugwy Valley, evident as you skirt the jagged river valley towards the bridge.
Nature lovers will be interested to learn that Gwydir Forest is home to 11 nationally scarce species, including elusive pine martens and polecats.
Birdwatchers can look out for goldcrests, grey wagtails and dippers as they walk. In the summer months the water sparkles with the iridescent blue of hordes of damselflies, like dragonflies but smaller.
Following the path through the shady forest you eventually reach Miners’ Bridge which fords a particularly active stretch of river, especially in the winter. The current pulls very strongly here all year round, so don’t be tempted to paddle, however calm it might look on the surface.
The bridge itself is simple in design but very steep - it has built-in steps to aid your descent. Stop at the halfway point and enjoy the beautiful, wild views up and downstream. They are something to behold and make you feel miles from anywhere.
On the far side of the bridge, there are steps up to the road and a pretty waterfall, it's a great spot for photos as you can get very close to the falls - be careful it's slippy underfoot!
If you’re feeling extra adventurous, the famous Swallow Falls are about a mile upstream from the Miners' Bridge. To visit Swallow Falls you can walk along the road and pay to visit or you can stay on the forest path for an alternative (and much quieter) view of this tourist hotspot.
If you decide to carry on through the woods you'll be committed to walking the length of the river as far as Ty Hyll / the Ugly House (the sister cafe of Llanrwst's iconic Tu Hwnt Ir Bont - worth the walk!) before you can make your way back to Betws along the A5.
To make your return journey from Miners' Bridge go up the steps and follow the path through the woods to the road. Walk along the pavement, through the outskirts of Betws (you'll see many of the area's traditional stone, slate-roofed houses along the way) until you reach Pont-y-Pair Bridge again.
If you resisted the temptations of the Ugly House, you'll probably be hungry after your walk. There are lots of great places to eat in Betws but one restaurant making a statement right now is Hangin’ Pizzeria near Betws-y-Coed train station.
This cool little eatery is fully-licensed and sells mind-blowing pizzas amid quirky, industrial decor - this is not your typical Betws cafe. Seating is communal and conversation is encouraged; it’s a fantastic opportunity to share your adventures with other diners and get to know about more great walks in the area.
A percentage of Hangin’ Pizzeria’s profits are donated to the Orangutan Appeal UK to ensure an ethical and personal dining experience. If you’re looking for an authentically Welsh bite to eat, you need look no further. Here you can get a ‘Welsh Rarebit’ pizza with free range egg and mozzarella marinated in Welsh cider, leeks and whole grain mustard.
In our next instalment, we take a walk back in time along the historic coaching route through the Sychant Pass, near Conwy. Happy trails!
Make a stay of it
If, like us, you can't get enough of Betws-y-Coed, why not stay in one of our holiday cottages in the Conwy Valley?
Tanrallt Too near Capel Curig sleeps up to eight people and is perfectly placed to explore the Snowdonia National Park (it's also really close to Ty Hyll Tea Rooms).
Glan Lledr is a traditional woodsman's house. This simple, rural idyll just outside Betws-y-Coed sleeps four and is pet friendly.
Garthfain is a two-bedroom, pet-friendly terraced cottage in the pretty village of Dolwyddelan (ten minutes drive from Betws). It's the ideal base for family or friends who love the Great Outdoors.
Three miles from Betws is Swn Yr Aber, a stone-built barn conversion sleeping four and welcoming pets. Set amid rolling Welsh countryside, it's a great choice for touring the coast or mountains of North Wales.
* This particular walk is a combination of forest paths and tarmac and is not suitable for those with walking difficulties and prams/wheelchairs.
Images courtesy of Stephanie Evans, 2011.