Last week I managed to get away for a few days to North Wales. I stopped in the same accommodation in Llanfairfechan as last June – a good sized and well equipped self contained flat ideally located as a base for walks straight from the front door up into the northern Carneddau mountains as well as along the coast. I was lucky with the weather – generally fine although not too hot.
I set out early Sunday morning heading for Rowen in the Conwy Valley for a walk up on the hills. Luckily I’d checked out Google maps the night before as I discovered that the M56 near Runcorn was closed all weekend so that a bridge could be demolished. There was a diversion but you know what they’re like! So I used the knowledge gained over many years of travelling to Chester and North Wales to plot an alternative approach to avoid the M56 altogether and join the A55 east of Chester. I reckon it took me about 10 minutes longer to reach my destination than if I’d taken the usual route using the M56, but far preferable to sitting in a queue of frustrated motorists following the designated diversion.
I arrived in Rowen mid morning. It’s an attractive small village sitting at the foot of the eastern Carneddau hills and mountains. It was originally a working village with the occupants working in local farms and quarries or in home based textile production, spinning or weaving wool. Quarry workers would walk for miles to reach their workplaces and their are stories of some walking across the moors to Penmaenmawr on the northern coast and back every day. The Huw Tom walking route is based on following the footsteps of one such worker who became an active trade unionist and politician. I found out about it when I bumped into a couple of walkers following the route over from Penmaenmawr during my own walk.
There’s plenty of attractive stone cottages that used to house the workers that have been done up. No doubt quite a few are holiday lets. There’s a pub and a chapel (this is North Wales, after all) but no other facilities, although I think there’s a shop / cafe that’s open at weekends (although I didn’t come across it).
I’d found a route I fancied on using the OS map website and printed out a map the day before, but arriving at Rowen I discovered that, together with my OS map, I’d left it at home. No problem, I’d had the foresight to download the relevant map using the OS app on my phone. Alas, when I switched to the app I found that it hadn’t finished downloading and, not really a big surprise in an out of the way location, there was no phone signal. I thought I could more or less remember the route, so set off anyway. It was a fine day and I was hopeful I wouldn’t get completely lost. Fortunately, after a mile or so, the signal had picked up and the map finished downloading. I had strayed off the planned route, but was still heading in the right direction.
My route took me through pleasant woodland, through fields and across moorland
with views over the Conwy Valley
Having strayed off the original route a little I ended up cutting through some woods where there there was a massive display of bluebells. Although at the end of their season they were more or less in their prime here. My photos below really doesn’t do justice to the sea of blue that I saw.
Leaving the woods, a walk across a stretch of rougher moor brought me to my first destination – a medieval chapel in the middle of nowhere.
Llangelynnin old church is a fascinating, well preserved medieval place of worship built in the 12th Century with some later additions, including the 15th Century porch. It’s still in use today and there was a service in the afternoon on the day I visited (although I’d long gone before it started!)
The church stands on the mountainside, with great views over the Conwy Valley and the foothills of the eastern Carneddau a few miles from the nearest settlement (not counting the two houses a short distance away), and I couldn’t help but wonder why anyone would want to build a church here. However, it stands on a number of old routes used by farmers, drovers and other travellers, including pilgrims on their way to Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island) and so was probably built to serve their needs. Drovers must have been an important target group as the small side chapel was built for their use – as well as an Inn and a cock fighting pit outside the churchyard boundary!
In the corner of the churchyard there’s a “holy well”, which is alleged to have the power to cure sick children
I spent some time looking round the church and churchyard, but then it was time to carry on up the track that led up the hillside
I wondered whether I’d see any of the semi-wild Carneddau ponies. Yes, there’s a herd of them with some very young foals as I approached my next objective, the ruins of the Caer Bach (Small fort) Iron Age fortress.
Some of them seemed to be guarding the ruins from English interlopers
but they must have realised that I’m part Welsh as they didn’t attempt to impede my progress.
It’s difficult to show the extent of the remains of the prehistoric strongpoint in a photo but the top of the small hillock was encircled by the ruins
After resting for a while and a bite to eat I carried on. I could have stayed low and circled back to Rowen, but it was such a fine day, and I wasn’t in a hurry, so I decided to tackle Tal-y-fan, the most northern mountain in Wales. I’d been up before, last autumn, and knew it was a fine viewpoint. This time I tackled it straight on climbing up the steep slope towards the top – with regular stops to regain my breath! It was hard work.
Nearing the top, views opened out over to the high mountains to the south
and northwards towards the Conwy valley and the sea
I joined the path towards the summit
It was a steep descent down from the summit to the bwlch (pass) between Tal-y-fan and Foel Lwyd and then crossed over the stile taking the path down the hillside to the old Roman road which was build over an even earlier route through the mountains. After a short stretch on the tarmac I turned off down the track that would gradually descend back down to Rowen.
You should have realised by now that there’s a lot of history up here and without even trying I passed a Neolithic standing stone
and the remains of a cromlech (Neolithic burial chamber)
Carrying on, as the track turned into a narrow metalled road, I passed the Rhiw Youth Hostel
and descended very steeply back towards the village (knees starting to hurt a little now).
Passing the village chapel I spoke to the resident of the house next door who acted as caretaker and he told me I could look inside
It was well looked after and was still in use. There was also an interesting little exhibition about the history of the village, the chapel and Methodism in general. Definitely worth a look.
Leaving the chapel I stopped for a little while and chatted to the elderly gentleman about life in Rowen, rugby (he followed Rugby League too) and life in general before heading back to my car. It had been an excellent walk packed with scenery, history and prehistory.
It wasn’t so far to where I was staying – a few miles up the valley to Conwy and then along the A55 coastal road. I stopped at the local Co-op to pick up some supplies and then it was a short drive to my accommodation. I settled in, showered (it had been a hot afternoon) and fried up a steak and some potatoes, then settled in for the evening. I had hopes for a decent few days and had several walks in mind. To be continued!