30th August 2019

Snowdonia Classic Walks: Escaping the crowds

Written by Georgia Colman

Plas y Brenin instructor Steve Worth lists his suggestions for classic Snowdonia Walks far from the madding crowd.

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Each year, nearly half a million tourists are attracted to Wales & England’s highest mountain Yr Wyddfa – more widely recognized as Snowdon. Some of Yr Wyddfa’s neighboring summits; for example Y Glyderau and Llyn Idwal below, attract nearly 350,000 people per year. Anyone who may have tried visiting either of these areas on a bank holiday weekend would probably agree; it’s been tough to park, and you’ve struggled to find that little piece of solitude you were after. We asked PYB instructor Steve Worth to give us his recommendations for classic Snowdonia walks that will take you far from the madding crowd.

Notwithstanding the fact that the views from Snowdon’s summit (on a clear day!) are overwhelmingly stunning, cast your mind back to what you saw last time you walked up there… yes, other mountains. Maybe not quite as big, but pretty close and equally captivating. Maybe it’s the coincidence of some mighty fine weather and bank holiday weekends, or the increased number of people having UK stay-cations, but it feels that the number of visitors converging on one of the most idyllic national parks in Britain has been on the rise. Social media posts that have gone viral have shown visitors complaining of 1-2 hour waiting times to reach the summit cairn, and sadly we’ve all seen photos of disposable cups, plastic bottles, and crisp packets littering the summit where people idle, waiting for that summit selfie.

Few other national parks can boast far-reaching mountain landscapes with coastal panoramas like Eryri does: it is a truly special place to be. The unique landscape was formed hundreds of millions ago through volcanic activity and tectonic plates crashing together, eroded over thousands of years by ice ages and extreme weathering. These historical events have left us pyramidal peaks, knife-edge ridges, hanging valleys and hidden lakes, there is so much more to Snowdonia than one or two mountains. In fact, there are nearly one hundred mountains above 600 metres.

So next time you are visiting North Wales, try one of these 4 classic walks that should see you away from the crowds…

1. Nantlle Ridge

Fortune favours the brave. Its pretty steep of ascent straight off the couch but it’s worth it. This route epitomises mountain walking in Snowdonia and there’s something for everyone. It’s accessible but soon feels remote, great positions without ever feeling too committing.

There is a small rocky step approaching Mynydd Drws y Coed that needs a careful approach to pass through, but these difficulties can be avoided by outflanking to the south early on. From the top of Trum y Ddysgyl the views down the northern coast of the Lleyn are amazing. Look beyond Craig cwm Silyn, towards Bardsey Island, if it’s sunny you will see Holyhead mountain, even the Wicklow mountains in Ireland if the air is clear enough and to the south Cadair Idris. The obelisk of Mynydd Tal y Mignedd erected 1897 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond jubilee feels too close not to walk out to but you’ll need to retrace your steps to descend, following Trum y Ddysgl’s southern ridge before turning left above the old slate quarry and dropping back in to Beddgelert forest and back to the start.

Download the GPX route guide here.

2. The Carneddau

It’s the second-largest plateau above 3000ft in the UK. There are wild ponies that roam these hills too, giving you an amazing feeling of being further away form the road than you actually are! There are so many routes or variations throughout this mountain range that could be undertaken to avoid the crowds, so take this as an opportunity to suss out options for the future. This is quite a big day but has options for cutting it short halfway.

From the campsite of Gwern Gof Isaf (Please pay £2 per day for parking at the farmhouse for parking, No overnight parking) head down the old road until possible to cross the A5 road…be careful. Stay on the public right of way through private land until you’re below the southern edge of Pen Llithrig y Wrach. You’re in CRoW (Countryside Rights of Way) land again now, so you can ascend steepening grassy slopes that get you to the top quicker than you’d expect. A straightforward down then back up to Pen yr Helgi Du, now it’s time to check your watch and decide. You can escape back to the car from here by following the long grassy shoulder back down, you can even probably see your vehicle from here too. You’ll also see the striking profile of Tryfan, the Glyders & Y Garn behind; to your left you might even see Snowdon’s summit poking out and Moel Siabod looking mighty above Capel Curig. If you’ve made good time continue on this route, but a word of warning, there’s some height loss and gain coming up.

The ridge feels steep and a bit exposed, but by taking your time to carefully descend, getting to the col feels really rewarding. Take a breather and a photo of what you’ve just descended and carry along the ridge now on your way up Carnedd Llewelyn. The ridge has a rocky step that can be tackled either via the crack line in the middle or on the right. Make careful progress upwards, making sure you’ve got your hands free for a couple of metres, then keep heading upwards until the ground flattens and you can see the final few hundred feet and Carnedd Llewelyn’s summit in front of you. The track heads up and arrives at large stone wind break and the summit cairn is a little further over.

The descent is fairly straight forward in good weather, the track zig zags through scree and rocks until you reach a small ridge section that has striking views both left to the reservoir and right past the Black Ladders and down to Bethesda, pass over an easy rock step and when the ground widens you’ve reached the turning point, staying above the steep cliffs to your left follow your nose down until you hit a wall which you handrail until you arrive at the Llugwy reservoir road. You can follow this easily straight back to the road and the starting point.

Download the GPX route guide here.

3. Moel Hebog

Yr Wyddfa has a distinctly different appearance from the south, towering above its neighbouring peaks, the rolling grassy flanks of Moel Cynghorion & Moel Eilio feel familiar but look unique. This route starts in Beddgelert forest and follows the Welsh Highland railway before picking up the north-eastern ridge of Moel Hebog. Passing Bronze age settlements as you gain height, this ascent walks through a variety of geological events that paint a picture of where this landscapes came from. Sedimentary rocks formed deep underwater overlaid with igneous intrusions, the ground steepens as you near the summit, take a moment to catch your breath and take some photos, you’ll be looking out towards the coastal towns of Porthmadog & Criccieth & the south coast of the Lleyn Peninsula.

From the summit head down across to Moel yr Ogof, the rounded hill of the cave, where Owain Glyndŵr famously hid from the English during the Welsh revolt in the early 1400’s. You’ll find that the rock changes again, here you’ll see pyroclastic igneous rocks and the strange appearance they present, lots of gaseous intrusions of mainly silica pepper the rock’s appearance distracting you while you try to locate the Glyndŵr’s cave. Keep heading along the broad ridgeline over Moel Lefn until reaching the saddle above the old slate quarry down to your left. When you hit the bwlch or saddle, there’s a path turning right back into the forest. Follow your nose back through the forest being sure not to think it’s easy navigating, until you hit the track you started the day on and back to the start.

Download the GPX route guide here.

4. Moelwyn Mawr

This route does get overlooked because it’s off the OL17 1:25k map, it’s on OL18. As a result, this circular walk is great for those super busy weekends.
Surrounded by evidence of a forgotten industry’s impact on the land, there is something really powerful about the landscape here. The area has a quiet feel yet it still has a certain draw. The hills are smaller than the central massif yet they are impressive none the less and the views to the south give a different view, beyond the unmistakable Trawsfynydd reservoir, the Rhinogs & Diffwys rise up in front of Cadair Idris which bounds the southern fringe of the National Park.

Start at the end of Dolrhedyn Terrace in Tanygrisiau. From the car park go through the left hand kissing gate (don’t go up the hill), crossing the river via a footbridge and following the metal road above the Ffestiniog hydroelectric power station, passing some great bouldering & multi-pitch rock climbing on your right, easily gaining height until you reach the reservoir. As you’ve been walking up the service road, Moelwyn Bach is in front of you. From the reservoir follow the shoulder of Carreg Blaen-Llym until the ground steadily rises to the southeast flank of Moelwyn Bach.

Drop down to the saddle, passing any difficulties with a wide berth and then ascend to the trig point of Moelwyn Mawr. The views down into Cwm Croesor and across to Cnicht and Snowdon & Lliwedd beyond are impressive. You will see the coastline from Harlech, Criccieth & Abersoch at the end of the Lleyn as well. On the way down from Moewyn Mawr you’ve got a few options; either take a deviation and explore the vast slate workings, (there are some impressive holes to poke your head over, just don’t get too close to the edge) or you could even take a walk over to the Rhosydd plateau or do a cheeky there and back ascent of Moel yr Hydd with its striking views down into Cwm Cwmorthin. Either way the descent is pretty straightforward, dropping you back on to the reservoir’s service road.

Download the GPX route guide here. 

When taking on these classic walks – it pays to be Adventure Smart. Think about weather conditions, make sure you have appropriate kit including navigation tools, and plan for the least able member of your group.

If you need some help with your navigation skills, or just want to get going on some guided walks with a Plas y Brenin instructor like Steve, take a look at our Hiking courses. We offer two-day courses for beginners like Discover Navigation, and a more comprehensive five-day version in Complete Navigation. We also offer guided walking holidays that tie-in walking skills and iconic peaks to boot (take a look at Snowdonia’s Classic Walks). Or if you’re feeling the psych for the mountains, you could even grab a bunch of mates or work colleagues and take on the 15 Peaks Challenge with us.

If you’re in the area and you need some advice – please pop in and talk with one of our instructors who will be happy to chat to you. We’ve also got a bar on-site with one of the best views in the area, serving fresh coffee, local ales and fresh food daily, as well as accommodation if you need to stay the night, and kit hire.

Steve Worth is a Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor (MCI) as well as a Winter Mountain Leader (WML) who has explored all over the world and is now a permanent member of staff at Plas y Brenin.