Snowdonia National Park covers a rugged 827 square miles and nine mountain ranges. The famous Snowdon Massif in the north shares its dominion with the daunting, fantastical Glydderaus and bulky, broad Carneddau. To their south, the Moelwynions lie down and sprawl like sleeping giants and the undulating circuit of the Moel Hebog Range curls like a tense cat. Overshadowed by the brash, folded rise and ridge of Cadair Idris, the grassy belt of the Arans is studded with stony buckles and the remote edges of the park hold the wild and incredibly ancient Rhinogydd; patiently brooding and far too far away, and far too untamed for most visitors.
Many great tales are told from those that travel upwards here; the peaks summited and the clag navigated and the stretching, brilliant sights that can only be seen from up high.
I was not visiting Snowdonia to travel upwards. Instead, I had become caught by the history of those that ventured below.
On the Ordnance Survey maps of Snowdonia, the area around Blaenau Ffestiniog and the Nantlle Valley is a brown hole. Shunned from the green denoting Snowdonia National Park, the evidence of the region’s industrial past was, for a long time, seen as unsightly. The great slate tips heap, looming and deep, dark purple, on the sides of the mountains where wide quarries gouge beneath. Mine entrances, sunless and unsettling, lead to worming burrows deep into the veins of the angry heights, and abandoned, ruined workers villages sit ever so quiet and ever so eerie in the shadows of the hills.
17,000 workers once lived and laboured in these mountainnous quarries. This stunning and picturesque park was, for many years, simply seen as a trove of slate to be harvested and sent out across the world. A harvest that would send those reaping to early graves and those selling to extravagent prestige. An industry where conditions were so poor that the eventual, desperate strikes by those impoverished quarrymen would mark both the rapid decline of the industry, and sound the charge for socioeconomic change.
The Snowdonia Slate Trail (in Welsh; Llwyrbr Llechi Eryi) was established in 2017 under the persistence of Aled Owen who was born and raised in Bethesda. It was with the aim of bringing people back to an area considered a blight in an otherwise much visited landscape; an area that was a very real and very living history for many of the families that still live here. He believed both that the strange, disturbed beauty of the area deserved to be acknowledged, and also that the stories of the difficult lives of the miners and the unique communities that grew around them should not be so easily forgotten.
The trail visits the areas of most of the ranges; passing under Snowdon and venturing up into the Moelwynions, through the remote moors that border the Rhinogydd and ending between the Glydderau and the Carneddau. And whilst the landscape is soaring and incredible, I traversed it not to discover the stories of mountains, but of anonymous men, and how they lived and how they died in extracting the stone that once roofed the world.
Best laid plans gang aft awry, and my original plans were scuppered whilst on trail. My original plan was to walk over six days, wildcamping on four nights and spending one night in a hostel. But a few mishaps lead instead to two nights wildcamping, one night camping, one night in a bunkhouse and one in a hostel. A rest day was not in my original plan, but one had to happen anyway, and I made up the miles in the next two days to finish on schedule.
My finished route looked like this:
- Day 1: Bangor to Llanberis (13.5 miles)
- Day 2: Llanberis to Bedgelert (20 miles)
- Day 3: Bedgelert to Llan Ffestiniog (16.5 miles)
- Day 4 and 5: Rest Day & Llan Ffestinion to Betsw-y-Coed (16.5 miles)
- Day 6: Betsw-y-Coed to Bethesda (16.5 miles)
The weather forecasts initially could not decide whether it would be a week of extreme heatwaves, or awful storms, I consider myself incredibly lucky that I only got constant drizzle and middling temperatures with the worst of the rain and the wind only occurring at night. It is a notoriously wet region and I wouldn’t advise anyone, even on a day trip, to head out without that in mind. Mountain landscapes are highly changeable and all weathers should be packed for.
|Tent plus pegs||907g|
|Sleeping Bag plus liner||1015g|
|2L Water Bladder||150g|
|Clothes Bag:||2 x shirts|
|2 x leggings|
|2 x hiking socks|
|2 x liner socks|
|3 x pants|
|1 x sports bra|
|Dry shampoo (fine, judge me)|
|Hair ties and clips|
|Electrical bag:||Power bank|
|3 x charging cords|
|Miscellaneous:||First aid kit|
|3 x small binbags|
|Water purifying tabs|
|Base Weight = 5.9kg|
|Flatbreads x 8|
|Mayonnaise sachets x 8|
|Butter portions x 8|
|Cooked, smoked ham|
|Sesame Snaps x 4|
|Big bag of funsize chocolate|
|Pack Weight = 10.65kg|