Snowdonia Slate Trail, Day 6: Betsw-y-Coed to Bethesda (16.5 miles)

I can usually reasonably assume, both at home and in a tent, that I will wake up just before morning light. However, when I peeled open my eyes in the morning, my tent was already completely lit up. I quickly packed my things away, still yawning away a deep sleep and made my way back to, and then out of Betsw-y-Coed.

I assumed within a mile or two I’d have woken up and been back to bounciness, but it was not to be. The marshes yesterday had completely and utterly drained me. I felt like a marionette; all stringy jointed and tight limbed with blocks of wood for feet. I followed the river out of the town, along beautiful wooded parkland that eventually gave way to rougher forest trails.

The water twinkled and shone as the path ducked around it, scrabbling up and then lazily making its way down as if it couldn’t decide on a direction. Normally areas like this are my absolute joy – I’m a girl of the forests – but the tiredness was making it all into a chore. The two miles to Swallow Falls took me an hour and a half.

I wound my way through the forest, plodding on beneath the birdsong and with the water in earshot for a long while. I was so zoned out, that I walked right by Ty Hyll – the ‘Ugly House’. A name that is ironic because it is so utterly charming that its widespread renown is due to just how picturesque it is. A traditional house, built in the 15th century, supposedly by two outlawed brothers that wished to hideout in this area of, what was then, incredibly rural Snowdonia.

They took on the the Welsh Law of Ty Unos – House of a Single Night – that stated that if you could build a four cornered house overnight and have smoke coming out of chimney by sunrise, then you could claim ownership not only of the house and the land on which it stood, but also the land covered by an axe the new owner threw from each corner of the new home.

The Ugly House attracted the like of its builders, becoming a place of ill repute as vagabonds and outlaws passed through and hid away, using the convenient nearby road from Bangor to Betsw-y-Coed to loot unsuspecting travellers. The house gained its name from the perception that only people of an ugly character used it. It was with building the bridge over the Llugwy river, making the area more accessible, that it no longer became a suitable haunt for the robbers and the bandits, and it was taken over by the labourers tasked with building the bridge.

With the wrong sort now gone, the funny little house gained an affection in the neighbourhood. Somehow the ramshackle dwelling had survived four centuries already of on the fly repairs and patches. Eventually it was reinforced with stone and plugged with moss and, now, another century has gone by and it is simply a local attraction with a very nice tearoom.

There are other theories for the name; that the name of the river Llugwy was too difficult for the English to pronounce and became ‘ugly’ or that the Welsh name was never intended to be such with Hyll also meaning ‘rough’ or ‘crude’ in reference to its original construction.

Wherever the name came from and however grand the cakes are, it didn’t matter because I missed it. And that made me sad. The forest trails went on and on until I found myself out on unruly farm paths. The trees had cleared and up ahead was Tryfan.

If you were to give a four year old and piece of paper and ask them to draw you a mountain, they would draw you Tryfan. It is the most perfectly mountainy mountain; pyramid peaked and, from some views, perfectly angled.

Moel Siabod and Yr Wyddfa were also ahead, but few mountains are so extremely captivating to look at as Tryfan. From here, it is a classic, but rarely seen, scribble of a mountain, but go to the side and it becomes a three headed fin, reflected in its name. Tryfan is a beast, and while the much more visited Yr Wyddfa has a variety of routes up it of different grades, every way up Tryfan is a challenge. There will not be a single climb that does not require reaching your hands to grab the earth and the rocks – even the ‘easiest’ route is a grade 1 scramble. It is a mountain recommended only for the experienced.

Because of, rather than despite, its challenges, Tryfan was voted Britain’s favourite mountain by the readers of Trail magazine. Even if one isn’t climbing it, its hard to look at with anything other than a strange mix of awe, respect and affection. Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue is located close to its base, readily available for the third of its callouts that are up this one peak. As well as climbing experience and fitness, those attempting Tryfan need to be right on top of their navigational game; a large amount of callouts are due to people getting lost in the gullies.

But for those with the experience and knowledge to properly attempt it, climbing Tryfan is reported as being a magical and memorable experience and that it is a truly exceptional mountain. Just please certainly don’t try this one in stilettos.

The path finally ended at Capel Curig, and I made my way down the road to the community run café that Aled Owen recommended for a plate of scrambled eggs and toast that I hoped might beckon some life back into me. I ate outside, the drizzle thankfully holding off now for a couple hours, looking up at Mount Siabod and its bald head, leaning slightly and quizzically to one side.

Many days of damp shoes and socks had worn the skin off the tops of my toes, giant bruises from god knows what had formed on my thighs and across my ribs and my leg and hip joints felt like they could never go fully back into place. Everything was heavy and everything hurt but…you can’t get off the Trotternish Ridge so easily. Seriously, screw those bogs. Most people that visit Snowdonia are worried about going up, not sinking down. Trust me to be a weird exception.

I waddled on, exhausted. The path was at least easy to follow, if not so easy to walk. It basically followed the base of the Glyderau Range with the A5 road within sight. It was very tempting to just cross back to walk along the road instead of picking my way over the rocks and tripping over wads of scrubs and weaving hither and thither to try find a less encumbered way.

Across the road, was the Carneddau Range. Often neglected for the more dramatic Glyderau and Tryfan, I had at one point thought I might try go up Carnedd Daffydd via the Afon to the east end of Llyn Ogwen and over Pen yr Ole Wen. From there along the ridge to Carnedd Llewellyn and down to the bothy at Llyn Dulyn, taking an easier route out the next day to finish at Bethesda. MWIS was more or less on my side today and the clag was not so low, but after the absolute battering of the Migneint Marshes now was definitely not the time. So I put it out there for anyone with more spirit to consider instead. Maybe I’ll be back. I’d like to be.

I eventually turned toward the road, just to cross and make my way around the back of Llyn Ogwen on even more rocky and unstable ground. Four miles on from Capel Curig I arrived at the Ogwen Cottage YHA where hot drinks were dished through a serving hatch. I sat down again to a hot chocolate. I was two thirds through today’s walk, I could do this, I absolutely was not going to take the bus.

I did not take the bus. I pushed on to the old stagecoach road on the other side of the Afon Ogwen and it was mercifully easy. I zoned out into all my happy places for the next three miles before going onto the cycle track for another two miles until signs of town life started to show in odd sculptures, sheds and nettles. Traffic became louder and louder until I finally crossed a river to end up on Bethesda High Street.

I was stunned I made it, but also rather embarrassed that I had had such a hard time of what could have been an easy day. I completely mind blanked that one of the odd statues symbolised the end of the trail and made my way immediately to the bus stop to get myself to Bangor Station.

Snowdonia would disappear behind me soon, and a while after I got home and kicked off the boots and cleaned up the tent and fed the cats, the enduring images would creep back into my mind; the abandoned digger amongst the mist and the ghostly tips, the great purple scree backdrop to Blaenau Ffestiniog, the lumbering Cnicht disappearing across the valley and, above all, the quiet ruins of Rhosydd Barracks slowly tumbling into obscurity in their hollow atop Moelwyn Mawr.

Whilst the towns and villages had been bustling, I had been completely alone for almost all of the trail. It dawned on me the privilege of being someone that had stepped into those scattered spaces of a history fighting to not be forgotten. Man had come to mine the mountains, now the mountains are reclaiming the mines as they were always going to do. I had walked alongside dark imprints of impoverished and exploited communities, imprints that would be consumed by the enduring clag. And maybe man had never had any place digging here to begin with, but their graves deserve stones, and maybe Yr Wyddfa, the tomb, would one day allow their short lives to be memorialised and known under her great and rocky heights.

  • Distance: 16.5 miles
  • Total Elevation: 1310ft
  • Terrain: Riverside paths, forest tracks, boulderfields, moorland
  • Toughness: 3/10 (if not completely destroyed by the Migneint Marshes)
  • Maps Used: OS Explorer Map OL17 Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa

5 thoughts on “Snowdonia Slate Trail, Day 6: Betsw-y-Coed to Bethesda (16.5 miles)

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