Snowdonia Slate Trail: Information, Advice and Personal Reflection

Stats for the Snowdonia Slate Trail

Start: Bangor

Finish: Bethesda

Distance: 83 miles (134km)

Total ascent: 13,648ft (4160m)

Traditional sections: (anticlockwise over seven days)

  • Bangor – Llanberis, 14 miles
  • Llanberis – Rhyd Ddu, 14.5 miles
  • Rhydd Ddu – Blaenau Ffestiniog, 16.5 miles
  • Blaenau Ffestiniog – Penmachno 16.5 miles
  • Penmachno – Capel Curig, 11.5 miles
  • Capel Curig – Bethesda, 11 miles
Map from Contours

For context to the below observations, opinions and advice; I backpacked solo self supported with five walking days and one rest day. I am a petite woman in her early thirties with a maintained, high fitness level. I have extensive hiking experience and moderate but varied backpacking experience. I am reasonably confident in both navigation and first aid. Please take my report with the source in mind and adjust for your own prior experience, expectations and arrangements. I am, of course, open to all questions and will do my best to answer them appropriately.

What was the trail like?

The Snowdonia Slate Trail, despite being in Snowdonia, is a low level route. This isn’t to say that it is flat – it has a total ascent of around 13,648ft in its 83 miles. Aled Owen designed the route, in part, to bring people to the towns and villages associated with the slate industry, many of which are less frequented than the tourist towns, and each day starts and ends in the vicinity of civilisation.

The terrain of the days varies dramatically, from high up slopes to dappled woodland, farm tracks, boulderfields, moors and marshes. Whilst there is lane and road walking from time to time, it really is surprisingly minimal. The sites associated with the slate industry vary from still operational and thriving towns such as Llanberis, to remote and isolated ruins.

This is a walk about the history of man among these mountains and it is haunting, eerie and magnificent.

How challenging is this trail?

I walked this trail in constant drizzle, plenty of mist, and low clag which I consider pretty good going for the notoriously wet and changeable weather of the area. The wetness, more than the terrain itself, is the biggest contributing factor to the physical challenge.

Whilst at times hard going, I did not find the Slate Trail as physically challenging as the rating that the LDWA grants it made me expect it to be. This is with one notable exception; the Migneint Marshes found in the section between Llan Ffestiniog and Penmachno. It was an absolutely draining and extremely difficult experience, far beyond any other part of the trail – a section of only about three miles that will easily sink an equal, if not more, amount of hours. There is no easy route across the marshes (or, if there is, I did not discover it) and, being open country, there is no navigational help; the walker (or slosher) will have to rely on a map, detailed description and/or a bearing to navigate through whilst attempting not to sink.

Navigation overall is quite straightforward. Whilst it shares the same limitations as the Cumbria Way in that waymarking is limited to none in open country, the waymarks were more than anticipated. That being said, as always, one can not and should not expect to navigate this trail by waymarks alone. Be reassured however, that Aled has put together a route that throws few curveballs or complications and with a map it is simple to follow, even for those that are less confident in their navigational abilities.

With the daily appearance of villages and towns, it does not venture too remotely, but enough to be far from the crowds and to feel really quite wild. I visited in August in the 2021 summer of staycations and whilst the towns were packed and lodging was full, during the day I came across few to no other people on the trail itself.

In summary, this is a moderately well supported trail without any great navigational difficulties as long as the walker does not rely on waymarks. It has sections that are most certainly physically demanding and a fair amount of total ascent, but it completely attainable for someone of average fitness. Whilst I always hesitate to class a trail as ‘easy’ in fear that I might paint a horrifyingly incorrect portrayal of it as a walk in the park, I would definitely say that 70% of it certainly is for a person that is already familiar with long distance hiking and of an average fitness. You will still be pushed, the days can still be long and draining, but the trail itself is not frightening nor extreme.

The remaining 30% you would need to be prepared for. Whilst what a person finds challenging will differ between us, I would say to not underestimate the Migneint Marshes, and to be prepared for some long and sustained, though clear and unobstructed, ascents. When the fog comes down, or you rise into clag, be prepared for everything to look very different and bring clothing for all weathers.

For those who want to explore the heritage of the area and are attracted to the route but desire even more of a challenge, it passes in close enough vicinity to Yr Wyddfa, Tryfan, Moel Siabod and Carnedd Daffyd and Llewellyn to make a bigger peak bagging adventure of it.

Would I recommend it as a first long distance path?

For a person that is already familiar with longer distance hiking, is moderately fit, and navigationally aware, absolutely. It is a profoundly rewarding path in its exploration of both the notoriously dramatic landscapes, and of the social and industrial history that existed within in. It is reasonably well supported and not extremely remote, though navigational skills are an absolute must.

For someone who is less familiar with long distance walking, has less navigational confidence, and does not have a maintained level of fitness I fear you might not get the enjoyment out of this route that you desire at this point in time and it is one worth visiting instead once paths in less variable areas, both in terms of terrain and climate, are achieved.

How long is the path?

The Snowdonia Slate Trail is 83 miles long. It begins in Bangor, goes down to Bethesda and then proceeds in a circular route round through Beddgelert, the newly UNESCO minted Blaenau Ffestiniog, and Betsw-y-Coed to reach Bethesda again. Bangor is only a short bus ride away from the end, with buses leaving every 30 minutes or so.

It can be easily extended to visit the mountains and ranges that it passes, and shares stretches of trail with the Snowdon Way and the Cambria Way as well as a couple other lesser known paths for those thinking of using it as part of a greater or more connected journey.

What is accommodation like?

I wildcamped on two nights, formally camped on one night, and spent two nights in hostels with one (originally unscheduled) rest day. My accommodation plans changed whilst on trail due to a couple incidents (a soaked sleeping bag and a mild injury).

There are plenty of campsites, hostels and bunkhouses to choose from. This being said, whilst I believe that there would be enough space and enough choice of formal campsites to be able to book on a day to day basis, my experience of having to make a last minute booking at a bunkhouse is that those do book up well in advance in peak periods. If your route planning relies on being able to stay at hostels or bunkhouses during the summer, be sure to book beforehand.

Information on campsites can be found at the LDWA, on campsite.co.uk and pitchup. There are others that can be seen from a search on google maps and even more seasonal pop-ups that are not even mentioned in any prominent place but appear en route. The LDWA and the Independent Hostels Guide as well as the YHA are good resources for hostels and bunkhouses.

Once again, as always, I am not a good resource for guesthouses and B&Bs. That being said, there are plenty, though absolutely do book these in advance.

Can I wildcamp?

Legally, no. In theory, yes. There is a long tradition of responsible and aware wildcamping in Snowdonia, and most locals are supportive of it. That being said there has, unfortunately, been an incredibly sad influx in irresponsible and destructive flycamping during and post-pandemic which means it is even more important that those choosing to wildcamp adhere extremely strictly to the behavioural guides.

  • Where possible, obtain the landowner’s permission
  • Solo or small groups
  • Pitch up as it is getting dark, leave early
  • Choose a space that is out of the way of main paths, is unobtrusive and discreet, ideally above the highest fell wall. Be aware that where you choose to pitch is not a specific site of conservational interest, or where ecological restoration attempts are being carried out.
  • No fires.
  • Leave no trace. Understand that this encompasses more than just picking up your litter, it means leaving no impact. Nothing that will cause damage to the ground or surroundings, or disturb the environment (no fires, no music, pitch somewhere clear and unprotected). If you need the toilet, bury your waste and pack everything else out, this includes loo roll and female sanitary items. If this all sounds like effort, no fun and kinda icky to you, please don’t wildcamp.

How easy is it to resupply?

Very easy. All sections pass through towns that have, at the very least, a Londis or a Coop. That being said, you should check in advance whether the amenities in an area are open at the time you might arrive as many close early on at least one or two days a week. Remember Sunday trading law apply.

If you do not wish to eat entirely trail food, and visit the occasional restaurant or pub, it is even more important to check closing times as there are many areas where these establishments are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. And in other areas this might be a Wednesday or Thursday instead.

Basically, there are plenty of resupply and food options, but you should plan ahead.

How are water sources?

With every day passing through towns and villages there is no day when you will not have access to water, however relying on these alone might not give you enough water. Luckily there are plenty of running natural water sources around. Be sure to select those that are as high up as possible and be aware that since much of the area is used for animal grazing that it is absolutely more than just advisable that you filter and treat the water you gather.

What guidebook and map do I bring?

The only guidebook available at present is the Rucksack Readers guide. Whilst this has the wonderful advantage of actually being written by the man who put the trail together, Aled Owen, my intense dislike of the Rucksack Readers format has not gone undocumented. I find the books bulky and the maps useless. I believe their format does an intense disservice to the route and has simplified much of the information into a guide that is only a step above a pretty little kid’s book. No, it isn’t entirely useless, and proceeds go to support the trail, but it would have been so much better if put together by Trailblazers or Cicerone.

The trail, however, does have a supporting app available for IOS. I have no idea what this is like because I use Android and despite announcing that an Android version would be available soon back in 2018, this has not yet transpired.

In terms of maps, I used the OS Explorer Map OL17 Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa, Conwy Valley/Dyffryn Conwy and the OS Explorer OL18 Harlech, Porthmadog & Bala / Y Bala map. Between the two of these the whole route is covered bar the final push from Llyn Ogwen to Bethesda which is no great loss as that is incredibly straightforward. The path itself is not marked by name on the OS maps, but it is easy enough to draw in with the GPS map that the official site offers which is well worth having as back up navigation.

How do I get there?

Bangor station is easily reached either directly or through connections at Chester from many major cities including London, Manchester and Liverpool. As it is a university town, there are also budget (though time consuming) coach options. I took a direct train from Manchester that took just under two and a half hours.

It has a domestic airport and can be flown to, but unless you are coming from the outer islands of Scotland or Northern Ireland, this is going to be far more expensive than its worth and probably not save you a huge amount in time.

What other write ups would I recommend?

As it is an extremely evocative and beautiful hiking experience, there are many write ups, possible including this one here, that fall into the opposite category of many trails. Whilst I have historically become frustrated at trail write-ups being purely technical and not very personal (tell me how you feel about it dammit! What is your human experience!) the Slate Trail lends itself to the poetic and has meant that many write ups go scant on the technical side.

My initial exposure to the trail was from this article written by Will Renwick, of the Cymru Ramblers, on Outdoors Magic. Pete of Pete’s Trip Reports also has a good report and a lot of great photographs – Pete walked inn to inn. Welshwoman Paula Renzel undertook the Slate Trail as her first ever long distance trail, mainly backpacking with a night in a hostel. She doesn’t shy away from the difficulties that she experienced, which is refreshing as many reports like to push more self serving versions of their hikes. I will say that I did have hesitation in including her report here, as it leans heavily into the “as a woman, walking alone” narrative that I, as a woman, walking alone, tend to try to steer away from as I do not believe, nor have I ever experienced, long distance hiking to be an activity where gender is seen as relevant, and the life that I live alone in the middle of metropolitan cities presents far, far more dangers to me because of my gender than being in the middle of nowhere ever could.

The best source of technical and practical information is, as should be expected, the extremely thorough Snowdonia Slate Trail website (in both Welsh and English) with the compact and dry guide of the LDWA worth a gander as well.

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