Wild Guide to Conwy & Llandudno
To celebrate Wild Guide to Wales featuring as the April issue of our unique book club, Adventurous Ink, we are publishing this exclusive chapter, to demonstrate immense amount of experiences packed into every page.
This is just the Conwy and Llandudno chapter, one of many covering all of Wales. It was this chapter that Gather ambassadors recently used to plan a packed weekend of fun and adventure on the hoof.
With no firm plans, we spent the day packrafting and hiking round Llyn Padarn then headed to Dulyn Bothy for the night. We had been planning to use this as a base for the Llech Ddu ridge high in the Carneddau, but when bad weather kept us off the tops we used the Wild Guide to explore the local Clogwyn caverns, Klondyke mine and the gorge scramble down from Llyn Geirionydd.
Wild Guide's perfect weekend in Conwy & Llandudno
- Look for Tylwyth Teg (Fairy Folk) in the magical mossy woods between the Klondyke ruins and the Clogwyn slate chambers
- Swim, canoe and picnic at Llyn Geirionydd, perfect for family summer fun
- Dip in the waterfall pool of Afon Dulyn, en route to your overnight camp at Dulyn bothy and lake
- Discover fabulous fungi, mountain goats, and majestic sea views on the Great Orme – home of the fascinating Bronze Age copper mines
- Paddle at Aber Falls, find the ancient round houses then follow the Roman Road up to Foel-ganol for sea views
- Dance around the Druid’s Circle high up on the Wales coast path at Cefn Côch
- Stock up on award-winning Welsh artisan produce at Bodnant, then picnic in the gardens
- Trek up to Cwm Caseg and wild camp by the lake, one of the most remote wild spots in Snowdonia
- Bivvy out in a Second World War gun turret on the Great Orme
What's the pitch?
The north-eastern corner of Snowdonia is an easily accessible yet quiet land, rich in forest, lakes and lost industrial heritage. As the mountains advance to the coast, sacred and ancient sites abound, many on high trackways commanding dramatic views across the sea. Gwydir Forest stretches from Betws-y-Coed to Llanwrst, and its tiny lanes and dense woodland hide many little lakes. Although some are natural, many are naturalised old reservoirs, built to power the lead mines that once operated throughout these sylvan hills.
You can explore the mines at Hafna, but the most famous ruins can be found hidden in magical woodland near Llyn Crafnant. Known as the Klondyke mill, it is named after the catastrophic Canadian Klondike gold rush. Swindler Joseph Aspinall bought the failed mine in 1918, though he never actually paid. He stuck lead ore onto its walls, set up a pretend processing unit, and employed an army of mine workers, all of which allowed him to extract vast sums from gullible London investors before he was caught and jailed. The mine is now closed off, and the mill an eerie ruin slowly returning to nature.
Even more consumed by the progress of lichen, moss and fern are the earlier mining endeavours at Clogwyn-y-Fuwch, reached on a path through the ancient oaks. Dating from 1790, these were some of the first slate mines in Snowdonia, and adventurers can uncover a vast set of chambers up the hillside. Heading north, the forest turns first to mountain and then moorland as the coast approaches.
At Rowen, a Roman road marches its way from Chester to Caernafon, up the mountains past Maen y Bardd, the ‘bard’s stone’ cromlech, and many Bronze Age remains, to descend near spectacular Aber Falls. Nearer Conwy, along the A55, the mountains meet the sea in a dramatic escarpment and provide stunning coastal views. Gaze over the Lavan Sands and Anglesey, dance around the Druid’s Circle, or storm the hill forts of Conwy Mountain.
A short hop across the river Conwy leads to great carboniferous limestone hulk of the Orme – Old Norse for sea serpent. This peninsula teems with rare flora and fauna, and its position affords truly magnificent views of Snowdonia and across the sea to Anglesey. Famous for its 3,500-year-old mine complex – the largest prehistoric copper mine in the world – there is much to discover here, away from the tourists. Explore the network of ruined Second World War gun turrets on the south coast, a good spot for bivvying, and at picturesque Porth Dyniewaid (Angel Bay), seals and their pups can be viewed from the grassy cliffs.
1 LLYN GEIRIONYDD
A particularly accessible and popular lake, with car park and little lane along its entire length, but in beautiful scenery. There’s a slipway for canoes and dinghies, a meadow for picnics at one end and, for the adventurous, a good gorge scramble at the other down to Klondyke mine ruins.
2 LLYN EIGIAU & FAILED DAM
The gap in the dam wall is testament to the disaster that struck here in 1925. Built with poor foundations, it collapsed after five days of heavy rain. 200-tonne boulders were picked up by the deluge, and 16 died when the village of Dolgarrog was flooded. The original, undammed lake remains, and it makes a remote and lonely swim.
3 CORS BODGYNYDD & LAKE
Two beautiful lakes backed by mountains sit in a strange land of hummocked hillocks and wetland bog – ancient spoil heaps from zinc mining 400 years ago, now re-wilded. On our summer visit there were fungi galore and froglets and toadlets jumping by our feet. The heathland is renowned for its nightjars. The first lake, just a moment from the road, has an old dam wall with deep water for a swim.
4 AFON DDU GORGE
Beginners’ gorge scramble popular with outdoor groups, with smallish pools and falls. Passes through an SSSI for plant life.
5 AFON DULYN WATERFALL
Excellent waterfall with a big pool, just off the lane, in ancient woods.
6 ABER FALLS & ROUNDHOUSE
Also called Rhaeadr-fawr, these very impressive and popular falls are reached through the beautiful Coedydd Aber nature reserve and accessible by wheelchair. There is no dipping pool, but a stream and several Iron Age hut remains. Foel-Ganol, at the end of the access lane, makes a great mini peak too.
7 CWM CASEG & LAKE
The Caseg valley is a magnificent but remote entrance to the mighty but lesser visited Carneddau range, with quarries and a truly wild spot to camp at Cwm Caseg by the tarn.
Beaches & Coast
8 PORTH DYNIEWAID, LITTLE ORME
A wild shingle cove on the lesser-known Little Orme’s Head set under cliffs and popular with climbers, also known as Angel Bay. Seals regularly visit with their young in autumn and winter – please keep off the beach if you see them.
9 PIGEON’S CAVE, GREAT ORME
Huge sea cave with beach. Very tricky access. Popular with climbers and anglers.
10 ELEPHANT CAVE, HAPPY VALLEY
The largest of the Great Orme quarry caverns, and right near the town centre. Cave lovers might also like Sheep Cave on the other side of the headland, high up with sea views and just big enough to bivvy in.
11 CLOGWYN-Y-FUWCH, LLYN CRAFNANT
Very impressive set of large slate caverns from the 1790s, before safer honeycombed chambers were introduced. The first level can be entered via a short tunnel, or bypassed, and contains splitting and dressing huts (waliau) inside the cavern itself. Persevere up the steep incline, through the waste, to the largest chambers on levels 4 and 5. From here a beautiful walk through ancient woodland leads down to Klondyke mill (see entry). Llyn Crafnant lake is beautiful, but no swimming due to fishing.
12 CAE COCH SULPHUR MINE
A ‘fools gold’ (pyrites) and sulphur mine complex with several ruins plus tunnels
leading to a large network of chambers. The water runs red and there are fantastic coloured yellow stalactite formations. Peer in but do not enter: the water is acidic and wooden props have rotted away.
13 HAFNA MINE SMELTER
In forest off a minor lane, this was one of the most important lead mines in the area from 1879 to 1915. The vast covered factory was state of the art, designed by the French in 1889. Follow the smelting process down the hillside; each floor has a different function.
14 KLONDYKE MINE RUINS
Huge ore mill ruins from 1900 in beautiful woods. The mill and associated mine (sealed off) were the site of a great mining scam in 1918. A challenging gorge scramble ascends up to Llyn Geirionydd (see listing).
15 ROYAL ARTILLERY SCHOOL RUINS
The Royal Artillery coastal gunnery school was built in 1940 and abandoned at the end of the war. There are several sets of gun houses near the beach, and a further lookout higher on the cliff, which could make a great bivvy spot. Also underground bunkers.
16 BRYN EURYN RUINS & HILLTOP
This little urban enclave yields the remains of a 15th-century grand house (the Llys), derelict for centuries, set within a nature reserve of rare butterflies and wildflowers. Make the easy climb to Bryn Euryn’s summit to look out across the Great Orme.
17 GREAT ORME MINES
Incredible network of caves and tunnels dating back 4,000 years. If you don’t want to pay there are also some ancient copper mine caves in the cliffs just north of Llandudno pier.
Sacred & Ancient
18 DRUID’S CIRCLE, CEFN CÔCH
Large stone circle with 29 stones and greatviews. The coast path rises to 400m here, and there are two more circles to be found on the ridge, including the smallest in the UK, and the Craig Lwyd Neolithic axe factory.
19 MAEN Y BARDD, ROWEN
The ‘bard stone’ is a perfect little cromlech with a capstone on four uprights. There are stunning views out over the Conwy valley. It is situated on an age-old trackway, once a Roman road, and there are several other standing stones and hut circles. A remote YHA can be found a little further along track. Tal y Fan is an easy peak above and a wonderful lookout point across Anglesey.
20 ST TRILLO’S WELL, RHÔS-ON-SEA
A 6th-century holy well established by St Trillo in a tiny stone chapel, possibly the smallest in Britain, almost on the shore.
Hill Forts & Peaks
21 MYNYDD Y DREF & PENSYCHNANT
Spectacular views out over Anglesey and the Orme from this ancient hill fort on Conwy Mountain. Earthworks, burial cairns and stone circles. Pensychnant House, adjacent, is a community nature reserve with ancient woodland, Scots pines and many bird species.
22 FOEL-GANOL PEAK
An easy mini peak with sea views (536m). Many cairns and Iron Age ruins on the way; Carnedd y Saeson sits in a group of 7 cairns.
23 LLECH DDU SCRAMBLE
Set in a truly wild and beautiful mountain environment, this pyramid of rock on the side of Carnedd Dafydd makes a brilliant Grade 1 (easy) scramble, which few know about. The white quartzite bands on the shoulder above the crag mark the beginning of the scramble.
Ancient Trees & Wildlife
24 LLANGERNYW YEW
The oldest living tree in Wales, possibly 4,000 years old – older than the great pyramid of Giza. Now split into several trunks.
25 GREAT ORME’S HEAD
Explore spongy, grassy cliffs and enjoy awesome sea views. Wild mountain goats, sea bird colonies, wildflowers and a vast array of fungi in season.
26 CONWY FARMERS MARKET
Monthly farmers market held at the RSPB Conwy nature reserve. Lots of local, seasonal and artisan food produce. Last Wednesday of every month, 9am–1pm.
27 CONWY HONEY FAIR
Conwy’s Honey fair has been going for 700 years and is probably one of the oldest food fairs in the country. Buy honey and beeswaxproducts and learn about beekeeping. Annually in mid-September.
28 BODNANT WELSH FOOD CENTRE
Come and stock up on a smorgasbord of award-winning Welsh artisan breads, meats, ciders and ales, cheeses and vegetables. This is a large enterprise and deservedly the winner of numerous awards. Eat in the attractive Hayloft restaurant or tea room.
Also on site is Wales’ National Beekeeping
Centre, and nearby is NT Bodnant garden.
A Welsh food hub, this little deli is packed with artisan products and a long line of locals coming for their lunch. Next door is a great wine shop with knowledgeable staff, and opposite is their bright and friendly Amser Da Café serving breakfast and lunch (open 8.30am–4pm Wed–Sat).
30 FFIN Y PARC
Don’t miss a visit to this beautifully restored country-house art gallery, showcasing contemporary Welsh artists. It has a lovely conservatory tea room piled with art books and serving light lunches and cakes. Book a room, or rent The Old Laundry or Caretakers Cottage. Open Wed–Sun 10am–5pm.
31 LLYN CRAFNANT LAKESIDE CAFÉ
Family-run café serving breakfasts, lunches and cakes in a stone cottage by the lake. Buy a trout fishing permit and book a ghillie or maybe hire yourself a row boat. Camp overlooking the lake at nearby Cynllwyd Bach (see listing). Open daily 8am–5pm, Mar–Oct.
32 MOSTYN GALLERY CAFÉ
Bright café above the art gallery. Come for breakfast, coffee and cakes, or a whole rotisserie chicken with all the trimmings.
33 CAFFI CONTESSA, LLANRWST
Excellent coffee, teas, Welsh rarebits, breakfasts and more, all made with local ingredients and love.
34 BRYN WILLIAMS AT PORTH EIRIAS
This celebrity chef industrial-styled bistro overlooks Porth Eirias and the moody sea. Fantastic Welsh produce from the open kitchen focuses on fresh, seasonal seafood.
35 THE QUEEN’S HEAD, GLANWYDDEN
Braised local lamb with creamed leeks and hearty Sunday roasts of Welsh rump beef are served in the traditional pub, with bar area, restaurant and outdoor terrace. Cosiest in winter when the woodburner is flickering.
36 THE OLD SHIP, TREFRIW
A roaring fire, friendly service, a riverside garden, real ales – ‘Yr Hen Long’ is a proper traditional pub with home-made food.
37 GROES INN HOTEL
Expect lots of Welsh lamb, Welsh Black beef and fresh seafood in this characterful dining pub with inglenooks and bedrooms.
38 THE WHITE LION, LLANELIAN
Real ales, real fires and pub grub, including delicious home-made pâté, at this very friendly traditional pub.
39 DULYN LAKE BOTHY
Deep in the Carneddau, miles from anywhere in an imposing cwm by the lake – in which at least one plane wreck lies – this stone cottage maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association has a woodburner, but you will need to bring your own fuel. There are Bronze Age hut remains on the path 200m before reaching the bothy.
40 CAE WENNOL YURTS
Painted Mongolian yurts, ponies, eco-loos and showers, outdoor pizza oven and peace on a smallholding in the Conwy Valley. The quirky common room/kitchen has a woodburner stove as well as a gas hob.
41 CYNLLWYD BACH
Described as semi-wild camping, there is room for two tents and two campervans at this tiny no-frills camp spot on Llyn Crafnant, with a potty loo in a shed and cold water tap. Lakeside café is down the road.
42 THE LIGHTHOUSE B&B, LLANDUDNO