The Snowdonia Way is a long distance trail in Cymru (Wales), created in 2017. There’s the 156km-long main route, or the mountainous high route alternative, which is 196km. I walked the main route with my dog Bud, mainly because I thought hiking over too much boggy, high moorland might have been too much for her little legs. And because it is only her second thru-hike.
Here’s a summary of my week on the trail.
Day 1 (16km, camp at the top of the pass before reaching the A487)
Like a cliché, Eddie Vedder’s Into The Wild soundtrack runs through my head as I excitedly pack for the trail. I’m only hiking the week-long Snowdonia Way in northern Wales, but after a year of lockdown, and months being cooped up in a city, this trip seems like my own big Alaskan adventure. Except I haven’t burnt my money or shunned society (yet). And I am hiking with a dog. And I’ll be back in the city in seven days.
I’ve switched some of my gear for ultralight replacements. My bag is going to be so light!
Except it’s not. Damn, it’s still heavy.
I’ve also packed gear for my dog, Bud: a sleeping mat, a sleeping bag – which I custom-made for her – a fleece jumper, a rain coat. And, of course, food.
I arrive in Machynlleth – the village at the start of the trail – in the blazing sunshine at lunch time. To my surprise, the little town is vegan-heaven, and I stock up on too-heavy vegan cheese, dense bread and other delights. After eating in the sun and taking a selfie, me and Bud excitedly begin our Big Adventure.
Of course, we’re in Wales, so this trail starts as it means to go on: looking like The Shire, except full of sheep. Then we pass a giant slate mine: its gaping entrance in the cliff face. Now we could be in Moria.
The first 9km is all on asphalt: too much walking on hard surface for our untrained bodies. I haven’t studied the OS maps for this trail. If I had’ve done, I would have realised that asphalt is going to be a very familiar friend for the whole week.
But even asphalt can’t dent my mood, excitable and high on adventure. The cuckoo, newly arrived back from Africa, calls her simple two-syllable call. She’ll also be a familiar companion wherever I walk this week. I forage wood sorrel, feeling some kind of awe for life and for nature, and for the great mystery that we’re all a part of.
I set up camp as dusk falls, relatively close to the craggy cliff, overlooking the mountain of Cadair Idris. A great spot (but only in good, dry weather!)
Bud curls up immediately: she is shattered. My new lightweight, paper-thin tent keeps me awake half the night, flapping away in the wind. It sounds like someone is rustling a plastic bag above my head. I vow to pitch it better next time. I’m glad that I brought the sleeping bag for Bud: the nights are cold and she needs to recuperate just as much as I do.
Days 2 & 3 (Day 2 = 25km, camp at Craig y Penmaen. Day 3 = 16km, camp at Llyn Tecwyn)
The next morning I emerge from my tent to find two old hikers walking past. I’m a bit confused because I’m not on any marked trail, or on any decipherable path. Immediately after, a bird watcher walks by with a fold-up chair, a thermos and binoculars, and sets himself up just metres from my tent. By the time I have packed away at 10am (I am not an early morning hiker!), groups of people are already halfway up Cadair Idris, directly opposite me on the other side of the valley.
Me and Bud spend the morning traipsing along asphalt and Land Rover tracks through sheep farms. There are a lot of lambs. I watch as majestic red kites glide through the sky above a decapitated lamb’s head. A fighter jet thunders overhead, terrifying the life out of Bud. Once more, I am reminded of the beauty and the beastliness of being alive.
The next few days are spent getting sunburnt, walking on lots more asphalt and farm tracks, through monoculture conifer plantations and birch forests. I watch a flock of lambs hop in the air together, innocent and beautiful. I snooze on the moss in an Atlantic Oak wood, and pass through Coed y Brenin and its stunning little gorge.
I huff and puff as I carry Bud over possibly the longest footbridge in the world, the bridge’s slats too wide for Bud’s little paws. The bridge spans Trawsfynydd reservoir. There’s old cottages completely submerged under the water by the dam: houses long forgotten. I wonder who lived in them.
One night I set up camp high on a hill side, and the next night at a perfect spot on a secluded little beach at Lake Tecwyn.
Day 4 (23km, camp at Llyn Dinas)
It’s day four and I’m on a high. The weather is glorious, and I am loving my own company. Often, when solo hiking my mind becomes my own worst enemy. But not on this hike. I’ve chosen three amazing wild camping spots in a row, and wherever I go, the magical noise of the cuckoo follows me. Local people are welcoming, too.
I chat to some friendly older Welsh hikers about rich English colonisers buying up swathes of Snowdonia’s houses as holiday homes.
Me and Bud laze in the sunshine on the path, daydreaming that we’re in the Mediterranean.
“Cymraeg?” a man called Brian asks.
“Sorry, I only speak English,” I reply.
Brian chats to me, telling me about an adder he saw just a couple of days before, in this exact spot.
“It’d kill a dog her size,” he says.
Later on, as I lounge in the shade in the film-set-like village of Croesor, another hiker comes puffing up the hill. This guy looks like a thru-hiker: the first I have seen on the trail. I’m right. Aleks has travelled up from London to do his first long distance hike, and he has done more miles than me, having taken the mountain route at the beginning. I’m shocked that there is someone else hiking this trail at the same time as me: especially as most locals haven’t heard of the Snowdonia Way.
Aleks joins me to wild camp on the shore of Lake Dinas, just beyond the quaint village of Beddgelert. Another perfect place. We chat into the evening, comparing our experiences on the trail.
Day 5 (21.6km, camp on the moorland at point 301)
The next day, Aleks packs up bright and early and leaves before me, intent on hiking his trail solo. It’s my fifth day, and I’m still on a high. The same can’t really be said for Bud. I know she’s wondering why we’re still walking, and we don’t share a common language for me to explain it to her. We hike high up on a conifer hill, goats grazing, over the banks of beautiful Lake Gwynant. Bud’s never seen a goat before, and freaks out at this odd species. The goats are completely unconcerned, and continue munching their way through the foliage.
Later on, I find myself lost, climbing up through birch woods. This is the first time on the trail that I’ve had to use my phone to check where the trail is. I correct myself and continue up up up, onto open moorland and the pass of Bwlch y Rhediad. I catch up with Aleks, who’s exhausted after getting lost in the same place as me, but doesn’t have the GPX route on his phone.
This high moorland path, with great views of nearby Snowdon, is wonderful (in this weather, anyway), giving me a possible taster of the alternative high route. I think to myself that I have possibly made a mistake, sticking to the main, low-level trail this whole time.
Me and Aleks arrive in the village of Dolwyddelan, and laze in a pub beer garden for the rest of the day. In the evening, Aleks checks himself into a B&B, while I continue my hike for an hour more and wild camp up on the moor, watching the sun set over the surrounding mountains.
Try as I might, I can’t get the hang of pitching this new super lightweight 1kg Vango Helium tent I’ve bought…maybe I should have stuck to the American brands that I usually go with. The wind picks up in the night, and the tent rustles like a plastic bag, close to my face again.
Day 6 (21km, sleeping in the holiday village in Bethesda)
The weather turns today, and the rain lashes down as I reach Capel Curig village. No longer feeling like I am hiking in the Mediterranean, it now feels well and truly like Wales. Finally, there’s a cafe that’s actually open – lockdown having eased the day before – and I order a massive vegan fry-up, eating it under a picnic table umbrella as day-hikers prepare their route up Tryfan and nearby mountains. (The Cicerone guidebook says that this village has a food shop. It doesn’t, although the outdoor shop sells dehydrated hiker meals.)
Mighty Tryfan comes into view as I trudge through sheep farms in the rain. The trail becomes indistinct as I slip and slide on boggy ground around beautiful Lake Ogwen. It goes to show just how quickly moorland becomes boggy with a little bit of rain. I continue to hike through the Ogwen Valley, with stunning mountain views. Today is definitely a highlight of the whole trail, only ruined by the main road that is a constant nearby companion.
I arrive in Bethesda at 5pm. Aleks arrives shortly after and checks into a chalet at the insanely expensive Holiday Village. He lets me sleep on the floor, and I finally get my first hot shower of the trail.
Day 7 (33.6km)
Once again, Aleks leaves before me. The wind whips against me and the rain clouds are menacing as I trudge up through moorland underneath the mountains of the Carneddau range. The bad weather makes me power-walk at double my usual pace. Once again I use my phone to guide me over the moors, and I mutter grouchily at sheep who get in my way, breaking my fast pace.
Arriving at the lovely Aber Falls, the weather brightens and I chat to bird watchers, comparing notes on the birds we’ve seen. Redstart? Yes. Meadow pipit? Yes. Wheatear? Yes. Cuckoo? No, but I have heard her every single day.
Continuing on over moors and steep roads, there’s fantastic views of Anglesey and tiny Puffin Island. I sit at a 5,000 year old stone circle, located close to the cliff. I wonder what rituals and ceremonies happened here.
The traverse up and down the moors all the way to Conwy is endless. Just when I think we’re almost there, more hills appear in the distance. “Where is Conwy?” I think to myself, my feet pounding.
The final section of the Snowdonia Way passes the lovely Sychnant Pass, illuminated by bright yellow gorse flowers. Carneddau ponies graze, not even bothering to acknowledge us as we pass a metre of so from them.
I arrive in Conwy exhausted but happy. This has been a great section of the trail. Me and Aleks meet for a last time and have a celebratory drink together. He’s completed his first thru-hike, and Bud’s completed her second! I wonder if Aleks will become addicted to hiking trails, like I did after my first long distance hike.
There’s no rooms in Conwy for under £100, so I take the train and travel for ten minutes to the much cheaper Llandudno. It feels weird to have suddenly whisked myself off the trail, and I have a yearning to be back in the mountains, walking non-stop. This yearning to be back on the trail stays with me for a good few days.
Overall, I loved the Snowdonia Way, but I know that a lot of that was due to the good weather I had for the first five days! The main low-level route is an easy hike, and if you’re a beginner hiker, or if the weather is really bad, it is a good one to do. But there is a lot of asphalt on this trail – I would guess maybe 50% of the path in total: tiring when carrying weight. And there are a lot of sheep and a lot of gates. In hindsight, with the weather I had, I should have mixed up both the high route and the lower route to get more variety, especially in the first three sections.
Alex Kendall’s Cicerone guidebook trail notes are pretty spot-on for most of the trail, and on the low route I only needed to look at my phone’s GPX route a couple of times. I used the OsmAnd mapping app on my phone and uploaded the GPX route onto that. The trail isn’t waymarked as such, but often follows other trail markers.
This trail isn’t the best one to pick to hike with a dog, purely because of the sheep. Bud could never come off the lead because of the sheer amount of sheep and lambs.
The trail goes through so many villages that it isn’t necessary to carry much food. You can restock daily. The Snowdonia Way is surprisingly vegan-friendly. Machynlleth and Penrhyndeudraeth both have veggie cafes, and the cafe at Capel Curig does a good vegan fry-up. Every village shop on the trail caters for vegans (except for Dolwyddelan, which has a more limited selection of food).
Wild camping on the trail is wonderful, and it is easy to find spots (although I would think that the high route would become very boggy in bad weather).