A walking holiday in Snowdonia offers far more than a pleasant stroll in the hills, says Josh Stephenson.
Without wanting to toot my proverbial horn, I’ve always considered myself pretty good at walking, in fact, I would go as far as to say I’ve mastered it. From the age of two, the concept of putting one foot in front of the other with the purpose of getting to my required destination has been second nature to me.
When I was put forward to go on a walking holiday around the picturesque Snowdonia National Park, I figured it would be a doddle. A weekend of fine country air, natural beauty and bracing walks. What could possibly be difficult about that?
Well, as it turns out, quite a lot. It seems walking has taken some significant strides forward since my formative years, as my hubris was quickly put to the test by the devoted hikers and team leaders who made up the intrepid team I would be joining for the weekend.
Pulling into the charming Craflwyn Hall, based just outside of the village of Beddgelert in Northern Wales, it quickly became apparent this was to be no stroll in the park. A glance at the extensive gear of the inbound walkers left me feeling severely under-dressed and became my first clue this would be a little more challenging than I expected.
Before any walking could begin it was time to be briefed on what my stay at Craflywn Hall would entail. For you see, this particular walking holiday was with HF Holidays, who have over 100 years of experience in organising guided walking holidays in a variety of locations. Over 60,000 guests choose to walk with them each year and so it was of little surprise that in our group of roughly 30 people there were a few repeat travellers.
Each evening the group leaders brief guests on the guided walk they’ll be undertaking the next day. The walks are rated as easy, medium or hard and it is left to you to choose which one best suits. You can choose between an active, harder walk or an easier stroll. All of the walks take in a variety of beautiful scenery, so there really is no wrong answer.
When you are not walking, you eat. A lot. Depending on the package you choose most holidays with HF are full-board, meaning you get breakfast, lunch and dinner included in the price of your booking. While I don’t want to dwell too much on the food, suffice to say it was excellent, consisting of fresh, local produce delivered with flair. There was always a wide of range of choices to suit all needs and the staff could not do enough for you.
During mealtimes guests are seated around a big table and encouraged to mix. The perfect way to get to know your fellow walkers who you will be spending most of your time with. Among our mixed group there were singletons, divorcees and married folk on a solo trip away, with the odd younger holiday maker mixed in. A sense of community is quickly formed and everyone strives to make you feel included.
A crisp, sunny Saturday morning brought with it the first walk of the trip. Having given it some careful consideration I decided to play it straight down the middle and go on the medium walk, which totalled ten miles with 2,000ft of ascent. Starting off in the famous mountain village of Capel Curig, where the National Mountaineering Centre is based, we crossed the moorlands of Cwn Glas Crafnant to the foot of Crimpiau. It does not take long to understand the appeal of these holidays: Northern Wales is beautiful. The lush, green hills roll out as far as the eye can see, the plant life is rich, varied and bountiful, and there are an abundance of ornithological opportunities. Despite this, if there was one thing that struck me above all else, it was the silence. When you spend your day’s working in the city ‘quiet’ is easy to forget, but out in the hills of Northern Wales it is ubiquitous and incredibly relaxing.
What came next was less so! It was time to ascend to the top of Crimpiau. The climb was mainly rocky with the odd scrambling section, so watching your step and taking your time was the order of the day. I thought I was doing quite well, steadily progressing towards to the summit, before I was quickly overtaken by a woman 30 years my senior! It seems walking really does keep you young. The thing you will quickly discover about mountains is that they keep going up irrespective of how tired you are but, upon reaching the summit, what you are left with is a stunning view and a sense of accomplishment quite unique to walking. Looking down across the Mymbyr Valley you are treated to magnificent views of the Snowdon ‘horseshoe’ in all its glory.
Our walk leader – whose knowledge, passion and charm made the day all the more enjoyable – was not to let us rest upon our laurels and had planned a varied walk through all manner of terrain (woodland, marshland, riverbanks) to take us to one of Northern Wales’ most popular tourist destinations, the Swallow Falls. The walk to get there was tough at times but above all really good fun. You fall into a natural rhythm when you walk, where all you can hear is the step of your boot on the ground, the rustle of your clothes and the wind blowing through the hills. All the pressures of your day-to-day life slowly disappear into the background. It is quite addictive.
After appreciating the Swallow Falls for a few minutes, it was time to complete the final leg of our journey to Betws y Coed where a coach was waiting to take us back to the hall.
Sunday brought with it heavy rain and strong winds, and for my aching body, an excuse. It was recommended that only experienced walkers should be attempting any of the tougher walks that day, so I decided to choose the easy walk and give my weary feet some respite. An easy walk does not want for beautiful scenery and this was especially true of the 6 1/2 mile walk we undertook around the Beddgelert area. Starting in Rhyd Glu (the Gloomy Ford) it was to be purpose-built walkways and cycle tracks the whole way as we were offered views of Snowdon, Mount Hebog and Nantile Ridge, as we made our way towards the village of Beddgelert.
The relaxed pace allowed for additional exploration and so arriving in Beddgelert we had some spare time to indulge in one of the village’s more enduring myths, the tale of Gelert. The story goes that the Prince of Gwynedd returned from hunting to find his baby’s cradle overturned and his dog, Gelert, with a blood-smeared mouth. In his anger, he drew his sword and killed the dog, only to hear the cry of his child from underneath the cradle where he also discovered of a dead wolf which had attacked the child. The dog was thus given an extravagant burial and the Prince is said to have never smiled again.
While for the other walkers the holiday continued through the week, for me, it was time to leave. I never expected when I arrived at Craflywn Hall, that a walking holiday could bring so much insight into a local area and its history, allow you the chance to bond with your fellow hikers and present a challenge that is at once both exhausting and relaxing. This stunning area of Wales – filled with such natural beauty – stole my heart. You might think this is just walking but it is so much more than that.