After greedily spending three months travelling the world this year on our honeymoon, where we explored the real Middle-Earth that is the mighty New Zealand, the beautifully-rugged islands of Hawai’i, and the rich mountainous landscape of the Canadian Rockies, naturally there was an element of worry that, upon returning to the UK, all of that epic scenery would render our home country’s great outdoors underwhelming, even if Snowdonia has always been one of our favourite places in the country. Honest!
Having wisely left a few weeks to spare before returning to the undesirable rat race, Sian and I decided to try and re-attune ourselves to the British countryside by spending a few days camping in Snowdonia (come on, we deserved a break). But it wasn’t until we passed through the mountain town of Betws-Y-Coed - understandably dubbed the “gateway into Snowdonia” - that we were quickly reminded of just how breathtaking this part of the country really is. Not only that, but we couldn’t help notice how comparable it is to The Rockies (minus the wolves and the bears, and unfortunately, Denny's).
We stayed in Hafod-Y-Llan; a National Trust campsite just a fifteen-minute drive beyond Betws-Y-Coed and only five minutes from the more modest village of Bethgellert. Having stayed in a fair number of campsites across Snowdonia over the years, this one is by far the best. While other campsites like the unimaginatively-named At the Foot of Snowdon in Bethgellert, or the even-less-imaginatively-named Camping in Llanberis (though both great sites), offer incredible views of the mighty peak, Hafod-Y-Llan finds you in the heart of the mountains themselves.
Betws-Y-Coed has seen brighter days
Sadly no bears drinking here. They're much further upstream
But while Bethgellert holds a little bit more charm, Betws, despite being a place that’s teeming with tourists on the weekends, is a great place for hikes such as those up into the otherworldly Gwydir Forest (an epic backdrop against which a grizzly bear would easily fit, though much to the terror of hikers) and also boasts an enviable collection of waterfalls from Swallow Falls to Conwy Falls, as well as its own hidden gem; a deep gorge known as Fairy Glen.
Back at Hafod-Y-Llan, directly ahead of the site are forest-clad hills where, on a rainy morning (and sadly on this trip there were many), wisps of fog cling to the peaks and to the canopy of the forests at their feet like cotton, adding an eerie but equally alluring quality to the area. In fact, if you were to block out the unmistakably-British buildings around from your peripheral vision and focus only on these forests, you could easily convince yourself you’re in the Canadian Rockies. Perhaps that’s because a lot of the trees here are the colossal Douglas Firs (not indigenous to the area) – which can also be found throughout British Columbia.
In the campsite itself there are several outdoor log burners which make for a relaxing evening after a day of hiking – especially if you fancy some roasted marshmallows - and there’s even a babbling brook nearby which enhances the campsite’s ambience. To the rear of the site are hills up which you can take leisurely strolls, and beyond them the much less leisurely Mount Snowdon, accessible via the Watkins Path. There are plenty of alternative hikes here too including a visit to Gellert’s Grave (if you’re a big fan of myths and legends, namely the Arthurian stuff).
Between the campsite and the busy town of Betws, you’ll drive – or hike if you're feeling less lazy than we did - along a highway that runs alongside Plas-Y-Brenin lake and cliff-hugging roads that offer stunning views of the valley below. This entire area is strangely reminiscent of a lot of the countryside we passed through during our week-long drive through The Rockies. Simply put, there are many similarities between both places, and it's largely down to their vast and unoccupied areas of outstanding natural beauty, aided by their towering mountains, forestry foothills, glassy lakes and endlessly-turbulent and dramatic landscapes.
Could easily be The Rockies, if it wasn't for that extremely British wall...
In Canada we'd be using one of those bear-proof tents: hotels.
In closing, a quick word of warning: when staying at Hafod-Y-Llan, watch out for the black cattle – they’re everywhere and not as half as shy as you might expect. We actually stumbled upon a herd of seventeen while hiking up behind the campsite in the foothills that encompass Snowdon. Luckily they didn’t stumble on us first… In fact, we found this herd of cattle far more intimidating that any bears we saw in The Rockies! But then we did see said-bears mostly from the safety of our tour coach. On that note, while there are some striking similarities between parts of Snowdonia and The Rockies, perhaps we have the best of both worlds. After all, us Brits can barely handle slight changes in weather let alone major changes in our wildlife...
Plas-Y-Brenin - bare country.
We're being hunted. From the bushes straight ahead... Cattle!
Don't worry - this isn't the last time I'll be talking about Snowdonia. In the coming months I'll be talking about it a whole lot more. I'm a little behind on some of my posts lately, but keep your eyes peeled for The Trespasser And The Mercenary, where I'll talk about a very ambitious novel I'm working on that's set in Snowdonia and which does involve a big change in our wildlife. Check out the list below for all of my other upcoming posts. In the meantime, stay tuned and stay curious...
Grabbing The Terror Dog By The Horns
How Travelling Has Inspired My Writing
The Trespasser And The Mercenary
13 Reasons Why Review