If money is a bit tight, fear not, because Snowdonia and the surrounding areas offer a wealth of things to do that wont cost you a penny!
1. Chisel your way into the past
Go back in time and absorb yourself in an industry that made Wales the country it is today. The National Slate Museum in Llanberis is the best place to learn about Snowdonia’s rich industrial past. The workshops and buildings look as though the workers have only just laid down their tools and left, and the row of fully furnished quarrymen’s cottages allows you to see how people lived during three important periods of quarrying history: 1861, 1901 and 1969. The museum also hosts various touring exhibitions and you can see live demonstrations in slate splitting and iron mongery. There’s a behind the scenes tour with the curator in the pattern loft stores, a carpenter can take you on a half hour tour of the woodland trail and you can see the only working slate carrying incline in the nearby Vivian quarry.
A short walk from the museum is the former Quarrymen’s Hospital. It’s now a free museum, where you can learn about the dangers of working in a quarry. The exhibits recreate the hospital rooms how they would have been in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including all the original surgical instruments. Next door to the hospital is the small morgue, with two large slate slabs for laying the bodies of the dead quarrymen on.
If all of this has whetted your appetite for quarrying history, then you can explore Dinorwic quarry which sits above Llanberis. If you’re feeling particularly fit you can walk straight from the museum, up through the wooded Padarn Country Park. The woods are what remains of some of the oldest oak woodland in the UK and as you get higher you may notice that the oak trees get smaller and smaller. If you don’t fancy walking up to the quarry, drive through the village of Dinorwig until you reach a large turning circle. Park here and follow the path into the quarry. More adventurous walkers sometimes explore off the paths and can be rewarded with some fantastic abandoned buildings, including ‘Australia Mill’ where you can see the still intact cutting tables and a stone hut that contains some original quarryman’s shoes and clothing. I must stress however, that going off the paths is dangerous and you do so at your own risk.
2. Walk a path less travelled
Ah Snowdon! The highest mountain in Wales. And also the busiest! If you don’t fancy queuing to reach the summit (I’m not joking), then you should consider walking one of the many other magnificent mountains in the national park. There’s so many to choose from and often you will have the whole mountain to yourself. From Llanberis you could try Moel Eilio or head out of the town and walk up the impressive Mynydd Mawr or Mynydd Tal y Mignedd to see the stone obelisk erected in commemoration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Head up Mynydd Mawr from the village of Y Fron for a route that only locals tend to do and equally up Tal y Mignedd from Drws y Coed. Park in the layby on the B4481 and follow the track past the campsite and through the farm. If you insist on walking up Snowdon, then take the Rhyd Ddu path – It’s often quiet and has some of the best views.
If you don’t feel confident enough to tackle the mountains alone, then you could hire an experienced guide like Everest climber Richard ‘Rusty’ Bale
3. Some royally good wildlife watching
Made famous by being the former home of Prince William and Kate, Anglesey is the place to go for a spot of wildlife watching. Head to one of the many nature reserves to see rare and elusive species like Adders, Marsh Fritillary butterflies, Medicinal Leeches and Great Crested Newts. Or for those who prefer their animals on the cuter side, the island offers the chance to see Red Squirrels, Porpoises, Bottlenose Dolphins, Seals, Otters and a whole host of birdlife. South Stack is one of the best places on the island to view sea birds as well as Peregrine Falcons. Continuing to the north of the island go to Cemlyn bay to see Arctic and Sandwich Terns and to Point Lynas to spot Harbour Porpoises and Risso’s Dolphins. The island is also home to Britain’s rarest breeding tern – the Roseate Tern as well as the elusive Bittern. For botanists, there is a wealth of rare plant life to be found, including the Spotted Rock Rose, South Stack Fleawort, Chamomile, Pale Dog Violet and Lesser-Butterfly Orchid.
4. Revel in Raptors
Continuing with the wildlife theme, Snowdonia National Park offers the chance to see a variety of raptor species. You’d be hard pressed to miss one of the many buzzards soaring on thermals but if you head to Padarn Country Park in Llanberis you might get the chance to see Peregrine Falcons. Other resident species include the once rare Red Kite, Merlin, Kestrel, Hen harrier and Sparrowhawk. At night listen out for one of the many owl species found in the area but for the absolute crème de la crème of raptors, visit Glaslyn Osprey Project to see Wales’ rarest and most spectacular bird of prey.
5. Spot Kingfishers in Bangor
You’ve probably discovered that the city of Bangor has very little to offer except for tea and scones at the end of its wonderful little pier. Well, head out of town and past Penrhyn Castle towards the village of Tal y Bont. After about 0.8 miles you will see a turning to the left and a nature reserve sign. Follow the narrow road and park at the sea front. There are two bird hides in ‘The Spinnies’ reserve and a wealth of bird species including the beautiful and elusive Kingfisher. I highly recommend that you either visit on a week day during term time, or get there very early, as it can at times get crowded with (sometimes irate) twitchers. I last visited at 8am and had the reserve to myself. If you can coincide an early start with a low tide, you will be rewarded with flocks of wading birds.
6. Trek in a Welsh Rainforest
If South America is off the cards, you’re in luck because Snowdonia has its own rainforest. Llenyrch and Coed Felinrhyd are two of Europe’s best examples of temperate rainforest and they date back to the last ice age. Deep fern lined gorges, waterfalls and mountains of moss dominate this unique habitat and the forest is home to some incredibly rare species of moss, lichen and liverworts; many of which are found nowhere else. It’s very damp and lush in the rainforest and if you’ve ever been to high altitude tropical forests, you will certainly notice the similarity here. For directions, see the Woodland Trust website.
7. Walk in the Land of our Fathers
During the golden age of quarrying, the slate valleys communities in Gwynedd were connected to each other and to schools, chapels and places of work by a network of small paths through the surrounding countryside. Known as the Slate Valleys Paths, many of the routes are still in use today and make for some excellent walking. They’re all circular routes and my favourite is the Nantlle path, which can be easily started in Y Fron. With spectacular views, this route takes you through Dorothea quarry, which is littered with dozens of fascinating ruins and is worth a trip in its own right. For more information about Dorothea you can read my previous post about it here and maps of the routes can be accessed here.
8. Literally priceless ruins
Don’t fancy paying to visit some of the larger castles and historical sites in the area? Well fortunately there are plenty of interesting, free ruins to see as well. Bryn Celli Ddu (The mound in the dark grove) is an impressive, Neolithic chambered tomb that is perfectly aligned with the rising sun on the longest day of the year. At dawn on the midsummer solstice, a shaft of sunlight penetrates the tunnel and floods the inner chamber. Owing to its Druidic history, Anglesey is littered with burial chambers as well as some other interesting ruins like Caer Gybi Roman Fortlet and Penmon Priory.
On the mainland some free delights include Welsh author, Kate Roberts’ cottage, Cae’r Gors in Rhosgadfan and the nearby Segontium Roman Fort in Caernarfon. In Llanberis, take a walk to the ruins of Dolbadarn castle and in Conwy you can perambulate on the town walls to your heart’s content. One of the most impressive and least known ruins is the Ynys y Pandy slate mill at Cwmystradllyn. It can be tricky to find, but if you search Tractorau Eryri on google maps, it’s just across the road. A little further along the lane, you come to the picturesque Cwmystradllyn reservoir which is also worth a quick visit.
9. Take to the water
Llyn Padarn in Llanberis is a great place to take a dip, and if you have one, kayak or paddle board. Park in the large, free carpark next to Surflines and access the water from what locals call ‘the lagoons’. These are a series of shallow pools and islands that make for a safe swim, even with children. Alternatively, near to the start of the Snowdon Watkin path, there are glacial pools which offer a refreshing dip in summer. The water is icy cold but crystal clear.
10. Giant stepping stones
Heading into Newborough from Dwyran, a small lane on the left (before the Marram Grass restaurant) leads down to the Rhuddgaer stepping stones, more commonly known as the Giant stepping stones. The giant stones cross the Afon Braint and form part of the Anglesey coastal path. It’s only a short walk, so if you don’t want to carry on following the coastal path, you could coincide it with a visit to the stunning Newborough beach and forest or with a trip to see the Red Squirrels. Park in the car park at the end of Pen Lon (when you pass the Marram Grass restaurant on your left, just carry straight on). It’s free and you can also access Newborough beach from here, without having to pay for the more commonly used car park down the road.