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27 December, 2005

Day trip to Betws-y-Coed, Swallow Falls & Cwm Idwal

Almost a year ago, I mentioned that my family has somehow acquired a 'traditional' route for day trips to Snowdonia, typically in December each year, the one occasion we're reliably in Wales at the same time.  That time, we did something different, but today we reverted to the usual plan.

I suppose that sounds jaded, but the itinerary includes beautiful riverside, woodland and mountain scenery, so I certainly couldn't be bored, and this was the first time I've been since starting this blog, so I saw it afresh in taking numerous photographs; I've published over fifty with this entry. Note that the thumbnails are spread over three pages for clarity; there are 'back/forward' links at the foot of each index page.

The first stage followed the A55 coastal expressway to Conwy (well, Llandudno Junction), then inland along the Conwy Valley to Betws-y-Coed via Llanrwst. My mother drove, so I was able to take a few photos out of the windows. Until the comparible trip last year, I hadn't realised that was viable; though a few display the odd colour cast imposed by polarised glass and others are marred by dust/smudges on the windows, it's quite possible to capture worthwhile images whilst travelling at 50+ mph.

We stopped in Betws, ostensibly for the 'January' sales in the numerous outdoor-activities shops, but I'm rarely interested in browsing without a specific objective, so I went down to the river (Afon Llugwy) instead and took a few photos of the Pont y Pair Falls and mediaeval bridge.

Once the others had finished, we drove on a few miles up the Llugwy Valley to Tŷ Hyll ('The Ugly House') and the small car park at the start of K's 'secret' path to Rhaeadr Ewynnol (Swallow Falls). It's a standard public footpath following the attractive wooded northern bank of the Llugwy to a viewpoint overlooking the Falls, and evidently receives enough traffic to keep the path clear of vegetation, but it's barely signposted and offers a far better view of Swallow Falls than the better-known access point on the southern bank, which also happens to charge an admission fee (which I refuse to pay, on principle). Recommended, but don't tell anyone about it, okay?

That's a pleasant walk in itself, but after returning to the car we continued up the valley to Capel Curig and on to Cwm Idwal for a second walk, around the lake.

The ~400 ha NNR (within the Snowdonia National Park, which emphasises its extra importance within an already protected environment) was so designated for its distinctive geology, textbook glacial landforms and arctic-alpine botany. On a number of levels, it's clear evidence of evolution, and Darwin visited in the 19th Century.
Oh, and it's also very pretty, attracting climbers, 'serious' walkers and those merely wishing a gentle stroll around the 800 m x 300 m glacial tarn of Llyn Idwal.

My mother and sister tend to be in the final group, whilst I'm slightly more ambitious (if not really adequately equipped on trips like this), so we don't often complete this walk together. We all set-off anti-clockwise around the lake, but (by agreement!) I soon left them behind and whilst they followed the low-level lakeshore path, I headed up the scree-slope path to Devil's Kitchen (Twll Du), a deep notch in the top of the Cwm's headwall cliff. That's a radically different experience, involving a scramble over ice-covered boulders to view frozen waterfalls and look back over a stunning view from ~600 m asl. Very photogenic, even under broken low cloud.

I stayed a little longer than I'd planned, so even running for most of the descent (over ice-covered boulders...) and around the rest of the lakeside path, the others were back at the car and waiting by the time I caught them. Oops.

The December light was failing rapidly, so that was about it for the day, though I did request a quick diversion from Capel Curig to the Llynau Mymbyr for a beautiful view of Snowdon itself at sunset.

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