Best Walks from the Welsh Highland Railway
Share this –
Best Walks from the Welsh Highland Railway
The Welsh Highland Railway wends its way through the heart of Snowdonia from Caernarfon to Waunfawr, Rhyd Ddu, Beddgelert, Nanmor and on to Porthmadog. The English name is rather vague, but the welsh name of Rheilffordd Eryri is much more informative. While the name of Eryri has been appropriated as the welsh name for Snowdonia National Park, it refers correctly to the area of mountains to the north of the park which the Welsh Highland Railway passes through. It is one of Wales’ most popular heritage railways, and railway aficionados can choose to visit the nearby Padarn Lake Railway, Snowdon Mountain Railway, The Ffestiniog Railway and the confusingly named Welsh Highland Heritage Railway that was originally set up to run the WHR from Porthmadog.
The route followed makes the Welsh Highland Railway a perfect springboard into exploring the nearby mountains, and is probably best combined with the Snowdon Sherpa buses unless you’re a particularly fast walker. There are also numerous easier walks, with the best of both outlined below.
Easier and Lower Level Walks
Here are the easier walks you can undertake from the Welsh Highland Railway. Note that that these range from easy to moderate and while some of these would possibly be classed as ‘hard’ on some official sites – they’re what we classify as ‘easier’. If in doubt, they’re easier than the mountain walks at the end of the article and anyone undertaking a walk should be aware of their own limitations – that’s not something we can do on your behalf. One person’s hard walk is another’s easy Sunday morning trail run.
One of our favourite walks is an easy walk from Beddgelert to Llyn Dinas, following the way-marked Lon Gwynant. The walk passes Sygun Copper Mines on the way which offer mine tours as well as having a cafe and play area. The route outlined above takes you around the lake, but this is one route that’s well suited to an out and back walk. Aim to get to Nant Gwynant and the cafe there for a bite to eat before turning round back to Beddgelert. If the hillsides nearby look as if they’ve been ravaged by fire that’s due to rhododendron clearances, a beautiful but highly destructive invasive plant that smothers all other plant life and as such has to be cleared. It also taints the soil it grows in for a number of years, making it difficult for native plants to re-grow, so the process is drawn out.
This 30km (at present) route can be followed most of the way around Snowdon from Llanberis to Pen y Pass and can be joined from the WHR at Rhyd Ddu, Meillionen or Beddgelert. One straightforward option is to catch the train from Caernarfon to your station of choice and walk to Llanberis or Pen-y-Pass from where you should be able to get a bus back into Caernarfon. This route is a sort of unofficial official route, as it is being created by the powers that be but is both incomplete and information unavailable. Numerous new sections of path have been built along the route, but the whole walk outlined can be followed easily enough as it’s all on right of ways even if it isn’t way-marked at present.
The Lon Gwyrfai is the original section of the Snowdon Circular Walk and joins the villages and WHR Stations of Beddgelert and Rhyd Ddu. The path is well built, way-marked and follows an easy gradient all the way. Can be walked in a couple of hours, or in both directions if you’re looking for a more challenging option. It’s also an excellent choice to cycle, though you may probably need a hybrid or a mountain bike.
No list would be complete without this short walk to Gelert’s Grave. Whether you believe the legend, or think it’s a cynical Victorian marketing campaign, it’s still a decent walk along the river that should help stretch the legs after being sat on the train for an hour or so.
Those looking for something a little more challenging from Beddgelert can walk along the Fisherman’s Path towards Nanmor, where the walk can also be started. Forms a straightforward circular route via Cwm Bychan and Llyn Dinas, taking a good two to three hours at a steady pace.
This walk ca be started from Caernarfon, Waunfawr, Tryfan Junction or even Bontnewydd. This is a variation on the ‘official’ non-muddy Lon Las Gwyrfai Caernarfon and takes a pleasant green lane over to Waunfawr. Some sections can be muddy and combined with cow and horse manure on the short section near the farm ar Erw, we suggest a change of footwear is kept to hand!
Originally, there was a branch line from Tryfan Junction up towards the slate quarries near Carmel. This has largely been re-opened as a footpath from Tryfan Junction towards Rhostryfan and the farm ar Bryngwyn, but the final sections towards Moel Tryfan doesn’t follow the line of the former railway quite so faithfully. The route takes you over Moel Tryfan back to Waunfawr, though you could walk the Bryngwyn Path out and back if you wanted an easier walk. You’d need to make sure you know when the trains pass by Tryfan Junction, as at least you can wait in the pub for the next train at Waunfawr!
If you just want a quick leg stretch then this easy walk takes you along both sides of Waunfawr’s valley, including Tryfan Junction. You can make this walk easier by choosing to walk one side of the valley or the other, returning via the main street of Waunfawr back to the start.
Don’t forget that the Welsh Highland Railway meets the Wales Coast Path both at Caernarfon and Porthmadog. What better way to complete the Llyn Peninsula section of the coast path than by train! You can also set off on the path for a short distance: Caernarfon to Clynnog, Caernarfon to Menai Bridge, Porthmadog to Pwllheli or Porthmadog to Harlech. You can also return to Porthmadog via the Cambrian Coast Line from either Pwllheli or Harlech.
Harder Mountain Walks from the Welsh Highland Railway
We’ve put this first as it falls somewhere between Easier and Mountain walks. It’s a reasonably tough mid-level walk from Rhyd Ddu or Beddgelert that takes a long circuit around Yr Aran, with the option to ascend it if you wished. It’s around 23km in length so shouldn’t be taken lightly!
The Nantlle Ridge is without a doubt, one of the more spectacular routes in Snowdonia. While many think of the Nantlle Ridge as a linear route with problems in returning (even suggesting a road return in some cases!) you merely need to descend to the beautiful Cwm Pennant and return over Bwlch y Ddwy Elor to get to Rhyd Ddu. A little more climbing, but nothing beyond the average hill walker looking for a full day’s walking. You can also walk a Nantlle Ridge Short circular walk from Rhyd Ddu if you’re looking for a good half day’s walk instead.
Moel Hebog is Beddgelert’s very own mountain. It’s a very popular hill, but worth the climb. Just don’t go up and down like all the tourists, make the most of this by turning it into a worthwhile little circuit. The full loop takes in Moel Hebog before descending Moel yr Ogof and Moel Lefn and returning via the forest to the start. You can also finish the walk at Rhyd Ddu or even a Meillionen if you wanted a walk between two stations.
Yr Aran is often the bridesmaid. It falls under Snowdon’s shadow and usually ignored, which is fine for those of us looking for a bit of quiet. In any other situation it would be a highly popular walk as we think it’s a fine little mountain. We suggest that you combine it with and ascent of Snowdon via the South Ridge for a full day out.
Snowdon’s South Ridge isn’t even recognises as one of the paths up Snowdon – that just goes to show how little some people know Wales’s highest mountain! It is without doubt the best walking route up Yr Wyddfa, boasting a steady ridge walk that culminates in the magnificent ridge of Bwlch Main. The Rhyd Ddu path claims Bwlch Main as it’s own route, but this lesser officially recognised route joins the South Ridge Path here – never the other way around! You can descend to the Snowdon Ranger halt, adding Moel Cynghorion onto the loop it if you want a slightly longer day.
The Snowdon Ranger path provides an alternative route up Wales’ highest mountain. This time from the quiet, straightforward Ranger path. Often understated, but thankfully quiet if not the most spectacular route up. You can descend to Rhyd Ddu via either the South Ridge or the Rhyd Ddu path.
Mynydd Mawr offers a good half day’s walking from Rhyd Ddu. The initial section in the forestry can be wet, and in places the path up is surprisingly eroded for what appears as a quiet walk. The final section to the summit is along a fine curved ridge, with extensive views. You can return via Llyn y Dywarchen for a more interesting end, but the section at Llwyn-y-forwyn between the forestry and lake can be particularly wet going. For added adventure, bag the minor crag of Clogwyn y Garreg, a proper undiscovered gem.
The route from Beddgelert is a fine, but lengthy walk that should fill a day. However, setting off from Nanmor the route is much more manageable and a bit more rewarding than the far too out and back walk up Cnicht from Croesor.
Dominating the town of Porthmadog is the lowly hill of Moel y Gest. Don’t let the modest height fool you though as this truly is a mountain in miniature. You can follow the long walk outlined above, or jusr partly as you can ascend the hill directly from Porthmadog.
Article originally published on: 23 May 2011 – updated and essentially re-written February 2020.