Walks on the Carneddau
About Walks on the Carneddau
The Carneddau Mountains are the largest areas of land over 900m south of Scotland. The Carneddau ramble on from Conwy down to Betws y Coed and Ogwen. The far north consists of little peaks that rise from the sea, rocky outcrops that have made travel to and from the Arfon area difficult for millennia. Now, tunnels pass through them filled with the busy A55. It is an area that is full of hill forts and other ancient ruins including the roman road through Bwlch y Ddeufaen. Yet, this undulating moorland still manages to produce a proper hill, Tal y Fan at 610m. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the semi wild Carneddau ponies that inhabit these hills.
Moving south we come to the Aber forest and the gateway to the North Carneddau. The National Trust owns the vast majority of the Carneddau. It covers an area of just less than 18,000 acres and used to be part of the Penrhyn estate until 1951 when it entered NT ownership.
From here the roman road can take you to the base of the Drum ridge, which should be ascended as near to Foel Dduarth as possible. Or of course, you could use it as a descent like most people do when they wander this far north. It is a different world to the large craggy southern summits, here the rock is replaced by more yielding grass. But it does not consist of featureless bumps. Bera Bach is a piece of Glyder that has got itself hopelessly lost, jagged rocks that make this a challenging little summit to bag. This section is also ascended well from Bethesda. The eastern hills wander harmlessly, if rather boggily, down to the Conwy River a few miles away, broken only by the initial deep corries of Foel Grach and Cwm Llygwy further south.
There are three valleys to the west of the Carneddau. The northernmost isn’t named on the OS maps, but the other two in the middle are much larger. Cwm Llafar cuts deep in between the two highest peaks, ending in the steep back wall known as yr Ysgolion Duon (Black Ladders). Strangely, it’s only the other cwm – Cwm Caseg that contains a lake. From this description, “the long valley with the lake above Bethesda” I worked out that my late father had been up here in the sixties. All he can recall is finding a top hat that was completely flat in the middle of the path.
This is an unusual cwm, even disregarding the squashed millinery. There are remains of a large settlement at over 400m, meaning the area must have been populated and farmed, like much of the Carneddau in the past. There’s little here to sustain man now except for a few sheep. It’s similar to Cwm Llafar, in that it’s long with a meandering stream. It continues uphill much further though, twisting around Yr Elen before terminating in a hanging valley and lake at Ffynnon Caseg.
After you pass the first big mountain, Foel Fras that is a sizeable grassy lump, the terrain becomes progressively more rugged as you move south. The most unwelcome introduction in the south is people. There are often hordes on the two main Carneddau peaks, even during the midweek in May they can be full. The topography however, makes up for this. The glaciers were obviously harder workers here than the north. Having gouged out the Ysgolion Duon, Yr Elen and not to forget the main centre of activity (then and now), The Ogwen Valley.
From Carnedd Llewelyn the entire range radiates outwards towards Yr Elen to the west, Carnedd Dafydd to the south. This single fact means that any circuit of the Carneddau south of Foel Grach must pass over or around Llewelyn’s cairn. That can only be an advantage. The main route down to Ogwen is down an awfully eroded scree path down the steep slopes of Pen yr Ole Wen but the SE ridge offers a much more pleasant route.
Finally, there’s Creigiau Gleision standing alone on the edges. This is a boggy, heathery peak that has very little in common with the majestic peaks of the main range but provides both an excellent viewpoint from which to take in the entire range and a quiet, off path day in the hills.
We suggest you start with our selection of our Best Carneddau Hill Walks.