Bontddu - Tal-y-bont via the Old Road

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Standing on the main A496 road in the village of Bontddu, it is hard to imagine that this was, not so long ago, a place of swamp and sticky marshland. If you wanted to travel from here to the west coast, you had to take to the uplands – and that is exactly what you're going to do now.

This route, in 1800 a turnpike road, was used even before that by the drovers, herding their vast flocks of lowing, bleating, squealing stock from the west coast to Dolgellau and beyond. Today this is a journey into the peace and silence of the mountains, where skylarks trill and a glimpse of the occasional soaring buzzard is not unknown.

The initial climb from Bontddu follows an energetic stream interspersed with waterfalls through woodland, to emerge beside a small gold mine. Gold was first mined near here in Roman times and at the end of the 19th Century, it made wedding rings for royalty. But this mine closed in 1998. Rumour has it that, in the present climate of financial uncertainty (Sept 2008), plans are afoot to resurrect it.

Climbing gently from here to the end of the 'made' road, you might imagine yourself sliding into the past, for at the top of this road is an ancient milestone. Perhaps it was placed by Romans. At any rate, the faded inscription tells you what you need to know, for it marks a divergence of the ways. One side indicates the route north to Harlech, while the other shows the path for Tal-y-Bont five miles away.

As you follow the well-marked track towards the airy heights, look down at your feet occasionally, for in places you are walking on stone paving slabs sunk deep into the ground – a legacy of the days when this road was better used. Before too long you will spy, on the horizon, the deep notch of Bwlch y Rhiwgyr, marking the pass through the upper reaches of Llawlech. When we first explored this route, our son was still small and prone to fits of boredom on longish walks, but tales of bygone robbers lurking behind the boulders strewn through the pass, kept him going for hours! Because this walk offers opportunity for embellished historical detail – well, story-telling, it's a great one for families.

The view from the Bwlch itself is a mountain dreamscape. Looking back towards the south, the Mawddach twists and shines between its sandbanks. Beyond it is the dark, rounded, hunched-up shape of the great throne of the giant, Idris or Cader Idris and over to the west, below the tissue-paper layers of cloud and sky and sea, are the pale sand-dunes between Barmouth and Harlech. Don't hurry away, but pause and drink in! Beyond the pass you might find further inspirational material in the wealth of ancient settlement scattered on the high ground. There is an absolutely splendid stone chamber right beside the road and other (rather less obvious) cairns and circles if you care to explore further. As you enter civilization again, to a huddle of stone cottages and farmhouses among the trees, cross Pont Fadog, whose worn inscription you just might be able to decipher, though we could not. One of the cottages here was probably an emergency stop-off for re-shoeing the drovers' horses.

It is possible to leave a second car where the track meets the road at medieval Cors y Gadel Hall, but otherwise, simply carry on down to the coast road for return transport.

This walk features in the 'Pathways' book - for more information click on the link on the Walkingworld homepage.

Wales - North Wales - Gwynedd - Snowdonia


Ancient Monument, Birds, Butterflies, Food Shop, Good for Kids, Great Views, Hills or Fells, Industrial Archaeology, Moor, Mountains, Public Transport, River, Sea, Waterfall, Wildlife, Woodland