Walk in the footsteps of Romans in Snowdonia

When you think of Snowdonia you can be forgiven for thinking more of Celts and Druids as ancient peoples that once inhabited this rugged land. But, like much of England and Wales, the Romans made their mark here too.

If you know the right places, you can see their handiwork and follow in their footsteps. Curious to do as the Romans did? Read on to discover Roman Snowdonia!

Roman Forts at Caernarfon, Trawsfynydd and Caerhun

In nearby Caernarfon at the side of the road that takes you to Beddgelert you’ll find Segontium, the remains of a Roman fort built to subdue the locals and reduce the chance of tribes massing for further attacks.

The Romans had already crossed North Wales from Chester (there was an encampment at Pen y Gwyrd, now site of the famous hotel at the top of Llanberis Pass) and had slaughtered the druids on Anglesey. They needed to station troops here to keep the peace.

Segontium was attacked and rebuilt a number of times and it is thought it once housed 1,000 troops. But in 390 AD the Romans left when they decided this outlying post had little importance.

The site is free to visit and open daily 10am to 4pm, in the care of Cadw.

The ruins of Segontium near Caernarfon give an insight into Roman military life.

Head south on the A470 and the long straight section of road past the village of Trawsfynydd should be your first clue of Roman influence! This is the original route of Sarn Helen, a Roman road that connected Carmarthen in the south to Caerhun fort just outside Conwy on the north coast.

At the time of writing the Roman fort of Tomen-y-Mur in the hills above Trawsfynydd is not signposted from the A470. Take the first minor road on the left, heading south after the Ffestiniog junction (just past a house), head under the old railway bridge and follow the narrow lane until you come to a small car park.

The walk to Tomen-y-Mur, regarded as one of the most complete Roman military settlements in Britain, is short and takes you past barely discernible remains of a small military amphitheatre. The motte is actually from the Norman period and would have been built inside the Roman’s castle walls (Tomen-y-Mur means “mound of the wall.”)

This website describes a walk to Tomen-y-Mur from the car park near the decommissioned Trawsfynydd Nuclear Power station site.

Further north, at the mouth of the River Conwy, the remains of Caerhun Roman Fort are easily overshadowed by the nearby majesty of Conwy Castle. But this is a magical site, hidden away behind an old church right on the western banks of the river.

Park at St Mary’s Church car park and follow the footpath (a public right of way across private land) to the site of the fort and the meagre remains of an old bath house. Details of how to find Caerhun can be found here.

Tomen-y-Mur is a fascinating mix of Roman and medieval remains.

Follow the Roman roads of Snowdonia

Walkers can enjoy following in the footsteps of Romans too. Take the high route from the Conwy valley village of Rowen into the Carneddau mountains.

Bwlch-y-Ddeufaen (Pass of the Two Stones) takes its name from two standing stones and the straight-line track from Rowen hints at its Roman origins. Along the way is the fabulous cromlech Maen-y-bardd (Bard’s stone) and, across the windswept tops towards Abergwyngregyn, a stone circle. This route originally linked Chester in the east to Segontium in Caernarfon.

For more information about the route click here.

Sarn Helen followed the Conwy Valley south from Caerhun and crossed the River Lligwy at Betws-y-Coed before climbing the forrested hills to Dolwyddelan. This is a great stretch to walk, though admittedly you have to look hard to find tell-tale signs of Roman activity.

Start from Plas Hall Hotel off the A470 to Dolwyddelan, deep in the Lledr Valley. Cross the road and follow the public footpath (a gap in the stone wall) past a house and uphill. Where the road bends right go through a gate and follow this track across open moorland and into Gwydir forest.

A great option now is to follow a circular trail around popular and beautiful Llyn Elsi and then drop back down into the Lledr Valley, and follow the river path back to your starting point. This is often rough terrain so do not underestimate the time it will take – it’s a full day out with stops for coffee and a picnic lunch.

This website describes this walk and other options for rambling in the area.

A section of the Roman road, Sarn Helen, close to Betws-y-Coed.

Images courtesy: Segontium by Nilfanion, 2012, via Wikimedia Commons. Sarn Helen by Jeremy Bolwell, 2011, via Geograph. Women y Our by Jeff Buck, 2008, via Wikimedia Commons.

Journey to the heart of Snowdonia on the Conwy Valley Railway

Without a doubt, the best way of exploring North Wales is by train. While the train chugs along, you can sit back, relax and enjoy the breathtaking beauty of this glorious corner of North Wales.

The Royal Victoria Hotel is the perfect base for exploring the Conwy Valley by train. The Conwy Valley Railway Line is a 31 mile one-way journey from the coast to the heart of Snowdonia. Only one train at a time can travel along the track, passing through twelve stations along the way (several being request stops).

You can join the train at one of several stops: Llandudno is the start of the route and is approximately 40 minutes by car from the hotel. Betws-y-Coed is the halfway station and approximately 30 minutes by car. Blaenau Ffestiniog is the terminus station and 50 minutes by car but the journey through the Snowdonia National Park is both scenic and memorable.

Spend the day travelling the length of the line and see what the area has to offer, or get off and explore some of the towns and villages before jumping back on the train and returning to the hotel for the evening.

It’s worth pointing out that if you choose to alight at any of the stations you can expect a stopover of approximately three hours as the train makes it way up to and back from the end of the line at Blaenau Ffestiniog. It’s easy to spend this time at any of the stops but some of the more remote destinations take a little preplanning to make the most of your time – visit the Conwy Valley Railway blog for some great ideas.

Here are just a few of the highlights of this unmissable journey.

The train chugs through the coast village of Deganwy on its way to the Conwy Valley.

Llandudno

The journey starts in Llandudno, which is often referred to as the ‘Queen of Welsh Resorts’. This famous Victorian seaside town has two beautiful beaches, the longest pier in the country and many shops and restaurants. It’s also home to the Great Orme, a massive limestone headland with thousands of years of history and fascinating flora and fauna, plus several family attractions including a dry ski slope and bronze age copper mines.

Conwy

The train then moves on past Conwy. From here, you’ll catch a glimpse of the town and its imposing medieval castle. Conwy is a town with a complex history and many myths and legends. Listen closely and you may hear the eerie laughter of the mermaid who once cursed the men of Conwy. If you decided you’d like to explore, hop off the train at Llandudno Junction and cross the road bridge, it’s a delightful walk with amazing views.

Taly-y-Cafn

One of the must-visit attractions of North Wales, Bodnant Garden, is also easily accessed from the Conwy Valley Line. You’ll need to get off at Tal-y-Cafn and take a short bus ride. With over 80 acres of formal gardens and woodland overlooking the River Conwy, there are plenty of photo opportunities. There is a really good onsite cafe and a range of craft shops to browse, plus Bodnant’s own garden centre.

The train follows the banks of the Conwy River near Tal-y-Cafn.

Dolgarrog

The next stop is at Dolgarrog, home to the world-famous Surf Snowdonia. It’s a 300m artificial surf lagoon offering a range of watersports, bringing in tens of thousands of visitors a year. It’s a bit of a walk overland to reach it but it’s worth it. Relax with a coffee or a bite to eat in the waterside restaurant and watch the experts show you how it’s done – or have a go yourself!

Betws-y-Coed

The halfway point of the Conwy Valley Line is Betws-y-Coed. This gorgeous alpine village needs no introduction and is the perfect place to while away a few hours between stops. Sitting deep within the Gwydyr Forest, it isn’t hard to see why it was once a popular destination for artists – those views! There’s plenty to do here – the Railway Museum is worth a visit if you have Thomas-mad kids; take a stroll up to Llyn Elsi, a lake high above the village; or enjoy a panad at one of the many delicious tea rooms. You’ve even got enough time to venture out of the village and visit the Fairy Glen. It’s as magical as it sounds!

Lledr valley

From Betws the train makes its way through the breathtaking Lledr Valley, passing through the stations of Pont-y-Pant, Dolwyddelan (keep your eye out for the fairytale castle) and Roman Bridge before plunging into darkness.

Blaenau Ffestiniog

The final stage of your journey is a two mile tunnel that burrows through the towering mountains of Snowdonia before delivering you into the heart of slate country, Blaenau Ffestiniog. Heaps of discarded slate, a legacy of the town’s industrial past, rise steeply hundreds of metres all around you – it really is something to behold.

You have reached the end of the line. From here you can cross the platform and jump aboard the Ffestiniog Railway, a narrow gauge railway that takes visitors through the mountains to Porthmadog, or visit Llechwedd Slate Caverns to learn more about Blaenau’s slate mining history. Alternatively, stay aboard and just enjoy the return journey!

Take a trip on the Ffestiniog Railway, just across the platform from the Conwy Valley Line in Blaenau.

Images courtesy of the Conwy Valley Railway, 2017.