Snowdonia from the saddle – our pick of cycle trails

LakeVrynwyAsk someone what the Snowdonia National Park means to them and they’ll probably say mountains – most notably Snowdon. North Wales’s national park is renowned as a centre for high-adrenalin mountain sports, with climbing, hiking, skiing and scrambling high on the agenda. However, the park has plenty to offer those who prefer to take things a little slower.

Pleasure bikers might not know that Snowdonia has many cycle routes that don’t include steep climbs or white-knuckle descents and that the majestic peaks and foothills that surround Snowdon are home to some of the most exhilarating cycle trails found anywhere in the UK.

To prove you don’t have to be a thrillseeker to enjoy Snowdonia from the saddle we’ve chosen four of the best cycle routes in the area. Suitable for all ages and abilities, sweeping trails and stunning scenery are guaranteed!

1. Bangor to Ogwen Cottage

Length: 12 miles (24-mile circular route back to Bangor)

Terrain: Mostly flat with some short climbs

Start: Bangor to Lon Ogwen cycleway at Porth Penrhyn

End: Ogwen Bank to Ogwen Cottage

Take a Breather: The mountain pursuits centre at Ogwen Cottage is a good place for a break if you’re planning to cycle the return route back to Bangor.

This circular route offers a mix of terrain, and is ideal if you want a mostly easy ride with a few challenges along the way.

It also has several options to shorten the route – start from Porth Penrhyn to get directly on to the Lon Ogwen cycleway, or cut out the final stretch from Ogwen Bank to Ogwen Cottage and back to save a few miles.

The shorter version, from Porth Penrhyn along the Lon Ogwen cycleway to Ogwen Bank, and back via Bethesda on the A5, makes a great medium-length alternative if you don’t want to push your stamina so much.

2. Conwy Castle to Bodnant Gardens

Length: 7.5 miles each way

Terrain: Mostly flat with some short, steep climbs

Start: Conwy (long-stay car park)

End: Bodnant Gardens car park, or back to Conwy along same route

Take a Breather: The village of Henryd after the first third of the route, or hold on until Ty’n y Groes at about two thirds of the way – or take stops at both, if you need to!

Linking two of the area’s best-loved landmarks, this road route ends at Bodnant Gardens, with a return journey along the same route, or via the busier A470 for careful riders who want a shorter second leg.

National Trust members enjoy free admission to Bodnant Garden, a nice opportunity for sightseeing while taking a break from the saddle.

The Conwy valley provides the scenery along the way, with views of Snowdonia’s Carneddau hills, bringing plenty of variety to a route whose most challenging sections are quite short.

3. Mawddach Trail

Length: 10 miles

Terrain: Flat

Start: Dolgellau

End: Barmouth

Take a Breather: At the Penmaenpool signal box, now an RSPB observatory, or at any of the picnic spots along the route.

The Mawddach Trail takes you from the entrance to Dolgellau, alongside the unspoilt Mawddach Estuary, past Penmaenpool and along to Barmouth.

It’s a flat route, as it’s on an old railway line, and was resurfaced only a few years ago, so the ground conditions are quite good too – no steep climbs to navigate here!

Look out for the Cadair Idris massif and the Rhinog Hills along the way and enjoy the unique experience of cycling the 3/4-mile railway bridge into the pretty harbour town of Barmouth at the end.

4. Bala to Lake Vyrnwy

Length: 17 miles (34-mile circular route to return to Bala)

Terrain: Long climbs (2000 feet total), steep in places

Start: Bala

End: Lake Vyrnway, or return to Bala

Take a Breather: Seek refreshments at Lake Vyrnwy if you’re riding the full circular route, or at any of the small villages along the way.

The Lake Vyrnway circular route from Bala is not for the faint-hearted, with a 2,000-foot climb to negotiate along the way, and while only a few sections of this are steep, the upward gradient will challenge your fitness and endurance.

With that in mind – and the prospect of a (mostly) downhill return trip to Bala if you’re completing the full circle – it’s not a difficult route to navigate, with only a few turns.

It also takes in Lake Bala and a nearly full lap of Lake Vyrnwy and its dam, as well as views of the Aran mountains, so there’s plenty to make it worth the effort.

Many visitors to Snowdonia head for the hills but, hopefully, we’ve given you four good reasons to keep your wheels firmly on the ground. There’s so much of our stunning region that can only be fully appreciated from down below, not on high, and we want you to appreciate it too. Happy trails!

Image: © Copyright Chris Fox and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Five of the best – your guide to what’s on this Spring Bank Holiday

beaumarisgeograph-4681620-by-Jeff-BuckWith the second Bank Holiday of the year just over and the next bearing down upon us we think this is the perfect time of year to plan your visit to North Wales. Perfect, why? Well, the days are longer, the weather’s warmer and it’s getting busier – but not too busy!

This year the Spring Bank Holiday falls on Monday the 30th of May and, whether you’re visiting for a short break or planning a longer stop over the half term holiday, you’ll find lots to do out and about across the region.

With so many events and activities to choose from we’ve made the decision process that little bit easier by selecting ‘5 of the best’ to keep you entertained throughout the weekend and into Monday too.

1. Bangers & Beer, Conwy Valley

This one is only on the Saturday and Sunday (28 & 29 May) but it’s a great way to kick off your long weekend!

Get yourself along to theBodnant Welsh Food Centre in Tal-y-Cafn but make sure you arrive with an appetite! Delicious grilled sausages and lip-smacking local ales combine for that most quintessential of bank holiday traditions – the barbecue! With free entry (although you can expect to pay for the food and drink) you will have a chance to try some of Bodnant’s famous bangers – try the lamb and mint sausages, our favourites – plus some excellent local brews from the likes of Purple Moose, Great Orme Brewery and Monty’s.

2. House of the Black Star, Beaumaris

Medieval reenactors, House of the Black Star, are once again laying siege and taking up residence at beautiful Beaumaris Castle from 28 – 30 May. You can visit and experience what castle life was like almost a century ago any time over the long weekend. This living exhibition brings Beaumaris the fortress back into action and visitors can learn all about daily life in the castle plus, join in the daily drill, and you’ll learn a thing or two about medieval warfare too!

Entry is free for members of Cadw while non-members cost £6 for adults and £4.20 for under-16s, senior citizens and students, with a family ticket priced at £16.20 for two adults and all of your children aged under 16.

3. Betws y Coed Antiques Fair, Conwy Valley

Betws y Coed is always a great choice for a day out. This prettiest of Welsh villages has a distinctly Alpine feel to it, with a good selection of shops, restaurants and things to see and do.

If the weather’s a bit iffy then Betws y Coed’s popular Betws y Coed antiques fair is a good option for Bank Holiday Monday. With a wide selection of antiques and collectibles – including glass, china, jewellery and precious metals, coins and books – on sale, there’s something to interest bargain hunters and pot-luckers alike.

The sale runs from 9:15am – 4pm, with tickets costing 50p for adults and senior citizens, and free entry for children.

4. Hand spinning at Trefriw Woollen Mills, Conwy Valley

Another indoor event in case of bad weather, this time with free entry, is at Trefriw Woollen Mills on the Main Road in Trefriw, Conwy. Demonstrations throughout the day will show how spinning wheels were used to make yarn before the Industrial Revolution mechanised the process. Afterwards, you can purchase some beautiful handmade textiles in the mill shop.

With a slightly later start than some of the other events, 10am to be precise, it also runs a bit later too, finishing at 5pm – a lovely way to while away an afternoon before a pleasant, sunny evening (hopefully).

5. The Wise Woman and the Surgeon, Conwy

Head to Plas Mawr in Conwy for this participatory event – one of many Cadw ‘Bank Holiday Fun’ events scheduled to take place across North Wales. Visitors will learn about Elizabethan medicine, which in those days was still part magic and part science.

The story focuses on Robert, the man of the house who needs surgery to remove a bullet from his leg, but who is also anxiously awaiting the arrival of his baby. Will it be the mystical wise woman or the sensible surgeon who help Robert and his child on this most important day?

Taking place on the 29 & 30 May, daily from 11am – 4pm, entry is free for Cadw members, with tickets priced at £6 for adults, £4.20 for children, students and OAPs, and £16.20 for family tickets (two adults and any number of under-16s).

Image: © Copyright Jeff Buck and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.