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.
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.
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.
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.