The A5 London to Holyhead road is one of Britain’s busiest arterial highways. Starting near Marble Arch in London, it follows what was once a vital transport link from the capital to Holyhead and the sea crossing to Dublin. The section that passes through Snowdonia must rank as one of the most scenic road routes in the UK. Less well known to many is a haven of tranquillity that is less than one kilometre from the road.
Cwm Idwal is a hanging valley, which is just about the most boring thing that could be said about one of the most beautiful places in Wales. The cwm has a dark history, as the place where it is said that Prince Idwal, son of Owain of Gwynedd, was murdered, drowned in the Llyn (lake) that now bears his name. It is said that because of the foul deed, no bird will fly over the lake.
The cwm is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and was designated as the first nature Reserve in Wales in 1954. The geology, flora and fauna have attracted naturalists for decades, including the nineteenth century naturalist, Charles Darwin. This the most southerly place in Britain where you may find arctic plants such as Moss Campion and alpine saxifrages. It is also a home of the Snowdon Lily, and the even rarer Snowdonia hawkweed, which grows only in Cwm Idwal.
I had picked Cwm Idwal as the second walking day for Clare and Sarah. A walk up the highest peak in Wales (Yr Wyddfa AKA Snowdon) is a tall order if you have never set foot on a mountain before, yet that’s exactly what they had done the previous day. They had booked a couple of days walking in the hills of Snowdonia in preparation for their Everest base-camp trek in October, and after Day 1 had discovered aches in places that they didn’t even know they had places!
After a hard physical day, it’s a good idea to do some form of low-intensity exercise, otherwise known as ‘Active Recovery’. This has physical and psychological benefits and is used by athletes in many different sports, and a steady walk round Cwm Idwal to the rock climbers crag of Idwal Slabs was just what the doctor ordered. Fortunately for us, ‘Active Recovery’ also works when it’s raining!
I had promised Clare and Sarah some fantastic views, and even in the drizzly, misty weather there was some spectacular scenery. We took the direct path to Idwal Slabs, where a couple of rock climbers were taking advantage of a quiet day on what can be a very busy climbing crag. We followed that up by completing a circuit of the lake before heading back down to the road at Ogwen.
Cwm Idwal is a great place to be, sunny or wet, hot or cold. In the circumstances it had been an ideal choice, and we all enjoyed a gentle walk in great scenery – even Border Collie ‘Mist’ had a grin at the end of the walk.
Text and images © Paul Shorrock