With the crunch of frost under our feet and each breath forming a ghostly cloud of condensation, we walked down the winding lane with no real route in our minds. Stopping to admire shaggy highland cattle bathing in the winter sunlight, we spotted a small gap in the dense forest, a path, nonetheless.
It was a glorious Sunday morning in the van, I had Fleetwood Mac playing and I’d just collected one of my closest friends, who was filling me in on her recent adventure to Australia. Both living within an hour of the Snowdonia National Park, we had decided to take advantage of this fact and were looking for a crisp winter walk somewhere photogenic (and not crowded). We reached the start of the Llyn Idwal track, near Tryfan and were instantly put off by the amount of cars lining the road – we were looking for somewhere quiet, secluded, almost untouched.
I carried on, despite my empty bank account and distant worries of whether this much diesel would get me to work and back for a week, adamant that we would find somewhere off the beaten track.
And boy, did we succeed.
Pressing on the gas towards Betwys-y-Coed, I realised we were nearing Llyn Elsi, a beautiful spot where I admirably (foolishly?) enjoyed some Wild Swimming back in September. It sprung to my mind just how many beauty spots I had passed on the winding track up to the Lake, and I decided that was where we should head on this sun-drenched Sunday.
It was not so much the perfect place for the van, a winding, pothole-ridden track that almost acted as a deterrent for the unknowing tourist. It seemed like it would lead to nowhere, but despite the contents of my cupboards rattling in protest, I felt it in my bones that this was what I built the van to do – explore the lesser-taken tracks.
For those of you already itching to get to this destination – directions are coming, don’t you worry (but please, don’t tell too many people)
Along this dark path through the cluster of emerald green pines, were slabs of stone covered in a thick coating of moss and morning frost, like stepping stones luring us into another world. This other world, it seemed, was in fact The Shire. We broke out of the forest into a field, but first had to pass through a kissing gate and over a small, gurgling stream. Sunlight dappled on ancient trees, warped and twisted through a time of harsh winters and balmy summers, it danced on the surface of the moving waters, through the cracks between twisted branches.
At this point, I really would not have been suprised to spot a hobbit, fairy or some other mythical creature frolicking around in the undergrowth – this place was magical, and the sense of surrealism was only heightened by the cornflower blue sky and warm sunlight.
Onwards, we walked and passed the charming ‘Capel’ (Chapel – now lovingly restored and let out by The Landmark Trust), discovering the first ruins of what we would later learn to be ‘Rhiwddolion’. Picture moss-cladded walls of age-old stone, fallen in roofs where the only shelter was now leafy foliage that had reclaimed the spot where someone’s home once stood. The most spine chilling discovery was a series of cast-iron bedframes that were left propped against the walls, as if people had cleared up, swept the floors, packed all that they physically could, and left them there, just waiting for someone to come back and inhabit them once again.
Standing amongst these ruins gave me an undeniable sense of wonderment and amazement, how could so much untouched history just be right there, out in the open, just waiting for us to discover it. How did people build such structures with so little resources? Stone walls thick and sturdy enough to defy decades, perhaps centuries, of harsh winters, built only by hands and hard labour. How did these people live? Was it a hard life, boring and restrictive? Or was it a serene, simple existence before an over-evolved world? As I stood in the fireplace of the biggest building, I imagined this being the heart of the home, roaring flames and the smell of meat and bread rising up through the chimney, thick and Welsh dialect being tossed around the room. Who were these people? What happened to them to make them leave?
Of course, I’m not implying that we were the first to explore these ruins, I’m not Lara Croft (although I wish I was), but there was something eerie and significantly untouched about these buildings. Despite the said eerie-ness, it was incredibly peaceful, in the silence we could only hear our breaths, footfalls, and soft exclamations upon investigating the nooks and crannies of these amazing pieces of history.
Despite my fancy words, I’m no historian or lecturer on Welsh relics. Some factual information on the history of this amazing village can be found here.
How The Hell Do I Get There!?
Okay, okay, if you insist and haven’t worked it out for yourself already, I’ll share.
The track up to the spot is located just outside of Betwys-y-Coed, along the A5 road – we approached it coming from the Tryfan/Capel Curig direction. If you’re heading to it from this direction, chuck a right just before reaching Pentre Du – it is on an ever-so-slight bend and opposite the River Llugwy. If you’ve just passed through Betwys-y-coed, continue on the A5, past the Dragon B&B, past the fire station, and round a large bend, then its the next left you come to – just make sure to approach it slowly as it isn’t obvious. You’ll pass a yard/warehouse looking thing on the left, keep climbing up the track from there, eventually you’ll come to a fork in the road, keep left – there is either a layby just by the path we took on the right, or you can continue on, over a little bridge, up a slight hill, and find yourself a nice big spot to park on the left (perfect for larger vehicles/more privacy).
Take the small path, over the stepping stones, through the kissing gate and continue on from there, there are actually 3 beautiful Landmark Trust holiday properties up there called Ty Capel, Ty Coch and Ty Uchaf. When you get to Ty Coch (with a little red door) you need to keep left, cross the stream, and climb over the style – from here if you head as the crow flies, you will find more of these stunning ruins, and a beautiful forest.
You’re welcome! Happy exploring and please share any adventures you have to Rhiwddolion with me on Instagram!