Living the dream
As I gaze out of the window of my home office, the winter sun shining down on the frosty gardens, I yearn to get outside and breathe in the fresh coastal air. The buds are starting to grow on the trees, soon the pale browns will be replaced by bright greens. In the distance I see a hill – a local nature reserve. There is movement. Hikers or dog walkers probably, in their bright winter clothing out for a morning stroll. I need to walk up that hill one day. I can’t believe I’ve lived here six months already and haven’t been. That said, I have been on many short walks in my new local surroundings of the North Wales coast. As a ‘fair weather’ hiker, who prefers not to venture too far, there are plenty of simple North Wales walks to keep me occupied here.
I grew up in North Wales, moved away at eighteen to university and then for work. Having spent more than twenty years in the urban surroundings of Reading, Berkshire it was time to head home. The call of the coast and mountains was getting too loud to ignore. Fresh air. The great outdoors. A simpler way of life. So we did it, we moved, and I can honestly say it’s been a great thing.
I’ve been following Visit Wales‘ marketing campaigns over the last few years with their fantastic #FindYourEpic hashtag. From 2017’s Year of Legends to the Year of the Sea (2017) and then the Year of Discovery (2019). In perfect timing for my return, 2020 sees the launch of Year of Outdoors, and I can honestly think of no better place to get outdoors and explore than my beautiful homeland.
North Wales walks with ‘Epic’ views
To mark the start of my own Year of Outdoors, I have some plans in place to explore my local area further. I want to head out to remote areas, gaze up at the night sky and master my night photography. I’d like to push the boundaries of my own limits and comfort zones and get further out into the wilds than I have before. I might even head up to the summit of Snowdon – who knows! Wales is my oyster and I am going to make the most of it.
So far though, I’ve not been quite as adventurous. Partly through finding my feet and getting to know the local area again, but also just not finding the time. Relocation and house moves take up a lot of time you know. We’re settled in now though and ready to hit the walking trails, the beaches, the mountains and all they have to offer. What I have managed to do in the last few months is head out on a few relatively easy North Wales walks in my local area of Conwy and Llandudno. None of these hikes were more than an hour or two, but gave me the opportunity to view a very familiar landscape from a very different viewpoint. So, are you ready to take a look at some of these epic views?
1. A hike along Invalids Walk, Llandudno
Starting off with a very relaxing but rewarding walk, this one begins in the centre of the Victorian seaside town of Llandudno. A sea level town, flanked by two headlands, the largest of these headlands is the location of the first of our North Wales walks. The Great Orme, sitting to the north west of the town, is a large limestone headland that juts dramatically out into the Irish Sea. With a 207 metre elevation and an area of 1 mile by 2 miles, there are numerous walking paths which take you around and up the headland. We’ll save those for another day though, as we’re here for a simple walk with epic views.
From Mostyn Street in the centre of town, the start of Invalids Walk can be reached by heading towards Haulfre Gardens on the edge of the Great Orme. Heading via Llewelyn Avenue, Ty’n-y-Maes Hill and Cwlach Road (this is the steepest uphill section) you’ll arrive at Haulfre Gardens Tea Room. If after a fifteen minute stroll, you need a rest, then this is the ideal place. For the sunnier days there are some outdoor tables where you can admire views across Llandudno to the other headland – the Little Orme, at the opposite end of the North Shore promenade.
Onwards from Haulfre Tea Room, the pathway leads along and through Haulfre Gardens with its steep terraced slopes and woodland. The gardens were originally designed by Henry Pochin, who was also responsible for the creation of the stunning Bodnant Garden nearby. At the far west of Haulfre Gardens a raised paved pathway leads out of the gardens, providing glimpses of the West Shore beach of Llandudno as well as the rugged landscape beyond, further along the North Wales coast.
For a detour to see a stunning National Trust property, take a look at my Bodnant Garden article.
The epic coastline views of West Shore
Heading out of the landscaped gardens, the trees clear and the pathway narrows but provides uninterrupted views across to the West Shore beach and the island of Anglesey in the distance. Although the pathway is generally flat for the most part, there is a steep drop to one side. There are also several benches dotted along the path where you can take a break and take in the amazing views. About halfway along this section, you could take a detour onto the Zig Zag Path which takes you higher up the Great Orme. For me, I was happy to stick to the original route and enjoy the relaxing walk.
Heading towards the end of Invalids Path, the view across the coast is at it’s best. The beautiful golden sands of West Shore beach, Llandudno’s second beach, but by far my favourite. It’s wild and wonderful with gorgeous dunes and a huge expanse of clean sandy beach when the tide is out. Across the bay, the ragged headlands jut out into the sea, with the Carneddau mountain range and the gateway to Snowdonia further afield. It’s a view I’ve been familiar with since I was a child, but it just seems so much more beautiful now. We appreciate things so much more as we get older I think.
Heading down the gentle slope to arrive at the beach, it’s worth taking some time to relax and explore. In terms of facilities, West Shore beach doesn’t have as much to offer as the main promenade of North Shore, but that adds to the charm. Take a stroll along the sand, paddle in the sea and soak in those views. From West Shore, a twenty minute wander along Gloddaeth Avenue or Abbey Road will lead you back to the town centre.
Starting point: Mostyn Street, Llandudno
Distance covered: 2.5 miles approx round trip
Time allowed: Allow two hours to include a good walk on the beach
2. A North Wales walk to the summit(s) of Conwy Mountain
The second of our North Wales walks takes us across the bay from Llandudno to the headlands outside the medieval walled town of Conwy. As one of the most popular tourist destinations in the area, visitors flock to the walled town in the summer months and fill the narrow, picturesque streets. For that reason, heading out of the town for a hike can be a fantastic escape. Conwy Mountain lies to the west of the town and can be easily reached from two starting points. The first of these is from the town itself, the second, and my preferred option is from Sychnant Pass.
Sychnant Pass is a mountain pass to the west of Conwy that leads over the higher ground and down into Dwygyfylchi where you can rejoin the main North Wales coast road, the A55. Sychnant Pass Road is narrow but mostly passable for two cars, with some steep drops to one side. About a ten minute drive from Conwy, there is a parking area with spaces available either side of the road. From this point, a narrow path heads northwards towards the moorland of the Conwy Mountain.
The start of the walk
Following this trail along the cliffside, the rugged landscape of the area becomes apparent. With a drop to one side and views to the sea, it’s easy to get distracted before you’ve really even started. The trail heads to the right and meanders along for while before taking a left turn and levelling out. Along this stretch of pathway there are then trails that fork left and right, both uphill. My main intention for this hike was to get views north across to the Great Orme. My instinct told me to head left and that’s what I did. It may have been the wrong decision. I hiked uphill in the warmth of the afternoon, passing grazing sheep and the local wild Carneddau ponies as my only company for the time being.
Arriving to the top of this hill, out of breath, I gazed out to the north to admire the epic view that I had come to see. Wasn’t there. It was obscured by another section of headland further along. Great! Nevertheless, looking out towards the west provided a lovely view of the village of Dwygyfylchi below, with Anglesey and Puffin Island across the bay. All was not lost, this was pretty impressive. Looking out north (past the obscuring section of land) showed a different viewpoint of the Little Orme and the large wind farm out to sea. On that subject, what are your thoughts on offshore wind farms? Eyesore or not? Personally, I find them quite striking.
For spectacular North Wales walks on Anglesey, head to Llanddwyn Island.
I wasn’t in a particular rush and spent a while admiring these views. Heading back down the hill, I crossed the main path and hiked up the other way. I was determined to witness the view I had come to see. Once I was on this pathway, which was far more structured, I realised I was probably going the right way. The walk up to this second summit, with an elevation of 244m, was pretty steep in some parts. I’d definitely advise a good pair of trainers or walking shoes. Once I arrived at the highest point, though, it was all worthwhile. An epic view towards Llandudno and the Great Orme welcomed me. Having spent an hour or so walking by this point, I had barely seen a soul. Miles of open landscape almost to myself. It was bliss.
Exploring Conwy Mountain
There are several pathways on Conwy Mountain and you could spend a while wandering around, taking in the views from different areas. With 360 degree views of the surrounding landscape – the coast to the north and the Carneddau mountain range to the south west. I roamed the pathways for a while, passing the occasional hiker every now and again. Being early autumn, the mountain was a blaze of purple from the heather that had taken over the moorland, full of buzzing bees happily going about their business. In the distance, the barren landscapes of the Carneddau mountains stretched out as far as I could see. There’s so much wilderness to explore out there.
Views of home
My final views before heading back down to the car were of a very familiar area – the Conwy Valley, aka home. Between the Carneddau Range to the west and the hills of Clwyd to the east lies the Conwy Valley. The barren mountainous landscapes merge into the rich tapestry of bright green fields and woodland on the valley floor. The Conwy Valley heads south, following the Conwy River up into the Snowdonia National Park far in the distance. This scene represents home. I was bought up in a small village in this valley, and looking down at it from this vantage point felt like standing on top of the world.
For a fantastic walking experience further afield in Snowdonia, why not take a GinVentures Walk and Wine-Tasting
Starting point: Sychnant Pass Car Park
Distance covered: 5 miles approx round trip
Time allowed: Allow two hours to explore both summits to get optimum views
3. Epic views of the Conwy Valley from Cadair Ifan Goch
On the subject of the Conwy Valley, that’s where we’re headed next on our North Wales walks. There are two routes into the Conwy Valley from the coast, which run along either side of the Conwy River. The B5106 route from the town of Conwy heads up through several villages including Dolgarrog, the home of Adventure Parc Snowdonia, and onwards towards Betws-y-Coed. The other route, the main A470 trunk road is the main road heading from the A55 coast road up into Snowdonia.
Following the A470 route for about 8 miles and arriving at the location of the Maenan Abbey Hotel, follow a left turn signposted ‘Cadair Ifan Goch’. From this point, it’s worth locating the National Trust Car Park – Cadair Ifan Goch on your smart phone maps, as I didn’t see any further signposts. The journey to the car park is only five minutes or so, but there are narrow and steep roads to get there.
Once parked up on the edge of a woodland area, the walking trail is clearly signposted. A half mile hike through a scenic and ancient woodland, with a few uphill sections can take a little while on a fresh winter day, thanks to the slippery surfaces. I’d recommend sturdy footwear for this walk, particularly in winter or after wet conditions. The steep hills can get quite slippery. With the sun cascading into the woodland, the moss covered branches and tree trunks looked beautiful.
The Giant’s Chair
Towards the end of the hike, before reaching Cadair Ifan Goch, there’s a stairway built into the hillside before a short scramble across some rocks to reach the viewpoint. Once out of the woodland and on the outcrop, it’s obvious why this short hike is worthwhile, thanks to fantastic views south and north of the Conwy Valley. If you’re wondering about the name ‘Cadair Ifan Goch’, this translates in English to ‘Ifan Goch’s chair’. Legend has it, that a giant called Ifan Goch would use this outcrop as a seat to rest his feet in the Conwy River below. So there you are. That would make him a huge giant, even by giant definitions.
Take time to rehydrate
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you this, but it’s always important to make sure that you have some water with you on hikes, regardless of distance. With the attempted reduction in single use plastics, I hope everyone is taking out reusable bottles wherever we can now. In terms of shopping, it’s not only sustainability that’s important, but supporting local businesses too. Shopping locally and independently is something I am attempting to improve. On that note, I’d like to throw out a mention to a great local business called Antur Supply Co, who supply some great outdoor products. Antur sell some awesome outdoor clothing, sleeping pads and some gorgeous and stylish insulated bottles, as seen below. Go check them out.
Starting point: National Trust Car Park – Cadair Ifan Goch, Maenan
Distance covered: 1.5 miles approx round trip, but there is a longer circular route that can be taken
Time allowed: Allow one hour for the walk to / from Cadair Ifan Goch
4. Watch the sunset from the Little Orme in Llandudno
The final of our simple North Wales walks takes us back to Llandudno for a final epic view of the coastline. Another hike that I have been meaning to do for a long time, but never quite made it until recently. The Little Orme, the smaller of the two Llandudno headlands, sits to the east of the main North Shore promenade. There are two hiking routes to the summit, the longer of which starts from the village of Penrhyn Bay on the other side of the headland.
Parking up at Penrhyn Beach East, a set of wooden steps will take you up onto the Wales Coast Path. Heading right on this path will take you to an open section of the headland with great views east along the coastline. There is also an overlook to a lovely little cove called Angel Bay that becomes home to a colony of grey seals over the winter months. The seals head here to mate and rear their young. It’s a well protected and sheltered cove. Although there are pathways down to the cove, there are signs suggesting to keep a distance. I saw a handful of seals on my visits, a few bobbing around in the water and some resting on the beach. The grassy area above the cove is a lovely spot to sit and relax for a while, watching the local wildlife.
Onwards and upwards
From the Angel Bay area, a sloping pathway heads up to a higher vantage point on the cliff top. It’s a fairly long and steep climb, but the views are worthwhile, with the coastline stretching east for miles. From this point, the Wales Coast Path meanders through some woodland and fields, before reaching the open section of the limestone headland. It’s worth noting that the hike from Angel Bay to the summit of the Little Orme is a fair walk and takes in excess of 30-45 minutes depending on fitness levels.
The secondary route to the Little Orme summit is a slightly easier and quicker route. A footpath leads from Colwyn Road opposite the Premier Inn LLandudno and the hiking trail leads off to the right. Follow this path (North Wales Path) through a gateway and then head left up towards higher ground and the summit. The pathway to the summit isn’t particularly clear and there are some steep sections, as well as sections near the cliff edge – not ideal for those who are scared of heights.
Making it to the summit, located by a concrete marker, the views definitely do not disappoint. The view west takes in the town of Llandudno and the Great Orme, as well as Anglesey in the background. Time it right, and you can watch the sun setting behind the Great Orme. A beautiful scene I’m sure you will agree. The orange and pink pastel hues of the sky as the sun dropped behind the headland was an epic view for sure, and this was one of my favourite North Wales walks to date.
Taking it all in
I must have spent half an hour at this spot, gazing out at the surrounding landscape. How lucky to have all of this on the doorstep. That’s the thing about North Wales. There’s so much to see around every corner. You’ll always see articles about the hiking Snowdon or taking on some strenuous walking routes, but the simple walks can be equally, if not more rewarding.
Starting point: Penrhyn Beach East (Angel Bay Route) / Premier Inn Llandudno (Quicker Route)
Distance covered: 2.5 miles round trip from Penrhyn Beach, 1 mile from the Premier Inn
Time allowed: Allow two or one hours depending on start point
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