AD | With low hanging cloud shrouding the mountain peaks of Eryri, we passed through small villages heading deeper and deeper into Snowdonia. A few spots of rain on the windscreen confirmed that you really can’t plan around the weather in the mountains of North Wales, despite having endured a heatwave for days beforehand. That said, the perfect thing about the cloud cover in the mountains, is an ever changing view of the landscape. Perfect for the adventure that we had planned. We were heading out on an afternoon walk in Snowdonia with GinVentures, to learn about the surrounding landscapes, the local flora and gin making botanicals, and of course, to sample some local Welsh gin.
This experience was hosted by Curious Cymru working in collaboration with Airbnb Experiences, but all views and opinions are my own.
Our walk would take us out into the wilderness surrounding the gorgeous mountain village of Beddgelert, where we would learn about some of the myths and legends of the area. The hike would provide a dramatic range of scenery including ancient forests, wild heath, roaring river gorges and so much more, all in the capable hands of a knowledgeable guide.
A little bit about GinVentures
The GinVentures Experience is hosted and run by Kate and Ross Worthington of RAW Adventures – a Snowdonia based company who specialise in hiking and outdoor adventures. With years of experience and knowledge of the area, they offer a range of guided walks and can offer bespoke experiences too.
The concept was formed about four years ago, in collaboration with a local hotel, to offer walking experiences in the area. With Kate and Ross being lovers of classic dry gin, and lovers of the outdoors and walking, it made perfect sense to combine both to create an experience that they could share with others along the way.
A fantastic walk in Snowdonia
Snowdonia. A land of jagged peaks, crystal clear lakes and lush valleys. A land full of myth, mystery and miles of wilderness to explore. A land so beautiful that it attracts a huge number of visitors. The benefit of an experienced and knowledgeable guide when walking this land is that they can choose routes off the main tourist trails. Perfect for those busy summer months. Myself and Pete met Ross at the Aberglaslyn National Trust car park, where our 9km GinVentures walk would begin. We were briefed about what to expect at the start of the walk – there would be some climbs, some steep steps and some fairly precarious sections of riverside trail. Good walking shoes or boots were strongly recommended, as was weather appropriate clothing and drinking water as we’d be walking for three to four hours.
A right turn on the pathway from the car park led under an old railway bridge, through a narrow section dense with fern before the landscape opened out before us. A stream trickled alongside us, with crystal clear waters running down the side of the valley. Ferns and heather blanketed the ground, broken up by old stone walls and the walking trail cutting it’s way through the thick fern ahead.
The first section of our walk in Snowdonia headed up through Cwm Bychan, a valley with steep rocky slopes to both sides. As the elevation became higher, the view back toward the coast opened up. Looking down towards Porthmadog and the Dwyryd Estuary, the lush green fields of the valley floor contrasted against the rocky outcrops blanketed with pink heather and yellow gorse bushes.
Bwlch y Sygun
Heading further up Cwm Bychan towards Bwlch y Sygun, we learned that this mountain area was home to copper mines in the Victorian era. The Sygun Copper Mine and Cwm Bychan Copper mine operated in the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century, when they were closed. The Sygun mine entrance was reopened in the 1980’s as a tourist attraction, which still operates today.
Walking up the mountain, we were amazed to see that remnants of the old Cwm Bychan mining operation still exist above ground. Some pylons from the old aerial ropeway still stand in the valley – a snapshot of the history of the area. Suspended buckets of ore would be carried down the hillside on the ropeway to the point where we started our walk, where the ore would have been offloaded onto trains. It was fascinating to see these towering pylons still standing proud in the valley.
Arriving at the highest point of the walk, we climbed a stile and took some time to admire the magnificent views that spread out around us. Off to the right was one of the most remote parts of the Snowdonia National Park, with miles of wilderness stretching out ahead of us. Directly ahead Llyn Dinas led out towards the Nant Gwynant Pass. To the left, the foothills of Snowdon were visible below the blanket of cloud. Majestic and beautiful, with the undulating lines of the old stone walls creating a pattern on the mountainside. The summit of Snowdon, the highest peak in the UK at 1,085 metres, was hidden and shrouded in the low cloud.
Dinas Emrys and Beddgelert
A long series of steep steps led down to Llyn Dinas, far below. It was at this point where I was thankful that Ross had chosen the clockwise route on our circular walk in Snowdonia. The thought of climbing these steps wouldn’t have filled me with joy – a thought confirmed by the people we passed along the way, red faced and sitting down to rest halfway up.
From Llyn Dinas, the pathway levelled out and followed the Afon Glaslyn back towards Beddgelert. The route passed by Dinas Emrys and the Sygun Copper Mine before heading into the Beddgelert, one of the most popular tourist villages in Snowdonia. A bustling mountain hub full of cafes, pubs and accommodation options, the village focal point is where two rivers (Afon Colwyn and Afon Glaslyn) meet. The stone buildings and bridges are picturesque, even more so with back drop of the mountains surrounding the village.
No time to hang around though, the final section of the circular GinVentures walk in Snowdonia was coming up. Following the riverside trail from Beddgelert, we crossed the river alongside a railway bridge which carries the Welsh Highland Railway. From here, we headed down the Fisherman’s Path into the Aberglaslyn River Gorge – one of the most scenic gorge walks in Europe. Following the river, which despite being relatively low in late summer, the water was still raging in some areas, and particularly loud.
There were sections with larger calmer pools where people (and dogs) swam. The pathway through the gorge was easy to navigate for the most part, however one section was a narrow rock ledge where you had to carefully manoeuvre around the rocky outcrop. There were metal handles built into the rock face to assist, but on a damp day, the rocks were fairly slippery. The gorge walk was a fantastic and beautiful way to end the circular route. Heading towards the end of the gorge, the forest became thicker and greener. Moss covered rocks and trees made it feel almost tropical in nature.
The learning experience of a GinVentures walk in Snowdonia
There’s not been much mention of gin so far, I know, so let’s talk a little bit about the drink that’s had a stratospheric rise in popularity over the past few years. With a long British history, gin was hugely popular in centuries gone by. The drink went out of fashion in the mid twentieth century, with people leaning more towards Vodka and Whisky. Although it still remained on the shelves, it wasn’t until about ten years ago that there was a gin boom, and it became a fashionable drink again. Walk into a bar or pub nowadays and the back bar will have a large display of gins, the fridges stacked deep with a huge variety of tonics to mix.
Foraging for gin making botanicals
When discussing gin, a keyword that’s mentioned repeatedly is botanicals. The botanicals are the natural ingredients used to create the different flavour of gins. They can be made up of a combination of herbs, spices, fruits and even flowers – anything that will add flavour to the gin. The varied North Wales landscape, provides the opportunity for foraging for various botanicals used in gins produced by many local distillers. During our GinVentures walk in Snowdonia we were able to search out some of the ingredients that can potentially be used to add flavour and taste.
The key botanical used in gin is juniper. It’s the main ingredient to create the flavour. Wild juniper does grow on the hills of Snowdonia, although not in abundance required for large batches. There are, however, many other native botanicals that grow in the area that are used by local producers. The heathland of the area produces heather and gorse in huge quantities. During our walk, there were long sections where we were surrounded in swathes of fragrant purple heather, dotted with the bright yellow flowers of gorse. The flowers of both plants can be used as gin making botanicals. As well as these, bilberries, blackberries, wood sorrel and sea buckthorn are also found in region. We came across some bilberries on the walk. Very similar to blueberries, these small dark berries were rich and intense in flavour.
Natural water source
Another perfect ingredient found in the hills of North Wales is the natural spring water directly from the mountains. Our walk along the trails through Cwm Bychan followed streams that gently flowed down the hill side with crystal clear waters directly from the ground. We stopped at one point, where Ross explained about the local water sources, and took a cup full of water directly from the stream for us to taste. Given that our location was directly downstream of the copper mines, there was a slight coppery hint to the water, but it was cold, clear and refreshing.
Myths and Legends
Snowdonia is a land borne of myths, legends and folklore. As one of very few countries in the world who’s flag features a mythical creature, there’s a story behind that red dragon. There’s some Arthurian history in the area, with some of the local lakes including Llyn Dinas laying claims to contain Excalibur. The story behind the hill fort of Dinas Emrys bears reference to a magical young boy, Myrddin Emrys (Merlin?) and a battle between a red dragon and a white dragon.
We then have the legend of Beddgelert, directly translated to Gelert’s Grave. A terrible tale of a prince who mistakenly assumed his faithful dog Gelert had caused a tragedy, where in fact the story turned out to be completely the opposite. Gelert’s Grave stands to this day as a popular attraction in the area, where tourists can visit the grave and a nearby memorial.
Time for Gin Tasting
9.1km later and we arrived back at our starting point, a little weary and a little more knowledgeable about local Welsh gin ingredients. The final part of the GinVentures experience took us to a local pub, the Cwellyn Arms, to sample a local gin. There are several local producers, all of which are creating popular and interesting varieties of gin.
Aber Falls Distillery is located in the small village of Abergwyngregyn on the North Wales coast. Taking it’s name from the nearby Aber Falls, or Rhaeadr Fawr in Welsh, the distillery produces a range of whiskys, gins and liquers. The gins are produced using water from Snowdonia and botanicals foraged locally. The offer guided tours at the distillery and have a fantastic range of award winning gins including Welsh Dry Gin, a small batch Welsh Gin, and some flavoured options.
Why not take a walk to Aber Falls while you are in the area?
Other notable local Welsh gin producers are Foragers, who focus on artisan small batch gins, Snowdonia Spirit Co and Llanfairpwll Distillery, producing gin on the Isle of Anglesey using many botanicals grown on the island.
Ross recommended that we try an Aber Falls Distillery gin called Breindal Welsh Gin. An award winning gin, made from botanicals including juniper and citrus, it was smooth and easy drinking. Perfect for an afternoon drink sitting out in the beer garden, listening to the trickle of the adjacent stream passing by.
The all important information
The GinVentures Local Walk and Gin Tasting is available via Airbnb Experiences, with regular dates available to book via the website. The walk in Snowdonia takes place with a minimum of two people and a maximum of eight. Keeping the groups small adds a personal touch to the experience, were Ross or Kate are able to interact easily with the whole group, while able to maintain social distancing. We learned a lot about the production of gin during the walk, as well as finding out some fantastic nuggets of information about the local landscape and history. Ross was engaging and knowledgeable, and you might even learn a few Welsh words along the way.
The walk takes approximately three hours and there are various routes that can be taken depending on the time of year, and where it may be easy to forage for botanicals. The experience begins at the RAW Adventures office in Llanberis, where Ross and Kate can provide transport (Covid safe) to the start location from the office, or from your accommodation where applicable. One alcoholic drink (gin, obviously) is included in the price. The Airbnb Experiences focus on the local knowledge of hosts and the options to provide you with an insiders guide to the area. We found this a huge benefit when walking with Ross. It provided us with an experience that we wouldn’t have been able to replicate had we gone alone.
So, what are you waiting for?
Prices start at £49 per person, and the experience can be booked at Airbnb Experiences
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