08 August 2021

Slate Trail: the first leg

We had set off! On Saturday morning we set our first stepson the Slate Trail. And after some only hundred metres we were off the road. There was a track along the river, with stepping stones to cross it. Unfortunately, soon after that we were on a wide gravelly forest track. These are not overly scenic! And when we got off it to walk into Cwm Penmachno, we had to wrestle our way through bracken that were higher than us. Not only is that annoying at all times; it had also rained during the night so they were soaking wet! And so were we when we came out. We were both squelching in our boots. We hadn’t even left the valley yet!

We have started! Crossing the Machno
Pictures in this post by Kate and me

A few hundred metres later we left the village and started the ascent to Rhiwbach. We weren’t very fast! And just before the top we decided it was time for coffee. I had two pieces of boterkoek that I had baked the day before with me! These vanished easily. The weather was looking like rain, but nothing substantial fell. We kept ascending to Blaen y Cwm. And then we didn’t have to ascend for a bit; it is fairly flat to Manod, and from there we descended into Cwm Teigl. And the soon as we left the road, I found myself into new terrain. We ascended the side of the valley, and the views were amazing. When we reached the top we decided it was time for our first lunch. From there we followed a fence through some rather boggy terrain down to the river Gamallt. We had views into an amazing valley I had never seen before. And from there we decided to do a tiny detour and check out the Iron Age hillfort there. It was beautiful! And we met two chaps there who were admiring it as well.

Rambling mates!

Kate on the incline out of Rhiwbach

Climbing out of Cwm Teigl

Bryn Castell, the hillfort

After that we were fighting through bracken again. And we came across an abandoned house! It looked salvageable, and it’s such a waste it was clearly falling into ruin. We had a little explore, but then went on to Llyn Morwynion. There we had another break. We wrung out our socks, but we were squelching immediately afterwards again. And there was another issue; one of my ankles had started to hurt. That had happened before! With the same boots. I needed to sort this otherwise it would get really bad. But for now we kept walking.

The abandoned house 

Bracken whacking

Soon we crossed the road and descended into the gorge of Afon Cynfal. I had seen this from a distance, but never hiked through it. It is quite spectacular! And the terrain soon gets flatter and less spectacular, but still pretty. And we were starting to think of stopping for the day. Level ground was not easy to find, though! While we were looking for it we passed underneath a spectacular rail bridge. And we realised the river got rather spectacular later on again. We both figured we should get back there one day! But now we needed a place to sleep. We started scouting around. I found a field that was fairly level, and had running water in the shape of a hose continuously spouting water into a trough. There was no cattle to drink the water, though. And Kate was convinced. This was our home for the night! It took us two attempts to pitch the tent in an optimal way; we wanted to avoid one person sliding in the direction of the other one all night.

Break at Llyn Morwynion

Cwm Cynfal

Kate and huge horse

Disused rail bridge

Ceunant Cynfal

First camping spot!

When we had pitched it was time to wash. I could feel the midges taking advantage of it! But I did it anyway. And then we had dinner; my couscous meal. Fortunately, Kate was impressed. But after dinner, tea, route planning, notetaking (for this blog!) and brushing teeth we retreated into the tent to avoid being bitten. We had midge spray with us, but it was insufficiently effective. I didn’t do much; I just felt myself falling asleep, but that was fine. First day done!

The next day we were up quite early. We had breakfast in the tent as the midges were out again. I also taped up my ankle with some foam from my sitting mat. I hoped that would work! After breakfast we took the tent down really fast, and ran away. It had rained during the night so all vegetation was soaking wet, but the weather was lovely. And we headed to Llan Ffestiniog. We skirted the village, went down to the river (Teigl again), followed it for a bit, and then headed north. My ankle was holding! That was good. And between two minor roads we had a break. Snacks were eaten! And after that we headed for Blaenau Ffestiniog. We were tired already! We decided to cut off the small loop through town they had introduced. We know that place! And the route takes you past hospitality on purpose, to encourage people who walk the route to spend money in the local economy, but we had our own food and drink. So we set out again and headed for Tanygrisiau, where I was making some assumptions about the route that were wrong. The route took us over asphalt past the Lakeside CafĂ©, but as said, we had their own food and drink. So Kate didn’t mind that I accidentally sent us over scenic paths to the parking lot of Cwmorthin. She had the route on her phone, and I was just working with the map that didn’t have the route on, but I sort of memorised it before we set off every morning. And here I had misremembered! But the path I sent us onto also provided the scene for the next break. We had some view on some climbers. And the parking lot was packed!

breakfast in the tent

Llan Ffestiniog looking good

Stile on land of farmer who really doesn't want his animals to move to another field

Blaenau Ffestiniog

When we walked up to Cwmorthin we saw lots of other people on the track, but it became less and less when we approached Rhosydd. At the top we had another break as we had earned it; the sky was threatening with rain, but again didn’t deliver. Fortunately!


break at Rhosydd

From there we headed to Croesor. That part of the world is amazingly beautiful! I’m not actually sure why I am not there more often. And the sun came out again. And when we came to the actual mine we decided to stay there. From here it was downhill a fair distance, so we could just go on. You don’t need that much energy to walk down a gently sloping and comfortable path. But now we had an amazing view! We wouldn’t have that if we would come down the hill. And there was enough water coming down the hill for us to wash, drink, and cook. So we stayed.

looking back at Rhosydd

testing the ground at Croesor; flat enough for the tent? It was!

As there were still people out on the hills we didn’t immediately pitch the tent. We first took off our boots and socks, placed them in the sun to dry, and relaxed a bit. It is easy to just stare at the landscape for a long time! And it was a beautiful evening. But after a while I had a shower in the stream; it is quite hidden so even if there are later walkers they don’t see you. And then I cooked dinner: noodles this time. In my eyes not a success, as the peanut sauce wouldn’t get the correct consistency, but Kate was happy anyway. And we did the usual looking at the map and taking notes. And when it was approaching bedtime we pitched the tent. I also mended my socks; they had small holes in, and I had brought mending wool to sort that. By the time I did that they were dry! Even my boots were by then. Kate’s hadn’t yet; they are leather so that takes longer. And then I went to bed. I must have fallen asleep quite early. I woke up around midnight to go to the loo; the Milky Way was out! It was very beautiful.

drying out boots and socks

cooking dinner


The next morning Kate told me she had actually woken up at 10 PM because she had to go to the loo, and figured she was making so much noise and movement she was convinced she would wake me up. But I didn’t move a muscle! I must have been in quite deep sleep that early. That’s what you get from long days with a lot of ascent…

It was again a beautiful morning, and we enjoyed having breakfast in these stunning surroundings. After breakfast the midges came out (at around 7:30) so then we sped up our preparations. Soon we were on the move! And the walk down the valley was indeed smooth and beautiful. And the landscape beyond Croesor village is also beautiful. We had our first break there. And from there we stomped on to Beddgelert. We were looking forward to ice cream! And Kate had never done the section by the river. We saw increasing numbers of people in the river, but only at the very end we saw people on the actual path. And then we took our tired feet into town! And when we put our bags down there was no queue at the ice cream shop. Excellent! We really enjoyed the ice cream. And while I just stayed put and drank some hot water, Kate went hunting for a stamp for her Slate Trail passport, and then to the shop for some extra supplies. We had enough food, but there were some specific foodstuffs she felt like, and we also didn’t have much in the way of paracetamol. But then we were good to continue our way.

between Croesor and Beddgelert

Afon Glaslyn


We soon were out of Beddgelert, and on one of those very well maintained paths in that area. You can do them by wheelchair! Which is great, but not very scenic. And after the wheelchair paths we ended up on wide gravel roads through woodland. I don’t like these very much. My feet hurt and I was tired, and the scenery didn’t inspire me. I really wished we would get to Rhydd Du!

Unavoidable steam train

I was glad that the final few hundred metres of path to Llyn y Gader (which wasn’t on my map) was beautiful, and the causeway is too. But I needed a break, so we set down at the railway station. We discussed what we would do if we would not make it. I did not want to let the cat wait another night! So I was pondering the options of either taking a bus or phoning a friend if we would reach Llanberis and I would have too much pain in my feet to go on. It wasn’t an unthinkable situation! My feet had been bugging me every day. And it wasn’t awfully bad so far, but in the past I have let it get too far way too often, and I don’t want to do with again. It should stay fun! Kate was still too proud to give up unless there was a real emergency, but was okay with doing the last stretch on her own if needs be.

the pretty last stretch to Rhydd Du

We had planned to get another stamp in the village, but the tea room was closed so we kept walking. Soon we were back on a wide gravel road through the forest. I was struggling again! But I knew that in order to manage to do the first leg in four days, we needed to reach Nantlle that day. So I needed to keep going! And we were considering walking on after dinner in order to get as far as we could. But then the path came out of the woods, and the beautiful view of the valley opened up in front of me. And there the path became small and scenic again. I perked up! And I was okay walking down the beautiful path to the road. The paths we would walk on from the road were new to me, and I hoped they were beautiful. Unfortunately, they were wide gravel roads again! But we were almost there. When we got to a stream we put down our bags, cooled our feet in the river, and decided to have dinner there. We could either stay there, continue a little bit (we were almost at the lake), or camp somewhere in the quarry on the other side of the lake. We were not so sure of the water situation in the quarry, though. But first we had food! This time it was a Kate meal: she had macaroni cheese and I had pasta with broccoli and salmon. It was great!

where the route had become beautiful again

After dinner, Kate did a bit of a recce to see where we could pitch our tent. I looked at the map, and started my notes. When she came back she confirmed that where we were was actually the best place. It was very close to the path, though, so again we decided to both wash and pitch the tent rather late. And of course by the time we pitched it there was still one clump of dog walkers coming past, but they didn’t complain. And as soon as the tent stood I was in it. Kate was trying to stay awake until nine, as she had a bit of a habit of waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to get back to sleep. She hoped she would sleep all the way to the morning if she would delay bed time. I had been sleeping like a log every night so I had no problems with falling asleep shortly after 8 PM.

evening view from the camping spot

When I got out of the tent in the morning the sun wasn’t up yet. The valley was looking beautiful! And we know we had a long day ahead, so we were being executive. I got breakfast ready while Kate took the tent down. By 6 AM we were having our porridge. And by 7 AM we were on the move!

our tent in the morning

We first walked along the lake, then into town, and then into Dorothea quarry. I had never been there! It was high time. This is another area I should really visit again. And after a while we were up. First hill of the day conquered! We had a brief break.

distant view of Snowdon in the morning

From there it was fairly flat for a while. We walked over a causeway or railway embankment or something to Y Fron. There the village shop was already open, so Kate got another stamp. And we walked out again. From there we had several kilometres mainly through completely empty landscape, with amazing views on Mynydd Mawr. If you have a very long day to go, then paths like that are a blessing. They were a pleasure to stomp along! We had to slow down again when we descended rather steeply into Waunfawr, again through thick bracken, but that didn’t last too long. In the village we completely missed the stamping location, but by then we were quite single-minded and just wanted to get to Bethesda. So we kept walking!

impressive structures associated with Dorothea Quarry

checking the route with a view

approaching y Fron

This hill was not so bad. Before I knew it we reached the road that would get us to the pass. It was a fast road. The asphalt was awful on our feet, but at least we made rapid progress. When we reached the top really needed a break, so even though we were sitting on a parking lot we didn’t care. We had lunch there. I wasn’t hungry, and that was a little worrying, as we must have been burning calories like the clappers. I was afraid my body was going into minimalism mode. I didn’t get hungry while I was running the marathon several years ago, and I had to force myself to eat something when I realised I was getting rather light in the head. I figured I was in a state like that again.

Towards the end of our break I saw a man with a day pack walk by. I recognised him as the Dutchman who runs the Ogwen cottage youth hostel. I called his name and we had a little chat. That was nice! But I was really tired so after having spoken Dutch for a while I entered a state of language confusion and started speaking to Kate in Dutch several times.

When we started again, we knew we had a fairly smooth descent into Llanberis ahead. And we got there! We were really knackered by then. But we knew we only had one more hill to conquer. I had run out of water as I hadn’t wanted to carry more water than needed up the hill, but we hadn’t encountered suitable water coming down the hill. Kate gave me some of hers. I now had water and her bag was lighter; we both won!

There were several paragliders hanging above town, and we even saw one of them land on the grass next to the lakeside railway. We headed for the Slate Museum, where Kate would get her next stamp. We had a small break. And then we got ready for the last haul! It was about 3 PM and I knew we could do it. I also know I would have terribly sore feet by the time I would get home, and would also be knackered. But I would have reached the cat, and we could have a rest day the day after.

the National slate Museum

We had only come a few hundred metres when we met two ladies coming the other way. They were also doing the entire Slate Trail, but they were doing it in the correct direction. And they were sleeping in B&Bs, so they had a lot less luggage. They were very cheerful, and we had a nice chat. But then we went on our way! We had to gain some height through the woods, but frustratingly, we also lost some. But we came across a stream, and that cheered me up. I could fill up my water bag with fresh water again!

rusty bridge over the stream where I got some water

After a while we hit asphalt again. In Deiniolen we had another brief breather. Then we hit the little public footpath I had seen many times, but never walked. If I am at that junction I tend to be either in a car or on a bicycle! And there we met another familiar face: Martin from Welsh class. I now remembered he had told me exactly that that is where he lives. Funny he was just out of the house when we walked past! I can imagine why he wants to live there: it’s gorgeous. And in the next field along we were scrutinised curiously by some cute piglets. But we walked on. We hit the road that is my favourite road between Bethesda and Deiniolen, and the idea was that we would at some point leave it and continue for a while over footpaths, but that would mean an extra 40 m of ascent and we weren’t keen. We cheated a bit there! And that way we soon came to the junction where the road leads up to the reservoir. When we reached the gate we had our final break. We were both exhausted! My feet hurt. But we knew from there it was just the home stretch.

Kate on the home stretch

When we got walking again we just force-marched over the heathland. In the beginning we had to negotiate some swampy patches, but the second half of that path was easy. We suffered a bit when we got to Mynydd Llandygai and had to walk on asphalt for a while. The official route pretty much had asphalt all the way, but we decided to cross the river at yr Ocar and follow the path down to Felin Fawr. Almost there! When we got to Station Road we saw the neighbours; while striding past I quickly explained we were knackered and just wanted the get home. They understood! And then we reached the house! I dropped my bag, scooted into the garden to retrieve the hidden key, opened the door, let Kate in through the front door, sat down, took my shoes off, and greeted the cat. We had made it! It was close to 7 PM, and we had been walking since 7 AM, but we had made it. We had done some 32 km with full pack! Not a mean feat. The first leg was completed!

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