Bangor to Blaenau Ffestiniog
Journey down the coast before heading inland to the mountains
Follow the route - Bangor to Blaenau Ffestiniog
> From Bangor drive along the A5 for 3 miles (5km) to Menai Bridge.
Visiting Menai Bridge
Menai Bridge takes its name from the suspension bridge built by Telford between 1819 and 1826 high above the Menai Strait. Nowadays, traffic on the busy A5 uses Stephenson’s Britannia Bridge, whose original tubular structure was rebuilt after a fire in 1970, with a road deck above the railway.
From a lay-by on the A545 beyond Menai Bridge, there are superb views of both bridges, with the mountains of Snowdonia beyond. In Menai Bridge itself is the Oriel Tegfryn Gallery, which features the work of contemporary Welsh artists.
Places to stay near Bangor and the Menai Bridge
> Continue on the A5, leaving to join the A55, recross the Menai Strait on the Britannia Bridge, then on to the A487 to Caernarfon.
The airport south of Caenarfon is a great all-weather attraction. It used to be an RAF camp during World War II, and is now a hands-on museum, where you can climb into exhibits, touch the controls and use a flight simulator. You can also have a flight over Caernarfon Castle or round Snowdon. In 1969, Prince Charles was invested in the castle, following a tradition set by Edward I, whose first-born son was presented to the people as the Prince of Wales. Inside the castle you can see the investiture robes, and an explanation of the history of the castle and surrounding area, as well as the Museum of the Royal Welch Fusiliers.
Just outside the town, at Segontium, are the remains of a fine Roman fort which served as an important outpost of the Empire for three centuries.
Places to stay in Caernarfon
> Take the A4086 eastwards and turn on to an unclassified road to Llanrug.
The lived-in castle at Bryn Bras, to the south of Llanrug, has spacious lawns, tranquil woodland walks and excellent mountain views. This neo-Norman building on the fringe of Snowdonia was built in the 1830s on the site of an earlier castle, and the majestic gardens are worth visiting in their own right.
Places to stay in Llanrug
> Return to and continue along the A4086 to Llanberis.
At Llanberis you can take a 60-minute trip in a narrow-gauge train along the shores of Llyn Padarn, in the Padarn Country Park. The famed modern pump storage hydro scheme is close by at Dinorwig.
Dolbadarn Castle is in the town, and less than a mile (1.6km) from the High Street is Ceunant Mawr, one of the most impressive waterfalls in Wales. The most popular footpath up Snowdon starts here, as does the Snowdon Mountain Railway, the only public rack-and-pinion railway, which climbs 3,000 feet (915m) to the summit in less than 5 miles (8km). Each train can take a maximum of 59 passengers and will normally not run with fewer than 25. Services depend on demand and weather conditions, which can be very harsh at the top of Snowdon, even when Llanberis is pleasant and sunny. The views can be superb.
Places to stay in Llanberis
> Leave on the A4086, then turn right on to the A498 for 14 miles (23km) to Beddgelert.
The grave of Gelert is one of the saddest memorials you are likely to see. According to legend, which may actually be a 19th-century invention, Gelert was a faithful wolfhound killed by Prince Llywelyn, who thought it had killed his son, when in fact the dog had saved him from a wolf. Just outside this small town is the award-winning Sygun Copper Mine, where you can explore the tunnels of a 19th-century mine which was once one of the world’s major copper producers. A guided tour will take you past veins of ore containing gold, silver and other metals. From Beddgelert the drive takes you through the picturesque Pass of Aberglaslyn.
> Follow the A498 southwards to Porthmadog.
Porthmadog was the creation of William Alexander Madocks, who hoped to benefit from the tourist traffic to Ireland; in fact, the town made its money from slate. The Ffestiniog Railway, which runs through magnificent scenery to Blaenau Ffestiniog, once carried the slate here to be shipped abroad, and is now a major tourist attraction. It uses horseshoe bends and a complete spiral at one point to gain height. Porthmadog also has the little Welsh Highland Railway, where you have the chance to climb on the locomotives.
Places to stay in Porthmadog
> Leave Porthmadog on the A487 before turning right at Minffordd on to an unclassified road to Portmeirion.
This Italianate garden village, surrounded by woods and beaches, was created by the Welsh architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. It was used as the setting for the 1960s cult television series The Prisoner, and a distinctive range of colourful pottery originates from here.
Places to stay near Portmeirion
> Return to and take the A487 eastwards, turning left on to the A496 at Maentwrog. Shortly turn right on to the B4391, which joins the A470 at Llan Ffestiniog. Turn left on to the A470 and continue to Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Visiting Blaenau Ffestiniog
Blaenau Ffestiniog depended for its livelihood on slate quarries, until demand for slate fell away. Now visitors can get first-hand experience of the slate miners’ working conditions at the Llechwedd Slate Caverns, where the Deep Mine tour will take you down on Britain’s steepest passenger incline. The Miners’ Tramway is a guided rail tour of an 1846 route, through a chain of enormous caverns first opened to the public in 1972. A modern industry is established at Tan-y-grisiau, where hydroelectricity is produced in a pumped storage scheme. Drive up the mountain road to the Stwlan Dam for the remarkable view along the Vale of Ffestiniog. The Ffestiniog Railway runs through 13 1⁄2 scenic miles (22km) to Porthmadog, and the more energetic can join a mountain bike trail from Trawsfynydd Holiday Village.