A North Wales walk complete with wild swim + dramatic valley views - Halen Môn

A North Wales walk complete with wild swim + dramatic valley views

by | Apr 11, 2024

North Wales is known worldwide for its outstanding walks, lakes, and vistas, with an incredible combination of mountains, rivers and sea.

Emma Marshall has written a love letter to Eryri (Snowdonia) in her beautiful recent book,  ‘Wild Swimming Walks , which plans 28 different lake, river and waterfall days out. She has very kindly agreed to share an extract with us below:

Nant Ffrancon & Afon Ogwen Circular

Explore one of Wales’ most dramatic valleys and swim in a deep and velvety river under the towering Glyderau and Carneddau mountain ranges.

The Nant Ffrancon Valley is possibly the most beautiful and dramatic valley in Wales, and I have loved it for as long as I can remember. My earliest memory of it is looking through a car window on a journey to somewhere else, aged about four, and seeing these spectacular folds of velvet green, flecked with white dots of sheep. This landscape still takes my breath away, and it was here that I brought my younger son a day before the COVID-19 travel lockdowns eased in 2020, as we wanted one last chance to have it to ourselves; such an honour.  

The route begins at Braich Melyn, just south of Bethesda, on a path leading up through lush green, rock-strewn woodland. The conifers soon give way to gnarly, moss-laden oaks and the way ahead opens out dramatically onto the hillside, which is a riot of yellow and purple when the gorse and heather are in full bloom. You’ll marvel at the stunning views down into Nant Ffrancon below and find yourself reaching for your camera.  

The highest point on this walk is the hilltop, Cefn yr Orsedd, meaning ‘the back or ridge of the throne’ and this viewpoint certainly is a majestic setting for a mountain-top sit-down. I remember a family picnic up here: we sat on rocks, rather than a throne, watching a ribbon of thin cloud drift lazily along the mountains on the opposite side of the valley. 

A mesmerising sight! Bringing you back down to earth, the going can be a bit rough and boggy for a while along the top. It’s generally a good idea have spare, dry socks in your rucksack in Eryri! 

The gob-smacking views continue as you descend Llwybr Yr Offeiriad (‘The Priests’ Path’), so-named because the route was used by priests as part of a longer route over the mountains linking many now long-gone churches. It’s a good clear path, which heads diagonally downhill to the A5.

The route now crosses fields to reach the Afon Ogwen. There is an inviting place to swim here, beneath a bridge.The section of the Afon Ogwen here is deep and slow moving, and swimming upstream towards the magnificent Glyderau is a thrilling experience. Glyder Fawr, Glyder Fach, Y Garn and Pen yr Ole Wen stand sentinel over the Nant Ffrancon Valley, towering ahead as you swim in the velvety water.  

After a refreshing dip, the walk continues along a quiet, open-sided lane and, further along, the route edges what was once the world’s largest slate quarry, Penrhyn Quarry. At its peak at the end of the 19th century, Penrhyn slate roofed buildings on nearly every continent. It was said that ‘Wales roofed the world!’ 

The grande finale of the walk is the second swim spot. Ogwen Bank Pool is dubbed, fondly and humorously, Lan Môr ‘Pesda, which means ‘Bethesda’s sea-side’, due to the fact that during hot weather, people flock to its banks with their towels, picnics and inflatables. Floating on your back in this sizeable pool, surrounded by birch, oak and the mountains beyond, is a wonderful way to end a day.”

Diolch yn fawr once again to Emma Marshall for sharing. Find her new book ‘Wild Swimming Walks here.


Your basket