Route 1 - Betws-y-Coed to Abergwyngregyn
Grave marker at St Benedict’s Church
This route takes you from Deganwy Castle, where many of the battles between the English and the Welsh were fought, and to Conwy Castle built by Edward I following Llewelyn the Last's defeat. You then pass over the Sychnant Pass, an ancient route connecting Conwy to Abergwyngregyn, to visit the site of the llys and Castle at Aber, which was the residence of the Princes of Gwynedd from Llewelyn Fawr to his grandson, Llewelyn ap Gruffydd (Llewelyn the Last). And lastly a walk to the spectacular Aber Falls.
Rowen - Pass of the Two Stones
Statue of Llewelyn Fawr
St Benedict's Church
The Sychnant Pass
Pen-y-Mwd, Castle and Ty Hir
Hafod Garth Celyn and Bera Mountains
Start Point: Betws-y-Coed LL24 0BN
Note: When you leave the B5106, the road becomes a SINGLE TRACK road onto the moors. [If you want to bypass Rowen, stay on the B5106 which takes you to Conwy.]
Along the way: A few miles outside Betws-y-Coed, you will drive past Cwmllannerch (also known as Comlannergh, Cwn-lanerch). Llewelyn Fawr's Seneschal, Ednyfed Fychan c. 1215-1246, was rewarded for his political and military services to Llewelyn Fawr by the concession that they should hold their lands free from all dues and services other than military service in time of war (i.e. they didn't have to pay any tax!). Ednyfed's descendants were found in Cwmllannerch amongst others but forfeited much of their land to the English King in the 14th Century for revolting.
ROWEN - PASS OF THE TWO STONES
The Pass of the Two Stones was originally formed by the Romans but continued in use up to the 18th Century when it was used as a drovers' road from London to Anglesey. The route crossed the River Conwy at Tal-y-Cafn, passing through Rowen and followed the road called Bwlch-y-Ddaufaen or The Pass of the Two Stones, the highest point being marked by two standing stones. The path leads directly to Abergwyngregyn, the site of Llewelyn Fawr's palace.
From the car park, follow the path on foot to explore the standing stones which mark the ancient pass and enjoy the view. You will also walk past a Cairn and there is a stone circle (check an Ordnance Survey map to find these).
Moving on: Again some of the road is a NARROW SINGLE TRACK ROAD and QUITE ROUGH. [If you wish to avoid this rough road, simply drive straight on and you will come back out by Y Bedol where you should turn left.]
Along the way: In the past rearing cattle and goats was more popular and before the Cistercian Abbeys arrived in the 12th and 13th Centuries, there is little evidence that sheep were important in the Welsh economy. With the Enclosure Acts of the late 18th Century, sheep became the predominant livestock. In earlier times the Welsh farmer had 2 homes: the winter farm-house (hendre) in the lowlands and the family and herds travelled in May to their summer-house (hafod) in the mountains.
Moving on: When you park on Maes-y-Castell, there is a green ahead of you – park here somewhere. There is a sign posted footpath between two of the houses on the other side of the green. The footpaths to the Castle can be quite muddy. LL30 1NG
DEGANWY CASTLE (also known as Gannoc Castle)
“… Edward moved west along the coast to the ruins of Deganwy Castle, razed to the ground by Llewelyn in more auspicious days.” - from 'The Reckoning'
“The advantages afforded to the English invaders of North Wales by the castle of Deganwy were of incalculable importance. Situated on the coast, it was open to receive continual supplies; commanding one of the principal passes into the country of Snowdon, across the estuary of the Conway, its numerous garrison was enabled to cut off the excursive parties of the Welsh; and being likewise a place of great strength, both in situation and structure, it afforded to the English a secure retreat upon any disaster. But the strength of the fortress did not suffice to prevent its being taken and finally destroyed in the year 1260, by the Welsh prince Llewelyn; and it appears to have been never subsequently rebuilt.” [From: Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Wales (1849)].
A building has been on the site since the Sixth Century. Llewelyn Fawr took the site in 1213 and rebuilt the castle and later imprisoned one of his sons here. After Llewelyn's death in 1240, his sons demolished the castle in anticipation of the English advance. The castle was re-built on the site by Henry III during a period when the castle was under constant attack by the Welsh and the English soldiers suffered great discomfort from lack of provisions.
The castle was destroyed by Llewelyn the Last in 1263. It is believed some of the stone was used to build Conwy Castle. The ruins visible today are mainly of Henry III's castle. The plateau and hills of Deganwy are atmospheric, and the views of the Conwy Estuary and Snowdon extensive. To walk up to the plateau, head for the stone pillar between two hills where there is a footpath which winds round the larger hill to take you to the top – again this path can be quite muddy. Afterwards walk round to the seaward side of the large hill to see the remaining castle walls.
Moving on: In Conwy, the easiest place to park is the big car park on Llanrwst Road. From Deganwy, go over the bridge over the river and pass through the castle wall. LL32 8LD
Along the way: When you cross the river in Conwy, you will pass over a bridge. There are actually three bridges here running alongside each other. The centre bridge was built by Thomas Telford finished in 1826 and is a gravity anchored, chain suspension bridge. The deck and chain are cast iron. Conwy Tubular Bridge, on the far side, was built by Robert Stephenson to carry the railway across the estuary - it was officially opened in 1849. The road bridge was completed in 1958.
CONWY - CONWY CASTLE
“The English King wanted to build a great castle on the west bank of the River Conwy … but the site he had in mind was already taken – by Aberconwy Abbey. And so he meant to move it – the entire monastery – seven miles south to Maenan. The first construction order had been issued that past March  … he'd secured the consent of the Cistercian chapter-general. The abbey was overrun with English …” - from 'The Reckoning'
“This castle, the beauty and magnificence of which are probably unrivalled, forms a noble picture …”…[From Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Wales 1845]
Conwy Castle was constructed between 1283 and 1287 by Edward I as one of the key fortresses in his ‘iron ring' of castles to contain the Welsh rebellion. The soaring curtain walls and eight huge round towers give the castle an intimidating presence. Edward then fortified the town with embattled walls; twelve feet in thickness and they are about one and a quarter miles in circumference. The town walls can be walked and are guarded by 21 towers and 3 double towered gateways. Tower 16 is known as Llywelyn's Tower; originally there was a neighbouring building known as Llywelyn's Hall which was built into the Town Wall but it was dismantled circa 1316 and the stone used in the construction of Caernarfon Castle.
For Conwy Church, take the road by the side of the British Legion, the entrance to St Mary's Church is a short distance down – the key is kept at the Vicarage, which is the house that fronts onto the church. Afterwards, walk up to the town square to see the statue of Llewelyn Fawr on a plinth.
“King Edward on removing this Abbey to Maynan left the monks all their lands and privileges, and preserved to them the presentation of their conventual church at Conway, now made parochial, provided they found two able and worthy Englishmen as chaplains, and a third, a Welshman, for the benefit of those who did not understand English. One of the English was to be perpetual vicar, to be named by the convent on every vacancy, and presented by the diocesan.” [Author unknown, believed to be 1774]
The abbey church of Aberconwy Abbey is now a parish church; St Mary & All Saints Church. Llewelyn Fawr granted land to Aberconwy Abbey in 1198 soon after he became ruler of Gwynedd and the Abbey was a depository for Welsh national records and a mausoleum for native princes. Llewelyn Fawr died at the Abbey in 1240 and he was buried there. His sons Davydd ap Llewelyn and Gruffydd ap Llewelyn were also later buried at the Abbey. In 1283 Edward I obliged the Abbey to move down to Maenan. There is a leaflet in the church with historical information. If the church is locked, the key can be obtained from the Vicarage.
If you have time, explore:
St Benedicts Church, Henryd Road, Gyffin – LL32 8HW - The Church of St Benedict was built by the monks of Aberconwy as a church for the villagers whilst St Mary & All Saints Church in Conwy was intended for the monks. St Benedicts has a memorial stone in the porch which reads: HIC IA[CE]T LYWELY [A]P IOR[…] which translates as ‘Here lies Lywelyn ap Iorwerth'. It is known that Llewelyn Fawr was buried originally at Aberconwy Abbey but how did the headstone end up at Gyffin?
To get to the church from the Llanrwst Road car park, walk down the road away from the Castle, past the school, until you get to a sharp bend in the road. Henryd Road is the road immediately ahead of you. (If you wish to enter the Church, you will need to make arrangements with the key holder beforehand.)
THE SYCHNANT PASS
“an alpine trail of truly treacherous dimensions, so narrow no two horses could ride abreast, so close to the cliff that Joanna could hear the pounding of surf against the rocks below. The pass of Penmaenmawr … Welsh for' end of the large stone'” - from 'Here Be Dragons'
For people wishing to get from Conwy to Penmaenmawr and beyond, there was a route along the sands but when the tide was in, the route was unsafe around Penmaenbach, which was why the Sychnant Pass was developed. The route took longer but was passable even in bad weather. This is the route Llewelyn Fawr would have taken to reach his palace at Abergwyngregyn. There are car parks along the way where you can stop to enjoy the view.
Sychnant means dry stream. From the Sychnant Pass Road, after climbing the steep hill, there is a turning on the right which leads down into Dwygyfylchi and past the church – this is the old road. However, if you stay on the Sychnant Pass Road, you come to the village of Capelulo (Chapel of St Ulo) which was founded in the early medieval period.
Moving on: To get to Abergwyngregyn, you will need to join the A55 and look out for the sign for the village. When you leave the A55, turn immediate left where there is a free sign-posted car park. From here, you can either walk to each of the places mentioned or continue onto the various other car parks. LL33 0LD
“Ellen loved their times at Aber. She loved to walk upon the beach and gaze across the strait towards Llanfaes. She loved to follow the shallow, meandering river that flowed through a deeply wooded glen, and she loved to watch for that flash of silver amidst the trees ahead, anticipating her first glimpse of the surging waterfall that splashed over a sheer cliff in a narrow ribbon of white water. She loved lying beside Llewelyn at night in the same chamber where Joanna had once slept with her Llewelyn. Aber was the heart of her husband's realm; it was here that she felt the pull of the past most strongly, and she never came back to Abergwyngregyn – musical Mouth of the Whiteshell River – without feeling as if she were coming home.” - from 'The Reckoning'
“This place was anciently the residence of the native Princes of North Wales, of whom Llewelyn the Great erected, on an artificial mount, called the Mwd, near the village, a strong castle, to defend the pass … Llewelyn Ab Gruffydd, the last of the British Princes, made this his principal residence.” [From Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Wales 1845]
There are various sites to visit at Abergwyngregyn but firstly it may be beneficial to understand why they picked this spot. Follow the road which goes beneath the A55 which points directly towards the sea – there is a car park at the end. Looking across the Menai Strait, you will see Beaumaris in front of you and there are mud and sand banks in-between. These sand banks called Treath Lafan or the Lavan Sands are how they crossed over to Anglesey in medieval times but are unpassable now.
Walk back to the village and find the chapel – opposite the chapel, behind the houses, there is an earth mound with a flat top called Pen-y-Mwd. This is the site of Abergwyngregyn Castle which was an earthwork motte, which incorporated some rough stonework. This large conical flat-topped mound is constructed from river boulders.
In the field at the base of Pen-y-Mwd archaeologists have discovered the site of Llewelyn Fawr's llys of Aber with its domestic and administrative buildings. Llewelyn Fawr built a royal home known as Ty Hir (the Long House) and Abergwyngregyn was the seat of the royal court presided over by Llewelyn Fawr.
An alternative claim to be the site of Llewelyn Fawr's llys has been made by Pen-y-Bryn which is the house on the hill behind Pen-y-Mwd. Archaeologists believe that Pen-y-Bryn may have been the site of the home farm of the demesne of Aber but they haven't been able to prove it yet.
Following the road up through the village, on your left there is a wooded hill and at the top is Maes y Gaer, a pre-Roman defensive enclosure. I've had trouble confirming it but this could be Wern Grogedig, the hill where Llewelyn Fawr hanged William de Breos for the supposed corruption of his wife's fidelity.
From: The Oxford History of England, The Thirteenth Century 1216-1307, Second Edition, Sir Maurice Powicke: “William [de Breos]'s mother was Reginald's first wife, Graeca, the daughter of William Brewer. In some genealogical tables he is made the son of Reginald and Gwladus Ddu, and so the paramour of his grandmother …”
Another interesting aspect is Garth Celyn. Aber Garth Celyn is the old name for Abergwyngregyn which has fallen out of use but there is a place called Hafod Garth Celyn inland. To reach it, follow the road up through the village and at the fork, turn left over the bridge and keep left – there is a car park at the end. The site of Hafod Garth Celyn is hidden up in the hills and it is believed that this site was used by the Princes of Gwynedd as a shelter from enemies.
If you have time, explore also:
Aber Falls – See Walk 3
“Rhaeadr Fawr was well worth the walk. It had none of the wild surging power of Rhaeadr Ewynnol, but there was a stark elegance, none the less, in that narrow ribbon of white water” - from 'Here Be Dragons'
To complete the route, please return to the start point in Betws-y-Coed. LL24 0BN
Along the way: As you drive through the mountains, the Snowdon Massive (mountain range) is on your right and The Carneddau range (including Carnedd Llewelyn and Carnedd Dafydd) are on your left. Watch out for the Snowdon Goats. The Snowdon Goats are wild goats that have roamed the area for nearly 10,000 years. Goats used to be used for their meat, hair, horn, hoof and milk.
Conwy Castle - Copyright Pierino Algieri.
The location of the main points of interest are shown below. Use the 'Satellite' button to get an overhead photo of the locations (best if zoomed in first).
A - Betws-y-Coed
B - Rowen
C - Deganwy Castle
D - Conwy Castle
E - Conwy Church
F - St Benedict’s Church
G - Sychnant Pass
H - Traeth Sands
I - Abergwyngregyn
J - Maes-y-Gaer
K - Hafod Garth Celyn
L - Aber Falls
Get Directions from Googlemap
Get route directions from Googlemap
List of all Driving Tours
Route 1 - Betws-y-Coed to Abergwyngregyn
Visit possibly the finest medieval fortifications in Britain at Conwy Castle and the home village of the Princes of Gwynedd at Abergwyngregyn. (You are on this page).
Route 2 - Betws-y-Coed, Llanrwst and Trefriw
A short route but perhaps the most evocative as you walk in Llewelyn Fawr’s footsteps.
Find out more
Route 3 - Anglesey
Visit the bread basket of North Wales with its atmospheric churches and the World Heritage site at Beaumaris Castle.
Find out more
Route 4 - Bangor, Caernarfon and Llanberis
From natural history at Swallow Falls to man-made history at Caernarfon Castle and Bangor Cathedral.
Find out more
Route 5 - Beddgelert, Criccieth and Dolwyddelan
Castles galore, including reputedly Llewelyn Fawr’s favourite at Dolwyddelan.
Find out more
Route 6 - North-East Wales
Let history speak to you as you explore the grim past of Rhuddlan castle.
Find out more
Content is copyright Betws-y-Coed & District Tourism Association, Betws-y-Coed, Snowdonia, North Wales, UK