princes of gwynedd

Driving Tours

Route 2 - Betws-y-Coed, Llanrwst and Trefriw

Paddle Steamer at Trefriw

Paddle Steamer at Trefriw

Sarcophagus of Llewelyn Fawr

Sarcophagus of Llewelyn Fawr

St Mary’s Church, Trefriw

St Mary’s Church, Trefriw

Llanrhychwyn Church

Llanrhychwyn Church

Gwydir Castle

Gwydir Castle

St Michael’s Church Effigy

St Michael’s Church Effigy

This route takes you from Maenan Abbey, to Llanrwst to visit the sarcophagus of Llewelyn Fawr, onto a church founded by Llewelyn Fawr, and then onto Gwydir Castle where architectural details of Maenan Abbey now preside.

  • Maenan Abbey
  • Llanrwst – St Grwst's Church
  • Trefriw
    • Church of St Mary
    • Ebenezer Chapel
    • Llanrhychwyn Church
  • Gwydir Castle
  • Betws-y-Coed – St Michael's Church

Start Point: Betws-y-Coed. LL24 0BN.  Maenan Abbey LL26 0UL

Along the way: The area around Betws-y-Coed used to be much more densely forested than it is now and the people lived in dwellings called tyddyns (small croft houses) which each had a small area of pastureland cut out of the woodland (a smallholding). The ruins of a tyddyn still exist half way up a footpath leading from Betws-y-Coed to Llyn Elsi, on the footpath starting from behind St Mary's Church.


“King Edward I … founded [an abbey] at Maynan in Denbighshire about three miles distant and translated the monks thither. The founder Leweline was buried here but on the dissolution of religious houses was removed to Llanrwst. Here too according to Powel was interred AD 1200 the body of Owen Gwynedd, wrapt up in the habit of a monk, which was in those superstitious days, deemed a coat of mail, proof against the claws of Satan and all his infernal host.” [Author Unknown, believed to be 1774]

Edward I wanted to build a castle on the site of Aberconwy Abbey. If he evicted them, he would have incurred the wrath of the Pope, so he gave the monks compensation of £40 and gave them the land at Maenan together with building materials to build a new Abbey.

There is little to see now but there is a plan of excavations made in the 1960s in the hotel lobby. The cedar tree near the road is roughly in the centre of the abbey and is believed to mark the spot where Llewelyn Fawr was buried inside the Abbey. It is believed that when a great part of the buildings were taken down in 1563, a mansion was erected near the spot with the materials. A small arch is the only portion of Maenan Abbey now standing

To see parts of what are believed to have come from Maenan Abbey, visit the Gwydir Chapel of St Grwst's Church, Llanrwst (carved and fretted roof); Llanrhychwyn Church, Trefriw (church bell); and Gwydir Castle (spiral staircase and carved stonework).

Moving on: St Grwst Church, Llanrwst, is off the Town Square beyond the Almshouses. LL26 0LE

Along the way: You will be driving down the beautiful Conwy Valley which follows the route of the River Conwy. The River Conwy used to be navigable just short of Llanrwst and boats carried slate and materials from the mines down river, with cargo consisting mainly of coal, salt, and provisions being brought up stream. The main port on the river in the 19th century was Trefriw, handling some four hundred craft a year in it's hey day. The Victorians liked to take a paddle steamer from Llandudno to Trefriw to take the waters at the Roman spa.


The carved and fretted roof (and possibly the carved oak gallery) is said to have once belonged to the church of Maenan Abbey. Upon the floor lies the bottom half of the stone sarcophagus of Llewelyn Fawr (also known as Leolinus Magnus) who was interred in the abbey which he had founded at Aberconwy, then moved to Maenan, and at the dissolution, the coffin was brought to the old parish church of Llanrwst having been found in the river. The location of Llewelyn Fawr's remains is not known.

The stone effigy is of Howell Coetmore who built the first castle at Gwydir Castle and was the great-great-grandson of Dafydd ap Gruffydd,. The tablet of white marble in the east corner contains the pedigree of a member of the Wynn family who has gone to some lengths to prove his descent from the Princes of Wales.

Moving on. Take the bridge over the river; this is a single track bridge and you need to keep an eye out for on-coming traffic. When you enter the village of Trefriw, Trefriw Woollen Mill is on your left, take the road immediately opposite the Woollen Mill – there is car parking down this road.  LL27 0NQ

Along the way. The bridge over the river is believed to have been built by Inigo Jones in 1636 and is called Pont Fawr. Across the bridge is Ty Hwnt i'r Bont, a 15th Century cottage, once a courthouse and now a tea room owned by the National Trust.


Walk back up to the main road where the Woollen Mill is and turn right over the bridge. The key to St Mary's Church is available from the cafe - the Church is about 50 yards down on the left.


“He [Llewelyn Fawr] has a hunting lodge at Trefriw in the River Conwy Valley. The nearest church is at Rhychwyn, about a two-mile walk up a mountain path too steep for horses, and when Llewelyn learned Joanna was with child, he ordered a church built at Trefriw to spare her that walk” - from 'Here Be Dragons'

Trefriw church was founded in 1230 by Llewelyn Fawr and his wife, Joanna. Llewelyn Fawr and Joanna (known in Wales as Siwan) are portrayed in a stained glass window in the church. Regrettably little of the original church remains due to heavy reconstruction in the 15th and 16th Centuries.


The site of Llewelyn's court is uncertain but Trefriw was an important court of the Princes in the 12th and 13th centuries. Ebenezer Chapel (on the side road by the café in Trefriw) has been identified as one possible site of Llewelyn's llys (Royal Court) where he stayed whilst organising the erection of St Mary's Church. Other possibilities are under the present coal yard of the Fairy Falls Hotel, and to the south east of the present parish church (St Marys).

If you have time, explore also:

  • Llanrhychwyn Church - See Walk 1
    “Ahead lay Llanrhychwyn, a small, rough-hewn chapel of weathered stone, shadowed by leafy clouds, surrounded by silence. Vast, ageless yew trees blotted out the sun, sentinels of a bygone time. … It seemed to belong to a distant past, to the denizens of its dark woods, to those who slept under the high grass of its forlorn cemetery, not to the living, not to them.” - from 'The Reckoning'
    Llanrhychwyn Church was established in the 6th Century and during Llewelyn's time the village of Llanrhychwyn was larger than Trefriw. The oldest parts of the church are 13th Century although the font is believed to be 11th Century. The church bell is believed to be 14th Century and may have come from Maenan Abbey.

Moving on - LL26 0PN

Along the way: A large percentage of the trees in the Snowdonia National Park are now coniferous which have mostly been planted by the Forestry Commission for commercial purposes. The Gwydyr Forest which you are now driving through remains largely broad leaved. Species widely accepted as being truly native are mainly broadleaved, deciduous species, including birch, oak, ash, willow, as well as evergreens such as holly, yew, scots pine and juniper.


Gwydir was built originally in the 14th Century but was later destroyed; it was rebuilt around 1500. Gwydir Castle is in fact a Tudor house, not a castle in the usual sense of the word. However, the sturdy defensible core has parallels with Llewelyn Fawr's keep at Dolwyddelan Castle. When Maenan Abbey was dissolved in 1538 Gwydir Castle was enlarged using the masonry. The square turret at the rear of the Solar Tower contains a spiral staircase taken from the Abbey and many elaborately carved stones can also be seen on site.

Moving on - LL24 0AL

Along the way: As you drive into Betws-y-Coed, you will cross the river by the Pont-y-Pair bridge which translates as bridge over the bubbling cauldron. The bridge was built in the 15th Century making maximum use of the natural rock formations available.


St Michael's Church is beyond the village green behind the railway station. You can walk through the station over the bridge. If you wish to go inside the church, please ask for the key at the Tourist Information Centre which is by the village green or at the Railway Museum.

St Michael's Church. The church is a 14th century building but with a 12th century font. A magnificent limestone effigy of Gruffydd ap Dafydd Goch, the great-great grandson of Llewelyn Fawr provides the connection with the Princes of Gwynedd. The inscription “HIA MAE GRUFYD AP DAVYD GOCH MONUS DEI MISEKE M….” translates as “Here lies Gruffydd son of Dafydd the Red – Lamb of God have mercy upon me”.

This is the end of the route

Photo credits:
Paddle Steamer at Trefriw -
Sarcophagus of Llewelyn Fawr - Angela Ward.
Gwydir 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 - Maenan Abbey
C - St Grwst’s Church
D - Church of St Mary
E - Ebenezer Chapel
F - Llanrhychwyn Church
G - Gwydir Castle
H - St Michael’s Church

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.
Find out more

Route 2 - Betws-y-Coed, Llanrwst and Trefriw

A short route but perhaps the most evocative as you walk in Llewelyn Fawr’s footsteps. (You are on this page).

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

Contact Information

For more information please contact us at:

E-mail: info at princesofgwynedd dot com

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