princes of gwynedd

Driving Tours

Route 4 - Bangor, Caernarfon and Llanberis

Swallow Falls

Swallow Falls

Bangor Cathedral

Bangor Cathedral

Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle

Dolbadarn Castle

Dolbadarn Castle

This route starts at the fabulous Swallow Falls, takes you to the Cathedral in Bangor, then goes onto Caernarfon Castle where the first English Prince of Wales was born, and finally to Dolbadarn Castle in Llanberis where Owain ap Gruffydd was imprisoned for over 20 years.

  • Swallow Falls
  • Bangor - Cathedral Church of St Deiniol
  • Caernarfon Castle
  • Llanberis – Dolbadarn Castle

Start Point: Betws-y-Coed: LL24 0BN. At Swallow Falls, there is a lay-by on the right hand side of the road where you can park. LL24 0DW


“the river … surged against its banks, plummeting over the jutting rocks and turning the pool below into a seething cauldron of froth and spume, an impersonal and awesome affirmation of infinity.” - from 'Here Be Dragons'

Swallow Falls is a spectacular waterfall but the name is a mis-translation. The original name was Rhaeadr Ewynnol meaning Foaming Falls but this was mistaken for Rhaeadr-y-Wennol meaning Swallow Falls. The spirit of Sir John Wynn of Gwydir Castle is supposed to be trapped beneath the Falls for his misdeeds.

Moving on: The Cathedral is on the junction of Ffordd Sackville and Stryd Fawr/High Street. LL57 1LH

Along the way: After passing Capel Curig, the mountain range on your right is the Carneddau which are named Carnedd Llewelyn and Carnedd Dafydd. The lake on your right is Llyn Ogwen and there is a National Nature Reserve, Cwm Idwal, on your left. To allow the natural flora to grow, sheep are kept out of the nature reserve; in season, you will see purple heather, purple saxifrage, moss campion and mountain sorrel.


“… [John's army] dragged the Bishop from the High Altar, brought him back a prisoner to John's camp by the Conwy. But before they did, they set fire to the cathedral church, burned every house in Bangor to the ground.” - from 'Here Be Dragons'

“The cathedral church … is a handsome cruciform and embattled structure … with a low massive square embattled tower at the west end, crowned with pinnacles …” [From: Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Wales 1845]

The cathedral was founded circa 525 which makes it older than Canterbury Cathedral. The cathedral was destroyed by King John's men in 1211 but was later rebuilt, the South Transept around 1275 and the North Transept around 1300.

The present internal arrangement, which is due to it being used as a parish church, differs materially from that of cathedrals in general. The tomb of Grufydd ab Cynan, King of North Wales, is on the left side of the altar and under an arch at the south end of the transept is the effigy in stone of his successor, Owain Gwynedd, the grandfather of Llewelyn Fawr.

Moving on: When you get to Caernarfon, there are lots of car parks and the Castle should be easy to find. LL55 2AY

Along the way: The Menai Strait is on your right which separates the mainland from the Isle of Anglesey. It is a narrow stretch of shallow tidal water about 14 miles long. The tide flows into the Strait from both ends at different times causing very strong currents and creating dangerous conditions. Between the two bridges is one of the most dangerous areas of the strait known as the Swellies (or Swillies – Welsh Pwll Ceris); the rocks near the surface cause local whirlpools and turbulent surface water. Entering the strait at the Caernarfon end is hazardous because of the frequently shifting sand banks that make up Caernarfon bar.


“Llewelyn has palaces at Aber, at Aberffraw on the Isle of Môn, at Caer yn Arfon, has palaces and hunting lodges scattered through the Eryri Mountains - from 'Here Be Dragons'

“This splendid fortress, which for its extent and architectural beauty was the admiration of the country, and of which the remains strikingly display its original grandeur and magnificence, occupies the summit of a compact schistose rock, boldly projecting into the bay of Carnarvon, and bounded on one side by the Menai, on another by the estuary of the Seiont, and on the third, and partly on the fourth, by a creek, or inlet, from the strait.” [From: Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Wales 1849]

The present Castle was begun by Edward I in 1283 and is believed to be on the site of Llewelyn Fawr's castle. However, the site had a major impact on Wales as the Welsh chieftains firmly refused to yield obedience to Edward I as sovereign unless he would consent to reside in Wales, or to any other person who was not a native of their country. Edward therefore ordered his wife Eleanor to Caernarfon Castle and when she arrived at the castle she had a son. This prince was presented to the Welsh chieftains as their future sovereign by his father who said ‘Ich Dien' (‘Eich Dyn') “this is your man” which is the motto of the Prince of Wales to this day.

Moving on: Arriving in Llanberis, go past Electric Mountain (LL55 4UR) and at the roundabout take the first exit – this is the closest car park to the Castle. From the car park, cross the road and take the footpath opposite for the Castle.

Along the way: Just before you enter Llanberis, about a mile to the north, there is another llys. Unfortunately this one is not accessible because it's on private land but Llys Dinorwig is said to have been built by Llewelyn the Last. There is very little of it left standing and very little is known about it.


“Situated on a rocky knoll eighty feet above Llyn Padarn, Dolbadarn Castle commanded the route from Caer yn Arfon to the Conwy Valley … the two storey keep … mountains mirrored in the deep blue depths of a snow-fed lake.” - from 'Here Be Dragons'

Dolbadarn Castle's strategic position meant that a garrison could blockade movement through the pass which was (and still is) a main link through North Wales. The main entrance would have been at first floor level, with the ground floor only accessible through a trapdoor. In 1255, there was a battle between three brothers, Owain ap Gruffydd and Dafydd ap Gruffydd on the one side and Llewelyn the Last on the other. Llewelyn won and imprisoned his older brother Owain for 22 years. It is believed Owain was imprisoned in Dolbadarn Castle but he was kept in relative comfort on the second floor rather than in the windowless ground floor. There are two tales about what happened to Dafydd; in one he managed to flee and in the other he was captured but was forgiven after a year! Dolbadarn Castle is supposed to be the fortress anciently called the ‘castle of Bere', which was provided by Davydd ab Gruffydd with a strong garrison for its defence against the English forces, but the Welsh were so disheartened by the death of their late prince, that even this castle was surrendered to the king. Dolbadarn/castle of Bere should not be confused with Castell y Bere in the Dysynni Valley which protected the southern border of Gwynedd.

To complete the route, please return to the start point in Betws-y-Coed LL24 0BN.

Along the way: There are over 100 lakes of over 1 acre in size within the Snowdonia National Park. The two lakes in Llanberis are Llyn Padarn and Llyn Peris. Both Llyn Padarn and Llyn Peris are moraine-dammed lakes; a moraine is a pile of rock and sediment left behind when glaciers melted which formed a dam and created a long slim lake often called a ribbon lake. Llyn Peris is now used as the lower reservoir for the hydro-electric plant at Dinorwig.

Photo credits:
Swallow Falls, Caernarfon Castle and Dolbadarn 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 - Swallow Falls
C - Bangor - Cathedral Church of St Deiniol
D - Caernarfon
E - Dolbadarn Castle

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.
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. (You are on this page).

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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