In May I took Steve to the Snowdonia National Park in Wales for his birthday. It was one of those birthday presents that ends up being as much of a present for yourself, as it is for the other person (the best kind!).
Hiking has been a fast growing passion over the last couple of years for me, and after I went to the Dolomites for work last year, i’ve had mountains on my mind. Since then, I’ve wanted to do a mountaineering course so that I could feel more confident walking safely in the mountains.
We were planning a French road trip at the end of summer and i’d found a beautiful National Park near where we were staying with stunning mountain scenery. So I really wanted to fit in a course before we went so we could go hiking there and feel confident enough to enjoy it.
Snowdonia was on both of our travel wish-lists anyway, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to see beautiful Wales and try something new. I don’t think a mountaineering course was on Steve’s wish-list so much, but he was a willing participant and I think he may have even enjoyed it!
Introduction to Hill Skills
Being novice hill hikers and not really feeling confident in finding our way around a mountain, I booked with Expedition Guide (run by Rob Johnson) for 2 days worth of private guiding. Having worked with Rob to produce some blogs for Simply Hike back when I was working for them, he was my go to guy.
However, the man himself was already booked on our trip dates, so he introduced us to his friend Huw Gilbert who was to be our guide. (Huw has his own guiding business – Climb Mountains)
Arriving in Wales
On the first day, we stayed at Can-y-Afon with the lovely Sandra and her husband, at their home/B&B in Capel Curig in the Snowdonia National Park. We sat with them in their garden for a cup of tea and a chat. They told us all about their amazing lifestyle here in Snowdonia where they breed Welsh Ponies and run their little farm.
We then went for a drive to explore the area and have dinner before an early night. We only stayed there one night as the hostel we picked originally was booked up on our first night, so we only needed to stay somewhere else for one night.
It was a shame to leave as our hosts were so lovely and welcoming. It was a bit like staying with family – their home was beautiful and cosy. So the next night we would stay at the Plas Curig Hostel.
Moel Siabod – Our first full hillwalk and summit
The next day, after a home cooked breakfast from Sandra, Huw met us at the Moel Siabod Cafe next to our Hostel and took us on a hike up Moel Siabod.
I found the ascent pretty tough, coming from Kent you don’t really get used to climbing mountains (that’s my excuse anyway). Once we were up there, we were rewarded with amazing views before heading into cloud and touching the summit cairn.
Huw taught us some map reading and navigation skills and we used these to help us find our way to the summit. We scrambled up a ridge to the top, which if i’m honest I found absolutely terrifying – despite the fact that it was an easy scramble. It was pushing me out of my comfort zone though and that’s exactly what I signed up for.
It was good for me to face my fears, as we headed into the cloud – i’ve been quite anxious about foggy weather for quite a while and I always get uneasy if I have to drive in it. Turns out it’s even scarier on a mountain top, where you feel like you’re going to be sucked into the void below. But I got through it and I have grown in confidence massively as a result.
The journey down was much easier for me. Though Steve found it a little rough on the knees. Afterwards we were both completely knackered, so we went to eat in a restaurant and then headed straight to bed before it was even dark.
Y Garn – Our second mountain summit
Y Garn was the next mountain we tackled together on our third day in Wales, our legs already aching from the day before. The journey up was very different from Moel Siabod, a lot rockier but more beautiful; with views down over the lakes at the bottom.
As we hiked Huw taught us about the mountain flora and the history of the area. Steve had developed a bit of man crush by this point, we were both impressed by the depth of his knowledge and the relaxed and calm way he guided us to the summit, even when I was getting a little panicky.
It was a steep slow climb through the cloud to the summit. When I got to the top I felt a bit disorientated by the cloud and felt like I would be sucked of the edge. As we sat for a rest, the nothingness below gave me a vertigo-like feeling and I struggled to relax.
Once we were on the move I felt fine and started to enjoy it again. At one point we could hear the rumble of army jets flying below us which was pretty cool. I imagine that on a clear day, seeing them from above would be pretty amazing.
This was to be our last day with Huw but we still had a day and half to explore by ourselves. Two first mountains in two days was pretty tiring but we did hope to be able to complete another hill walk during our trip, having gained some confidence and map skills.
Snowdon – almost
I guess it wouldn’t be a trip to Snowdonia without going to Snowdon, so on the third day we started to hike up the Llanberis Path. This is the ‘easy’ ‘tourist’ route to the summit. We’d liked the sound of the PYG trail but the Pen-y-Pass car park was full, so we managed to get parked near the start of the Lllanberis path instead.
We only got half way as the forecast that day had looked really poor in the afternoon. So we knew that we should turn back before the weather turned. Our legs were pretty sore by this point anyway after the previous days. We made it back just in time before the heavens opened. However it was nice to get a feel for this beautiful mountain.
It’s true what they say, you really will see people wearing heels and all sorts of ridiculous inappropriate clothing walking up the path. We saw families whose children were not even wearing coats and I didn’t see any backpacks for coats to be stowed in either. Steve and I looked the most out of place wearing our hiking boots and waterproofs!
We drove to Anglesey in the afternoon in the grey wet weather. This turned out to be pointless, as visibility was so poor we didn’t get to see much of the island at all. We soon came back and ate at what we now think is the best restaurant in Betws-y-Coed, ‘Bistro Betws-y-Coed‘. Here I tried pigeon for the first time – which turned out to be just as good as steak!
Snowdon – the easy way
On our last morning we did something a little more Steve friendly and we went on the Snowdon Mountain Railway Steve is a big train enthusiast so there had to be trains involved somewhere. I thought that a trip on the mountain railway would be a perfect birthday treat.
We took the train to the Snowdon Summit, taking about hour to get to the top. It was nice to sit back, enjoy the views and rest our weary legs. However we had made the mistake of walking alongside the same track the day before, so the views hadn’t changed much in 24 hours!
Luckily when we got to the top the cloud cleared briefly so we could see some lovely views across Snowdonia. I’m glad we saw the summit of Snowdon but it definitely wasn’t my favourite mountain of the trip. It was very commercial especially as there was a restaurant/café at the top and lots of crowds. I wouldn’t mind climbing it again from a different trail, but for the journey, not the summit.
After the train trip it was time to leave this beautiful place, after we had both truly fell in love with it. All I kept thinking was – when places like this exist in the UK, why do people choose to live anywhere else?
It’s a good job they do, but you get my point…
For two days private guiding with Huw in Snowdonia it was £450. If you get a group together you can split the cost of this to make it a little more bank balance friendly. For me it was worth every penny, as now we feel confident enough to build on our skills and explore the mountains ourselves.
I really recommend both places we stayed for accommodation and the Bistro in Betws-y-Coed for amazing food. Comment below if you’re planning a similar Snowdonia trip and have any questions and I will do my best to help.