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Harlech and Llanfair Walk

This article describes a circular walk that can be carried out in and around Harlech in North Wales. The overall distance is about 4 to 4.5 miles and there are some steep climbs to negotiate. A large part of the walk is in fact carried out on roads – but don’t worry, these roads are not busy although you may be passed by the occasional car or tractor. The scenery on this walk is second to none.

Harlech is located in the southern part of the Snowdonia national park in North Wales, on the west coast of the country.

Map of the Walk

The following map shows the approximate route of the walk

https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=zzNoZu85X_-c.kYiDxMne_3yw

Starting Point

I have two suggested starting points. The main starting point is some way out of the centre of Harlech on the outskirts of Llanfair. There is easy and free parking at this location. If you start the walk here, your refreshment opportunities will be located half way around the walk. The second starting point is in the middle of Harlech where there is a car park and on-street parking available. If you start here you will need to be prepared to complete the walk in its entirety before stopping for food or drink. You can always take a drink and a snack with you of course.

Setting Off

From the main starting point, which is to park on the verge at the top of the road leading down to Llandanwg beach, you need to walk back up to the main road that goes into Harlech and turn left. You need to walk about 100 yards and you will come to a “LLwybr Cyhoeddus” (a public footpath) which is signposted on the left. Go though the kissing gate and immediately savour the vista that confronts you.

You have a view from this point over the whole of Tremadog Bay. This is the bay formed by the West coast of Wales and the Lleyn Peninsular. You will have a view of Snowdon and many of the other mountains in Snowdonia to the north. You will have a view over the bay to the whole of the Lleyn peninsula. And in front of you, you will see a perfect unspoilt beach of golden sand stretching out into the distance.

I have in my book collection a work by H.V Morton, “In search of Wales” which was written in 1932 [1]. In this work the author travelled the length and breadth of Wales and described his experiences. It is quite an interesting read because 1932 is sufficiently long ago that very little of the modern world had touched much of Wales by this time. Even today when you go to some parts of Wales it is like going back in time a few decades.

In his book, H.V Morton describes how on his visit to Harlech he came across a view by a high wall which he suggests is quintessentially Welsh. Of course, I cannot be certain, but I like to think that the spot on which you will now be standing is the same location that H.V Morton is describing in his book. The view will be largely unchanged from how it would have appeared in 1932. There is an ugly development of about 200 houses which was built in the 1970s located at the bottom of the outcrop on which Harlech castle stands, but apart from that very little has changed. I am afraid my picture below really does not do the scene justice.

harlechview.jpg

Down to the beach

When you can drag yourself away from the view, follow the path across the field and through a couple of gates to a zig zag path that will take you down to the beach. At the bottom of the zig zag you need to cross the railway line – be careful, there is a train every few days. Ok, I am being facetious but it is not exactly an inter-city line! Normally during the week there will be 1 train in each direction every 2 hours. But at the time of writing (Feb 2014) the line is closed until May or June as the river crossing at Penrhyndeudraeth is being rebuilt. After crossing the railway you then descend a couple of flights of concrete steps to take you down onto the beach.

This beach is one of the most unspoilt that I know of, and stretches for miles. It is not a shingle or pebble beach, but beautiful fine golden sand. area nearest to Harlech itself gets the busiest (and even that is hardly what I would call busy), but most of the beach is more or less empty even in the height of the season.

The beach is very gently shelving down to the sea and it is a wonderful spot for swimming in the summer. Just be aware that even in the height of the summer, the temperature of the water will not be that great, but it is at least comfortable enough for a swim from July to September. There is one thing to watch out for which is the possibility of standing on a Weaver fish. These quite small fish bury themselves in the soft sand in shallow water. If you stand on one it will raise the poison barbs on its back which puncture the skin on the sole of your foot and release the poison. This is by all accounts incredibly painful and can result in hospitalisation. If you wear a rubber soled swimming shoe or even just sandals you will be safe.

The other potential swimming hazard are jellyfish. You do see these washed up on the shore occasionally (usually after a storm). Having said this, I spent most of my childhood summer holidays swimming in the sea around here and I have never been stung, nor have I heard of anyone being stung. But the Weaver fish threat is real – my brother was once stung by one.

For the next section of the walk you simply walk (or paddle) along the beach until you are nearly at the main entrance near Harlech. It is a distance of about 1 mile. When you get about 400 yards before the main entrance climb up into the sand-dunes to the highest point you can find and look inland. You are looking for a flat grassy area surrounded by sand dunes, about the size of a football pitch. Running straight through the middle of this area is a footpath and you should make for that.

Golf Course

This path will take you through the sand dunes and you will emerge at the side of the 13th fairway of the Royal St David’s golf course. Straight ahead of you is Harlech with the castle prominently visible.

There is a bench at the point you have reached which is a nice place to sit and enjoy the view of the castle, and at the same time see how the golfers get on. This golf course http://www.royalstdavids.co.uk/ is widely acknowledged as one of the top 50 in the UK and attracts visitors from all over the world. It is a traditional links golf course. The path you will continue to follow heads directly towards the town and goes straight across the 13th fairway, so beware of golf balls from the left. If you see anyone drive their ball from the tee past the footpath then this will be a particularly good player, and it will be worth watching to see what their approach to the green is like.

Keep following the footpath all the way through the golf course, past the club house and eventually out on to the main road. On the other side of the road you will see a pub (Y Branwen http://www.branwenhotel.co.uk/) and to right hand side of the pub car park is a flight of steps going up the cliff. I am sure you will be ready for drink by this time. If you do go to the Branwen I would recommend a pint of “Mws Piws Cwrw Eryri”. Welsh does not seem to use many vowels (I often wonder what a Welsh version of Countdown would be like). If you can’t get your tongue around that all you actually need to do is ask for a pint of Snowdonia Ale. The Branwen was until a few years ago the “Rum Hole Hotel” which was the preferred pub for the locals, regularly providing lock-ins (ie after hours drinking). In its new guise the Branwen is a much smarter place, targetting tourist traffic, but is less favoured by the locals.

The Castle

Suitably refreshed you should climb the steps I mentioned previously. These will take you out onto a road which winds up the hill (Twtil). It is very, very steep and windy road, and watch out for cars of the locals some of which travel along it at speed. The road will take you all the way up to the entrance to Harlech Castle.

You will notice that the castle, and the rocky outcrop on which it sits, is a good half a mile inland from the beach. This was not the case when the castle was built (1282 to 1289). At that time the sea came right up to the bottom of the cliff. In those days the castle was also white-washed and so was prominently visible for miles. It was constructed by Edward 1 during his conquest of Wales, and is but one of several castles to be found on the North Wales coast (others include Caernarfon, Beaumaris and Conway).

There is a car park here, and this is also the alternate starting point of the walk.

A visit to Harlech is incomplete without a visit to the castle. http://cadw.wales.gov.uk/daysout/harlechcastle/?lang=en

There is an admission charge, but it is not excessive (£12.75 for a family ticket as of 2014). You can climb all the towers and enjoy more spectacular views from the top.

The Lion

It will certainly be time for more refreshment by the time you have finished your visit to the castle. The Lion is a good place for this – a real local’s pub. http://thelion-hotelharlech.co.uk/ From the castle carry on up the last 100 yards of Twtil to the cross-roads and go straight over. The Lion is immediately on your right hand side. Unfortunately the Snowdonia Ale is not normally available at this pub, but it is a free house and usually has a decent pint to serve you. You can also get food at this pub.

When you leave the Lion turn right and carry on up the steep hill. This road out of Harlech quickly turns into a typical Welsh single track lane, with dry stone walls either side. You need to follow this road all the way until you reach a cross-roads. I am pleased to be able to tell you that you have now reached the highest point of the walk – you will be some 500 feet above sea level. At the cross roads, turn right and walk along the straight road with the sea in the distance. Even though you can see the sea, this part of the walk still has a more inland feel to it. On your left hand side there are fantastic views of the Rhinog mountains.

Eventually the road turns to the right and starts going downhill. You will have splendid view to the south looking over the lagoon and Shell Island. Follow the road all the way to a T junction, turn left and after about 400 yards take the first right. In about another 600 yards this will bring you back to your starting point.

I hope you enjoyed the walk!

Sources

1. In Search of Wales – H.V Morton. Published 1932 Methuen and Co Ltd. London


Recreation | United Kingdom


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