Start: LL24 OEN, GR720583
Time to complete: 3 hours
Best For: A walk packed with local history and fantastic views of Mount Snowdon
Start the Capel Curig Circular Walk, in North Wales, from Capel Curig car park, behind Joe Brown’s (LL24 OEN, GR720583). The walk given should take about three hours at a gentle pace. Although it follows footpaths, the route is sometimes over rough ground, and suitable footwear should be worn, and waterproofs carried. Dogs should be kept under strict control at all times. Please follow the Country Code.
If you borrow the key to visit the church, available from Joe Browns shop left, please remember to return it.
Much of Capel Curig’s history revolves around the development of roads in the area. Packhorse trails were the principal means of access till Lord Penrhyn’s coach road from Bangor brought the first wheeled vehicles to the village in the 1790s.
The Capel Curig Turnpike Trust, established in 1802, pioneered a shorter route via Betws-y-coed and Capel Curig to Llandegai to capture the coach and mail traffic from London to Ireland. Further improvements were made after 1815 when Parliament commissioned Thomas Telford to upgrade the Great Irish Road — the modern A5.
1 Hen Bont
Before leaving the car park, take a look at the rugged stone bridge dramatically spanning the gorge of the Afon Llugwy. This unusually tall bridge springing from the rock was built by the Capel Curig Turnpike Trust in 1805.
2 Tap room
Cross the bridge and note the single-story building with massive slate window ledges, on the right-hand corner, with the main road. Once, this was the tap room of the Capel Curig Inn, built to allow travellers to have a drink whilst waiting for their horses to be changed at the old coaching stables. A handsomely engraved turnpike trust milestone is embedded in the opposite wall near the road junction between the A5 and the A4086.
3 Old coaching stables
Turn right along with the A4086 past the old tap room Llugwy Terrace on your right, known initially as Yard, formed one side of a courtyard, housing the Old Coaching stables. These were built when the Postmaster General adopted the road as the mail route from London to Ireland in 1808 to enable travellers to change horses without going down to the Capel Curig Inn. The cottages provided homes for workers employed in the growing tourism trade. The central cream coloured cottage fills in the arch where coaches used to pass.
4 Royal Farm
Across the river is an exciting group of model farm buildings, Royal Farm, built after 1800 to serve the Capel Curig Inn. They were probably designed by the Penrhyn estate architect Benjamin Wyatt, to replace the earlier Capel Curig farm, used as an inn by earlier travellers.
Of the same period is the elegant bridge over the Afon Llugwy, originally with two arches, which took a branch road down to the Capel Curig Inn. Note the graffiti on the slate capping stones.
6 St Julitta’s Church
Immediately after the bridge, a short lane leads down to the church of St. Julitta’s, the smallest of the old churches of Snowdonia. This sixteenth-century church was formerly Curig’s Chapel, which gave its name to the village. But with the growth of tourism in the 19th century, the church became too small to house the summer congregation, and a new church was built opposite the crossroads, which took the name of St. Curig’s.
The old church was renamed St. Julitta’s, after the mother of the Roman Saint Cyriacus. There are many fine tombs and graves in the churchyard, highlighted in The Churchyard Trail, a Journey through History, available inside the interesting church, together with a guide to The Churches of Capel Curig. Before 1800 this was the original heart of the hamlet of Capel Curig where stood a smithy and the only shop.
Eleanor Price, who took over running of the shop on her parent’s death, used to ride on horseback to Llandegai every month to pay for flour and order the following month’s supply. On one bleak winter journey, she
caught a chill, which turned to pneumonia, and she died in 1855, leaving her husband with children to look after. Her grave can be seen in the churchyard to the right of the church door. The small building opposite the church is the bier house, which housed the bier used to carry coffins into the graveyard – now housed inside the church.
7 Plas y Brenin / Royal Hotel / Capel Curig Inn
Continuing along the road (take care of passing traffic), we arrive at Plas y Brenin, the National Sports Centre. This was originally the Capel Curig Inn built by Lord Penrhyn in 1800 as the first fashionable hotel in the area.
The site took advantage of the view of the Snowdon horseshoe made famous by the early travel writer Thomas Pennant, where ‘Snowdon and all his sons burst at once in full view, and make this far the finest approach to our boasted Alps’. The inn soon attracted Irish travellers and early tourists to Snowdonia and became a meeting place for county gentry, the Capel Curig hunt and petty sessions.
The hotel’s popularity led to expansion, first in 1808 when the London/ Shrewsbury to Holyhead mail-coach (named the ‘Ancient Briton’) started to run through Capel Curig, and again later in the nineteenth century. Kings Edward VII, George V and Edward VIII all visited the inn as well as Queen Victoria, which changed its name to the Royal Hotel in 1871.
Pit stop: Here refreshments and a unique bar open to the public can refresh the weary traveller.
8 The Rustic Bridge
Turn left immediately past Plas y Brenin, down a footpath beside the lake, leading to Pont y Bala, the bridge over the outflow of Llynnau Mymbyr, known in Victorian times as the Rustic Bridge. Looking back to the hotel, its Strawberry Hill gothic style can be fully appreciated, though a ski slope has now replaced the former rose gardens and ornamental pond.
The track left along the south side of Nant Gwryd leads to the sixteenth-century farmhouse of Bryn-Engan, now modernised and part of the Plas y
Brenin complex. The beautiful large farmhouse can now be booked for group holidays and sleeps up to 12 guests. Get in touch with us if you’d like to check availability. This was an example of a post-medieval lobby-entry house, where the back of the fireplace faced the entry, forming a small lobby. Stepping stones used to lead across the river to the old church, but a right of way no longer joins these.
The track now continues for one km through the ancient oak wood of Bryn Engan, strewn with massive moss-covered boulders, the trees dripping with lichen and polypody ferns.
Across the marshy flood plain, left, we see the neat white inns and guest houses of the Victorian tourist era, and the Bryntyrch inn. Bryntyrch was mentioned in the 1352 Record of Caernarvon as a Crown hafod – a summer pasture farm for cattle. The buildings probably date from the sixteenth- century.
10 Tan Y Bwlch
As the riverside path climbs above a rocky gorge, we can appreciate the engineering feat involved in constructing the turnpike road, embanked high above the Llugwy gorge. Across the river, we can make out one of the milestones erected by Thomas Telford when he re-engineered the road in 1815-1820. It reads ‘Holyhead 40, C Curig 5 furlongs, Cernioge 13 M 6F’. The path descends to a footbridge leading to Cobden’s Hotel. Do not cross this.
Sited at the narrowest point of the pass, the hotel was known as Tan y Bwlch until purchased by the famous cricketer Frank Cobden in 1890. It houses a large colony of Pipistrelle bats, which can often be seen in the summer streaming from the eaves after sunset.
Tip: Note that when wet, this section of the path can be hazardous; take care!
11 Animal house
Continue alongside the attractive south bank of the river and pass through a fence. The dry-stone walled cow house ahead is typical of many in the area. The gable ends suggest that the roof level has been raised.
12 Pont Cyfyng
Leaving the riverside field over the wooden footbridge at the far end, we bear left along a path leading to Capel Curig’s most celebrated bridge, Pont Cyfyng, set picturesquely over the Cyfyng falls. This was Lord Penrhyn’s solution for carrying the 1805 coach road through the narrowest of the Llugwy gorge. However, the bridge and road beyond were not Holyhead road in 1828 involved the construction of an even more massive embankment on the north side of the falls.
Before crossing the bridge, we see several buildings associated with Rhos slate quarry, whose remains stand above the village on the flanks of Moel Siabod. Pont Cyfyng cottage was home to several quarry managers, with a stable, workshop and bakery attached. Below the bridge are the remains of a water-powered dressing shed where slate blocks were cut. Roofing slates and slate slabs were loaded onto carts at the bridge, for transport to Trefriw to be shipped down the river Conwy.
Turn right over the bridge to reach one of Telford’s happily placed little alcoves, built into the embankment to afford the best view of the old bridge and Cyfyng Falls. This was a favourite spot for Victorian picnic parties.
13 Rhos Quarry pay office
The single-story building with a patterned slate roof opposite Pont Cyfyng is the former Rhos quarry pay office. The overhanging eaves allowed the quarrymen to shelter from the rain while waiting to bepaid on a Saturday afternoon.
14 Ty Bont
Returning west along the A5 towards the village, the rustic cottage on the right, TyBont, was built by the Gwydir estate in 1833-4, at the same time as its famous twin Ty-Hyll (the Ugly House), two kilometres down the road towards Betws-y-Coed. Its walls are constructed of massive stone blocks and carved stone corbels support the overhanging roof. Both cottages were originally thatched.
15 Tyn y Coed
Opposite the hotel, a red coach acts as a reminder of Capel Curig’s coaching heyday from 1808, when the new Holyhead Mail started to run along the Great Irish Road, to the end of the mail coach era with the coming of the railway age in 1849.
16 The Schools
The former primary school, Ysgol Cynghor, constructed in 1871, is now the village community centre wit separate entrances for boys and girls. The Dean of Bangor in 1836 established the old school next door.
Before the school, turn right across the small car park and over the stile and follow a slate path up through the oak wood. After crossing the stile out of the wood, climb the grassy knoll on your left to see an excellent example of a bronze age cist cairn. The cairn has been partially dismantled, probably by grave robbers, leaving a clear view of the stone chamber which held the cremation. On a clear day, you will enjoy a superb panorama of Moel Siabod, the Snowdon horseshoe, the Glyders and Carneddau from this spot.
17 Old packhorse trail
Follow the footpath signs across the field, through a gap in the dry-stone wall and over the stile. Crossing a track, follow the footpath signs bearing to the right across another stile through some conifers, from which you emerge onto the high pastures of Nant y Geuallt. Here sheep and cattle would be brought for the summer months, with the family moving up to the old hafod summer farm further up the track towards Llyn Crafnant.
Cross a stone slab footbridge and fork left to head west along the old pack-horse trail from Llanrwst – the main route to Capel Curig before constructing the 1790 coach road. Continue along the track until it descends past the new church of St Curig, built to replace the old church in 1880.
The War Memorial at the road junction is unusual in recording those who died in the two World Wars and the men of Capel Curig who served in the First World War. 100m to your left along the A5 is the former turnpike house of Tyn-y-Lon, built to Telford’s specification. Here a gate barred the road for collecting tolls until 1890, though people on their way to church were exempted.