Betws y Coed
Betws Y Coed's situation is ideal - a 'gateway' location. It lies on the A5 at the point where it enters the Snowdonia National Park. The A5 is an ingenious route - almost the only route into the mountains northern half of the National Park from the east. It was built over 200 years ago by Thomas Telford, the famous engineer, as part of his new road from London to Holyhead, and then onto Ireland. The section around Betws Y Coed proved to be the most difficult of the entire route and used all his engineering skills. Until the early years of the 19th century, routed through the mountains of North Wales were little more than drovers roads and almost impossible for wheeled traffic to negotiate.The main highways took unwieldy detours either along the coast or many miles south where the terrain was easier. Though almost unnoticed by modern travellers, the A5 negotiates two major obstacles - the steep rocky descent from Pentrefoelas and the gorge carved out by the river Llugwy. Betws Y Coed lies between the two. With the new coach road in place the tiny hamlet was about to be discovered.
The first visitors were travellers making their way by coach to Holyhead and then onto Ireland. Betws Y Coed offered travellers overnight accommodation and the Royal Oak Hotel, which still dominates the village, dates from this period. Most of these individuals travelled as part of their work. In their wake came the those who travelled for pleasure. Some of the earliest true 'tourists' were artists of the romantic movement. They were in search of the sublime experience and were inspired to come to Betws Y Coed by early guide books to North Wales. Perhaps the most famous visitor was Turner who passed through the village in 1798. Betws Y Coed would soon be associated with a group of prominent artists who gathered around the nationally famous watercolour painter, David Cox. He came here to illustrate Thomas Roscoes' guide, 'Wanderings and Excursions in North Wales' published in 1845, and revelled in the wild scenery. In the days when most travel was on foot, a big advantage of Betws Y Coed was that it offered an immense variety of landscapes condensed into a small area. The result was the establishment of perhaps the first British artists colony around 1856. It flourished for the next 50 years. Part of the attraction seems to have been the humble, almost Bohemian existence some artists could indulge in, living in primitive stone cottages and huts up in the hills. A concept not to alien to the modern visitor. They explored the woods and gorges and some of Betws Y Coeds' now famous beauty spots were made popular at this time. One of the most famous, of course, is Fairy Glen, where Afon Conwy is contained by narrow rock walls.
AROUND AND ABOUT
A little further upstream are the Conwy Falls where the river forms a series of cascades and falls near its confluence with the Machno. On the Llugwy there is perhaps the most famous of all - the Swallow Falls, beloved of the Victorian tourist. Modern visitors still find Betws Y Coed an ideal location with Wales' highest mountain just a few miles away, along with a host of less adventurous opportunities for walking within a stones throw from the village. The extensive woods of the Gwydir Forest can be reached in just a few minutes. These woods clothe a large, rolling plateau sprinkled with lakes and the remains of several centuries of primitive mining. If industrial archaeology is your interest, this area will fascinate you. The adjacent valley of Glen Lledr is full of history, with the remains of one of the best examples of a native Welsh castle in North Wales - Castell Dolwyddelan. Reputedly the birthplace of Llewellyn Fawr, the castle stands against the backdrop of some of Snowdonias' finest scenery. The roman road known as Sarn Helen passed through Betws Y Coed and Glyn Lledr before heading south over the hills into mid Wales. To the east of Betws Y Coed the landscape is much more softer offering easy walking through mainly agricultural land with some of the best views in Snowdonia. From these elevated fields you can see one grand panorama of almost every major summit in the northern half of the National Park.