Tucked away on a quiet stretch of Welsh A-road between the sprawling mountains to the north and the shimmering blue waters of Llyn Trawsfynydd is the quaint village of Llan Ffestiniog, or simply Ffestiniog for short. While the mountains may tower above Ffestiniog, it, in turn, towers over the Afon Cynfal - sat in the gorge below the town, the river and its surroundings offer wonderful exploration opportunities and as the waters carved their way through the stone over centuries it has created some amazing vistas. Stunning waterfalls, rapid cascades and deep gorge walls make for an unquestionably remarkable trek in nature and countryside that any hiker would adore. All of the sights, smells and sounds of the great outdoors are on full display in the gorge walk and combined with the waterfalls you can seriously create some amazing memories in the heart of Snowdonia.
The start of our walk is centred in the town of Ffestiniog, just a stone's throw from Blaenau Ffestiniog, the easiest way to reach the start of the walk is to follow the A470 either south from Blaenau Ffestiniog or north up from near Trawsfynydd. The roads are pretty easy going, albeit steep and occasionally narrow with the stone walls right against the lanes - but this is an easy drive and one that shouldn't be a concern compared to some typical Welsh roads. Coming south from Blaenau Ffestiniog is probably the bigger challenge of the two options, mostly because of the difficult parking situation in the town itself. Once here, there is limited parking in the small square in front of the Grade II listed church, St Michael's church, right in the heart of Ffestiniog here. Avoid using the spaces outside the neighbouring Y Pengwern Inn, as these should be left for patrons. Public transport does make its way through the town with bus routes dropping right by the church and along the A470 so you should be able to find a route here that connects through from either the north or south.
The Ffestiniog Improvements Society have taken the time to outline some of the stunning walks in the area, today we will be following the Cynfal Gorge and Waterfalls walk which tracks down into the gorge and along some breathtaking stretches of the Afon Cynfal. Be sure to check their information board out front of the church, I love that they take the time to give some information about the area and it offers a little something about Ffestiniog you would probably struggle to find otherwise.
To begin, if you start out from the church and face towards the main road take a right and start walking downhill - at the first corner, there is a gate across the road that should be marked with a sign for a footpath as "Rhaeadr Cynfal Falls". Pass through the next gate and descend the hill, through another gate until you are on an open field just keep going straight until you see the next signs. This turning could have been confusing as there is a handful of different walk signs, but thankfully someone thought to add a white sign with "Rhaeadr Cynfal Falls", so it was just a short hop across another field in a straight line and you will find the next gate, this one was a little water logged on our visit but the stepping stones made it easy to get across. We initially followed the fence line and took a wrong turn as a result, but that was entirely on us as trying to be polite and skirt the field instead of cutting straight across it! Instead, just follow the simple logic of walking in a straight line from the last sign you saw and you will hit the next one with no problems. Once across the open field things are pretty simple, there will always be a pretty clear route to follow, just keep bounding through the gates and following signs. Speaking of gates, one was just about the narrowest squeeze I have ever experienced and one of the few times I've had to remove my pack to get through a kissing gate - this will certainly restrict access to a lot of folks and make things like strollers impossible to continue onwards.
The walk will cut the corner of some fields, just keep watching for the signs - thankfully, after the weighted kissing gate where we joined some sheep another sign reaffirmed we were on the right track and hard to miss: not only was there a green public footpath sign but also a grey sign with red markings directing us onwards. Follow the paths along the path carved into the hillside until you descend along a stone wall, ignoring the sheep path that cuts into the upper field. At the bottom, there was a stunning piece of art in the form of a gate marking the start of the waterfalls themselves. Natural Resource Wales has provided its typical information board, familiar to any adventurer around Wales, and a few markers to help you navigate. The first marker, pointing towards Rhaeadr Cynfal (Cynfal Falls) takes you down a hill and to a viewing platform overlooking the falls. The path is a mixture of mud and stone which eventually gives way to rough stone steps and a viewing platform; the platform is on the smaller side but you still get a pretty great view of the waterfall as it dives down the cliffside and carves the gorge into its beautiful meandering path. Return back up the hill the way you came, back to the trail markers and follow the second one labelled Pont (footbridge).
The main route to the footbridge is very much more of what you have encountered already - dirt and mud paths with stones and the occasional tree root to fall over. There are alternative routes to the main path that twist and wind along the side of the Cynfal gorge, some may offer little glimpses of the river you wouldn't have seen otherwise but if you opt to follow these be sure to tread carefully as they may not be as sturdy as the uppermost and widest path. Much like the descent to the viewpoint over the first falls, the path down to the footbridge becomes rough stone steps that while some effort has been made to give them a grippier surface I could still envision this being a little slippy in the winter months. The bridge offers great views over a turbulent little stretch of the Afon Cynfal with all of my favourite staples of a Welsh woodland gorge on display: the cold black stone balanced against a green blanket of moss, all of which intersected by a torrent of water only broken up by the fallen trees trapped in the flow. Between the gentle roar of the water and the even present tweets and chirps of the local birds, you are sure to fall in love with this spot but there is still plenty to see.
Beyond the footbridge is the loop that will take you along the edge of the gorge before looping back on itself along some country lanes, and there are still a whole host of things to see along this extra section - including what I personally think is the best waterfall of the bunch. Keep the river on your left and follow the paths as they ebb and bound along the rocky sides of the gorge, ignore the path that heads uphill away from the bridge and river as this is the return route from the circular (or, if you fancy it you can, of course, walk the loop backwards). There are plenty of cascades to enjoy and before long you will reach a section where the path begins to ascend the hillside but also has an open section below it - from this little view spot you can look upstream to see another great waterfall framed perfectly by the gorge walls.
There are two further gems along this section of the walk that should be checked out, the first is a section of rock standing tall above the torrent, a little unassuming if you didn't know it was there but chock full of history - this is Pulpud Huw Llwyd or Huw Llwyd's pulpit. On our visit, this rock was a little occluded by the natural growth around it, but it was still clear enough to make out. Huw Llwyd, or Huw Llwyd o Gynfal (believed to have lived from 1568-1630, although I could find no confirmation of either date), is a legendary figure known for an absolute myriad of different careers including soldier, poet and bard, preacher, astrologer, sorcerer (Dyn Hysbys) and exorcist. Huw called the nearby Cynfal Fawr his home and it is believed he build the modern-day Cynfal house on land he and his brother bought over the years; Pulpud Huw Llwyd is said to have been where he would meditate and people would have come to hear his sermons. Now, I couldn't find too much more about the man besides some references to his poetry and what little is known seems to be difficult to confirm but hey - that is what makes legends so fascinating, at least to me...
The next surprise is really a difficult one to miss, as you delve further along the gorge you will soon find yourself in the shadow of a giant and a really nice surprise if you aren't expecting it - a railway viaduct. This route snakes its way across the countryside before crossing the Afon Cynfal via this beautiful bridge, a grand piece of architecture likely dating back to the 1870s - it would have been wonderful to hear the chatter of a train pass by, but unfortunately, this is likely a section of the Blaenau-Ffestiniog to Bala Railway line that is now disused. This was a wonderful discovery and added a little something extra to an already amazing adventure.
With that you can continue on with your adventure - nothing you encounter going forwards is likely to catch you off guard, just more dirt and mud tracks with occasional rocky sections to contend with. That said, the Cynfal gorge and river will continue to impress and the dense woodlands will keep the natural ambience going alongside you as you journey onwards. Once you pass by a little set of steps over a traditional Welsh stone wall you will have reached the turn-off from the river. On your right will be a clearing in the trees that will lead you out onto a single-track country lane - you can either double back on yourself from here and enjoy the Afon Cynfal once again or add on this little extra walk which offers stunning views towards the Moelwynion range overlooking Blaenau Ffestiniog. Take a right and you will be following the track between farmland for a while until you pass by the ruin of an ancient farmhouse, just a short walk beyond that is a gate that leads into the fields - head straight down the hillside keeping the wall close on your right and you will spot a gate at the bottom before long. The path winds down a little further, cutting under trees and through nature before returning you to familiar paths just a short distance from the footbridge. Retrace your footsteps to return to the start and you will have completed this wonderful woodland walk.
What an absolutely amazing walk this was, from the impressive Afon Cynfal and its staggering gorge to all of the spectacular bits of nature along the way this is a great little loop that should not be missed. On your return, you should take a load off by following the gated path alongside the church and up to the benches - this is a perfect little picnic spot to round out your adventure with even more amazing views out towards the Moelwynion range. If you haven't had your fill of walking after this trip then you could always explore the other routes mentioned on the board, or go adventuring beyond the town to some of the brilliant spots around the area. It is no secret that we love both Cwmorthin and Stwlan Dam in the neighbouring Blaenau Ffestiniog, plus if you want to head south you could always take a tour of Llyn Trawsfynydd or another beautiful waterfall walk at Ceunant Llennyrch. The beauty of the A470 is because it forms the spine of Wales you could have adventures anywhere from Llandudno to Cardiff - sounds like there is the potential for a seriously grand day out to me!