Travel Diary: A socially distanced adventure in Wales

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This is travel diaries, a series where I tell the story of a recent trip and all of its trials and tribulations. This year has been rough for everyone, but especially on those who like to travel. We have had to cancel holidays, skip other holidays we would usually take and spend every weekend we would usually travel in a lockdown. This is for the greater good of course, but during the summer low point, we saw a chance to get a single holiday in...

At some point during this lockdown process, anyone who has taken the guidance seriously will have had to make a difficult decision - when do you allow yourself to travel again? This has been something that has weighed on our shoulders for some time as we were incredibly sick of seeing the same old locations day in day out, but knew we needed to do all in our power to protect our loved ones. That said, the world was rapidly reverting to an "everything is fine" state and even though Coronavirus was still an issue the figures were low and we were determined to take a socially distanced holiday. It was certainly a difficult choice to make but the boost to our mental health, which had been drained by months of being stuck indoors, seemed worth the now minor risk. Our usual Wales holiday seemed like a great option - you can easily spend a week around Wales and encounter barely another soul. In fact, I have already written about several places we have visited in the past where we met absolutely no one throughout hours of hiking.

So we decided to make our way into Snowdonia, we waited until mid-September when the schools had reopened and many businesses had brought their staff back in, at least at a limited capacity. Family in the area had confirmed the day-trippers and weekend lodgers had begun to calm down, throughout the furlough scheme it had been very busy, so we began to plan our visit, with a few core concepts to help keep us (and everyone we might encounter) safe:

  1. We would wear masks and maintain social distancing as much as possible
  2. We took as much food as we could carry, although perishables would require brief stop-offs at shops we would do what we had been doing at home and shop at unsociable hours
  3. We would only visit places we were familiar with and knew to be quiet

There was, unfortunately, one inescapable problem: my main run-around vehicle was off the road, as it had been for all of 2020 due to hard to procure parts becoming completely unavailable as businesses shut down. The only answer was to grab a rental car, I wasn't the biggest fan of touching a rental car but me being armed with masks, anti-bacterial wipes and hand-sanitizer combined with the rental companies own cleaning process I felt like this would be a reasonably safe option to get us away for a while. I arrived a little early and while nervously waiting outside saw the Streetview car drive by, a nice distraction and I now eagerly await the Google Maps update to see if my masked mug makes an appearance. I have always rented via the same car rental place, they have never given me any trouble and the staff have always been friendly and helpful - and with the COVID situation, their handling of distancing was excellent too with only one person allowed in the office at a time and masks an absolute requirement. This was the least painful car rental experience I had ever had (I assume they have also streamlined parts to get people out the door quicker), the car was ready and I was on my way before I knew it.

We saddled up with 3 bags of shopping and a cooler bag of chilled and frozen food, enough to keep us happy most of the way through the week, and we knew a quick stop-off somewhere in the middle of the week at co-op would keep us fed. We want to give patronage to the independent stores around Wales, but at the same time, we do not wish to linger anywhere for longer than we needed to, so we made sure we knew what we wanted before heading anywhere. In the end, we barely ventured into a single town, opting to keep amongst the mountains as far away from people as possible.

Aside from a showcase of some of the worst drivers the United Kingdom has to offer, the journey down was fairly uneventful. I took it steady, knowing I was in an unfamiliar car, but we made good time and only spent a few miles crawling behind a tractor. The sea was in and very choppy by the time we snaked down the coastal road near Barmouth bridge, and the town was relatively quiet - surprisingly there were short-stay spaces available considering a good chunk of parking spaces are barricaded, giving extra room where needed for the pedestrians and external seating for businesses. We got settled in for the night, sat down with pizza and a beer safe in our own little bubble in the countryside looking out over the sea.

Our weekend was such a nice relaxing time, as we often do when travelling weekends tend to be all about peace and quiet so we can prep ourselves for the week to come. Usually, we do this because places will be extra busy on the weekends and when we have a week to travel there is no reason to share these beauty spots if we don't have to, but this is especially true when we are trying to limit contact as much as possible. Aside from a few walks on the beach, we had some great time to recuperate from our working lives and plan the days ahead.

A lovely day on the beach
A lovely day on the beach

The planning phase was extra important for this trip, beyond the obvious social distancing reasons we both had a good chunk of paranoia about our physical fitness because it had been almost a year since our last proper hiking trips. Like many in lockdown, we had done our best to stay active by walking around our local streets but we were back in Snowdonia where trails often involved scaling mountainsides, dropping down valleys and generally rambling on tough surfaces. This needed to be planned to coincide with the weather, which was set to be spectacular! Great for lounging on the beach to get a tan, not so amazing when you are pushing yourself hard to find beauty spots. We broke our week down into a handful of different things we wanted to do with a handful of new things to try, although to keep within rule 3 outlined above everywhere we were going we had visited before. Our week plan looked as follows:

  • Monday (hot) - Coed-y-Brenin
  • Tuesday (hot, partially cloudy) - Cadair Idris, Minffordd Path
  • Wednesday (hot, partially cloudy - New Precipice Walk
  • Thursday (hot) - Llyn Trawsfyndd walk
  • Friday (you guessed it, hot) - Cwmorthin walk

The only location on this list that was new would be the New Precipice walk, however, we knew the area well and had done many walks that connect to this route and all of them are almost constantly quiet. Obviously, we always had the option of checking the car-park before embarking and if we felt anywhere looked a little too busy we could always go somewhere else.


Monday morning quickly rolled around and it was time to embark on our adventures! For those familiar with Love Our Adventures, Coed-y-Brenin is somewhere we have visited before but it did not work out exactly as we had planned. The expected scorching weather was already north of 20 degrees Celcius by 10:30, and we were looking forward to getting ourselves under a thick canopy of trees this forest had to offer, even if that probably means oppressive humidity it is preferable to burning in open fields. All of our planned walks were within a short drive of where we were based, and our first walk is a great example of why we chose to do this: it was absolutely heaving... This was a pain, but not a dealbreaker as we happened to be on a stretch of the A470 we were very familiar with, there are plenty of diverse options to walk around. Our first choice was a neighbouring stretch of woodlands that we had briefly walked around before but knew there was a lot extra to see: Tyn-y-Groes. Checking the map, Tyn-y-Groes is the same woodland as Coed-y-Brenin, and unfortunately, its first car park was just as busy as Coed-y-Brenin had been. Not looking to be put off we made our way deeper into the woods, expecting most drivers to be unwilling to navigate the twisty narrow roads to find somewhere quiet, and my hunch proved correct as we were the only car at the second car park. We saddled up with our brand new hiking boots (the old ones had been completely walked through after years of good hikes), grabbed our rucksacks and got underway.

Onwards and upwards!
Onwards and upwards!

You can read the details of our Ty'n y Groes walk here. What started out as a bit of a roll of the dice ended up being a great day out, and we were over the moon to find somewhere so isolated where we barely encountered another soul. We did the entire walk completely alone, and only encountered a single fisherman when we made our way back to the little bridge on the road to take some photos. All in we weren't exploring Ty'n y Groes for too long but what we saw made for an excellent little walk and one we have recommended to others since.

With high spirits, but in need of something to fill the rest of our day, we made our way north and opted for the walk at Llyn Trawsfyndd; this did mean we would need to find something new to do on Thursday but we were already in the area and the sun was shining down on us so why not capitalise on it? We got to the main car park, on the south edge, and things were a little busier than we would like but as this lake was big enough to accommodate plenty of people, and most people were picnicking on edge closest the car park, we decided to give it a go. We followed the wall along the edge of the lake until reaching the field and then - nothing? No path, no markers. I broke out the phone and started looking into this walk but was quite disappointed with what I found: A good portion of this walking route actually followed roads a little ways away from the lake and wouldn't really make for the most exciting views. We decided to double back to the car and find something else to do, on the walk back I didn't even cross the bridge thanks to the congregation of 10 cyclists blocking the entrance - I had walked it before so I just continued on, but in this world of social distancing I do wish people would try to be more considerate, this current strange way of living becomes a lot easier if we all make a little effort to not be in the way.

Fisherman enjoying a day at Llyn Trawsfynydd
Fisherman enjoying a day at Llyn Trawsfynydd

Anyway, by now it was getting late in the afternoon and Rox was starting to have enough of walking so we ended up visiting an old favourite: Ganllwyd. To begin, we started to explore the other side of the river away from the main falls, something we had done in the past but we always turned back and I couldn't really remember why. We crossed the river and made our way up the road to the footpath, but after making our way through the forest for a few minutes we, once again, decided to turn back... There just was not too much to see and rather than aimlessly wander through woodlands we decided to go see something we knew we would enjoy - I am certain there is something beautiful to see out this way, but this is a walk that would require some planning first. Back across the river, we crossed the road and made our way up the hillside to see one of our favourite little waterfalls - a perfect way to round out the day's adventure.

Crossing the bridge at Ganllwyd
Crossing the bridge at Ganllwyd

Rhaeadr Ddu with low water levels
Rhaeadr Ddu with low water levels


Tuesday was the big one, Cadair Idris. We had initially planned on taking the Minffordd path, one we had partially tackled in the past but just ran out of time; we only ever really planned to get to the lake so we grabbed the 4-hour parking ticket and we just didn't have the time to keep going. However, as mentioned previously we have been in a covid-inspired hibernation for the past 8 months and as we hadn't hiked over the winter for various reasons, we were completely out of practice. Monday's hike had taken more of a toll than it usually would have, so we opted to take on the 'easier' walk of the pony path. By most estimates, the Pony Path appears to be a little longer than the Minffordd path, but they also say the Pony Path is a more gradual route with no major pitfalls - considering we had already seen a good chunk of the Minffordd path and wanted to make sure we got to the end, this seemed like a nice compromise.

We arrived at 11 am, a little later than I would have liked as this meant we would be hiking straight into peak sun but there was no way we were going to let a little heat stop us, we had plenty of water, food and equipment for all-weather eventualities so we slapped on a little factor 15 and made our way from the car park. The walk starts easy enough, the sun occasionally bursting between the trees but the woodlands made for a relaxing walk -  of course, this would not last long. Our out of practice bodies would soon be put to the test as the initial rough staircase kicked in, once the trees disappeared from around us we found ourselves taking a breather every few minutes with water breaks to cool us off. A friendly walker on his return journey mentioned how hot it was at the top, but we had tackled plenty of difficult walks in the past - all we needed to do was shake the rust off and we would be fine. In hindsight, I think this is an unfortunate part of the Pony Path in that one of the worst parts of the route is the first stretch; after a good long while of these steps, you make your way into open fields that, while still uphill, are much easier going. That said, it is easy to feel mentally overwhelmed by the absolutely gargantuan mountain standing before you, knowing you still have (at least) one more huge climb to go. For the entire walk, I had my GPS running and was monitoring our progress but I tried to keep the relatively bad news to myself - I thought telling Rox that we were less than a third of the way their might zap her spirit.

A break from the climb
A break from the climb

The second big climb snakes up the hillside and was honestly so much easier than the initial climb, of course, this may have been because we had the blood pumping and were well in the zone while simultaneously wispy pieces of cloud had started to give us brief respite from the midday sun. As the path evened out and turned to smooth gravel we breathed a sigh of relief, we were by no means done but it felt like we were properly up the mountain by this point. The feeling was short-lived, as the second-worst part of Cadair Idris was about to begin: the loose stone paths. By stones, I do not mean gravel or pebbles, these paths were made up of sizable jagged rocks, each one big enough to put through a window; I cannot think of a surface better designed to roll an ankle on than this path, all you could do is walk with your head down and watch your footing. Speaking of ankles, remember the new boots I mentioned earlier? I had thought they were plenty broken in, but I had thought wrong - they hadn't cut through the skin yet, but they were well on their way to, so I plastered my ankles up and stuck on some fresh thicker socks to get me through the rest of this hike.

Friendly faces offered words of encouragement from a distance as we progressed. Our moods were elevated and our energy reserves were almost completely replenished by one glorious sight: the trig point popping into view. It was still a damn good distance away, but for the first time, we could actually see the finish line! It is indescribable the sense of relief you feel after a long walk to know it has all been worth it and nothing quite gives you that feeling like a trig point, it stands as proof that you have conquered the mountain. We took some time to appreciate the views over Llyn Y Gader, enjoy a bit of lunch and drink to our heart's content - while it had been a hot day thus far we had rationed water well and could take advantage of the surplus. We only had to take on a relatively short scramble to get to the finish line and with that done and a hand firmly planted on the concrete of the trig point we could chalk this one up as a victory. Our ordeal was over and it finally felt like we could really enjoy this spot, we spent ages taking photos in every direction and even video called my parents to share the achievement with them (Cadair Idris was something we had all discussed doing in the past).

A rest at the top
A rest at the top

One thing I had noticed during our mountaintop recovery session was the change in clouds, the light coverage had slowly transitioned to move of a complete cover and the shade of the clouds were slowly changing. I was adamant we were going to see rain, Rox had recalled our forecast for the day showed no rain but I felt certain - surprisingly I had almost perfect phone signal at the top, so I pulled up a weather report and all looked fine, although it was due to rain at 6 pm. We could easily be back at home before 6 pm, but I still thought the rain was coming our way earlier than that, after all, how often is the weatherman right? I was happy I made that decision, because not 20 minutes after departing the top (and more than 2 hours before the forecast time), rain made it to us. It was only a persistent light sprinkling that was seriously refreshing after a day of hard hiking, but it was enough that I was glad we had set off when we did. My heart went out to a couple we met on our way down, we briefly spoke about not expecting rain today and they were forced to make the tough choice to turn back and give up for that day - an altogether good decision given the circumstance, they were hardly geared up and even if they were rain up a mountainside can get nasty fast. Thankfully, I have little else to say about the journey back. We made excellent time back to the bottom and only had a short drive back to our home away from home where we could refuel, heal any wounds and celebrate a hard day.

Wednesday & Thursday

We had a solid week planned, but the following morning we were still feeling the previous days outing. Still, we headed out and our planned day would unquestionably be a bit easier than what we had seen earlier in the week, but Wednesday still had one major problem: if Tuesday up Cadair Idris had been a tolerable heat, then Wednesday had gone beyond into a right scorcher. This day we were aiming for the "New Precipice Walk", a journey we had seen touted around a few places and one we had always fancied trying plus I knew the area well; one option for starting this route begun near Cymer Abbey at a beautiful old bridge, a place we had both walked in the past. We skipped on vising the Abbey again due to lockdown restrictions, I think I checked after the fact and it was closed regardless, and instead headed straight onto the bridge. We had taken a bit of a lie-in, and the midday sun was seriously baking our backs as we enjoyed the peaceful scenes around the River Wnion - this is a gorgeous stone-based river that is crystal clear in the summer months when the flow is a little calmer.

River Wnion looking calm
River Wnion looking calm

To the lake
To the lake

Our journey saw us cross the A470 and into the sleepy village of Llanelltyd, where we did not encounter another soul as we passed through on our way to the footpath. The start of the walk is a little hidden, easily missed by drivers who go whizzing by on the main road, once onto the path it rapidly ascends into solitude. We took our time up here, still sore from our previous day. The uphill dirt path got replaced by overgrowth and eventually open fields, Rox especially wasn't feeling today so we agreed to make it to the lake and then call it a day, we had a beautiful afternoon exploring around the lake in the glorious weather. We spent some time exploring around the woodlands that surrounded the lake, ate a little lunch on the shoreline and then made our way back. It ended up being an excellent little journey we would recommend to anyone whos after a bit of a shorter walk in the area: Cymer Abbey to Llyn Tan-y-Graig. We used our evening to recover, but by the next day, Rox was still not feeling it so we made the most of it and had a beach day! What a great day it was, the weather was still pure blue skies and we spent our time exploring rock-pools searching for crabs and shells. Considering our constant paranoia regarding social distancing, it was nice to have a day where this was barely a concern; the local area was almost devoid of people so aside from the occasional dog walker we had the beach to ourself to enjoy to our heart's content.

My little friend says hi!
My little friend says hi!


Both nice and recharged, we planned a little walk for Friday - nothing too major, it was meant to (once again) be a hot one so we had not planned to go too far but I still selected a walk that gave us the opportunity to continue if we wanted it. We skipped on Cwmorthin because if the weather was to be as good as the forecast we would bake in the mountainside. I have spoken on Love Our Adventures in the past about my method of browsing maps to find interesting landmarks to explore and our Friday trip was found this way. Wales is absolutely littered with lakes, so I often browse around until I find one that looks interesting; I will always google the lakes name to make sure it is accessible and anything I may need to know about the journey. Llyn Cwm-Mynach had an eye-catching shape and it was a Woodland Trust managed estate so it seemed like a perfect hidden spot that we would likely have to ourselves. The small amount of information I could find online alluded to limited parking and a difficult approach road, but nothing I wasn't used to and given the tough week we had endured so far I don't think I could have convinced Rox to make this walk even longer!

However, hindsight is a wonderful thing and the lane up to the parking may well have been one of the worst country lanes I have encountered - as tight as they come with limited passing spots. On approach, I encountered a farmer that I had to reverse back and dump my car into some bushes to let him pass (another time when I was glad to be in a rental car). If you are planning to explore this area, definitely pick one of the other parking options. Still, we made it to the parking and embarked on our walk which was comprised mostly of smooth forestry roads - the definition of easy-going. As we snaked around the twisting lane we saw a mixture of dense foresty, clearings, mountainous parts and the occasion ruins all the while accompanied by a perfect choir of nature sounds. We couldn't really have picked an easier walk for a lazy Friday adventure! We were in high spirits, the weather had even delivered for us again with piercing sun occasionally breaking its way through the canopy, at least until we reached the lake. We were so disappointed to arrive at the lake, and instead of being greeted by a dense patchwork of woodlands up to the edge of the lake, all we found was a clearing of felled trees making the area look a little desolate. At the time we were sorely miffed, thinking that some greedy commercial logging company had destroyed a beautiful bit of nature, but as it turned out there was more to the story than that which you can read all about here. We still had a nice day all in, the remaining woodlands making for an invigorating trip into nature.

Exploring Cwm Mynach
Exploring Cwm Mynach

We wound down the trip there, as the weekend revellers were due to arrive we stocked up with everything we would need for the weekend and spent our time avoiding the crowds while enjoying the local beach. The weather tailed off a little, mainly overcast but still dry, I was just happy to be away from urbanisation for as long as possible. Our return journey was uneventful and returning the car was as smooth and well socially distanced as when I picked it up - although, peoples inability to read or follow rules will never cease to amaze as someone managed to ignore both the "Do not use this door" and "Only one person in the office at a time".

So our lockdown holiday was a success, we managed to squeeze a quick journey in between the initial full-lockdown and the regional lockdowns that are ramping up at the tail end of 2020. All we really wanted to do was abide by rules, maintain social distancing while getting a little fresh air and by that criteria, I consider this trip a complete success. Of course, we didn't get to go exploring quite as much as we normally would but that was just one of those little sacrifices we all have to make at the moment; considering we had absolutely 0 expectation of any kind of holiday this year, I am really happy with how this worked out. As the future looks to be a big unknown at the moment, it is entirely possible our next summer's holiday may be forced to follow similar difficult rules but at least we know it can be done and it can absolutely feel like a proper getaway!

Related Content

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Cadair Idris - Pony Path Cadair Idris - Pony Path
Cymer Abbey to Llyn Tan-y-Graig Cymer Abbey to Llyn Tan-y-Graig
2020 in review 2020 in review

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