A Winter Wander through the Lands of Llywelyn

It’s been a frantic whirlwind of activity since we moved to North Wales, but between unpacking boxes and settling into our new home and welcoming community we’ve made sure to get out and sample some of the many natural and historical wonders on offer on our doorstep. We’ve revisited several of the medieval fortresses that featured in my 2019 castle quest, bringing back many cherished memories and creating special new ones, and we’ve wandered along some outstanding coastlines as the briny tides wax and wane. Then of course, there’s the breathtaking range of mountains that we can still barely believe is now within easy reach of home.

Conwy Castle, currently floodlit in festive red was one of the main stops on my 2019 Castle Quest, and now it’s just a ten-minute drive from home!

The untamed wilderness of Snowdonia is as hostile as it is magnificent and as abundant in history as it is in nature. Until Edward I’s conquest of Wales in the late thirteenth century, this expanse of savage beauty was the territory of the kings and princes of Gwynedd, and the Snowdonian landscape is steeped in their stories. At strategic points in and around the rugged peaks can be found the Welsh-built castles of one of the dynasty’s greatest rulers, Llywelyn ab Iorweth (c.1173 – 1240), or Llywelyn ‘the Great’ as he is known. Llywelyn’s military prowess and political nous enabled him to expand his dominion beyond the boundaries of Gwynedd and gain supremacy over the whole of native Wales. So a few days ago, in order to get a taste of the medieval treasure trove on our doorstep, and with the recent arctic blast turning the landscape into a magical winter wonderland, we ventured out into the mountains for a tour of stunning views, ending up with a brief visit to one of Llywelyn’s most strikingly-sited castles. What could be a better festive trip to set the scene for our first Christmas in North Wales?

A short drive from home and the Snowdonian scenery becomes a festive treat…

and from there it just got better and better

A view of Llyn Ogwen, which looks gorgeous in any weather…

This spectacular landscape might seem inhospitable, but it did offer the medieval native rulers some distinct advantages. Vertical land masses make great natural defenses for a royal fortress, and in the face of English invasion topographical knowledge of the feral terrain enabled an otherwise smaller and less well-equipped army to employ effective guerilla tactics. Welsh forces could secrete themselves in the mountains and ambush an unsuspecting passing army before melting away back into the safe cover of their surroundings.

Llywelyn the Great as depicted in this statue in the centre of Conwy town

Another advantage showed itself in the spring of 1211 when Llywelyn had fallen foul of his tyrannous father-in-law, King John. In May, the king mustered a large army and marched out from Chester across northern Wales with the aim of destroying his errant son-in-law. But Llywelyn hatched a clever plan to foil John’s scheme. During the middle ages it was difficult for an army on the move to carry enough supplies without overburdening themselves, so the usual practice for the English was to pillage and plunder their way through the local settlements. But Welsh communities had the advantage of great mobility. With no established towns or permanent buildings and a mainly pastoral agriculture that could easily be moved around, a contemporary chronicle tells us that Llywelyn:

‘removed both his people and their chattels to the mountains of Eryri [Snowdonia].

This meant that although John’s forces were able to march unopposed through North Wales, they also found there was nobody around and therefore nothing to loot. The Snowdonian cupboard was, effectively, bare. As an army famously marches on its stomach this was bad news for the king, who eventually had to give up on his anti-Llewelyn mission and limp hungrily back to England, many men and chattels lighter.

A hungry medieval army stopping off at a local community for a quick bit of plundering

Our festive trip took us right through the heart of Llywelyn’s mountainous lands, drinking in view after staggering view and wearing out the camera’s shutter as we went. We wound our way through countless whitened peaks, passing Snowdon herself resplendent in her wintry gown.

Snowdon’s majestic peak rising above the rest

A friend we met along the way…

Finally we followed the famous Llanberis pass to the picturesque lakeside village of the same name. Here, at the foot of Snowdon in Llywelyn’s hinterland territory, our trail came to an end as we climbed the short pathway through mossy woodland to Dolbadarn Castle, set between two lakes and bordered by mountains on high ground overlooking Llanberis itself.

The famous Llanberis Pass…

Dolbadarn Castle in it’s spectacular setting

Soon the winter sunlight was starting to fade so we made our way back, tracking a route through the darkening mountains and heading for home. But we’ll return soon because, now, we can. And after such an awe-inspiring afternoon we vowed it wouldn’t be long before we do it all again and spend longer at Llywelyn’s fortress at the head of Llanberis. So join me in the New Year for a scenic wander around Dolbadarn Castle, and in the meantime, I wish you a very merry – and warm – Christmas, and every good wish for 2023.

29 thoughts on “A Winter Wander through the Lands of Llywelyn

  1. That last photo is lovely. The snowy stuff just reminded me of why I’m sat here in pain typing with one hand (very annoying to a touch typist!) I fell on the everlasting ice last Tue and broke another wrist. I’m due to have it rebroken and plated soon!

    Good to see Snowdon again though (I class Snowdon as a ‘he’ – in fact I class mountains as masculine).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oooch, that sounds hideous! Yes the sudden blast of freezing weather did make walking a challenge, even round the shops! Hope it all heals well and you get it sorted out soon.

      As for Snowdon, I thought you’d enjoy seeing her/him/it again – whichever it is, it’s a heck of a rock with a big personality! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • VERY big personality!

        I know the local mountain rescue team think of Snowdon as feminine. I think if you’re fond of something you tend to think of it in the gender of people you love romantically. That’s why all my mountains are ‘he’ and so are all my cars. Most men think of their cars and boats as ‘she’.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I guess I associate ‘Snow’ with feminine things, and I thought it looked as though she was wearing a great white ballgown, a bit like those old=style loo roll holder dolls, only not so naff, of course! On the other hand, I agree about the cars being male. Ours are called ‘Le Grand’ and ‘Ratty’. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Well Alli, I can see that you’ve well and truly landed on your feet in North Wales, but your head must be high up in the Snowdonia clouds at the same time. This post shows you at your blogging best. Not only have you found a wonderful new home, but you’re also on the doorstep to a location that I just know you and your family will absolutely love. Well done you 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Malc. Our heads are rather full of love for our new home. We’re all really happy here and this has definitely been the right move for us – that was clear from day one. And with landscapes and history like this so close by, and beautiful coast for the kids as well as so much else, what more could you want? Thanks for your kind words and encouragement. It means a lot. Have a great Christmas and we’ll catch up in the New Year. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Snowdonia looks spectacular in the snow! That closing shot is stunning and I especially loved your one of Llyn Ogwen too. I look forward to seeing more of Dolbadarn soon – we visited ages ago but I know you’ll tell me things I never knew as well as bringing back good memories 🙂 Meanwhile, have a wonderful Christmas in your new home!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the lovely comments Sarah, and I’m glad you liked the pictures. We took the last one on the way back home through the mountains, and I thought it looked really atmospheric. It was hard to tear ourselves away! If you’ve been to Dolbadarn you’ll know how amazing it is, but hopefully I will be able to build on the historical picture for you. See you there in the New Year then, and in the meantime thanks again and have a wonderful Christmas too! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Morning Alli,

    Out of curiosity did you see my reply to your comment on my latest post (Heaven can wait)? If you did that’s fine, but something tells me that you still don’t see a lot of them for some reason. Just so that you know, I ALWAYS reply to your comments, or at least give it a thumbs up.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Malc, no I hadn’t seen it. Unfortunately your replies don’t show up in my dashboard list any more, so I have to go back to the post itself and check. Strange, as yours is the only blog that happens with. I’ll have a look now, but thanks for letting me know and it’s good to know my comments don’t disappear into the void! :-0


    • Thanks Mike, and I’m glad you liked our tour of snowy Snowdonia! Happy New Year to you too. Looking forward to catching up now the dust is finally settling on our move. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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