Whilst the crunch continues, staycations have proved to be a popular choice this summer. So why should you consider North Wales for your budget break?
North Wales may conjure up tawdry images of seaside resorts, ice creams and overcrowded beaches. But if you head for the hills, the beautiful scenery of Snowdonia can provide the perfect backdrop for a short break that heightens the senses without breaking the purse strings. My fiancé David and I were on the lookout for a mid-week getaway that would take us far from the London smog and daily grind of commuter trains. More crucially, we were on a serious budget. Snowdonia ticked all the boxes – lush scenery, only four hours away by car and wallet-friendly.
The short journey meant we had plenty of time to make a lunchtime stop at nearby Betws-y-Coed (which translates as 'chapel in the wood'), a small village that nonetheless attracts large crowds who take advantage of the many pubs, restaurants and nearby Swallow Falls, Wales' highest waterfall. We tucked into a Welsh lamb roast dinner before stocking up on camping necessities: sausages, eggs and bacon.
A recommendation led us to Llyn Gwynant, www.gwynant.com (Nantgwynant), a remote and tranquil campsite on the shores of Lake Gwynant at the foot of Mount Snowdon. A more peaceful setting to bed down for a couple of nights would be hard to find: we watched the sun go down between the surrounding mountains and fell asleep to the sound of Lake Gwynant lapping at the shore.
The following morning and many mosquito bites later we realised that we hadn't been alone. It’s a (rather itchy) lesson we have since learned – if you’re going to camp by a lake, pack plenty of insect repellent. Insects aside, everything else about the campsite was rather lovely. For £7 each per night, (£9 in high season) you can pitch your tent right on the shores of the lake, if other campers haven’t beaten you to it.
After a peaceful night under the stars, we made our way along Lake Gwynant to start the climb to Snowdon’s summit, making a pit stop at the charming Café Gwynant, (www.cafesnowdon.co.uk, 01766 890855), before setting off. Nestled in the hillside at the bottom of Snowdon’s Watkin Path, this converted chapel is a great bet for a cooked breakfast, sandwich or afternoon tea. A full English and one Belgian waffle with bacon and maple syrup later, we were ready to start our climb.
Pick your path
With ten different paths to choose from, it does need some forward planning, a compass and a map when choosing your way to the top. We started on the Watkin path, directly south of Mount Snowdon. This took us through a leafy wood and past some waterfalls before we took a de-tour to check out the disused slate tip, continuing our ascent on the South Ridge before joining the Rhyd Ddu path. There are more challenging routes, including notorious Crib Goch, which is a 500 metre knife edge ridge. The leaflet I picked up described this route as a serious undertaking WITH NO ESCAPE ROUTE; so certainly not for the faint-hearted.
A glimpse of the breathtaking view of Wales’ distinctive coastline (and the thought of a cup of tea at the top) made the final scramble worth the effort. Although perched rather incongruously at the summit, the new £8m Hafod Eryri cafe and visitor centre does provide a welcome retreat from the elements. The Snowdon Mountain Railway ejects passengers here so they can buy some souvenirs and enjoy the view. Take heed – if a train beats you to the top you may find you have to queue for your well-earned grub behind a gang of train-travelling OAP’s.
A bed for the night
Following a hard day’s climb, we decided a proper bed was in order, and managed to get a last-minute reservation at the recommended Dolgadfa Bed and Breakfast, (Llandderfel, Bala, Gwynedd, LL23 7RE), near Bala. Owners John and Lou Robertson have converted one of the stable buildings of their Grade II listed farmhouse, which was the perfect place to rest our aching limbs. Set on the banks of the River Dee, it’s also a great base for river fishing and kayaking. If we’d been away for longer, we’d certainly have squeezed in some river activities, but a three-night break, with decent grub, a mountain to climb and plenty of beautiful countryside to explore for less than £100 each certainly takes some beating for a no-frills Welsh staycation.