Snowdonia is a popular holiday destination that boasts many famous visitor attractions. But if you’d like to experience a different side to Snowdonia, try visiting some of its beautiful old villages, like Llanfrothen and Croesor.
Every country in the world has its own well-kept secrets when it comes to places to visit, and Snowdonia is no exception. While guide books tend to point visitors towards popular tourist attractions – the busiest beaches, the best-trodden paths, the places that see thousands of visitors every year – often, the places that local people hold dearest to their hearts are those that are most deserving of inclusion in guide books, but are completely overlooked.
The Meirionnydd communities of Llanfrothen and Croesor – they are neighbours to each other, via Garreg – are two such places.
Those people ‘in the know’ – and the majority of these will be local residents – take delight in visiting Llanfrothen and Croesor to enjoy peaceful, unspoilt surroundings where natural beauty is abundant and photo opportunities lurk around every corner.
There’s been a strong community here since medieval times; the age of the local medieval church, St Brothen’s, is testament to this, although according to tradition the site dates back to at least the 6th century. Although the church is now redundant, it’s cared for by Friends of Friendless Churches; so while you won’t catch a service at St Brothen’s these days, you’ll still be able to go inside and have a look around. Much of the fabric of the building dates to the 13th century, but inside you’ll see fixtures and fittings belonging to anywhere from the 15th century to the 19th, when the church underwent significant restoration works.
Details of listed buildings in Llanfrothen, and dendrochronology reports placing the felling dates of timber used in some of these buildings to the 15th century, are further evidence that this delightful little community has withstood the tests of time.
While there are popular tourist attractions nearby – for example, the Glaslyn Osprey Project at nearby Pont Croesor (handily located near the station for a trip on the Welsh Highland Railway), and Portmeirion, just down the road at Minffordd – the real delight in Llanfrothen and Croesor is just being there, soaking up the peaceful atmosphere and beautiful surroundings. The Ring (the local name for the village pub, The Brondanw Arms) is a great place to do this, so pop in for a pint and a meal during your visit; the beer garden is wonderful.
For walkers and outdoor enthusiasts, Croesor has plenty to offer. This tiny village sits at the foot of Cnicht, “The Welsh Matahorn”, and is a great place to start if you’re planning to explore Cnicht and the Moelwyns. En route there’s a community-managed cafe and gallery, Oriel Caffi Croesor, which also provides riverside camping facilities.
If you’re hiking from Croesor, as well as discovering all that unspoilt scenery you’re bound to come across the old mine workings of Croesor Quarry and Rhosydd Quarry. Long since closed down, parts of these quarries are still accessible; we don’t recommend exploring inside the mines, as they can be extremely dangerous, but it is well documented that caving enthusiasts and experienced mine explorers have left behind ropes and other equipment as, despite the danger, the Croesor to Rhosydd Through Trip is infamous in mine exploration circles.
Long mountain walks aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, of course, so if you’re visiting Llanfrothen or Croesor and aren’t feeling especially energetic, pay a visit to Plas Brondanw. This was the ancestral home of Portmeirion’s creator, Clough Williams-Ellis, and while the property is less obviously striking than the famous Italianate village, it’s a wonderful place to visit. Beautifully designed and tended formal gardens, with gorgeous topiaries, ponds, statues and follies, are backed by the equally stunning Snowdonia landscape. Here, pristine order meets mountain wilderness, and the results are truly breathtaking. There’s a small charge for visiting Brondanw, which you won’t begrudge paying as the opportunity to visit such a delightful and peaceful place (and this is one of those attractions that is never crowded, although by rights it should be) is worth every penny.
You’ll see evidence of Clough Williams-Ellis’ involvement all around in Llanfrothen, Croesor and Garreg; those tell-tale splashes of turquoise paint are indicative of how much property in this area is part of the estate. Just across the way from the entrance to Brondanw is Clough’s lookout tower and again, this and the land in which it sits is “typical Clough”, with natural beauty enhanced, not spoiled, by one man’s artistic and aesthetic vision.
If you’re visiting Snowdonia and want to avoid crowds, and try something decidedly different; if you want to see the real, living, breathing Snowdonia with all its little quirks and customs; there are few places that will offer quite such an opportunity to do so than Llanfrothen and Croesor. When you veer off the beaten track in Snowdonia, who knows what you’ll discover?