Updated: Nov 26, 2021
To Celebrate North Wales and it's designation as a UNESCO world heritage site this epic cycle route connects the quarries and tramways of the once booming slate industry that roofed the world!
The route rides best anti-clockwise. Start and finish in Blaenau Ffestiniog, Snowdonia.
Distance: 140km Elevation: 2800m
Thanks for downloading the Gpx route and I hope you enjoy the journey. This self guided bike tour can be completed as fast or as slow as you like. Whether you are Bikepacking or Gravel Touring, take a day or 4 its entirely up to you.
This is a mixed terrain tour so expect a good mix of paved roads, cycleways, forest tracks, gravel and some wilder trails. The tour can be completed on either a Gravel Bike or MTB. Watch this short video to get the idea!
Read on for key information, facts and tales about the route using the map and reference numbers as you go.
The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales was formed by the quarrying, processing and transport of slate to produce roofing and architectural materials for global markets, from the late eighteenth century to the twentieth. It is a cultural landscape – one where the works of nature and humankind combine to express a deep relationship between people and their natural environment.
The slate beds themselves were laid down during Cambrian and Ordovician times some 600 Million years ago. The ash and debris exerted by volcanoes settled onto the sea floor creating ultra fine beds of silt and clay. Millions of years of compression and heat from the earths tectonics baked the beds into the rock we see today. The process of mountain building due to colliding continents and spreading oceans brought the Slate beds to back to the surface in the formation of the Caledonian mountain range, which stretches from the North West of Norway, through Scotland, the Lake District, North Wales and the Appalachian range found in North East America today.
The journey you are undertaking is a circumnavigation of where these Slate beds are close enough to the surface that they have been quarried and mined. These sites were mainly worked between the late 1700's to the 1980's. With some areas remaining open for industrial and architectural material today. Famously Slate is used as a natural roofing material, proving to be the best and most durable in the world.
I can't give you the entire history of the Slate Landscape here - For more, you'll have to jump on one of the organised tours! However here is a list of some interesting sites that you'll pass through on the way!
1 - Blaenau Ffestiniog
The route traditionally starts in the centre of Blaenau Ffestiniog and here there are supermarkets, bakery's and coffee shops to get you started on your journey. Call into the Antur Stiniog coffee shop to hydrate before you go!
The high street in Blaenau Ffestiniog echoes its industrial past, with architectural monuments that depict where the slate would of been carted across the centre of town to connect to the Ffestiniog Railway. At its peak in the mid to late 1800's Blaenau Ffestiniog had over 11,000 inhabitants and was famed for being the second town in North Wales to recieve electrified street lighting. The slate mountains surrounding the town are a testament to this booming industry. The network of Ffestiniog quarries and mines sent slate down the Ffestiniog railway to the Port of Porthmadog to be transported around the world. There are several industries still active in the slate trade in Ffestiniog with the tips being slowly crushed to form aggregates and decorative architectural material.
As you leave Ffestiniog you steadily climb up a paved road into the stunning Cwm Teigl. At the top you will arrive at the gates of Cwt Y Bugail, before turning offroad. Here at Cwt Y Bugail, one of the last quarries in Wales producing roofing material, the rock is still worked and split into quality roofing slates to order. This is also the site where throughout the Second World War, the mine shafts and chambers were used to store the contents of the British Art Museum during the Blitz of London.
2 - Rhiw Bach and Cwm Penmachno
From Cwt Y Bugail the route rides an old tramway opening to a dramatic panoramic view of the old Cwt Y Bugail and Rhiwbach workings. The workings here were notoriously remote and slate was winched up inclines and over into Ffestiniog via the Rhiwbach tramway which you will see running along the hill side to your North West as you stand looking down at the Rhiwbach Barracks and mill, descend through Rhiwbach down a quarry track into the quaint mining settlement of Cwm Penmachno.
From Cwm Penmachno you ride forestry tracks up and over the hillside towards Betws Y Coed, briefly the route picks up the ancient Sarn Helen Roman road before making its way to Capel Curig and The Ogwen Valley. Along this stretch you will pass Ty Mawr Wybrnant, a National Trust property which is preserved and famed for being the house where the Bible was first translated to Welsh.
There is no shop on route until Betws-Y-Coed beyond Blaenau Ffestiniog, however there is the Eagles pub and bunkhouse in Penmachno. If you wish, It is possible to divert off route slightly to visit Betws-Y-Coed to stop the night. There accomodation and good places to eat. It is recommended to book well in advance as it is extremely popular during the Summer months. There is also a bike shop in the village called Beics Betws should you need spares or repairs. Or Alpkit stores for bikepacking goodies.
Beyond Betws-Y-Coed the route links up with the Ogwen Valley by cycling the bridleway from Capel Curig to the Ogwen visitor centre via Nant Y Benglog, an eerie name for a spectacular stretch of trail, 'Nant y Benglog' translates to Stream of the Skull! Call into the visitor centre for refreshments and tales of how Charles Darwin visited this dramatic valley that inspired and aided his research into the Natural World.
3 - Bethesda and Penrhyn Quarries
A once booming slate town, the Penrhyn Quarries above Bethesda now attract the masses for a different reason, the Zip Wire.
As you ride into Bethesda, follow the GPX route as it takes you up into Zip World and enjoy a drink as you look in awe out across what was once the largest opencast quarry in the world. The crystal blue waters and steep sided cliffs reflecting the masses of material extracted from this mountainside by generations of quarrymen.
Bethesda has a hard to hear past, reflected by local musicians 'Celt' in the song 'Streets of Bethesda'. (Listen for goosebumps) Songs of the tough times and poor working conditions, tales of doctors misleading workers to boost production whilst ignoring the health and well being of quarrymen. Take your time in Bethesda, we stayed at the very reasonable Caban Cysgu, a community owned Bunkhouse and took the afternoon exploring the town. Check out what's on in Neuadd Ogwen, the local hall for live music and events if you are staying.
In Bethesda you'll find plenty of cafe's, shops and eateries to fuel you up for the onward journey up and over Mynydd Llandygai, through the quarryman's terraces and onto Dinorwig.
4 - Dinorwig
Congratulations, you've made it to Dinorwig. Possibly one of the most impressive bits of gravel riding on offer in North Wales. The Blue Slate towering above you as you ride amongst the spoils of this shutdown network of quarries. Here the slate beds are tilted near vertical, so look out for climbers as you ride through, they can often be found scaling these impressive walls. All be it on safer equipment than that used by the quarrymen of the day. At it's peak this site employed over 3000 men and was the second largest quarry in the world behind Penrhyn Quarry over the mountain. Sadly due to the global drop in demand for roofing slates the site ceased operations in 1969.
As you ride through, Llyn Padarn lake and Llanberis come into view below and you can descend freely following the GPX route as it leads you into the town centre.
Llanberis is home to the National Slate Museum. If you are staying the night or have the time you will learn all that is needed to know about the industry here. In town you will also find all the services you need to refuel before a remote section through Rhyd-Ddu to the Nantlle Valley.
5 - Rhyd - Ddu
As you climb up Maesgwm valley from Llanberis on prime gravel track you can look back at the vast workings of Dinorwig on the hillside above Llanberis.
Nearing the top of the pass you'll be greeted with stunning views of the Hebog Range and the Beddgelert Forest below. The views as you make your way down the Ranger's bridleway off the edge of Snowdon are spectacular. The Glan yr Afon quarry workings and slate tips at Rhyd-ddu will come into view here. Pause and look at the network of causeways and workings around Llyn Y Gadair and Rhyd-ddu and imagine how the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railway, now the Welsh Highland Railway, would have been the vein transporting the slate through to the port at Caernarfon.
Rhyd-ddu has a quirky little pancake cafe well worth stopping at and also the Cwellyn arms serve excellent bar meals. For bike bits - 1085 Adventures and bike hire just down the valley specialises in adventure kit and will stock bike spares.
6 - Dorothea and Nantlle Valley
Climb out of Rhyd-ddu and enjoy paved roads for a while as you make your way up and over into the Nantlle Valley. A dramatic, peaceful valley sandwiched between the towering Nantlle ridge and the steep buttresses of Mynydd Mawr, it is a valley rich in history. Legend has it one of the first ever recorded Jousts was held here after the Edwardian Conquest of the 1200's.
As you descend, the Gpx will lead you off the road and into the impressive Nantlle workings at Dorothea Quarry. A vast open pit which is now flooded, you will ride alongside it. The slates here were buried at a great depth beneath the valley floor, extraction was difficult and expensive as the blocks were hoisted out from the bottom of the pit. The constant flooding of the pit lead to the purchase of the famed Cornish Beam Engine, one of the last ever to be made it could pump 10 gallons of water per second. The engine house can be seen across the pit from the trackway you cycle along.
Beyond Nantlle and Talysarn the ride takes you around the outskirts of Penygroes, where there are some small shops should you need supplies for the onward journey. From here enjoy a few miles of quiet cycle path along the Lon Eifion cyclepath as you make your way toward Garndolbenmaen and up the hill over to Cwm Pennant. Here on this wild trail passing Cae-Amos bothy you will descend into the old Moelfre quarry workings at Cwm Pennant, views across the valley show Isallt quarries spilling down the hillside. Both were quarried around the mid to late 1800's. The long period of abandonment is evident here as the mature oaks and surrounding woodland reclaim the land.
7 - Cwmystradllyn Mill and Gorseddau Workings
Climbing out of Cwm Pennant you will find yourself cycling towards Cwm Ystradllyn and the Prince of Wales workings, a branch of the Penrhyn quarries at the time.
You dont quite go as far as the lake and quarry, although if you wish to divert off route to the workings at the back of the lake there is a good track to do so. Some amazing photo opportunities of the Slate curved wall await if you do!
The Gpx route turns at Cwm Ystradllyn mill. Take a walk around, a mill that sadly saw little operation. The infrastructure here was heavily invested in as prospectors were sure the Slate revenue would refund their outlay. The material unfortunately poor, and difficult to work meant the quarry here never boomed. It was an optimistic venture, thought to be the Slate industry's biggest failure in North Wales.
Prepare for a backcountry lane descent of dreams as you enjoy views over the Glaslyn Estuary and Porthmadog on your way down into Prenteg. If you pause and look out across the estuary to the sea at Porthmadog you will notice 'Y Cob' a long tidal causeway which once took tons of Slate from Ffestiniog across to the docks.
You have almost completed the loop at this point and should begin to really visualise the Slate landscape in its entirety.
From Prenteg the route takes you across some nice flat roads across the reclaimed estuary to Garreg Llanfrothen, the once tidal limit before the construction of the 'Cob'. Here you will find a pleasant little eco café and local produce shop to re-supply before heading up into Cwm Croesor.
Cwm Croesor has seen its fair share of Slate industry, with disputes and dramas it played a key role in transporting Slate down to the docks at Porthmadog when trade routes were denied and out cost through Ffestiniog.
You will ride up the lane into the shadow of Cnicht, a quick cake stop can be made at Caffi Croesor before you tackle the wild climb up to Croesor Quarry.
If you started your journey from Blaenau Ffestiniog this off-road track will lead you up your final pass of the route. Arriving at the rusty steel gates of Croesor Quarry you are rewarded with panoramic views of Cnicht and the valley below. Look across to the steep incline that drops into Croesor. The steepest Incline In North Wales.
From this hillside quarry you may find yourself pushing your bike for 400 metres or so and the trail becomes rough as it hops over the hill to a broken dam and drained resevoir. Soon beyond here you can hop back in the saddle for a grassy descent into Rhosydd. The highest Slate works in North Wales. A once bustling mill site and barracks, men could have walked for over 3 hours to get to work here.
Descend the lumpy track into Cwmorthin. If you can peel your eyes from the track the views here are incredible, the valley below was once inhabited by up to 200 people, you will see the remains of the workings, an old Chapel and the miner's dwellings as your ride through. The lake itself was used to tip slate waste, you can see from where you are the veins of slate waste spanning into it.
The descent out of the Cwmorthin valley brings you back to civilisation at the old mining settlement of Dolrhedyn, above Tan-Y-Grisiau. From here you are on smooth tarmac to the finish as the route guides you down past Lakeside Cafe and back towards the centre of Blaenau Ffestiniog, back into the colosseum of Slate from whence you began.
Congratulations on completing the Snowdonia World Heritage Bike Trail! Whether you completed it over a day or multi days, wild camping or Bunk housing, I am sure you have had an unforgettable journey!
If you've downloaded this route and completed it I hope you enjoyed your tour, dont forget to submit your time back to Wheelgoodtimes@outlook.com to earn your spot on the leader board and get your map art.
If you have read this and would prefer to be guided round the trail then keep an eye out for upcoming guided trips on Wheelgoodtimes.com. We will be running tours over 2,3 and 4 days so choose a pace that suits you!
Thanks for reading!
Connaire Cann @ Wheel Good Times.