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Horseshoe Falls and the Velvet Hill

This is probably the prettiest walk North Wales, and the Velvet Hill is very aptly named.

Distance 4 miles (6.4km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 853ft (260m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field paths in valley and on hillside, 7 stiles

Landscape Rolling hillsides, woodland and riverside pastures

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 255 Llangollen & Berwyn

Start/finish SJ 198433

Dog friendliness Farm pastures - dogs need to be on leads

Parking Picnic site and car park at Llantysilio Green on minor road north of Berwyn Station

Public toilets At car park


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1 From the car park walk down to the road, turn right for a few paces then descend some steps to the back of the Chain Bridge Hotel. Turn right to follow the path between the river and the canal. Through a kissing gate at the end of the canal you traverse riverside fields past the Horseshoe Falls and climb to Llantysilio church. On reaching the road, turn left through the hamlet of Llantysilio to reach a junction.

2 Go though a five-bar gate a few paces along the side road and climb along a rutted track, which keeps a forest to the left, then climbs north on a high pastured hillside.

3 Through a gateway at the top of the field, the path swings right, keeping parallel to the top edge of another wood. The now narrow path descends to a complex of cottages at Pen-y-bryn. After squeezing through a ginnel to the right of the first cottage the route follows a tarmac drive out to the Horseshoe Pass road at the Britannia Inn.

4 Turn right along the road, then right again when you get to the first junction. Go over a stile on the left to head south across three fields. Turn right along a farm track then left past a large stone-built house to arrive at a narrow lane. Go left along this to meet the Horseshoe Pass road again.

5 Go over a stile on the right-hand side of the road, signposted to the Velvet Hill, and ascend by quarry workings.

6 Turn right along a wide grassy track climbing steeply through the bracken to reach the ridge, where you turn left for the summit.

7 Descend south on a narrow footpath to reach a fence above some woods. Do not cross (as many have done), but follow the fence down left to a stile. Across the stile go right, along a path that leads back to the car park.

At the picnic site at Llantysilio Green, just outside Llangollen, there's an idyllic spot where the Dee, enshrouded by trees, squeezes its way between the beautifully named Velvet Hill and the wooded hillside of Bryniau-mawr Bank. Yet the moment you leave the site and descend to the banks of the Dee you realise you're not quite in the countryside yet. Through those trees you can see the back of the Chain Bridge Hotel, the paraphernalia of the rejuvenated Llangollen Railway at Berwyn Station, and the Llangollen Canal.

The canal ends after a short distance and you cross the meadows by the banks of the Dee. Just upstream are the Horseshoe Falls. Though they're an impressive and maybe graceful piece of engineering, many visitors feel a bit let down that the falls are just a weir and not nature's own creation. Set on a natural curve of the river, the weir was Thomas Telford's solution to harnessing the waters of the Dee to feed and control the levels of the Llangollen and Ellesmere canals.

Beyond the falls the walk climbs to Llantysilio's little church, which has its origins in the 7th century, though much of the structure was added between the 18th and 19th centuries. There's a plaque in memory of poet, Robert Browning, who worshipped here in 1886 with his friends, the Martins of Bryntysilio Hall. At the time he was staying at the Royal Hotel in Llangollen. A tractor track takes you above the tree tops, then a sheep track leads you along the hillside of Pen-y-bryn, with views of both the Dee and its tributary the Eglwyseg opening up.

A section of remade path beyond a quarry incline gives you a hint of something from the recent past. November 2000 saw violent storms all over Wales. This hillside was subjected to a massive landslide following days of torrential rain. Eyewitnesses reported that an 8ft (2.4m) high torrent of mud came tumbling down the hill. It carved up the main Horseshoe Pass road, causing a blockage that would last many months, and engulfed the Britannia Inn, leaving the landlord with a £200,000 repair bill. Fortunately the famous old inn will be open for lunch before the trek up Velvet Hill.

On Velvet Hill you should see wondrous landscapes in a hundred shades of green. The Dee, now far below, meanders in crazy horseshoes. It's joined by the Afon Eglwyseg which flows beneath the gleaming terraces of limestone that shares its name. In the valley bottom beneath the crags, the Cistercian abbey of Valle Crucis seems diminutive in this big scene, as does the romantic castle-topped hill of Dinas Bran. It seems a shame to ever come down.

Where to eat and drink

The famous Britannia Inn met halfway along the route is a bustling pub serving Theakston's ales and a good selection of bar meals, including many of the old favourites like rump steak and chicken Kiev. If you're looking for a cosy bistro for an evening meal, try Jonkers in Llangollen.

What to look for

On the hill slopes above Pen-y-bryn you pass the remains of a slate quarry incline. Quarrying has been carried out on the Llantysilio Mountains for many hundreds of years and the Berwyn Slate Quarry, over the hill near the Horseshoe Pass, still operates. You can see the remains of the old pulley houses and the ramps, which plummet straight as a die, all the way down to Abbey Grange.

While you're there

From the refurbished Llangollen Station you can take a ride on one of the vintage steam trains that operate along a beautiful 8-mile (13km) stretch of the Dee Valley to Carrog. Eventually the line will be extended to Corwen. You can plan a pub lunch or a picnic from any of the stations, which have been painstakingly restored to their early 1950s liveries. Berwyn Station lies close to the start of the walk.


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