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Stones and Settlements on Tal y Fan

Visit the most northerly 2,000ft (610m) hill in Wales and see what remains from ancient settlers.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 984ft (300m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Cart tracks and narrow mountain paths, 7 stiles

Landscape Moor and mountain

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL17 Snowdon

Start/finish SH 720715

Dog friendliness Can be off lead on high ridges, but should be kept under tight control in farmland

Parking Car park at end of Bwlch y Ddeufaen road, off B5106 Conwy-Llanwrst road

Public toilets None on route

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1 From the car park at the top of the metalled section of the road to Bwlch y Ddeufaen, continue along the road, which is now unsurfaced, and follow it past the ancient standing stones to the high pass itself, where you go though a gate in a crossing wall.

2 Turn right and follow the course of the wall, which traverses the pass, goes under three lines of electricity pylons, and climbs the steep rocky slopes of Foel Lwyd. A narrow footpath continues, first descending to a little saddle, or col, then climbing to the even rockier summit of Tal y Fan.

3 The descending footpath still follows the line of the drystone wall, but it stays with more even ground on the left-hand side. The wall turns right by particularly steep ground. Here you leave it to follow a pathless but smooth grassy ride, aiming for Caer Bach fort, to the east, and the prominent rocky knoll beyond.

4 When you reach the remains of the fort turn right to follow a tumbled down wall heading south west across high pastureland overlooking the Conwy Valley. Except for a short stretch this wall now acts as your guide, as do the frequent ladder stiles and locked gates sited in all the intervening cross-walls.

5 The footpath eventually becomes a cart track, which passes beneath the whitewashed cottage of Cae Coch before turning left to join the stony vehicle track that has come from Rowen Youth Hostel.

6 Turn right along the track, which soon joins the Bwlch y Ddeufaen road at a sharp corner. Go straight ahead along the road and follow it back to the car park.

When you're driving along the A55 past Colwyn Bay, the first close-up views of Snowdonia reveal themselves across the Conwy Estuary. The peak that captures the eye here rises up behind Conwy Mountain and has just enough crags on top to ruffle its otherwise smooth whaleback outline. The mountain is Tal y Fan, an outlier of the Carneddau range, and the most northerly 2,000-footer (610m) in Wales.

Now you can be a hero and climb Tal y Fan from sea level, but there's a peak-baggers' route that begins from Bwlch y Ddeufaen 1,400ft (427m) up in the hills above the Conwy Valley. From here you can get the wonderful views of Snowdonia and the North Wales coastline, from Anglesey to Conwy and its castle without the toil of a full day's walk.

The road you walk is centuries old. Bronze- and Iron-Age tribesmen would have used it regularly, for they had large settlements all over the northern Carneddau. Great monoliths either side of the road give the pass, Bwlch y Ddeufaen (pass of the two stones) its name.

When you climb to the top of Tal y Fan you can see their settlements in plan, for here on a great high plateau the Ordovices tribesmen could farm and watch out for their enemies from over the seas. The Roman invasion under Gnaeus Julius Agricola must have come as a shock to these primitive farmers. Between ad 75 and 77 the invaders set up forts at Segontium (Caernarfon) and Canovium (at Caerhun in the Conwy Valley). When the Roman cohorts marched into the hills they made the Bwlch y Ddeufaen road their own, undertaking improvements by surfacing it and adding mileposts. The Ordovices were driven out and defeated. Great forts like Caer Bach, on the southern slopes of Tal y Fan, were abandoned. Today, Caer Bach lies beneath the turf and gorse, but with its earth ramparts and a circle of stones still visible. As you look down into the civilisation of the Conwy Valley you can drift back into time and those heartbreaking battles with the superior power.

As the Roman Empire declined, the native tribes returned to Tal y Fan, tending sheep on the high northern plateau and growing crops on the steeper southern flanks. Looking down to the castle at Conwy you are reminded that although it would be Edward I of England who would come to conquer, it would take the land clearance and enclosure acts of the early 19th century to force the Welsh hill people away from their settlements.

What to look for

You should be able to pick out the field systems of the Bronze-Age farmers below the road in the valley of the Tafolog and in the pastures to the north of the youth hostel. Their houses were made of wood but you can still see many of the raised earth platforms they stood on, especially from the track beyond Caer Bach.

While you're there

Plas Mawr in Conwy's High Street claims to be the finest surviving Elizabethan gentry town house in Britain and it's certainly an impressive building. It was built for Robert Gwydir, an influential merchant in the town, between 1576 and 1585. The lime-washed walls and opulent furnishings must have been breathtaking at the time. The house is open from late March to late October.

Where to eat and drink

The Groes Inn at Ty'n-y-groes (B5106 to Conwy) was the first house in Wales to be licensed (1573). It's a splendid old coaching house with low oak-beamed ceilings and roaring fires. The restaurant is well known for its fine cuisine. Expect to see game dishes, Welsh lamb, Conwy crab and cured hams on the extensive menu and a blackboard full of specials for those taking a bar meal.

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