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In Snowdonia National Park in North Wales, there are multiple mountain ranges each with their own unique character. The Carneddau is where you’ll find the Bronze Age stone circle hike I wrote about here, and the Glyderau (often called “The Glyders”) is where you’ll find the iconic Cantilever Stone and Castell y Gwynt rock formation, or “Castle of the Wind”.
The highest peaks in the Glyderau range are Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach, so summiting these two peaks can be a part of your mission when visiting the Cantilever Stone or Castle of the Wind. You can also attempt the forbidding trail to summit Tryfan, a grade 1 scramble.
There are many different routes to reach these points of interest, and faint “trails” connecting them that don’t even have names, so there’s no one way to do things. This can make it a fun choose-your-own-adventure situation, as you can change up your plan on a dime if you have an Ordnance Survey map and a navigation app like GAIA, but if you’re uncertain about a path please be very careful. If you’re not up for scrambles, you can easily get onto a path that includes a lot more of them than you bargained for.
I am a hiker, not a climber, so I won’t be discussing climbing routes here. For other hikers wanting to reach these interesting rock formations with minimal risk and exposure, there is one route that will help you avoid scrambles as much as possible, which is the focus of this post.
If you’re looking for a more adventurous path, check out Much Better Adventures article “Snowdonia Walks: 6.5 of the Best Hikes in Snowdonia”. GPX tracks for the second hike on the list, “Glyderau Circular Hike (From Ogwen Valley)”, can be downloaded from this page. This one connects all the major points of interest in one big hike. I am confused as to why they wrote “We’ve chosen a route that avoids all the scrambling” – the GPX track absolutely does not. You could make this circular even more scrambly if you wanted, but I found it scrambly enough as it is! I did this on an extremely windy day and found it harrowing in many places, though beautiful.
If you’ve not hiked in this part of the country before, know that the Glyders are quite scrambly overall; it’s just the nature of the terrain in this part of the park (“Glyder” means “heap of stones”, after all), so do be prepared for a few technical spots regardless of your chosen route. None of them will be a total walk in the park. That said, the route discussed below comes closest to being a true walk with the least amount of technicality required.
The Easiest Route to Castell y Gwynt and The Cantilever Stone
Unlike the Circular Hike described above, which begins at the Gwern gof Uchaf campsite, our simpler route is going to start on the other side of the range at the Pen-y-Gwryd hotel.
I was staying in Betws-y-Coed this particular week, so I took the S1 Sherpa bus from there to Pen-y-Gwryd. This is the same bus that continues further on to drop hikers off at Pen-y-Pass, the starting trailhead for the Pyg and Miner’s tracks up to the summit of Snowdon. Snowdon is the tallest mountain in Wales (and England). Pen-y-Gwryd is one stop prior to Pen-y-Pass.
If you plan on taking the same bus back to Betws-y-Coed after your hike, you should buy the day pass, or just tell them you want roundtrip and they’ll sell you the day pass. The day pass is cheaper than buying a one-way ticket to the trailhead and then another one-way ticket for the return. You can pay for your bus ticket right there on the bus via cash or contactless card when you board. Don’t lose the paper ticket; you’ll need to scan it for the return trip.
When you are dropped off at the hotel, the trailhead begins with a turnstile over a fence. Our trail is called the Miner’s Track, but it’s obviously not the same Miner’s Track that goes up Snowdon. Download the GPX track for the Miner’s Track to Castell y Gwynt here or here.
The hike begins with a gentle walk through a marshy meadow. You’ll pass by the ruins of an old stone building and will probably encounter some wet spots regardless of how recent the last rain was. Soon you’ll start to ascend more steeply and the terrain becomes rockier, but there are no steep drop-offs. This whole hike is exposed to the sun! There is no shade, so be sure to pack sunscreen and a hat.
When you get to the waterfall, you are almost to the top of the ridge where the landscape will change drastically. Once you pull yourself over the ridge, there is a vast, pleasant, flat saddle with 360 degree mountain views all around and sheep happily grazing. As you make your way west towards Glyder Fach, Tryfan will begin to loom before you. It looks like a horn on a stegosaurus’ back!
You’ll reach a cairn to reward you for making it this far. From here you’ll begin a much rockier incline up Glyder Fach. It looks a bit intimidating because of all the jagged rocks, but I found this scramble fun and didn’t feel that it was dangerous. If you were to slip, you’re not going to fall into the abyss, unlike other sections of the Circular Walk where a slip could be fatal.
When you reach the top of this scramble, you’re on a flat plateau again, this time covered in rocks as far as the eye can see. It looks like a netherworld out of Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings.
The Cantilever Stone will be on your left. The stone balances in a way that seems precarious and impossible, but it is held strongly in place and hikers have the obligatory duty of climbing up on top of it to get a fun picture.
Continue past the Cantilever stone. Over a field of strange rocks the Castle of the Wind will begin to come into view. I loved the approach to Castell y Gwynt because it builds anticipation; it’s foreboding and creepy looking in the distance and only becomes more mystical as it grows. Over this rock field to reach Castell y Gwynt I met a whole herd of mountain goats, perhaps guardians of the realm.
Castell y Gwynt looks like the back of a sleeping dragon. If there’s anywhere in the world that dragons keep a lair, I have to imagine it would be here.
From Castell y Gwynt you can continue further to Glyder Fawr and down the Red Dot Path to Pen-y-Pass, or you could turn back and retrace your steps to Pen-y-Gwyrd hotel. I retraced my steps back because I had to be somewhere that evening and since I already knew the path, I knew it would be a quick way to return. If you decide to continue to the Red Dot Path, Mark Reeves from the UK Hillwalking site says that it can be faint and difficult to follow at times. “It is quite easy to lose the path in the initial descent from the summit of Glyder Fawr, or worse still end up following the path down into the Devil’s Kitchen and the Ogwen Valley. To avoid this it is advisable to use a bearing to get off the summit in the right direction, on all but the clearest of days.”
There you have it! The easiest hiking route to the Cantilever Stone and Castell y Gwynt in the Glyderau of Snowdonia National Park. I hope this will help other hikers understand and sort through all the various Glyderau hiking trails discussed online. As someone who is not Welsh and who came into this hiking trip to explore Snowdonia with no context, it was difficult for me to figure out exactly what the differences would be between the many trails other hikers suggested. When you’ve not been somewhere before, comparisons based on place names mean very little to you, but hopefully my description provides enough background to make you feel confident.