Hidden gardens of the Conwy Valley Line
From hidden valley gardens to expansive country house estates, visitors can venture into a world of colourful flora and fauna cultivated over centuries here in North Wales.
In this blog we share two glorious gardens, both within easy reach of the Conwy Valley Railway line. We’ve also included optional country walking routes to accompany them, so whether you want a whole day out exploring or would prefer to spend a couple of hours admiring beautiful historic gardens – you can pick and choose from these two options.
1. Secret garden of the Conwy Valley
This is a little known (and fairly easy) walk with astounding views across the valley, estuary and the Carneddau mountain range which finishes just next to Maenan Abbey. It passes a hidden lake and there is also a beautiful hidden garden to discover – though you may need to arrange to visit in advance.
Take the Conwy Valley Line and leave the train at Tal-y-Cafn. When you are ready to start the walk, head past the Tal-y-Cafn pub and cross the main road. Walk uphill on the lane and take the second turning on the right (signposted Ffordd Llyn Syberi).
Stop and enjoy great views of the pastoral landscape and the Afon Conwy meandering down the valley towards the estuary.
Continue along the lane and you’ll soon reach Llyn Syberi on your right, this is small woodland lake which is brilliant for bird spotting. Birds of prey and many varieties of waterfowl can be seen here.
Continue on and you’ll pass some power lines before the lane drops down steeply and crosses a stream.
Look out for a white house and follow the driveway which leads past a few properties and to a car parking area.
Beyond this there is a woodland path (bear right) which eventually emerges at a narrow rock platform high above the Conwy Valley. This is the chair (cadair) of the mythical Welsh giant Ifan Goch, who, legend has it, would sit here and paddle his feet in the river below!
Stop for a while and enjoy dizzying views down river and across to the peaks of the Carneddau. Then, when you’re ready, retrace your route through the woods, turn right, then right again where you see the National Trust signpost.
This track drops down bearing left past an old chapel and then down country lanes finishing at the Maenan Abbey Hotel – perfect to enjoy a refreshing drink after your walk.
It doesn’t end there…. it’s time to head across the road to explore the secret gardens at Maenan Hall.
Maenan Hall was bought in 1945 by the second Lord Aberconway, owner of Bodnant and creator of much of its garden. Set on the slopes of the Conwy Valley, these beautiful gardens are set amongst mature hardwoods, similar to those at Bodnant.
There are sweeping lawns, ornamental ponds as well as a tranquil woodland dell which features magnolias, rhododendrons, camellias, pieris, cherries and hydrangeas, among others.
These are private gardens, but the current owner Christopher Mclaren and his wife Janey open them to the public – usually for a couple of weekends during May and August. They also welcome group visits by prior appointment, their contact details can be found here.
After you’ve enjoyed a day exploring the hidden beauty spots of the Conwy Valley, you can catch the X1 bus to either Tal-y-Cafn or Llanrwst and then return to your original starting point on the train.
Alternatively, you can take the train from nearby Dolgarrog, which is about 15 minutes walk from Maenan Hall (be aware, it is along the very busy A470 main road).
2. The glorious garden of the Vale of Ffestiniog
Extend your journey a little further to discover the beautiful gardens at Plas Tan y Bwlch.
Once you reach the end of the Conwy Valley line, swap diesel for steam and travel a few stops on the Ffestiniog Railway to Tan y Bwlch.
From here descend along a path through the woods, cross the road and enjoy a breathtaking 30-40 minute lakeside walk through Coed Hafod y Llyn to Plas Tan y Bwlch (highly recommended).
Alternatively, if you don’t fancy the walk it’s a just a 15 minute bus ride on the 1B bus service to the Oakley Arms stop (there’s a quirky pottery – Crochendy Twrog, just across the road that’s well worth a visit).
Plas Tan y Bwlch is set on a hill above the Vale of Maentwrog, with an impressive vista looking out across the River Dwyryd as far as Cardigan Bay.
Its 13 acres are lit with bursts of colour from rhododendrons and azalea in the spring, sunny south facing borders in summer and the glorious red and gold foliage of deciduous trees in autumn.
Wander through shady woodlands planted with oak, beech, pine and unusual shrubs from overseas.
As a site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the gardens (and surrounding woodland) are home to protected species of birds, insects and animals.
Even with a secluded and remote feeling, formal terraces, lawns and water gardens add a grandeur which reflects the rich history of the estate.
The Dwyryd Tea Room quite possibly has one of the most incredible views in the UK. Sit in the sunshine on the terrace and gaze out over the valley below with a cup of tea in hand. This gives you a flavour of the lifestyle the wealthy Oakeley family would have had, having made their fortune from slate.
If you want to learn about the area in more depth, or perhaps you feel inspired by the surroundings, it’s worth knowing that Plas Tan y Bwlch offers a range of courses covering topics ranging from wildlife conservation to photography.
Walk or linger, the choice is yours
We hope these two beautiful walks with hidden gardens will ignite your desire to explore North Wales. Enjoy just the walk sections, or only the gardens… or spend a whole day-out in the countryside and do both – there is so much to discover at either destination!
In a future blog we’ll be exploring more hidden gardens, including Gwydir Castle, Conwy Maze and more.
They are all perfect for families to enjoy during the summer holidays and are all easily accessible from the main Conwy Valley Railway line, so do check back again soon and follow us on Facebook (hyperlink) or Twitter (hyperlink) for regular updates.
Images courtesy: Plas Tan y Bwlch, © Copyright Arthur C Harris and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Wild garden, Tom Turner, 2006, via wikipedia