“ Location: Conwy Valley, North Wales. „
Driving into the village of Betws-Y-Coed recently, I spotted the Conwy falls by the side of the A5 just to the East of the town. Driving back out a few days later, my girlfriend spotted the sign and, having spent part of that morning at Swallow Falls just to the West of the village and not being pressed for time, we decided to stop and have a little look around. For the visits to both sets of falls, we had been blessed with the weather, as there had been significant rain in the days leading up to our visit, meaning the falls were in good flow and looking quite impressive, but the rain was holding off on that particular morning.
Although there are infrequent buses along this route, the easiest way is to arrive at Conwy Falls by car. I don't recall it being particularly well signposted on the left as you drive towards Betws-Y-Coed, as I only spotted the Falls as we drove past, but on the way out it was signposted clearly enough that my girlfriend was able to spot the sign in time for us to decide to go in and execute the manoeuvre safely.
From the outside, the first things you see are the car park and a very modern looking cafe, which gives the Conwy Falls a much better set up than the Swallow Falls. The car park was maybe half full when we got there, but a lot of these people may have been in the cafe, as we didn't see them on our walk round and it was virtually empty when we left. Despite being a stone based car park, it was in very good condition, especially considering how much rain there had been in that area over the Summer months.
Entrance when we arrived was through a turnstile just to the right of the cafe as you face it and was achieved by putting a £1 coin into the slot. It is possible to get two people through the turnstile for a single coin, as I witnessed the people before us doing, but it didn't look particularly safe and considering what you get for your £1, it's really not worth the bumps and bruises you're likely to get if you tried that. It may be that they simply objected to paying to see something natural, but given that the paths were in the process of having overgrown vegetation cut away from them as we arrived and there have needed to be fences erected in recent years following a fatality, I can see why entry is both required and appropriate.
When you get through the turnstile, you're greeted by the sound of the falls, but not the sight of them. The falls are set in 9 ½ acres of woodland and all we could see from the entrance were the trees and several paths leading between them. There are no signs suggesting which way you should go, so we aimed in a random direction to see where it would lead us, as we had been doing on many of the paths around Betws-Y-Coed over the previous few days, not being burdened by time constraints. Whilst all the paths are quite well lined with rocks towards the top end, some of them are very steep and other parts were quite muddy due to the weather. This is not a place for those with mobility difficulties and walking boots are very much recommended, although I managed to handle all the paths fairly well just in trainers.
The first path we followed took us slightly downhill, but more around the trees than through them, but when we reached the river it was at the very top of the falls, at a point which is slightly less impressive. When we then followed the river upstream, the path eventually led us around in a large oval and we ended up where we had started. Whilst this wasn't a problem for us as we weren't in any hurry, it would have been useful to have had some kind of information to advise us of this, as if you were only going for a quick look at the falls, this could be considered a waste of about 10 minutes as well as unnecessary effort. But there were no signs on the paths nor were there any leaflets with a guide to the falls that I saw on the way in, although there is a map of sorts available on the Conway Falls website.
The second path we tried, which went quite steeply downhill towards the main falls themselves. The top of the path was quite well maintained and the undergrowth had been cut away earlier that day to provide clearer passage, but as it goes into the woods, the path becomes more natural and less well maintained and a lot rockier and more slippery. We had been lucky with the weather, but there were still some nasty muddy areas and it could be quite hazardous after a prolonged period of rain, rather than after a couple of dry days as we'd experienced.
When you finally reach the viewing area, the Conwy Falls are an impressive sight. They fall either side of what has become an island in the middle of the river and you can see how the two sides have cut their own paths down the falls and marvel at the power and irregularity of the flow. Even from fairly well above the falls themselves, you can still feel the spray from the river when it's in full flow. There is also a smaller fall on the far side of the river where it looks as if a smaller river or a run off joins the River Conwy at this point. You can also see a small cave entrance at the bottom of the falls where a run has been built to help salmon coming up river to breed get around the falls.
The one thing I've always loved about waterfalls is the contrast between the power of the water as it comes over the falls and the calm and peace that the water has just a few metres downstream. That is perfectly demonstrated at the Conwy Falls, as there are some points where you can see where the water has had a huge effect on the landscape over the falls themselves yet just after this, where the entrance to the salmon run is, there is a pool which just laps gently against the bank and if you saw that in isolation you would never believe it was about six feet from the destructive power of water.
We followed another path back to the entrance in the opposite direction to the one we'd first taken, following the river downstream before veering away. This was again a slightly tricky path through the trees and was crossed at a couple of points by runoff from recent rain working its way towards the river, so is once again better for those with proper walking shoes. Again, the lack of signage was a little disconcerting, as at points we could see through to the road far above us, but there didn't seem to be a way of reaching it easily. Indeed, it was only the sound of a petrol driven strimmer that gave any clue we were heading in the right direction. It may be that the site's designation as a site of Special Scientific Interest due to the plants and wildlife that exists here that prevents signage being put up, but on some of the walks around, it could be easy to wander away from the routes and become lost in what is a fairly large area.
Exit is through the cafe, which looked to be very modern and reasonably priced, with seating outside offering a decent view across the woods and the hills around the falls, although we didn't stop, as we'd had something to eat just before we left Betws-Y-Coed about five minutes drive up the road. But after a long walk around the site, which took us roughly 45 minutes, it looked like a decent place to stop for a rest.
The site itself is very pretty and well worth just £1 to stop off at if you have a little bit of time to spare. In all honesty, whilst the set up looks more impressive and geared towards tourists than that of Swallow Falls a few miles away, the falls at the latter are a better sight. Indeed, had the weather been through a prolonged dry spell, whilst this may make the walking easier, it would lessen the spectacle of the falls which are the main attraction there. As an impulse stop, it's worth a look and there are also other activities around the site run by a company called Go Below, but we hadn't tried this.
As fans of areas of natural beauty, I and my girlfriend enjoyed our walk around and whilst we didn't see anything of the otters or salmon that the website says are in the area, we did see a couple of wagtails towards the bottom of the falls and a jay in the woodland above, which as fans of birdlife, made it well worth the visit. There isn't enough here to make Conwy Falls a deliberate stopping point, but there's enough here for it to be well worth a quick look if you happen to be passing and have some time to spare.
Taking advantage of the one good weather day and the fact that we both had a week off work, we decided to take a drive out into the Welsh mountains, and into the Snowdonia National Park. To this end, we decided to stop in and have a stroll around the Conwy Falls.
The Conwy Falls are rather unsurprisingly a waterfall on the River Conwy just outside of the quaint little tourist spot of Betws-Y-Coed. They are easily accessible on the main A5 route but aren't signposted particularly well. Approaching from the Corwen side of the road, they are located on the left as the road descends into the town on the junction of the B4406 to Penmachno. There is a small car park, which isn't particular busy most of the time, as the Conwy Falls are one of the "forgotten treasures" of the area as most tourists flock to the more publicised Swallow Falls a few miles down the road. The car park is also free which is an added bonus. Buses also stop just outside of the café, and can be caught from either Betws-Y-Coed or Llanrwst, although they are relatively infrequent, on average every 90 minutes or so.
The falls themselves are situated in 9.5 acres of woodland, and entrance is gained through the café at the top. There is a modest entrance fee of just £1 per person, and this gives you unlimited access to the woodland. It has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the diverse selection of wildlife that live in and around the falls and so no improvement or access work is allowed. As a result, the trails are all rather uneven and steep and so this place is definitely not suitable for the disabled, elderly or those with mobility issues. I would also urge caution to those with small children, as some of the routes are high and slightly dangerous. A few fences have been put up in some areas a few years ago, as a result of a tragic accident where a young boy fell into the river and died. I would stress that the area isn't really inherently dangerous, but due caution and judgement is advised with smaller children.
The route itself is a circular one, which will take about 30 minutes to complete fully, with a really top view of the falls about half way through. As I said they are slightly steep in places, with tree roots and boulders making the route awkward especially in the wet. When you get to the viewing area, there is one interesting thing to keep an eye out for apart from the main attraction, a small cave entrance at the bottom of the falls. This was man made to assist salmon in their quest to get upstream to their spawning grounds, as the falls themselves have become too sheer over the years to allow them up safely. This has been constructed as a replacement for an older Victorian version, which was destroyed many years ago by the force of the river.
The café at the top is also well worth a visit, as they specialise in home made food and it was constructed by Clough Williams-Ellis, the same architect responsible for Portmeirion. Amongst their highlights are their daily specials and the large variety of teas that they offer, home brewed of course, and the stunning views down the valley into Betws-Y-Coed itself. It does a brisk trade, but is rarely heaving in my experience, and so you should be able to get a table pretty easily.
For the more adventurous tourist, there is also a company that operates from the café called the Go Below Adventure Trip. They offer an adventure caving experience into the mountains themselves and seemed quite popular judging from the number of people being kitted out when we arrived the other day. Although it's not really my thing, it may be worth checking out when you visit the area if you fancy a bit of caving.
So the main question now is would I recommend a visit here? To be honest, the Conwy Falls are not the most spectacular waterfall that you will ever set eyes on, especially in the summer or after a prolonged dry period. However the circular walk through the forest is more than worth the modest entrance fee in itself, and there is always the off chance of seeing an otter or wading bird playing in the pools underneath the falls, and if you are really lucky see a salmon trying to jump up, although sadly I have never seen either of these. There are also plenty of other birds to see, and as it only takes around 30 minutes to complete the full circuit, it is more of a short stop off, to get your day going before proceeding further into the national park, or Betws-Y-Coed itself. It's definitely a little hidden gem and well worth a brief stop off.
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