Wales is the Roberts’ heartland. Gav’s great-great grandparents spent time in Dolgellau and later in Llangollen – just south of the Horseshoe Pass – before leaving the Welsh hills for London and eventually further east to Suffolk.
So, it was fitting that we took a road-trip along the old routes of our ancestors.
Road Trip Wales: The Horseshoe Pass, is our account of the journey we’ve taken twice along this route. And although the Pass itself is not a long journey, if you’re travelling in Wales it’s a spectacular drive.
But before we even reach the Roberts’ heartland, we’re going to start this road trip story back over the border in England…
From the Snake Pass to the Horseshoe Pass
During a visit to the Peak District, we wild-camped one night in Castleton before enjoying the glorious drive along the A57 ‘Snake Pass’ to Glossop. From there, we drove south toward Buxton and then followed the A537 to Macclesfield – itself a beautiful route, twisting and turning across the desolate moorland hills.
Looking at a map of the UK, you’d never think it would take the best part of five hours to get from the Peak District and into Wales. Gav thought it would be a couple of hours – at most. But five hours is exactly what it took in our old VW Cree.
That’s the trouble with these older diesel guzzlers, chugging along winding roads at 40 mph, or less when going up hill!
We eventually crossed the border and headed in the direction of Wrexham and, once through the town, found the A525. A little further on we turned left, joining the A542 – the start of the drive south along the Horseshoe Pass.
At some point – if you’re driving an older van like ours – you’ll start to feel the gentle climb upwards, and it’s not long before you reach the Ponderosa Roadside Cafe. It made a welcome break for us, having been on the road a lot longer than expected.
Indeed, it’s a very popular place to stop for a rest and a bite to eat – and to enjoy the views. The car-park is plenty big enough for motorhomes and we took a little walk on a footpath beside the road to take in some of the scenery.
Beyond the cafe the Horseshoe Pass starts…for real!
Once you leave the roadside cafe the views open up and you find yourself driving right close to the edge of a very steep drop. Of course, there are barriers to stop you falling off the side but you need to keep your wits about you, applying the brakes all the way down.
Gav’s parents did this same route on a coach trip way back in the mid 60s. He remembers them telling the story with some trepidation of the sheer drop they saw whilst looking out of the windows.
One person’s fear is another’s excitement.
The Horseshoe Pass is best taken slowly so that you have time to admire the scenery. That’s not easy, of course, if you’re driving! However, there are a couple of laybys after the cafe (if you’re heading south) where you can pull over and stop for photographs. We’d encourage you to take the opportunity to do so!
Like on all our best road trips, whilst Gav drives, Hobo Trudi is busy with her cameras. And along the Horseshoe Pass she didn’t quite know where to look because there were so many great views to capture.
RELATED CONTENT: Would you love to do a road trip like this one but don’t yet have a van of your own? Find out about renting a motorhome – and make sure to ask all the right questions before you hit the road.
Freewheeling to Llangollen
Once you’re round the two main hairpin bends (see the route map) the road begins to level out and before you know it you’re kind-of freewheeling all the way downhill to Llangollen just a few more miles on. Next time, we’re going to try going up the hill to see the views from the other direction – though our old van might not appreciate it too much!
So, we arrived in Llangollen – the Roberts’ heartland – and found a nice little campsite close to the Llangollen Canal. We hadn’t pre-booked anything, preferring to chance it. Being October, there was plenty of room. Indeed, there were only a couple of other vans on site.
We’d driven through Llangollen once before (in the summer time) when the place gets really busy with tourists. But on this occasion the town was much quieter – just how we like it.
But whatever the time of year – high or low season – Llangollen is well worth a visit if you’re in the area, with lots to see and do.
Gav felt at home here, touching base with his ancestors and we’ll no doubt return, if only to do the Horseshoe Pass again.
Have you done the Horseshoe Pass?
We’d love to hear of your journeys and road trips. Have you done the Horseshoe Pass? Let us know by contacting us here.
Check out these old pictures showing some of the history of Llangollen.
And if you’re interested in other road trips in Wales, remember to check out our drive around Anglesey, the road trip up the West Coast and the Llyn Peninsula, and our two visits to the spectacular Elan Valley.