Driving along the West Coast and up to the Llyn Peninsula is a road trip you must take if you’re planning on a visit to Wales.
With amazing views out to Cardigan Bay and on to a place where time has stood still for at least fifty years, this road trip takes in coastal scenery and ends up in the shadow of Mount Snowdon, Wales’ highest mountain at 3560 feet.
Just one thing before we get started…
If you want to know how to pronounce the double L sound in Welsh, as in the word ‘Llyn’, have a listen here.
Now let’s get going!
360 degrees of mountains!
It had rained on and off all four days that we’d stayed at Bryn Y Gwyn campsite in Dolgellau in the Southern regions of the Snowdonia National Park. This is normal for this area – the mountains playing havoc with the weather system – so a good rain coat was essential!
No matter the weather, we felt at home here, what with the ‘Roberts’ name proudly displayed above many of the shop fronts in the town centre.
We’d spent one day going up Cadair Idris – the third highest mountain in Wales – and one evening, when the clouds parted, we enjoyed a beautiful stroll following a lane just off the campsite where we stumbled upon views like this…
We spent the best part of an hour taking photos of the 360-degree mountain landscape!
The next morning, joining the A496 toward Barmouth, we were off on this road trip toward the West Coast of Wales and the Llyn Peninsula.
The wonderful West Coast of Wales
Once you reach Barmouth, the coastal road heads north with spectacular, elevated views out across Cardigan Bay. If you’re driving, it’s hard to keep your eyes on the road at this point! But concentrate you must as the road is quite bendy in places.
Gav was keen to see Harlech Castle – a place his parents had visited on a coach trip in the 1960s – but when we spotted a sign saying ‘40% incline’ we decided we’d have to give it a miss! Cree, our van, would never have made it!
Keen to carry on, stopping off only for supplies at a rainy Porthmadog, we continued along the A497 and onto the Llyn Peninsula.
The Llyn Peninsula – where time stands still
With views out across the bay, this time looking back toward the mountains of the mainland, it really felt as if we’d entered another world. And the further onto the peninsula we went, the more we noticed the pace of everything starting to slow…right…down.
It was as if time no longer mattered. We’d entered some kind of Twilight Zone! It felt similar to what we would later experience on Anglesey – time outside of time.
Were we accessing the eternal here? Had our Roberts’ ancestors called us all the way home?
Something – whether the van herself or some higher power – helped us find a lovely little campsite in Aberdaron on the western tip of the peninsula. And how lucky we were, parking the van with views looking out to Aberdaron Bay.
A quiet site, great scenery, electric hook-up and all for only £13 for the night.
There was nobody at the farmhouse to check us in and, keen to see the bay before dusk, we left a note on the van windscreen.
That’s the beauty of these smaller sites: no wardens patrolling the place like prison guards. People trust each other here. It’s how life should be.
Next morning we were tempted to visit Bardsey Island but decided it would have to wait until our next visit here. It’s a place you know you must return to.
So, instead, we spent some quiet, reflective time exploring the little churchyard just opposite the campsite, and here discovered many Roberts’ gravestones.
However, the road was calling us onwards, but it was hard to leave this place. Gav said a quiet farewell to his fellow Roberts clan – and the life he, himself, could have had – before climbing back in the van.
From coastal views to real mountains
So, on we went, up the B roads along the north western edge of the peninsula, passing Tudweiliog and Nefyn, looking out towards the shimmering waters of Caernarfon Bay.
It doesn’t take long before coastal scenery gives way to mountain terrain when you join the A4086 toward Llanberis, the road to Mount Snowdon.
This is where this road trip becomes even more epic.
Not only have you experienced the beauty and timelessness of the West Coast of Wales and the Llyn Peninsula, you are now in mountains proper.
Old Cree is not so good with hills and there were occasions along the Llanberis Pass where we had to change down into second gear. It’s quite a long slog, but going slow is something you deliberately want to do here so that you can take in the majesty of the mountains as they increase in size the further you go.
We took a break, pulling over into a layby, and jumped over a stone wall where we sat by a stream, enjoying a cup of tea.
We really wanted to soak up the peace of this place…
Several shining rocks of quartz crystal, millions of years old, were salvaged from the water. They now live in Suffolk!
We watched in awe as two hikers confidently made their way up an extremely steep path, like mountain goats, eventually becoming just tiny coloured dots hundreds of feet up before disappearing from sight amongst the rocks.
If only we had that fearlessness!
Wild camping at Snowdon
Back in Cree, we pushed on, again in low gear, with Snowdon looking down on us from on high, like a God or Goddess who’s seen it all before.
With it being early evening, and having been on the road for several hours, we decided to pull into the Pen Y Pass car park in the foothills of Snowdon herself.
We weren’t sure if it was allowed, but we got a 24 hour parking ticket (costing £10) with the intention of staying here overnight.
We strolled for a mile or so along the Miners’ Track before returning to the van where we watched the evening mist rolling in up the valley.
And stay we did – a wonderful setting for a wild camp. And we had no trouble from anyone.
The perfect setting for the end of a wonderful road trip along the West Coast of Wales.
Let’s just clear something up here…
Even though you can purchase a 24 hour parking ticket at Pen Y Pass you are not really meant to sleep in your van in the car park. There is a hostel across the road for this.
We were being naughty! That said, I don’t think we’ll be the last motorhomers to chance it.
We were lucky in that there were only a few other vehicles about. During busy periods (the summer season) it might be more difficult to wild camp in your van here.
2020 UPDATE: Wild camping here is now impossible! Since lockdown, the police have been stamping their authority and issuing £70 fines for anyone caught sleeping in their vehicles.
Best to check out the ‘rules’ you need to know about wild camping in the UK before risking it.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this article and if you have any questions please just ask.
Have you been to these parts yourself?
Let us know in the comments section below or contact us direct.
And if you’d like to do a road trip but need a van, why not hire one?
There’s a range of modern motorhomes and campers you can rent that would get you up those Welsh hills much easier than our old VW Cree!