PAGE UPDATED: 17.06.2022
If you’re planning on touring Wales, a drive along the West Coast and onto the Llyn Peninsula makes for a magical road trip.
With amazing coastal views out to Cardigan Bay on the west, and the stunning scenery of Snowdonia to the east this road trip has it all.
We’ll start in the town of Dolgellau, drive up the West Coast and onto the Llyn Peninsula before wild camping in the foothills of Mount Snowdon.
But just before we begin, how do you say Llyn? Have a listen to how the Welsh pronounce double L then let’s hit the road…
Falling in love with Wales
We start this trip in the town of Dolgellau in the southern regions of the Snowdonia National Park.
We stayed at Bryn Y Gwyn campsite and it rained all four days we were there, normal for this area where the mountains play havoc with the weather system.
But no matter the weather, we felt at home in Dolgellau, what with the ‘Roberts’ name proudly displayed above many of the shop fronts in the town centre.
We spent a whole day going up and down Cadair Idris – the third highest mountain in Wales.
Then one evening when the rain stopped we took a stroll up a lane leading off from the campsite and stumbled upon views like this…
We spent the best part of an hour in splendid isolation taking photos of the 360-degree mountain landscape and fell in love with Wales there and then!
This spot remains one of our favourite places on the planet.
The wonderful West Coast of Wales
The next morning, joining the A496 toward Barmouth, we were off on this road trip up the West Coast of Wales and onto the Llyn Peninsula.
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 old van, would never have made it!
Keen to carry on, stopping off only for supplies at a rainy Porthmadog, we continued west onto the Llyn Peninsula.
Zoom in on the map to view the roads we took
The Llyn Peninsula – where time stands still
With views out across the bay, this time looking back toward the mountains of the mainland, it 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.
Aberdaron and the poetry of R.S. Thomas
Next morning we were tempted to visit Bardsey Island but decided it would have to wait until our next visit here.
So, instead, we spent some quiet reflective time exploring St Hywyn’s church where we discovered many Roberts’ gravestones.
It was here that we strongly felt the presence of the late R.S. Thomas (poet and priest of this parish).
With the sun shining, we chilled on the beach reading his poetry before Gav made a labyrinth in the sand. At this moment, Aberdaron was the most beautiful place on earth.
However, the road was calling us onwards, but it was hard to leave this place. Gav said a quiet farewell to the Roberts clan and the life he, himself, could have had before climbing back in the van.
From coastal views to the mountains of Snowdonia
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 Llyn Peninsula, you are now in proper mountains.
Old motorhomes are not so good going up hill so 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 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.
2022 UPDATE: We’d say that wild camping at Pen Y Pass is now impossible! Since the pandemic 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.
Have you travelled the West Coast of Wales? Have you climbed Snowdon? What about wild camping in the area in your RV?
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Leave a comment below or tell us your story via email.
Check out the other road trips we’ve done in Wales: Anglesey, the Elan Valley, and the Horseshoe Pass.