Ian Battersby finds gold on Rhinog Fawr – but not by chasing Roman ghosts.
The Roman Steps above Bwlch Tyddiad on Rhinog Fawr were built and used by battalions of Roman warriors during their centuries of Welsh occupation. Their presence was so rooted here that even today it is possible – according to some – to glimpse leagues of troops marching the route, and leading those who would follow to gold. As you march the slabs and look up at the towering crags, it’s easy to imagine potential ambush, but it turns out that imagination is mostly what feeds this tall tale.
In fact the route is likely rooted in the Bronze Age, and the stepped upgrade is thought to be Medieval, but many a true word is spoken in jest. The Romans may have used the route before the “Steps” were a twinkle, long before what we now know as the Cambrian Way came to fruition, and going along with the myth is fun. Legend has it, it may also bring golden rewards that come with successfully navigating this taxing terrain to uncover waterfalls, dense woods, alluring lakes and formidable crags with far-reaching vistas.
Hike Rhinog Fawr’s Roman Steps: route description
START/FINISH: Farm and parking at Cwm Bychan; SH646315 | MAPS: OS Explorer OL18 (1:25k), OS Landranger 124 (1:50k), Harvey British Mountain Map Snowdonia South De Eryri (1:40k) | DISTANCE: 11.7km / 7.3 miles | ASCENT: 766m / 2513ft | DURATION: 5 hours
1. SH646315: Take the stony track that leads S away from the Cwm-bychan farmhouse, past a signpost for the Roman Steps, and through a walker’s gate. Continue left of a fence, through another gate into sumptuous mixed woodland. Climb up through birch and oak, keeping right of a wall, then climb steps and exit the woods at a gate. Keep to the mapped Cambrian Way, forking left and later crossing a dainty stone bridge. The path veers SE rising gently through another gate (330m) and on up the Roman Steps. The path is more laid slabs than steps and should be enjoyed before the trackless terrain to come. Climb over the top of the pass to a fork with a minor path sneaking off to the right above a stone wall.
2. SH660299: Take the minor path S (still the Cambrian Way) through a broken wall, soon veering SW and climbing through heather and over rough rocks to reach a glittering Llyn Du. Now paths come and go through rugged country. Head S away from the Cambrian Way following the eastern shore of the lake, then W past the southern shore. Climb SW to a small pool (570m), then S to re-join the Cambrian Way, turning E then zig zagging S, before the final push E to the summit trig point and a 360 degree panorama. The view south to the notched gap between Rhinog Fach and Y Llethr entertains on sultry days; otherwise there is a stone shelter to cower in.
3. SH657290: Head E away from the trig point. Again paths continue to come and go on this steepening descent through rough heather and grass. Persist generally E down to 470m, where the faint path turns S for 0.5km then veers SW to reach a wall with a strange square hole in the lower half.
4. SH664283: The wall ends in crags to the right. Either crawl through the sizeable hole or go around the wall, then cut S to join a good path at a T-junction near a large cairn. Turn left heading ENE through a wall gap to a wooden post with an arrow pointing left. Follow the arrow, heading NE along a minor path that contours to a walker’s gate in a fence by extensive pine woods.
5. SH669290: Go through the gate and follow the edge of the trees NE to a second gate. Follow a well-built stony path bending N, then forking NE to reach a track. Turn left along the track a short distance to a wooden post marked with a yellow arrow. Follow this right, heading N along a grassy path through tussocks to reach another good stony path by the sound of the waterfalls of Pistyll Gwyn. Drop down a little to the right to see these captivating cascades.
6. SH672299: After visiting the falls follow the stony path W, over a wooden bridge to a junction with a major track. Continue W over two more bridges to a walker’s gate leading out of the woods into the Rhinog National Nature Reserve as indicated by an information board. Continue to climb W to meet the Cambrian Way again at the top of the pass, and retrace steps down Rhinog Fawr’s Roman Steps to return to Cwm Bychan. With towering crags out of sight over the shoulder, the steps have a more welcoming persona, or it could be down to solid foundations at last.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT: None to start
TOURIST INFORMATION: Betws-y-Coed, 01690 710426
Nearest YHA: Snowdon Bryn Gwynant
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