Harlech to Dyffryn Ardudwy

From a remarkable clifftop castle, along miles of beautiful beaches and nature reserves to ancient burial chambers

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Start and finish

Car park in the centre of Harlech to Dyffryn Ardudwy.

Distance

12 miles / 19 kilometres for the full route, but the close proximity of the train line provides many options for shorter routes.

These include a 3 mile / 5 kilometre walk if catching a train back from Llanddanwg, 4 miles / 6 kilometres if catching a train or bus back from Pensarn, or 7 miles / 11 kilometres to do the Pensarn loop.

Along the way

What a start to a walk this is. The setting for Harlech Castle is probably the most spectacular of Edward I’s castles in Wales – and let’s be honest, it’s got some competition!

Built on top of a sheer rocky crag overlooking the dunes far below and with the mountains of Snowdonia as a backdrop, this is another of the great castles on the Wales Coast Path which together form a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Steepest Road?

An indication of the steepness of the crag on which it stands is that Ffordd Pen Llech, leading down to the flat land below was, for a while, officially the steepest street in the world. And while a street in New Zealand may have now taken that title, it remains the steepest street in the Northern Hemisphere. Will you take on the challenge of climbing it?

The low land below the castle has seen much development, and the main interest in the town of Harlech itself is up on the hill by the castle where the narrow streets and granite buildings are home to some interesting small independent shops and a selection of eateries.

After exploring the town and the castle we head downhill and along a long straight road towards the coast. Passing through one of Wales’ top golf courses, Royal St David’s, we reach the dunes of Morfa Harlech.

Valuable sand dunes

Despite their bare and inhospitable appearance, these dunes actually form part of one of the most important dune systems in Britain and are protected as a National Nature Reserve.

Dunes like these with bare and shifting areas of sand have become quite rare and are home to a diverse range of plants and animals, including sand lizards, mining bees and an array of orchids, all specially adapted to life in this harsh environment.

Once through the dunes, Harlech’s amazing five-mile-long beach opens up spectacularly in front of us. Often described as one of the finest beaches in Britain, it slopes so gently that there can be a mile between low and high tide, making it very safe for bathing.

Turning left, we walk along the beach for a mile-and-a-half before climbing some steep zig-zag steps. Make sure to stop for a breather when there is nothing to obstruct the view because the vista behind of the vast, crescent-shaped, often largely empty beach is quite astonishing.

On a clear day, the whole scene is framed by the mountains of Snowdonia and the Llŷn Pensinsula, jutting out into the Irish Sea, clearly demarcating the northern limits of Cardigan Bay.

The church in the sand

About a mile further on we reach the tiny church at Llandanwg. The current building is medieval with a thirteenth century nave, but it was originally built in the fifth century, and some inscribed stones from that period remain on site. Most of the churchyard is now buried underneath the sand dunes.

There is a café, car parking and some public toilets here and Llanddanwg railway station is nearby.

Possible loop back to Harlech

In another mile or so we reach picturesque little Pensarn Harbour.

We can return to Harlech from here by train or bus. But it’s also a great walk. Turn left along the roadside pavement, passing Llanfair Slate Caverns and a farm park before turning right after half a mile in Llanfair.

This narrow lane back to Harlech along Ffordd Uchaf (Upper Road) offers an increasingly elevated position from which to take in some stupendous views of the Llŷn Peninsula, Snowdonia, the Mawddach estuary, Harlech beach and its dunes.

But we stay on the Wales Coast Path, and on a riverside path by the river Artro, keeping an eye out for dippers and kingfishers which can sometimes be seen here.

Skirting Llanbedr airport we reach Shell Island – which is really a peninsula most of the time, but becomes an island twice a day when cut off by high tides.

Back to the beach

Now we’re back on the beach, this time by Morfa Dyffryn National Nature Reserve which, together with Morfa Harlech National Nature Reserve, forms an almost continuous area of dunes along the north Meirionnydd coast.

The next three-and-a-half miles are in the shadow of the dunes along this glorious beach – make sure to turn around every now and again to take in the views behind.

Be aware that part of the beach is used by naturists. There is some signage to mark the area where this may happen.

Eventually we turn into the dunes along a wooden boardwalk passing through a car park with public toilets and inland up a lane.

On towards ancient burial chambers

Where the Wales Coast Path veers right through a small gate, we continue up the lane and over the railway. On reaching the main road by St Ddwywe’s Church, cross over onto the bullet-straight Ffordd Gors through four stone pillars which guard the entry.

After a few hundred yards, opposite Frongaled, take the signed public footpath through the gate and go diagonally up the field to a moss-and-lichen covered stone wall beneath some trees.

Follow the wall over a stone style, over a small stream and through some woods before reaching a gate. Veer slightly left through the next field to reach the well-preserved Dyffryn Ardudwy Burial Chambers.

This pair of Neolithic tombs were built several generations apart, four to five thousand years ago. The smaller chamber came first and when the larger tomb was built later, it was buried along with its neighbour beneath a 100-foot-long mound of stones.

From here, it’s a short downhill stroll along a narrow path to the main road and turn right into the village of Dyffryn Ardudwy.

Walk highlights

Rhys Roberts, Wales Coast Path Officer, said: “This is a longish walk, but it’s very flat for much of the way. Around five miles of it are along the massive beaches of Harlech and Morfa Dyffryn. They really are quite stunning – and the dunes behind them are very important for some rare wildlife.”

Need to know

Car parking, public toilets, cafes, pubs, restaurants and shops in Harlech and Dyffryn Ardudwy. There are also some public toilets on the route as described. Shell Island has shops, a snack bar, a pub and a restaurant.

There are regular train and bus services between Harlech, Pensarn and Dyffryn Ardudwy.

Map

Download the Harlech to Dyffryn Ardudwy map (JPEG, 2.65MB)