I was one of six friends, all recently bereaved, who in May 2019 shared a four-day walking holiday in Northern Snowdonia.

The holiday was organised by HF Holidays. HF (Holiday Fellowship) has an honourable history dating back to 1913, advertising itself as ‘the UK’s only co-operative holiday provider’.

Booking the holiday was problematic. An initial single booking had to be translated into six parallel bookings, one for each participant, to secure for one of our number five discounts of £50 apiece for introducing the rest of us to HF.

This meant all of us had to phone HF separately, speaking to different travel advisers, each of them taking a slightly different approach to addressing the problem.

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The journey there

Three of us travelled together by rail; the remainder by car. Those of us going by rail left London Euston on Virgin’s 10.10 service to Chester, transferring there to the Transport for Wales 12.23 departure to Bangor.

The second leg took us through some beautiful scenery along the North Wales coast, featuring Prestatyn, Llandudno and Conwy Castle.

We were met at Bangor by a taxi, operated by Chubb’s, a company recommended by HF, for the 40-minute drive to our location just outside Beddgelert in Gwynedd.

The full journey took almost exactly four hours (five including travel into and across London). Both trains ran to time.

But our reservations were not in place on the Virgin Service (which was fortunately quiet) and for some reason it seemed that seats booked through Virgin could not be reserved on the TfW service either.

We did manage to find seats together on the two-carriage TfW train which supplied free wifi, whereas Virgin still require payment from those in standard class.

Our off-peak return tickets cost about £100 (advance tickets were not available), though a senior railcard reduced the price by a third. The taxi was £15 per person each way.

We arrived at Beddgelert some 40 minutes ahead of the contingent travelling by car, though they might have been less far behind if they hadn’t taken a wrong turning close to our destination.

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Craflwyn Hall

We were staying at Craflwyn Hall, a mile or so to the North East of Beddgelert, one of the 18 ‘country houses’ that HF has leased from the National Trust.

The core of Craflwyn Hall is mid-Victorian, a product of the rebuilding overseen by one Llewellyn Parry who inherited the Estate in 1877. But there is a small squat tower to the rear that looks substantially older. Parry ran the Estate as a model farm.

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The National Trust acquired the property in 2004, undertaking extensive renovation and extension. There are presently 21 bedrooms in the main house and in a converted stable block to the rear.

HF offer single and double rooms, some ‘good’, others ‘superior’. The latter offer more luxurious toiletries, a dressing gown and an earlier time for check-in.

My double room in the stable block, rated ‘good’, entirely met my needs. It was a decent size, the bed was comfortable, there was ample storage and hanging space and the bathroom was equipped with an extremely powerful shower.

My only quibble is that a bath would have been useful to soothe aching limbs after long walks – useful but not essential.

The bar, dining room and lounges were located in the main house, alongside a drying room and kitchen. There was also a ‘discovery point’ upstairs offering details of local walks and tourist attractions.

There was ample seating outside in the gardens, mainly lawned, some on a shaded verandah. House martens (or were they swifts) fluttered to and fro, their nests built in the eaves of the building.

Full board at Craflwyn includes a substantial morning breakfast with unlimited tea and coffee, a generous packed lunch for walks and a three-course dinner in the evening. On the day of our arrival afternoon tea was also served.

Breakfast includes a ‘full English’ option and alternatives such as kippers and eggs benedict. Cereals, fruit and juices are self-service.

The packed lunch features several choices of sandwich filling and a vast range of supplementary help-yourself mini-pies, chocolate bars, fruit and so on. Amongst our number the ‘mountain mix’ – a combination of nuts, dried fruit and chocolate – was particularly relished.

Dinner choices were posted in advance – typically three choices of starter, including a vegetarian option, main and dessert respectively. There was a six-course ‘taster menu’ on the final day. Dinners were substantial and invariably tasty.

The bar was small but relatively well-stocked including a draught beer. Prices were reasonable, especially for those used to London drinking.

Some joked that HF stood for ‘hourly feeds’, complaining that weight gain was an inevitable consequence of an HF holiday, despite all that walking!

The tariff for my holiday was £529, very good value given the amount and quality of the food available, the comfort and size of the accommodation and the services of the experienced and informative walking guides.

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Walking

Prior to dinner on the first day many of us took an orientation walk up the hill behind Craflwyn Hall. The evening was glorious. The bluebells remained in full bloom and puffy white clouds scudded gently over the mountains.

 

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After dinner we relaxed with a quiz about famous Welsh people, enabling me to show off my detailed knowledge of Dylan Thomas and achieving a perfect score!

Subsequent walks were selected following a briefing held before dinner each evening. Three options were available daily which, in this location, are rated 2, 4 and 5 for difficulty, according to HF’s own in-house rating system.

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Day 2

Optimistically I opted for the most difficult, option 3, climbing Moelwyn Bach (710m) and neighbouring Moelwyn Mawr (770m) the two highest peaks of the Moelwn range.

All three walks began at Tanygrisiau, which adjoins Blaenau Ffestioniog, close by the reservoir.

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We began by climbing through the abandoned slate quarries, passing the ruins of several buildings, one of them a former chapel. We stopped for coffee at one particularly large site, prior to splitting from the group climbing Moelwyn Mawr only.

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On the way up I was intrigued by the green lichen patterns on some of the rocks and also the quartz outcrops. I couldn’t resist photographing the former and picking up a small sample of the latter, which now resides in my garden.

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The ascent of Moelwyn Mawr included a few brief sections of relatively exposed scrambling which I do not like, so I took care not to look down!  Parts of the descent were also rather tricky. There was ongoing debate amongst us whether or not it was preferable to carry poles.

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We finally emerged close by the Sixteenth Century Plas Brondanw, later the family home of Clough Williams-Ellis, architect of nearby Porthmeirion.  We had glimpses of the gardens, including extensive topiary and statuary.

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Nearby is a tower, Folly Castle, which Williams-Ellis had built as a wedding present to commemorate his marriage to Amabel Strachey in 1915.

We were picked up by our coach nearby having completed our nine mile walk and returned to Craflwyn Hall for a well-earned gin and tonic.

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Day 3

Following the exertions of the previous day I selected a much easier circular walk along Aberglasyn Pass, taking in the village of Beddgelert and finishing at Craflwyn Hall.

We made our way first to Llyn Dinas, a relatively shallow lake fed by the Glaslyn River. Then we climbed a steep ascent to reach heathland above before joining the Cwm Bychan valley.

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This is dominated by the rusting remains of an aerial ropeway, dating from the 1920s, once used to shift ore from the nearby copper mine to a processing plant near the village of Nantmor, more than a mile below.

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There is also a delightful wooden bench carrying this inscription.

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After lunch at a local picnic spot we picked up the fisherman’s path, hewn out of the rock along the edge of Aberglaslyn Gorge, just above the river.

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On the way in to Beddgelert we passed Gelert’s grave and a more recent bronze cast of this faithful hound.

Legend has it that, in the Thirteenth Century, Prince Llywelyn the Great went out hunting but left his favourite hunting dog at home. On returning, the dog welcomed him, jaws dripping with blood.

Llywelyn found his baby son’s cradle upturned, the walls spattered with blood, so he stabbed the dog to death, only to discover his son unharmed and a wolf killed by his dog lying nearby. Filled with remorse, he buried the dog.

This fable was embroidered by David Pritchard who owned the local hotel from 1793. In an astute marketing ploy to attract visitors, he named the dog Gelert and built his grave. However, Beddgelert is thought to derive its name from an earlier saint, Celert.

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At Beddgelert itself we called in for an obligatory ice cream at Glaslyn ice cream parlour, which is rightly celebrated for the quality of its product.

We also visited Beddgelert Woodcraft for the requisite souvenirs before following the river back to Craflwyn Hall.

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Day 4

To culminate my walking programme I took the middle option on the final day, climbing Mount Snowdon by the Pyg track and returning via the Miner’s track. This was reportedly a distance of only 7.5 miles, though my tracker asserted that it was significantly longer.

We were dropped by coach at the Penn-y-Pass car park and began our ascent around 10:00. The weather conditions at the summit were said to be cloudy, with a chance of rain.

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Initially there were relatively few other people on our route up the mountain, but numbers increased steadily as the morning progressed. All the way up we were competing with a group of schoolgirls from one of the King Edward’s Foundation Schools in Birmingham, reaching the summit slightly ahead of them in around three hours.

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There were still sunny intervals as we climbed the final stairs for the obligatory photographs. We ate lunch in the lee of the summit surrounded by hungry seagulls. Beginning the descent around 14:00 and finishing back at Pen-y-Pass some 160 minutes later, having paused for a coffee break by one of the small lakes.

Whereupon we celebrated with coffee and cake from the Youth Hostel.

While we sat outside another group of children arrived. They – and we – were put through a series of warm-down stretches led by their teacher.

Returning to the coach, we rendezvoused with the group that had tackled The Glyders at the Pen-y-Gwyrd Hotel. The Hotel is full of relics of the 1953 Everest Expedition, whose members used the Hotel as their training base.

I enjoyed a pint of Glaslyn Ale, courtesy of the Purple Moose Brewery, while sitting beneath several sets of old boots hanging from the ceiling.

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End

Checkout time was 10:00. Our Chubb’s taxi was prompt and the remainder of our journey home – following exactly the same route in reverse – was speedy and uneventful.

We all enjoyed the holiday very much indeed, including the company of the dozen or so other guests, all of them travelling separately and one or two of them also bereaved.

The age range was substantial, perhaps because we had selected a location with more demanding walking, although most of the others were regulars with HF, a few having visited this location two or three times previously.

Overall the holiday was most enjoyable, undertaken in the midst of beautiful scenery, in fine weather and amongst convivial company. I have some fine photographs and some even finer memories. The overall cost – some £650 for me – was very reasonable given the service we received.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the experience to others.

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TD

6/19

 

 

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