I have something of a soft spot for Snowdonia, but not because of the luxuriousness of the accommodation I have used there over the years. As a teenager our intrepid Scout troop made regular trips to North Wales where we either slept in fairly useless Blacks ‘Good Companion’ tents on soggy campsites or, if we were lucky, in a camping barn, or even luckier still, in some climber’s club hut. On a more recent trip, to check out a route across the Glyders for a guide in a national newspaper, I spent the night on the hard floor of a van in a lay-by by Llyn Ogwen, just so I could get up early enough to complete the walk before the weather broke.
And the weather does quite a lot of breaking in Snowdonia. Of course there have been days when the sun has climbed into cloudless skies and the rocks strewn across the summits have become dry and grippy. It was on the hottest day of 1975 that my friend Ian and I slogged our way across the Welsh 3000s, fourteen peaks stretched out over 30 miles with some 9,000 feet of climbing between them. We were gloriously ill-prepared and finished the challenge on the summit of Snowdon utterly dehydrated, so we ran all the way down in order not to miss the strict 10.30pm closing time at the Pen-y-Gwryd hotel. We made it just in time but we were not, of course, staying in this classic hotel beloved of wealthier mountaineers. We were too worn out to put up a tent so we slept in the car. In the morning we found our legs had completely seized up; it took half an hour of wobbling around in agony to get a measure of life back into them.
But sun is a rarity. More often I recall driving along the A5 on a perfectly decent day to be greeted, soon after Betws-y-Coed, by the familiar sight and sound of drizzle on the windscreen. Snowdonia, like the Lake District, has its own special weather system and a lot of it involves precipitation, in one form or another. I have clamboured around Snowdonia’s peaks in rain, snow, mist, more rain, hail, sleet, yet more rain and, just occasionally, beautiful warm sunshine. I honestly don’t mind Snowdonia being like this; for me it is part of its character. It is, as generations of walkers have pointed out, just a question of being dressed appropriately and you can thoroughly enjoy yourself in its stunning landscapes.
It does help to have somewhere warm and dry to change and relax after a day out on the hills. Let’s face it, after a few days of unrelenting dampness, a tent really doesn’t do it and our campervan is only slightly better. So we accepted the offer of a few days at HF Holidays’ posh country house in Beddgelert with the expectation of a completely different Snowdonia experience.
HF Holidays has leased Craflwyn Hall from the National Trust. It’s a fine gentleman’s hunting lodge, harking back to the times when the mountains of North Wales were a favourite stomping ground for affluent Victorian holiday makers. The house is pleasingly rambling, with a large verandah at the front, ideal for shading you from the heat of the sun as you drink your early evening gin and tonic. It has been enlarged bit by bit over the years, with the latest addition just a couple of decades old but somehow perfectly in keeping.
We were accompanied by our scruffy terrier so we were allocated a room in the relatively newly renovated stable block, up a flight of steps at the back of the main house. It’s ideal for dog owners because the door to the room opens straight out onto a bridleway. When we opened this door for the first time we were horrified to see a wide double bed with a vast expanse of crisp white bedding. Brough is pretty good at staying off beds while under surveillance but the moment our backs are turned it’s not long before he’s snuggling into the duvet. Fortunately we always come prepared and fetched a pre-ruined bedcover from the boot of the car. Stretching it across the bed took away the aura of luxury somewhat but, strangely, made it feel more like home. At the back of the room there is a small ensuite with a seriously powerful shower. You can complain all you like about water in Snowdonia, but not when it’s hot and you’re in a snug, warm bedroom.
HF Holidays grew out of the movement to open up the outdoors to folk quite unlike the wealthy family who originally owned Craflwyn Hall. The founder, Thomas Arthur Leonard, was also one of the prime movers behind the Youth Hostel Association and the Friends of the Lake District. The organisation remains a co-operative and many guests are members, with a share in the portfolio of properties and a say in how it is run. If this sounds a bit worthy it’s good to see that one of the founding principles, along with holidaying in beautiful locations, is congeniality, the passing of time in good company.
We were ‘newbies’ to the HF Holidays ‘experience’ but we certainly found it congenial. In most hotels you have to work hard as a couple, let alone as a single person, to connect with other guests. Here you would find it difficult not to. The dining room has round tables seating seven or eight and meal times are set, so you eat together and it’s easy to fall into conversation (quite probably about your day’s adventures). You select from a menu the day before so you don’t even have to worry about picking your courses. The food, whether the breakfast, the packed lunch, or the three course dinner, was consistently good – not over-elaborate but homemade and imaginative with quality ingredients.
Having the dog with us we opted for the self-guided walks and took the opportunity to check out a couple of Walkingworld routes that needed some updating. One in particular, the walk from Nantmor to Llyn Dinas and back via Beddgelert can be started right from hotel door. We found it delightful, despite the drizzle (oh yes!), especially the riverside stretch along the rocky ‘fisherman’s path’. Most of the other guests were on guided walks, with a choice of three on each day of different grades. One group made it to the summit of Snowdon, despite the bleak weather, and enjoyed the achievement if not the non-existent views.
After dinner a few parlour activities were on offer, but only if the mood took you. The walk leaders organised an amusing quiz involving movie titles and dried seeds and a Snowdonia National Park ranger gave an insight into the onslaught Snowdon faces from the growing number of people tackling the routes to the top, some even less well prepared than I was, all those years ago. Tourism is clearly on the up in Snowdonia and, for our own part, we were glad to be back.
Our stay at Craflwyn Hall was hugely pleasurable, a proper weekend break. There was a layer of luxury but not in a stuffy way, the bar was cosy, and the staff were charming. The gentle camaraderie between guests was akin to the bond we have experienced on trekking holidays in Peru and Nepal, and that’s quite difficult to achieve. It takes a lot of skill on the part of the walking guides and those offering the hospitality ‘back at base’. Craflwyn Hall is just one of eighteen country houses run by HF Holidays, from Cornwall to Glen Coe, so there are plenty of other places to explore while being properly ‘looked after’. Take a look on the HF Holidays website.
Article by David Stewart