Llangollen’s attractions are legion and renowned, from the graceful bridge over the Dee’s fearsome cataracts to the steam heritage railway; the International Eisteddfod to stunning Plas Newydd. Beneath a horizon of looming peaks, the ancient town has been home to Welsh princes and influential abbots. The magnificent ruins they left behind have been favoured by artists and writers and are marvellous destinations for ramblers seeking inspiration in one of Wales’ prettiest corners.
Castell Dinas Bran commands the valleys of the rivers Dee and Eglwyseg from its lofty perch atop a precipitous hill, standing isolated from the dramatic, sweeping Eglwyseg escarpment. It’s a steep plod from the web of narrow streets and byways of Llangollen, but the exquisite views amply repay the exercise. The much flatter return visits sublime Valle Crucis Abbey.
Up with the crows
The name Dinas Bran is variously translated as Crow City or Crow Castle. To reach it, walk up Wharf Hill, beside the Bridge End Hotel; cross the Llangollen Canal and ascend the steps opposite, past a school. The tarred path rises steadily, crossing two lanes to reach the iron handgate to the castle. The route snakes up the western slope of the conical hill, eventually gaining the summit plateau and the gaunt arches and threadbare walls of the stark ruin.
Built in the 13th century for Gruffydd Maelor, Prince of Powys Fadog, it lasted only a few decades before it was destroyed by troops of Edward I during his brutal campaign to subdue the Welsh. Far earlier, an Iron Age hillfort stood on the site. Take a breather to appreciate the spectacular views; the most eye-catching is the panorama along the vast, crumbling cliffs of Eglwyseg Mountain to the north.
The steep downward path continues eastwards past slate steps and a slate marker. Beyond another metal handgate and more steps it draws to a fingerposted walker’s gate into a lane. Don’t use this; instead turn back-left on the tree-lined path (not the adjacent field road) that hugs the foot of the hill, fringed by coppiced hazels and a fence. In 1km, use the new corner stile, right, signed History Trail (Dinbren), and walk to the far corner and a lane.
Past the farm
Turn right to the turn for the World’s End 450m away; here go right to the nearby cottages, then left on the waymarked farm road. Behind Bryn-hyfryd Farm the path continues as a wide way across the brackeny, then wooded, slope of Fron Fawr Hill.
To the abbey
In 1km turn back-left on
a wide track at a fir-wood corner. In 200m turn right over a gate-side ladder-stile; then another to the left of the cottage. Walk the field edge; beyond the field-end turn down steps to a footbridge over the Eglwyseg, then along the caravan park road to reach the sturdy remains of Valle Crucis Abbey (entry free until 31 March, then £3.50 for adults). This was founded 800 years ago by the Cistercian Order and became one of the wealthiest abbeys in Wales, making a fortune from the sale of wool. It was ruined soon after the dissolution of 1537.
Re-cross the footbridge. Turn right at the top of the steps on the field road, forking left of the barns to the main road. Turn right to the nearby access road to the Llangollen Motor Museum. Cross the canal and turn left along the towpath, water on your left, passing above the sheds and sidings of the Llangollen Railway. Lovingly restored GWR engines may be your companions along the final kilometre, which passes the memorable architecture of the Eisteddfod Park before reaching Llangollen Canal Wharf, above the railway station and Dee Bridge.
HOW TO GET THERE
The A5 road passes through Llangollen en-route from Shrewsbury to Holyhead; the A483 from Chester is close by. Car parking is well signed, but limited. Bus route 5/5A links Llangollen to Wrexham every day; the X94 service runs (M-F) from Chester and Barmouth.
FIND OUT MORE
Llangollen Tourist Information Centre
Y Capel, Castle Street, Llangollen
Plas Hafod B&B
Abbey Road, Llangollen
Well appointed Victorian villa close to the steam railway and town centre
Gales of Llangollen
18 Bridge Street, Llangollen LL20 8PF
An intimate and cosy wine bar and restaurant not far from the Dee Bridge
Llangollen Motor Museum
Pentre Felin Llangollen
An engaging step back in time to motoring’s golden age
OS Explorer 255
Grid Reference: SJ 21834 41885