A Pilgrim’s Way in the Vale of Ffestiniog – 2 churches, 3 pubs and 4 rivers.
The village of Maentwrog is a good place to start with its name clearly explained by the stone (maen) thrown into the churchyard by the giant, St Twrog. He was cross that the locals were reverting to paganism and, in the 6th century, lobbed a boulder from Moelwyn Bach, the 710m peak across the valley.
Our pagan ancestors revered yew trees and these in turn were embraced by early christianity to help ease the process of conversion. The massive yews in the churchyard have an official certificate, issued by the botanist David Bellamy, confirming them to be more than 1,300 years old.
St Twrog’s church is in good condition, rebuilt and extended at a cost of £3,000 in 1896 by the Oakeley family, whose mansion, Plas Tan y Bwlch, overlooks the village they built for their workforce. It’s said the villagers were asked to refrain from hanging out their washing on a Monday lest the sight of their bloomers spoilt the view for posh guests at the Plas.
During the rebuilding a stone carved ‘Marcus’ disappeared from the walls of the church and some years later reappeared in the doorway of the public bar of The Grapes. This stone originally commemorated the troops of Marcus completing their section of the walls at the Roman fort, Tomen y Mur, just a few miles away at Trawsfynydd.
From the church go down the road, past The Grapes, over the old stone bridge, cross the main road and go through the kissing gate onto the embankment across the fields. This embankment was part of the land improvement undertaken by the Oakeleys in the early 1800s turning marsh into productive farm land. Just a bit downstream, in the tidal reaches of the river Dwyryd, they engineered a beautiful S bend to enhance the view from their dining room window. What power, what style.
At the end of the field turn right onto a narrow lane just opposite Bronturnor, a grand looking house and former rectory built in 1826 for the sum of £957. The stream that flows past the house and into the Dwyryd is the route taken by the Wooden Boulder, a large sphere carved from the trunk of an oak tree by David Nash and washed downstream by successive floods until it got wedged against the bridge. After a helpful lift across the lane by the council it spent many happy years in the Dwyryd, going out and returning on the tide, before vanishing into the Irish Sea in 2003. I have heard reports that it was sighted in 2010 but the location is secret!
As you walk alongside the river watch out for otters and mink and the brown headed goosanders diving for small fish. When the river is in spate, in mid to late summer, this can be a great place to catch salmon and sea trout.