I WALKED from New York to the White House last weekend.
My journey passed through dramatic mountain and coastal scenery, took less than five hours and, like all good walks, finished at a pub.
This last piece of information may have given the game away. I have to confess, I never left these shores.
I was hiking along the Huw Tom, the most popular trail in the upcoming Conwy Walking Festival, which runs from July 4 to 11.
Walking has become an increasingly popular pastime over the past decade and one which tourism officials are keen to promote.
Think of the North Wales coast and images of caravan parks and amusement centres spring to mind. But step just a mile or two inland and a whole new world opens up.
This part of the province offers some of Britain’s most spectacular and accessible scenery, suitable for all abilities, from grizzly, weather-beaten fell walkers to Sunday afternoon ramblers.
The Conwy festival is one of four. The Prestatyn and Clwydian Range Walking Festival has just taken place, Anglesey runs from June 2 to 17 and Snowdonia is from October 12 to 14.
Three of the festivals have trails on the impressive Wales Coast Path. This 870-mile route, officially opened earlier this month, follows extensive work by the Welsh Government’s Coastal Access Improvement Programme.
All the festival walks are free, you just have to book, and are led by enthusiastic bands of trained volunteers. The routes last from an hour to all day and in Conwy a narrator is an integral part of every walk. Scratch beneath the surface of the landscape and a fascinating history is unearthed dating back to the Neolithic era.
Our guide was David Bathers, a retired environmental lawyer who not only knew the terrain like the back of his hand, but who brought the landscape to life with his tales of Stone Age man, drovers, quarrymen and even a prime minister who had all trod this way before us.
Our memorable day began at the New York cottages, built in the 1840’s to house quarry workers, in Penmaenmawr (‘Head of the Great Stone’) just west of Conwy.
It was Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone who put this charming little town on the map by regularly visiting on his holidays in the mid 1800’s.
At its height, the granite quarry employed 1,000 men, many of whom who would walk for miles over the hills in darkness to get to and from work. Today it employs just nine men full-time and a lot of multi-million pound machinery.
After a steep climb, we left the town’s industrial heritage behind and entered into the Snowdonia National Park with spectacular vistas above of towering granite peaks and below over the sea to the Isle of Man.
Over the next four hours, we hiked up volcanic mountainsides, across moorland and down one side of the beautiful Conwy Valley. We became totally absorbed in our journey and the story of the land.
We saw stonechats, wheatears and an osprey. We traipsed along ancient trackways used by New Stone Age tribes, Romans, drovers and then quarrymen. We walked alongside higgeldy piggeldy rhyolite walls built by rich landowners in the late 1850’s to deprive the locals of the communal land rights they’d held since time immemorial.
We passed the remains of a hill fort, a Neolithic burial chamber called Maen y Bardd (Rock of the Bard) and inhabited and deserted farmsteads, one of which was the former home of Dr Huw Thomas Edwards after whom the walk is named.
‘Huw Tom’ (1892-1970), known as the unofficial Prime Minister of Wales, was one of seven children born to a quarryman. Despite having little formal education, he rose to become an influential political figure and trade union leader. Our route retraced his daily journey to the quarry as a young teenager.
Finally, we dropped down the lush valley side into the picturesque village of Rowen, home of numerous picture book cottages and gardens, and, for us, the main attraction: Gwesty Ty Gwyn – the White House pub – and a pint of the amber nectar apiece.
We were driven back to the Sychnant Pass Country House, our very comfortable five-star guest house, set in stunning scenery next to the dramatic Sychnant Pass. Every one of the 12 tastefully-decorated rooms has a wonderful view of the surrounding hills.
The ideal chill-out destination, the welcoming Sychnant Pass Country House is listed in the prestigious Welsh Rarebits Hotels of Distinction.
We rounded off the day with a swim in the hotel pool, followed by a dip in the steaming hot tub outside. Our thoughts turned to dinner as we watched the nearby Welsh lambs munching away on the green pastures.
In the end we plumped for local ribeye, cooked to perfection by award-winning Welsh chef Damien Stanley.
The next day we enjoyed a shorter walk with panoramic views of the Sychnant Pass before heading into Conwy –where it was Pirates’ Day – for a tour of the 13th century town walls and harbour.
The sun shone, the views were magnificent and the pirates made us laugh.
The perfect end to the perfect weekend.