The Snowdonia Coast, the Llŷn Peninsula and the Menai Strait – The Central and Northern Gwynedd Coastline

Running from the coastal town of Barmouth to the town of Bangor, this stretch of coastline runs close to the amazing mountainous landscape of Snowdonia, stretches around the rugged Llŷn Peninsula, and borders the Menai Strait which divides the Isle of Anglesey from the mainland. An incredibly scenic section of Welsh coastline, this area attracts many tourists from far and wide.

The port and seaside town of Barmouth is located at the south of this coastal section. Located at the point where the beautiful River Mawddach estuary meets the Irish Sea, Barmouth rests on a lovely harbour, with its picturesque slate-roofed cottages built up onto the steep and rocky hills behind. Containing a range of small hotels, restaurants and cafes, Barmouth welcomes visitors with open arms [1]. The town is also the southernmost extent of a long sandy beach which stretches 13 km (8 miles) northwards, from which great views can be seen of the hills and mountains of Snowdonia National Park.

At the northern end of the beach, the coast is separated from the hills by a large area of low-lying dunes, a marshland and even a small recreational airfield. A part of Morfa Dyffryn Nature Reserve, the sand dunes tower above the beach, and provide a great habitat for a wide range of grasses and wildflowers, as well as wading birds, choughs and hen harriers [2]. Despite being attached to the mainland by marshland and sand dunes, an area known as Shell Island sits to the north, and includes a campsite and a pebble beach.

Around 5 km (3 miles) to the north of Shell Island, the village of Harlech sits on the hillside, overlooking an area of low-lying land known as Morfa Harlech. With its Medieval castle and beautiful village, Harlech also provides great views across Tremadoc Bay to the west and of the Llŷn peninsula to the north-west [3]. Morfa Harlech is a marshland and sand dune system located just north-west of the village, which includes a large nature reserve. Brilliant views of the Snowdonia mountains can be seen across the flat landscape.

The large tidal estuary of the River Glaslyn briefly interrupts the coastline. The village of Portmeirion is located along the northern edge of the estuary and consists of 20th Century Italian-style buildings that were designed and constructed by the Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis. The village includes amenities such as hotels, shops, restaurants, and even a spa [4]. To the west of Portmeirion, the traditional Welsh coastal village of Porthmadog sits on the edge of the estuary, marking the start of two large heritage railways that wind their way up into Snowdonia – the Welsh Highland and Ffestiniog railways.

Following the coastline north-westwards, from the northern side of the Glaslyn estuary, after the Black Rock Sands beach, the coastline starts forming the southern side of the Llŷn peninsula. This side consists of numerous headlands, bays and coastal settlements. The most notable headlands are Trwyn Llanbedrog, Trwyn yr Wylfa, Trwyn Cilfa and Trwyn Talfarach, all of which protrude ruggedly into the Irish Sea. The headlands are often interspersed with bays, each of which are in rather tranquil settings, and have a beautiful extent of sand during low tide – these include Borth Fawr and Porth Ceiriad.

The most extensive bay by far, however, is Porth Neigwl (or Hell’s Mouth) – with a 6km (3.5 mile) stretch of sand that expands during low tide, tourists visit this beach from far and wide, particularly during the summer months. Porth Neigwl is frequented by swimmers, surfers and kayakers [5].  The southern side of the Llŷn peninsula also includes several small towns and villages, including the town of Pwllheli, which has a marina and large harbour, and the village of Abersoch, a scenic village that sits between two sandy bays.

The hill of Mynydd Mawr overlooks the Irish Sea on the far western tip of the Llŷn peninsula. Located far from towns, roads and tourist attractions, the lack of man-made noise is rather noticeable, with the sea, the birds and the wind making up much of what you hear. The views are rather breath-taking, and include the vast Irish Sea to the south and west, the peaks of Snowdonia to the east, and Anglesey to the north [6]. As one moves eastwards along the northern coast of the Llŷn peninsula, the coastline is craggier and more rural than the southern coast. Although there are a few bays with sandy beaches, such as Porth Colmon and Porth Dinllaen, the latter which is bordered by a quaint fishing village that is cosily built up against a cliff slope, the northern coast consists of rolling countryside and cliffs [7].

Towards the eastern part of the northern coast, the towering Yr Eifl hills tower above the surrounding landscape, their rugged granite peaks visible from many miles around. Incredible views of the area can be seen from the highest peak in the Yr Eifl range – the 561 metre (1,841 foot) Garn Ganol – including of the Wicklow Mountains in the Republic of Ireland. Where Yr Eifl borders the coastline, large cliffs up to 300 metres (1000 feet) high rise from the waves, adding to the incredible landscape of the Llŷn peninsula.

Moving north along the coast from Yr Eifl and the Llŷn peninsula, the coastline flattens out towards the port town of Caernarfon. The sand dunes heading up to Fort Belan, a fortress constructed to defend the United Kingdom from American troops during the War of Independence, mark the western extent of the Menai Strait. This is a 25 km (16 miles) long, but at least 500 metre (1,600 foot) wide, natural channel that divides the island of Anglesey from the mainland. 5 km (3 miles) to the north-east, the port town of Caernarfon is perhaps most famous for its Medieval castle, built in the 13th Century by King Edward I as a fortress and a royal palace. There are also some Roman artefacts too – the foundations of a fort called Segontium remain on the hill above the town. As well as the walled Medieval town centre, Caernarfon also has some rather modern attractions, including a modern marina and a bustling waterfront that contains an art gallery, cafes and restaurants [8].

Moving north-eastwards along the Menai Strait, the coast passes under two bridges – first the Pont Brittania bridge, a combined railway and road crossing constructed by Robert Stephenson and opened in 1850, and the Menai Suspension Bridge, a road bridge designed by Thomas Telford that opened in 1826. The cathedral city of Bangor sits just to the north-east – known for its university, Bangor is a rather picturesque town, with many independent shops, pubs and restaurants located in the town centre. Although it is not known for the attractions you would typically find in a coastal town, Garth Pier stretches out into the Menai Strait.

The coastline carries on another 8km (5 miles) eastwards towards the Gwynedd/Conwy border. Here, the Menai Strait widens and the coastline starts to border Conwy Bay. A vast expanse of mud and sand flats stretches out into Conwy Bay – known as Lavan Sands, this area is a designated nature reserve. To the south from here, great views can be seen of the peaks of Snowdonia National Park, whereas the south-eastern tip of Anglesey can be seen to the north.













Image Portmeirion by Dave Noonan


















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