“ Address: Nantgwynant Caernarfon / Gwynedd / LL55 4NP / Wales / Tel: 0845 371 9108 „
A few years ago a friend and I had a mad moment and booked a week's climbing course in the beautiful countryside of Snowdonia. The accommodation suggested by our guide was expensive, and as I had stayed in youth hostels before, we decided to try out YHA Bryn Gwynant. What followed was a wonderful week on the hills, and an acquaintance with a truly brilliant, cheap and cheerful little youth hostel.
YHA - a little background
The Youth Hostel association of England and Wales was founded in 1930, as a way for young people to travel cheaply around the country. The modern YHA keeps to this concept in that prices are still lower and youth hostels welcoming to those under eighteen, but the association has also extended to accommodate adults travellers and families.
Where and what is Bryn Gwynant?
Bryn Gwynant is situated on the shores of Llyn Gwynant, one of a collection of lakes situated next to the road between Capel Curig and Beddgelert. The hostel itself is an old Victorian mansion and coach house, built in handsome grey stone and surrounded by trees which separate it from the nearby quiet road. Settled as it is in a nature reserve (appealing advertising itself as 'the highest nature reserve in Wales') on the far side of the lake from Snowdon, it gives great access to that highest of Wales' mountains and to the rest of surrounding Snowdonia.
On reaching the hostel you park in their car park, before walking the short distance through the grounds and into the large entrance hall, where you check in with the smiley receptionist. From the ground floor there is access to the dining room, kitchen and other facilities. You then walk up the large, old fashioned wooden staircase, pausing to take a glance out of the huge window half way up, before making your way along white washed corridors to your own home from home.
Bryn Gwynant has a wide range of rooms, from two beds right up to ten, and a total capacity of 73 people. There are also specialist family rooms. On first arriving my friend and I were put in one of the large eight bed dormitories, and having stayed in climber's bunk barns I can safely say that it was one of the better group rooms I have slept in! We were subsequently moved into a much cosier little two bed room with just the one bunk bed. As far as I could see, all rooms consisted of a number of bunks: we were given sheets, duvet covers and pillow cases on arrival, all of which were clean and comfortable, and made our own beds. Of course the YHA is not a luxury hotel service - furniture is sparse, rooms occasionally cold and bunk beds decidedly creaky, but it is very much a case of getting what you paid for and everything is clean and comfortable.
The prices given on the YHA website are the basic room prices of £13.95 for adults and £10.50, which applies to dormitory rooms. If you want a smaller room you will pay more for the privacy, although not extortionate amounts. There are also additional tariffs for breakfast (I think about a pound) and about a five pound charge for a very good dinner. Those who would prefer to avoid these tariffs can go self catered.
Toilets and Shower
Once again I'm going to make use of the sentiment 'for a youth hostel'. As with any 'chain' accommodation service, you have to judge the facilities by the expected standard: and so although the toilets and showers were hardly luxury, there were plenty of facilities and they were all kept pretty clean. They were also easy to find - perhaps an obvious statement, but a real plus point when I think of some of the more convoluted hostels I've stayed in!
Kitchen and food facilities
Given that we were out on the hills for eight hours a day, we were unwilling to commit to self catering - especially given our distance from the nearest shop. However, we did use the kitchens for making lunches, and so I can say that even though it was small and occasionally crowded it was well stocked.
In terms of hostel provided food, there are services for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast is a hearty traditional selection of fried food (eggs, bacon etc), cereal and toast, with drinks of tea, coffee, hot chocolate, juice and water. My only reservation is that to get the best food you need to get there early! Packed lunched are provided at an extra charge (I'm afraid we didn't use this service, but in other hostels I've stayed in the price has been around £2.50). Dinners were fantastic: you place your order from a menu in the morning, then come home to huge portions of such staples as spaghetti Bolognese, fish and chips and sticky chocolate pudding. The cooks at this hostel know they are serving hill walkers and climbers, and so tailor their food accordingly. With warning, they are also happy to accommodate vegetarians, vegans or any other dietary requirements.
The hostel also provides washing and drying rooms and a common room, which I sadly cannot comment on as we spent most of our time outdoors exploring the beautiful gardens. There is also a cycle store for those arriving under their own steam.
Access and Parking
Access to Bryn Gwynant is good - the road is easy to find (well marked on any road map), although you have to keep an eye out for the signs actually directing you up the driveway to the hostel itself. Parking is also available, although it may be busy in Summer season. I'm afraid that I have to show my usual ineptness in giving directions, but there is better information on the YHA website.
In the area
Immediately around the youth hostel the countryside is heaven sent for those who love the hills - whether you want a wander around the hostel grounds, or to tackle the mammoth climb of Snowdon. One of the most famous paths up Snowdon, the Watkin path, starts only a mile from the door of the hostel and is well worth the effort for a dedicated hill walker. Climbers can find plenty to amuse themselves in the Llanberis pass (weather permitting!) or nearby Tremadog (although I don't know how many climbers will read this, there is a fantastic little wriggle of a route going through one of the nearby mountains called Lockwood's Chimney - some of the best fun we had all week).
Further afield there is the whole of Snowdonia at your disposal - all the attractions of the Welsh Coast, a plethora of castles (Harlech and Caernafon are both great fun!), footpaths aplenty, pretty much anything you want to do. This is, however, a hostel that requires either access to a car or an extreme ability to entertain yourself - this being Snowdonia, the cloud quite often sets in and you don't want to find yourself bored and marooned.
To understand the pros of a hostel such as Bryn Gwynant, you have to understand what it sets out to do. If you want a place for pampering, somewhere with facilities just around the corner, then you will have a terrible time: but if you are looking for a gorgeous old building set isolated in the Welsh countryside, with beautiful scenery, clean rooms and comfort food, then you will have the absolute time of your life. There is no better feeling than leaving your muddy boots in the boot rack, taking a quick shower and tucking into one of the giant, delicious evening meals.
There are only two tiny down points to Bryn Gwynant. The first is that you do need to get to breakfast on time to get the best of the food - but that's just speaking as a very sleepy student! The dining room can also get crowded when there are school parties staying in the coach house. The other is that you really do need a car - it is the only thing that has stopped us returning for a second visit.
Maybe I'm a little biased in my view of Bryn Gwynant - although it is very hard to give an unbiased opinion! I suppose the friendliness of the welcome, the countryside, and the great experiences that I had while staying there have all coloured my memories of the accommodation. But then places like hostels exist so that people can do just that - have experiences, mad, magical travelling experiences doing things like climbing mountains and hanging off rock faces.
I would definitely recommend this hostel to anyone who likes the countryside, and particularly to anyone who is eager to climb Snowdon. But it is also a fun place for a family in search of an adventurous holiday, or for a base from which to explore the surrounding welsh countryside. You could very well label Bryn Gwynant as being cheap and cheerful - but then, when cheap is done with this quality, who says that should be a bad thing?