The small village of Dolwyddelan in the Snowdonia National Park lies a few miles to the west of Betws-y-Coed on the A470, about 10-15 minutes away by car. The village, surrounded by hills covered in woodland and old slate-quarry workings, is not particularly photogenic, but nearby lies a gem of a location – Dolwyddelan Castle.
The castle is not a huge, multi-turreted, military edifice, the likes of which are seen at Conwy and Caernarfon, but is a small tower with a few ruined walls perched spectacularly on a hill overlooking the valley. Built by Llywelyn the Great for its strategic command of the valley and the traffic that passed along its trading routes, the castle and its views are a great location to explore, but more importantly, they make a fabulous photo location.
There is an entrance fee payable at the farmhouse on the path up to the castle. Something also to bear in mind is that the path to the castle from the road is not a public footpath and the farmland around the castle is private. However, there are a couple of public paths with rights of way running near the castle walls from where excellent views can be had. There is also free parking just off the A470 some 150 metres west of the castle. The view from the car park is not bad if you have limited mobility and do not wish to walk too far.
Dolwyddelan Castle is a great location at any time of the year. In winter, surrounded by snow-capped hills, there is a bleak and brooding feel to the landscape. In spring and summer, with early morning mists, a more ethereal and mystical mood can be had. The views from below the castle near the road can be striking and easily obtained, but my favourite views are from behind and slightly above the castle, looking down into a mist-filled valley at sunrise in late spring. If you are going to attempt the high view at sunrise, you will need the landowner’s permission at the farmhouse. I’ve never had a problem with this – the people there are very friendly and the farm is a B&B, which is useful.
The views of the castle are mostly wideangle-to-standard-lens images, or panoramas. Potentially, you can leave out longer lenses and make your camera bag lighter by carrying a 24-70mm or similar lens. However, a tripod and a set of graduated filters are essential.
Food and lodging
The farm below the castle is a traditional working Welsh sheep farm and the owners run the farmhouse as a B&B, with rooms at very reasonable prices and an excellent breakfast. A bonus that’s sure to bring you back again, is the great pot of tea available in the late afternoon.
Dolwyddelan has few B&Bs, but the village pub does good bar food. Betws-y-Coed has several hotels, B&Bs and cafés, and is only a short drive away, although I can recommend the five-star Tan-y-Foel Country Guest House B&B just outside Betws-y-Coed.
If you are shooting in the early morning, wellies will be a better bet than walking boots because of the wet grass. As this is Wales, waterproofs should be carried at all times.
Dolwyddelan is a landscape location needing no specialist kit, so a 24-70mm lens (pretty much my ‘go-to’ lens) is all you will need.
If you shoot in the spring or summer midge repellent is a must, and although Welsh midges don’t have the reputation of their Scottish cousins, they are still annoying when you’re trying to concentrate on your image.
Jeremy Walker is an award-winning photographer specialising in high-quality landscape and location images around the world for advertising, design and corporate clients. www.jeremywalker.co.uk