Dramatic scenes unfold within equally dramatic scenery – Llyn Idwal, high in the Snowdonia mountains. Llyn is Welsh for lake, and this imposing body of water sits within Cwm Idwal, meaning Idwal’s Valley. It’s named for a Prince Idwal Foel, one of the sons of Rhodri the Great, Rhodri Mawr in Welsh, a king of Gwynedd in the 9th century. As mentioned in Illumination, legend has it that Idwal was murdered by drowning in the lake, though it’s thought he died in battle and may have been cremated there instead. Like all legends, we’ll never know the truth of the matter, but like so many Welsh tales, it is a romantic and compelling story, and perhaps that matters more than what really happened!
The best way to reach the waters is from Ogwen Valley (itself the home of a lovely lake). Idwal Cottage, now a Youth Hostel, is at the northern end, where the valley drops away down Ogwen Bank, traversed by Telford’s A5 embankment. At the side of the hostel is a mountain waterfall, and a pathway up to Cwm Idwal. It’s bleak but beautiful in the mountains, described by W A Poucher in The Welsh Peaks as a “boggy hollow”, surrounded by the peaks of Y Garn and the Glyders, and the Idwal Slabs, a popular climbing location. Cwm Idwal is actually a hanging valley, created by glaciation, and is the most southerly place in the UK where Arctic plants can thrive, such as saxifrage, or the unique-to-the-area Snowdon lily.
Bodies of water were sacred to the Celts, the location of offerings to the gods (such as at Llyn Cerrig Bach on Anglesey), and were considered to be areas where the boundaries between our world and the Otherworld were weak. The tradition began in the Bronze Age but continued into the Iron Age (the period we associate with the Druids). There’s no doubt it is an atmospheric place, often filled with a sense of foreboding. Jan Morris notes in her classic Wales that “we are assured that over the dark waters of Llyn Idwal in Gwynedd no bird will ever fly.” On some days, mist spills from the gully known as Devil’s Kitchen, high on the surrounding peaks, as it looks like a steaming cauldron. Despite being a short walk from the A5, the valley feels cold, lonely and remote. It makes it the perfect location for the chilling events halfway through, and for the climax of the story. These snaps of mine give you some idea, but nobody captures it better than my talented friend Duckinwales – have a look at this beautiful shot.