Located in the heart of north Wales, sandwiched between the towns of Denbigh and Ruthin to the east, and the vast Snowdonia National Park to the west, Alwen Reservoir is a truly beautiful hiking destination. What’s more, its well managed and maintained trails are perfect for getting your kids in on the action.
Formed in the Hiraethog (translated to ‘The Hills of Longing’), one of north Wales’s less famous and therefore quieter ranges, the reservoir is 3.1 miles/5km in length and is situated beside the slightly larger, but slightly less picturesque, Llyn Brenig. The circular and waymarked Alwen Trail, that takes you around the Alwen reservoir, covers a distance of 7 miles/11.3km and offers a lovely mix of lakeside trails, forest tracks and moorland paths to keep you and your family more than interested en-route. As well as its overall distance the undulating trail offers an elevated gain of 700m/2297ft, so can therefore be classed in the easy to moderate category of difficulty.
Due to its length and undulation, ensure that you have a carrier if you are attempting this with younger children, or plan a few rest stops (of which there are some truly beautiful ones) if hiking with older kids. Trail shoes or lightweight boots are the order of the day in terms of footwear as you’ll encounter a few sections of large loose stones on this particular ramble. If walking with a carrier my personal preference would be to opt for lightweight boots, which offer you a little bit of additional support and protection. You’ll also struggle to find any sort of phone signal anywhere here so a whistle is a must if you’re the lone adult.
As the trail is multi-purpose, and can be used by hikers, mountain bikers and horse riders, hikers are encouraged to walk in a clockwise direction around the lake, crossing over the bridge adjacent to the free car park. Riders, therefore, are asked to go anti-clockwise in the opposite direction. This arrangement works well as, although the paths are pretty quiet, they are narrow in places, so being able to spot other trail users coming towards you is a good safety measure, particularly if you have critters with you.
In terms of planning rest stops I have two personal favourites. My first, at the 3 mile mark, after you have climbed up through the forest, you reach your first section of open Hiraethog moorland, at the top of which is a wonderful vista over Alwen and Llyn Brenig beneath you. As it’s pretty exposed moorland, this one is definitely a fair weather stop. However, on a nice day it makes for a perfect brew stop and photo opportunity (see feature photo). My other favoured rest stop is at 4.5 miles when you have dropped back down from the moors and walk parallel to the lake for a fair distance. At several spots along this area, it is possible to drop down off the trail and get yourself lakeside for a picnic or a competitive game of skimming stones.
In order to further immerse your kids in their surroundings, illustrated signs have been placed at several spots around the Alwen reservoir and trail. These provide you with information about local wildlife and folk tales, including the story of the ‘Freckled Fairy Cow’ and her endless supply of milk! It is, therefore, well worth taking a nature card with you to enable your kids to chart what they see and when. As well as red squirrels and large heath butterflies, you may also see otters, rare black grouse and over 40 species of other birds, including several birds of prey.
All in all, the Alwen reservoir and trail is a great half- day hike for families with kids looking for manageable trails and stunning scenery. The fact that there is no visitor centre or cafe I take as a bonus as it ensures that the site remains relatively quiet. However, anyone desperate for buttery flapjacks at the end of their hike only needs to head about a mile down the road to the Llyn Brenig visitor centre. Add to this the free car parking and you really have got the perfect recipe for a day playing outdoors.