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The history of Hafod y Llan

Ruined miner's building at Cwm Llan on Hafod Y Llan farm, Snowdonia, Wales, with clouds on the hills in the background
Ruined miner's building at Cwm Llan on Hafod Y Llan farm | © National Trust Images/Joe Cornish

Hafod y Llan farm sits on the southern slopes of Snowdon, a landscape that’s steeped in a rich and varied history with records extending back to the 12th century. Read more about the history of the National Trust’s largest managed farm.

A medieval prince

In what is likely to be one of the earliest references to the farm, Llywelyn Ein Llyw Olaf, the last of the Princes of Gwynedd wrote letters to Edward I from Hafod y Llan.  In the letters, Llywelyn details how his men were mistreated by Edward’s guards during a hunt nearby and tensions between the two rumbled on for some time.

An industrial chapter

There are still remnants from Hafod y Llan’s industrial past dotted amongst the landscape, look out for inclines and old workers' huts from the Cwm Llan quarry. The quarry is believed to have started in the 1840s, with the main period of development running from 1860s – 1870s, when a tramway was built to the Nant Gwynant valley. Later a water powered mill was extended to process copper.

The remains of the mine railway track on a hillside on Hafod y Llan estate, Snowdonia, Wales
The remains of the mine railway track on Hafod y Llan estate, Snowdonia | © National Trust Images / Joe Cornish

The first designated footpath in Britain

Thanks to the quarry, there was already a path leading up from Nant Gwynant to Cwm Llan, well before Sir Edward Watkin retired to a nearby chalet. Having made his fortune in the railway industry Sir Watkin arranged and financed for the path to be extended to the summit.

To celebrate the official opening of the Watkin Path, remarkably Britain’s first designated footpath, Prime Minister William Gladstone was invited to the official launch event.

In 1892, crowds of over 2,000 people braved the rain to walk up to a natural amphitheatre at Cwm Llan and listen to Gladstone speak, the large rock he stood by became known as Gladstone’s rock. There was a lot of singing and the event was attended by Porthmadog and Caernarfon choir as well as MP Lloyd George, who later became Prime Minister.

Generations of farming

Hafod y Llan has been a hill farm for at least 200 years. In the early 1900s, it's likely farm workers would head up to Cwm Llan and stay at the Hafoty, a stone shelter, whilst cutting hay. Pyrs Williams was perhaps one of the most interesting characters to farm Hafod y Llan, known locally for his innovation and good-humoured nature.

Walkers, seen from a distance, on the Watkin Path on Hafod Y Llan farm, Snowdonia
Walkers on the Watkin Path on Hafod y Llan farm | © National Trust Images / Paul Harris

Winning the heart of the nation

The Williams family decided to retire from farming in 1997 and an appeal was launched to help the National Trust raise funds to purchase and protect this iconic farm. Sir Anthony Hopkins donated £1million through his role as the Ambassador for the then newly formed Snowdonia Appeal.

The nation clubbed together to safeguard this iconic landscape, raising £4 million in 1998 to purchase and protect the farm. 

Since then, Hafod y Llan has been farmed in-house by our farm manager and team of shepherds. We have trialled new approaches to conservation farming, hosted ‘Yr Helfa’ an outdoor performance by National Theatre Wales, curated by Poet Gillian Clarke and worked closely with young farming scholars at nearby Llyndy Isaf.

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