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Wales Betws y Coed, North Wales

Betws y Coed is a popular inland holiday resort on A5, where three rivers, the Llugwy, the Lledr and the Machno, join the River Conwy.


It is one of the main villages within Snowdonia National Park and also part of the Gwydir Forest Park. It is a popular centre for all outdoor sports.

Its name translates as prayer house in the woods and the Church of St Michael was the site of a C6th Celtic monastery. Lead was mined in the area in the Middle Ages. Pont y Pair pack horse bridge across Afon Llugwy was built in 1468 in what was then, a remote area.


The name means ‘bridge of the cauldron’ after the waterfalls and rapids flowing beneath.


After the Acts of Union 1800, between Ireland and the UK, there was a need for better transport links between London and Holyhead for the ferry to Ireland. The best route, now the A5, passed through the village. Waterloo Bridge built by Thomas Telford in 1815, crossed the River Conwy and through the village. Pont y Pair bridge was widened for stagecoaches use.

This brought an economic boost to the area as the village became a major mail coach stop, with inns and hotels being built. The railway arrived and Betws-y-Coed railway station opened in 1868. As well as carrying slate from Blaenau Ffestiniog to the coast, it also brought increasing numbers of passengers to the town.


Much of the village was built in the late C19th around a large green area.


The impressive station buildings are now shops and cafes and there are many specialist shops in the village.



Across the railway line in the old goods yard is a Railway Museum with miniature railway.


The Courthouse on the edge of the village was an imposing building and is now a B&B.


St Michael’s Old Church (#2) surrounded by trees and overlooking the river, was the site of the C6th monastery.


The building dates from the C14th and is the oldest building in the village. With the rapid population growth in the late C19th, the church was too small and no longer suited the needs of the community. A new church was badly needed and St Mary’s Church (#3) was built in the centre of the village. It was the work of Owen Jones, a local man who also also responsible for building the railway station.


Close to St Michael's church is Sapper’s suspension bridge, which gave access to the A470. This was built in 1930 to replace an earlier bridge built to allow access from a World War One army base across the river to Betws y Coed. Previous to that the only way to cross had been by stepping stones. The suspension bridge is currently closed as the wood is now rotting.

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The Old Church of St Michael

St Michael’s Church is the oldest building in Betws y Coed and was built when this was an area of small disperse farms. It served as the school room for the village in the C19th.

The yew trees in the churchyard may be a thousand years old.

The building dates from the C14th and replaced an earlier building. Only the font predates this, being C13th. The lych gate is later and is dated about 1756.


The north transept was added in 1843 to increase seating and some of the windows were enlarged to give more light. A vestry was added to the south of the chancel. The pews and pulpit date from then.


As population numbers increased, a new church was built in the centre of the village. St Michael’s continued to be used for some special services space, funerals and weddings but was only minimally maintained. However, decline in the church going population during the C20th, meant two churches could no longer be maintained. St Michael’s was left to fall into disrepair with leaking roof and damage to the plasterwork. It was eventually rescued and restored in 1994 by the Friends of St Mary’s. It is still consecrated and, although officially closed for regular public worship, a service is normally held on St Michael’s Day on September 29th and a candle-lit Carol Service at Christmas.

It remains a wonderful example of an unspoilt C14th church.

It has a simple building with a small bell cote at the north end. Entry is through the south door.

The inside walls are whitewashed and the ovderall appearance is very white and black.




The tops of the east and west window contain fragments of medieval stained glass.


Candles are still used to light the church.


The church bier used to carry coffins is now suspended from the roof at the back of the church


The font just inside the door is C13th and may have come from the earlier church on the site.. The base is later.


The pulpit dates from 1873 and the early Tudor linen fold panelling probably came from Gwydir Castle. The reading desk in front may be earlier.


The stone effigy in the arch on the north wall of the chancel is of Gruffydd ap Dafydd Goch, who may have have been a grandson of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth. He fought with Edward, the Black Prince at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. His feet are resting upon a lion, meaning he died in battle. It is thought this may have been moved here from teh north wall when the north transept was built.



The wooden altar table is late C17th is thought to have come from the Friar’s School at Bangor. The two wooden wall panels on either side of the east window are of unknown date and have the words of the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed in Welsh.



The church is open daily 10am-5pm, from Easter until the end of October. If locked, a key can be collected from the Railway Museum.

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St Mary’s Church

The building of the A5 and the arrival of the railway lead to a rapid increase in population and visitors to the area. The Church of St Michael was too small to accommodate the increasing congregation and a larger church was badly needed.

A competition was held to design a new church and was won by Hubert Austin, of the Paley and Austin firm of architects in Lancaster. The church was built in the centre of the village by local man Owen Jones, who was also responsible for the railway station. Much of the £5000 needed to build the new church came from a wealthy Liverpool businessman named Charles Kurtz.

The church opened in 1873, although the tower was not finished until 1907. The church is a traditional cruciform plan with a square tower above the crossing.



The interior is a mix of locally quarried blue stone and golden Ancaster sandstone. Round pillars with carved capitals and pointed arches separate nave and side aisles.




The nave roof is wood. The crossing and chancel are stone vaulted, using different colours of stone.


At the end of the south aisle is the Lady Chapel.


There are modern Stations of the Cross on the walls.


The pulpit is made of Cornish sandstone and marble.


The font is Cornish serpentine.


The alabaster reredos beneath the east window dates from 1929. The chancel area was redesigned in the 1970s to move the altar under the crossing and nearer to the congregation.


The east window has scenes from the life of Christ. The round west window has the symbols of the four evangelists.


Next to the Lady Chapel is a lovely Pre-Raphaelite window depicting Faith Hope and Charity. Hope is on the right, holding an anchor, the symbol of hope. Charity, or Love, is in the centre with small children Faith on the right is holding the Cross of Faith. On the window ledge is a modern statue of the Virgin Mary.


The church is open 10-5.

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