Where are the signs and waymarkers?

A paradise for hiking enthusiasts, North Wales features a wonderful array of trails with something for everyone to enjoy. But so many of these amazing walks are poorly advertised and very few boast the signage and waymarkers which make life so much easier for those who are unfamiliar with the region.

To make matters worse, many trails are not signposted and information boards are definitely an endangered species!

Experienced hikers might enjoy the sense of adventure they feel when they wander off the beaten track. There’s certainly something exciting about not knowing where you are or where you are heading. However, most walkers would appreciate useful information about the trail they would like to tackle and would certainly benefit from waymarkers to ensure they remain on track.

Why are footpath waymarkers important?

Waymarkers keep you on the right path and ensure that you end up at your intended destination. If there is a particular viewpoint, summit or natural wonder that you are keen to experience, it can be really annoying when you can’t find it.  Believe me, I have failed to find many of the places I wanted to see when hiking in North Wales. But this isn’t a serious issue when compared to the other perils of getting lost.

Wandering off track might mean that you can’t find your way back to your car or bus stop. Worse still, in the winter months, you could lose the light and face the difficult choice of walking in darkness or spending the night on the mountain. Both options are fraught with danger.

Good signage is as important as waymakers. Many footpaths in North Wales are poorly signposted or not signposted at all. I have lost count of the number of times that I have seen a footpath and wondered where it led to and how long it would take to get to wherever that was.

I enjoy a few ad hoc adventures but sometimes it is crucial for me to know whether I have the time to complete a walk. I don’t want to stumble down a mountain in complete darkness and I often have only half a day at my disposal. I don’t think guests arriving at The Woollen Mill would be amused to find they can’t get into their apartment because I am lost somewhere in Snowdonia.

Footpath signage in Switzerland

I have walked extensively in Switzerland where the trails are clearly marked and the signposts indicate how long each walk will take. Better still, there are often signs along the way which indicate how long you have left to go. This enables you to judge whether or not you are on schedule. Hikers walk at radically different paces. A sign might suggest that a trail will take 3 hours to complete but that is just is just an estimate. If you walk slowly or stop to admire a few views, the walk could take considerably longer. I recall having to run the last portion of one trail in order to make the last train off the mountain. Without the benefit of the excellent signage to tell me that I was running out of time, I would probably still be there now!

It’s easy to miss the best trails

I am convinced that many visitors to the region miss some of the best walks because they don’t know they exist or they can’t find them. I am equally sure that people feel nervous about tackling a trail when they don’t know how strenuous it is or how long it will take to complete. Visitors regularly stop me when I am out walking to ask where a trail head is or where a path leads to. Confusion reigns and that simply isn’t good enough.

It is incredibly frustrating that even when there are waymarkers at the beginning of a trail, they often disappear further along the route, leaving me wondering which way to go or if I have taken a wrong turn somewhere. I can’t be the only person who is regularly left scratching my head wondering whether to turn left or right.

The invisible walk

It is rare to find any signage at all, let alone signposts with journey times. Then there is that rare breed, the information board, which so often omits many of the available trails. For instance, if you happen to find yourself at Craflwyn, there’s a fabulous circular walk encompassing Bylchau Terfyn, the lower portion of the Watkin Path and Llyn Dinas. But this is not identified on the information board in the car park.

I have completed this route and there are large sections of it which are neither signed nor waymarked. There are no leaflets with maps available at the start either and so that spectacular walk is all but invisible to tourists who happen to find themselves in the National Trust car park.

Moel Siabod from Capel Curig

I recently tackled the hike up Moel Siabod from Capel Curig. This is allegedly a popular walk but when I arrived at the parking area, the information board didn’t even mention it! I wandered over the bridge to find that there were three footpaths leading off in different directions. None were signposted and I had to guess which route to take. There were few waymarkers on the trail and none on the last leg to the summit. I arrived at the trig (summit stone) to find that there were only a handful of people admiring one of the most spectacular views in North Wales. I guess everyone else either didn’t know the footpath was there or were still wandering around on the mountain trying to figure out where they went wrong!

Swiss footpath sign

Lost at Llyn Elsi

I started writing this post before I decided to tackle a circular walk featuring the picturesque LLyn Elsi near Betws-y-Coed. If I hadn’t already resolved to write about waymarkers and signage, my experience on the trails to and from the lake would have seen me racing to my keyboard as soon as I arrived home. Indeed, it is a miracle that I arrived home at all after that day out!

I wouldn’t mind, but I had purchased a booklet about the trails in the area before setting out and still got lost! I never did find the suggested return route and was forced to retrace my steps. Everyone I met asked me how to get back to the town and nobody had a clue where to go next.

The picture below shows the monument above Llyn Elsi. There are four trails leading away from this point and not a single sign indicating where they will take you. Two of the trails had waymarkers that did not indicate which route they were marking and so were about as useful as a chocolate teapot.

Monument at Llyn Elsi

Uniform footpath signage please!

Surely it is possible to signpost the trails in North Wales, to create information boards which actually contain useful information and to waymark the routes. If the signage included the lengths of the walks, the degrees of difficulty and roughly how long the routes take to complete, hikers could choose the right walks for their ability and the time they have available. They wouldn’t get lost along the way and they might actually see the stunning highlights of this wonderful country.

Life would be even easier for everyone if signs and waymarkers were uniform throughout the region. Walkers would know what they are looking for instead of wandering around searching for a nondescript gap in a wall or a stile that no longer exists. They wouldn’t pass by excellent trails without even realising they are there and they would have a fighting chance of returning to their cars or accommodation in daylight.

Well done Natural Resources Wales

The notable exception to the generally appalling footpath signage in North Wales is Coed y Brenin Forest Park. This fabulous network of walking and mountain bike trails is operated by Natural Resources Wales. While things are far from perfect in the park, there are numerous information boards, the trails are clearly signposted and it is possible to follow even the most complex routes without getting lost. The signage provides indications of difficulty and there are excellent guides available from the visitor centre.

When I visited Coed y Brenin recently, I was astonished to discover that new signage has been erected to accompany the introduction of an audio tour beginning at the Ty’n Y Groes car park.

It is possible to offer a visitor-friendly experience without spending the earth or ruining the landscape. I have never encountered any lost or confused hikers at Coed y Brenin. Their sense of wonder and adventure never appears to have been diminished by the presence of the signage and waymarkers.  Visitors to the park are able to choose the walks which best suit them and that has to be a good thing. Signage isn’t rocket science, it’s common sense.