Lisa Jên Brown discusses the best of Bethesda - her home town in North Wales

I’ve lived most of my life in Bethesda and yet, when I think I know everything about the town and its surrounding areas, I always discover more. When I’m out walking with my dog and enjoying the wonderful landscape, I’ll find streams or scattered slate or huge oak trees that completely take my breath away.

It’s no coincidence that so many artists, poets, writers and musicians are from Bethesda. How can you not take inspiration from the history and beauty of this place?

There are so many places in Bethesda that feel iconic to me, whether it’s Bont Ogwen where I like to swim, or walking to where there is no sound apart from the breeze in the bull rushes and the occasional sheep bleating. All of these places move me in different ways and I never tire of them.

Landscape shot of singer Lisa Jen sat on a fence with the valley and surrounding mountains of Bethesda in the background.

Lisa Jên in Bethesda, North Wales

I would go as far as to say that Cwm Idwal, with the dramatic lake and surrounding mountains, is my favourite place on earth. What makes it so brilliant, apart from the way it changes with the seasons, the rare flowers (Lili’r Wyddfa), the carnivorous plants and all kinds of insects you’ll find here, are the connecting walking routes that offer something for all abilities. Families with young children can enjoy this spot just as much as advanced hikers. Mountains surround you – with Tryfan on your left, Y Garn on your right and Pen yr Ola Wen behind you – you won’t know which way to look. Cwm Idwal is the root of all my creativity and makes me want to sing about home.

When I’m away from home, I can carry a piece of Cwm Idwal around with me in a bespoke necklace which features a 450 million year old fossil from the top of Y Garn, made by Bethesda based jewellery designer Hannah Coates. The fossil is of a brachiopod that lived millions of years ago, when this piece of land was in the southern hemisphere and under the sea!

Caffi Blas Lôn Las is a gem on Lôn Las Ogwen, a cycle track that connects Bethesda to Bangor and the rest of Wales. My family and I regularly cycle this track from Bethesda all the way to Bangor Pier. The first thrill is cycling through Tynal Tywyll, a section of the track that goes through a dark tunnel with only a few lights. And after getting your heart racing along the cycle path, the payoff is a coffee or tea made with fresh tea leaves, homemade cakes (always with gluten free and vegan options available) and a warm welcome from Carol and her team at Caffi Blas Lôn Las. You’ll need to bring a rucksack with you as there’s so much produce to choose from. With the amazing Brefu Bach cheese or Cosyn Cymru yoghurt, it will be hard to leave empty handed. This cafe supports small businesses and local producers and is one of my favourite places to feel part of a community.

Inside the Blue Lane Taste Café in Bethesda selling local produce and homemade cakes
Entrance hall of music venue Neuadd Ogwen with an illustrated picture of music producer Les Morrison

Caffi Blas Lôn Las and Neuadd Ogwen, Bethesda, North Wales

Based on Bethesda High Street, Neuadd Ogwen is a concert hall as well as many other things, with Pilates and yoga classes, drama groups and community events all held here. I’ve performed on stage both as a child in school plays and as an adult with my band, 9Bach.

World class bands pass through Bethesda and perform at Neuadd Ogwen including Jeremy Dutcher, a Wolastoqiyik of the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, Canada. I frequently find myself in a crowd here being amazed by the music. I’m proud of Neuadd Ogwen for always being here in Bethesda, but constantly evolving.

Spiritual Bethesda

I'm very spiritual in my own way, and living in Bethesda, with all of your family, makes you quite sentimental at times. Tradition is embedded in you, and my ancestors – they have always come to chapel. I do love a hymn and communal singing, but spiritually it's about the energy here at Jerusalem Chapel – that is what makes me love coming here. The smell of the llyfr emynau (hymn book) and wood, and the colours here – it is so… Bethesda. I like coming here on my own though, to song write on the slightly out of tune piano in the Festri.

I've had amazing moments when it has been snowing, and we've had a power cut, yet I've walked down here in the dark and entered the chapel, still in my parka coat with a hood up. I’ve sat at the piano and have written some of my favourite songs like Llwybrau and Ffarwel here. There is also the harmonium upstairs that I like.

The energy I feel here, from all the people of the village that have frequented here over the centuries, is very powerful to me so I tend to channel that in my creativity.

The organ inside Jerusalem Chapel in Bethesda, which was built in 1841.
Singer Lisa Jen sitting in front of the piano at Jerusalem Chapel in Bethesda

Jerusalem Chapel in Bethesda, North Wales, which was built in 1841

You don’t have to travel far to find another landmark in Bethesda that’s rich in history. The ruins of Penrhyn Quarry Hospital, based on the outskirts of the working Penrhyn Quarry, transport us back to the 1800s when injured quarrymen would be taken to this hospital to be treated for sometimes serious injuries suffered while working in tough and hazardous conditions. The hospital was still admitting patients in the early 1930s until it eventually shut in the 1960s.

You can access it from the Lôn Las Ogwen cycle track, and for somewhere that feels so off the beaten track it’s quick to get to from the cycle path. I often come here to take a moment and breathe it all in as a mark of respect for the working men of the past and their hardship. You’ll find Penrhyn Quarry Hospital on the Llwybr Llechi Eryri (Snowdonia Slate Trail), an 83 mile trail that takes you on a journey back in time when Eryri was the centre of the slate industry.

Bethesda has mapped who I am. There are hidden gems and there are well known spots but they’re all equally important and make Bethesda such a great place to explore. For a local, the mountains are truly magnetic and always pull you back. It’s my Wales.

9Bach’s album Tincian won BBC Radio 2’s Folk Album of the Year in 2015.

Further information

Find out the latest band news on the 9Bach website, the 9Bach Twitter account or the 9Bach Instagram account. You can see what Lisa Jên's been up to via her Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Inspired to take a holiday in beautiful Bethesda? Search for accommodation and activities in the area.

Picture of the valley and surrounding mountains in Bethesda.

Y Carneddau and surrounding mountains of Bethesda, North Wales

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