The story of the Ugly House: The mysterious Welsh cottage full of history and legend that no one knows who built

Anyone who has taken the A5 north through Snowdonia will likely have seen a small cottage, built of roughly hewn rounded boulders with smoke billowing from the chimney, nestled on the banks of the Afon Llugwy.

Tŷ Hyll, or The Ugly House, seems intriguing – magical even – as if two white witches could emerge at any moment.

In reality, you’re more likely to be greeted by smiling waitresses and the promise of good old-fashioned tea and a good Welsh pastry.

This perfectly quirky little cottage is far from ugly, however, and around 35,000 people stop by each year, seduced by its charms and the promise of a cake at the Pot Mel tea room inside.

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Over 35,000 people visit Ty Hyll each year

The striking house is just around the corner from the bridge that carries the A5 road over the river and has “intrigued” thousands of drivers over the years, said cottage owner Mary Williams of the Snowdonia Society. Mary said: ‘A lot of people have passed it over and over again and thought they would stop there one day. Like many, she doesn’t understand why Tŷ Hyll is nicknamed the “ugly house”.

To have a clue, you have to go back to its history which, according to some, could go back to the Middle Ages. The jury is out on the house’s exact origins, Mary said, but each theory lends another layer of intrigue.

Some legends say it was built by thieves and thieves taking advantage of travelers on the old A5 as they traveled through Snowdonia – ugly people who gave the house a creepy reputation.

Others say the name is a corruption of the name of the river which bubbles across the road – the Llugwy which flows near Ogwen to join the River Conwy.

There is a myth that the house is a ‘Tŷ unnos’ or ‘one-night house’ – a legend from the Middle Ages tells how anyone is able to build a dwelling in a single day, with four walls and a chimney smoking at dawn, could claim it as his own. There’s even the date 1475 carved into the fireplace, although no one is quite sure if that’s the true age of the house.

Or maybe it’s the large, rough rocks that give the house its name – the Welsh word Hyll literally translates to ugly but can also mean rough or coarse.

There’s nothing gross inside though – these days it’s a great spot for cakes, snacks and coffee and there’s a cozy wood-burning stove in cold weather.

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Indeed, the place has been attracting visitors from all over the country for many decades. Tŷ Hyll is built on land belonging to the Gwydir Estate which was established in the 15th century. Research has shown that a dwelling marked on maps as Tŷ Hyll first appears around 1833, when a local stonemason was paid £20 to build it.

It is then possible that the cottage is simply a Victorian folly – a romantic attraction for the growing number of visitors to Snowdonia. It even got a mention by the famous travel writer George John Bennett in 1838, who described it as follows: “One of the most picturesque cottages imaginable situated on the side of a hill above the bridge which crosses the river Llugwy, giving an extra beauty to the romantic Dell.”

Whatever its origin, it would have taken a lot of labor to move the colossal stones into place – possibly by rolling them up earth embankments using logs from the woods. With no mortar used in the original construction, each stone has been skillfully sloped to prevent rain from entering the house. It was the “foam man’s” job to plug the gaps in the thick walls with foam to block the draft, Mary said.

The striking Ty Hyll is far from ugly

The first person known to have lived in the crashed cottage was a local shepherd, John Roberts, in 1900. Inside the thick dry stone walls, his accommodation would have been basic: a single living room with the large fireplace for heating and the kitchen and a ladder to a mezzanine under the roof.

The people who lived here the longest were the Rileys, from 1928 to 1961. Edward Riley gradually “improved” the Ugly House, installing a floor with bedrooms and a bathroom and a separate living room and scullery in low. Edward and his wife Lilian have welcomed visitors to the house over the years, entertaining them with storytelling and their pet cockatoo called Cockie.

After the Rileys died, Tŷ Hyll passed through several different owners who operated it as a teahouse, antique shop and tourist attraction. It was close to derelict when it was purchased by the Snowdonia Society in 1988, and the listed building has been sensitively renovated by a group of dedicated volunteers to provide a small visitor center and Society headquarters.

The woodland garden behind Ty Hyll is run entirely by volunteers

In 2010 the Snowdonia Society moved its offices to Caban in Brynrefail, near Llanberis. This allowed Tŷ Hyll to be refurbished by the Society, opening as a teahouse and bee exhibition in 2012.

The garden and forest are used as an educational resource, for the benefit of pollinators and other wildlife, and for the enjoyment of over 35,000 transient and local visitors each year.

Whatever the mythical origin, the house remains in the care of the Snowdonia Society and an unusual and beautiful place to visit. The squat, moss-splattered stone building, surrounded by lush oak woodland, is perhaps the most endearing tea room in all of Snowdonia.

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