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1831 Route

The Route of Adam Sedgwick and Charles Darwin
August, 1831

During the Summer of 1831, Charles Darwin accompanied Adam Sedgwich on his annual geological tour of north Wales. Darwin’s interest in geology was still flourishing – he showed little interest in the field until he returned home from Cambridge University to Shrewsbury in June, 1831. Adam Sedgwick was Darwin’s tutor in Cambridge and the pair set out on their journey to north Wales on August 5th.

We cannot be entirely certain of the route that Sedgwick and Darwin took, as there are discrepancies between the letters that were sent between Darwin and Sedgwick, Darwin’s diaries and geological notes and the memoires published in Darwin’s autobiography, published in 1887, 56 years after the journey in 1831.

According to his diary, Darwin travelled from Capel Curig to Barmouth in a straight line, with only the aid of a map and compass. This was a seriously cross-country route, and he claimed that he didn’t follow and footpaths unless they happened to cross his own trail. Darwin noted in his diary that he enjoyed this means of travelling very much. However, several factors suggest that this wasn’t actually the route that Darwin took. Firstly, the rough nature of the landscape between Capel Curig and Barmouth – 37 miles in all (including the Rhinogydd mountains) concludes that travelling in a straight line would make for uncomfortable travelling. Also, by cross referencing Darwin’s geological noted and the letters exchanged between himself and Sedgwick, it appears that on the whole, he traversed by means of denoted paths and roads, rather than follow the direct line of a compass.

The Route

August 5th, 1831:       
Darwin and Sedgwich departed Darwin’s home, The Mount in Shrewsbury, travelling towards Llangollen and Dinas Bran.

August 6th, 1831:        
Velvet Hill to Ruthin

August 7th, 1831:        
Ruthin to Denbigh

August 8th, 1831:        
Denbigh to Abergele

August 9th, 1831:        
Abergele to Conwy

August 10th, 1831:      
Conwy, Llanbedr, Penmaenmawr

August 11th , 1831:     
Aber Falls, Penrhyn Quarry

August 12th, 1831:     
Anglesey. In his diary entry for January 1832, Darwin commented on the formation of red sandstone on Anglesey. It is likely that he travelled to Anglesey with Sedgwick, before Sedgwick travelled onwards to Dublin and Darwin turned back to Bangor and Capel Curig.

August 13th, 1831:      
Returned from Anglesey to Bangor.

August 14th, 1831:     
Cwm Idwal to Capel Curig. In Cwm Idwal, Darwin analysed igneous rocks, discovered coral and interpreted the Twll Du syncline as an inverted cone of igneous rock. Although Darwin was one of the first geologists to realise that glaciers had effected vast parts of Britain, he didn’t realise the effect of glaciation on Cwm Idwal during this journey in 1831. Rather, he specially returned to the Cwm in 1842 to study the effect of glaciation there.

Cwm Idwal

August 15th, 1831:     
Moel Siabod, where he analysed the geology for a day.

August 16th, 1831:      
Darwin left Capel, travelling over Pont Cyfyng and then through Ddolwyddelan to Ffestiniog. Darwin noted that he travelled over the Moelwynion, but it seems that he used this term to encompass each hill and mountain between Ffestiniog and Rowen. Darwin also visited the Carreg y Fran and Manod quarries.

Ffestinig Quaries

August 17th, 1831:      
Ffestiniog to Abermaw, through Llanbedr, Bwlch Drws Ardudwy and Cwm Nantcol, following the Harlech – Barmouth road.


August 18-28th, 1831:


August 29th, 1831:      
Charles Darwin returned to his home, ‘The Mount’, Shrewsbury, where letters from John Stevens Henslow and George Peacock awaited him, inviting him on board the HMS Beagle voyage.


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