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Southern Snowdonia – our first walkers report back! Back to News
Monday 14th June | Posted by On Foot Staff
Marian Michie and John Main were the first clients to try our new short break in Southern Snowdonia. They sent us this account of their mountain hikes during some fabulous weather, and how they used their initiative (and a bit of pedal power) to make the On Foot walks work for them.
Dolgellau – never heard of it, and no idea how to pronounce it. Those were our first thoughts when we saw On Foot’s Welsh walking suggestion. But the blurb looked promising, we had heard of Cadair Idris, and Europe wasn’t getting any likelier, so we took the plunge and even booked an extra night. Great decision!
Dolgellau is a lovely town. Stone built and rising from the river up the lower slopes of Cadair Idris, it has everything you need for a few days walking – the very friendly and comfortable accommodation at Y Meirionnydd, several excellent restaurants, lots of bars, a wonderful baker and an equally good butcher – all within a couple of hundred yards. And for those missing the exoticism of continental Europe, the background conversation of the locals in the bars and shops was often in Welsh.
And most importantly, great walking all around. On Foot provided more suggestions than we could complete in four days, and there’s a lot more too.
Arrival day – Precipice Walk
We live four hours drive from Dolgellau, so we arrived on a sunny lunch time with no hint of rain, a pleasant contrast to the last couple of weeks of May. We modified the On Foot Ganllwyd Circuit – setting off from the town, following the instructions in reverse to the peaceful Llyn Cynwych reservoir. As was the case every day, the dominating features were the sheep and lambs (not unexpected) and the beautiful old woods (less expected). From the far end of the lake you contour round the “Precipice Walk”, with lovely views down to the Mawddach valley and then to Dolgellau and Cadair Idris beyond. It is quite a steep drop to the right but the path is good, the slopes are vegetated and we thought it was probably only going to trouble the severely vertiginous.
A perfect appetite whetter for the next three days, which we planned over a sunny outdoor pint on getting back to town.
Day 2 – Diffwys
Hats off to On Foot – Diffwys doesn’t get a mention in the Cicerone guide to 40 of the finest routes in Snowdonia, and indeed half the locals we spoke to in Dolgellau didn’t seem to know much about it either. But the instructions insisted we did it, and they were right.
From the Cwm Mynach car park, at the end of a very narrow road without passing places, it was a remarkably easy climb – a good track through the woods (which the Woodland Trust are busy restoring to solely native deciduous trees), then on to the open, steeper, rougher slopes and the remarkable old tramway through the area of manganese mining. (It’s worth Googling this topic, in a nutshell it seemed to have been a lot of effort for little reward.) On the way up the views to the south (Cadair Idris) and West (the Mawddach estuary and the railway viaduct at Barmouth) have been steadily improving, but on reaching the summit ridge of Diffwys a whole new landscape of North Wales opens up – the coast to Harlech and beyond, the Llyn peninsula, and the high mountains of Northern Snowdonia. Not only are the latter likely to be very busy, they are cloud-capped and probably wet.
Having reached our elevated and commanding viewpoint, it’s a delight to see that we remain high for another couple of miles on a broad grassy ridge that bends gently southwards. This is effortless and spectacularly scenic walking, and we have it to ourselves.
But we know the hard work of the day isn’t over – it’s a nice descent to the old Harlech to London coach road and a further drop to the valley bottom, before a climb past the old gold mines. Or at least, if we hadn’t got lost it would have been. But somehow we finish going steeply up through the old mine workings, the spoils overgrown with brambles and trees. We know we should be a bit to the left but it isn’t easy to see how to get there, and the map suggests if we just batter on up we’ll join a path back to where we want to go. And indeed we soon come out onto a broad track that must have been part of the mine workings, and in no time we cross the col and descend through the forest and back to the car. A wonderful day, all the better for not encountering any timber lorries on the tiny road home!
Day 3 – Cadair Idris
You can’t do what you’re told all the time, and for our big day out on Cadair Idris we chose to go up the mountain by the route in the Cicerone guide, from the Minffordd National Park car park, and come back down to Dolgellau the On Foot way. (We could do this as we had a bike at the hotel to cycle back the eight miles to collect the car in the evening.) Our bedroom at Y Meirionnydd looked over the slate roofs of town to the summit of Cadair Idris, and we woke to perfect clear skies.
There were just a few other groups in the Minffordd car park, all obviously as excited as we were to have such a perfect day. This route is the shortest (and therefore the steepest) to the top, but it didn’t feel like it, due to a combination of well made paths, lovely woods, beautiful weather, and increasingly exciting scenery. And, as a good excuse for the odd breather, we would pause to watch the jets on the famous Mach Loop roaring past from time to time. The last bit of hard work was the climb from rocky steep sided Cwm Cau and its little dark lake to the ridge leading to the first top. Various guide books suggest this is an awe-inspiring and intimidating place, but on a glorious early summer day it is simply lovely to be out in the clear air and warm sun.
Arriving on the ridge the view to the south suddenly appears, beautiful blue Cardigan Bay and the far away Pembrokeshire coast, and the undulating landscape of mid-Wales. Now the drops to the right do become precipitous, but there is no need to venture close to the edge if that doesn’t appeal. The views to the north also open up, even Snowdon seems to be clear, and although there is a bit of up and down involved, the last mile or so to the summit is all enjoyment. We join the Pony Path just before the top, which seems a more popular way up, but it certainly isn’t crowded and it’s easy enough to find a quiet secluded spot near the top, eat our honey buns from Popty’r Dref, and take in the 360 degree view.
The On Foot route down is excellent, sticking to the winding summit ridge as long as possible before working through fields and woods and coming out in Dolgellau remarkably close to Eldon Square, a seat in the sun outside the Torrent Walk bar, and a cold beer. The latter came courtesy of two walkers we helped out on the way down – they had loaded some GPS route which seemed to be taking them over some uninviting edges, and were more than happy to follow the On Foot instructions we were clutching.
A lovely mountain and a really nice ever-changing route up and down.
Day 4 – Barmouth and the Mawddach Trail
After two wonderful mountain days, slightly weary legs and a poor forecast led us to opt for a nice flat route, not on the On Foot itinerary. (But I can vouch for the loveliness of the suggested Arthog to Dolgellau route via the Cregennan lakes, having cycled the road version of it on the sunny evening of Day 2.)
We parked at the little station car park at Arthog and loosened up with a drizzly stroll round the little hill of Fegla Fawr and past the isolated Mawddach Crescent. The tide was in, and high, resulting in some sheep having to swim to dry land. Not something we’ve seen before. Then across the impressive but rusting viaduct to Barmouth – we noted that some major renovations are planned, which seems a good idea. Barmouth has a fantastic setting with the estuary to the south and huge beaches and the sea to the west, but on a grey damp morning it wasn’t looking at its best. Fortified by a pint at the town’s only micro-brewery, we re-crossed the viaduct, the tide now spectacularly rushing out under the walkway. The light rain had eased off, the legs weren’t so bad, so we returned to Dolgellau along the Mawddach Trail, the disused railway line now well surfaced for walkers (and cyclists with sturdier tyres than mine).
You might think that eight flat miles along the edge of the estuary would be a bit dull but the surroundings were amazingly variable – reed beds, oak woods, green pastures, mud flats, bits of lost industrial history. Several helpful information boards (in Welsh and English). A pub if you needed it. And a fantastic variety of bird life, changing as the surroundings changed. With a pair of binoculars we identified more than 30 species on this walk, and no doubt experts would have seen more. And another memorable sight was a section of recently uncovered estuary bottom alive with crabs rising out of the mud. Captivating but not necessarily attractive.
So that was it, our little Welsh break was over. We’d crammed a lot in, but left lots more to do. And now we know how to pronounce Dolgellau (or at least a rough approximation), it would be a shame not to go back…
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