Dolgellau sits on the south bank of the Wnion River at the foot of Cader Idris, (Cadair Idris) in the south of the Snowdonia National Park in Gwynedd, West Wales. The area has long been known for its walks, with rocky crags, clear streams and cascading waterfalls. The rich wildlife includes red squirrels, pine-marten, otters and deer, as well as goshawks and goosander.
The Forest Park in Coed y Brenin is world renowned for it's fantastic network of Mountain Bike Trails. There is a restaurant and cycle shop (sales, repair, and hire) on the site and information on the many forest trails is to be found at the Visitor Centre.
When I visited the town in the 1970's with a young family I came away with the impression of Dolgellau as an ugly depressing grey stoned, and grey roofed old town. Yes, grey summed up Dolgellau. Today the centre of Dolgellau has little changed, but my opinion has changed, I now recognise it as a beautiful strongly built old town that has fortunately been missed by the "developers" that are destroying the character of many of the old Welsh and indeed English towns. I say the town has little changed, which is correct. But there has been considerable money spent on renovating and restoring the old buildings and most importantly keeping the character of the old Welsh market town.
Walking around Dolgellau and seeing the monumental chimney stacks, weird shaped roofs, the thick granite walls and the higgledy-piggledy street layout you could be forgiven for believing that Dolgellau was designed by the Brother's Grimm of fairy tale renown. Ty Seren, the 208-year-old former woollen mill of great character in Meyrick Street is typical, with its attractive proportions, four floors squeezed into the space that would normally house three, and the corner of the building cut into a splay for good measure.
The old market hall stood empty for many years but it now has a new lease of life as Ty Siamas, a cultural, arts and music centre that promotes traditional and modern Welsh music. Bands from all over the world descend on Dolgellau every July for the annual music festival known as Sesiwn Fawr. Past performers have included Super Furry Animals, Cerys Matthews and Goldie Lookin Chain.
All in all Dolgellau has a great future as both a cultural centre and as a tourist centre especially with the ever growing popularity of activity holidays. Climbers and hill walkers take advantage of the town's proximity to Cadair Idris, mountain bike riders visit the town for the world-class mountain bike trails available in the Coed y Brenin Forest, and bird watchers and nature lovers can't help but appreciate the beauty of the Mawddach estuary and the wild but beautiful countryside. Horse riding, angling, and white water rafting are other popular sports for visitors to Dolgellau.
Walks, Cycle Trails and Other Activities
It has been said that there is "no better walk than from Barmouth through to Dolgellau other than from Dolgellau to Barmouth" and I have to agree, the views of the Snowdonia mountains sweeping down to the Mawddach estuary are phenomenal.
Penmaenpool and the Mawddach Estuary: Penmaenpool is some two miles from Dolgellau. The Mawddach estuary is a beautiful place for a walk or indeed a bike ride. The trail is some eight miles long leading to the railway bridge at Barmouth. For nature lovers and bird spotters there are two RSPB reserves in the Mawddach Valley, the Arthog and the Coed Garth Gell. Coed Garth Gell offers superb scenery and beautiful walks through oak woodland. In the spring, pied flycatchers, wood warblers, and redstarts can be seen and heard. Different types of warblers, reed buntings, and water rails can be seen at Arthog. Ravens and buzzards occur all year.
Precipice Walk: The Precipice walk is some three miles north east from Dolgellau. Although this is an upland walk it is on fairly level ground. Starting in woodland the walk soon opens up to splendid panoramas of Snowdonia, the Coed y Brenin Forest, the Rhinog mountains, the beautiful valley of the Afon Mawddach and finally Cadair Idris itself.
Torrent Walk: The Torrent Walk is some three miles east of Dolgellau running close to the River Clywedog. The ubiquitous ferns and mosses carpet the valley in a rich emerald green, massive boulders and tumbling waterfalls suggest the name of this walk.
Coed y Brenin Forest Park: Nine miles north of Dolgellau, Coed y Brenin has long been known for it's walks, with rocky crags and clear streams crashing over waterfalls. The rich wildlife includes red squirrels, pine-marten, otters and deer, as well as goshawks and goosander. Today the Forest Park is world renowned for it's fantastic network of Mountain Bike Trails. There is a restaurant and cycle shop (sales, repair, and hire) on the site and information on the many forest trails is to be found at the Visitor Centre.
Although Roman coins have been found nearby the town was probably established in the late 11th or early 12th century, with a church being built in the 12th century. The original church was demolished in the 18th century and replaced by the present church of St Mary's in 1716.
Many residents of Dolgellau forsook the established church however and converted to the more austere Quakerism. However, with the persecution that followed a large number emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1686. There is a Quaker exhibition at the Tourist Information centre and a Quaker graveyard in the town.
By the end of the 18th century the economy of Dolgellau had grown alongside the expansion of the woollen industry, and the town became famous for the cottage industries of cloth making and tanning. The town grew in importance and became the county town of the old county of Meirionethshire. But the wool trade and the tanning industry have declined over the years and today Dolgellau is known as a small market town that depends to a great extent on tourism.
Welsh history buffs might also like to know that Dolgellau was the location, in 1404, of Owain Glyndwr's last Welsh Parliament. Moreover, Dolgellau has another connection with Welsh Princes. Welsh gold has always been valued from Roman times to the present day and Dolgellau was the focus of the Welsh gold rush of the 19th Century. At it's peak the gold and copper mines employed over 500 miners, and to this day, although the mines are now moth balled, the Royal family wear wedding rings of pure Welsh gold. The wedding ring of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is made from gold from the Dolgellau area.
Another item of historical interest has come to my attention. Recent aerial photographic surveys have indicated ancient remains on the outskirts of Dolgellau. On further examination the archaeologists are on the way to confirming the site of a Roman Fort located in fields in the shadow of Cadair Idris.