Snowdonia - Walking Trails around Dolgellau
David Atkinson and daughter Maya spend a day exploring the woodland trails in Coed y Brenin, a mountain-biking centre in Snowdonia National Park
We’re going on a treasure hunt.
It’s a bright but chilly spring day as Maya, my seven-year-old daughter, and I set off from the Visitor Centre at Coed y Brenin Forest Park just north of Dolgellau. Coed y Brenin is best known as a mountain-biking centre (it’s also on a Sustrans route), but we’ve come to try out some of the new themed walking trails.
We start to explore the sun-dappled woodland paths, starting with the Geo-cache Trail. Maya takes charge of the the-lime-green GPS and leads the way, heading southeast along the moss-carpeted trail in search of the first treasure trove. Spring birdlife chirps a cheery greeting as we tramp pass.
We follow the arrow to the Viewpoint, a raised bank overlooking the entire 9,000-acre site. The snow-capped Snowdonia range looms stoically beyond the treetops.
“Let’s look for mini-beasts,” says Maya. “It’s all twiggy and mossy here, so there must be lots of animals.” We uncover our first geo-cache, a waterproof box, signing the logbook and swopping treasures of a keyring for one of our pencils, before heading on.
This is ancient gold-mining territory (the Dolgellau gold rush gripped Snowdonia in the 19th century) and the most dramatic of our finds comes as we pass the Pistyll Cain waterfall and uncover the geo-cahe by the old Gwynfynydd Gold Mine. After a picnic lunch in the sun, spring-migrating birdlife pecking around our boots for crumbs, we go back to the Visitor Centre to pick up one of the new audio trails.
We chose to learn about the forest’s giant fir tress trees on the gentle King’s Guards Trails, having first downloaded the MP3 to my phone. This, like the others, is designed so you can walk the whole trail, or dip into it for a few sections. There’s also an Animal Puzzle Trail for young children. Coed y Brenin recently expanded its facilities, adding an overflow cafe, a new bike skills centre and new interpretation material about its gold-mining heritage.
Come late afternoon we drive on, skirting Dolgellau on the Tywyn road to Graig Wen, a close-to-nature collection of slate-roofed cottages, secluded yurts and camping, plus a smart, five-bed B&B. We’re staying in the new eco-cabin, a sustainable-built, dismountable structure with a blanket-warmed double futon, a camping stove and a wood-burning fire to ward off bedtime chills.
Maya takes to the hobbit-house design straight away, exploring the grounds while I unpack. Graig Wen’s owner, Sarah Heyworth, arrives with a whicker basket of essential utensils and local goodies – local honey, Welshcakes and a bottle of Purple Moose ale from a local microbrewery, amongst them.
"The big different between a yurt and the Caban in the Glade,” explains Sarah, “is that, while the yurt feels closer to nature, the caban leaves no trace on the landscape. We dissemble it each year in October. And given the spring we’ve had this year,” she smiles, “it has better insulation.”
After unpacking, we walk down through the trees to meet the water-trammeled Mawddach Estuary. The Mawddach Way, a long-distance circular walk around the estuary, passes right by the site and we take a short sun-setting stroll, spotting Ringed Plover along the way. For a longer, car-free day walk, you can walk left out of Graig Wen towards Barmouth, catch the passenger ferry across the estuary and then take the Fairbourne Miniature Railway back to the nearest station at Morfa Mawddach.
Dinner that night was a short drive away at the Gwernan Hotel, climbing up to the mythology-shrouded mountain of Cadair Idris to the hearth-warmed little bar and dining room with views across Lake Gwernan. The pub majors on locally sourced produce with mains around £12. My Welsh beef burger, topped with Snowdonia cheese, was hearty and tender, and all the better for a pint of Butty Bach from the Wye Valley Brewery with it.
"We know all our producers and suppliers," says manager Geraint Roberts. "That way we’re sure our meat from the butcher in Bala is top quality."
That night Maya and I head for bed in our hobbit house under a canvas of sky-illuminating stars. The treasure hunt may have brought us geo-caching trinkets, but a father-daughter bonding night in southern Snowdonia is something far more valuable to treasure.
Graig Wen’s Caban in the Glade costs £285 per weekend (Friday-Monday), including a continental breakfast; more information on activities from discoverdolgellau.com.