The other day I decided we should take a short break in Wales as we did this time last year. Back then we went to the Llyn Peninsula. On Thursday we headed further south, to Dolgellau in Gwynedd in north-west Wales. It’ is well under a two-hour drive from home, but given that the local guidebook states that the town ‘enjoys’ 70 inches of rain a year, it might seem a perverse choice of holiday destination, and especially in the autumn. All I can say was we were very lucky. For four whole days the weather was fine, the sun often hot, and when it did rain, it did so while we slept. What could be better?
Dolgellau (Dol-gethl-eye) is an ancient market town, once prosperous as a centre of the wool trade. Today, agriculture, especially sheep and cattle rearing are still important, but tourism has now become a mainstay. And for those who relish outdoor pursuits of every kind, then this part of Wales has pretty much everything on offer, and all set in the most stunning mountain landscapes.
Perhaps the most dominant feature in this locality is Cadair Idris, seen here in its lower reaches from the Dôl Idris Path, a few miles outside the town.
The mountain is 893 metres (2,930 feet) high, and there are several routes to the summit, but the most direct one strikes off almost vertically from the Dôl Idris Path, which itself is a short, level route created for those who wish to stroll on the horizontal. (That would be us). So we were not tempted to take the winding stairway up the hillside, this despite its splendid setting beside a roaring waterfall. We had read the guidebook and learned that those steps mark the start of 3.8 kilometre (2.4 mile) ever-upwards haul that includes a 300 metre (1,000 feet) cliff scree face. It would take five hours to go there and back, and besides which, there was also the legend to consider. This says that anyone who spends the night on the mountain will wake up either mad or a poet.
We couldn’t risk it, not even for a brainstorm of bardic eloquence. Instead we took photos, but only after we had visited the tea-room and eaten chicken curry and rice (me) and a bacon sandwich (G) while watching nut hatches on the bird feeder outside the window. (All Farrell safaris must include tea rooms, coffee houses and restaurants). Also, while we were there, we viewed the cartoon about Idris the Giant, who uses the mountain as his armchair (cadair) while gazing up at the stars. And finally, we peered uncertainly at the bat-cam video that mistily revealed to us rare and roosting horseshoe bats who live in the tea room roof space. Bats in the attic. That was somehow pleasing too.
The food in the cafe was really rather good, but once back on the path we found still other diversions. There was the spotting of bat boxes in the trees. Apparently 9 species are catered for. I didn’t discover the exact purpose of the boxes – emergency roosts for dirty-stop-out bats caught out in the daylight while still far from home?
More curiously, at the foot of the mountain path, we found the ruined remains of Idris soft drinks company’s research laboratory. And yes, it does look more like a barn. It is hard to imagine that, in its day, a cutting-edge business empire based on non-alcoholic fizzy drinks, had its roots in an isolated valley below Cadair Idris. The company even went on to supersede Schweppes as the sole soft drinks purveyor to HM Queen Victoria.
The founder of the company, a successful Welsh chemist called Thomas Howell Williams, began the laboratory in 1873. The Temperance Movement was gathering momentum at this time, and the production of cheap, non-alcoholic, and (apparently) healthy drinks was welcomed. Why Williams chose this site in particular is not exactly clear, but he was so impressed by the mountain’s splendour that he changed his name by deed poll to Thomas Idris. He also became known as The Ginger Beer Man, and all these years on, Idris Fiery Ginger Beer is still produced, albeit under the Britvic label.
In the 1980s the Idris family gave the land to the Snowdonia National Park Authority and, in the last few years, a flat, circular path of just over a kilometre has been created to cater for all who wish to enjoy what remains of the Idris parkland domain. There is an ornamental lake with wild balsam on its margins, specimen trees dotted here and there, a fish ladder and weir to examine, secluded tables for picnics, a chestnut tree avenue, streams to walk by, and of course the tea room for the scones and carrot cake we didn’t have the first time round.
On our slow wandering we did not see the buzzards, kites or peregrine falcons noted on the tea room’s recent ‘bird sightings’ board, but it was a fine walk on a fine autumn day, and so thank you Mr. Idris for your gift to the nation – to Wales that is, and thence to the United Kingdom that derives only the greatest benefit from the sum of its peripheral lands’ magnificent places.
copyright 2014 Tish Farrell
Flickr Comments: N words
This post was also inspired by Jo’s Monday Walk : Fountains Abbey
54 thoughts on “Now that summer’s done, we take the Dol Idris Path…”
Tish, I want to jump in the car NOW! We’ve been to the LLeyn Peninsula years ago but never to Dolgellau. What a glorious walk! I was all for doing it the hard way till I read the word scree. 🙂 Your photos are delicious. Woodland with a gurgling stream- I can hear it chuckling! Thank you so much for linking to mine and for all the interesting information about Idris too.
So glad you enjoyed the ‘walk’ Jo, though it was more of an amble, and thank you for your own inspiring posts. Dolgellau is a splendid place, and nearby the glorious Mawddach Estuary which has a 9 mile walk along it, following the track of the old railway line, so again accessible to all. There are also longer, but less arduous paths up Cadair Idris, one from the Mawddach and another from Dolgellau itself. The town, too, is stuffed with buildings of historic importance, which may well feature in another post.
I’d love to get back to Wales, but Mick’s not much into driving distances any more. I remain ever hopeful 🙂 Thanks again- I enjoyed it so much.
Wales still has some quite interesting bits of railway that are still operational. I also get the impression that their bus services are pretty good. Just a thought.
Thank you, Drake 🙂
I last did this walk in summer 1979 when I came home ill from working in Africa. I think we made it to the top. Stayed in a Youth Hostel nearby I think, to avoid the risk of madness and poetry. Well written piece with beautiful illustrations, Tish.
Thanks, Ian. Hope you are well at the moment.
Absolutely beautiful post Tish! Hope you are well?
Thank you, Bob. I am well. Trust all is well with you in you neck of the woods. Cheers.
Hanging in there Tish. Thank you for asking?
Your photography is stunning. Remember me when you’re famous won’t you?
You are too kind, especially when you take such smashing photos. As to my shots – I owe it all to cropping and the histogram thingy in Windows live picture gallery!
I am always impressed with your blog my friend. And it certainly helps when you are such a nice person
Take care my friend
this post makes me miss the mountains and nature. I want to put on my hiking gear and walk up the hill. Thanks for the great pictures.
Tish, much of your walk looks so much like where I am in France that it’s weird. But not as weird as the flower photo, which could be a twin of one I took a few days ago. Seriously. I was gobsmacked. Thursday mine will be published and you’ll have to tell me what you think. I love Wales and would love to see more of it one day. In the meantime, I enjoyed walking with you and completely agree with the staples of your safaris. 🙂
I will look out for your flower, Janet. As to similarities with France, well I think Wales does have some ‘common ground’, and in all sorts of ways. Hope you are having a great time. I’m sure you are. 🙂
BTW, what is that flower?
I think it’s Japanese Balsam, a bit of a weed in waterways, a flower collector’s escapee perhaps.
for sure the water is fresh there. not our water. we drink out of a river exactly that mixture what other people living 100 miles upriver let flow in…
Mm. It doesn’t do to think too hard about where one’s water has been/or contained before you drink it.
we prefer bottled water bought in a shop – who knows where it has been before…
I was there in 1979. It does not appear to have changed very much … but then, why should it? Beautiful then, beautiful now … and such a rich history. Great post. Thanks.
I like to think that you were there too, Marilyn. And no, I don’t think much has changed in much of Wales, though they have made some very fine roads which avoids many of the single track, sheep on the highway moments of yester-year.
Thanks for sharing your wonderful photos of this beautiful landscape with us Tish!
It’s nice to share with such lovely people 🙂
Tish, these are fabulous photos. Nature at its’ best. The photos of the water cascading are my favorites. Good job …. !!!! 😄
Thank you v. much, Isadora, for taking this walk with me.
Gorgeous pictures Tish!! I love seeing real autumn colors that we don’t have here. And I’d love to take that path too!
An absolute stunner of a post. And your throwaway lines – especially this one ”We couldn’t risk it, not even for a brainstorm of bardic eloquence.” had me laughing all the way to the kitchen to fetch a coffee to accompany reading the rest.
”The food in the cafe was really rather good,…” I doubt one could find a more British way of putting that line. Love it!
And the photos? Crikey! Top Drawer.
I am surprised the Tourist Board hasn’t snatched you up,Tish.
Compared to some travel writers I read you could show them a thing or two without even getting out of bed.
You are a very nice man, Ark, to laugh at my jokes, because the fact that you laughed all the way to the kitchen now makes me laugh, which as multiplier effects go, is a damn fine thing, so thank you – for that and the nice comments about the pix. Oh yes, and the reblog which is also v. appreciated. Photo-wise, I was having a lot of bother with my dinky canon (£20 from Ebay) camera. It kept eating batteries while we were there. Strange forces abroad, and they weren’t down to me and G either.
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What a beautiful place, Tish! Love the path, water flow… Gorgeous trees. Thank you for the pleasant walk 🙂
Glad you could come along 🙂
Stunning photo’s!! Thank you for taking us on this amazing walk!
Thank you for joining me. 🙂
The autumn colours of wales are stunning Tish. I also rate my walks by the cafes quality, especially the Devonshire teas… 🙂
I can just remember drinking Idris ginger beer although I haven’t seen any for some time. I remember it because we once lived next to a Welsh family (the Jones’ naturally) and the father’s christian name was Idris – I was young enough to assume he had some connection with the drink 🙂 I have been to Cadair Idris many years ago – somewhere else to revisit. Excellent post Tish, thanks.
Glad you liked it, Robin. Yes, I think I too still have a taste memory of Idris ginger beer.
Very nice post. Love the pictures. Great job.
Thank you very much. Glad you enjoyed the post.
beautiful and very painterly
Thank you, Tony.
Really beautiful. Lucky you that it didn’t rain during the day. 70 inch a year? Wow.
Yes Wales and rain often do go together, so we were indeed lucky. A big storm came blowing up as we left for home.
I love rain, but not sure I would like it to rain most of the time. But it looks so lush there except for the mountains. My best friend is from Denmark. Cold, rainy and damp a good portion of the year. Still, I’d love to visit for long stretches of time. I love their culture.
Which do you fear most – madness or poetry?? Thank you for a lovely walk (and refreshments). That reflection shot is particularly stunning.
That’s an interesting question. My first thought is they might be the same thing 🙂
Glad you could come on this walk, Meg. It’s one of our best ones.
Beautiful. Do the tearooms have traditional Welsh fare?
Actually, I seem to remember having a chicken curry. It was rather good too 🙂