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Legend tells that - once upon a time - two ferocious dragons were abruptly awoken from their peaceful slumber. Angered by the disruption and startled at the sight of one another, they locked heads in a merciless battle for command amid lakes and mountains. The two, winged beasts – one white, the other red – underwent an epic clash of brutality until, eventually, the white dragon gave in and fled. The victorious red dragon returned to his mountain layer, where he would lay dormant for centuries. Today, it is said that the red dragon still sleeps beneath the footsteps of those that walk the trails - which follow the path of the ancient dragons – that trail is the Dians Emrys Trail, Eryri (Snowdonia).
Steeped in myth, legend, and history, Eryri is a place that truly enchants. Dubbed ‘the land of contrast’, the mountainous region in north-western Wales is as rich in changing landscape as it is in copper, silver and gold. The charming forests, glacial valleys, and ancient tales of sorcery make Eryri an incredibly popular tourist destination, which was recently hailed as the adventure capital of Europe.
Eryri National Park boasts nine mountain ranges and a plethora of magnificent peaks – 15 or 16 of which (they can’t decide) exceed a 3,000ft summit. The highest peak in the park sits aloft, Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon 3,560ft) – not only is this the best viewpoint in Eryri - but it is the highest mountain peak in England and Wales. The BBC reported that Snowdon receives 700,000 visitors annually – with queues often exceeding 45 minutes to reach the summit (July).
Eryri draws travellers in with its famous and unique scenery, shifting geography, and rocky Mountainous regions – but the beauty doesn’t end in North-western Wales. The National Park extends over 823 square miles, stretching eastwards and southwards across to Bala and down to the edges of Machynlleth at the Dyfi Estuary.
Meirionnydd, De Eryri (Southern Snowdonia) offers a spectacular alternative to the busier trails in central Snowdonia. The hushed southern mountains provide a greener, rounder and more tranquil escape for those who would prefer to evade the masses. Sleepy villages, sandy shorelines, and uninterrupted countryside lay in wait along the park's Southern edges.
The peaceful setting at the heart of Meirionnydd charters a gentler pace than its rocky Northern neighbour - but that doesn't mean it skimps on the adventure. The Southern end - renowned for its bike trails, white water rafting and blue flag beaches - bursts with outdoor exploits. And yet, with all that this location has to offer, somehow it manages to avoid the rush of central Eryri - welcoming a smaller tribe of visitors per annum - who search for a more spacious vibe.
Let’s explore some great locations in Meirionnydd - highlighting some of the ways that you can get the very best out of your time on the Southerly edge.
· 7 ways to get the best out of Meirionnydd,
Aran Fawddwy is the highest peak in Meirionnydd. The summit towers at 2,970ft – falling just short of the Welsh 3000s - and is the loftiest (and finest) viewpoint of the historic country, Merionethshire. The mountain overlooks its nearest towns, Bala and Dolgellau, home to small populations of around 2,000 (approx.) residents. At the centre of the main ridge of Aran Fawddwy is a subsidiary peak - Erw y Ddafad - ddu, standing at 2,861ft, and to the North of here is Aran Fawddwys sister peak - Aran Benllyn topping out at 2,904ft.
A variety of enjoyable routes can take explorers to the peak - each path exposing dramatic landscapes and breath-taking scenery. Aran Fawddwys rocky summit provides panoramic views of natural beauty spots such as the stunning Bala Lake. The scenes from the top take in most mountain ranges in Northern Wales as far as the Brecon Beacons and Pembrokeshire peninsular – and on a very, very clear day – views extend over to the Lake District, England and the Wicklow mountains, Ireland.
Aran Fawwddwy is the ideal adventure for explorers who want to tick off a serious mountain but avoid the central Eryri crowds.
Standing proud at the Southern end of Eryri’s National Park is Cadair Idris, a majestic rocky mountain that peaks at 893 meters. There are three well-travelled routes to the summit –Pony Path, Fox’s path and Minffordd path- each takes visitors on a scenic voyage to the top of the 9th highest mountain in Wales.
The sights from the top are impressive enough to please the Giants - or so Welsh mythology states. Cadair Idris translates as 'Chair of Idris' - named so because the summit was said to be the favoured stargazing spot of the ancient giant Idris.
Beyond Giants and deeper into the mysteries of the mountain – ancestors of the land foretold that “any person who sleeps on the slopes of Cadair Idris wakes a mad-man or poet”- if … the "bottomless lakes" spoken of in folklore don’t consume you first!
Alongside compelling mythology and legend, Cadair Idris is flowing with rich and exciting history - easily spotted by the naked eye as the past is woven into the terrain that dates back to the Ordovician age. The vast glacial lakes, rugged summit, and a spectacular wooded gorge are a few (among many) features that make this mountain a real bucket list adventure!
The Mawddach Estuary
As far back as Victorian times, adventurers have travelled to Brithdir, Dolgellau and Barmouth to tread the tracks surrounding the Mawddach estuary. The wide variety of trails offers a charming blend of old and new - with the earliest routes established in the (early) 1900s. 'The Panorama walk', 'The Torrent walk', and 'The Precipice walk' are three early trails still accessible today.
The hills surrounding the sandy shoreline - where the river joins the ocean - echo the past with bronze age standing stones and Victorian gold mines scattered along the slopes as fascinating remnants of earlier human activity. The area packs over fifty sites where visitors can explore local history - including what remains of 20th century military activity.
The Mawddach estuary is a scenic and adventure packed part of Meirionnydd and a must on any ‘to do’ travel guide lists.
Situated between the towns of Dolgellau and Machynlleth is the spectacular Dyfi forest. Thriving under the gaze of Cadair Idris, the rich woodland incorporates forested hillsides, cascading mountain streams, rocky valleys, and a rich trail menu - ideal for walking, biking, running and family picnics in the woods!
The Dyfi forest is perfect for outdoor adventure, wildlife spotting and family days out, an epic experience you won't forget in a hurry.
Bala Lake is the largest natural lake in Wales, formed in a glacial valley along the fault line between Bala and Tal-y-Llyn towns. The lake became a popular tourist destination in the 19th Century after an advert for a train line triggered a boom of visitors to the area - the lake remains just as prevalent today. Bala town sits at the North-East tip of the Bala Lake, in the Dee Valley - a thriving market town with plenty on offer!
The river Dee flows in and out of Bala Lake, and The River Tryweryn provides a steady supply of white water. The frequent releases of gushing water provide ideal conditions for water sports such as kayaking, canoeing and white-water rafting. Bala Lake is also a favoured site for sailing - with two clubs attached to the area.
The freshwaters of Bala Lake ripple against a backdrop of breath-taking mountain ranges - to the South of the lake is the Aran Mountain range, to the West is the Arenig Mountain range, and to the North-East and East is the Berwyn Mountain range.
The natural environment that wraps the lake provides the perfect sites for mountain biking, climbing, and hiking, activities that travel along the quiet roads, over mountain passes and through the forests and moors.
Bala Lake is also home to an impressive and diverse selection of wildlife; Pike, Perch, Brown Trout and Eel are some aquatic creatures that reside abundantly in the waters - alongside - the Afancod … if you consider eyewitness reports collected by folklorist Marie Trevelyan in 1909.
The Afancod, or Afnac, is thought to be a beast-like creature who is said to lurk deep beneath the surface of the calm waters - much like the Loch Ness Monster. Some spectators noted a 'dragon-like beast' - others - such as Bala Lake's manager, Dowie Bowen (1970) - claim the creature is more comparable to a crocodile.
Local legend, astonishing landscapes, and clear blue waters make Bala Lake the perfect location for visitors who seek both; respite and thrilling outdoor adventure!
Barmouth beach is the most popular seaside resort in Meirionnydd – clear, blue sea appears to meet the sky, with uninterrupted views as far as the eye can see. Barmouth (or Abermaw) is a blue flag beach, with great rolling hills creating a picturesque backdrop against its golden shoreline.
During a low tide it is possible to walk all the way to Harlech – enjoying views over Tremadog Bay. The beach is set in a bustling seaside town with numerous shops, cafes, and services on offer. However, the vastness of Abermaw beach provides plenty of space for those who want to tuck away and enjoy some quiet time.
There are numerous walking trails that begin in Barmouth and follow routes up into the hills that wrap the town. This location is idea for relaxation, hiking and water sports – with a surplus of attractions around the town to keep the whole family entertained.
Sat in the heart of Eryri's National Park lies Coed-y-Brenin Forest Park - dense woodland that extends to incorporate a vast and diverse selection of stunning natural routes.
The visitor's centre marks the beginning of numerous running and walking trails and provides the starting point for some fantastic orienteering courses and geocaching trails throughout the forest park.
Pont Cae'n y Coed is the longest, waymarked trail in the Coed-y-Brenin Forest Park. Tyddyn Gwladys trail is a beautiful and rejuvenating route that takes in two magnificent waterfalls. Ty'n Groes is a riverside trail that ascends onto Penrhos mountain. Glasdir trail winds through a disused copper mine and up to a stunning viewpoint overlooking the ruins. Pandy trail is a short forest walk through the forest garden that leads up to a viewing point that overlooks a cascading waterfall.
Running trails through Coed Y Brenin, that come highly recommended by no-mad Adventures include…
This is just a small sample of the magnificent trails on offer through the Coed y Brenin Forest Park – to unlock even more trail splendour, click here.
The Coed y Brenin Forest Park is the total woodland experience. Waymarked trails cater for every level of fitness and outdoor experience - winding trails, gravel tracks, dense woodlands, waterfalls and more - make Coed y Brenin a must-see location for families, runners, hikers, and mountain bike enthusiasts alike.
History, mythology, and outstanding geography make Meirionnydd a truly enchanting location.
The southern end of Snowdonia’s National Park offers a plethora of outdoor opportunity - and landscapes to take your breath away. Choosing 7 exciting things to see and do around Southern Snowdonia was an easy assignment – keeping to just seven was not such an easy task!
Written by Sophie Hunt, freelance journalist check her website here - https://sophieoutdoors.wordpress.com/