TAKE THE HIGH ROAD AROUND THE COED-Y-BRENIN FOR SOME AWE-INSPIRING VIEWS
According to the latest reports, 87 per cent of the some 90,000 visitors to the Coed-y-Brenin each year are mountain-bikers, which leaves a rather modest 13 per cent who prefer to either, run, walk, fish or orienteer their way around the fascinating expanse of moorlands, mountains and river valleys that make up the forest park.

Leaving such statistics aside, when exploring this corner of Snowdonia, it is highly unlikely that the average walker would stumble across many of the devotees that make an annual pilgrimage to this veritable shrine to mountain-biking each year - because, and perhaps this is one of the nature reserve's best assets, human encounters are largely few and far between wherever someone may choose to roam.

Moreover, it should be said that bikers tend to rest, refuel and re-energise at the Dolfrwynog Tea Garden (two miles downhill from Glyn-yr-Aur). However, because the park extends to an expansive 9000 acres, it is an inauspicious occasion indeed when a holiday-maker would ever become overwhelmed by a heaving mass of biking hordes - as is almost certainly guaranteed at the better-known outdoor havens nearby such as Betws-y-Coed and the Gwydir Forest Park.

The latter just happen to be among Wales' most popular inland resorts, and, as such, they are usually teeming with tourists. Perhaps one of the major selling points of the Coed-y-Brenin is that it is not. Even in the depths of winter, Betws-y-Coed high street is burgeoning with visitors who never seem deterred, however hostile the conditions. They take walking very seriously in this neck of the woods. In sharp contrast, the appeal of the Coed-y-Brenin lies in the fact that it is largely an undiscovered paradise for walkers, bikers and countryside enthusiasts alike, and the overall atmosphere is much more relaxed.

Furthermore, there are just so many forest trails that emanate from Glyn-yr-Aur, that ramblers and fell walkers could not fail to be enthralled by the depth and breadth of potential walking routes - that truly to promise to excite, surprise and challenge all those with a thirst for fun and adventure.

Generally while out walking, people will be afforded the opportunity to relish and savour the mesmerising mountain scenery, and also delight in the astonishing array of flora and fauna. It should perhaps also be noted at this juncture, that countless poets and bards have been inspired by the stunningly magnificent landscape, particularly that of the nearby mighty mountain, Cader Idris.

Charles Dickens and William Wordsworth are among several of the celebrated writers who have paid tribute to the impressive mountains, lakes, rivers and thunderous waterfalls that can be found in this rural haven, that has steadfastly held onto its extraordinary character for literally thousands of years.

So for a walk that promises to test your strength and stamina, but delivers in terms of scenery and spiritually fulfilling experiences, read on:

Constant companions on many a walk throughout the Coed-y-Brenin are the herds of cattle and flocks of sheep that can be seen in abundance on the hill tops and valley floors of the forest park.

For much of the year, Welsh Mountain sheep can be found grazing in and around some of the 127 acres that surround Glyn-yr-Aur. Most are friendly, particularly the young lambs who often stage their own version of the 'Ovine Olympics' along the tarmac roadway outside. Some of them will even venture up to the sitting room window out of curiosity and may nibble at scraps put out for the birds. As a rule, it's not wise to deliberately feed them though, unless you want to deal with angry farmers.

In addition, the birds here can be quite demanding, and will not hesitate to peck at a window in a bid to galvanise you into throwing out some tasty scraps for them to eat. It's interesting to note that birds have a very high body temperature to maintain and if they don't eat enough during the day, they can die in the night because their energy intake has been nowhere near enough. So it's often worth being as generous as you can if, and when, they fly in to make a social call.

Once you've got through the front door - sometimes this can be a major accomplishment in itself - you're ready to start. At this juncture, it's also worth mentioning that there are no shops, toilets etc en route, so it's wise to take some snacks and liquid refreshment with you on this three hours plus walk. Again, it's worth stressing that the whole route is definitely not for the novice walker. It is really suited to the seasoned rambler and those aged 18 plus. However, certain parts of the initial stretch, say down to the banks of the Mawddach River could be tried by beginners and youngsters.

For the start of the walk, you should make your way past the owners' home, Hendre Berfedd, and along a shale track to a semi-derelict cottage. More often than not sheep will scatter and 'complain' as you walk by, but you should continue to cross the tufty, lush pastures until you come to a barn, which is actually home to a pair of the increasingly rare barn owl.

One of the few genuine stone barns left in the area, that has not be converted into luxurious accommodation, the owls have not failed to seize the opportunity to adopt the traditional stone building as their very own.

The floor is typically strewn with pellets from their hunting forays for food. It is thought there are only 4000 pairs of barn owls left in the whole of the United Kingdom. While there has been a dramatic decline in the number of barn owls nationally since the introduction of intensive farming methods, the Coed-y-Brenin has actually seen a marked increase in its local population.

Pesticides such as DDT, have been largely blamed for devastating the country's owl population, and, it is claimed, has been a major factor in seeing owl numbers fall by over 8000 pairs since the 1930s. Typically used for preventing insect attacks on crops, DDT has mercilessly found its way in to the food chain and has led to the thinning of many birds' eggshells and substantial clutch failures.

Intensive farming has additionally made sure that the vole population, a principal owl delicacy, has plummeted dramatically. A healthy barn owl typically needs to feed on 5-6 voles a day and the land that envelops Glyn-yr-Aur seems to provide the ideal habitat for them, and makes a perfect hunting ground in which the owls can survive.

With the most likely cause of gridlock being a few tractors or other types of farm machinery, the owls are also assured a relatively peaceful territory in which to make the necessary overtures to win their ideal mate; and they can also hunt freely and undisturbed several feet above ground without having to worry about a stream of cars crowding their way. You may be lucky enough to spot some of them during your stay. On quiet nights you are likely to hear them or other owls.

Leaving the barn behind, walkers need to then carry on a short distance through a gap in a stone wall and follow an old track which curves from right to left down through the orchids (in June) until a large wooden gate is reached.

Typically, a rather muddy rough track-way then leads down to the glorious banks of the fascinating and intriguing River Mawddach, whose name is apparently derived from an ancient tribe of Celts.

A newly installed wooden bridge straddles the typical expanse of swirling water, which has had the power (in 2001) to wash a substantial metal bridge off its foundations and on to the far side of the river bank.

The middle of the bridge offers the perfect vantage point to drink in the often-hypnotic flow of cascading water, that hurriedly dashes around the stones, trees and debris that have been bundled here by the impatient current.

When the weather is fine, the river bank makes the perfect resting spot where people can immerse themselves in the gentle rhythms, motions and actions of nature.

Nothing is more relaxing than letting your mind wander as you watch the water swirl in between a disorderly array of rocks and boulders, while the wind gently ripples through the long tall grasses and rustles among the creaking and swaying trees of spruce and pine.

And for those who prefer something more action-packed, an exciting game, for those who don't mind getting wet, is to try to step from boulder to boulder when the river level is low, without actually falling in. A better starting point is a few hundred yards downstream. And it offers a challenging and entertaining diversion during the warmer months.

There are many features of interest to the naturalist along this walk such as the fungi, the lichens, mosses and liverworts and the anthills whose occupants provide food for the green woodpecker. Overhead you will on many occasions see buzzards circling and gliding overhead. This area is particularly important for rare lichens of which one is illustrated here.
Once over the bridge, it's through the far gate and then a turn to the left should be taken. A rough track along the river bank up towards the crest of a steep hill needs to be negotiated.

A rough track-way leads up the hill past two derelict mining cottages that were used when Glyn-yr-Aur and the surrounding areas were in the midst of their very own gold rush, similar to that of the Klondike in America. In the latter part of the 19th century, there were many prospectors for gold in this region with the Gwynfynnyd gold mine, a few miles down stream, being one of the main producing sites. This area has provided gold for many a ring of the royal family including Queen Elizabeth II herself. Some of the gold works mined earth, is now being reworked in a bid to collect as many particles of residual gold as possible. And the remaining jewellery that is formed is among some of the most expensive in the world.

It should be noted that Welsh gold is actually among the most costly on the planet and is valued at three times that of similar metal in South Africa. Indeed, Michael Douglas bought Catherine Zeta Jones a wedding ring made entirely from Welsh gold.

There is still gold bearing rock in the vicinity of the cottages today, with the rear foundation of the lower cottage being supported on some quartz outcrops typical of the rocks in which gold is found. Occasionally one may see a gold panner at work in the river Mawddach below.

Now back to the trackway: rainwater has fashioned rills and gullies into the trackway and its appearance is now rather less than path-like. Sturdy legs, it has to be said, are needed to make this climb, and several stops might be required to rest your legs.

Once the testing steep section has been endured, there will however be ample recompense in the way of the panoramic views that surround Glyn-yr-Aur and beyond.

Up to the brow of the hill, you will need to pass through a gate and continue onwards towards Bryn-y-Gath a farmstead steeped in local history. On the approach to the farm, you will need to pass through a metal gate and immediately turn left through a second gateway otherwise you will end up at Jaspers front door. This is a designated footpath and you should continue across a stream then right and upwards to a narrow tarmac road.

Once there, you will again be afforded broad, sweeping views of the forest park which no Arcadian landscape gardener such as Capability Brown could ever have dared hope to emulate.

At the road, you will need to take a right hand turn and follow it downhill soon crossing a cattle grid then twisting and turning downwards.

After passing over another cattle grid, there is an abundance of rough wilderness and moorland that can be explored by more adventurous walkers. There are some way-marked trails which are best traversed when the conditions are dry. A little further downhill you cross a delightful stone bridge and the picture is looking back at the bridge after you have crossed.

The real delights of this walk at this high level are the uninterrupted views of vast tracts of the Coed-y-Brenin, that sweep from commanding and imposing mountainous terrain on the far horizon to undulating hillside slopes that are carpeted with verdant arrays of grasses, wild flowers and shrubs in the foreground.

Thick pockets of pine and spruce trees are also interspersed throughout the landscape, and complement the distinctive scenery with their dark deep hues of taupe, jade, emerald and green.

To continue the walk, people should follow the bends and curves of the road downhill where on the right you will see Pant Glas which is home to a Welsh Bard and authoress.

Pant Glas
Interestingly many of the houses here including Pant Glas have no mains electricity and the ever resourceful Gwilym has constructed his own water turbine that produces enough electricity to run the TV or the iron but not both together!

While moving ever downwards, you will encounter some of the increasingly rare, natural deciduous forest and may be lucky enough to see one of the resident grey squirrels. Some of the more extrovert among them have been known to venture in to the local tavern, the Tyn-y-Groes, in search of a patron or two.

At the bottom of the hill and on the valley floor, you will need to cross over another cattle grid and a further stone bridge.You will then see an old chapel that dates back at least 150 years to your right. It's worth taking a peek through the windows for a glimpse at a setting that has remained virtually unchanged since the chapel was built. The congregation typically meets every few weeks.

You will need to rejoin the main tarmac road after the chapel, and are promised a relatively relaxing and flat stretch of walk after an initial short climb. To the left hand side of the road, you will be able to see the rolling hills and moorlands of the Coed-y-Brenin in close up. To the right a tributary of the River Mawddach ploughs its own meandering course through the rough and barren wilderness of the valley floor.

Past a small school and across another cattle grid, you will arrive at another small stone bridge which again makes a perfect resting point.

People should then keep to the tarmac road, where the only sounds to be heard are the occasional chatter of birds and the creaking and swaying of the plentiful row upon row of pine trees.

Taken over by the Forestry Commission in the 1920s, the Coed-y-Brenin has been a major pine-producing site for well over 80 years. However, because wood is now in less demand, serious strides have been taken to refashion the area in to a sanctuary for wildlife and a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.

And in a bid to take in some of the best views of the whole of the forest park, it's necessary to walk up a short, steep section of the Beast mountain-bike trail (formerly Karrimor).

As the trail converges with a wider forest track, you will need to take a left-hand turn. You may be lucky enough to catch sight of some of the many wild deer that live within the dark and shady depths of the forests.

As you move onwards, you will be able to see some of the best views of the valley floor on the left hand side. Isolated farmsteads are scattered across the low-lying plains of the parkland. While on the far horizon there is a stunning backdrop of mountain scenery that would rival any of the more feted ranges in Eastern and Central Europe.

Among the mountains is the mighty Cader Idris, where it's reputed that if you spend the night, you will either wake up mad or a poet. The surrounding scenery would indeed inspire many a writer or poet and does indeed so today as a few modern Welsh bards have made the area their home.

The track should then be followed for a further 20 minutes or so and then down on to the main tarmac road that then either leads left and down to Dolfrwynog or right and back up to the Valley of Gold and Glyn-yr-Aur.