All aboard for a short walk near the Dolgoch Falls

 

Sometimes a photo just doesn't do justice to its subject matter. It isn't that it just gives a momentary snapshot into something at the click of a shutter. It can perhaps never quite capture the essence of a place as accurately and forcefully as being there yourself.

 

It was with that in mind, as I snapped away at the Dolgoch Falls, that I thought this camera isn't conveying these energy-charged falls in an effective and convincing enough way.

 

The hynoptic rhythm of the falling water as it hit terrace after rocky terrace, and then plunged several feet in to the gurgling Fathew River below was an impressive sight to behold.

 

A frothy mass of foaming water in various arch formations on, camera however, didn't quite reveal the falls as the vibrant and explosive sensation it truly is.

 

With three series of waterfalls, emanating from the Nant Dolgoch stream, it proved impossible to contain them all within my humble digi-camera's frame.

 

 

But as the split-second confirmation shots revealed, cameras do unfortunately lie and mislead. To obtain a true insight into a natural wonder, there is no intrument better than a pair of human eyes.

 

It is certainly a strange paradox, that dark areas become well lit under the auspices of a camera, and conversely bright scenes become almost invisible to its peremptory lens. It's quite puzzling to see 'the perfect shot' appear shrouded in a hazy mist or be conveyed as an 'overcast sky' - when the sun is beating down overhead.

 

No matter, as I struggled to get the camera to offer a lustrous vision of the area, the pictures, I reasoned, could only really give anyone a limited impression of the stunning locale. As the old adage goes: seeing is believing. People really need to make a trip to see them at first hand.

 

 

And your mode of transport is fortunately quite wide. Car will take you to the Dolgoch Falls hotel in well under an hour from Glyn-yr-aur. However, there is a far more traditional transport on offer - in the form of the local narrow gauge railway.

 

The Talyllyn Railway, still running since it's inaugural opening in 1866, does actually use rolling stock, now refurbished, from the Victorian era when it first hit the 2' 3" wide tracks.

 

The oldest of the steam engines, at a mere 145 years old, is the Talyllyn itself. Built by Fletcher and Jennings in 1864, the 12 ton engine was refurbished in the late 50s and is still one of the stalwart locomotives that makes the 2 hour round trip.

 

In the peak season 4 services are run a day, and at a steady 9 miles an hour, people have plenty of time to drink in all the mesmerising sites from the Cader Idris and Dysynni Valley up until the terminus at Nant Gwernol.

 

Initially built to carry slate from the Bryn Eglwys works 7 miles north of Tywyn, it was only a matter of years before the railway provided passenger services aswell.

 

 

Dolgoch was actually a place where the steam locomotives would take on water in any event. But by 1873, several other stations, including this one, were opened, and helped to service the outlying hamlets and farmsteads.

 

Soon afterwards, local quarrymen tried to find sufficient seams of slate near the falls, but soon stopped as none were forthcoming.

 

So today, as you approach the falls on the left-hand track, you will see a large cave, which is evidence of the former mine workings.

 

It's perfectly safe to venture as far as they'll take you, but a torch or strong light is needed.

 

 

To the right of this ,there is a platform to take in the Dolgoch Falls in all their effervescent brilliance.

 

A professional photographer, with tripod, was already snapping away. However, his vantage point was better as is it proved later, when I went through my pictures. The light where I stood didn't offer the best of perspectives. However once the walkway was followed around the falls and  down to the right hand pathway, better pictures were certainly taken.

 

Fortunately, funding was found (in 2001) to allow people a sturdy pathway up and over the top of the first section two sections of the falls.

 

People should follow some stone steps a little further down river and follow them up the hillside, until they come to a bridge and can watch the upper and lower falls cascade vigorously over the rockface.

 

The higher sections feature thinner skeins of water that all merge together in a frenzied jumble to bear down ferociously on the underlying bedrock.

 

Certain sections are more gnawed and chiselled than others, while stones on the riverbed balance precariously on top of each other, not knowing which is next due for a toppling.

 

Once over the bridge, you can stop at another perfect viewing point and have an excellent perspective on the cascading falls. A few better shots were taken here.

 

Down on the right hand bank (now on your left) you can walk to another new bridge and downwards towards the Dolgoch Falls Hotel.

 

However, it's certainly worth checking out the Dolgoch station, if you've driven here by car. And people can follow the signs near the entrance gate up to the station platform.

 

 

People can also pass through a white gate before the station and look at work done by the local Tracksiders, who are instrumental in the upkeep and running of the whole site.

 

They have built a viewing platform for visitors to just watch the trains as they go by and have also constructed some slate fencing.

 

Interestingly, it was only with the foresight and generosity of volunteers that this heritage railway ever came into being.

 

In 1948 it was closed due to a calamitous rockfall, the death of the owner and the collapse of the world market in slate.

 

Some famous railway enthusiasts of the time including the Rev W Awbry, creator of Thomas the Tank Engine, stepped in to the save it from total closure and ruin.

 

They, with the support of many others, restyled it into a tourist attraction (in 1951) and saw it become the first ever heritage railway line run in the world.

 

The station today is formed of traditional Welsh stone and has signage and posters with something of an Art Deco appearance.

 

Information posters detail the timetable and share details about the railway's history.

 

You then need to proceed across another bridge that takes you to the opposite side of the platform and back down near to the falls themselves.

 

 

A small, but impressive viaduct has been built to ford the River Fathew and takes the railway across to the station at Dolgoch.

 

You can marvel at its sturdy piers as you walk underneath towards the entrance gate and back out into the carpark. Then it's time for perhaps tea at the Dolgoch Falls Hotel, or a picnic say in the nearby woodland setting.

 

 

 

Directions: From Glyn-yr-aur, follow the  roads through to Dolgellau.Then take the A470 south to Machynlleth. When you reach the right hand turn off to the Talyllyn Lake (the B4405), take this route and follow for several miles until you come to the Dolgoch Falls Hotel and its car park.

 

 

 

A short trek through the Fathew Valley

 

To some people it's all about looking right when you go out on a walk: you need to have the right brand of nordic walking pole, all finished off with a William Morris pattern, or say a camp stove that shouts out the durability ratings of thermal socks ...

 

But, surely, it's simply enough to want to go out for an amble: sturdy trainers and casual loose clothing should more than fit the bill.

 

Thankfully, my reasonably priced walking shoes were holding their own on this bright autumnal afternoon as I strode out to follow a waymarked path through the Fathew Valley.

 

Well they were until the picturesque meadow revealed its darker side.

 

 

Just a few hundred yards from the Dolgoch Falls hotel, traces of a fairly flat and level route could be seen etched in to the hills.

 

All was sure to be plain sailing, or so I thought. However, cattle and rainfall are two things that should never mix, especially in a field with deep, loamy soil.

 

Skirting the field and gripping onto the fencing helped to haul me to some higher ground, and a fair distance away from the 'mudbath'.

 

After passing through two rusty farm gates, it's then easy to follow the pathway, which almost parallels the tracks of the Tallylyn railway on the side of the valley.

 

A patchwork of pleasant fields unfolds before you and a generous woodland

decks the hillside that rises up on your left.

 

The soft crunch of russet-coloured leaves under my feet and a bright sky above set the mood for this walk, which typically lasts under an hour.

 

 

A sea of ragged ferns had colonised various sections of the hillside, but oftentimes the silver birch, oak and sycamore would beat them back until they were barely visible at all.

 

Streams would cascade down from the higher ground to join the water courses raging throughout the Fathew Valley.

 

And nervous sheep, unsure of strangers, would gingerly cower at field corners not sure whether you were friend or foe. Any meek salutations to pacify their nerves were met with disbelief or caution.

 

Sheep seem to be hard-wired to be permanently suspicious, perhaps as surplus rams they know that there will only ever be so many field changes until they would never come back.

 

Several farms were dotted around the wide valley floor and a few tractors could be seen in the fields, while intermittent traffic zoomed past in the distance on the Tywyn-bound A-road.

 

What's perhaps most impressive are the hills that rise either side of the valley and cut an impressive swathe through the skyline.

 

No-where can hills or mountains be found quite like Snowdonia in all of the Principality. They have such mega dimensions and proportions that dwarf the landscape.

 

 

It's not suprising perhaps then to note that in times past, Welsh princes of this region generally held sway over much of the rest of the Wales. A few miles from here is one stronghold, Castell y Bere, of Llewelyn the Great. One of the last remaining Welsh princes who had any significant power in Wales, he managed to build several Welsh fortresses from here to Criccieth.

 

He married King John's daughter Joan, and his main powerbase was near modern day Caernarfon.

 

His grandson, also Llewelyn,  was the very last Welsh, Prince of Wales, and was usurped and killed eventually by the forces of English king, Edward I.

 

Castell y Bere is hidden among these labyrinth of hills and mountain passways and is definitely worth visiting when in this locale. Perched high on a rocky outcrop, it is one of the largest ruins of a Welsh castle in Snowdonia.

 

 

It has some of the most breath-taking views of hills, valleys and mountain tops that this area has to offer, and was eventually taken over by the English when Wales fell gradually into their hands.

 

It was said it took some time for the English to defeat the Welsh, because they would just head for the hills, lay low, and then regroup for a fresh and concerted uprising. But beaten back they were and some of the grandest castles are those left by the English invaders.

 

Today, this part of Wales has still very much a predominantly Welsh flavour and feeling. However, the English seem to be keen to 'invade' this area anew, weither as day-trippers or tourists - and if local accents reveal anything at all, many have also made this oustanding place their permanent home.

 

Now back to the walk: after traversing the pathway for some time, a smallholding should come into view, and people need to follow the pathway behind the back of house and garden, and carry on the designated walkway along the hillside. It can be followed for a fair few hours should people so wish the whole length of the valley.