DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE-A walk by the River Mawddach
In times past people believed that goblins, ghouls, fairies and giants roamed the ancient land of Cymru and made their homes in the mountains, streams and valleys of this once vast and untamed wilderness.

In the renowned Welsh mythological series of books, the Mabinogion, a great many parts of Wales had an association with a magical and mystical other world, which humans often encountered at their peril.

Shadows in the twilight would almost certainly be viewed as corroborative evidence that spirits were materialising from another plane.

Strangers met on deserted highways would be viewed with the utmost suspicion, as many knew that the devil himself was always eager to trap lone travellers in a bid to capture their souls.

For citizens of the 21st century, it may be hard to put harsh cynicism and cold logic aside to gain partial access to this parallel universe. But as all true believers in magic really know, the key to gaining a higher understanding is first found in the imagination. Therein lies the capacity to unlock a vision of the world that is rich in fantasy and can only ever be truly limited by the bounds of ones thinking.

To truly enjoy and savour this next walk from the steps of Glyn-yr-Aur, it's helpful to perhaps let go of any modern day preconceived notions and perhaps take a figurative step back in time to a more mythical age.

This walk takes in the wealth of shimmering streams and rushing rivers that intersect much of the Coed-y-Brenin Forest Park. While walking, it's perhaps easy to see how ancient bards could envisage fairy folk eager to waylay them along the riverbank, where cascading miniature waterfalls tumble gently in to the mighty Mawddach as it roars down towards Barmouth and finally in to the Irish Sea.

To start with, walkers need to know that this walk lasts for about 1hour and 30 minutes and it's relatively easy under foot, and suitable for most categories of walker, except perhaps the very old or very young.

The terrain can sometimes be muddy, particularly after rainfall, but during those times, the intricacies of the local water cycle can been seen at their most striking and give the whole route that otherworldly quality alluded to before.

So armed with a vivid imagination, sturdy trainers or walking boots and some refreshments to savour at the grand finale (which is definitely worth the journey), then let us walk on.

As you step outside Glyn-yr-Aur, you will be met with a captivating and prepossessing scene of rolling green pastures that sweep down to the banks of the River Mawddach. It is neither too neat nor too untidy, but thickets and small copses of deciduous trees are scattered across the landscape and help mark the boundaries of one set of fields to another. Various dry stone walls, some a little tumbledown, criss-cross the rough meadows that are filled with lush pasture, wild grasses, heathers and bracken.

Ramblers need to leave the tarmac road that lies outside the cottage and join the trackway that leads past the owners cottage. After reaching a satellite dish hidden in a copse turn left and walk straight downhill through the grazing land, that is most often seen at is best in spring and summer. During these heady months, it is more often than not ablaze will a myriad of differing shades of purples, greens and blues as the indigenous heathers, grasses and shrubs flower and come into full bloom.

Moreover, the pastures can almost seem to be dancing when the long grasses have been left to grow and they sway playfully back and forth in a synchronised motion as they are manipulated by the prevailing breeze.

One approaches and passes through a gateway and short winding path to a second gateway. Emerging from the second gateway bear left onto the bridal path. Directions are probably superfluous for the next mile as one merely follows the river downstream until one meets another bridleway where one turns right, crosses the stone bridge then left down to the waterfalls of Pistyll Cain and Rhaeadr Mawddach.


Riverside Walk Slideshow
A BEAUTIFUL PICTURE

No artist could paint a more beautiful picture, especially when the sky is a deep azure blue and almost swept clean of clouds, with just a few trails of cirrus or wispy cirro-stratus left hanging precariously above. But in the blink of an eye the canvas can change, as dark and foreboding cumulus nimbus can appear it would seem almost from nowhere, and provide a dark grey blanket across the heavens.

And at certain intervals, the sun's rays can pierce the heavy cloud cover like sharp blades and shine out in an almost crown-like formation, that it can seem that angelic apparitions are being revealed before your very eyes.

Mercifully, rainfall is more often than not short-lived and Glyn-yr-Aur experiences its fair share of sunlight hours.

Indeed, the longer, lighter nights of the main holiday season allow people much more time to explore the length and breadth of the Coed-y-Brenin and discover its appeal and charm.

Water on the ground though is usually in plentiful supply throughout the 127 acres that make up the Glyn-yr-Aur estate. You don't have to walk far to either hear the faint trickle of a tiny stream scrambling down a pebble-strewn course, or indeed stroll much further to hear the cacophonous roar of one of the major rivers that criss-cross the surrounding vast parkland as they surge towards the Mawddach Estuary and spill out in to Cardigan Bay.

The rivers and streams seem to almost sing their own anthemic hymns - perhaps as a fitting tribute to the magical and entrancing landscape in which they course.

The bubbling, silvery streams amble along softly and quietly. They scuttle and clamber across rocks and stones in a hushed pianissimo sort of tone. Then bolder and more aggressive tributaries tumble down the deeply fissured and fractured bedrock in allegro mode, or at a brisk and fast pace, as they chisel and bear down on the existing rock surface, in a bid to enlarge the existing crevasses and sculpt newer and fresher cavities.

The seemingly musical movement of the water then grows louder to a fortissimo, as it finally crashes into a crescendo as it meets the mighty Mawddach and its fuller, more richly orchestrated song.

As the Mawddach hums the lyrics to its own exceptionally complicated opus, a raft of tantalising melodies and harmonies are provided by the myriad of clamouring rivulets found along the riverbank, as they surge in to the mighty swell of the main waters and are propelled ever onwards downstream.

It's not hard to imagine dwarves or elves scuttling in and out of the miniature waterfalls, which could provide hidden entrances to their mythical underground hideaways. Down by the riverbanks, it is as though an ancient magician has fashioned an enchanting fairy grotto where the little people can freely roam.

To get to this magical riverside, you need to walk past the owners house then at the copse of trees (with satellite dish) turn left downwards across the pastures and through a wooden gate into the wood. After a short winding section exit the wood through another wooden gate and bear left.

   

A rough pathway emerges out of the thick pockets of grasses, bracken and ferns that leads ever downwards towards the main river's edge.

A rocky path is more often than not defined throughout the walk, but sometimes mud overtakes the stones that have been scattered to delineate a pathway.

When the wind rustles through the trees, it almost seems as if there is a whispering conversation occurring between the wind and the verdant acres that carpet the landscape and lead down to the water's edge.

For the next section of the walk, you will need to go through another gate and cross another tributary, which stumbles down through the dense woodland and tree-lined escarpment in a bid to join the Mawddach.

Trees, on this stretch of the walk, converge either side of the pathway to make a kind of tunnel or archway through which people can make gainful strides.

Some natural deciduous trees are interspersed throughout the towering trees of spruce and pine, and some because of their shallow roots lean in and rest on others for support. The tales of the Mabinogion were obviously inspired by landscapes and hidden wonders like this. You could imagine fairy folk making these secluded havens their own homes. Some evidence of this has already been found locally. Hermon's Elves

It would perhaps be worth retelling the tale of a Welshman who encountered fairy folk. But unfortunately like a lot of fairy legends, this fable does have a literal sting in the tale.

A FAIRY TALE
Taken from the Welsh Fairy Book the story begins: once upon a time, a farmer was rounding up his sheep when he heard loud sobs and wailing sounds coming from a distance. As he went to investigate, he saw a little female fairy lying in peril on a sharp ridge on a steep precipice. Eager to alleviate her distress, he went to her rescue and helped her back to safety. On doing so, the father of the fairy appeared and offered the farmer a special walking stick by way of thanks. They then both vanished in to thin air.

A year after this event, the farmer began to prosper and every one of the sheep he owned had two ewe-lambs. His good fortune continued for many years. While others had disease-ridden flocks, his were totally healthy. Vandals and thieves were thwarted in their attempts to raid any of his sheep. Their coats and wool were of the finest quality. His wealth grew by a great amount and he was the envy of all of his friends.

Some years later, the farmer was on his way to a nearby village when a great storm arose. The rain poured down and heavy winds battered the landscape and howled through the trees.

The farmer had to make his way home across a stream. Unfortunately there was no bridge for him to cross and he had to make his way via some stepping stones. As the wind picked up and the rain bore down, he lost his balance and the walking stick given to him by the fairies slipped from his hand.

He tried and tried to find it in the surging waters, but was forced to retreat to the river banks without his prized possession.

The next day, he decided to go out in search of the special stick once more, and to see what damage the flood had done. However, the stick was nowhere to be seen. And much to his dismay, he discovered that nearly all of his sheep had been swept away by the strong flooding. His wealth, it seemed, had been lost the moment his walking stick had fallen into the surging current and had been washed away downstream.

Now back to the walk and the River Mawddach, when in full flood, the water typically spirals and swirls rapidly around huge boulders and hurriedly tumbles and glides over terraced steps, that almost seem to have been engineered to decrease in size in an almost pre-planned and equidistant fashion.

All along the designated walkways that have been marked out, you cannot help but marvel at the scores of minor tributaries and sparkling silver streams that run wildly down the hillside to join the main river.

Some are little more than mere trickles of fine ribbons of water, while others are quite substantial torrents of water that break in to mini-waterfalls, that have been achieved by thousands of years of erosion over the local bedrock.

Sometimes it's necessary to ford shallow areas of these tributaries, as they intersect the main pathway to be united with their familial patriarch.

HYPNOTIC
It's certainly hypnotic to watch the water froth and foam as its makes it way hurriedly and impatiently downstream. The dark and murky waters often run crystal clear over calmer sections of the water. Then the river will be channelled through a narrow and variform section of rock and cascade and throw itself over the rocks in a frenzy.

To continue the walk, you should follow the rough pathway ever onwards, down through the grounds surrounding Glyn-yr-Aur to then join the Coed-y-Brenin proper. As you do so, the river bank steepens and there is an increasingly dramatic drop downwards towards the river embankment.

As you walk along the Forestry Commission trackway, to the left remnants of recently felled pine can be seen, with stumps and grasses being a reminder of what was once there.

Steeply curving slopes on the other side give way to thick pockets of gorse and bracken, until you come to some of the former Gwynfynnyd gold mining works.

This area was once a prime gold producing site and underwent something of a gold rush similar to that of the Klondike in America in the late 19th century.

People still pan for gold today in the surrounding rivers and streams. The former mined earth is also reworked in a bid to obtain as much gold ore as possible. Welsh gold is said to be worth three times more than any other similar metal on the planet. Indeed, it has provided wedding rings for British royalty including Queen Elizabeth II herself.

A great deal of the majesty of the Coed-y-Brenin or Forest of Kings is provided by the tall and splendid rows of spruce and pine. After the barren slopes, walkers can not help but to be captivated by the sections of very tall Scots pine, that come into view, as they sit proudly on the steep sides of the riverbank.

Ever onwards, you will then come to an intersection of Forestry Commission paths and one of the many mountain bike routes in the area - imaginatively entitled the MBR (or Mountain Bike Rider) . You need to take a right hand turn towards an old-fashioned stone bridge way that arches across the river's expanse.

Then for the grand finale, you should walk a few hundred yards downstream and will be able to feast your eyes on the powerful and truly impressive Rhaeadr Mawddach waterfall.

To gain the best view, it's necessary to climb down on to a small ledge to see it thunder down in to a huge plunge pool, and then meander down the hillside in an ever-widening fashion.

The amazing sights do not stop there. Around the corner, there is also another exciting waterfall to behold in the form of the Pistyll Cain, which torrents from a great height over a sheer cliff into a terraced series of rocks that leads in to the Mawddach.

A great vantage point is to be found in the iron bridge that lies several yards directly in front of the waterfall.

As this is the mid-point of the walk, you can then either retrace your steps back to Glyn-yr-Aur or walk downstream on either side of the riverbank. Going downstream with the river on your left hand side, you will eventually come to Tyddyn Gladys and a public car park, and then a footbridge which should be crossed. Continuing downstream takes you to the Tyn-y-Groes public house and inn. Going upstream and taking the first right hand turn, left at the fork and right at the T junction leads to Dolfrwynog Tea Garden and after taking suitable refreshment you can walk up the tarmac road back to Glyn-yr-Aur.

Instead of crossing the footbridge one can continue downstream taking the first right hand turn and then following the river Eden upstream to the new Visitors' Centre.