Since 1992, thousands of people have flocked to Dolgellau every July to enjoy the Sesiwn Fawr. It's a lively, bilingual music festival, attracting some of the Welsh music scene’s biggest artists, as well as artists from all over the world. Branwen Rhys Dafydd, one of the event organisers, takes us around the town where a warm welcome awaits you throughout the year.
Sesiwn Fawr Dolgellau
Over three decades, the Sesiwn Fawr has succeeded in attracting thousands to the town to listen to some of ‘Cool Cymru’s' biggest artists, including Cerys Matthews and the Super Furry Animals, along with folk and world music. The festival has also given a platform to local bands such as Frizbee (and later Yws Gwynedd), Sŵnami and Lewys, supporting them to develop and rise to the top of the contemporary Welsh music scene.
On the first weekend of the summer holidays each year, Sesiwn Fawr turns the streets of Dolgellau into a vibrant folk festival, with music, literature, comedy, and activities for children being staged across various locations in the town. The festival’s main stage is now located at the back of the Royal Ship.
Around the town there's musical entertainment on various independent pub stages including the Unicorn, the Stag, the Torrent, and the Beechwood cocktail bar at the bottom of Y Bont Fawr. If you have a guitar in the garage or a bodhran under the bed, then bring them along! It's very likely there'll be jamming sessions and sing-songs in pubs.
Old and remarkable buildings
As you wander along the narrow, twisting streets of the town, you can see that its history is deeply carved in its stone. There are over 230 houses in Dolgellau identified on urban conservation lists - the highest concentration for any town in Wales! From the Quakers to the growth of the chapels, from the remnants of the woollen industry to the gold that is still hidden under nearby hills - this extremely pretty town is full of architectural treasures that can be discovered on foot...
Remember to look up while you wander! You’re likely to see high up doors and pulley systems that are remnants of the town's successful textile industry. Look out particularly for the small round windows at the top of buildings - these were said to be hidden meeting houses for the Quakers.
More about the history of Dolgellau’s urban character.
Cader Idris and local walks
Y Gader is what attracts the majority of visitors to Dolgellau each year. According to legend, years ago, the mountain was a chair (‘cadair’) for Idris Gawr (a local giant)... but the locals call it 'Cader Idris', as 'cader' is an old word for 'fortress' - and the town is certainly nestled at the foot of the mountain.
Overshadowing the beautiful estuary of the River Mawddach, there are three main paths to climb the 893 metres to the top of Y Gader - the Pony Path, Llanfihangel y Pennant Path and the Minffordd Path (some are easier than others!). Remember to do your homework before venturing out and follow mountain safety advice to make sure you have the right equipment before you get started. If anything is missing from your list, the knowledgeable team at Siop y Gader in the town centre will sort you out.
Enjoy running? Why not give Cader Idris Mountain Race a go? One of the toughest mountain races in Wales, it's one of the highlights of the runners' calendar each year and is held every May. The 16.9km race starts and finishes in Dolgellau town centre, at sea level, before climbing to the heights of Penygader - the highest peak of the Cader Idris range.
If you don't want to venture up to Cader Idris' peak (Penygader), there are plenty of other slightly less challenging mountain trails offering magnificent views of the area, such as the Precipice Walk or Foel Offrwm on the Nannau estate in Llanfachreth, Foel Caerynwch in Brithdir; or Foel Ispri Path near Llanelltyd which has a nearby car park, and is suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs.
Food, pubs and pastries
Walking, dancing and wandering about is a hungry job, but there is a feast of cafes and restaurants to feed you in Dolgellau. If you fancy a big breakfast to set you up for the day, then Caffi’r Sgwâr or the Hen Efail are the places to go.
If it’s a traditional Sunday lunch or evening meal you’re after, the Cross Foxes bar and grill at the Tal-y-Llyn crossroads is a familiar stop for A470 passengers, or there is also excellent food in the Meirionnydd Restaurant within the town itself. For a taste of the Med, book a table at award-winning tapas restaurant Tafarn y Gader, which has won several Food Award Wales awards for being the best Mediterranean restaurant in Wales. Venture across the Mawddach to Llanelltyd to enjoy a homemade pizza with views of Cader Idris and Morfa Mawddach down towards Barmouth, from the lovely location of Bwyty Mawddach.
Following the one-way system out of the Square, you'll come across Y Sospan, a popular and welcoming cafe. There's a good selection of sandwiches, jacket potatoes and larger meals here, with special offers for retired visitors. This is the old Town Hall building, which dates back to 1606 where wanderers and drunks were locked up in the past. Try to get an upstairs seat here to take full advantage of the building’s atmosphere!
For those with a sweet tooth, you have to try one of DD's Bakery’s custard tarts on the Square, or afternoon tea at Gwyndy cafe. And of course, you can't come to Dolgellau without popping into Popty’r Dref for a 'honey bun'... the recipe of this local cake is a secret, but Elliw Gwawr’s honey buns recipe comes very close to revealing it!
You can't leave the town without something to remember your visit, and the town is a treasure chest of small independent shops full of gems. If you want something for your home or a piece of jewellery head to Siop Medi - and remember to pause for a moment outside to admire the shop window display! Or why not call to see Llinos and Dylan in Dylanwad wine shop for all types of wine, including Welsh ones from Llaethlliw or Montgomery vineyards?
Staying in Dolgellau
There is a good choice of campsites and holiday cottages within reach of the town. If you’re after something more luxurious, Dolgun Uchaf guest house is full of character, or you could spend a weekend relaxing in Penmaenuchaf Hall at Penmaenpool, which has extensive gardens and magnificent views over the Mawddach.
If you're interested in history, venture to the nearby village of Llanelltyd, where you can stay in Vanner farm cottages. They share a site with the old ruins of Cymer Abbey, dating back to 1198. The Abbey site is open to visitors between April and October.
At the crossroads of Wales
Dolgellau is at the crossroads of Wales in the south of the Snowdonia National Park. The A470 passes around the town, linking north and south, the A494 connecting us to the north-east, and the A487 connecting us to the south-west. Once you've finished exploring the town itself, Dolgellau is a very convenient base for discovering the surrounding areas as well.
Within twenty minutes from the centre of Dolgellau, you could be walking along one of the Cader Idris trails, rowing on Llyn Tegid; cycling or going for a walk down the wheelchair friendly Mawddach Trail following the old railway line towards Barmouth; fishing at Llyn Mwyngil in Tal-y-llyn; or escaping to the tranquility of Cregennan Lakes - which is also a great place for stargazing and admiring the night sky! There is plenty to entertain the whole family in the surrounding area, with Coed y Brenin mountain bike centre four miles north in Ganllwyd, King Arthur’s Labyrinth ten miles south in Corris, and the Centre for Alternative Technology near Machynlleth.
So, next time you climb Cader Idris, visit the Sesiwn Fawr, or drive up and down the A470 - pop over to see us! There is plenty to do here, and a warm welcome awaits you in Dolgellau over the Sesiwn Fawr weekend, and beyond.