While it’s often said that Snowdonia is the UK’s number one outdoor centre, don’t be fooled into thinking all the best fun is to be had on the slopes of Snowdon and the northern end of Snowdonia. In fact, there’s just as much going on in Southern Snowdonia as there is in the north, especially if you’re looking for all the thrills and spills of a fast-paced activity holiday.
In this article we focus on four towns and villages of Southern Snowdonia that offer an exceptional choice of outdoor activities, as well as attractions in and around the area that offer things to do on those days when you’re feeling a little less active.
“The town that roofed the world”, Blaenau Ffestiniog was once considered the slate capital of Wales. While the town has less of an industrial role these days, the slate mines left behind have found a new lease of life as centres for outdoor activities and family attractions.
Walking: many of the old paths, which historically linked the community’s small villages and hamlets to the quarries and chapels, are still in use. You can use the paths today on self-guided walks, exploring the valleys and the spectacular countryside; or if you prefer, guided and historical walks can be provided by Antur ‘Stiniog.
Mountain biking: a new downhill mountain biking centre – another Antur ‘Stiniog initiative – will open at Llechwedd in early 2012. The centre will include four mountain bike trails, an uplift road and “4-cross” area.
Other things to do in Blaenau Ffestiniog
Llechwedd Slate Caverns – a family-friendly attraction providing underground tours of a living, working slate mine that has been active since 1836. Deep inside the mountains you’ll learn about life as a Victorian miner, and see how slate roof tiles are made.
Cellb – arts centre, performance space, youth club and cafe/bar all rolled into one. Regular events, from art exhibitions and craft workshops to cinema and concerts, are hosted at Cellb, which enjoys a rather unique setting in Blaenau Ffestiniog’s former police station.
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A typical charming Snowdonia village, Trawsfynydd sits on a hill at the head of a glacial valley in what used to be called the Meirionnydd district. Trawsfynydd is a stronghold of the Welsh language, with over 80% of the population speaking Welsh – so it’s a great place to visit if you’re learning the language and would like to practise your Welsh speaking skills with friendly locals.
Fishing: fishing for native brown trout, rainbow trout, perch and rudd at Trawsfynydd Lake – the third largest lake in Wales – is a popular outdoor activity here, with permits available at the lakeside hut. Fishing is permitted from 8am to one hour after sunset, and boat hire is also available.
Walking: Trawsfynydd is a good base for exploring the rugged Rhinogydd hills, which have been described as “not for the faint hearted”. For gentler walks, the route around the lake is excellent, with fantastic views of the Arenig and Moelwyn mountains.
Other things to do in Trawsfynydd
Cracwellt – remains of an Iron Age settlement, about two miles south of Trawsfynydd. Its main function was the production of iron, from about 300 BC to the Roman conquest. Only about 2% of the site has been excavated to date, but even this small amount of excavation has turned up plenty of interesting artefacts, which can be seen at Plas Tan y Bwlch.
Llys Ednowain – visitor centre cum hostel, where there’s a fascinating multimedia exhibition about the history of Trawsfynydd and Hedd Wyn, the celebrated bard who lost his life in the Great War and about whom an Oscar-nominated movie was filmed in and around Trawsfynydd in 1991.
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Boasting some 200 listed buildings, Dolgellau is an attractive market town and the county town of the old Meirionnydd district. Dolgellau’s long history includes strong links with the Quaker movement; religious persecution led to a large-scale emigration of Dolgellau Quakers to Pennsylvania in 1686 (you can learn about this at the Quaker Heritage Centre). This bustling, but charming, town is a great base for exploring Southern Snowdonia, and there’s always plenty going on.
Mountain biking and walking: close to Dolgellau is the world-class mountain biking centre at Coed y Brenin, which has won several awards for its innovative design and ‘green’ credentials. Even if you’re not a fan of mountain biking, there’s plenty of other activities to pique your interest at Coed y Brenin, including walking through the beautiful woodlands and swinging through the treetops on the high ropes course.
Climbing and fishing: Dolgellau is also the perfect base if you’re planning to explore Cader Idris, Snowdonia’s other world-famous mountain. Cader Idris has many multi-pitch routes, mostly on the cliffs of Cyfrwy and Craig Cau. There’s also great fishing to be had at the National Trust’s Cregennan Lakes, 800ft above sea level on Cader’s slopes.
Other things to do in Dolgellau
Ty Siamas: the National Centre for Welsh Folk Music, Ty Siamas is a fantastic interactive attraction for music enthusiasts of all ages. Try your hand at playing the instruments, learn about the history of Welsh folk music, and catch a performance in the auditorium.
Farmer’s market: on the third Sunday of every month there’s an excellent farmer’s market in the town centre, where you can buy fantastic local produce and beautiful local crafts. There’s also a weekly livestock market, which is an interesting experience even if you’re not planning to go home with a car full of lambs!
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Situated on the shores of Wales’ largest lake – Llyn Tegid – as you’d expect, there’s a big emphasis on watersports in Bala. On the lake you can enjoy just about any watery activity you can think of, from fishing to windsurfing; there are some great walks to be had in the area, including the Mary Jones Walk; and when you’re all tuckered out from the myriad of outdoor activities on offer, the attractive town centre, with its great selection of pubs, cafes and restaurants, will provide many opportunities to take it easy.
Watersports and high ropes: the Urdd’s outdoor education centre at Glan-llyn sits on the shores of Llyn Tegid and offers a huge range of activity courses, watersports and activity holidays for families and groups. Activities at Glan-llyn include canoeing, kayaking, sailing, 10-pin bowling and an excellent high ropes course.
Watersports and multi-activity breaks: The National White Water Centre at Canolfan Tryweryn is a great place to enjoy all sorts of exciting watersports, including white water rafting, canoeing and kayaking, as well as other exciting outdoor activities like bushcraft, quad biking, pony trekking and clay pigeon shooting.
Other things to do in Bala
Canolfan Cywain: the rural heritage centre at Canolfan Cywain hosts a wide selection of indoor and outdoor events celebrating rural skills, including food festivals, falconry displays and exhibitions. There’s also a play area for children and a lovely little cafe where you can enjoy great food alongside the great views.
Caerau Uchaf Gardens: at 1,000ft above sea level, Caerau Uchaf is the highest private garden in Wales that’s open to the public. Landscapers Toby and Stephanie Hickish invite you to explore their stunning private gardens (including a wildlife garden, vegetable garden, willow maze and other spectacular spaces), and there’s also a small nursery on-site so you can take a piece of Caerau Uchaf back to your own garden too.
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Breathless in Bala: It comes as no surprise to discover that BBC TV sports presenter Hazel Irvine is a bit of a sports junkie. But even she was exhausted by all the activities on tap in Bala. Read her article featured in the Snowdonia Mountains and Coast brochure.
* Developments at these four sites are a part of the Gwynedd Council-led Eryri Centre of Excellence partnership which is part funded by the EU’s Convergence Programme European Regional Development Fund through Visit Wales and the Welsh Government. Additional funding towards the project comes from Gwynedd Council, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Tourism Partnership Mid Wales, Forestry Commission Wales, Urdd Gobaith Cymru and the Environment Agency.