Nestling in the foothills of Cader Idris and on the bank of the river Wnion, this little market town in the south of the National Park is full of history and culture.
Dolgellau (© SNPA)
An ancient town
The site upon which the town of Dolgellau stands once formed the territory of the Ordovices, before they were conquered by the Romans around 77-78 AD. The site of the town itself was not inhabited until the end of the eleventh century when it was established as a 'serf village', probably by the prince Cadwgan ap Bleddyn - and that is how it remained until the reign of King Henry VII of England in 1485.
The Quaker Movement
In 1657, following a visit by George Fox, many of Dolgellau's inhabitants turned to Quakerism. As the Quakers refused to swear the oath of loyalty to the king they were fiercely persecuted, and the threat of imprisonment was a constant weight on their shoulders. In 1686, owing to the continuous persecution many of the Dolgellau Quakers emigrated to Pennsylvania under the leadership of a local farmer. There, they would be left in peace to follow their religion together on their own land - but that's a different story...
Wool, Ships and Gold
Dolgellau has had its fair share of industries over the centuries. In the eighteenth century it had a thriving wool industry - and as a result the estuary of the river Mawddach, which flows out to sea to the west of Dolgellau, was busy with ships exporting woollen produce as well as livestock and slate. Ships were being built from the nearby oak trees in the creeks along the estuary, and oak bark was used for the area's other industry - tanning.
In the nineteenth century Dolgellau was at the centre of a minor gold rush when gold was discovered in the hills - at one point the industry employed 500 miners. The most notable mine is the Clogau gold mine in Bontddu - since 1923 gold from this mine has been used to make royal wedding rings. But Clogau gold is not just for royalty - jewellery made from this gold are still being produced today and are available in jewellery shops across the country.
Dolgellau Townscape Heritage Initiative
A prominent characteristic of Dolgellau is its tall buildings of grey stone and slate, and its web of narrow streets. Over 200 of the town's buildings are listed, but many of the town's historical buildings, mainly commercial properties, are now empty and in a poor state of repair.
To assist with the regeneration of the town the Dolgellau Townscape Heritage Initiative, a partnership between the Snowdonia National Park Authority and CADW, the Welsh Assembly's historic/archaeological body, was established. With financial assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund the initiative will offer property owners grants to repair the buildings, restore their character, and bring empty floors back to use. It's not only buildings that will receive a makeover - historical features in public areas such as railings and cobbles will also be restored under the initiative. Another objective is to promote awareness of the town's heritage and encourage the community and visitors to become more involved in their cultural heritage.
Today, tourism is the area's main economy - and that's no wonder as the area has endless recreational opportunities...
One of Snowdonia's most notable mountains, Cader Idris stands 893 metres above sea level to the south west of Dolgellau. Three main paths lead to the summit - each varying in length, gradient and terrain - namely the Pony Path, Minffordd Path and Llanfihangel y Pennant Path. Remember, if you are planning on climbing Cader Idris - be responsible and follow our safety advice.
The Mawddach Trail leads over the former track bed of the Great Western railway between Dolgellau and Morfa Mawddach - linking with Barmouth railway bridge. The path is owned and managed by the Snwodonia National Park Authority and is popular amongst cyclists, walkers and wheelchair users.
Coed y Brenin, a world class mountain biking centre is a few miles north of Dolgellau. As well as mountain bike trails there are plenty of outdoor activities for all the family - from walking paths to a rope course high up in the trees.