First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The thrush seemed completely unafraid. It stood its ground under the silver birches on the forest path, its beak full of grubs, as I approached. It wasn’t until we were almost in touching distance of one another that it flew off among the trees. I watched it go, then moved on to where the steely flat waters of Llyn Cynwch made a dull mirror of the upland valley.
This portion of woodland, fellside and upland grazing a few miles north of Dolgellau belongs to the Nannau Estate. Since Victorian times the public has enjoyed the estate’s permission to wander a network of paths. I was setting out on this brisk day to explore the Precipice Walk high above the steep, glacier-scoured valley where the Afon Mawddach widens towards what George Borrow in his classic 1862 travel book Wild Wales termed its ‘disemboguement’ in Barmouth Bay.
A rocky path, clear on the ground but tricky to find footing on, led round the northern nose of a tall ridge before edging back along the brink of the precipice. The slope down to the river 700 feet below was steep and tree-hung, vertiginous in a couple of spots. But the views were quite sensational, out to the estuary below its headland, south to where Cadair Idris sprawled in full majesty of ridges, cliffs, corries and peaks against the clouds.
The Precipice Walk rounded the southern end of the ridge and fell away to the lake shore and a level stroll back to the car park. But I wasn’t quite satisfied. On the other side of the road rose Foel Offrwm, the ‘Hill of Sacrifice’, a tall knobbly eminence crowned with an Iron Age hill fort. The views from up there ought to be sensational too.
And so they were, once I had slogged up the zigzag path, past a tempting resting bench and on up to the tumble of stones that once formed a strong defensive wall for the ancient stronghold at the summit. By the curious square cairn I revolved slowly, taking in one of Snowdonia’s finest prospects – the lumpy Rhinogs and the serpentine Mawddach to the west, the Arans and Arennig to the east where I had climbed last year, the long tented back of Cadair Idris capturing the whole of the southern skyline, and away to the north a hint of the tall mountains that form the roof of Snowdonia.
How hard is it? 5½ miles in total. (Precipice Walk 3½ miles; Foel Offrwm 2 miles up-and-down). Precipice Walk mostly level, but rocky, stumbly path; Foel Offrwm a strenuous hill climb.
Start: Precipice Walk car park, near Dolgellau, LL40 2NG (OS ref SH 745211)
Getting there: Bus 33 (Dolgellau – Llanfachreth)
Road – On Llanfachreth road, signed off A494 between Dolgellau and Rhydymain.
Walk (OS Explorer OL23): Turn right along marked path at top of car park. In ½ mile through gate marked ‘Danger; Deep Drops’ (741212); in 100m uphill along wall. Follow it to right, then follow the obvious ‘Precipice Walk’ circuit. Watch your feet on this rocky path!
Back at car park, cross road and follow lower track parallel with road. In 250m, before gate, fork right (748212, ‘Foel Offrwm’ on marker stone) up side path, through gate and on. In 250m fork right up path (‘Copa Foel Offrwm’). In 100m bend right with the path, and keep climbing in same direction. At bench, fork back left (750213 approx) on path to summit cairn (750209). Return same way.
Accommodation: Afon Rhaiadr Country House, Rhaiadr Wnion, Dolgellau LL40 2AH (01341-450777, afonrhaiadr.co.uk) – very comfortable and welcoming B&B.
Walking the Bones of Britain – a 3 Billion Year Journey by Christopher Somerville is published by Doubleday.