Dolgellau is a thoroughly Welsh market town set at the foot of Cadair Idris on the southern bank of the River Wnion. The buildings are of a handsome grey stone and slate arranged in narrow streets with a large main square and several smaller squares. There is an interesting array of shops and inns, drawing people in from the surrounding mountainous region and tempting tourists to stay awhile.
The junction of three Roman roads and an easy crossing point of the River Wnion, suggest that Dolgellau has been a strategically important settlement for a very long time, yet little is known of its history. The nearby Cymer Abbey dates from the end of the 12th century, its ruins are still visible today and are worthy of a visit. Owain Glyndwr was reputed to have assembled the last Welsh Parliament here in 1404 and some buildings date from the 17th and 18th centuries, but Dolgellau’s undisputed heyday was in the nineteenth century. During this period, Dolgellau became the woollen capital of the region, exporting its produce around the world. Most of the town’s buildings date from this time. Then there have been waves of gold rushes, with successive prospectors panning the rivers and mining the hills for the elusive mineral. Its heyday was again during the nineteenth century when towards the end of the century, the industry was a major employer. The current British Royal Family has traditionally been the recipients of Dolgellau gold wedding bands, including Her Majesty the Queen and more recently Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles. The gold is still there, but not in a commercially viable quantity, the current licence holders are still exploring!
Above the Dolgellau tourist information centre, there is an interesting display depicting the persecution of the local Quaker community, forcing many of them to uproot and emigrate to America during the 17th century. The building also houses a national park exhibition concentrating on Southern Snowdonia.
Easy access to the Mawddach Estuary, Cadair Idris and the Coed Y Brenin Forest has gained Dolgellau a reputation for outdoor pursuit’s enthusiasts, especially ramblers and mountain bikers. A couple of the local walks have entranced tourists since the nineteenth century. The Precipice Walk, a 3mile circular walk around a local hill, Foel Cynwch, with fine views over the surrounding mountains and forests and The Torrent Walk along the banks of the fast-flowing Clydewog. The extensive tracks at Coed Y Brenin provide plenty of thrills for the most ardent mountain bikers and have gained a world-wide recognition.
With Cadair Idris on its doorstep and the Cambrian coastline within easy access, Dolgellau is a good base for hill walking and other outdoor pursuits. Dolgellau is also ideally located in a central position to explore all the attractions of Snowdonia and further afield in Gwynedd. Tourists have been attracted to Dolgellau for well over a hundred years and its idyllic surroundings are proving just as popular now as they were for those early Victorian visitors.