Sessile oakwoods cloaked most of north-west Wales’ valleys and hillsides until, in recent centuries, they were felled for farming and boat-building and replaced with fast-growing coniferous plantations.
Fortunately, remnants of the ancient forests survive on the acid soils of the Vale of Maentwrog’s steep slopes, where mosses, liverworts and lichens thrive in the unpolluted moist air. Autumn, with its diminishing foliage, is a good time to look for these flowerless plants.
This walk, which starts near the Ffestiniog Railway’s Tan-y-Bwlch station car park, explores Coed Llyn Mair and Coed Bronturnor. Both woods are part of the internationally important Coedydd Maentwrog National Nature Reserve and are fine examples of temperate rainforest.
A 4.2-mile walk through one of Snowdonia’s most magical ancient woodlands.
4.2 miles/6.7km | 3 hours | moderate
1. Acorn gatherers
From the eastern end of the car park, go through a small gate and turn left, twice, to descend through Coed Llyn Mair. You’ll pass oak trees hundreds of years old, some bearing flowering ivy, grey lichens, vibrant green mosses and shade-loving polypody ferns on the forest floor.
Throughout the walk, look out for squirrels and chattering jays collecting and burying acorns for the cold months ahead, treecreepers spiralling up trunks as they look for insects, nuthatches hammering at acorns in tree crevices, and green woodpeckers on the ground in clearings probing for ants.
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2. Cromwell manor
Emerge on a lane and bear left beside Llyn Mair. After 360m, turn left on a track to a cattle-grid and go through the small gate beside it. Follow the track downhill and veer left through conifers to emerge on a path in Coed Bronturnor.
The path goes ahead over a footbridge, passes a cottage called Coed-y-bleddiau and undulates through the wood to Dduallt Manor (c 1500), where Oliver Cromwell is said to have stayed during the Civil War.
3. Past the inn
Check the opposite hillside for a glimpse of feral goats before bearing right to follow the track downhill. At a left bend, go ahead on a path into the reserve, passing a waterfall. Follow it through the wood, crossing a track, to a lane.
Turn right on to the A487, then right at the Oakeley Arms.
4. Mosey by the Mair
Just after the pub, bear left on to a drive, passing a lodge on the right. After a parking bay and bend turn right on a track lined with mature oak, beech and exotic trees. At a right bend, keep ahead and follow a path around Llyn Mair to join a track leading to a picnic area, where you will be greeted by ducks and possibly coots. From here, cross the lane and take the left-hand path to the station.