In Snowdonia’s rain-soaked forests, everything is clean and wet. Mist rises, trees transpire, moisture kisses your skin and wets your lips. Oxygen-rich air lifts your spirits and the sound of water fills your ears as it trickles down tracks, bubbles through moss, and crashes in creeks.
Coed y Brenin Forest Park covers 9,000 acres of woodland and river valleys. Its 500-million-year-old rocks with their deposits of copper and gold once made it a centre for mining. Now it’s managed for timber and recreation, with well-marked mountain-bike, walking and running trails.
Coed-y-Brenin forest, Snowdonia ©Getty
This walk begins at Cae’n y Coed carpark – there’s also a bus stop nearby at Ganllwyd. It follows the Mawddach upriver, passing Pistyll Cain (the Cain Falls) and Pistyll Mawddach (the Mawddach Falls), before returning via the opposite bank.
1. Misty Mawddach
Downriver, blue evanescent mist makes the spruce twigs translucent. The Douglas firs and western red cedars screen the Mawddach with colossal dark trunks and fronded foliage, muting its river-song with their ropey bark and needled duff floor.
Below, the Mawddach bashes and caresses the rocks in its bouldery creek. Flashing water, too swift for plants to grow in, scours the rock and shingle bare. As you leave the evergreens for broadleaf woodland it sounds louder, ricocheting round its rocky creek, the whisky-coloured water exploding into jacuzzis of white bubbles.
Gaze into the churning waters of the Mawddach river ©Getty
2. Take a deep breath
At Pistyll Cain, the noise is cacophonous. You can see the falls well enough from the footbridge, but if you’re sure-footed you can scramble around the slippery rocks to perch where little plants grow in crevices. White water plummets into the canyon down a stepped cliff, crashing with such force into the dark pool that it creates a permanent uprush of wave and spray, its turbulence shifting the air into cool thrilling winds.
Waterfalls generate negative ions and ozone. Ozone is pure activated oxygen, cleansing the air at a molecular level. Negative ions rid the air of particles such as dust and pollen, and accelerate the delivery of oxygen to our cells and tissues, making us feel euphoric. The waterfall removes everything else from your mind to leave only the white noise and water.
3. Water power
The second of the two falls is Pistyll Mawddach, where a hydro-electric scheme is being installed on the site once occupied by a 19th-century water turbine, which provided energy for the gold mines. The two waterfalls are divided by a small spit of land where the river-song is mesmeric and the mood effervescent.
Bilberries, birch, heather and red and golden moss grow here, and you drink in their colours anew after gazing on the crashing white water. *
From mid to late summer, bilberry bushes fruit with dark-purple berries ©Getty
4. Forest fresh
Returning by the other bank, everything is fresh and bright. Sunlight pierces the misty veil, illuminating wet treetrunks in their mossy hummocks. Ferns tremble and lichen creeps. Raindrops cling brightly to twigs. Back downriver we leave the birch, beech and sessile oaks for the soothing evergreens, feeling cleansed, refreshed and relaxed.
Click on the map below for an interactive version of the route.
Learn more about the Coed y Brenin Forest Park
*Access to the Mawdach Falls and spit of land is restricted while construction of the hydro-schemeis underway. Bad weather has pushed back the completion until May.