Llyn Cynwch is a conversation between the elements, an expression of light, an intervention of rain, a murmur of breeze. The undersides of overhanging leaves reflect light from its surface. Tree trunks stripe its bed with shadows, interrupted by ripples. The broadleaf woodland on its bank casts reflections and shade, suggesting the water is deep and dark, though elsewhere it’s ethereal, consulting the clouds or dazzling in agreement with the sun.
Cadair Idris looks on from the south, only just too far away to respond. The llyn lies on the Nannau Estate, which was founded in the 12th century by Cadwgan Prince of Powys and is well known in Wales. It’s where Owain Glyndŵr killed his cousin (who’d tried to kill him) and was the last estate to employ a household bard. When it passed by marriage into the Vaughan family, typically Victorian landscape features – notably the Precipice Walk (Llwybr Cynwch) – were added to its stately attributes of medieval deer park, ancient woodland and, of course, fishing lake.
Though still part of the Nannau Estate, Precipice Walk and Llyn Cynwch are now accessible to all. The walk is a permissive path and Dolgellau Angling Association issues fishing licences (including day ones) for the llyn, and keeps it stocked with brown and rainbow trout. The anglers, camouflaged among gorse bushes in green socks and tawny vests, each sparkle with what I interpret (incorrectly) to be the joy of new discovery. Turns out there’s nothing new about it. “Mae’n mor hyfryd yma,” (it’s so lovely here) a trio of regulars from Bala and Dolgellau tell me, with the pleasure and pride of locals. Steve from Nottingham says he’s in no hurry to catch his quota (three fish), he wants to stay all day. He doesn’t understand people who go abroad, he says. Is he on holiday I wonder? “No no,” he says, he’s down every fortnight. Don from Nantwich has almost dissolved into dappled shade. “I live in the countryside and that,” he says slowly. “But there’s so many cars, and that.” He smiles. “I’ve been coming here 40 years,” he adds. But he’s no less starry-eyed than the rest. Llyn Cynwch is refreshing. And whether or not you fish, it has you hooked.
Precipice walking route and map
3.4miles/5.5km | 2 hours | moderate
1. Woodland wander
Precipice Walk begins in Coed y Groes car park, but you don’t have to drive here. Dolgellau – itself a hub for the excellent pan-Wales TrawsCymru buses – is a pleasant 3km waymarked walk away. On weekdays, Nannau is also served by the 33 bus from Dolgellau.
Take either path from the car park (they soon merge) into mixed woodland.
2. Glimpse of water
From the trees, emerge on to open parkland with views south to Plas Nannau. In the garden of this three-storey Georgian house (the fifth on the site), a pillar marks the oak in which the body of Glyndŵr’s cousin was eventually found, 40 years after his murder.
Pass Gwern Offeiriad farmhouse and briefly head into more mixed woodland full of spreading beech. The path soon arrives on to open land where Llyn Cynwch is a dish of light to the south overlooked by the purple peaks of Cadair Idris. If too alluring to postpone, the llyn’s perimeter path is only 1.5km long.
3. King’s Forest
Otherwise, follow the waymarks along a drystone wall to the Moel Cynwch hillside. Beyond, ancient oaks in the sheep pasture shelter populations of moss and lichen.
Relax on reaching the finger post – your climbing is done for the day. From here, the walk follows a single contour and the spectacular views and sense of drama come with very little effort. Bear north-west through a gap in the stone wall with views north over Coed y Brenin (King’s Forest).
4. Hillside stroll
The path is incised into the steep flank of Foel Cynwch, which plummets steeply to the Afon Mawddach and A470, and, though narrow, is perfectly safe. The hillside is peppered with young rowan, goat willow and conifers protruding from whinberry and heather, rooted sometimes between rocks.
5. Entrancing views
At the valley head, views of the sinuous Mawddach Estuary shivering through sand between Fairbourne and Barmouth in the distant west become even more grandiloquent.
Continue around the hill through a gate in the stone wall. The lack of heather and dominion of molinia grass announces your return to sheep territory. But it’s Cadair Idris in the south that demands attention now, soaring above the small stone-grey market town of Dolgellau.
The views are bewitching. But the walk is short and easy and you’re only an avenue of hawthorn and one more gate from Llyn Cynwch. Then, there it is again, encircled by woods, pasture and bracken.
If walking back to Dolgellau, note that the waymarked route begins a short way from the reservoir outlet and disabled access fishing peg. Llyn Cynwch has supplied Dolgellau with drinking water since 1968 and, as a reservoir, swimming (humans or dogs) is forbidden. But there’s refreshment enough for the senses.
6. Life on the water
Return along either bank (the western one being the official route) to rejoin the path to Coed y Groes carpark. Beyond the marshy head of the llyn, summer rains often maroon a row of willows and shipwreck the grass.
There are plenty of spots to relax. Grey wagtails dabble in the shallows. Summer migrants, such as chiffchaffs and wood warblers, flit among the branches. The tree trunks harbour moss and polypodies in their crevices, testament to the Snowdonian cloud-kissed air, which creates the lush green landscape in which the llyn shimmers and shifts. Wind fans the surface, sending a slew of sparkles across it. Rings of light radiate over the silty bed and a fish jumps, leaving a silver splash.
The New Precipice Walk
Not far from the Precipice Walk is a second panorama route known as the New Precipice Walk. Local rambler Rob Forrester-Addie leads the way…
It is only about 4 miles down the Barmouth road from Llanelltyd. There is a fairly steep lane that leads up to it from Taicynhaef opposite Penmaenpool. The lane is quite narrow, but there are plenty of passing places. You also have to negotiate several gates … this keeps the passenger busy! The farmers don’t want their sheep wandering across the hillside.
Like the original Precipice Walk, the views from it are quite stunning, taking in the magnificent Cader Idris range round to the Barmouth Bridge and Cardigan Bay.
You’ll know you’ve driven as far as you need to when you arrive at the old farmhouse. There’s a mill wheel (no longer in use) and ‘power house’ next to the car park. There is no more climbing involved.
The whole length of this hike is about 4.7miles/7.5 km with some quite testing sections. But, in 2009, on the highest part of the route with the best views, over 300 metres were designated a Multi-Ability Path with wheelchair users in mind.
The flat walk surface has been prepared so that most wheelchairs can cope. For those who are pushing a wheelchair, they’ll be pleased to hear that the walk is not very long and you have to come back the same way! There is an extra safety feature too, the path has a raised edge so that wheels cannot go over it.
It’s worth the effort of going up that winding little lane by car to see those exhilarating views. Just check the weather forecast before you set out to make sure you’ll enjoy the panoramas.