I knew a little about Snowdonia before we booked a long weekend there at the end of February half term. I’d heard tales of its beauty, its ancient rocks, extinct volcanoes rising out of the sea and the rare wildlife that lives in its secret valleys. I’d listened to stories of the people that live there, holders of the key to this mountainous land and unwavering in their duty to protect one of Britain’s most spectacular national parks, but I’m not sure I was quite prepared for the rugged, rural, breath-taking beauty of this area in uncharacteristically warm February weather – it totally blew us away! We explored from our base, Y Felin, a gorgeous, remote mill in Snowdonia, which can be found on the HomeAway website and lived out our wildest country living dreams. If you’re looking for a rural weekend break in Snowdonia, you will not be disappointed here!
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If you can, drive in daylight to Y Felin, because the journey to this Snowdonia cottage is one hell of a photogenic road trip. We drove from Bristol, and I was blown away by how soon we hit rolling hills and open countryside on the other side of the River Severn Bridge. Those magnificent hills half silhouetted in darkness, half glowing orange in the afternoon sun, loomed alongside our car all the way to our destination in the southern part of Snowdonia National Park, finishing with a final fifteen minute flourish of wow factor alongside Tal-y-llyn lake.
Y Felin means ‘mill’ in Welsh and this bucolic water mill dates back to the 1600s. Snuggled between impossibly steep hills in 1200 acres of farmland – the house sits at the bottom of a dramatic glacial valley, slap bang next to the rushing Dysynni river. Stepping out of the car, the first things that spark the senses are the sound of the river – it’s almost deafening but peaceful at the same time – quickly followed by the freshness of the air and its mossy scent. Kids do need to be watched near the river, it’s shallow but very fast flowing, with slippery stones. The mill’s water actually comes from their very own mountain spring and – for extra safety – goes through a purification process in the Storage Room.
Inside, Y Felin is an upside down house, which delighted the kids no end, renovated tastefully using local oak, slate and stone . Downstairs there are three bedrooms – a kids room with two bunk beds, a double (with a cot provided by the owners on request) and a master bedroom with its own log burner (lighting it at night and falling asleep to the flickering flames and the sound of the stream was such a treat) and a bathroom – perfect for our two families of four.
Upstairs the mill’s big windows make the most of the surrounding panoramic views and neighbouring river, though you’ll need to be sitting to see the tops of the hills as they’re just below eye-level. That’s no hard task though, there are three huge sofas on which you can soak up the scenery and get cosy next to the log burner (firewood from the farm is provided). There is further heating from an eco-friendly ground source pump. The house is set up for good old fashioned family and friends time and there’s no WiFi or TV, just a ton of games (Draughts, Backgammon, Chess, Monopoly, Cluedo, jigsaw puzzles, lego and more), books, maps and guides plus a music system with iPod docking system (the old kind, so you’ll need an adapter if you have a new one…although we did leave ours there so you might be ok!) and a CD player.
The kitchen has a big dining table and is very well stocked and you’ll find real coffee, sugar, tea, salt, pepper, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, spices and ingredients for the bread maker (amazing), which you are free to use. There was also a lovely lemon cake was waiting for us in the fridge when we arrived, a welcoming little touch. Food – high quality and sustainable – is very important to the owners and before you arrive, they’ll give you plenty of information about how to order award-winning organic meat online, which can be delivered frozen, direct from Coombe Farm (we went for nitrate free bacon and four juicy steaks). You can also phone through an order (including fresh local fish, meat and bread) to the EuroSpar in Dolgellau, who are making a big effort to source local goods.
A door separates the open-plan living area and the end of the house with it’s handy little boots area and another gigantic, fabulous bathroom and wet-room-style shower with it’s own eye-level views to gaze over while you scrub. From here you can also exit onto your very own idyllic patio area beneath the dizzying Craig Coch slope, overlooking the hilly valley and stream one way, stone walls, farm gates and fields full of sheep the other. In fact the nearby farm raises up to 1500 lambs from 1100 ewes, so don’t be surprised if you get your very own sheepish visitor. A fire pit is also provided, so you can sit out until late and gaze up at the spectacular stars in the darkest of nights.
What is there to do near Y Felin holiday cottage Snowdonia?
Get salty at the seaside
The beauty of this place is that, not only do you have towering hills, but long sandy beaches are nearby – you get the best of both worlds. Mountains meet coastline at Aberdyfi, about 15 minutes drive away, looks out to distant hills and is huge, with sand dunes to play in, fish and chips on hand, plus yachting and golf if you’re into that sort of thing. Plug postcode LL35 0RT into the Sat Nav and park in the large car park next to the beach. Also DO bring a change of clothes for your kids…we had a large parent fail which ended up with our ‘relaxed approach’ to letting our kids be kids and getting a bit sandy and soggy on the beach, take a turn when they proceeded to wallow like pigs in mud and roll themselves fearlessly into the sea. This would all have been well had I thought to bring other clothing for them, cue a scrabbling together of every available item so we could go to the pub with semi-respectable offspring in tow. My eldest was dressed in my jumper and my friend’s socks for leggings and we fashioned trousers for the youngest out of a hoodie, which kind of worked, although her butt kept falling out…
Hit the pub
If you’re peckish for pub food after a seaside stroll, I highly recommend eating at Riverside in the pretty village of Pennal between Machynlleth and Aberdyfi. It’s another 15-minute drive away, on the way back to Y Felin. It’s a fairly large, family run child-friendly country pub serving up tasty food and came approved by the owners of Y Felin, who are a forthcoming wealth of information when it comes to this area of Snowdonia.
If you’re in need of somewhere to watch the rugby (we had two very eager boys in our party), head to The Railway Pub at Abergynolwyn. Resembling something akin to somebody’s front room, this is where the locals hang out – although strangely plenty of English – luckily for the husbands, as there wasn’t too much trolling after the England v Wales match…
I also liked the sound of T H Roberts – a café in a listed old ironmongery in Dolgellau which, the owners of Y Felin say serves great coffee, teas, snacks and has board games too. And also on my bucket list for a future return trip is another of their recommendations – Bwyty Mawddach in Llanelltyd near Dolgellau, which does light lunchtime bites (as well as three course dinners) and has stunning views across the estuary and Cadair Idris.
Pennal, Snowdonia National Park, Wales
Hop on the stupendously scenic Talyllyn steam railway
The Talyllyn Steam Railway was the world’s first preserved narrow gauge railway. Starting at Tywyn 9 miles away from Y Felin, the train runs the scenic route via Dolgoch falls to Abergynolwyn and Nant Gwernol. You can of course choose whatever route you desire through the railway valley, but our tell you ours which worked quite well…having missed the first train after a timetable/location mishap we drove to Tywyn to catch the steam train from this seaside town following a bit of playground time (there is one with a cafe opposite the ocean, not far from the car park) back to Abergynolwyn. It’s a lot of fun riding in the old-fashioned carriages and peering out the windows on a beautiful sunny day – the route is eye-poppingly stunning and if you purchase a couple of ciders at the little Abergynolwyn cafe using the gift voucher they give you with your ticket purchase, then all the more merrier! There’s also a children’s playground where you can kill half an hour before getting the train back to Tywyn to pick up your car.
Another option is go to the Talyllyn Railway station at Abergynolwyn on the B4405, then take the Steam up to Nant Gwernol Station and onto Towyn via Dolgoch Falls (a series of waterfalls that cascade down a wooded ravine), although this option wasn’t available for us with the timetabled half term trains.
Head out on a countryside hike from the cottage
The owners of Y Felin have thoughtfully left several maps with marked routes for walks that can be taken straight out of the back door of the holiday cottage. One of them – which we did – is manageable with kids (if they’re willing to walk!) and takes you up behind Y Felin, following the track eastwards, past the spring and through woodland until you reach a wide open space with mind-blowing 360 degree views across the valley and towards Talyllyn lake. Look out for the stone with curious writing on it – we tried and failed to find it!
Explore an ancient castle
Castell Y Bere, built by Llywelyn Fawr in the 1200s, was the last Welsh castle to fall to the English. It is apparently walkable from Y Felin, but described as a ‘demanding’ walk, we figured the kids would never manage it. You can however, drive about 10 minutes from the cottage and park nearby (it’s signposted). It’s supposedly great for kids to explore with ditches, a well, towers and a drawbridge (although is said to be steep sided), but sadly our two children fell asleep en route and we could not for the life of us wake them up! Too much fun and fresh air I imagine.
Nearby Corris Craft Centre (on the right of the A487 as you drive from Talyllyn to Machynlleth) has 9 craft studios, where kids and adults can get making! From learning how to make artisan gin at the Dyfi Distillery, to making and decorating your own Belgian chocolate and pottery painting, it’s a useful one to have up your sleeve if the weather is looking a bit iffy, but do bear in mind there is limited opening during winter time.
Explore underground slate caverns
We turned up to try this out as it sounded thrilling – boats that sail into underground slate caverns, King Arthur’s Labyrinth, only to discover it doesn’t open until 1st April 2019. Definitely one to put on the list for a return visit. Regular boats sail between 10am and 4.45pm and fill up quickly, but you can book online to avoid disappointment.
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