A Week in North Wales, 2023

I’ve just returned from a lovely week in North Wales with the family. I didn’t know Wales well at all and welcomed the chance to get to know it better, especially as I have a Welsh daughter-in-law and three half-Welsh grandsons. The cottage we rented was in the Snowdonia National Park and thus we were surrounded by stunning scenery. Sadly the weather wasn’t totally cooperative and it felt very autumnal much of the time rather than the height of summer, but the chilly air and occasional rain didn’t dampen our spirits.

We rented one of the Maes Yr Helmau holiday cottages, which are situated just outside Dolgellau. Our pretty stone cottage – called Ty Golchi (The Wash House) – had its own garden from which there were beautiful views across the Snowdonia mountains.

With my son and wife, we also had three boys of 2, 5 and 8 and two dogs. The dogs were very welcome we were assured. Our garden was well fenced so the dogs couldn’t escape (although the tiny Yorkie did manage it one evening and we never discovered how) and the owner Jan (with her husband Adam) told me the large paddock, just down the drive, was a safe place to let dogs off lead with plenty of space for them to run around.

We didn’t actually eat outside as it was too cold – certainly in the evenings. But there was a big garden table for us all from which we could enjoy the view.

The boys loved the swings and were often dashing down to them. We could see them from our cottage’s garden but overall it was a safe place to let small boys on the loose, which gave them a great sense of freedom.

There were sheep in the surrounding fields but the big attraction was the horses: Non – the dark one and 16 years old, and Tommy the pale golden one who was 23. They were very friendly and the boys loved picking handfuls of grass to feed them.

It was chilly for August but Jan showed me the thermostat for the heating when I arrived and the wood-burning stove. We didn’t need to put the heating on but there were lots of logs for the fire and we loved lighting that in the evening, not only for warmth but a nice cosy effect.



It was – according to my satnav – only a 4-minute drive into Dolgellau. It’s such a pretty town, nestled in the verdant mountainous area where we saw many sheep grazing and it has been called one of the prettiest towns in Wales. It’s known for its sheep and cattle fairs and historically was important for its woollen industry. I also read that a parliament was briefly assembled there in the early 1400s. In the 19th century people flocked to the town when gold was discovered in the surrounding rocks. You can still buy Welsh gold today and I have a lovely pendant that my son and wife bought me with some Welsh gold in it.

The Romans were in the area and after they left, Dolgellau was established as a town in the late 11th/early 12th centuries. The main market square, however, mainly dates back to the 19th century and the stone buildings are built from pale granite.

The main bridge over the river, a tributary of the Mawddach, dates back to 1638. There are more than 200 listed buildings in Dolgellau – more than any other town in Wales. The streets surrounding the main square are very narrow and many one-way as there’s no room for vehicles to pass each other. You can see the peaks of Cadair Idris from the town, a volcanic massif popular with walkers and hikers, named after Idris, a local hero killed in a battle against the Saxons in AD 630.


Food & Wine

I have to say that for a family of foodies the week wasn’t really a great foodie experience. Cafes and restaurants that came highly recommended in guides and on the internet were disappointing, but since we were planning to eat in most evenings because of the age of the boys, it wasn’t a big problem. However, we did find two gems in Dolgellau: Gwin Dylanwad Wine Shop and Robert Bros Butchers. I wanted to take them both home!

The wine shop is owned and run by Dylan (Chief Wine Buyer!) and Llinos (Chief Wine Sampler!) Rowlands. They bring a wealth of experience to the business having run their own restaurant – Dylan was a chef – to learning about wine and then travelling extensively around the world over many years. Dylan regularly appears on Welsh TV and radio to talk about wine. They use their knowledge and contacts to stock the shop with some exceptional and unusual wines.

What I particularly loved was that the wines of some countries were divided into regions, thus not just ‘Italian wines’ but wines from Piedmont, Tuscany, etc. Dylan was in the shop the first (and last) time we were there and son Jonathan had a great time discussing wine and travels with him. And of course we bought some rather wonderful and special wine!

Not only was there an exceptional selection of wines to browse through and buy but a great deli too. 

Everything was of the very best quality – labels and producers I recognised, as well as local specialities. I bought a couple of jars of Dolgellau honey as presents.


A small area of the shop is devoted to a cafe-bar where you can have coffee or a glass of wine. One morning we bought takeaway coffees there and it was some of the best coffee we had. I also saw a book which Dylan and Llinos had written and just opening it up and taking a quick look through was enough to make me decide to buy it. It’s full not only of their background and history in wine but stories of their travels and recipes, with gorgeous photos. 

Another delightful discovery was Roberts Bros Butchers. Established in 1840, it is everything a great local butcher should be. The first time we bought half a leg of Welsh lamb – when in Wales, if you’re a meat eater, you have to eat lamb. It’s wonderful. The butcher boned it for us and Jonathan barbecued it later. We also bought some of their homemade sausages. There was a great debate around which flavour to choose but eventually we settled on ‘pork and apple’. Later, having barbecued them alongside the lamb, we all declared they were the best sausages we’d ever had. 


Another day we went back to the butcher for a chicken – and more sausages of course! Back at the cottage, Jonathan spatchcocked the chicken and marinated it for a while in olive oil and lemon juice and we had three kinds of sausages to choose from: plain pork, black cracked pepper, and pork and leek. It was all fantastic – and about half what we’d pay in London. If I hadn’t been stopping overnight at my daughter’s on the way home, I would have bought loads of sausages to bring back to my freezer.

That evening we had some excellent Soave Classico from the wine shop to start our meal with some nibbles.

And then some red wine with the chicken and sausages.

We did our supermarket shopping in the local Co-op in town where we found lots of organic produce and their Irresistible range (much like Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference, etc.) which was great quality.


Eating Out

Having said we didn’t find good restaurants and cafes, I did go to Y Sospan just off the town’s historic market square for lunch one day on my own, and had a very good meal. It’s set inside an attractive old stone and slate building which dates back to 1606 and was originally the courthouse and town hall. Y Sospan serves food all day, from morning coffee to evening meals.

There was a good choice for lunch with sandwiches, wraps, basket meals, jacket potatoes and some main meals like lasagna. I chose a pitta bread filled with lamb kofta, lettuce, minted yoghurt and coleslaw and sweet potato fries on the side (£9 – I paid £1 extra for the sweet potato rather than ordinary fries). It was all delicious – especially the fries!

Bwyty Mawddach, a pizza restaurant overlooking the Mawddach estuary, was highly recommended for its wood-fired Neaopolitan-style pizzas made with locally sourced ingredients. Only open Wed-Sat from 4-10pm, it’s essential to book. 

It’s known for its fantastic views and we were lucky that we decided to go on what turned out to be the warmest and sunniest evening of our holiday. We sat out on the terrace and as you can see from the photo below, the view was stunning. 

Lyndsey and I chose a Capricciosa pizza (£15), in photo below, and Jonathan has a Diavola (£16). They made kids’ size pizzas for the boys at £7.50 each and they were just small versions of the adults’ but still a very good size. They were very good pizzas and the toppings were exceptionally good. We finished with some homemade ice cream which was excellent.



One of the attractions of staying in Dolgellau, apart from it being in the beautiful Snowdonia National Park, was its proximity to the sea. We began by going to the larger town of Barmouth on the north side of the Mawddach estuary, originally a fishing port and boatyard. When the railway came to it in the mid-19th century, it became a popular holiday resort for its long sandy beach and beautiful views over Cadair Idris. 

The beach was indeed lovely and although we had to stick to the part that allowed dogs, we didn’t feel restricted. 

It was very much a little seaside resort with a small fairground and lots of pubs, cafes and restaurants.

On our last full day we decided to go to Fairbourne on the southern side of the estuary. 

Here we found a much quieter beach that was more beautiful and ideal for the boys to paddle in as the water remained shallow for quite a way out. Jonathan decided to have a proper swim. I paddled in the water as well and if I’d had a swimming costume with me would have swum too, it was all so gorgeous and we loved the quiet here and vast expanse of the beach with its stunning surroundings.  


Further Afield

We kept to doing quite simple things but there was a lot more to do if we’d perhaps stayed longer. Nearby were steam railways, pony trekking, castles to visit and craft centres. The family did take off one day to the Welsh Mountain Zoo, which they’d been to before and the boys love, but that was much farther north and about an hour and a half’s drive away. I didn’t fancy that much driving in a day (with holiday traffic it had taken me six hours to get there from London) so stayed put with the dogs. I ventured out in the morning though to Bala, less than half an hour’s drive. Bala Lake is the largest natural area of water in Wales.

It was a pretty drive; the views everywhere in the area were spectacular. Because of the mountainous landscape, it reminded me of being in Switzerland or Austria and the day we went home, when I made my way to my daughter’s home in Worcestershire, through Herefordshire, the landscape gradually changed to the more familiar rolling hills of an English countryside. 

The area is very popular with walkers and the cottage owners left a file out for visitors with many recommended walks, as well as usual information about shopping, where to eat, etc. 

What a beautiful part of the UK to discover and explore. I was also intrigued to find that Welsh was spoken a lot and I was often surrounded by local people speaking their own language. And all the signs were in both Welsh and English. 

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

14 thoughts on “A Week in North Wales, 2023

    1. Thank you, Mimi. Yes I was grateful for my satnav driving around – I’d never have been quick enough recognising the Welsh names to know which way to go. But very beautiful there.

      1. The Welsh names are the correct names derived from the history i.e sadly too many are translated into English e.g.Y Bermo/Abermaw is Barmouth,Bala Lake is Llyn Tegid.Glad you enjoyed our beautiful Country with its own Language which is our first Language spoken daily.English may be our second Language,which we had to learn in school but most of us “think” in Welsh.

      2. Thank you Olsen. It was lovely to hear Welsh being spoken so much. My Welsh daughter-in-law speaks some, though I don’t know how fluently.

  1. Great post. Hoping to try North Wales next year as it’s not that far from Lancashire really, haven’t been for a very long time. Looks like you had a nice time and always good to have a log burner to make things cosy.

  2. You obviously didn’t dine in the Torrent walk
    The food in there is first class very reasonably priced and friendly professional staff. You missed a treat.brian hope

  3. I’ve just returned from north Wales myself. I didn’t make it as far south as Barmouth, as I was further up the coast in Porthmadog and Harlech, but it was really interesting to read your experiences. It’s such a beautiful part of the UK, the coastline and the mountains are spectacular.

  4. Wonderful in-depth article. I’ve just returned from a hike on the Wales Coastal Path, our most northern point was Machynlleth. Fortunately wonderful weather for hiking. Wales is on my list of places to return.

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