Walking the Dolgoch Falls – lush green, dappled sun and the lovely sound of bubbling water

I decided that in mid September’s brief spell of stunning weather, the season’s probable last gasp, I would make it into a bit of a holiday and do some walks that I’ve either really wanted to do for the first time, or revisit some that I haven’t done in years.  This falls into the latter category.  I haven’t visited the Dolgoch Falls in over ten years.

Dolgoch on January 2nd 2010

That last Dolgoch visit was certainly a mistake.  On 2nd January 2010 my father and I agreed that we fancied walking the full Dolgoch circuit.  We had woken to find that the garden was covered in a blanket of snow, of which I still have photographs, but there was a beautiful cold winter sun and lovely blue skies.  In spite of the sun I have no idea what we were thinking.  When we arrived at Dolgoch, the car park was completely empty.  Not only was everything smothered in snow but there were random sheets of black ice as well.  We should have turned around at that point, but we didn’t.  It was absolutely hair-raising underfoot, but it was also remarkably beautiful.  Infuriatingly, we had done the entire walk without mishap and were just a minute or so short of the gate to the car park, which was in sight, when my father slipped on wet leaves lying over the path’s slate border and broke his ankle.  I have not been consciously avoiding Dolgoch as a result of that day, but somehow a favourite walk has been neglected for over a decade.

People go to Dolgoch to enjoy the fabulous tall, slender waterfalls, the churning rocky rapids and the fast shallows over water-rounded pebbles, and that’s why I was there too.  It is very accessible in terms of transportation.  There is a bus stop at the car park entrance, a large car park (with a pay and display machine), and the Dolgoch halt of the Tal y Llyn steam railway.  I drove there along the B4405 from Bryncrug, but perhaps the most popular and novel way to get there is on the super Tal y Llyn steam railway, which runs out of Tywyn (timetables and Covid 19 info are on the railway’s website).  The railway viaduct crosses the river at the bottom of the falls, worth a visit in its own right, and the railway stop is just on the other side of the viaduct.  If you’ve never been on the Tal y Llyn railway before, the train ride and the walk are a perfect combination that I’ve done many times over the decades in both rain and shine (I had a less girlie attitude to the rain when I was young).  There’s a café just beyond the car park on the path towards the falls.  If you are driving there’s also the possibility of a beer, a cream tea or lunch at one of the two lakeside hotels at the stunning Tal y Llyn lake, depending on the time of year and whatever Covid 19 measures are in place (turn right out of the Dolgoch car park and drive for about 10 minutes until you see the lake – both hotels are at the Dolgoch end of it).

I was lucky with the weather.  I arrived at 11am in full sunshine, the car park was fairly empty, and it looked as though the day was going to heat up quickly.  I love the heat, so that’s never a problem, but for anyone who prefers a bit of cool, this is the perfect walk on a hot or stuffy day.  The valley is very steep, and its slopes are covered in trees, the sky only properly visible when you get onto the highest reaches of the walk, with hilltops flanking you.  Even on a seriously sunny summer day this means that dappled light trickles through the leaves and does wonderful things to the water, but it remains a very pleasant temperature.  Everything is vibrantly, richly green, apparently a form of heaven for botanists who specialize in plants that thrive on a combination of shade, cool conditions and humidity.  The sound of the falls is ever-present, delicious, sometimes crashing and sometimes burbling.

There are two sets of walks possible.  The first is the short circuit that crosses the lowest and arguably the most dramatic set of the falls and has a number of short side-trails to viewing platforms over them.  The second is the main circuit that takes a couple of hours to complete, and heads near to the top of the hill before descending again to the level of the river, with crossings of various parts of the falls all along. The steep sections of the path are all beautifully done, the surface reinforced with huge bits of stone to form stairways, and stretches of stone pathway and, where needed, paths and steps are supplied with long sets of railings.  With Covid in mind, do take hand gel or wear disposable gloves, because you will need to use the railings to secure your footing (it’s damp and a bit slippery at most times of year), and you really don’t want to take any risks that Covid might be lurking on the hand rails.

For those of you also thinking of revisiting after a long time, there used to be a secondary route that took in some of the Dolgoch slate works on the western side of the river, starting beyond the picnic area, but although the picnic area is still there (and being used with enthusiasm) the path beyond is now sadly closed to the public, with a No Entry sign in place.  The path was quite high and narrow, next to a steep drop, and has presumably become unstable over the years.  The picnic area is a particularly pretty spot, with a run of rushing low falls cascading into a shallow, wider area of river surrounded by wide flat rocks, funneling into a narrower section of stream over small, oval pebbles and gravel, a riot of sounds.

The lower sections of the falls were fairly busy.  The Tal y Llyn steam train had arrived a little time before, and there were a few groups of people taking photos from the viewing platforms, but beyond these I had the long circuit to myself.  I didn’t see another person until I descended once again to the lower levels.  Bliss.  The higher you go, the further you go from the falls, but you can hear them clearly, a delicious sound as you walk through the dense greenery, emerging at treetop level with views across the hilltops.

Descending once again, the sound of the falls comes nearer all the time, and eventually you are back at the level of the river and the rapids.

The clouds had formed themselves into a thin veil when I emerged from the woodland, the sky still quite bright but no longer blue.  I had been planning a swim, but with the clouds hiding the sun the temperature began to drop, so I went for a short stroll along the beach instead.  It’s a remarkable thought, finishing off this post on 3rd October, with the rain slamming down, that this walk was only two weeks ago!  The thought of contemplating a swim now makes my hair stand on end!

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