October half term was once again upon us. As a university lecturer I don’t get breaks during term time so it’s always a case of fitting in what break we can. However busy we are as parents though it’s absolutely vital to have quality time as a family. This half term we chose to head to Snowdonia for a short staycation, staying in a family home still owned by a relative.
We left home (in Alcester) at 10am (it’s an easy 2hr 42 minute drive) and stopped for lunch at a gorgeous farm shop in Shrewsbury (visible from the main road) – Churncote. Churncote has a lovely kitchen serving homemade, delicious food in very relaxed surroundings and an equally scrummy farm shop next door (the perfect place to stock up on holiday treats!).
We arrived at our cottage, near Dolgellau, at 2pm and we quickly unpacked and ventured into the town.
First stop was the play park (as always!) – park in the main carpark near the river and its just over the road. It has something for all ages (a great zip wire, a double swing, a climbing wall and plenty of space to run around!). After a good play we enjoyed watching a spot of rugby (near the main car park) before heading for coffee and cake at TK Roberts – a charming, bustling cafe housed in a Grade II–listed building – my Dad remembers this as an ironmonger and it is still fitted with its original counter, glass cabinets and wooden drawers. The coffee was great and the cake selection extensive.
Dolgellau was home to many family members (now sadly passed away) but I have many, perhaps not so fond, memories of spending time there (endless cups of tea with elderly family members speaking a language I sadly wasn’t taught). As I’ve got older it has become increasingly important for me to explore the town with a fresh pair of eyes and embrace the connection that I will always have with this remote part of North Wales. When seen with an open mind, in the same way that I approach any other place I get to visit, Dolgellau really is a little gem that is well worth exploring. Not only is it a fabulous base to explore Snowdonia it is a town steeped in history and surrounded by the most incredible and awe inspiring countryside. Over the years we’ve had the opportunity to eat in many of the restaurants and cafes. We’ve also stayed in some gorgeous B and B’s – Bryn Mair House is a wonderful retreat in walking distance of the town and more recently the Toll House has opened up – it looks fab! Must try it one day!
On our second (and only full) day we decided to visit the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth (there are a whole host of great family friendly attractions in this historic market town). Like so many families we have made a conscious effort to make a series of environmentally friendly changes to our lives over the last year or so. Visiting the CAT centre was a great way to teach the children (in a fun and child-friendly way) about the range of incredible technologies we already have at our disposal but that, for whatever reason, have not become mainstream. The children loved the water powered hill train, the eco-house, the mole tunnel, the play park and the hands on experimental zone (we spent around 4 hours exploring!). We opted for lunch in the onsite vegetarian cafe. I was ridiculously nervous about taking the children but shouldn’t have been – it was super child-friendly and we all enjoyed locally sourced, seasonal food. We loved learning about the UV and sand filtered water (some of the purist in the country apparently) and left inspired to make changes to our diet.
The afternoon was spent at Barmouth beach (you can take the Mawddach Trail along the waterside from Dolgellau to Barmouth – an apparently easy 9½ miles!) but we opted to drive, taking the picturesque Penmaenpool toll bridge (sets you back 70p each way!). Barmouth beach is vast and easily big enough to find a space even in the busy summer months. There are some breathtaking views of Cardigan Bay and the picturesque harbour. In summer months the town can get busy, a land train runs along the promenade and there are traditional donkey rides, swing boats and amusement arcades. The beach is easily accessible thanks to the large carpark (cash only) and there are, quite unusually for Welsh beaches, no steps to access the beach! We spent the afternoon watching a life boat being pulled in (cue serious excitement for our vehicle mad 3 year old!), digging sandcastles, playing stomp rocket (a must for any family) and catching a frisbee (aka tiring the children out). We then took the very short walk to Antonia’s – a scrummy ice-cream parlour on the beach front (the unicorn ice-cream cone was a huge hit with our daughter and the waffle was incredible!). There really is nothing better than a bracing walk along a beach in winter. It clears out the cobwebs and looking out to sea is so calming (much needed mid way through a university semester).
After 2 relaxing nights away we made the trip home (via Ironbridge). Dolgellau will always have an important place in our lives and in our hearts. We look forward to many more family weekends here, re-discovering the area and making fond and happy family memories.