You may have fancied you have stayed in extremely isolated accommodation in Britain before. So did we. But spend some nights at Cyfannedd Fach, a 250 year-old stone cottage sequestered away somewhere between mountain, forest and sea in the shadow of the rugged folds of Cadair Idris and you will most likely be reassessing your notions of remote.
The distance from Dolgellau, the nearest town by ‘road’ is only seven miles but feels five times that because of how narrow and twisting the lanes and tracks there are. Your vehicle will be brushing the verges, scrabbling for traction on the mud-bedaubed stones, patiently waiting for some twelve livestock gates to be opened and closed, a sheep or five to mosey on by and all the passengers to pore the paragraph of directions one more time… but persevere and you will be rewarded by the eventual emergence of one of Snowdonia’s most far-flung, character-rich cottages, caught between bands of forestry below the bracken-stippled brow of a hill.
Why we love it
It is important to know what Cyfannedd Fach means in Welsh before you embark on the adventure of arrival which is, of course, a large part of this accommodation’s allure. The translation is ‘magic mountain’ and in several senses the cottage will cast its magic on you, long before you have even inserted key into door. It toys with your initial impressions like no other place you will ever stay at.
From Dolgellau the road is the same as for the classic car park for ascents of Cadair Idris, continuing beyond in increasingly isolated vaults over moorland rises and twists over frothing white streams. It later negotiates a flurry of crags as heart-in-mouth impressive as anything on the more-famous Golden Road in Harris. It is a mountain road, one of the finest of its kind in Wales, and the spectacular surrounding uplands, almost until the last, have all your attention. And yet, ten gates in as you sharply veer off the tarmac and onto the rutted approach track, you realise thanks to a recently-felled patch of forest that in fact Cyfannedd Fach is just as close to the sea. That thought disappears again as you concentrate on the final furlongs of track and the temporary worry that after all this you have arrived at a ruin (because the tumbledown gable of an outbuilding appears before the cottage does). And perhaps the thought sits dormant a while more until after you have unpacked, relaxed and then glanced over to the path making up the small rise behind the building, walked up that path and been introduced to one of the most special and serendipitous vistas we have ever seen attached to any accommodation anywhere in Wales. (we won’t spoil it for you – just come here!)
View aside, of course, being this close to Cadair Idris and a spread of southern Snowdonia’s best hiking country makes Cyfannedd Fach a fantastic base for walkers and, because of how a fair few of the paths hereabouts are decently surfaced, mountain-bikers. But the deal-sealer is the cottage itself: now for the third generation owned by a family of writers who have showered the place in personality from the umpteen books and boardgames and puzzles to old photographs and memorabilia of how life was once lived in this rocky region.
It is in short a proper holiday cottage: how self-catering cottages were before they became fancy and started molly-coddling those of us with fussy 21st-century whims. It is a spot for adventure-seekers for sure, but as we like to think we fall into that category this only enhanced the appeal!
Every fibre of Cyfannedd Fach lets you feel how far-removed you are from civilisation. Apart from the more modern kitchen, you could be stepping into a crofter’s home from two centuries back. The low blackened beams creak with the wind. The rain sounds loud upon the slate roof. The huge, glorious, horseshoe-lined inglenook with its prettily tiled wood-burning stove occupies half of one wall just as it would have done in decades gone by when the space would have been used for cooking and drying clothes besides keeping warm. Copper pots hang there on their hooks as they must similarly have done sixty years ago when the cottage passed into the care of its current owners. A dark-wood Welsh dresser stands with its full set of willow-pattern china as if the cottage’s incumbents from 1920 or 1820 had just invited you round for a cockle-warming bowl of cawl. The contours of the hill are almost palpable below the tiles. It still feels like a glimpse into a traditional Snowdonian home from yesteryear and it still feels like the weather, with its wind and rain and, in winter as when we were there its promise of snow, is lurking very close readying to utterly cut you off from the rest of the world by felling a tree or creating a quagmire along the track.
It’s self check-in but really the welcome is your beautiful initiation into the greatest of great outdoors. You are wholly immersed in it here, so much so that you will feel after your efforts of arrival that you might not want to leave. Coming for a few days with enough food and booze is very much the way we’d recommend to go. And the thing is, the isolation is actually a liberation, because you’ll hunker down to exploring the Snowdonia right outside the door as opposed to a whistlestop, see-the-sights-of-all-the-national-park sort of vacation. See below in the ‘What’s here and nearby section’ for more on the surrounding sights. Get settled in with a nice hot brew and feel snugly safe from and yet thrillingly close to the wild landscapes beyond the archaic walls. Then start unfurling the maps and plotting your next hike. Or to feel that you are not quite all alone, peruse the fascinating guest books going back over fifty years (and the guest poems therein – we did our bit and added to the collection)! Or try a puzzle, board game or book – there are a great deal of these.
The living room and dining room are one cosy open-plan space and a tight staircase pirouettes to two bedrooms, separated by a partition. The first has two single beds, the rear room a double bed. Both beamed rooms are replete with the foibles and eccentricities brought in by the three generations of the family of writers who have owned this house since 1960. There are plenty of that wondrous style of sepia photograph from the days when young men carried canes and young women still wore the traditional Welsh hat (het gymreig), all standing stoically against regional backgrounds. There is even the cover of an early Country Living magazine that had a nearby rural view as the cover image! We liked the twin room best with its eclectic array of books, not least the saucy romance written by a member of the family!
What’s here and nearby
Paths issue forth to the sea to Fairbourne and across the Mawddach Estuary to Barmouth and with an early start and careful planning either could be walked or cycled, as well as driven to. Dolgellau is a cycle or a drive away back along the mountain road below Cadair Idris that brought you here. And Cadair Idris can be accessed via a number of routes. You can traipse right along from the ridge top above the cottage to southern Snowdonia’s highest peak: on a trail very few people follow. Mountain biking wise, try the cycle route that ascends from close to gate number six at Afon Arthog on the approach from Dolgellau: a fantastic track that can be followed right up through the forestry and over the rise to Llanegryn. Then there are the comely series of fishing lakes, Cregennan Lakes, with a minor back road down to the valley weaving between them, and the nearby Arthog Waterfalls (an easy walk across fields from the lakes) a flight of cascades plunging prettily through a wooded gorge. Heading along the road southwest from the cottage, you can also pick up the Wales Coast Path at the next dwelling along.
Enough food and drink for your stay
OS Explorer map of the area
Hiking things/ cycling things depending on your passion
Warm clothes – it gets chilly at night
NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From the cottage, it’s 4.5 miles to the start of the trail up Cadair Idris: see here for our alternative hike up Cadair Idris (which heads up from the other side of the mountain 14 miles away by road, but is a prettier, lonelier ascent)
At a glance
Snooze factor: 7 Say goodbye to all those annoying sounds of civilisation. The nearest passing car? Miles distant. Never did masonry marry you to nearby nature better than this. The beds could be a tad more comfortable, but the creaks add to the character.
Food factor: n/a This is self-catering, but some basics are provided in the substantial larder.
Eco-friendly factor: 8 This venerable cottage uses its own spring water and is so old it’s as much a part of the landscape as the dry-stone walls, fields, trees and crags. Incredibly, recycling is still picked up by a rather intrepid rubbish truck.
Location factor: 10 As we’ve described, some of the most memorable and magical surroundings for a lodging that we’ve ever experienced.
Price: £210 for a two-night (minimum) stay, £450 for a five-night stay, £650 for a week-long stay (2021 prices)