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Mountain Adventure Day  – Ascending the iconic Cadair Idris 893m

The mighty massif of Cadair Idris looms over the Welsh landscape just to the north of the market town of Machynlleth. In northern Snowdonia, Cadair Idris might be seen as just one of many mountains, but down here in southern Snowdonia, Cadair Idris is a giant; and one which punches well above its weight. The very name conjures up Welsh mythology - Cadair Idris means ‘Chair of Idris’, referring to the legendary warrior, prince and poet, Idris Gawr (Idris the Giant), who was said to have used this mountain as a seat from where he could survey both the heavens above and the land below.


Other legends swirl around this mountain like the low clouds that cloak its summit. Cadair Idris is said to be the hunting ground of Gwyn ap Nudd, Lord of the Celtic Underworld according to medieval Welsh lore. The howling of the huge, red dogs foretold death for anyone who heard it as they gathered up the soul of the listener and carried it off into the underworld.  


With huge dramatic volcanic cliffs and screes surrounding a crystal-clear high-level lake, Cadair promises a stiff climbing challenge, rewarded with the best views in all directions - out to the coast, north to Mount Snowdon itself beyond the beautiful Mawaddach estuary, and south to the mid Wales mountains and the source of the mighty Wye and Severn rivers on the Cambrian Mountain of Plynlimon.


Nine connected peaks make up the Cadair Idris range and all of them are over 2000 feet (600 metres). Their ascent takes you from the fertile valley zig zagging through forested gorge, into mountain meadows and a huge hanging valley. Beyond this you reach the seat of Idris itself at its gigantic glacial corrie bowl, before finally climbing up a narrow ridge of scree and windswept rocks to reach the summit. 


Though formed from ancient volcanic rock, Cadair Idris was sculpted by snow and ice. In the process the glaciers scoured out the crystal clear waters of Llyn Cau nestled within the protective folds of the mountain and hidden from view until you are almost at the water’s edge. Legend says that the lake is bottomless, a story that is readily believed if you are brave enough to dip your feet into the water or take a wild swim, icy cold and invigorating at any time of year.


At 893 metres in height, Cadair Idris is an iconic mountain, second only to Mount Snowdon in popularity. Due to the sheer numbers of climbers on Snowdon, this is the one to climb if you only have time or energy for one mountain day.  From the north, the massive craggy escarpment of Cadair Idris looms forbiddingly above the landscape, an intimidating long ridge of cliffs reaching a height of 200-300 metres. But from the south it is a different story. Approached this way, the mountain displays its softer, gentler side, inviting the walker up from the Dyfi valley below. 


To climb this giant is the perfect start for those starting the Ceredigion Coast Path in Machynlleth before you leave for the walk to the coast and the Wales Coast Path route to Cardigan.  If you walked to Machynlleth from the North on the Meirionnydd Coast Path past Porthmadog and Harlech, then stay to celebrate the end of your journey by taking on the ascent to the top of Cadair - a point from where you can see the whole of your week's coastal walking laid out like a map far below you.  For those at Machynlleth you are so close to this legendary peak that it would be a crime to not meet it!


Rest Day and Walk Options on Cadair Idris

Cadair Idris Circle from Minffordd - 5-6 hours - 6 miles with 788m (2,585ft) of ascent


It’s a short but stunning 20 minutes journey by road from Machynlleth, winding up the wooded Corris valley, to the foot of the mountain. There are regular tourist buses in season, but you can also take a taxi out cheaply to get an early start.


The valley has some of the most remote and high-level dwellings in Wales - a handful of places that surround the stunning lake of Tal-y-llyn, a large glacial ribbon lake that was formed by a post-glacial massive landslip, damming up the lake within the glaciated valley.

There are a couple of hotels for those who want to stay a night up on the lake, where the mountains tower over you on all four sides. With no light pollution and no noise, it’s a great place for star gazing and peace.


The mountain climb is a 6-mile (10km) circular walk from the Dol Idris Park in Minfford. Initially a steep climb through a dense wooded gorge, a ‘Celtic Rainforest,’ past a tumbling waterfall that keep the dense vegetation of mosses and ferns moist.  Breaking out of this into a glacial hanging valley, there is a section of easier gradient and your toil up the lower mountain's flank is rewarded by a landscape of huge, twisted rocks and natural stone sculptures that accompany your climb.  Within the mountain glacial bowl is an impressive circular tarn of Llyn Cau - one of the deepest natural lakes in Wales.


This stunning spot is a natural amphitheatre of immense dimensions, and everyone should divert to meet the water’s edge. The lake is crystal clear, pure and untouched, and the dramatic cliffs of the mountain above are reflected perfectly into the depths of the lake. It is breathtaking in every way - particularly if you do go for a high-altitude wild swim!


After leaving the lake, the route turns west to climb up to the ridge of Cwm Cau (sheer drops here!) with spectacular views back down the valley and across the Tarren Hills before reaching the top of the crag at Mynydd Pencoed (798 m). You are heading into the realm of the Angels now, taking on the mountain proper with its rocks, drops and screes.  You are in good company, following in the footsteps of Charles Darwin who came to study the unique geology here as well as a range of fauna normally only found in the Arctic/Alpine regions.


A final dip and climb along the ridgeway takes you through tumbling rocky outcrops formed from cooling larva, and finally on to the highest point of Cadair Idris at 892m, named Pen y Gadair which translates as "Head of the Chair."


Enjoy breathtaking views of the whole of Cardigan Bay and the Llyn Peninsula stretched out before you. On a clear day it is possible to see Mount Snowdon, and the hills of Shopshire in the distance. Look out for raven and peregrine up here as well as the red kites with their distinctive forked tails, whose return to Snowdonia is a great success story. It can get windy, and there is a shelter built from the rocks for those who have ascended to make use of just below the summit.


The return to the valley sees you head east across the mountain top plateau, before dropping quickly through the full variety of mountain scenery, leaving the orchids of the high ground bogs and wetlands, before entering a sea of expansive heather as you descend steeply towards the first trees, ferns and bracken. Finally, using a rough slate slab crossing of the crashing mountain stream, you re-enter the lower forest,  rejoin the Minfford Path and carefully return back down to the Tea Room and Visitor Centre where you can indulge in a well-earned pot of tea and cake and a worthy glow of satisfaction!


Who is this suitable for? 

 Cadair is a major mountain, but there are options for most people to enjoy part of it. On the full day circle the path is well walked, rough and rocky in places and on a clear day easy to follow. However, it’s very steep - remember it’s a good 2,500 feet of climbing from the valley.  Fit and regular day walkers will manage the circle if you are fine with steep climbing and descending and have the right walking equipment. In case bad weather comes in quickly you need to be able to use a map and have and know how to use a compass. 


As with any mountain walk, check the weather forecast before setting off and check your equipment before leaving. Irrespective of what the weather is like when you set off, you need to take waterproofs, warm spare clothing, hat and gloves, food and drink, map, compass and emergency light and whistle. The weather can change very quickly on these mountains, so you need to be prepared for your walk and be prepared to turn back if conditions deteriorate.


Cadair Idris Gorge and Tal-y-Llyn Lake (lower level option - around 5-7 miles.)

 The lower slopes of Cadair Idris offer lovely walks in their own right, either as alternatives in poor weather, or for those who want a shorter walk or a walk without the steep climbing  Walk through the Celtic Rainforest and Gorge at the foot of Cadair, beside the Nant Cadair stream as it tumbles down the mountain, and the more adventurous can push on a short distance to the shore of the mountain lake Llyn Cau. Return down the gorge and then head west on a beautiful walk along this glacial valley to take in a circuit around Tal-y-Llyn. an iconic deep lake hemmed in by the mountains on all sides. The walk follows the lake shore, passes the solitary Tal-Y-Llyn Hotel where you can get refreshments in a stunning lakeside spot, before returning via a short climb through woodland giving dramatic views at every step.  If you like or have heard of the Lake District this is every bit as good as it.


Poor weather alternatives. 

If the weather is too poor to ascend the mountains, then you need not waste the day.  Head by bus, bike or taxi along the forest road between Machynlleth and the Mountain and you can visit the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), three miles from Machynlleth.

Founded in 1973, the CAT project aims to educated, inform and inspire people to work towards more sustainable ways of living. As well as the Visitor Centre, there are seven acres of displays, examples of environmentally responsible buildings and organic gardens to wander around and a vegetarian café on site too.


The woodland Quarry Trail offers great views of Snowdonia from the top of the hill - it’s one of the best loved locations in Snowdonia. You can reach here by bus from Machynlleth, or walk here along the Dyfi Cycleway which takes around an hour.


Two miles further from Machynlleth, through the twisting steep forested valley, is the hamlet of Corris, which is on the bus route. Home to an excellent craft centre, with 9 workshops producing everything from glassware to gin, and a number of other visitor attractions including the Corris Mine Explorers. Here is the chance to don hard hat and lamp and explore deep into the labyrinthine workings of Braichgoch, a Welsh slate mine complete with abandoned machinery, and to hear stories about what life was like working these mines. The mine trips are physically demanding but should present no problem for fit coast path walkers! It’s possible to walk here and bus or taxi back after your visit.


If you want to include Cadair Idris in your itinerary, then just let us know when you enquire, and we will include the extra night at Machynlleth in your quote.

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