a bit about us
Dolgellau is an ancient market town with over 200 listed buildings, allegedly the highest density of anywhere in Wales.
The name Dolgellau, pronounced Dol-geth-lie, most likely derives from the words "dôl" meaning "meadow" and "(y) gelli" meaning "grove" or "spinney" giving the translation "Meadow of Groves".
The former county town of Meirionethshire (now part of the larger county of Gwynedd), Dolgellau lies in the lee of the Cader Idris range of mountains and on the Wnion River, a tributary of the Mawddach. The town is twinned with Guerande in Brittany, France.
An historic stronghold
The area of modern Dolgellau was originally part of the tribal lands of the Ordovices, whom the Romans conquered in AD77-78. Evidence of a large fort from the period has very recently been discovered above the town. In 1198, Cymer Abbey was founded nearby and a church built in Dolgellau around the same time. You can still see the great ruined arches of the Abbey in a peaceful spot near Llanelltyd. By 1404 Dolgellau was deemed important enough for Owain Glyndwr - last Welsh "Prince of Wales" immortalised by Shakespeare in Henry IV - to use the town for his Council of Chiefs in the uprising against the English Crown.
A place of pilgrimage
Dolgellau has a major bearing in the history of Quakerism – as can be seen in The Quaker Trail. A group of persecuted Quakers from the town emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1686. A town in Pennsylvania was named Bryn Mawr after a farm near to Dolgellau which belonged to their leader Rowland Ellis.
To this day Dolgellau is a place of pilgrimage for many American Quakers coming to retrace their ‘roots’.
An industrious past
In the 18th century, coarse wool from sheep on the hills around Dolgellau was used to spin "webs" for export - many of the town’s listed buildings show evidence of this trade. The Mawddach estuary was navigable by large ships at this time and vessels would load bales from the Marian Quay direct for export to the New World. By the end of the 18th century, the wool trade was estimated to be worth as much as £100,000 annually to the local economy.
The leather Tanning Trade was another important contributor to the town, and there was still a large Tannery in business until the 1980s. An unfortunate side-effect of tanning was unpleasant fumes and 30 years ago shops displayed signs on their doors saying "It’s not our shop that smells!". Happily, the only odour you’re likely to notice now is the smell of winter wood smoke!
Dolgellau was hit by a mini Gold Rush in the 19th century. At one time local gold mines employed over 500 workers. The excitement was short-lived as the seams were small and not economic to mine, so now there is just a small and precious supply of pure Welsh gold left. Gold from the local Clogau St. David’s mine has traditionally always been used for royal wedding rings.
A peaceful and productive present
Today you’ll find Dolgellau a friendly and unspoilt place to enjoy the dramatic Snowdonia scenery. It remains a bustling working town where farming plays an important role. Watching the weekly livestock auctions are a great way to get a feel for rural Welsh life, while the monthly (every third Sunday) Farmers' market in the town centre shows off an irresistible feast of local produce and crafts.