B&B and Beyond: The Slate Shed, Wales
A former quarrymen's workshop provides a cosy, characterful base for exploring the Snowdonia scenery. By Holly Williams
Snowdonia is hardly short on glorious views, but a stay at The Slate Shed near Dolgellau lets you enjoy the stunning landscape when the sun comes out – or when the weather is less kind, snuggled up indoors. Built in 1868, this "shed" was where men would split the locally quarried rock into slate roof tiles. Today, character is retained with big beams running beneath slanted eaves and plenty of slate everywhere, from the flooring to the place mats breakfast is served on. The interiors have been given a comfy, modern make-over, but the best feature is timeless: the view over the Mawddach Estuary, where the mountains meet the sea.
There are five rooms, some named after bands and record labels of the 1970s Welsh music scene. Owners Sarah and John were inspired by a crate of Welsh-language records they picked up at an auction, that now adorn the walls.
We were in Miri Mawr, after the cult Seventies children's TV show about cave-dwelling creatures. It's small, but very snug. Furnishings are a mix of rustic materials and quirkier retro pieces. Contemporary art – be that a Banksy £10 note or Rob Ryan cut-out – is dotted around the building.
All rooms are en suite and have a TV, DVD and free Wi-Fi, plus a selection of books chosen for their local colour. A tea tray comes with toffee waffles, while a well-stocked honesty bar downstairs has local ales and spirits from the Penderyn Distillery. Honey buns appear on the sideboard in the Caban – the communal area, where slate workers used to get together for meals and music – or you can curl up in the living room next to a lit fire. Both these rooms have stunning views out of large windows. Even if it does pour down, it's no hardship just to cwtch up indoors.
You really should try to get out for some walking – and breakfast will set you right up. As well as cereals and toast (the bread is home-baked), there are hot options including smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, pancakes or a full cooked breakfast. Superior veggie sausages hail from the market in nearby Dolgellau, while eggs come from a local farm. The bracingly strong Hafod Cheddar in the "Welsh continental" option is from Wales' oldest organic farm, Bwlchwernen Fawr.
Sarah and John moved here from Brighton in 2007, to set up their own campsite; The Slate Shed shares its hillside with their camping pitches, yurts and holiday cottages, Graig Wen. It had already been converted into a B&B, although the couple have stamped their own style on it.
Sarah is smart, friendly and full of excellent tips. We enjoyed several walks following her advice on routes and, crucially, tea shops and pubs. She even plied us with a flask of tea and brownies before we ventured up Cadair Idris – gratefully consumed after scaling its summit.
Get your boots on: you're in the midst of wonderful walking country. Cadair Idris – the second-highest mountain in Wales, at 893m – rears up behind the B&B. Allow half a day for hiking through the constantly changing, dramatic landscape. There are plenty of shorter, gentler walks too, in the surrounding hills.
Just down the hill you reach the Mawddach Estuary path. It leads eventually across the water to Barmouth, where you can enjoy fish and chips on the beach. It's a popular route for cyclists – and bikes are available to hire from £10 (01341 423332; dolgellaucycles.co.uk).
Sir Clough Williams-Ellis's Italian-style village Portmeirion (01766 770000; portmeirion-village.com), made famous by The Prisoner television show, is within an hour's drive. And you will need a car, as public transport in this area is patchy.
The pit stop
The restaurant Bwyty Mawddach (01341 421752; mawddach.com) is a short drive away in Llanelltyd. In a classily converted barn, it has enormous windows promising views towards Cadair Idris in the daytime.
Food doesn't get much more local: the restaurant manager Will is also the farmer. Lamb is reared on site, and is a tender, delicious option. But vegetarians are carefully catered for too. I loved the meltingly soft parmesan polenta and sweetly charred chicory. Desserts included a custard slice infused with Douglas fir needles from a tree in the drive. Open Wednesday to Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday dinner and Sunday lunch. Booking essential.
In Dolgellau, TH Roberts (01341 423 552) is the place for a post-ramble slice of cake. Portions are whopping at this bustling café, housed in an old hardware shop which still has original Victorian fittings.
The Slate Shed, Arthog, Snowdonia, Wales LL39 1BQ (01341 250482; slateshed.co.uk). Doubles start at £65, including breakfast.
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