Skip to content

Our beginnings at Dinas Oleu

Looking down towards Barmouth, Gwynedd, from an elevated vantage point on the cliffs of Dinas Oleu, which are covered in brown- and ochre-coloured gorse and moss.
The cliffs of Dinas Oleu, rising behind Barmouth | © National Trust Images/Joe Cornish

Dinas Oleu sits above Barmouth overlooking Cardigan Bay and the Llŷn peninsula. Following the generous donation from one lady, this gorse-covered hillside became the starting point for land donations to the National Trust.

Charitable beginnings

Mrs Talbot was born in 1824 in Bridgwater, Somerset. She later moved to her home called Ty'n-y-Ffynon on the slopes of Dinas Oleu. Following her husband’s death, in 1873 she devoted herself to local philanthropic work.

Friend of our founders

Mrs Fanny Talbot was a reasonably wealthy landowner and philanthropist. She was also a friend to Octavia Hill and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, who were two of our founders.

A generous donation

In 1895, Mrs Talbot made the generous donation to the National Trust of 4.5 acres of land, Dinas Oleu. This cliffside area became the very first piece of land given to ensure it would remain protected for everyone, for ever.

'I have long wanted to secure for the public for ever the enjoyment of Dinas Oleu, but wish to put it to the custody of some society that will never vulgarise it, or prevent wild nature from having its way…and it appears to me that your association has been born in the nick of time.'

– Mrs Fanny Talbot

Water is gently lapping the pebble-strewn Barmouth beach, Gwynedd, with the town of Barmouth in the background and the gorse-covered cliffs of Dinas Oleu beyond.
Dinas Oleu from Barmouth beach | © National Trust Images/Joe Cornish

The importance of open space

Mrs Talbot saw the importance of our nation’s heritage and open spaces. She wanted to preserve them for everyone to enjoy. This matched the vision of our founders when they established the charity in 1895. More than 125 years later, these values are still at the heart of everything we do.

When Mrs Fanny Talbot donated this special piece of land, she did not know that the National Trust would become Europe’s largest conservation charity.

Walk to the top of Dinas Oleu

From Dinas Oleu you can see many of the 58,000 acres of land we now look after in Snowdonia along with 196 miles of Welsh coastline. If you walk to the top of Dinas Oleu you'll find a circular stone platform built in 1995 to commemorate 100 years since the donation.

The view from Dinas Oleu, Wales. 
The view from Dinas Oleu, Wales.  | © National Trust Images/John Miller

Mrs Talbot’s earlier work

Mrs Talbot had previously donated to other charitable projects. In 1874, she donated 12 cottages and a 4.5-acre piece of land to the influential art critic, John Ruskin. Mr Ruskin had set up a project called The Guild of St George. The project aimed to create improved social conditions for people to live and work.

'She's a motherly, bright, black-eyed woman of fifty…and curious beyond any magpie that ever was, but always giving her spoons away instead of stealing them. Practically clever beyond most women; but if you answer one question she'll ask you six!'

– John Ruskin

The Frenchman at Dinas Oleu

A Frenchman named Auguste Guyard was given a home by John Ruskin which was one of Mrs Fanny Talbot’s former cottages. Auguste Guyard came to Britain with his daughter in 1871 after fleeing the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian war. Guyard moved into cottage number 2 Rock Gardens at Dinas Oleu.

A model commune

Previously Guyard had attempted to create a 'commune modele' in his home village of Frotey-Les-Vesoul, where he was born in 1808. His aims closely resembled those of John Ruskin which is why he may have been chosen by the charity to take a cottage here.

Tending the terraces

Known locally as The Frenchman, Guyard spent his time carving terraces in the hillside where he grew vegetables, herbs and medicinal plants which he shared with the poor. He also had a way with animals and tamed a hawk and a jackdaw.

Guyard’s grave

Guyard died in 1882 and his final wish was to be buried on the hillside where he spent so much time. His grave is located in a walled plot near to Dinas Oleu. He composed his own epitaph for his gravestone. It's recently been translated from French into English and Welsh and is inscribed on a plaque nearby.

'Here lodged a sower who, to his grave, sowed the seeds, of truth, of right, of beauty, with obsession. In a thousand struggles, with pen and body, such labours are not rewarded, in this world.'

– Epitaph for the gravestone, Dinas Oleu (Fortress of Light)

View from Centenary Viewpoint, Dinas Oleu, Wales

Discover more at South Snowdonia

Find out how to get to South Snowdonia, where to park, the things to see and do and more.

You might also be interested in

A woodland scene on the Dolmelynllyn Estate, Gwynedd. There are several trees with sturdy, twisting branches and the forest floor has many rocks covered with bright green moss and lichen.

Exploring South Eryri (Snowdonia) 

Explore the remote rugged landscapes of south (Eryri) Snowdonia. Ancient oak woodland at Dolmelynllyn and the volcanic rocks at Cregennan provide natural habitats for a wide variety of wildlife. Look closely beneath your feet to seek glacial fossils and rare lichens across the heathland.