Barmouth to Dolgellau on the Mawddach Trail

The Barmouth to Dolgellau walk (also known as the Mawddach Trail) takes in some of the finest scenery in Wales and what’s more, considering the topography of the principality it is unusually flat! The fact that the trail runs along the track bed of the redundant Dolgellau to Barmouth Railway explains the lack of gradients on the route.

The Trail runs for 9 miles along the south bank of the Mawddach River and is a traffic free cycle and walking trail.

You can start the trail at Barmouth Harbour or Barmouth Railway Bridge. A toll of a pound (2010) is paid to cross the bridge and off we set to enjoy fabulous views of the estuary and the mountains of Snowdonia. On crossing the railway bridge the glorious sands of Morfa Mawddach come into view and you have the chance to see a wealth of wildlife including oystercatchers, herring gulls, and cormorants.

Some way after passing Fegla Fawr (the wooded promontory on the left) the footpath veers away from the Cambrian Railway and heads east along the bed of the redundant Barmouth to Dolgellau track bed. The official Mawddach Trail starts here and there is a picnic area and toilet facilities provided by the Snowdonia National Park Authorities. Information boards describe the RSPB Nature Reserve that surrounds the trail and explains the importance of the wetlands and reed beds to the wildlife of the Mawddach Estuary.

We continue along the trail, initially through an avenue of trees before reaching the open aspect and views of the salt marshes that occupy much of the estuary.

Unlike many walks there is no need to describe the route …just keep the river to your left. It is well signposted and there are information boards at regular intervals.

You pass salt marshes and wooded landscapes and reed-beds, before reverting to salt marsh again. Cattle graze up to the water’s edge and there are fine views of the Snowdonia foothills across the valley floor. Two thirds of the way to Dolgellau the picturesque setting of Penmaenpool and its landmark wooden toll bridge come into view. The George III pub, standing alongside the river at this point, could be a temptation on a summer’s day – but there are some three or four miles to go before reaching Dolgellau.

Leaving Penmaenpool there are long open stretches again with fabulous views, before an avenue of silver birch trees envelopes the trail. I don’t know the truth of the story but I have heard that silver birch were planted along routes to light the way before the coming of electric lighting (the light of a full moon could well be reflected on the bark of the silver birch).

The fields close to the trail were once covered by the tide until local farmers transformed the land from saltings into the fertile pasture we see today, with cattle and sheep to be seen grazing on the river banks.

On we go, the reed beds thicken, and it can be seen why otters and other wild life favour the area. The reeds growing up to 10 feet in height create an impenetrable mass …well at least to us humans.

Soon we reach the open fields on the outskirts of Dolgellau and a chance to rest. At least until we have had a cup of tea and a buttered scone in the old tea rooms of the Sospan Café in the town square to fortify us for our return journey!

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