Hello again people and pooches. Joe the Cocker here to tell you about our recent mini adventure. The weather forecast was good for a few days so we thought that we would take advantage of it and nip to West Wales for a couple of days. Sunshine, light winds, no rain were all the positives. One negative was that the temperatures were forecast to be a little on the high side for a black Cocker Spaniel but, I knew that my human wouldn’t let me bake. We had planned to do this little trip for quite some time but, we had kept putting it off for too long. The plan was to walk the Mawddach Trail from Dolgellau to Barmouth, or Abermaw as it should be called. It is a 9.3 mile, flat walk along a disused railway line so it should be a pleasant stroll in the nice weather. We planned to camp overnight locally as we wanted to leave the car in Dolgellau. The plan also included other options including the Panorama Walk from Barmouth or the New Precipice Walk from Dolgellau but, we decided that we would ponder our options during our downtime, at the tent.
My human discovered a very useful app on his phone called Just Park where he found a place to park overnight on a private drive for £2.80. This seemed to make him very happy for some unknown reason. He also found a campsite not far from the trail near Fairbourne. He was also very happy about that. So, Grumpy became Happy for a while!
After spending, what seemed like, days preparing his rucksack we set off at the ridiculous time of 7AM. I was unaware that there were two 7 o’clock’s in one day until now. He said that he wanted to get an early start on the footpath before the sun cooked his brain. We had plenty of water and food so I knew that I would be in for a feast. He still said that we would need to stock up on supplies at some point because he planned to do some cooking, instead of rehydrating dehydrated meals, this time out. The drive was pretty much uneventful. Well, it was for me, as I slept all the way there only being woken on too many occasions, by the lady who kept telling us to ‘turn left after 400 yards’ or ‘bare right at the next junction’. She is very insistent and seems to tell my dad to ‘make a U turn’ at regular intervals. I can’t repeat what his response is to that comment!
After two comfortable hours, in my bed on the back seat of the car, we pulled up in the car park of the Dolgellau Co-op. He bought some sausages and bacon for us to share so, I knew that I was going to be a guinea pig for his camp cooking. I was hoping for well cooked food and not for raw sausages with a charcoal exterior. We would see later. The car parking spot was easy to find, thanks to the accurate description on the app and we were there in two minutes. The big feller moaned and groaned as he threw his overladen rucksack onto his back and after a few minutes of faffing about, we were off to find the start of the trail. He had his left knee well strapped due to his recent and mysterious injury.
Dolgellau is a pretty village with a population under 3000. Famed for its 19th century ‘gold rush’ when up to 500 people were employed in the Clogau and Gwynfynydd mines. Royal wedding rings are traditionally made of gold from the area. Nowadays the area relies somewhat on tourism and is the centre for outdoor activities including hiking up the nearby Cadair Idris. The Mach Loop is becoming a popular attraction where photographers can ‘shoot’ stunning action photographs of RAF fighter planes training in the Mawddach area.
We had parked a couple of minutes walk from the starting point, by the village’s main car park, where the trail starts so, we were quickly on our way. The Llwbyr Mawddach or Mawddach Trail is a traffic-free hiking trail and cycle route that stretches 9.3 miles from Dolgellau to Barmouth, along the disused Barmouth to Ruabon railway line. The line opened in 1865 by Cambrian Railways, to bring visitors to the increasingly popular Barmouth but, closed in 1965 due to the Beechings cuts.
The big feller was being unusually quiet until he suddenly burst into song. When I say song, I actually mean children’s song! ‘The runaway train went over the hill and she blew’ was the line he kept repeating with the odd ‘whoo-whoo’ thrown in for good measure. He is definitely not all there!
The trail initially runs alongside the Afon Wnion until it crosses to the northern side over a footbridge on the edge of the village. After a few yards the footpath turns westward to head along the northern bank of the river parallel with the noisy A470. After half a mile or so the trail crosses the A493 where it ‘dog-legs’ to pass through a car park at Bont Wernddu. After a short stretch of woodland, the old railway bridge took us over the Afon Wnion again. The water level was fairly low, and the shafts of brilliant morning sunlight combined with the twittering of the birds, gave the walk a mystical feel.
A tunnel formed by the trees arching above us and shielding us from the warm sunshine made the walk a pleasant morning stroll. We could see through the gaps in the trees to our right, the huge area of reed filled wetlands. After a mile of gentle walking we came to the stunningly beautiful Penmaenpool. The small settlement was a centre of ship building between 1770 and 1827 when over a hundred ships were launched onto the Afon Mawddach. Local oak was used to build the ships that were used to export coarse flannel that was weaved in the Dolgellau area. The Mawddach was a busy waterway used to transport locally mined slate, livestock and wood bark to Ireland. With the coming of the railway after 1827 the shipping industry died off gradually being replaced by the trains.
We passed the old Cambrian Railways signal box, lovingly maintained and painted in the original colours of the railway company. Next to this we came to the iconic Penmaenpool bridge. The Grade II listed wooden road bridge has been a vital crossing over the river since it was built in 1879 to replace the ferry. We paid our toll (free for dogs) and walked across the unusual wooden structure. The views upstream and downstream were well worth the 30 pence. The bridge was sadly the scene of a ferry disaster in 1966 when The Prince of Wales pleasure boat hit the bridge and fifteen people drowned.
The original station building is still next to the bridge painted white and bathed in sunlight. A few yards along the quayside is the George III hotel, that was built around 1650, originally as an inn and a ships’ chandlers. In 1890 the buildings were combined and converted into a hotel. A few old railway buildings remain just past the hotel and are nowadays privately owned houses.
On leaving the small hamlet we entered another area where we were sheltered by the canopy of trees. The trail follows the railway through a cutting that was excavated to allow a flat route for the trains so, no hills on this route for us. My human was complaining that his knee injury was giving him some ‘jip’ so, I found a picnic bench for us to rest at. I always ‘ask’ my dad if he wants to rest his backside on any benches or picnic tables that we come across. If he says ‘no, its OK’ I carry on hiking along the path. It seems to impress him for some reason! I lay under the bench in the long damp grass to cool off. He gave me a few treats and a drink before we set off along the trail again.
There was a gated entrance into Abergwynant Woods on our left, where we spent a few minutes exploring, until we turned back to the trail. It was cool in the shade of the trees and eerily quiet, except for the sound of thrushes and chaffinches that were out of sight in the dense woodland. As we left the cover of the trees, we walked along a long straight section of the route, on an embankment, above the level of the boggy ground, on either side of the old railway line. We soon came across a herd of cattle grazing on the shore of the widening river. It looked like a great spot to eat grass if that is your food of choice!
We crossed the old railway bridge over the Afon Gwynant, where it enters the waters of the Mawddach. Across the Mawddach, we could see Diffwys, above the lower hills in the foreground. In the sands, visible due to a low tide, we watched and heard wading birds such as oystercatchers, terns and dippers. It was a spectacular sight as we could see for miles along the water, glimpsing Barmouth Railway Bridge for the first time on our trip. Above the northern shore we could see Caerdeon Hall whose visitors include Charles Darwin, Alfred Tennyson, John Ruskin and William Wordsworth amongst others. The area was incredibly popular with artists and literary greats in the Victorian era.
Shortly, we came to the tiny village of Arthog, set back from the trail, across boggy farmland. A long row of large terraced houses lined the roadside. We were back amongst the trees again as we reached a small promontory which has large concrete WW2 tank traps erected on it. During the Second World War an invasion by the Germans was anticipated along the Mawddach Estuary and to prevent a landing, huge concrete blocks were positioned at obvious access points.
As we walked in the shelter of the trees, we saw at least two buzzards and one sparrowhawk, searching out their prey. Arthog grew up around the slate mining industry with the Tyn y Coed quarry behind the village and out of site to walkers on the trail. We crossed the Afon Arthog and stopped for a while to eat our lunch in the picnic area, that was once the site of the Arthog Railway Station. The next short section of the trail took us to Morfa Mawddach, the site of a disused railway station and the current railway station on the Fairbourne to Barmouth line.
My dad let me run off-lead for short periods along the trail but, we were sharing the route with cyclists who didn’t always let us know that they were coming up behind us. I always freeze when he shouts ‘wait’ so that I don’t run out in front of them. It is a shame that the cyclists aren’t always as well behaved as me. My human has been a cyclist for most of his life so, it annoys him when people aren’t considerate.
We decided to leave the trail at this point and to head inland to our campsite for the night. The plan was to pitch our tent and relax, out of the heat of the sun, before we would head into Barmouth when the temperature dropped, to complete the trail. We passed a row of cottages opposite Arthog Bog before we met the main road at a war memorial. The road was fast and winding as we took our lives into our hands and paws. It was only a few hundred yards to the footpath leading to the campsite but, we could not wait to get there.
We had a short but steep grassy hill to climb before we reached Bwlch Gwynant Farm campsite. The owner showed us to our pitch for the night. The site is on a hillside and the views over the estuary improve the higher you go. We had a spacious pitch, close to the showers, on the lower slopes and the view was amazing, except for one large tree. It was a lovely spot and we could see Fairbourne, Barmouth and the estuary from our tent.
My human pitched the tent and sorted everything out for our short stay. He made his meal early so that we would have time to walk to Barmouth and back, before darkness set in. Bangers and mash was OUR meal, as he shared it with me. After he had cleaned up and had a shower, he decided to stay at the tent instead of walking further. He said that his knee was playing up so, it was time to chill out! The sunset was not as spectacular as he had hoped for but, it was a view to relish. My dad brought his new lightweight camping seat with us and when he sat in it the legs sank into the soft soil. He fell off it as it tipped over. His first concern was to see if anyone was watching. He was lucky as there was only me who saw it happen. I won’t tell anyone about it. I don’t want to embarrass him! Hahaha!
We both had a comfortable night in the tent. It was warm and the air was still. We were woken at 6AM by the pitter patter of rain on the tent. Fortunately, this only lasted for a few minutes but, we lay in our shelter for a while longer until he decided to make a coffee and breakfast. We shared bacon wraps while we sat in the sun, which had made a timely appearance.
The big feller said that we would have to rethink our plans for the day as his knee was too painful to walk either up and down hills or for a long distance. We chose to walk into Barmouth to complete the trail and then to jump on the T3 bus from Barmouth to Dolgellau. So, we packed up, well he did. I just lay in the grass and watched him. We set off down the hill to the deadly A493. He was hobbling a bit but, we almost sprinted along that road. It was a relief to head down the lane leading to Morfa Mawddach again.
We took a short detour into Arthog Bog, where we were keeping an eye open for grass snakes. I am not sure how I would have reacted if we had seen one but unfortunately, we didn’t anyway. The footpaths meandered through the small wetland reserve and led us back to where we had entered. We did see plenty of butterflies and hear lots of birds twittering in the trees. It is a pleasant walk when the sun has got its hat on!
We rejoined the Llybyr Mawddach by the railway station and headed toward Barmouth. This section of the walk is stunning with varied views in all directions. The path runs alongside the railway line across the estuary. From here we could see back toward Dolgellau, along the Mawddach with Cadair Idris peeping above the lower hills on our right. On the left were the sands of the estuary, with the Irish Sea glistening in the morning sunlight. Behind us we could see the campsite from where we had walked. In front of us was the amazing Barmouth Bridge.
A train came close by us as we walked over the wooden boards of the bridge. It frightened the life out of me. Humans make some really annoying vehicles. We had perfect views of the Clock House, a Victorian Gothic building on the northern shore of the Mawddach. The bridge that we walked on is a toll bridge for walkers or a Troll bridge as it states on the collection point. It is a wooden structure and was completed in 1867. At 764 yards long it used to have a drawbridge section to allow shipping to pass underneath. This section was converted to a swingbridge but, has been closed for almost 30 years. It is a fantastic walk over it with ever changing views in every direction.
After a short incline and then a downhill pavement walk, at the end of the bridge, we were in Barmouth at the completion of our trail. It was a glorious late morning as we arrived in the Victorian seaside town so, my human decided to have a rest while we sat in the sunshine. We found a lovely café to sit outside of to have our second breakfast! Well, it was lunchtime really but, he had to have an all-day breakfast and an Americano. I shared with him, as usual, and then I had a short snooze in the shade of the table’s parasol.
We checked the bus timetable and decided to take the one that was due to leave in an hour and a half. This gave us time to find the bus stop and to stroll along the promenade. The bus journey was only 25 minutes long and we had the whole double-decker to ourselves. It was the first time that I had been on a bus so, I watched the world go by through the windows. We only had a short walk back to the car when we left the bus in the main street in Dolgellau.
We had enjoyed two lovely days in a fantastic area. OK, because of the big feller’s knee, we had to adapt our plans and maybe, it would have been too hot in the mid-day sun for me. We probably did the sensible thing and we did walk the Mawddach Trail, which was our main aim. Until next time!