Taking the Mawddach Trail – OT, ish…

The weather has been fabulous, the intensive physiotherapy is beginning to work, an old friend is moving away – and so she and I spent a day walking along the Mawddach estuary.

Barmouth roofThis isn’t quite as OT as it seems due to the importance of the textile industry in Wales (honest). We were waking from one place with a significant woolly history – Barmouth, where knitting socks and stockings was what kept some people from starvation in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,  to another: Dolgellau, where weaving was equally vital. The stocking knitting was no minor adjunct to fishing; in 1799 annual production at Barmouth was estimated at 192,000 pairs and valued at £18,000. Still, this isn’t 1799 and now comparatively few people knit socks here, let alone stockings. And much to my shame, I was wearing commercial walking socks. Oh well, tant pis ou tant mieux

In this direction the walk starts by crossing the mouth of the Mawddach river on the footbridge running next to the railway.


The views, especially inland, are stunning (this estuary has been cited as one of Tolkien’s models for the Grey Havens) but I was concentrating on keeping my balance and avoiding cyclists too much to take many shots. Yes, it looks idyllic and timeless, but that would be a mistaken assumption; the estuary was once much more industrious, with shipbuilding and transport featuring in the past, as well as the now-abandoned railway along which we were going to walk.


It’s even had a martial history. During WW2 nearby houses were requisitioned for troops practising the use of landing craft for D-Day – you can still see tank traps at one point – and the RAF continue to fly along it today. Our walk was punctuated by the sound, so familiar to anyone living in a remote area, of low-flying jets. But that was really the only intrusion, once we got started down the green lane that was once a railway track…

There was an attempt to develop an alternative holiday resort to Barmouth here in the later nineteenth century; in fact, there were two. One (Fairbourne) took, and one, on Fegla Fawr, the hump on the horizon to the left of the photograph below, didn’t.


That’s probably just as well. And the whole headland was later commandeered for a pre-invasion training base, too, called Camp Iceland. Hardly appropriate in the weather we had – and we collapsed in the shade here for lunch.

One of the joys of the Mawddach trail is that – being an old railway – it is completely flat and even walking. While we were eating our sarnies quite a lot of people went past, and this was mid-week and not in the height of the holiday season. Many were on bikes, including a couple with toddler carts attached – I’d have loved one of those when I was little; I had to put up with a silly seat behind my Dad and all I could see was his back (and his hand when he flapped back at me to stop me wildly leaning from side to side, trying to see something rather more entertaining) – and there were a couple of people with mobility scooters. You can access the trail at a couple of points along it, and it’s perfect.


I also like the fact that you can see quite clearly where you are going. I’ve often been stumped in the hills, scratching my head and trying to work out whether I’d suddenly lost the ability to map read or whether the path had been swallowed by bog (generally the latter). It is also refreshingly free of bogs, and I am a walker who can be guaranteed to find a bog even after six weeks of drought, and fall in it.

It was a real change not being covered in reeking mud, but just in case I was missing the sensation of repelling anyone I encountered, we went off piste and walked up beside one of the rivers joining the Mawddach.


Astonishingly, I failed to fall in.

Even more astonishingly, they used to build boats – commercially – near here. It would have made a perfect lunch spot, one without the passing ‘traffic’ we had earlier, but that’s one of the constants of walking. You decide that you absolutely must stop and eat or die, snaffle down behind some rock – then find you are still at the mercy of a howling gale, so much so that half your lunch blows away. Then you press on to discover a sheltered little glen of wonderfulness round the next bend. Oh well, tant pis ou tant mieux encore une fois, and we rejoined the Trail where I became obsessed with colour and texture, and took about 500,000 photographs.


I wonder if I can knit this… the browns are almost those of natural fleeces, after all. Hmm.

By now we had an aim in view: the George III Inn. It was wonderful walking in the sun – well, it was wonderful not walking in rain, drizzle, snow, sleet, hurricanes (delete as appropriate, all available in Snowdonia, sometimes on the same day) – and we were prepared for it with hats and lots of water. But the long straight stretch running up towards the George nearly did us in; I even thought I saw Omar Sharif on a camel coming towards us – ‘Orrens! Orrens!’ – but it was only another cyclist, alas. Tantalisingly, we could see shaded parts of the path ahead, but it seemed to us take ages to reach them. Happily, it didn’t take ages to be served with tea at the George,

bridge and tea

where they are clearly used to sweaty walkers appearing out of the heat haze demanding refreshments. It was so lovely to collapse and watch the world go by: people enjoying the sun, walking dogs, watching ducklings; a few cars crossing the wooden tollbridge. You don’t get that when you slog towards the end of most walks. Well, unless you plan very carefully. And anyway I’m not usually fit for human consumption, being covered in fetid lumps of countryside, slowly drying and falling off.

It took a real effort to leave and continue towards Dolgellau and our rendezvous with a lift back, but we did… though at a rather more leisurely pace. There were more people now, more cyclists and runners – partly because we were closer to Dolgellau, where once ‘every little farmer make [sic] webs and few cottages in these parts are without a loom’ (Arthur Aikin, 1797), and partly because it was near to the end of the working day and the weather was too good to ignore. We left the actual railway line to follow the last – or first – part of the Trail into the town, but got diverted (again) by attempting to identify wildflowers; there’s more about them on my gardening and plant blog. This quest led us slightly off piste once more, but it was really worth it. We discovered that the Wnion was easily accessible for tired feet,

foot-soaking heaven

and it was so quiet that we were able to watch the trout rising to catch flies. However, the call of ice cream proved too strong and we just made it into Dolgellau before the Spar ran out of Magnums. I must admit that I signally failed to think much about the woollen industry at this point, or about the fact that cloth from Meirionydd was considered some of the best. So were the ice creams, that’s what I say…

Back on topic soon. Once I’ve recovered from the sunburn.


19 thoughts on “Taking the Mawddach Trail – OT, ish…

    1. kate Post author

      It’s lovely, isn’t it? (The walk and the bridge, that is. Latter a great place to while away a bit of time birdwatching… and with beer so close, too. It’s a hard life sometimes.)

  1. croftgarden

    Green shade, trees and a beach not to mention afternoon tea how divine!
    Diverting to socks, granny taught me to knit socks in the days when people wore knitted socks, and a friend who came to stay recently knits the most glorious rainbow socks. Alas I wear the pre-knitted kind too! Shameful.

    1. kate Post author

      It was just perfect!

      I’ve been taught how to knit socks recently but I’m no convert… I grew up with hand-knitted socks and the shame of it when all the other kids were in fine bought socks was just too traumatic. Also they either a) never stayed up or b) cut off my circulation at the knee…

        1. kate Post author

          Ah, but did you ever have the swimsuit horror? Sorry, that should be – drum rrrroll – The Swimsuit Horror.

          Carefully knitted by elderly great-aunt, worn (under protest, but gave in to ‘Get it on right now, Madam, it will upset Nellie if you don’t’) by me as five-year-old fashion diva. The shame, the shame. I can’t talk about it. Too traumatic. Let’s just say that I bet it’s still the subject of conversation on the Isle of Man…

        2. croftgarden

          I thought I’d erased all memories of knitted swimsuits, liberty bodices and big blue serge knickers from psyche. Obviously the sartorial indignities inflicted on the children of the 1950s were deeply engrained!

        3. kate Post author

          There was no excuse for my mother – the Great Port Erin Swimsuit Incident happened in the early 60s. Terrible. Terrible.

          (It was white and, looking back, was doubtless acrylic; it certainly seemed to set off sparks – but I may be hallucinating on that one. What came over Auntie Nellie, I cannot imagine.)

    1. kate Post author

      Thanks – all it needed, really, was a quick knitting break… We could have fitted one in; we had to wait a bit for our lift back. Oh well, might just as well eat ice cream instead!

  2. knitsofacto

    I could drive across, I could walk this walk, and no doubt I would fall in and there’d be no Magnums. Your description is almost too perfect to risk reality and walk the trail myself. Great post Kate, and yes, you could knit it, but would you want to wear it?

    I had one of those aunt knitted swimsuits in the early 60s too, I was too small to have a memory of it, but (lowers voice to a whisper) there are photographs … (shudder).

    1. kate Post author

      I think it’s very weather dependent – do the walk on a cold, blowy or just downright normal day, and you’d have a very different experience. Plus when you arrive in Dolgellau at about 6pm, everything is closed (except the pub) and however much you want a Magnum, you won’t want to sit outside with one. We must have pleased the gods somehow!

      Not photographic evidence! Fortunately there are no photos of the Isle of Man Shocker – quite possibly my dad was too busy rolling around on the floor in hysterics to take any…

  3. VP

    This is my favourite bike ride in the whole wide world. We usually do it in the opposite direction so that the ice cream at the end is a cone with a choice of flavours and a 99 flake stuck in it 🙂

    On my first holiday with my husband (who was boyfriend at the time) we stayed in a cottage on the side of Cader Idris. One day walking above the estuary we saw a waterspout slam into the side of the railway bridge. Very dramatic!

    1. kate Post author

      WOW on the waterspouts – we are prone to them here, but I’ve never seen one, though a friend of mine watched a succession of six progressing along the coast last year…

      It’s a stunning bike ride, isn’t it? The being flat really helps, perfect for people like me. I nearly bought a house on the side of cadre but it was sliding downwards, plus it faced north so the gardening would have been a real challenge. Moss, mostly. You’ll both have to come back and do the ride again!


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