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.
This 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,
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,
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.