The Mawddach Trail is an old railway track that traces the Afon Mawddach (river Mawddach) from the small market town of Dolgelleau through to the costal resort Barmouth on the Cardigan Bay.
Another old family favourite, the route itself is around 9 miles (15km), one way, and winds through the picturesque Welsh country side flanked by the Rhinogs to the north and Cadair Idris to the south. The route follows a disused railway track that was once a branch line of the Great Western Railway that used to ferry tourists to the bustling seaside resort of Barmouth.
This whole area around Dolgellau has a great sense of familiarity to me and the region never fails to bring back childhood memories. Whether it is our cars struggling on the incredibly steep section of the A470 just before Dolegellau or the looming Cadair Idris and its inhospitable weather, the town has been a backdrop to many pleasant family trips. Forcing ourselves to walk both the outward and return journey of the Mawddach trail is no exception to this and the 18 mile return journey is just as long as it was when my legs were much shorter!
Starting in Dolgellau, the walk is very simple to follow, and in contrast to most walks in the region completely flat. As such depending on the time of the year it may well see more cycle traffic than foot traffic.
The walk starts off a fairly standard countryside walk. You cross a couple of roads, and walk through a small wooded area before reaching Penmaenpool. Here you will find a toll bridge and the George III hotel where, should it be necessary to quench your thirst, you can have a beer in a very quaint old building that was, apparently, built to service the local boating industry.
Once you pass Penmaenpool, however, the walk really comes into its own. The trail suddenly opens up giving beautiful views over the estuary and surrounding mountains. Regardless of weather, the cloud shrouded Rhinogs stand impressively and powerfully to the North and the river itself, with its tall reeds and sand banks, offers a beautiful contrast to the mountainous region behind it. In fact the dark and moody weather almost gives the scene more character.
The final stage of the “outward” journey is a walk over the river itself on a footbridge that runs parallel to a railway line. From here, the view is magnificent with the river stretching as far as the eye can see and framed by some of the most beautiful ranges in United Kingdom. If you have previously hiked some of the ranges in the Dolgellau region, standing on the footbridge on the way to Barmouth is a very picturesque way of standing back and looking at your prior achievements.
While the route itself is not a challenging walk, the length of it may be. Nine miles is a long undertaking (particularly if you are doing it after multiple days hiking in the region) however Barmouth is not short of nice restaurants or fish and chip shops in which you can rest your weary legs and recuperate with some great British fare. I’ve always opted to walk back and complete the 18 miles, however there is a bus that runs approximately once an hour and that will take you back to Dolgellau.
If you are in the area, it is definitely worth walking parts of the trail, if not all. One of the more pleasant parts is the section just after Penmaenpool and if short of time you can park up by the Penmaenpool toll bridge and have a short wander up and down the westward section. However, the footbridge is incredibly impressive, so if your legs will allow it, I would recommend walking to Barmouth and celebrating with fish and chips on the beach.