The Mawddach Trail follows the route of a disused railway line along the southern shore of the spectacular Mawddach Estuary. The eminent Victorian, John Ruskin said that no walk in the world had views to compare with the route from Barmouth to Dolgellau, other than those from Dolgellau to Barmouth. The views towards Diffwys and the Rhinogydd and up the valley to Y Garn and the Aran Mountains are unsurpassed.
The GWR was built in 1865 to carry tourists and, occasionally slate, but it was closed by Beeching in 1965. Only the iconic iron and timber railway bridge across the Mawddach Estuary is still used by modern trains, albeit slowly. The advent of the railway was perhaps the death knell for the harbour industry and boat building in the Mawddach but even so, the bridges at Barmouth and Penmaenpool were built with spans to accommodate large boats. Commercial shipping had ceased by the First World War.
Although predominantly sandy, the Mawddach estuary has some of the most extensive and pristine areas of sheltered mud in Cardigan Bay. This is important for marine worms, crustaceans and bivalves, and these are important for waders and wildfowl. Pioneer saltmarsh vegetation such as Glasswort and Cord-grass grades into areas of Sea Lavender and extensive brackish stands of Common Reed. Penmaenpool Reedbed is one of the largest in Wales. Sedge Warblers and Grasshopper Warblers breed there and large flocks of Pied Wagtails roost in Winter.
It is rare in Britain for an estuary to exhibit such a full range of ecological transitions, from intertidal to terrestrial habitats with saltmarsh, grazing marsh, reedbed, and woodland. In particular, Arthog Bog is the only estuarine raised mire in North Wales. This rare peatland is floristically and entomologically rich with several locally or nationally scarce species. The grazing marshes around the estuary have some of the largest populations of breeding Redshank and Snipe in Gwynedd. On the side of the valley, the RSPB’s woodlands at Coed Garth Gell have the Pied Flycatchers, Redstarts and Wood Warblers which so typify Welsh oak woods.
The Mawddach Trail is clearly marked and can be easily followed. You can join the trail from any of the following locations where there are car parks: Y Marian Dolgellau, Pont y Wernddu, Penmaenpool, Arthog, Morfa Mawddach, Barmouth. The route is level and suitable for walkers, cyclists, prams and wheelchair users.