August 14th, 2019
We continue our North Wales travel series with a fun-filled trip to Barmouth – a pretty tourist town just a stone’s throw away from the Oakeley Arms Hotel in Southern Snowdonia.
Did you know, that William Wordsworth was a big fan of Barmouth? And here were we thinking that he never left the Lake District! Wordsworth famously declared the estuary views from Barmouth “sublime; which many compare with the finest in Scotland”. High praise indeed; and Wordsworth was just one of the many Victorian “celebs” who fell in love with this little corner of the North Wales Coast. John Ruskin, Charles Darwin, Alfred Tennyson and Percy Shelley are all said to have flocked here for the restorative sea air and bracing coastal ambles.
And who are we to disagree? The point in Southern Snowdonia where the River Mawddach spills its lively contents into Cardigan Bay is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful estuaries in Wales. The Mawddach Estuary is defined by vast sea views, wooded mountain slopes, flat, mud plains, the traditional seaside town of Barmouth and the steep foothills of Cadair Idris mountain.
And one of the highlights of the locality is the popular Mawddach Trail – a walking and cycle route that runs between Barmouth and the inland town of Dolgellau along an old railway line. And the walk is well worth the boot leather because there are more spectacular views to be had along the way, not least as you cross the iconic Barmouth Bridge (you can only cross this by foot, bike or as a train passenger). The bridge was opened in the 1867 and provided crucial transport links between the Welsh Coast and Mid Wales, the Midlands and Northern England.
Before the industrial revolution steamed its way here, Barmouth harbour was lined with fishing boats and the clang of busy ship-yards resounded up into the hills. However, by the mid 1800’s the railways had whipped the wind from the sails of the great boats as they gave way to rail and Barmouth’s industry gave way to tourists.
Residents of the smoggy, busy cities of industrial England cried out for clean, restorative seaside air. With the fast new railway links in place, Barmouth was the perfect destination for the holidaying city dwellers and it soon became a fashionable holiday hotspot. And after something of a decline in the 1960’s, when cheap packages of sun and sangria began to replace traditional Welsh coastal holidays, Barmouth is once again a thriving seaside town with plenty to explore.
The long sandy beach is certainly one of the highlights, and during the summer months you might even spot a happy donkey or two, waiting patiently for an amble along the beach. There are the usual plethora of seaside amusements and arcades, and one or two culinary gems. Little and big kids will love the fabulous ice cream shop Knickerbockers and the brilliant old fashioned sweet shop where you can buy pretty much any kind of sugar rush you fancy.
Also worth a visit is the RNLI station on the promenade. There has been a lifeboat in Barmouth since 1828 and the teams have been awarded 13 medals for gallantry over the years. The station is an RNLI “Explore” station, which means the public can visit and meander the station and boat and even book a tour (subject to availability of staff, they are busier during summer months).
Another famous walk is the mile or so up to one of the most famous viewpoints in Barmouth – one that would have left even old Wordsworth lost for words. The Panorama Gardens sit handsomely at the top of the eastern edge of town, but those spectacular views don’t come for nothing. It’s a fair old trek (yep, all uphill) to the top, although there is a car park nearby. In Wordsworth’s day there was a penny charge for entry to the gardens, but these days they are free to wander and explore. The highlight is of course the views of the Mawddach estuary, which are at their best on a sunny day when the sweep across the estuary is breathtaking. But, even on a grey day the clouds hang from the hills like dark curtains and give the landscape an ethereal atmosphere, and the mighty Cadair Idris mountain loomed behind us, almost beckoning us to climb it and give it a go. But, that will just have to wait until next time we come back to beautiful Barmouth.