An estuary walk by train
Travel time from London: 5.5 hours
Travel time from Bristol: 5.5 hours
Author’s adventure tip: The Cambrian Coast Line runs from Machynlleth to Porthmadog. What it lacks in travel speed and quick national links, it more than makes up for in stunning coastal and mountain scenery.
All this wonderful remoteness might leave you internet-free so you might like to print the route timetables before you travel.
Top train tip: Want a few more minutes on the beach? The Signalbox website shows real-time train delays right across Great Britain.
Practicalities: Barmouth Station doesn’t have a toilet but there’s one just two minutes walk away. Along the trail there are toilets at Penmaenpool and Morfa Mawddach.
The trail can be exposed so dress accordingly. There are no shops until you reach Dolgellau but the George III Hotel at Penmaenpool serves delicious lunches in their Estuary Bar.
Barmouth Bridge closure: Work is ongoing to protect this stunning viaduct. It will be closed during the autumn of 2022. We recommend you check Barmouth Bridge closure times before you travel. Check the trains but you can still walk the Mawddach Trail without the bridge crossing. Just get off the train at Morfa Mawddach Station (request stop).
Your train adventure
It’s not often your walk-by-train takes you along a disused railway then over the same bridge as your train ride. We guarantee that twice won’t be enough for the views from the Barmouth Viaduct. With mountains one way and the sea the other, you won’t know which way to face.
Your estuary trail walk
The Mawddach Trail runs along a disused railway path between Dolgellau and Barmouth.
Very appropriate for an adventure by train.
There isn’t a train station in Dolgellau anymore so this walk (or cycle) starts in Barmouth, then you have a choice. Walk the 14 km into Dolgellau then catch a bus back or walk to delightful Penmaenpool, enjoy a picnic or pub lunch then wander back at your own pace.
The views will be just as good whichever way you’re travelling.
As long as the weather’s good and you keep turning round, you’ll be treated to some of the most stunning sea and mountain views in Wales.
Your Mawddach Trail walking route
I’ve described the shorter walk to Penmaenpool but the Mawddach Trail is well signposted all the way to Dolgellau.
Your walking route on OS Maps: The Mawddach Trail
This 11.5 km (7 miles) linear walk takes you along the tidal Mawddach Estuary. You’ll find good terrain on with no steep slopes on this disused railway line. Watch out for cyclists.
And of course, leave absolutely no trace.
- Find the Barmouth Viaduct
Leave Barmouth Station and head for the waterfront. Walk round the harbour area then carefully along the road until you find the footpath. Linger on the bridge as long as you want, it’s a mesmerising experience.
2. From Morfa Mawddach Station
From Morfa Mawddach Station follow the trail along the lane, past the toilets then onto a tree-lined track. At Arthog cross a lane then a bridge to get your first views of the strange inlets and pools that line this section of the walk.
3. Keep your eyes open
This really is a can’t-go-wrong trail. Keeping the estuary on your left watch out for fish in the tidal pools, flocks of siskins, and the rather strange WWII anti-tank blocks (invasion defences) near one of the picnic areas.
4. Penmaenpool (Llynpenmaen)
The Afon Mawddach pools rather beautifully just below the bridge at Penmaenpool. It’s mesmerising on its own but sit here long enough and you’ll catch a glimpse of boats or paddle boards. Once you’ve stared at the stunning white wooden bridge for a while, it’s definitely worth making the effort to cross at least to the middle of it. And there’s always the pub before you turn around and head back to Barmouth.
Return routes to Barmouth
Linear walks aren’t always satisfying but this one has such different views on the return journey, it’s hard to find fault with it.
If you do want to venture all the way into Dolgellau, the buses back to Barmouth will take you down the other side of the estuary. Lloyds coaches run an hourly bus to Porthmadog, which stops in Barmouth on the way.
A little confession
When I discovered the Mawddach Trail I was travelling by campervan instead of train. It wasn’t until I had walked from Dolgellau to Morfa Mawddach that I registered what a cracking train adventure this would make. I’m returning in July to check I’m right.
The greens and the blues
As I left Dolgellau, the riverside was pretty and green. Exactly what you’d expect from an early May river walk. I was tempted at more than one pool to stop and take a dip but the map was urging me onwards. The intriguing tufty blue marsh symbols, closely followed by wide areas of sand and estuary streams just invited discovery.
Not my usual type of bog
I’m used to Dartmoor so I wasn’t sure what was coming up next. I knew not to expect peaty green upland bog but the swathes of swaying grasses on both sides of the path just before Penmaenpool were a genuine surprise. Gleaming golden in the sunlight, they fascinated me, and I stopped to take far too many photos.
Charm and relaxation
Mindful of the distance I still needed to cover, I took a short break at Penmaenpool, during which I enjoyed the sunshine, chatted to a local chap and watched some adolescent canoeing practice. Everybody was very friendly. I could have stayed much longer.
Is this really Wales?
But the best was yet to come. The section to Arthog took my breath away. I had been blessed with the most idyllic of days. A gentle breeze kept me cool as the late spring sunshine highlighted the true beauty of the Mawddach Trail. I’m not sure whether it was the creeping tidal pools, the mountain views or the smell of brackish water that transported me but suddenly I was back in New Zealand, in the Bay of Islands to be precise, exploring coastal tracks amongst the mangroves.
The disappearing destination
The Barmouth Bridge appeared surprisingly early along the trail, and drew me forward at a pace quicker than my usual meander.
It’s early emergence however was something of an optical illusion. Not so much a hidden summit, more a withdrawing bridge. Every time I thought I was nearly there, it nudged just that little bit further west.
I didn’t mind, I was enjoying the type of views that people cross continents to see.
Crossing Barmouth Bridge
When I eventually arrived at Barmouth Viaduct my distance walked ceased to matter. I loved everything about it. The sand encroached railway track, the new wooden balustrades, the yellow/blue contrast of the estuary and the harbour views.
Almost as much as I loved the pizza at ISIS Pizzeria on the harbour front!