Classic Family Ride: Mawddach Trail
Words and images: Eddie Allen
Mawddach Trail, Dolgellau to Barmouth, Wales.
Perhaps the most scenic and family friendly traffic free trail in North Wales, the Mawddach Trail runs for 9.5 miles from Dolgellau to Barmouth, following the path of a former railway line along the margins of the stunning estuary of Afon Mawddach.
You can pick up the trail anywhere along its length, however, both ends of the trail offer plentiful parking, food and drink, and bike hire is available at Dolgellau.
Above: No other ride will give you this experience...
Striking out from the pretty welsh town of Dolgellau, you'll be cycling along flat, well-surfaced tracks, with the broad estuary to your right, and the imposing craggy mass of Cadair Idris to your left. At over 800 metres in height, Cadair Idris is the mythical ‘King's Seat' and the views from the top are truly majestic, either looking inland or out to sea.
Above: Views from the bridge - left, looking west towards Cadair Idris. Right: looking back towards Barmouth
If you're feeling energetic, you can take the minor road from the path to the Creggen Lakes nature reserve, adding a new dimension to your ride. The striking feature of the trail comes at the Barmouth end. Not only does the Mawwdach trail end at the cheery seaside town, you gain access to Barmouth via the wonderful wooden railway toll bridge which spans the mouth of the river.
Above: Barmouth harbour, looking out to sea from the bridge.
The feeling of right across the clonking, aged timbers is fantastic, if a little unnerving at times, with the shallow sandy waters of the estuary flowing beneath you. Described in Rob Ainsley's excellent book ‘50 Quirky Bike Rides' as ‘the world's biggest xylophone', you'll rumble happily across, stop to take in the fantastic views and meeting similarly happy walkers and cyclists on your way.
You'll have to pay £1 return for the experience at the toll booth at the Barmouth end, by which time you'll be hungry and thirsty. Good news is that Barmouth is awash with chip shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants - enough to satiate the most fevered cyclist's appetite. Remember to pack a bucket and spade in your pannier, because there's a broad sandy beach to play on. You can even dip your tyres in the sea before you head back across the bridge and up the estuary to Dolegellau.
If you're with the family, you're looking at 2-3 hours there and back, so it's a great way to spend an afternoon together, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the mountains, riverside and sea on a totally traffic free path. The trail is suitable for beginners and families with small children and there are no gradients to contend with, apart from a few ramps on and off the trail.
Also near the trail at the Barmouth end is the seaside resort of Fairbourne. With its fairground and miniature railway, Fairbourne is a great way to punctuate the ride and allow the kids let off steam. You're also only a short drive away from the mountain biker's nirvana of Coed y Brenin, which has trails for just about every level of mountain biker.
For more info on the trail check out: http://www.mawddachtrail.co.uk/