Spotlight on Barmouth

 

My first ever recollections of Barmouth are of sitting on the foreshore, measuring the width, length and depth of pebbles, at one metre intervals - that was lengthways and crossways across the whole beach.

 

That's perhaps not the most exciting way to spend a holiday you might think,

But as fascinating as that sounds my inaugural visit was part of a geography field trip to analyse the intricate effects of the tides and waves on the abundant mass of stone shingle.

 

It was all meant to give me and my fellow sixthform classmates an in depth insight into the physical and human geography of the area. But perhaps in retrospect, we didn't learn all that much - well certainly not about the most enjoyable aspects of this enchanting holiday resort on the Cardigan Bay coastline.

 

Barmouth in the mid 80s as I remember, was a fairly quiet and unassuming town. It had a small number of shops, some hotels and fair number of traditional-looking buildings that flecked the hillside.

 

 

The foaming blue waters, hazy far horizon, and broad expanse of beach were perhaps among its most impressive features. And visitors today would almost certainly find this still to be true.

 

When travelling here in peak season, people will often find the promenade and shopping area, which has expanded since the 80s, awash with hordes of people. The area has perhaps never been as popular as it has become in the last 25 years.

 

The largely shingle beach seems to have disappeared or been submerged by golden swathes of sand that cover the extensive foreshore. And the beach is now marked by regular sand breaks to make sure it doesn't migrate to anywhere else and stays securely and firmly put.

 

 

Palm trees have also been planted at regular intervals along the promenade and a series of Victorian-style guesthouses and an assortment of souvenir, food and gift shops all spill out onto to the wide sections of grey-white pavement.

 

It's certainly worth getting up early in the summer months to watch the sun creep steadily over the horizon, and you'll have most of the beach, if not all of it to yourself. A misty spectrum of crimson, purple, violet and turquoise colours all typically radiate out across the sea and sky as the sun climbs cheerily into view.

 

 

The crystals clear waters ebb and flow with the tide and are comparable to seashores found on the Med. So swimming, boating or other watersports are a definite must.

 

The Snowdon massif can be seen in the distance, and local mighty mountain, the Cader Idris and the Rhinogs provide a stunning hinterland to the area behind the town.

 

There is also a fun fair, amusement arcades and good old fashioned tea rooms, pubs and souvenir shops - basically your typical seaside paraphernalia.

 

 

Barmouth Harbour and its bridge are also among the premier landmarks in the town, and well worth taking the time to check out and explore.

 

The bridge, used to carry part of the Great Western Railway line all the way from Ruabon in East Wales to Barmouth. Passing through Bala and Dolgellau, there was a full passenger service to this area from 1867. However, it was axed along with many other rural and less profitable routes under the auspices of Dr Beeching in the mid 1960s.

 

Today, there is a extensive walkway along side the railway track which now is used as part of the Cambrian Railways from Shrewsbury to Pwllheli, and there are exceptional views from here of the Mawddach Estuary and beyond.

 

The Bridge, also built in 1867 and now a grade II listed structure, leads on to the picturesque village of Friog and also very close to the Fairbourne and Barmouth Steam Railway. This narrow gauge leisure line is ideal for families with youngsters and provides an excellent diversion on a day out.

 

People could also try walking five miles upstream across the Mawddach Estuary to the enchanting hamlet of Penmaenpool. The George III pub in these here parts is well worth visiting for a light lunch or refreshing round of drinks.

 

Just to add, Barmouth Harbour is normally home to a wide range of sailing and fishing boats that are more often than not moored in an irregular fashion in the shallower reaches of the bay.

 

And this part of the town is definitely the place to head for if you're keen to spend some time on the water. There are several boat hire services stationed here, and Barmouth Boat Trips (07775 671 204) or Emily's Ferry and River Trips (07765 502404) would be well worth trying out. People can also take a ferry all the way to the nearest village across the River Mawddach, which also just happens to be Fairbourne again.

 

Barmouth actually began life as a port and shipbuilding town in the 18th century. It was famous for its woollen exports, derived largely from the farms around Dolgellau, in addition to its trade in slate, oak timber and bark and paving stones.

 

A Spanish ship was said to have foundered off the coast of Barmouth in the early 18th century (1709), and cannons, three anchors, a bronze bell dating from 1677, and slabs of marble were recovered from the wreckage in the late 70s (1978). They all now take pride of place at Barmouth's small maritime museum, Ty Gwyn which can be found on the street known simply as the Quay. Dubbed the Bronze Bell shipwreck exhibition, the displays chart the highlights of much of the salvage operation.

 

Barmouth's old town is situated largely in the hills and slopes that arise from behind the beach and coastal area. And people could try the Panorama Walk, please see our walk's section, which takes in some of this terrain.

 

 

One of the most famous sections of the old town is the Rock where local reknowned philanthropist Mrs Fanny Talbot built a number of cottages.

 

Inspired by her friend, author and critic, John Ruskin, she donated the buildings to his Guild of St George, which was developed primarily to offer affordable accommodation to people in rural communities.

 

Ruskin, who was a pioneer of social welfare reform in Victorian times, was also a keen advocate of bringing education to the masses. Again, following his lead, Mrs Talbot also donated 400 so that Barmouth's first public library could be built.

 

One of the most famous residents at the Rock cottages was actually a relation of Mrs Talbot's through marriage. Her son had gone to study fine arts in Paris, and had eventually wed the daugther of one philosopher and writer, Auguste Guyard.

 

However, Monsieur Guyard was certainly no ordinary man. He was perhaps France's very own version of John Ruskin. He mixed in powerful and elite circles and was said to be on first name terms with Napoleon III, Leo Tolstoy and Victor Hugo.

 

He wrote several books including one called 'The Religion of God, of the Universe and Humanity' where he discussed in depth his thoughts on 'fusionism' or how mankind could incorporate religion successfully into their everyday lives.

 

Guyard had tried to develop a commune style village in France at Frotey-Les-Vesoul (where he actually grew up), however his new wave philosophies were badly received by the local authorities, and after a time in prison he fled France once and for all and decided to settle in Barmouth.

 

Records stated he lived a very happy life in the town and immersed himself in country living. He was known for his kindness, love of animals and passion for life's simple pleasures. On his death in 1882, he was actually buried above the cottages, and a plaque was fixed to a wall to mark his grave and to pay him an enduring and everlasting tribute.

 

Factfile

 

Barmouth, it was widely thought in the February of 1944, was under siege from a crack team of commandos on a recon mission from the German army. Hitler it seemed had ditched Dover, Folkestone or any other south eastern ports, and was favouring guerrilla-style warfare right in the heart of a Welsh seaside resort.

 

Local troops stationed there, were shocked when it was discovered the town's armoury had been broken into, and some 5000 rounds of ammunition had been stolen in addition to three rifles. Some of the 200 marine or cadet officers in training there went up local mountain Dinas Oleu, only to discover the 'invading Germans' were actually three local schoolboys who had taken the weapons to shoot at wild rabbits and tin cans.

 

 

Summary of places to visit

 

Barmouth Bridge

For those wanting something in the way of a substantial walk then Barmouth Bridge is the place to start. It spans the lower reaches of the Mawddach Estuary and provides a link between Barmouth and the villages of Fairbourne and Friog. The course of the River Mawddach runs close to holiday cottage Glyn-yr-aur,and people can also easily walk along the river bank during their stay. There is a small toll to cross the bridge, but it's certainly worth it for the far-reaching views of Cardigan Bay and the Cader Idris and Rhinog mountains. The bridge can be found just a five minutes walk outside of the town.

 

Boating

Boats are perhaps one of the best modes of transport that there is; and Barmouth Harbour certainly offers plenty of opportunities to sail around Cardigan Bay.

 

There are ferries that sail across to Fairbourne from Barmouth from Easter onwards each and every year. Famous visitors who have taken a Barmouth ferry include reformer and writer, John Ruskin, naturalist Charles Darwin, poet Percy Shelly and politician and elder statesmen William Gladstone.

 

Barmouth Boat Trips (07775 671 204) or Emily's Ferry and River Trips (07765 502404) are two of the main boat operators in the town.

 

Museum - Ty Gwyn, The Quay, Barmouth

The Ty Gwyn Museum on Barmouth's seafront perhaps is maritime exhibition centre that punches well above its weight.

 

Apart from local memorabilia and ephemera, the organisation is home to the Bronze Bell Shipwreck Exhibition which was begun in 1978. It actually showcases the remains of a Spanish vessel that was believed to have been wrecked off the coast of Barmouth in 1709. The ship was thought to have contained rare and now highly valued Carrera marble from Italy, as well as a magnificent bronze bell, cannons, anchors, ammunition and other varied trinkets. Some of the marble, it's reported, was meant to have been used in the refurbishment of St Paul's Cathedral in London.

 

Barmouth and Fairboune Light Railway, Beach Road, Fairbourne

 

 

This light railway was actually built by the McDougal Family, they of the McDougal flour dynasty, and its sole purpose was to transport building equipment to Fairbourne so that the relatively small town could be developed.

 

If it wasn't for the foresight and generosity of a whole host of volunteers, then the Barmouth and Fairbourne Light Railway would never have come into being in the later part of the 20th century. For more details and train running times please go to the following website: www.fairbournerailway.com or ring 01341 250362

 

Shops

The Rock Shop, Beach Street, Barmouth (01341 280723)

Dedicated to selling its namesake favourite, the Rock Shop is certainly worth a visit. Found on Beach Street, people can choose between the different varieties and take away a traditional seaside souvenir.

 

Oriel Gallery, High Street, Barmouth (www.orielgallery.co.uk)

Original work from local artists can be found at this gallery as well as limited edition prints and cards.

 

The Set Piece, Beach Road, Barmouth (01341 280552)

This gift shop specialises in Welsh crafts, jewellery, watches, clocks, house names and numbers in addition to a wide selection of leather goods.

 

Fat Buddha, 1 Tyn y Coed, High Street, Barmouth (www.thefatbuddhacompany.com)

This exotic shop is home to textiles, arts and crafts, Asian food, jewellery, instruments and ethnic clothing.

 

Regatta Great Outdoors, High Street, Barmouth (01341 280591)

A wide range of outdoors clothing and gear can be found at this store in the centre of Barmouth.

 

 

What's on this year at Barmouth

 

Barmouth to Fort William Three Peaks Yacht Race

Saturday 19 June 2010 Start time: 3.00pm

www.threepeaksyachtrace.co.uk

This race certainly gives new meaning to the word challenge. Teams of three sailors and two runners have to sail between Barmouth and Fort William. But there is a small catch; the runners are required to scale the highest peaks in Wales and England and Scotland as part of the journey. The peaks concerned would be Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis. Many events are also planned on the quayside before and after the yachts set off. The winners are the ones to complete the race in the fastest time. Sometimes there's a four day difference between the leaders and those following behind.

 

The Barmouth Kite Festival

Saturday 26 and Sundah 27 June 2010

Head down to Barmouth on the above summer weekend to see some world class kites take to the sky. For more details, please ring 01562 66102.

 

Country Music and Linedancer Festival

Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 July 2010

Talbot Square, Barmouth (01341 280925)

Can't afford to holiday in Nashville or a take a trip to the Grand Ol Opry this year? Then let a large slice of Americana wend its way over to you. Throughout the 4th of July weekend, Barmouth will be celebrating all things country. So get out your cowboy boots, stetson and head on down to Talbot Square.

 

RNLI Open Day

Sunday 16 August 2010

www.barmouthlifeboat.co.uk

The national lifeboat service relies heavily on the generosity of the public to keep its vital service alive. This fundraising open day lets people have a behind-the-scenes look at the local centre's operations. There will also be games, face painting and other activities organised for children.

 

Barmouth Walking Festival

Saturday 18 - Monday 27 September 2010

www.barmouthwalkingfestival.co.uk

This perennial favourite sees increasing numbers flock to Barmouth each year. Suitable for all ages and abilities, many of the festival walks follow trails close to our holiday cottage, Glyn-yr-aur. For details of exact routes, times and schedules, please go to the website listed.