Historic Landscape Characterisation

Mawddach - Area 9 Mawddach estuary(PRN 18339)



Historic background

This area comprises the tidal estuary of the Afon Mawddach, with its sandbanks and marshy flatlands, as far inland as the present A470. It has drainage/flood banks at its inland end and is crossed here and at its mouth by bridges. The latter is a viaduct constructed as part of the Cambrian Railway in 1867, while the trestle bridge further inland (built in 1879 across from Penmaenpool) is one of only a few wooden structures of its kind in Britain.

In 1188, Gerald of Wales described his journey around Wales with Archbishop Baldwin which involved crossing over the mouth of the Mawddach by the ferry on the same day we ferried over the birfucate river Maw' (probably a reference to the fact that two ferries were used, one from Penrhyn point to Ynys y Brawd, and another shorter one from there to the mainland). (The name of the island near Barmouth has probably given rise to the story that the ferry was run in the late medieval period by local monks.) Later it was run by local fisherman: the Survey of the Ports, Creeks and landing places on the Welsh Coast' (published in 1569) recorded that Bermowe had towe litel Bootes that the said Res ap Res and Harry ap Eden do use to carry men over that passage'. From the reign of George III, the ferry was owned by the Barmouth Harbour Trust and was let annually to tenants, who were the owners of Penrhyn Farm (area 10), at the northern end of the promontory. Up until 1860, when it was sold, the ferry provided the main income for the farm as the Royal Mail route then ran from Dolgellau to Barmouth, across to Penrhyn Farm and then on to Towyn and Machynlleth.

By the mid-19th century the ferry, which still from Penrhyn point, transported slate from quarries in the Panteinon Valley along with lead, copper and manganese from Cyfannedd fawr above Arthog (area 15), across the estuary to Barmouth (area 01), whence it was shipped out. With the increase of goods from Barmouth after the 17th century came an increase in demand for ships (and thus an increase in boat yards) at places like Penmaenpool and Borthwnog. On the north side of the estuary and at the eastern end, Maes-y-garnedd was a busy ship-building centre as well as a trading centre for the distribution of goods and merchandise (including flour, oatmeal, beans, rye, timber, bark etc) from Barmouth for local people inland around Dolgellau. On the southern side, Penmaenpool stands on an inlet. The George III hotel had been built by 1650, originally as two separate buildings, one a pub, the other a ship-builders. Boats were generally built here, then towed across to Barmouth for the fitting of sails, rigging etc. The 18th and 19th centuries saw a lot of boat building (between 1750 and 1865 318 vessels were launched), but it more or less ceased with the coming of the railway in 1867 (when the two buildings were amalgamated). The railway, which ran from Morfa Mawddach station to Dolgellau runs in front of the hotel. It was closed in 1964, and now acts as The Mawddach trail': it is partly an RSPB bird-watching sanctuary. The area is described as Strand' on the 1842 Dolgellau tithe map. The area has been magnet for tourists and visitors for a couple of hundred years, and was particularly popular during the Romantic period (see section 8.7 above) when travel to the Continent was not possible. It was heavily promoted later in the 19th century as a place for wealthy Midlands industrialists to buy land and build exotic houses.

Key historic landscape characteristics

Estuary, mudflats, marsh, reedbeds

The Mawddach estuary is located in a wide, glacially-excavated valley which has extensive sandflats throughout its length, with areas of muddy sediments and large areas of saltmarsh. It is a largely- intact estuarine system, which contains good examples of intertidal to terrestrial ecotones, from saltmarsh to grazing marsh, including reedbeds, woodland and rock exposures.

It is predominantly a sandy estuary but also has extensive areas of muddy shore (which is rare in north Wales) including some of the most extensive sheltered mudflats in the Cardigan Bay area. Rock forms a narrow strip around much of the upper shore, where it is dominated by lichens and fucoid algae. Saltmarsh (the third-largest area in Cardigan Bay) occurs along both shores, and there are extensive stands of common reed. Its mouth is protected by the sand and shingle Fairbourne Spit (area 10), and on the north side by Barmouth (area 01). Its special features are the estuarine habitats, particularly muddy sediments and saltmarshes, reed beds and raised mire. There is also a substantial species interest which includes several species of waterside birds, rare vascular plants, bryophytes and invertebrates.

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