Historic Landscape Characterisation - Mawddach Historical Themes

Historical Themes


The area which forms the focus of this particular study encompasses the whole of the area of Mawddach which has been identified on the Register of Landscapes of Outstanding Historic Interest in Wales by Cadw, CCW and ICOMOS, HLW(Gw) 14, in Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments, 1995, p121).

The Mawddach estuary enjoys a justifiable reputation as one of the finest and most spectacular natural sights in Wales, and has attracted an increasing number of tourists since the beginning of the 18th century. The area comprises a river estuary and surrounding coastal slopes situated to the west of Cadair Idris in southern Meirionnydd. Underpinning this beauty, of course, is a long and complex land-use history which has shaped the landscape over a period of several thousand years.

On the higher ridges above southern side of the estuary is a complex relict landscape which contains some of the most important and extensive early prehistoric monuments in Wales (including groups of bronze age funerary and ritual monuments, the so-called Ffordd-ddu (prehistoric) trackway, settlements and field systems (including Llys Bradwen)) around Cyfannedd and on Bryn Seward, as well as medieval settlements and associated enclosures, particularly around Llynnau Gregennen.

The area also displays an interesting and important age profile in terms of building, both in Barmouth town and out in the countryside. Settlement history in this area is more intricate than many parts of Meirionnydd, since the agricultural/vernacular settlement has an overlay of polite', gentry building associated with the development of the area as a fashionable venue in the nineteenth century; this may be linked with the romantic movement, when the area attracted many distinguished artists, writers and thinkers who valued (and recorded) the wild beauty in the landscape. Associated with this is the growth of tourism from c. 1800 onwards, spreading outwards from Barmouth, a history of which is very well documented in this area, particularly following the coming of the railway in 1867, when whole new communities' (such as Fairbourne and Arthog) were established which transformed the landscape and social infrastructure.

At the same time, the area attracted the attentions of rich Midlands industrialists who built impressive water-side mansions and planted many of the wooded hillslopes (Caerdeon and Glandwr Hall are just two examples on the north side of the estuary). The area, partly due to its clement, natural climate, has various designed landscape elements, utilising its natural advantages to the full. Many of these, such as Panorama Walk, date from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when a conscious effort was made to develop Barmouth as a tourist resort, but they often have earlier origins. On the south side of the Mawddach are the two great gardens of Garthangharad and Abergwynant, both of which include significant areas of fine woodland as well as areas of formal or semi-formal garden.

There is good evidence for the development of agricultural practices in the area, particularly in the complex relict landscape on the southern side of the estuary where there are series of earthwork and stone-built enclosures (some associated with prehistoric and medieval settlements), lynchets, field boundaries and an important series of field cow houses (associated with early farmhouses).

The hills just behind the northern slopes of the estuary witnessed a unique gold rush in the middle of the 19th century, which had a local landscape impact still discernible in the form of adits and levels (serious mining ended during the First World War), as well as being responsible for the development of Bontddu. At more or less the same time, across the estuary, two slate quarries were opened up in Panteinon Valley, although these were never the serious undertakings found further north, although their remains are clearly visible from below. There was limited lead, silver, copper and manganese mining above at from Cyfannedd fawr.

The theme of communication routes has always been important here. In addition to the supposed prehistoric route known as Ffordd Ddu, which heads inland from the coast following a number of important prehistoric monuments, the Barmouth ferry was an important institution which carried people across the mouth of the estuary from at least the medieval period (Gerald of Wales mentioned it). The ferry was also used as part of the Royal Mail route which ran from Dolgellau to Barmouth (in later years using the new turnpike road which passed through Bontddu), before crossing the estuary and heading south to Tywyn.

However, it was the opening of the coastal Cambrian Railway in 1867 (which linked Aberystwyth with Pwllheli), including the building of a permanent bridge across the mouth of the estuary, which dramatically altered the coastal landscape in the area, bringing an increasing of tourists and leading to the development of Barmouth and Llwyngwril, as well as the building of Fairbourne, in addition to many other new developments.

The popularity of the Mawddach estuary increased rapidly during the Romantic movement of the early 19th century (which co-incided with the growing popularity of Barmouth as a holiday destination), as has already been mentioned. The many visitors who stayed at Barmouth over the years, and described in letters and other writing the beauty of the area included Shelley and his wife Harriet, Wordsworth, Pennant, Charles Darwin, John Ruskin, Gladstone, William Wilberforce, General Booth and the Ladies of Llangollen. One of the earliest of the many painters who visited the area (often many times) was Richard Wilson. Finally, the first property donated to the National Trust (Dinas Oleu, above Barmouth) is here.


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Land ownership

Straddling a major estuary as it does, the project area lies within three medieval parishes and two commotes Llanaber (in the commote of Ardudwy), Brithdir and Dolgellau and Llangelynnin (both in the commote of Tal-y-Bont) (Williams-Jones, 1976, ). In the Merioneth Lay Subsidy Roll of 1292-3, Llanaber is recorded as being relatively well-off (worth between 30 40 shillings per thousand acres), Brithdir and Dolgellau is relatively poor (worth between 20 and 30 shillings per thousand acres) while Llangelynnin is one of the richest parishes in Merioneth (worth between 40 60 shillings per thousand acres).

There are several deserted rural settlement sites around Llynnau Gregennan (eastern end of area 14), but again no work has been carried out to put these in a landscape or economic context. Further east (in area 18), however, we have excellent documentation for, and surviving evidence of, a number of 17th-century farmsteads which belong to a series of medieval townships (Cefn-yr-owen, Dolgledr and Dyffrydan) and are probably situated on the same sites.

Where evidence from early maps (mid-19th century) exists, it suggests that the present fieldscapes have not changed much over the past 150 years or so. The present regime consists entirely of pasture fields (sheep and cattle, plus some horses) and no arable fields were noted during fieldwork.


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Although there is considerable evidence for prehistoric settlement and land-use in the area, much of this is in the form of ritual activity (see areas 8, 16, 20 and 24) and there is little to attest to land division and agriculture. A number of hut circle settlements and associated enclosures exist on the southern uplands of the Mawddach (areas already cited), but there is a surprising lack of the associated phenomenon known as wandering walls' (Bowen & Gresham, 1967). Only a single excavation (Crew, 1978) has been carried out here on a hut circle, which proved to be of 1st to 3rd century AD date. The Mawddach area did not have (and still hasn't) much decent arable land or other resources and was a marginal area, not heavily settled, with little to offer in the way of opposition to Roman authority or participation in the Romanised economy. It must have continued as a lightly-settled rural area with no real focus of settlement in the Roman period.

Around the top of Afon Gwynant there are several 17th-century farmsteads which documentary records show belonged to one of three medieval townships here (Cefn-yr-owen, Dolgledr and Dyffrydan). It is likely that the original names related to farmsteads on the present positions. Unfortunately, the 1840s Dolgellau tithe map which records them, contains just the names and approximate extent of the holdings so it is impossible to reconstruct field patterns of the period or say much about the type of agriculture being carried out, although the nature of the area today suggests that it has always been marginal.

Several of the field boundaries hereabouts (more so than in any other area around the Mawddach) consist of drystone walls on top of lynchets on the steeply-sloping ground which suggests some considerable period of use (elsewhere some might be considered prehistoric in origin if associated with contemporary settlement sites). There is no evidence for the distinctive pattern of quillets within the area around any of the known townships. Where evidence from early maps (mid-19th century) exists, it suggests that the present fieldscapes have not changed much over the past 150 years or so.

The land immediately adjacent to the north side of the estuary is very steep in places, and is now largely covered by woodlands, interspersed with areas of open pasture, often grazed by horses and/or cattle, as well as sheep. Some of this woodland is ancient or semi-natural (although the best examples are to be found on the south side, e.g. area 19) but much of it is modern forestry. Most of the enclosures are large and irregular in shape, and suggest post-medieval land divisions, probably originally for some form of arable cultivation (most of the fields have been carefully cleared of stone in what is generally a very rock-strewn area, although in the upland areas they remain uncleared, although no arable fields exist today. Some of the land towards the inland end of the estuary have clearly been drained, although most of this evidence for this activity comes from across the water.

The area south of the estuary is more interesting. Here we have a landscape of great contrasts, which sweeps down from the inhospitable summit of the Cadair Idris ridge, across the relatively fertile fields surrounding the early farms around Afon Gwynant and around Llynnau Gregennan, to the drained saltmarshes bordering the Afon Mawddach. Below the agriculturally-unimproved scree and above the steep, wooded slopes which extend down to the level of the estuary, there is an area running west east which comprises relatively good agricultural land. Although this is all currently down to pasture, the nature of many of the field boundaries here (either walls on top of substantial lynchets (e.g. area 18), or substantial consumption' walls (built to use as much stone from the surrounding fields as possible) (as in the eastern end of area 14) suggests clearance for some form of arable cultivation (if only hay for fodder).

Some of the lynchets may have their origins in the prehistoric period (there is no associated settlement but their shape and appearance are typical), although the consumption walls are probably later. Further west in area 14 (see photograph) and in area 15 there is evidence for prehistoric land division in the form of curvilinear stone-built walls. There is an interesting and distinctive series of drystone walls in area 23 to the south, on the sea-facing slopes, which is regular in pattern and unlike any patterns inland.

Area 18 in particular is characterised by a series of field cow houses, built as usual on hillslopes with an upper storey for storing hay). These appear to be mainly 18th or 19th century in date, although some are undoubtedly earlier.

As on the north side, the steep slopes on this side of the estuary are also largely wooded (this gives way to bare cliffs and fieldscapes as the slopes turn to face the sea). As described in area 19 below (and see photograph), much of this is important ancient or semi-natural woodland, although other sections (area 12, for example) are modern conifers or designed parkland (around Abergwynant, area 25).

Below these woods, on Morfa Mawddach near the mouth of the river is a large area, much of which was formerly owned by the Ynysfaig Estate, which as late as the early 18th-century was still unenclosed and labelled turbary'. In the early 19th century, a vast quantity of peat was cut from here, to be dried out and ferried across to Barmouth for export. Most of this area is now saltmarsh and designated as a SSSI.

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Medieval background

Six townships are recorded within the area covered by this project in the medieval period (Williams-Jones, 1976), all but one on the southern side of the estuary. Llanaber is a modern settlement, now an extension of Barmouth along the main coast road to the north (area 01). On the southern side were the townships of Dolgledr (now remembered in the name of a mountain area 08), Cefn-yr-Owen (remembered in both a hill and two modern farms, as well as other farmsteads here area 18), Cregennan (whose name is recorded today in both lakes and a farm area 14), Morfa Maenog (Morfa is a hill, but there is also an Afon Morfa area 15) and Llwyngwril (a modern village area 22). However, the 1840s Dolgellau tithe map also records farmsteads near Cefn-yr-owen as belonging to another township, that of Dyffrydan (see area 18).

The Merioneth Lay Subsidy Rolls records 101 tax payers in the parish of Llanaber in 1292-3 (a relatively high number compared with other parishes), while in Dolgledr there were 21, in Cefn-yr-owen 10, in Cregennan 16, in Morfa Maenog 12 and in Llwyngwril 28. (It is interesting that the highest populations were in the two settlements which survive as nucleated today.)

Nucleated settlements

There are few nucleated settlements in the area. On the northern side of the seaward end of the Mawddach estuary, Barmouth (area 01) was a small and inaccessible fishing settlement, first recorded in the 16th century (and still with some important early buildings on the steep hill side), until it started to develop in the 18th century. By 1770, the town was well-established as a small port in coastal trades, based largely on the Meirionnydd woollen industry, but it was the opening of the railway in 1867 that it expanded rapidly to cater for the new tourist trade. The town today has a distinctive Victorian architectural character.

Still on the north side of the estuary, Bontddu (area 05) is a small, almost-entirely 19th century ribbon development' along the main road which was extended from Dolgellau to Barmouth at the beginning of the 19th century, which largely owes its development to the gold mining boom which took place to the north of the village.

To the south of the estuary, Llwyngwril (area 22) also grew from small origins, at the point where the coach road crossed the Afon Gwrt, in the later nineteenth century after the arrival of the railway, expanding mainly via individually commissioned private houses (there are some good Arts and Crafts style houses dating from c. 1900-1920). Further north Arthog contains several interesting and 19th-century terraces of well-built houses along the main, while nearby Fairbourne (area 11) is an entirely twentieth century resort, and again (notwithstanding some hotels and commercial shops, post office etc.) is comprised mainly of private houses (mostly bungalows).

Non-nucleated settlements

Of the earlier vernacular landscape, the best evidence is in the two valleys which run down from the Diffwys upland into the Mawddach at Borthwnog and Bontddu (area 05), and the upland area immediately below the steep slopes of Cadair Idris (principally area 18). Both areas have seen some contraction of settlement, leaving behind a series of abandoned farmsteads. Building within a vernacular tradition continued until (roughly) the early nineteenth century when vigorous building programmes by estates introduced new styles and modes of building. This vernacular tradition is dominated by masonry in rough or quarry-dressed blocks, slate roofs (some earlier random slate roofs still survive), with gable copings to earlier buildings.

However, there is some evidence for a prior tradition of building in timber for example the former farmhouse at Cefn-yr-owen-uchaf (area 18) appears to have been cruck-framed originally, with stone walls added c. 1600. Most of these vernacular farmhouses are quite small (Cefn-hir-uchaf is single storeyed farmhouse), though the five bays of Cefn-yr-owen-uchaf denote a high status house. Garth Isaf (area 16) is another exception, as a unit-system farmstead of linked dwellings. There are two farm -houses in close proximity at Nant-y-gwyrddail (of 16th and 17th century dates see also area 18); this may suggest subdivision of a holding by partible inheritance. Many houses are of one and a half storeys (in contrast to the sub-medieval tradition further north, where storeyed houses predominated from the later 16th century); where two full storeys are found at an early period (e.g. the 17th-century houses at Hafod Dywyll (area 19) and Gallestra, Kings (area 18)), it probably denotes a higher status, as may be borne out by their inclusion as farms belonging to the township of Cefn-yr-owen (also area 18).

There is strong evidence of the work of estates shaping the landscape (evidence for which also exists in the tree planting and gardens which line both sides of the estuary (see area 03, 12, 25 etc.)). Penmaenpool is an estate village, with a terrace of workers cottages, and a model farm. Arthog similarly has very strong estate character (which is remarkably well-preserved), with terraced cottages, home-farm, and clear evidence of patronage in church, school and vicarage. Arthog Hall was built in 1833 in a deliberately picturesque style by a Lancashire cotton mill owner (see area 10 there are definite cultural resonances here). Later gentry houses suggest a divorce from agriculture however for example, Ty'n'y coed, Arthog (area 15) and the gothic house at Bontddu (area 05 - now the hotel), the Edwardian house at Glan y Mawddach and the fairy-tale castle of Coes-faen (both area 03).

Building types and material

The area displays a very interesting and important age profile in terms of building: there is a long chronology here with examples from the late-16th right through to the mid-20th century. Settlement history in this area is more intricate than many parts of Meirionnydd, since the agricultural/vernacular settlement has an overlay of polite', gentry building associated with the development of the area as a fashionable venue in the nineteenth century; this may be linked with the romantic movement, valuing wild beauty in the landscape. Associated with this is the growth of tourism, a history which is very well documented in this area (see areas 01, 11 and 22 below).

On the north side of the Mawddach, there is evidence for a continuous vernacular building tradition from the late 16th century, working with local stone as rubble and with slate roofs (though the ubiquity of gable copings probably indicates that this is a later replacement of thatch). Storeyed houses were common from the end of the 16th century, but the varied social context of building also ensures the survival from a later period of single-storeyed of lofted houses. Local stone is ubiquitous, varying in the manner of its dressing, coursing and finish (the quality of finish is one of the key indicators of social status, though other changes may be the result of changing quarrying techniques).

On the southern side, there is an important cluster of 17th-century farmsteads in the medieval townships centred around the top of the Afon Gwynant.

The significance of the unit-system' of linked dwellings, which is also common in Ardudwy, is interesting: Plas Canol and Lloyd are particularly good examples of this, with secondary dwellings associated with large, sub-medieval farmhouses (J Alfrey, pers comm).

This local vernacular style and building type is severely disrupted by the introduction of outside influences, traditions, the advent of the railway (and money!) from the industrial Midlands during the mid- to late 19th century. This is evidenced not only in new houses of this period (Croes-faen, on the northern side of the estuary (area 03) being a case in point, but there are many more), but also in the degree of modification to existing buildings at a later period (e.g. Ty'n y coed (area 15, owned then by a rich quarry owner) and Plas Canol).

The post-Cambrian Railway (finally opened throughout its length in 1867) settlements of Fairbourne, Arthog, Friog and Llwyngwril in particular all have several buildings constructed of brick, many of which are in the incongruous style of villas set in their own grounds rather than anything indigenous to the area. Each of these have significant terraces of early-mid 19th century house built of stone (Arthog terrace (area 10) is a particularly magnificent example), but later buildings in these ribbon developments are in general much larger, ornate structures.


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Relict archaeology

This topographically-varied area encompasses coast, river estuary, upland plateau and hill slopes. There is no archaeological evidence of human activity here before the neolithic period in the fourth and third millennia BC but the same is true for most of Meirionnydd. By comparison with the rest of north-west Wales, activity before the neolithic period would have been concentrated around the coast and its absence here may be the result of the submergence of relevant sites by rising sea-levels in the post-glacial period. Peat-beds have been found below the present high tide line on the coast at Llanaber, just north of the Mawddach area and these have produced red deer antlers and cattle bones. Further south at Borth and Ynyslas, Cardigan, other coastal peat deposits are exposed for some 5km along the shore. They appear as outcrops on the beach from beneath the adjoining Borth raised bog, under which they must extend, and consist of fen, alder carr and forest beds overlying salt marsh clay (Heyworth and Kidson 1982, 102). Radiocarbon dates give a date of c. 6000 BP for the underlying salt marsh and dates of c. 5400 BP to 3900 BP, at its lowest for the forest bed (ibid.). A number of casual archaeological finds have been made from these peats including a Mesolithic flint pick, flint flakes, an antler tool and a hearth which produced a date of c. 4000 BP from the surrounding peat (Sambrook and Williams 1996, 26) as well as bones of red deer and cattle. Buried peats and ancient forest beds have been identified on the coastal plain around the mouth of the Mawddach between Fairbourne and Arthog. These are as yet undated but are likely to be of a similar date to those at Borth and in future may produce evidence of human activity.

There are no neolithic chambered tombs in this area to indicate the presence of permanent settlement in the fourth and third millennia BC but there was certainly a human presence here as demonstrated by five finds of stone axes. In north-west Wales as a whole stray finds of axes occur much more widely than the distribution of chambered tombs, suggesting that they may derive from itinerant seasonal activity such as hunting, collecting or herding rather than permanent settlement.

The Mawddach area was certainly intensively used in the second millennium BC as demonstrated by the presence of two significant concentrations of funerary and ritual monuments typical of that period. One is on the south-facing slopes of Allt Llwyd, near Llwyngwril, the other is on the plateau to the south of the Cregennan Lakes, Arthog. Both areas contain a variety of types of burial monument and the Cregennan area also has a number of standing stones and cup-marked stones. The two areas are linked by an ancient route, the Ffordd Ddu, and the Cregennan area is also approached by another route from the west which has been identified as a prehistoric route because it is marked by two rows of standing stones and several burial cairns (Bowen and Gresham 1967). No actual settlement of that period has yet been identified here and it seems likely that both areas are specialised foci of funerary and ritual activity. The associated settlement may not have been far away, either in the lowland of the coastal plain or valleys or on better-drained slopes just above the coastal plain. The latter location is supported by finds of a stone axe-hammer from Fegla Fawr, a hillock at the south side of the Mawddach, and two separate finds of bronze axes on the hill slopes between Fairbourne and Arthog. Just outside the area are two finds of bronze axes on the slopes south of Allt Llwyd, two on the slopes north of the Afon Dysynni and one from the beach at Llwyngwril. A further relevant find, from Arthog, is that of a bronze bucket of a rare and imported Central European type belonging to the early first millennium BC (Hemp 1960). This was a chance find in the mid-19th century during peat-cutting. It may have been a ritual deposit but its location is close to the head of a navigable creek and so again may point to a link to routes rather than to settlement in the immediate vicinity.

The Mawddach area continued to be occupied but less intensively used during the first millennium BC. The estuary must have had some value for the access to the interior and the shelter it provided for ships on this open coast. There were three hillforts in the area, two overlooking the mouth of the estuary at Pared Cefn Hir and Craig y Castell and another above Llwyngwril at Castell y Gaer. The hillforts were small and clearly rather local centres of power and the associated settlement likewise was light and scattered. This contrasts with the situation in the second millennium when the Cregennan area was a major focus of funerary and ritual activity. There are remains of settlement of this general period, both enclosed and open, as well as field systems and enclosures on the upland of Allt Llwyd and between Llwyngwril and Islaw'r Dref. Excavation of one round house in advance of afforestation at Cyffanedd Fawr above Friog showed it to have been occupied between the 1st century BC to the 3rd century AD (Crew 1978, 1979, 1981) and most of the known settlement in the area can be expected to belong to this period. Another rectangular enclosure, possibly a settlement at Pant y Llan, Arthog has also produced a chance find of imported Roman pottery. The Mawddach area did not have much good arable land or other resources and was a marginal area, not heavily settled, with little to offer in the way of opposition to Roman authority or participation in the Romanised economy. It must have continued as a lightly settled rural area with no real focus of settlement in the Roman period.

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Parks and gardens

The area has various designed landscape elements, utilising its natural advantages to the full. Many of these date from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when a conscious effort was made to develop Barmouth as a tourist resort, but they often have earlier origins. On the north side of the estuary, Panorama Walk is a case in point. This was developed, probably, in the late 19th century as a tourist facility, and consists of a path leading to a viewpoint with magnificent views over the estuary and the sea, which leads off an old road north-east of Barmouth. Both road and footpath were present earlier, but the first part of the path was laid out during the relevant period with revetting, drainage channels, steps and embrasures for seats; from the second decade of the 20th century at least, there was a café near the point where the path branches off from the old road. This was possibly preceded by an earlier one on a nearby site, with associated pleasure grounds', but was closed during the second world war and did not subsequently reopen, although the path remains in use.

Nearby, and formerly with access to Panorama Walk, is the relatively small but significant garden of Glan-y-Mawddach. On a steeply sloping site with spectacular views, this terraced garden was developed during the early twentieth century, but the house is older and some of the terracing and footpaths were certainly present before this. The terraces around the house are fairly formal in character, while the main garden area, above the house, is largely wooded, with zig-zag paths and several small secret' gardens at different levels, incorporating water features, steps and statuary.

Further east, Caerdeon has a 19th-century garden with terraces below the house and woods above, again with views over the estuary, though more restricted than those of Glan-y-Mawddach. The woodland contains many informal paths, and there is a stream with waterfalls down the eastern side of the garden. There are minor gardens on this side of the estuary at Barmouth (area 01), Bontddu (area 05), Glandwr Hall and Farchynys (all area 03), all of which would have had views over the estuary, although some are now obscured by trees. Good plantings of trees survive at these and other sites a sure indication of designed landscapes of the 19th century, and sometimes earlier.

On the south side of the Mawddach, there is a minor garden associated with Arthog Hall (area 15) and the two great gardens of Garthangharad (area 16) and Abergwynant (area 25), the former on the valley side and the latter low down, close to the river. Both of these include significant areas of fine woodland and have views over the estuary. They also both have areas of formal or semi-formal garden, walled kitchen gardens, etc., and in their present form are basically of the 19th century.

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There is little of industrial archaeological interest in the area, and few, if any, major monuments. In about 1860, the owner of the copper mines above Bontddu (area 05) discovered gold, and the owners of the Figra and Clogau Copper Mining Company (actually situated outside the character areas considered in this report) took out a licence to extract gold, and by May 1861 profits were sufficient to initiate a mini gold rush in the area. Gwynfynydd Gold Mine was also established at this time but serious mining ceased during the First World War. All of these mines were water-powered; although around 150 shafts and levels are known in the mountains to the north of Bontddu, the three main centres of activity were those listed above (Farr, 2001). At Clogau the mining was adit mining, centred on inclined tunnels which were dug by hand until the 1870s, when compressor drills were introduced. Figra Mine was powered by a waterwheel which had been built as a crushing mill for the copper mine and was adapted to its new use in 1862. A zig-zag track and incline connected it with the mine above. At the end of the 19th century a new mill powered by a turbine was built, and downstream a smaller mill was in use until the 1930s.

At more or less the same time, across the estuary, two slate quarries were opened up in Panteinon Valley. Henddol was started in the early 1860s, was in production by 1865 but ceased production in 1871 following a rockfall. Goleuwern quarry had been opened in 1867, and when Henddol was re-opened in 1892 the two traded together as Cambrian Estates Ltd, finally closing in 1920 (Richards, 1991). Another quarry, Bryngwyn had an even shorter and more erratic life. Both quarries shared joint facilities (mill, smithy etc.) relying on horse and carriage transport for moving the slate out. Further east, above Arthog, Ty'n y Coed quarry was opened in the mid 1860s, and its material was also taken by tramway across the morfa to a small jetty on the estuary below and thence to Barmouth. Ty'n y coed is still used today for some extraction and some dumping.

The Barmouth ferry, which crossed from Penrhyn point on Morfa Mawddach (area10), transported the slate across the estuary to Barmouth (area 01), whence it was shipped out, along with lead, silver, copper and manganese from Cyfannedd fawr (the remains of the mines and adits, which were initially opened in 1827 but mainly worked during the period 1851-63, lie to the north of the eponymous farm at the top of this area). The silver mine here, the only one in the district, was producing approximately 40oz of silver from a ton of ore at its height.

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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 (now Fairbourne) to Ynys y Brawd, and another shorter one from there to the mainland at Barmouth). 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 lived at Penrhyn Farm (area 11 now the golf course clubhouse), near the far 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 (in later years using the new turnpike road which passed through Bontddu), across to Penrhyn Farm and then on to Towyn and Machynlleth. Up until 1860, when it was sold, the Barmouth Ferry (see area 09) provided the main income for the farm. The 1860 sale document for the farm says that a new carriage road had recently been made which ran through the property and which was used by the daily mail coach which followed the above route. The line of the road has been preserved in the modern main road which runs just behind the shingle beach. There is a single reminder of the former ferry in a water trough at Pystyll-y-Mail in Friog (area 10). The main reason for the construction of the Fairbourne Light Railway (which began life as a horse-drawn tramway in 1899 built by McDougall to serve his private brickworks) was to join up with the ferry which crossed the Mawddach from Barmouth on the north side, to Penrhyn point (the station is still called Porth Penrhyn station) on the southern side.

Cambrian Railways was formed in 1864 (an amalgamation of three mid-Wales companies) and
the section of the railway which linked Aberystwyth-Machynlleth-Barmouth-Porthmadog (intended to go on to Porth Dinllaen, but never built) opened on 3rd July 1865. The section along the cliffs south of Friog (bottom of area 21) were the most difficult to engineer (for 18 months, in fact, a coach and four operated between Llwyngwril and Barmouth ferry). Barmouth Bridge (area 09) was completed in 1867: it was a remarkable feat of engineering and included 113 spans and 500 timber piles. The cast iron swing bridge was added at the northern end in 1899, a ferry being continued in the meantime. The main line was opened throughout its length on 10th October 1867, and a year later a siding was added to Morfa Mawddach station (at the southern end of the bridge) to service material being brought down form the slate quarries above Friog (area 15). These sidings, although dis-used, are still clearly visible.

In 1899 McDougall (see area 11) built, at his own cost, a station to serve his enterprise which was the development of the area on the morfa as a holiday resort for wealthy Midlands industrialists. Originally called South Barmouth, the name agreed between McDougall and Cambrian Railways for the new station was Fairbourne' (some locals had wanted it re-named Ynys Faig but the company refused). The extension to the east of Morfa Mawddach station, which ran along the southern side of the estuary to Dolgellau, was closed in 1967 and is now a cycleway (the Mawddach trail'). The main line continues to run (as far north as Pwllheli) and is generally acknowledged as one of the most beautiful railway journeys in Britain.

The first turnpike roads in north Wales were constructed in 1777: the Act was general and embraced all principal highways in Merionethshire. There was a single Trust which was split into five districts of roads, one of which was Dolgellau and Mawddach, which controlled the road to Barmouth. George Kay, writing in 1794, commented that, recently, the roads in Merioneth had been much improved by the turnpikes but were still, in his opinion, too narrow. He reported that part of the road from Dolgellau to Barmouth cost two and a half guineas per rood of eight yards'. This road would appear to be a brand new construction, as all previous traffic had been by boat. Somewhat later, in the mid 19th century, a turnpike road was constructed which ran from Towyn in the south, through Llwyngwril, Friog (where the toll house, now listed, still remains) and Arthog following the base of the steep cliffs to Penmaen pool, where it also met with the timber bridge built in 1869, and on towards Dolgellau. The former main route from Llwyngwril inland to Dolgellau (known as Ffordd ddu, and possibly early prehistoric in origin see area 24), is still traceable as a series of footpaths, tracks and the minor road over the top past Llynnau Gregennan and Cefn-yr-owen (area 18). All other roads and trackways in the area serve remote farmsteads.


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Cultural associations

According to Welsh legend, the palace of King Gwyddno, associated with the legend of Cantre Gwaelod (the drowned kingdom) was at Garandir on the sea-facing hillslope at, or near, Barmouth. (There is a large enclosure shown half-way between Llanaber church and Barmouth on Lewis Morris's 1748 map of the coastline here which cannot be traced on the ground today.) In 1188, Gerald of Wales described, in his journey around Wales with Archbishop Baldwin, crossing over the mouth of the Mawddach by the ferry (see area 09) from Penrhyn point to Ynys y Brawd, and thence to the mainland.

In later years, particularly during the Napoleonic period, the area is associated with smugglers: many of the inns have stories about landing contraband, particularly the George III at Penmaenpool. Hen-ddol farmhouse (a late 17th /early 18th century farmhouse on the slopes above Arthog) was the site of a notorious siege in 1780 when bailiffs went to arrest the owner, one David Williams, for smuggling and several of the former were injured before the latter was arrested.

The popularity of the Mawddach estuary increased rapidly during the Romantic movement of the early 19th century (which co-incided with the growing popularity of Barmouth (see area 01) as a seaside, holiday destination). The many visitors who stayed at Barmouth over the years, and described in letters and other writing the beauty of the area included Shelley and his wife Harriet (1812), and Wordsworth (1824). Charles Darwin spent two summers at Barmouth in 1828-9, while Ruskin started his first social experiment, The League of St George (which many consider to be the fore-runner of the modern welfare state) in Barmouth, when he was given 13 cottages by his close friend Mrs Fanny Talbot (who also donated Dinas Oleu (area 02) to the National Trust) to pursue his innovative ideas. Gladstone, William Wilberforce and General Booth were also regular visitors, and the Ladies of Llangollen documented their single stay away together from Plas Newydd (here at the Cors y Gedol Hotel for three days).

John Hucks travelled through north Wales in the 1790s, and related his impressions of the landscapes through which he passed in a series of letters, including one written on July 29, 1794, which contains the following passage:

There is nothing interesting in the road to Barmouth, nor has that place itself any striking peculiarities, except that the houses are so whimsically built, upon the side of a steep hill, that the inhabitants may have the advantage, if they choose, of looking down upon the sea shore, and in the season is full of company, who resort thither for the purpose of bathing. From Barmouth to Dolgelly we were highly gratified; the road wound along a ridge of rocks, that hang over the Avonmawr, an arm of the sea; which, at full tide, has the appearance of a large lake, surrounded with beautiful trees; etc.

There is another extensive, interesting (if somewhat florid!) description of the Mawddach estuary written by the traveller Tomas Roscoe in 1836, which gives a very good impression of how the changing landscape appeared at that time.

The towering summits of the giant Idris, almost baffling the sight, stretched far beyond; around me lay the deepening, shadowy vale, while to the right of the bold hills presented the appearance of huge mountain waves in the rolling mists and fast gathering twilight. The silvery tints and beauty of the river, pursuing its desired path like the current of life through the heart of these wild and dreary mountains; the occasional views of woods, meadows and cornfields, intersected by some branch streams, and again the wilder moor, the mountain hollow, the bushy dells, through which is caught at intervals some fleshing cataract, made my walk along the Mawddach most interesting.

Its beauties are so manifold and extraordinary that they literally beggar description. New pastures of the most exuberant fertility, new woods rising in the majesty of the foliage, the road itself curving in numberless unexpected directions, at one moment shut into a verdant recess, so contracted that there seems neither carriage nor bridle-way out of it; at another, the azure expanse of the main ocean filling the eye. On one side, rocks glittering in all the colours of that beauty which constitutes the sublime, and of a height which diminished the wild herds that browse or look down upon you from the summit, where the largest animal appears insignificantly minute. On the other hand, plains, villas, cottages or copses, with whatever tends to form that milder grace which belongs to the beautiful'.

Many artists over the years have painted the Mawddach estuary and its surrounding landscape, but two of the most prolific include John Varley (1778 1842), the watercolour artist whose 1801 painting of Cadair Idris was his first exhibited work, and Richard Wilson, whose 1770 painting of the same subject was said, by Pennant, to be so good that it saved him from having to describe his ascent up it!


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