Who would want to argue with the fine words of William Wordsworth? He said of Barmouth, “With a fine sea view in front, the mountains behind, the glorious estuary running eight miles inland, and Cadair Idris within compass of a day’s walk, Barmouth can always hold its own against any rival.”
Barmouth is one of Wales’ most popular seaside towns splendidly located on the shores of the Mawddach Estuary. The community celebrates the site of biodiversity, fragile ecosystems and environmental wonders. It has the highly coveted Blue Flag certification by the Foundation for Environmental Education. Barmouth has met and maintained stringent environmental, educational, safety, and access-related criteria to qualify for the prestigious internationally recognised award.
J.R. Tolkein, the author of the much loved The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings, once stayed in Barmouth and was so fanatical about the pretty town, it inspired the advent of Hobbiton. He was smitten with the Welsh language and used it as the foundation of one of his fictional Elvish languages.
Barmouth is the starting point for the gruelling adventure The Three Peaks Yacht Race. Teams of runners and sailors navigate the wild west coast of the United Kingdom, only anchoring to run to the summits of Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis, the highest peaks in Wales, England and Scotland.
History of Barmouth
Barmouth was once an inaccessible fishing village until the introduction of trains to the area in 1867. The town grew as it developed in the shipbuilding industry, but now the town is a popular holiday resort. The Victorian and Edwardian houses envelop the picturesque harbour and have resplendent views of the Mawddach Estuary, Cardigan Bay and Snowdonia National Park. Pretty family-run cafés serve up Welsh cakes and bara brith, the traditional Welsh tea bread that’s heavily flavoured with dried fruits, strong tea and spices. Barmouth is an ideal location for exploring the National Park and the treasures found in and around the beautiful town.
The National Trust was formed in Barmouth when Mrs. Fanny Talbot donated a beautiful swathe of the hillside, Dinas Oleu, The Citadel of Light. Mrs. Talbot said, “I have long wanted to secure for the public for ever the enjoyment of Dinas Oleu, but wish to put it to the custody of some society that will never vulgarise it, or prevent wild nature from having its way…and it appears to me that your association has been born in the nick of time.”
During the summer, Barmouth’s beach, Abermaw, comes alive with traditional donkey rides, buckets and spades, crabbing, swing boats, penny push amusement arcades and of course newspaper clad fish and chips and sweet Welsh rock. The estuary and harbour give access to boating adventures and watersports. The Barmouth to Fairbourne ferry runs several times a day for walkers that are keen to explore the pebbly windswept beaches or ride the Fairbourne Miniature Railway.
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7 Things to Do in Barmouth
Barmouth Heritage Trail
A great way to start exploring Barmouth is by walking the heritage trail. The route starts in Talbot Square. The glorious trail winds you through narrow streets and discovers the fascinating history of the town.
The first stop is at the hillside St. John’s Church with an impressive and commanding presence over the town. Walk up the hill to Dinas Oleu, the Roman-period hill fort gifted to the National Trust by Fanny Talbot. A ramble through the old town will allow you to explore the original stone seaside cottages, the sailor’s institute and the impressive last haul sculpture. Wander past Tŷ Gwyn, one of the oldest buildings in the county, dated around 1465 and the interesting Tŷ Crwn, the circular building constructed to lock up misbehaving drunks. You’ll continue along the dunes to Ynys y Brawd and onto Barmouth’s busy harbour. The trail continues to meander through the town and culminates at St Anne’s Square.
RNLI Lifeboat Museum
Volunteers at multi-award-winning Barmouth Royal National Lifeboat Institution have been saving lives since 1825. The RNLI is the largest charity that saves lives at sea around the coasts of Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom. Explore the history of this little boat house and how volunteering men and women navigate the sometimes terrifyingly stormy seas. Visitors can support the RNLI and pop into the museum shop, and choose from an array of souvenirs. You can also view the impressive £2.2 million Shannon-class lifeboat named Ella Larsen that is currently being deployed in emergencies. She is propelled by water jets, so she is faster and more manoeuvrable along the jagged shores.
The iconic Barmouth Bridge connects Morfa Mawddach and Barmouth for trains, pedestrians and cyclists. The viaduct was designed and constructed for the Aberystwyth and Welsh Coast Railway line between Aberystwyth and Pwllheli. At almost 900 metres in length, the wooden viaduct features a drawbridge that historically would be raised to allow tall ships to pass. Work commenced in 1864, and on 10 October 1867, the completed bridge officially opened. It is now a Grade II listed single-track wooden railway. Route eight of The Wales Coast Path and Lôn Las Cymru National Cycle Network crosses the bridge. The bridge boasts extraordinary views of Snowdonia National Park and Barmouth harbour.
The Dragon Theatre
The imposing Victorian chapel in the centre of Barmouth houses The Dragon Theatre. The congregational chapel was constructed in the late 19th-century. After WWII, Barmouth residents wanted to rebuild the community spirit. The local amateur dramatics society, Bermo Arts Club, had an impressive membership of over 300 supporters and a busy programme of performances in various locations throughout the town. In 1950, the group formed a committee to raise money to convert the chapel into a theatre to have a permanent venue for performances.
The theatre grandly opened with a gala concert on 30 October 1959. The stage has seen a plethora of impressive amateur productions and professional light opera and ballet performances. Many groups and organisations use the theatre and the community centre extension for around 100 events each year, most of which are arts-related performances, film screenings and exhibitions.
Morfa Dyffryn National Nature Reserve
The Morfa Dyffryn dune system is constantly moving and shifting and being remodelled by the wind. The landscape Morfa Dyffryn is unrecognisable after a few days of stormy weather. Although the dunes may appear barren and unwelcoming, they are home to rare plants and animals that thrive in this desolate environment. The dunes have their own ecosystem. The flat areas between the sand dunes retain the rainwater that submerges them throughout the winter months. The dunes retain much of this moisture during the balmy summers. These ‘dune slacks’ see the appearance of beautiful flowers such as spectacular orchids, restharrow, wild pansies and the rare green-flowered helleborine.
Not only are there impressively substantial sand dunes, but there are also areas of the seashore, salt marsh and grassland. Each of these habitats is home to a fantastic variety of wildlife. The large brown hare breeds here. The swampy creek and pond habitats create a home for grass snakes and the glorious great crested newts. From Morfa Dyffryn, you have incredible views of the Llŷn Peninsula and a glimpse of Bardsey Island.
Water lovers will enjoy the interesting array of boat trips that are available from Barmouth harbour. Boats, weather permitting, traverse the inky waters of Cardigan Bay in search of spirited dolphins. This protected marine habitat is a Special Area of Conservation. It boasts the largest resident population of bottlenose dolphins in Europe. Singular pods of female dolphins and their calves can contain up to 20 dolphins. Occasionally when groups gather with the males, superpods are formed, and there can be a thousand or more. The boats can explore the rugged coastline and smugglers caves, and if you are lucky, you’ll spot Atlantic grey seals playing in the shallows.
The twin glacial Cregennan Lakes are located almost 250 metres above Barmouth on the northern face of Cadair Idris. A circular walk takes you around the natural lakes and through a mossy, wooden gorge owned and preserved by the National Trust. The lakes are a much-photographed beauty spot and are certified as a Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
Pared y Cefn Hir has breathtaking panoramic views over the mountains, Barmouth bridge and Mawddach Estuary. The National Trust permits brown, blue and rainbow trout fly fishing in both of the lakes. Two small hill farms promote rough cattle grazing. Purple saxifrage, least willow and other flowers that survived the last Ice Age pepper the craggy landscapes and now attract the rare marsh fritillary butterfly.
Local legend describes Idris as a great giant who resided amidst the lakes and the craggy mountains. It’s thought that the large boulders on the lower slopes are said to be the debris of stone-throwing battles between Idris and other giants. Realistically, Idris is more likely to have been a highly regarded leader in the area with a giant personality and authority rather than stature.