From Fairbourne village to Barmouth ferry, this train journey has splendid views, with Cader Idris mountain on one side and the sea on the other. The two-mile Fairbourne Railway also has a unique story, boasting four different track gauges in 100 years. First converted into a miniature steam railway in 1916, it was built as a horse-drawn tramway in 1895 and has carried passengers almost continuously ever since. From Barmouth Ferry Station, at the mouth of the beautiful Mawddach Estuary, you can take a small motorboat ferry across the river to Barmouth’s harbour quayside.
Fairbourne is famous for its two-mile-long golden sandy beach at the mouth of the Mawddach Estuary, backed by a pebbly bank and great views of the woods and mountains. Windsurfing and sailing are popular on the windy westward side; along the top end, there are “dragons’ teeth”, concrete anti-tank blocks left over from World War Two, designed to stop invasion forces.
A pleasant half hour’s stroll and steep climb from Fairbourne bring you to the Blue Lake, tucked away in a fold in the hills, in the old Goleuwern Slate Quarry. The water is a clear unearthly blue, very cold and reputed to be bottomless.
Fairbourne Station hosts a large model railway and a museum. Nearby Bwlchgwyn Farm offers pony trekking along the beach and estuary, and into the foothills near the Cregennan Lakes. Beginners’ rides from £25 (£22 for kids). www.bwlchgwynfarm.co.uk
Einion House in Friog, Fairbourne a 4 star Georgian Bed and Breakfast, ten-minute walk from Fairbourne Railway close to the Mawddach Trail, Barmouth Bridge & Blue Lake. Doubles from £73 B&B. www.einionhouse.co.uk
Penmaenuchaf Hall Hotel is a luxurious country house with oak-floored sitting rooms, landscaped gardens and views of the wooded hills and valleys, six miles from Morfa Mawddach station on the Cambrian Coast Line (contact the hotel in advance for transport). Doubles from £180.00, B&B. www.penhall.co.uk
The historic George III in peaceful Penmaenpool is a scenic six-mile walk or bus ride (number 28 every two hours) from Fairbourne. It is set right on the shore of the estuary, with fabulous views and good food. Doubles from £110, B&B. www.georgethethird.co.uk
Barmouth Bay Holiday Village in Talybont, five minutes from Barmouth on the Cambrian Coast Line, has indoor heated pools and a sandy beach on the doorstep. Four-person caravans start from £104 for three nights. www.awayresorts.co.uk/barmouth-bay
Graig Wen, a three-mile bus journey from Fairbourne, has yurts, cabins and cottages on a 45-acre site in the woods. Two-person yurts from £160 for two nights and bell tents from £65/ night. www.graigwen.co.uk
Hire bikes from Birmingham Garage in Barmouth (near the harbour, 01341 280644) and cycle nine miles along the incredibly scenic (and flat!) Mawddach Trail, a former railway line along the estuary, to the historic market town of Dolgellau, and back. Or perhaps just as far as the picturesque George III at Penmaenpool? www.georgethethird.co.uk
The classic Panorama Walk above Barmouth provides dramatic views and routes of differing lengths, from one mile to six. On the way you pass the site of the Victorian pleasure gardens, relics of 19th-century manganese mining and a First World War memorial on Craig y gigfran (“raven rock”).
On the RailsThe licensed, coffee shop-style Station Café at Fairbourne serves cakes, sandwiches and ice creams as well as tea, coffee, wine, cider and the award-winning, locally brewed Purple Moose beers. The Harbour View Café, open during school holidays, is right by the beach at Barmouth Ferry Station, serves a similar range of drinks and snacks, and overlooks Barmouth Bridge and the estuary.
Off the Rails
Barmouth has plenty of different places to eat, including a good selection of pubs and cafés on the quayside overlooking the harbour. There is also a very popular (and authentic) Indian restaurant on Beach Road in Fairbourne run by former Bollywood star Raj Verma. www.indianacuisinewales.uk
Did you know?
Ferries have been crossing the Mawddach estuary to Barmouth since Roman times and in the middle ages local monks used to operate them. Famous ferry passengers have included William Wordsworth and Charles Darwin.
Take the first train in the morning (either 10.40 or 11.10 depending on time of year) and the ferry across to Barmouth. Spend the day in this charming town and return on the last train of the day (not forgetting to leave time for the ferry to deliver you back to the station!). You can discover more about the history of Barmouth on the town heritage trail; don’t miss the Victorian cottages and steep, winding alleys of Old Barmouth and 15th-century Ty Gwyn (“white house”), which is the town’s oldest building. www.barmouthheritagetrail.org
Why not catch the Fairbourne train and ferry to Barmouth, and then walk back across the epic 113-span Barmouth Bridge? The view up the estuary is unsurpassed. As well as walkers and cyclists, this 19th-century wooden viaduct carries the Cambrian Coast Railway over the water.
Fairbourne Railway links with National Rail services at Fairbourne station on the Cambrian Coast Line.