A multi-activity, twin river circuit of the Mawddach and the Dovey (Dyfi) from Machynlleth, via Barmouth, Dolgellau and Dinas Mawddwy.
This circuit kept Peter McG, Hatty R and me busy for a few minutes less than 12 hours on May 23rd. We spent an hour on the train, cycled 46 miles in four and a half hours, walked for 3 hours and spent the rest of the time struggling with Hatty’s chain and enjoying the hospitality of the Red Lion, Dinas Mawddwy.
The Dovey has its source in a small mountain lake (altitude c600m) beneath Aran Fawddwy (905m), which may fall just short of the magic 3000ft but nonetheless enjoys Marilyn status and looks down on all other British mountains south of Snowdon. This remote spot, served by neither road nor footpath, was Peter’s objective. (Hatty came along for the tanning). One logistical challenge was footwear, since the hiking part of the trip would obviously need boots unsuitable for cycling. I tied mine by their laces to my backpack and found them not at all bothersome while cycling.
The 8.53 from Machynlleth dropped us at Barmouth just before 10. The sight of three bicycles set Machynlleth’s station master into a short spin, two being the maximum number allowed per train. “If you can fit them all neatly in the rack, it should be OK” he said generously, and we tucked them up as well as we could, like three in a bed. There were no grown ups or chicks visible on the osprey nest at Dovey Junction, but the tide was out and we had plenty of birds with wet feet to watch as we rattled along the estuary. It was a competition day at Aberdovey GC and the early starters had reached the 7th hole as we went by. None waved at us. Fierce concentration required for the mixed foursome.
We could have alighted, to use railway parlance, at Morfa Mawddach, making space for two more bicycles to board the train without infringement, but selfishly we continued to Barmouth for the pleasure of riding back over the railway bridge.
The Mawddach Trail follows a disused railway line along the river from Morfa Mawddach to the edge of Dolgellau (about 9 miles) via the George at Penmaenpool. A beautiful flat ride, busy with walkers and cyclists on a bright Bank Holiday weekend.
We paused in Dolgellau to buy fuel and prepare mentally for the uphill section of our bike ride: about 5 miles to Bwlch Oerddrwys (360m). Is there a back road to Cross Foxes, I asked the greengrocer. “Yes, there is,” she replied. “Turn right before the garage, signed to Tabor. We live up there, it’s very steep.” So it was: a rude shock after the easy cruise along the Mawddach Trail (wind behind). But it is a very pretty ascent with plenty of excuses to pause. A family marking their sheep in a pen beside the road, for example.
The back road option ends at Cross Foxes (pub and main road junction), about half way up. The rest of the climb was no fun at all – a long, sweaty slog up a busy road which could do with a cycle lane on the uphill side.
The Dinas Mawddwy approach to the pass is steeper and has hairpins. Strangely, the gradient marked at the top …………
…………….. is gentler than that indicated at the bottom – 20% (obscured by cyclist). Max speed 40.4 mph.
After lunch at the Red Lion in Dinas Mawddwy – Welsh beef pie recommended – we found the Dovey and cycled up it for about five miles, via more switchbacks than we were expecting for a modest altitude gain; parked our bikes and changed our shoes about a mile beyond Llanymawddwy, where a footpath leads left, following the stream, while the road turns right, steepening markedly for the ascent to Bwlch y Groes. This notorious cycling challenge we were pleased to leave to others.
Our map made it clear that the footpath, a rough track up the flank of the steep valley cut by the infant Dovey, here known as the Llaethnant (milk stream), would not take us all the way to the lake. At some point we would have to leave it and strike out across the boggy uncharted hillside and there was no knowing how easy the going would be, nor how long it would take. We agreed that at 4 o’clock we would turn around and come down if we hadn’t reached the lake by that time.
We jumped across the milk stream several times and negotiated an asssortment of tributaries, bogs, sheep folds and rocky gorge-lets before a slate grey sheet came into view at five past four. A raven protested loudly, barking its anger around the cliffs as we approached the lake.
Llaethnant rushes out of the lake through a neat channel that might have been cut cleanly with a spade. Resisting the urge to swim, we drank a few handfuls of clear water from the source and squelched back through the bog, reaching our bike depot at 5.30. In three hours we had seen the outline of two people on Aran Fawddwy’s summit ridge, and we crossed one prospective camper making his way up the hill with a tent on his back as we came down; admirable, certainly, but not envied by us. After the ankle-turning discomfort of tramping across the side of a steep hill, it was a relief to swap boots for lighter shoes and experience the relative comfort of a cushioned saddle. Fuelled by thirst, we sped down the valley more swiftly than the fast-flowing Dovey and joined the throng at the Red Lion, where all Dinas Mawddwy was out with its dogs in the late afternoon sun.
Are we nearly there yet? 15 miles still in front of us seemed a few too many as we sat with our drinks, but it was impossible not to enjoy the pastoral charm of the little road that follows the right bank of the Dovey from Dinas Mawddwy through Aberangell and assorted farms: a perfect cycle trail with few hills and almost no traffic, looking its best in the bright evening light. Clouds dispersed and the headwind stiffened as the Dovey and our road beside it turned west. An old humped bridge over the Dulas brought us into Merioneth, followed by two crossings of the Dovey via bridges new and old, and all that remained after that was to push our bikes up the back drive as our ancestors did. Of 46 miles cycled, only about 8 had been on the main road.
A memorable day deserves a fine dinner, but we ate at the Wynnstay Arms. Rain set in during the night and continued all morning. If our thoughts did not turn to the lone camper beside the mountain lake, they should have done. I hope he found his way safely down through mist and murk