Still catching up with all the activity Aunty and I managed to get through over the Easter Weekend. We have certainly pegged up the list for the Welsh 100s. Easter Sunday was a day for bridges, rivers and fantastic views. There are a number of bridges that cross over the Afon Mawddach, but today we crossed two of them. One an old picturesque toll wooden bridge with a tragic history and the other an extensive railway bridge with a chequered history.
The wooden toll bridge at Penmaenpool was built in 1879 to replace the then ferry crossing. It is is the first road bridge on the Mawddach, cut off around 8 miles on the journey from Tywyn to Barmouth. Penmaenpool was once a thriving ship building village where over a 100 ocean going vessels were built that exported Welsh wool, slate and other goods around the world. Now all is left is the bridge, a few houses and the George III Hotel. This used to be two separate buildings, a ships chandler and a smaller pub. The railway used to run along the bank in front of the George III, but this was closed in the Beeching Cuts in the 1960s. It is now a foot and cycle path from Fairbourne on the coast to Dolgellau further inland. It is now a listed building, based on its special interest as one of very few surviving wooden toll bridges still in operation
Tragedy hit on July 22, 1966, when the Prince of Wales ferry, carrying 39 people on a pleasure cruise up the river, hit the toll bridge. 15 people, including 4 children drowned. The then hotel proprietor, John Antony Hall, with his chef, David Jones assisted by the barman, Bob Jones saved many lives on that day. Without their hard work, many more people would have drowned. However, none were recognised for their bravery that day. The Prince of Wales Ferry Report can be found here: Prince of Wales Ferry Report.
5 miles west of Penmaenpool almost directly on the coast there is a small station at Morfa Mawddach, sitting like a sentinel guarding the southern end of the massive Barmouth Bridge. Despite the fact that this is a pretty isolated area the place was heaving with cyclists, cars and walkers when we arrived. It certainly wasn’t like this 40 odd years ago when I last walked across the bridge.
The single track railway bridge across the mouth mouth of the Mawddach Estuary was opened in 1867. It originally had a drawbridge section at its north allowing tall sailing ships to pass, though this was later replaced in 1901 by the current swing bridge section. Neither drawbridge or the later swing bridge were ever used much, as the arrival of the railway essentially killed off the boat trade. The swing bridge was last opened in 1987.
The bridge consisted of 113 timber spans and an eight span iron section. Each of the iron columns supporting the structure was around eight feet in diameter and had to sink 120 below sea level to find the rock floor. On 3rd June 1867 the bridge was opened to horse drawn carriages. Locomotive services began in October of the same year.
In 1980, divers discovered that the glamorous sounding Teredo Navalis ship worm had bored into 69 timber piles. The larvae lived in the wood and caused holes several feet in length. The bridge was closed to locomotive traffic on the 13th October whilst a £1.8 million programme of repairs was completed. Eventually, after an absence of over five and a half years Barmouth Bridge was fully reopened to locomotive trains in April 1986.
After walking into Barmouth for coffee we made our way back in the opposite direction to the car. We then made our way up the steep valley roads into the shelter of Cadair Idris for our picnic. And what a place for a picnic, with fantastic views of the bridge.
^ National Biodiversity’s Network Gateway