Paddling the Mawddach

With the heat wave continuing Pete from Aber-kayakers had organised a little paddle on the Mawddach Estuary. It was going to be a relaxed affair and just a chance to paddle somewhere different for a change. The plan was to meet at Penmaenpool for high tide at around 11am and then paddle downstream with the outgoing tide to Fairbourne.

I’ve paddled the Mawddach estuary a few times before but only as part of the Mawddach Marathon kayak race. This starts at Barmouth and goes to Penmaenpool and back. I therefore decided to do something similar today. My plan was to start at Fairbourne at around 10am, paddle upstream at my own pace with the incoming tide. Meet the others at Penmaenpool and then have a more relaxed paddle back downstream with them.

First things First

The katabatic wind (affectionately known as Ivor) that funnels down through the Dyfi Valley had been blowing all day on Saturday. Conditions looked similar for Sunday morning, but with hazy sunshine rather than full blown clear skies and slightly cooler temperatures I was expecting the effect to be a little less pronounced. I also expected the Mawddach estuary to experience a similar effect. Geomorphologically, it is almost a carbon copy of the Dyfi Estuary so should get a similar katabatic wind.

Sure enough, when I got up at 5am on Sunday the wind was blowing. I didn’t want to miss out on it, but with high tide at 11am I wouldn’t be able to windsurf until about 9:30am anyway. My windsurf kit was still in the van from Saturday’s ‘estuary perfection‘ session so my plan was to drive to Fairbourne, maybe get a quick half hour windsurf in there and then start the paddle.


The 1 hour drive to Fairbourne was a relaxed one. I pulled up at the car park on the end of the dunes and there was very little wind. There was a bit funelling down through the estuary but not enough to windsurf. I checked the wind stats from the Borth and Ynyslas Weather Station (in our back garden) just to see what it was doing there. It had dropped off at home as well so I didn’t really miss out on anything.

Fairbourne itself was looking lovely. The skies were clear, the waters calm and there was a fair bit of activity as people stirred from camper vans and started heading towards the waters.

The tide was rushing in through the mouth of the estuary and the channel in front of me were filling rapidly. It would actually be quite a nice car park to windsurf from. Parking was easy, there was a nice big grassy rigging area and access to the estuary and the sea front were simple from here.

Mawddach Estuary
Mawddach Estuary

Paddling upstream on the Mawddach Estuary

I chilled for a while and then started to slowly get ready for my paddle upstream. I set off a little before 10am in the end and decided that a nice easy paddle upstream would be all that was necessary to get me there for 11am.

I paddled into the current for the first few hundred meters as the tide flowed into the deeper channel. This took me from the slipway out towards the main river channel. Here I picked up the rushing tide which whisked me towards the Barmouth Bridge. I decided to risk heading through one of the smaller gaps in the bridge and flew through the turbulent waters between the uprights. This spat me out into the main channel on the far side of the bridge where things calemd down.

I now just followed the channel at a nice easy pace heading inland betweens the hills of Snowdonia. There was a slight cooling headwind which was nice, even if it would be slowing me down a little. There was no one around, just me and the calm waters of the Mawddach estuary. The only sound was the rhytmic swoosh of my paddle strokes. I was taking it easy, maintaining a steady pace and making good progress.


After about 50 minutes I passed uner the bridge at Penmaenpool and could see Pete and Judith in the car park getting ready. I hauled my boat onto the grassy bank and headed up to see them.


They were almost ready to go but were waiting for Tanja as well. Tanja soon turned up. Boats were prepared and then Pete and Tanja set off in cars to Fairbourne so as to put a shuttle car in place. Judith and I had a lemonade from the pub and sat on the banks of the river watching the world go by.

There were quite a few people out paddle-boarding and a few kayaers and canoeists too. The tide stopped flooding and soon turned around and started to ebb. It was about an hour after arriving at Penmanepool before Pete and Tanja were back and we could get on the water and start heading downstream.

y to Head back Downstream
Ready to Head back Downstream

Back to Fairbourne

Speed and heart rate
Speed and heart rate

Things were at a much more sedate pace heading downstream. The tide was now ebbing quckly and aiding our progress so I was able to take it really easy. Despite the aid from the tide our pace was much slower than it had been for my journey upstream. As you can see from the stats my heart rate was much lower too. In fact my heart rate for the upstream journey hovered around 85bpm which is a pretty easy effort. Heading back downstream it was between 44bpm and 70bpm – That definitely counts as resting rather than exercise!

We stopped partway on a rocky beach for lunch in the shade and then continued on until we hit a sandbank. The temperature was soaring now but it wasn’t quite as hot as the past few days which was nice. The tide was dropping quickly too and the estuary was drying out. I had to walk over the sandbank a short distance to get back into a deeper channel. The others with no rudders just about managed to paddle over it.

We then continued on our way down to the bridge and then alongside it to pass under the main arches. We didn’t risk the narrower gaps this time as apparently someone from the club had once had a bit of an issue negotiating these. The water was now rushing through the uprights and making quite a roar. From here it was just a short paddle into the current to the slipway I had launched from earlier. Although now it was a little muddy underfoot as the tide had receeded beyond the end of the slipway.

All in all it had been a glorious day on the Mawddach. Very similar to padling my local Dyfi Estuary of course but nice to be somewhere different and nice not to be on my own the whole way.

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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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