Porthmadog is a bustling small town, alongside the estuary of the River Glaslyn, at the base of the Moel-Y-Gest Mountain. Situated at the acute angle formed by the meeting point of the Cambrian coastline and the southern coast of the Lleyn Peninsula, Porthmadog is the perfect base for further exploration of Gwynedd and is often referred to as the gateway of Snowdonia.
Without the vision of a certain entrepreneurial MP, in the early nineteenth century, Porthmadog would not have existed at all. For William Madocks, had the aspiration and the foresight, to drain 1000 acres of mudflats to form grazing land and enabling the building of the new town of Tremadog. Later he created a mile long embankment, The Cob, to reclaim a further 7000 acres, and in the process inadvertently caused a deep pool harbour, which he called Port Madoc, now known as Porthmadog. The cost of the project put a huge financial strain on Madocks’ pocket, but the port repaid him by opening up opportunities for the slate industry to export their wares around the world.
Madocks died in 1828, so was not around to see the heyday of the port, which began with the arrival of the narrow gauge Festiniog Railway in the 1830s. The railway was a cheap and efficient method of transporting slate from the quarries at Blaenau Ffestiniog directly to the port. The original method used gravity to enable the loaded carriages to wind their way to Porthmadog, before horses pulled them empty, back uphill to the quarries. This method was superseded by steam locomotives in 1863.
The steam trains of the Festiniog railway still trundle their way along the Cob through the bucolic Vale of Ffestiniog, en-route to Blaenau Ffestiniog, but they now carry fare paying passengers. Porthmadog being the starting point for embarkation of one of the great train journeys of the world.
At the other end of town, another narrow gauge railway, the Welsh Highland Railway, also runs steam trains along a short length of track. The station shop is renowned for its excellent choice of railway books, videos and gifts. There are also exciting plans afoot to extend and join this railway up with the Caernarfon end of the Welsh Highland Railway.
Porthmadog’s harbour is overlooked by hills with terraces of houses, a joy to wander around and admire the yachts moored in the small marina. The nearest beaches are at Borth-Y-Gest, a short distance away by foot, or Black Rock Sands, near Morfa Bychan a ten minute drive away. The Maritime Museum, housed behind the Tourist Information Centre traces the town’s important shipping history.
Madog Motor Museum has an interesting collection of British cars and motorbikes dating from the glory days of British motor manufacture, the 1920s-1960’s.
Not far from Porthmadog, is the eclectic, Italianate village of Portmeirion. Famed as the setting for the cult sixties television series ‘The Prisoner’, Portmeirion was the vision of the architect Clough Ellis Williams. Endangered buildings from all over Britain and Europe were carefully dismantled and rebuilt at Portmeirion. Painted in pastel colours and grouped on a hillside setting, overlooking the Traeth Bach Estuary, the village never fails to amaze.
Porthmadog’s high street caters for all the visitor’s needs, with its attractive independent shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants. There is also a cinema and modern leisure centre.