Country diary: a rocky road to a view of the estuary

Afon Mawddach, Gwynedd: The route seems unreasonably steep, and in my memory the lane was much shorter

The rising sun is all but obscured by a raft of patchy high cloud, and the mist is slow to clear from the valley floor. North of the Afon Mawddach, almost at the coast, I take a lane that turns sharply uphill. Once past a scattering of houses, the route follows a narrow valley lined with beech and oak trees, whose canopies weave together to create dank shade. Despite the lack of rain, spring water runs in sheets down the shattered slab of the rock where the lane narrows; the route seems unreasonably steep, and in my memory the lane was much shorter.

The gated footpath I am looking for drops away into the valley between dry stone walls, then climbs again over the shoulder of the next ridge. In the increasing heat, the woodland is sullenly quiet – with only a lone robin providing a vociferous challenge to my approach.

Half-buried by leaf litter, a few stone-bounded steps have been cut to help walkers over the steepest of the terrain, angular rock outcrops offering handholds as I haul myself to the crest.

A hidden side trail brings me to a steep overlook carpeted with flowering heather and overhung with rowan. Below me, the estuary of the Mawddach lies grey and leaden, its surface almost unmarked by movement and reflecting the patterns of the sky. To the east, wooded ridges interlock around the river, fading by degrees into the persistent murk. Beyond the Mawddach, the great raw expanses of rock that lead up towards Cadair Idris slip in and out of view as thin streamers of cloud roll across them.

Bees explore the heather flowers around my feet, while clouds of flies begin to chase aggressively around me and my late breakfast. I watch as the tide begins to ebb, unclenching pale fingers of water across the salt march below. A breeze from the sea starts to darken the water, while the falling tide begins to reveal the pattern of sandbanks that weave around the channel. I take a final look across at the mist-bound ridge, then clamber awkwardly down from my rocky perch.

• Country Diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary


John Gilbey

The GuardianTramp

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