Launching from the slippery mud of Borth y Gest we paddled in a wide arc around the receding sandbanks on the corner to Portmeirion. Probably following in the wake of ferrymen from before the Cob (1811) and Pont Briwet (1860). Upstream, with Ynys Giftan on our right and Portmeirion to the left, but where had the Dwyryd gone? It looked as though we could have walked the whole way across without wetting our feet.
Setting off 2 hours and 45 minutes before high tide (based on 8.6m high water at Liverpool) was a good hour too early. We bobbed in the shallows being slowly nudged up the estuary. Had we missed a channel? A couple of times we dragged our kayaks, leaving furrows in the soft sand, to intercept newly formed channels. Fish were wriggling in the shadows, their backs breaking the water – were they sea bass?
Eventually we paddled beneath the grade II listed Briwet which will be converted to pedestrian use when the new £20m road and rail bridge is built. Construction starts this autumn (2011) and will cause motorists to detour 8 miles via Maentwrog for 12 to 18 months.
Salt marsh sheep graze the retreating shoreline. To our left the Gwaith Powdwr nature reserve with the settling shed looking down on us. Reconstructed after an explosion in 1988 in which two people were killed. A little further on to Tyddyn Isaf, the largest of the slate quays, completed in 1828 at a cost of £289. At either end are 2 magazines for storing incoming black powder.
By now it was high tide at Borth y Gest with perfect paddling conditions up the river, smooth and mirror like. More slate quays and up the S bend scenically crafted by the Oakeleys to improve the view from Plas Tan y Bwlch. Towards the mouth of the Llenerch, which flows down from the lake at Trawsfynydd, paddling suddenly got harder as we battled the surge of water released to generate electricity.
Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed galore. Is this going to be with us forever? Occasional jumping fish. Dragonfly. Family of young ducks. Squadron of swallows above. Couple of ponies. By the time Maentwrog church came into view the tide was definitely not helping us with the last couple of hundred metres a hard paddle over shallow fast flowing waters until a bit exhausted we pulled out the kayaks at the bridge.
11.7 miles, 4 hours and 24 minutes after setting off from Borth y Gest. Next time we’ll probably go downstream on a spring tide.