There is no better walk than from Barmouth to Dolgellau, than Dolgellau to Barmouth!
One of the most quotable judgements on the beauty of the Mawddach estuary was made by John Ruskin, the eminent Victorian critic and polymath who was born exactly two hundred years ago today.
In his lifetime, his thought leading provocations won him the admiration of Gandhi, Proust and Tolstoy, but today, two centuries after his birth, we are also appreciating the brilliance of his foresight, the diversity of his creative instincts, and the strength of his commitment in putting into practice his ideas about the environment, work and society.
The Guild of St. George, which today we might describe as a not-for-profit organisation, was created by Ruskin to challenge the excesses of Victorian capitalism and the obsessive pursuit of money. With the simple aim of creating a more thoughtful society, The Guild attracted many followers, including one of Barmouth’s greatest philanthropists, Mrs Fanny Talbot who of course gifted Dinas Oleu to the National Trust.
Ruskin described Fanny “as a motherly, bright, black-eyed woman of fifty with a nice married son who is a superb chess player. She herself is a very good one, and it’s her greatest indulgence to have a written game with me. She’s an excellent nurse, and curious beyond any magpie that ever was….”
In 1872, Mrs Talbot gifted twelve cottages on Barmouth Rock to Ruskin’s Guild, and one of the first tenants was Auguste Guyard, known locally as the Frenchman. Guyard shared Ruskin’s views about sustainable communities and had himself tried to create a commune modele in France.
In the Guild’s rulebook for tenants can be found the standing instruction that on the Master’s birthday, cake was to be eaten, and so 200 years after his birth, we will be wishing him happy returns of the day and eating some appropriately polymathical cake, but our celebratory Mawddach walk from Barmouth to Dolgellau will have to await our return to the Rock.