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Porthmadog - Harbour.JPG
Porthmadog Harbour was developed to export slate
Porthmadog is located in Gwynedd
Population 4,185 (2011)
OS grid reference SH565385
  • Porthmadog
Principal area
Ceremonial county
Country Wales
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district LL49
Dialling code 01766
Police North Wales
Fire North Wales
Ambulance Welsh
EU Parliament Wales
UK Parliament
  • Dwyfor Meirionnydd
Welsh Assembly
  • Dwyfor Meirionnydd
List of places

Porthmadog, known locally as "Port", and since 1974, rendered into Welsh from its former Anglicised form, Portmadoc, is a small coastal town and community in the Eifionydd area of Gwynedd, in Wales. Prior to the Local Government Act 1972 it was in the administrative county of Caernarfonshire. The town lies 5 miles (8 km) east of Criccieth, 11 miles (18 km) south west of Blaenau Ffestiniog, 25 miles (40 km) north of Dolgellau and 20 miles (32 km) south of Caernarfon. The community had a population of 4,185 (2011 census).

The town developed in the 19th century as a port exporting slate to England and around the world. Since the decline of the slate industry it has become an important shopping centre for the surrounding area and a popular tourist destination. It has easy access to the Snowdonia National Park and is the terminus of the Ffestiniog Railway. In 1987 the National Eisteddfod was held in Porthmadog.

The community includes the nearby villages of Borth-y-Gest, Morfa Bychan and Tremadog.


Porthmadog came into existence after William Madocks built a sea wall, the Cob, in 1810 to reclaim a large proportion of Traeth Mawr from the sea for agricultural use. The diversion of the Afon Glaslyn caused it to scour out a new natural harbour which had a deep enough draught for small ocean-going sailing ships, and the first public wharves were built in 1825. Individual quarry companies followed, building a series of wharves along the shore almost as far as Borth-y-Gest, and slate was carted from Ffestiniog down to the quays along the Afon Dwyryd, then boated to Porthmadog for transfer to seagoing vessels.

WA Madocks
William Madocks built a sea wall, the Cob, to reclaim Traeth Mawr for agriculture.

In the second half of the 19th century Porthmadog was a flourishing port, its population expanding from 885 in 1821 to over 3,000 by 1861. The rapidly expanding cities of England needed high quality roofing slate, which was transported to the new port by tramway from the quarries in Ffestiniog and . The Ffestiniog Railway opened in 1836, followed by the Croesor Tramway in 1864 and the Gorseddau Tramway in 1856, and by 1873 over 116,000 tons (117,800 t) were exported through Porthmadog in more than a thousand ships.

A number of shipbuilders were active at this time, and were particularly well known for the three-masted schooners known as Western Ocean Yachts, the last of which was built in 1913.

By 1841 the trackway across the reclaimed land had been straightened out and was to be developed as Stryd Fawr, the main commercial street of the town. Along this street were a range of shops and public houses and a post office, with the open green retained. A mineral railway to Tremadog ran along what was to become Heol Madog. To the north was an industrial area where foundries, timber saw mills, slate works, a flour mill, soda-pop plant and gasworks were constructed.

Porthmadog's role as a commercial port, already reduced by the opening of the Aberystwyth and Welsh Coast Railway in 1867, was effectively ended by the First World War, when the lucrative German market for slate disappeared. The 19th century wharves still survive, but the slate warehouses have been replaced by holiday apartments, and the harbour is used by leisure yachts.

The earliest documented references to the name "Port Madoc" are in the 1830s, coinciding with the opening of the Ffestiniog Railway and the subsequent growth of the town. The first Ordnance Survey map to use the name was published in 1838. The name derives from the founder William Madocks, though there is a belief that it is named after the folklore character Madog ab Owain Gwynedd who also gives his name to "Ynys Fadog" (English: "Madog island"). The town was officially called "Portmadoc" until 1974, when it was renamed with the Welsh spelling.


Porthmadog is located in Eifionydd on the estuary of the Afon Glaslyn where it runs into Tremadog Bay. The estuary, filled with sediment which was deposited by rivers emptying from the melting glaciers at the end of the last ice age, is a haven for migrating birds. Oystercatchers, redshanks and curlews are common and, in summer, there are flocks of sandwich terns. To the west looms Moel-y-Gest, which rises 863 feet (263 m) above the town. and is a Marilyn.

The town has a temperate maritime climate which is influenced by the Gulf Stream.

Average Temperatures and Precipitation
Month Average high Average low Average precipitation
January 8.0 °C 3.0 °C 8.38 cm
February 8.0 °C 3.0 °C 5.59 cm
March 9.0 °C 4.0 °C 6.60 cm
April 11.0 °C 5.0 °C 5.33 cm
May 14.0 °C 8.0 °C 4.83 cm
June 17.0 °C 10.0 °C 5.33 cm
July 18.0 °C 12.0 °C 5.33 cm
August 19.0 °C 12.0 °C 7.37 cm
September 17.0 °C 11.0 °C 7.37 cm
October 14.0 °C 9.0 °C 9.14 cm
November 11.0 °C 6.0 °C 9.91 cm
December 9.0 °C 4.0 °C 9.40 cm



Borth-y-Gest, 1 mile (1.6 km) south of Porthmadog, is a village built in a shallow bowl which sweeps down to a sheltered bay, with hidden sandy coves and cliffs. Ships were built here before Porthmadog was established and houses, still known as "pilot houses", were built at the mouth of the harbour so that pilots could keep a watch for ships needing them. The village is formed by rows of Victorian houses and has retained much of its atmosphere and charm. Stryd Mersey leads up from the bay and is flanked by terraced cottages.

Before Porthmadog was developed, this was the starting point of a major crossing over the wide and dangerous Glaslyn estuary, and locals earned money by guiding travellers across the treacherous sands of Traeth Mawr to Harlech.

Parc y Borth is a local nature reserve set in deciduous woodland dominated by ancient Welsh oaks. Green woodpeckers, tawny owls and pied flycatchers can be seen among the branches.

On the shore is another nature reserve, Pen y Banc, which is a mixture of coastal rocks, secluded sandy coves and mixed woodland. Established in 1996, it is a good spot to see wading birds, and the beaches attract large numbers of visitors. The mild climate results in a wide variety of vegetation, from gorse and heather through to blackthorn, crab apple, and birch.

Morfa Bychan

Morfa Bychan is 2.1 miles (3.4 km) south west of Porthmadog. It has a popular wide sandy beach, Black Rock Sands (Welsh: Traeth Morfa Bychan), with Graig Ddu, a rocky headland, at its western end. At low tide, rock pools and caverns are exposed. The beach is popular with windsurfers, and is unusual in allowing vehicles to be driven onto the sands.

Sand dunes lie behind the beach, forming part of Morfa Bychan and Greenacres Nature Reserve. Standing in a field is Cist Cerrig, a dolmen, near which are rocks containing cup marks.

In 1996 there were large protests, backed by Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, against the building of 800 houses at Morfa Bychan. These followed a High Court decision that planning permission granted in 1964 remained valid. The owners of the site later entered a legal agreement with Cyngor Gwynedd which allowed a caravan site and nature reserve to be constructed on part of the site and ensured that the 1964 permission could no longer be implemented. The council also settled a compensation claim by the developers for the way the matter had been handled.


Tremadog is a planned settlement built by William Madocks on land reclaimed from Traeth Mawr.

Tremadog, an exceptional example of a planned settlement, is 0.9 miles (1.4 km) north of Porthmadog. The village was built on land reclaimed from Traeth Mawr by William Madocks. In 1805 the first cottages were built in what Madocks called Pentre Gwaelod (English: Bottom village), which was designed to create the impression of a borough, with the Town Hall and Dancing Room at its centre. Industry was also included in the plan, with the Manufactory, the Loomery, a fulling mill and a corn mill, all worked by water power.

To the north of the village is Tan-yr-Allt, the property bought by Madocks in 1798 and transformed by him into the first Regency house in Gwynedd. The garden, on a steeply sloping site, consists mainly of lawns planted with trees and shrubs and contains a memorial to Percy Bysshe Shelley.


At the 2001 census, Porthmadog had a population of 4,187, of which 18.2 percent were below the age of 16, and 23.6 percent were over 65 years of age. 69.5 percent of households were owner occupied and 24.6 percent were in rented accommodation. Holiday homes accounted for 12.5 percent of dwellings.

Population Growth
Year 1801 1811 1821 1831 1841 1851 1861 1871 1881
Population 525 889 885 1,075 1,888 2,347 3,138 4,367 5,506
Year 1891 1901 1911 1921 1931 1939 1951 1961 2001
Population 5,224 4,883 4,445 4,184 3,986 4,618 4,061 3,960 4,187


Porthmadog is a predominantly Welsh speaking community, 74.9 percent of the population speaking the language. The highest percentage of Welsh speakers is in the 10-14 age range, standing at 96.3 percent. Almost all community activities are held in the Welsh Language. Porthmadog hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1987.

Y Ganolfan on Stryd Fawr, built in 1975, is a venue for concerts, exhibitions and other community events, and has hosted televised wrestling matches.

Porthmadog Maritime Museum on Oakley Wharf is housed in an old slate shed and has displays about the schooners built in the town and the men who sailed in them.


Porthmadog - Blanche at Harbour Station
The Ffestiniog Railway is a popular tourist attraction, carrying visitors through mountain scenery to Blaenau Ffestiniog.

The Cob is a substantial embankment built across the Glaslyn estuary in 1811 by William Madocks to reclaim land at Traeth Mawr for agriculture. The opening was marked by a four-day feast and Eisteddfod celebrating the roadway connecting Caernarfonshire to Meirionnydd and which figured in Madocks's plans for a road from London to his proposed port at Porthdinllaen. Three weeks later, however, the embankment was breached by high tides and Madocks's supporters were forced to drum up money and men from all around Caernarfonshire to repair the breach and strengthen the whole embankment. By 1814 it was open again, but Madocks's finances were in ruins. By 1836 the Ffestiniog Railway had opened its line across the embankment and it was to become the main route for Ffestiniog slate to reach the new port at Porthmadog. In 1927 the Cob was breached again, and took several months to repair. In 2012, 260 metres of the embankment were widened on the seaward side of the Porthmadog end to allow a second platform to be constructed at the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway's Harbour Station.

The former tollhouse at the north western end of the Cob has slate-clad walls and is one of the few buildings which preserves the interlocking slate ridge-tiles devised by Moses Kellow, manager of Croesor Quarry. The toll was abolished in 2003 when the Welsh Assembly Government bought the Cob.

Pen Cei, to the west of the harbour was the centre of the harbour's commercial activities. Boats were built and repaired and there were slate wharves for each quarry company, with tracks connecting to the railway. Bron Guallt, built in 1895, was the Oakeley Quarry shipping agent's house. Grisiau Mawr (English: Big Steps) connected the quay to Garth and the houses built to house the ship owners and sea captains, and it was here that the School of Navigation was built.

Melin Yr Wyddfa (English: Snowdon Mill) on Heol Y Wyddfa is a former flour mill built in 1862, where a scheme of renovation and conversion to luxury flats was started, but has not yet reached completion.

Welsh Highland Heritage Railway not to be confused with Welsh Highland Railway, is a ¾ mile heritage railway, with award winning miniature railway and heritage centre. There is a shop with a wide range of bechman and bigjigs. There is also a cafe.

Kerfoots, located in a Victorian building on Stryd Fawr, is a small department store established in 1874 and contains a unique spiral staircase, chandeliers and slender cast iron columns which support the upper floors. The Millennium Dome, constructed by local craftsmen in 1999 to celebrate the store's 125th anniversary, is made of stained glass and depicts scenes from Porthmadog in 1874.

The Royal Sportsman Hotel (Welsh: Gwesty'r Heliwr) on Stryd Fawr was built in 1862 to be a staging post on the turnpike road to Porthdinllaen. The arrival of the railway five years later brought increasing numbers of tourists, and the hotel soon became famous for its liveried carriage and horses, which transported guests to local sightseeing spots. The building was constructed using Ffestiniog slate, and the original stone and slate fireplaces are still in position.

The War Memorial stands on top of Ynys Galch, one of the former islands reclaimed from Traeth Mawr. In the form of a Celtic cross and standing 16 feet (4.9 m) high, it was fashioned from Trefor granite and unveiled "in memory of ninety-seven fallen war heroes of Madoc Vale" in 1922.

On Moel-y-Gest [cy] is an iron age stone walled hillfort.


Porthmadog lies on the A487, the Fishguard to Bangor trunk road. The A498 runs north from Porthmadog to Beddgelert, giving access to Snowdonia. The A497 runs west through the southern Llŷn Peninsula to Criccieth and Pwllheli. In 2008 the Welsh Assembly Government published plans for the A487 Porthmadog, Minffordd and Tremadog Bypass, which would reduce the amount of through traffic in the town of Porthmadog. The completed bypass was officially opened on 17 October 2011.

Porthmadog Harbour Railway Station is the southern terminus of the rebuilt Welsh Highland Railway.

The town is served by three railway stations. Porthmadog Railway Station is on the Cambrian Coast Line between Pwllheli and Machynlleth. Trains, operated by Arriva Trains Wales, run through to Shrewsbury, Wolverhampton and Birmingham.

Porthmadog Harbour Railway Station at the southern end of the Stryd Fawr has been the terminus of the Ffestiniog Railway from Blaenau Ffestiniog since passenger services started in 1865. From 2011 it is also the southern terminus of the rebuilt Welsh Highland Railway from Caernarfon.

The Welsh Highland Heritage Railway has its main station and visitor centre near the northern end of Stryd Fawr on the former Cambrian Railways sidings opposite to the main line station. From here trains run to Pen-y-Mount.

Buses are operated by Arriva Buses Wales, Berwyn Coaches, Caelloi Motors, Express Motors and Williams Porthmadog serving Aberystwyth, Bangor, Beddgelert, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Caernarfon, Criccieth, Dolgellau, Machynlleth, Morfa Bychan, Penrhyndeudraeth, Pen-y-Pass, Portmeirion, Pwllheli, Rhyd and Tremadog. National Express Coaches has a service from Pwllheli to Birmingham and London.

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