We still had a few mundane activities to take care of, a trip to the dentist for both of us (no work required – phew), a trip to the optician for me and a much needed trip to the Chiropractor for Paul who has been suffering with his back and shoulders since our skiing trip (where the majority of the injury was gained by falling over on the way to the shower block). Needless to say these appointments were spread out over a number of days because it was impossible to line them up and get them over and done with.
Bertie had new wipers, a fuel filter change and a bit of a dig around to find out what was causing the fan to make a strange noise – turns out we had a leaf stuck in the fan, that was a nice easy one.
As a welcome counterpoint to the humdrum, this week’s special occasion was Carrie’s 40th birthday. A fabulous night out was had by all, starting with bowling and ending in a club. How did that happen? – I repeatedly tell people I have no inclination to ever go in a club again. I blame it on the under 40s – you know who you are – in the group who haven’t yet reached the point where hangovers last for 48 hours, we felt rather jaded on the Sunday and almost back to normal on the Monday.
What else happened over this time? We had a lovely evening cycling to Budleigh Salterton beach where I felt very smug because I also went for a run while Paul fished for our supper. (this was obviously before our night out!) He caught enough mackerel to make dinner for us and the Eynon family the following evening too.
We also had a BBQ lunch and visit to A la Ronde with Kayleigh. A la Ronde is a national trust property in Exmouth, a 16 sided house built by cousins Mary and Jane Parminter. It’s an interesting house with amazing views and a gallery lined with intricate designs made from shells and other natural materials. It’s so delicate that it can only be viewed from afar or by camera.
Our sensation of returning home when we were on the ferry back to the UK was mostly the anticipation of the familiar (we had two KFC meals on the way back to Taunton – don’t judge us!) and the excitement of seeing the people we’ve missed.
It got us thinking; what is home?. Is it our current residential address? Is it the house we have lived for ten years but is now occupied by tenants? Is it Bertie, our motorhome? We didn’t have an answer but we know now that it isn’t about physical location, it’s a combination of the way it makes us feel (secure and comfortable), the activities we undertake (mundane day to day things associated with just living) and the people who matter to us.
Since returning ‘home’ we’d had two short breaks while Bertie was in storage, and Paul was heading out on a third; a fishing trip to Alderney with his Dad. This is an annual boys trip with various family members (depending on who’s available) and other keen fishermen. It involves an early start and so Paul decided to take the train down to Exmouth where he would stay with friends before setting out at an unmentionable hour the following morning. Only an hour later and he was back, the departure date having been put back by 24 hours. The following day he finally made it.
With Paul away I spent some quality time with my parents and sister Vicki’s family and got on with making appointments; dentist, optician, chiropractor (for Paul) and most importantly hair. Because I’m a bit of a wimp I had avoided having a haircut while abroad, hairdressers can be intimidating enough without the addition of communication challenges. So I had eight months worth of straw like sun, heat and cold damaged hair that desperately needed to be removed. There is nothing quite like the feeling when long hair is reduced to something that exposes the neck. I’m sure it only weighed a few grams but I felt a stone lighter!
The weather seemed to have suddenly turned a corner, we had gone from cool breezy spring days to warm and muggy almost overnight. It was the sort of weather that invited thoughts of refreshing sea breezes and taking a dip in the ocean. Our bedding did not match the weather, flannelette may have been a god-send in the winter when we wanted a bed that felt warm as soon as we were in it, but now it was time to change back to fresh flat cotton that feels cool to the touch.
We had parked up along the coast at Specchiolla, between two beach restaurants that were still in pre season maintenance mode. When we turned up there were a number of Italian vans who had been enjoying a weekend by the sea, but they left by dark and we were in peace with just the gentle sound of waves on the shore.
The following day we took a walk along the coast to the nature reserve of Torre Guaceto. It was a beautiful walk besides sandy beaches and coves with crystal clear water beckoning us invitingly. On the way back I took the plunge and went for a swim, the sea was bracing and Paul only just managed a paddle, a few other walkers going past shivered as they watched the mad English woman.
Where we were parked the rocks formed pools and inlets full of seaweed active with small crabs, shrimps and tiny fish. That evening we watched people fishing with strange lures, we weren’t sure what they were trying to catch – we didn’t see anyone catch anything.
The following day we moved down the coast, passing by Brindisi where we stopped for some supermarket essentials. We parked in Torre San Gennaro, a seaside town that was almost lifeless apart from a couple of cafes doing their pre-season painting. The coast here was friable limestone and clay, a look could crumble it into the sea. Our parking area had new bollards in it to stop anyone from venturing too close to the edge where the sea had undercut the asphalt. We bimbled around the coast, wondering what had created the perfectly round rock pools, like miniature craters. Lumps of clay – we surmised – that had been scoured out of the harder rock by the sea.
That evening we were treated to a mysterious spectacle of fishermen and snorkelers using bright torch light to hunt for sea creatures. Octopus maybe? Some of them were carrying spear guns with multiple spikes on the end, others were using glass bottomed trays to spy under the water. Whatever they were doing it provided an evenings entertainment.
Next we drove to Foz do Lizandro, intending to stop there for the evening. We parked up on the clifftop and walked down steps to the beach where the Rio Lizandro enters the ocean. The waves washing up the beach were coming from two directions, making interesting swirling patterns where they met. There was plenty of surf and surfers out to sea but towards the beach the waters were calmer, protected by a sandbank. We decided to go in the water, less a swim and more of a float as we allowed ourselves to be churned around in the currents created by waves washing over the sandbank.
After our swim we lazed on the beach drying out and warming up, but the sky was starting to cloud over which drove us back to Bertie. We looked at the local area and decided we might as well move on. We ended up at Praia Guincho, another surfer’s beach where campervans and motorhomes were parked up for the evening. When we got there in late afternoon the sea was still full of the black dots of surfers taking advantage of as much light as possible before they gave up for the day, it seemed fully dark to me by the time the last few were walking up the beach.
Paul had been sussing out the cliffs to the north of Guincho and thought he might have some fishing spots, so we took a random walk along the coast that soon met a signposted route, so we followed it until we reached the promontory that Paul was aiming for. Here we followed fishermen’s paths down to the sea. The coast was south facing and slightly more sheltered from the ocean swells, but there were still big waves washing up and causing Paul to jump back every now and again. Paul fished (unsuccessfully) while I relaxed on the rocks reading.
Occasionally I would have a little clamber about on the rocks to see what was around. Down at the edge of the water were mussels and gooseneck barnacles. The mussels were too small to gather and I think that the gathering of gooseneck barnacles (known locally as percebes, expensive, delicious and slightly odd looking) is probably regulated, so I decided against it – that, and they were too difficult to prise from the rocks by hand.
We stayed a Guincho again that night, it had a relaxed atmosphere, but we knew that rain was due the following day and we would need to find some services too.
The reason for our slight back-track was to visit San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, a small islet with a chapel on the top, linked to the mainland with a man made bridge. This islet is particularly famous at the moment because it (or more accurately the stair that leads to the top) have featured in Game of Thrones as the steps to Dragonstone.
We drove from Bakio car park to park alongside the road at the Mirador Merendero – a parking spot we had looked for the evening before and had been unable to find due to a road being closed and the sat nav not being aware of the new road. From here it was an easy couple of miles walking to our destination along the old road. The old road had obviously not been closed for long but was suffering from imminent collapse with large sections cracked and broken away, slipping down the hill. The evidence of activity to shore up the road was everywhere but presumably they had decided that the easiest thing to do was to start again. On this road was a memorial to members of the Basque Auxilliary Navy who had served in the Spanish Civil War; a shame to think it will be visited less now that the road is closed.
The island was very picturesque with it’s steep and winding staircase looking far more difficult to climb than it actually was.
At the top we wandered around the outside of the chapel (it was closed to the public) and took in the views. There is a shelter here, but we didn’t need it as the sun was shining so we sat on the wall and watched other people arriving and ringing the chapel bell three times for luck.
From the top of the island we could see down into the clear bluegreen water where there were many fishes swimming. Later that day we went back to Bakio and I went for a snorkel from the beach where I saw more fish swimming around the rocks in the bay – it put Paul in the mood for a bit of fishing so we decided to move on to a parking spot which looked like it had potential for fishing.
We parked by the coast at Islares, just under the main A-8. The village had the feeling of a previously popular tourist resort that had lost it’s charm due to the proximity of the main road, but down at the parking area it was easy to ignore the road and just enjoy the backdrop of sharp limestone cliffs and crystal clear waters. Again we could see fish – in fact the helpful Spanish fishermen kept pointing them out to us, much to Paul’s frustration – but they just weren’t biting and Paul came away empty handed.
Further south, still enveloped by the pine forests of the Landes region of France, is a purpose built resort with the rather long name of Vieux-Boucau-Les-Bains. Part of it’s attraction is an artificially created lagoon which lets in sea water at high tide and has sluice gates to control the exit of water; this gives people the option of the surf beaches of the Atlantic or the calmer waters of the lagoon. Even though we had set off early we still found it incredibly busy when we arrived, it was Saturday and very sunny after all. The two aires were near to capacity and there was a constant flow of people arriving, we queued up behind a couple of other vans to get in and I went to look for possible parking spots while Paul helped them to get through the airlock style barriers (the trick was to get close to the ticket machine as the front barrier wouldn’t lift unless your van was close enough to the sensor). We wedged ourselves into a spot in the sun on the southern side of the lagoon and hooked up to the electricity, at €7 a night for a pitch plus electricity within a stone’s throw of the lagoon, it didn’t seem like bad value.
We had a quick stroll around the end of the lagoon watching the fisherman who were lined along the outflow from the lagoon. We decided that the calm waters were too good an opportunity to miss and we should get the Kayak out and enjoy a spot of paddling and fishing. It was easy to launch the kayak from the shore close to the aire and we started with a gentle paddle around the lagoon gliding over long strands of green weed waving in the gentle currents of the lagoon. We could see fish jumping as we approached, darting out from their shelter in the weed, but despite best endeavours weed was all we caught.
We circled the lagoon again, closer to the island in it’s centre this time, and pulled up a couple of times to explore it’s beaches. Here we paddled in the shallower waters looking at all of the life, hordes of hermit crabs in their stolen shells crawled across the sands, starfish nestled in the weed and small fish were well camouflaged against the sand. The waters of the lagoon were too weedy, and the bottom too muddy to tempt us in for a proper swim. We gathered a few clams from under the sand to make ourselves a starter for dinner, but they were too gritty even after a few hours being purged and the juices in the pan were grey with silt. Luckily we had cooked up some pork and roasted veg for a main course which kept hunger at bay.
We decided to move to New England Bay the following day. There is a large picnic area here right next to the beach and we had seen people wild camping in tents as well as campervans on the previous day’s bike ride.
I did have a concern with using this as an overnight spot because it is right at the entrance to a campsite, in fact you drive through the picnic spot to get to the campsite. One of our guidelines for choosing an overnight wild camping spot is not to park in direct line of sight of a campsite, this avoids bad feeling from campsite owners who might feel they are missing out on trade and can often be the driving force behind a lot of the unenforceable but off-putting ‘No Overnight Camping’ signs.
We agreed that we would go out fishing and then decide what to do. In the end we decided to stay at the campsite because we still had a lot of the day left, it was pleasant weather and we could do our laundry and hang it out to dry. This was our first campsite for over a week and was a Caravan Club location. We are members of the Caravan Club but I’m not a fan, the main sites are pretty expensive and overly regimented. However it was in a lovely location and had all the facilities we needed. We kept the cost down by asking for a non electric pitch which came as a surprise to one of the wardens who asked us twice whether that was really what we wanted – they only have a couple such pitches and didn’t seem to believe that we could cope without it.
We launched the kayak from the shallow sloping shingle beach in front of the picnic area and paddled out into the bay, trying to gauge how the wind and current would move us. Ideally we would paddle out and then fish as we drift, which worked here with a few corrective paddles to stop us from floating out into the centre of the bay. We could see cormorants, gulls and gannets diving for fish, so we knew there must be something around. And there was, mackerel, lots of mackerel. Luckily mackerel is our favourite eating fish, but we couldn’t get through the mackerel to catch anything else. We decided to limit our catch to 6 large mackerel, but we must have caught and released 50 or more small mackerel in our efforts to catch something else. There were plenty of other fishing boats, including some kayaks, in the bay and I wondered if they were having the same problem. A bass would have been nice for a bit of a change.
Most sport angling boats in the Bay of Luce go out tope fishing but I don’t have any interest in tope a) you can’t eat it, because they have to be released, and b) they are too big. I have seen pictures of kayak fishermen who have caught tope and wrestled them onto their kayak for the trophy photo. I entertained myself by wondering what I would do if I inadvertently ended up with a tope on my line. I decided that I would probably panic and then capsize, or possibly be dragged out to sea never to be seen again.
After a couple of hours or so of catching mackerel the wind started whipping up white horses on the water and my legs were starting to goose pimple so we called it a day and paddled back in, feeling happy that we had managed to catch something after our (Paul’s) disappointing record so far.
I cooked up all of the mackerel that evening, simply wrapped in foil with butter and lemon. What we couldn’t eat that day went into our rolls for lunch the next day. Full of Mackerel and with our laundry clean and blown perfectly dry by sea breezes we were two happy people.
Our last stop on the Lleyn peninsula was at Nant Gwrtheyrn on the north coast. This heritage centre is home to the National Welsh Language Centre as well as having some installations relating to the history of granite quarrying in the area.
We arrived at a large carpark, helpfully split into sections by wooden bollards which we assume was to stop the boy racers from using it as their personal skid pan, and although we could still see a few tell tale tyre tracks we didn’t have any late night disturbances here. From here you could see the quarry scars to the north of the village.
From the carpark there was a plunging switchback road to the heritage centre itself and although it was a good road we didn’t fancy taking Bertie down there, or back up again. As we walked down we could imagine the how isolated it would have felt for the inhabitants. The village is nestled in a deep valley on the coast with quarries to north and south making the walls of the valley seem even steeper. Leaving the village would have been a significant effort.
In it’s heyday at the end of the 19th century the village had more than 200 inhabitants living in cottages or dormitories with all of the necessary services, chapel, school and shop, but it was largely abandoned by the 1950s. Some of the buildings have been renovated and house the language school, a café and historical information. Other buildings are still ruins and once you get down to the beach you can see the old workings that would have been used to transport the quarried stone ‘setts’ from the top of the slopes down to the waiting boats. There are twisted rusted remnants of iron all along the beach. I don’t think I’d be that keen on swimming there as you don’t know what might be under the water.
We walked along to the quarry at the southern end of the beach where sheep and goats were now perched on the quarry ledges. It felt really remote and there were hundreds of guillemots flying around the cliffs and sitting out on the waves. Paul did a spot of fishing (caught a mackerel for our tea – but just the one) until the rain started, then we made our way up through the quarry and across the top of the cliffs, getting gradually more and more damp as the rain set in.
As a sleeping spot it was lovely and peaceful, but quite spooky in the morning when we were shrouded in cloud and fog and could barely see anything. As this was our last day on the Lleyn it was time to move on, but not until we could see where we were going.
Pinniped means ‘winged feet’ and is the name applied to animals with flippers, such as walruses, sea lions and seals. Our next stop gave us multiple opportunities to watch common seals (aka harbour seals) along the north coast of the Lleyn.
We needed to check into a campsite after a few days wild camping as our water supplies were low. There are a few campsites along the stretch of coast between our last stop and Morfa Nefyn. We chose Hirdre Fawr because it boasted a track linking to the coast path and a nearby beach with seals. We certainly didn’t chose it for it’s price, but then prices along that coast were much of a muchness, I think that it’s quite normal for cartels to operate so that charges are fairly uniform between all campsites in an area. At £23 per night plus 50p for a shower it was definitely a ‘one night only’ stop. We managed to save 50p though by sharing a shower in a family shower room – eight minutes of hot water is a luxury when you’ve been used to showering in a motorhome.
The campsite did live up to it’s promise, so at least we weren’t disappointed. The weather that afternoon was dry and so we could explore the coast. There was a level track that took us straight to a series of small coves, and when we walked down at high tide we could see seals bobbing around in the water, with just their heads showing. There were at least six of them (it’s difficult to count when they keep appearing and disappearing) ranging in colour between creamy white and dark grey.
We walked north along the coast to the point at Morfa Nefyn. Paul did a bit of fishing but no joy (again – but it was on the outgoing tide – or is that just an excuse?). The coastline here is low and rocky, creating many interesting and inviting coves that you can spend a lot of time exploring. At one cove a pair of Shelducks and their chicks took to the sea as we approached and did the same again when we walked through on our way back.
By the time we were on our way back the tide was getting much lower and the seals had found themselves spots on the rocks to rest. We saw two groups of seals sunning themselves on pretty uncomfortable looking outcrops along the coast, constantly jiggling themselves around in the clumsy looking way they have when they are out of the water. We heard them too, both their soft exhaling barks and the higher pitched keening sounds they were making. We spent a bit of time exploring the rockpools – one tip for bringing a rockpool alive (if you’ve got the stomach for it) is to squish a couple of limpets and drop them in. The crabs, shrimps and little fish like to come and scavenge what they can. We whiled away a half hour or so watching all of the sea life, but the majority of our attention was definitely on the seals.
Next it was back to the original plan, and so we headed back down to the northernmost ‘toe’ of the peninsula. Mynydd Mawr (literally Big Mountain) overlooks Bardsey Island and there is a National Trust car park which was our camping spot for the next couple of nights. It was difficult to find a level spot on the grassy carpark, but we did the best we could.
Bardsey Island’s welsh name ‘Ynys Enlli’ means Island of the Currents and you can see why it got it’s name at high tide when the currents race through the sound between the mainland and the island. Even when the sea is relatively calm it produces white water. Paul went down to the nearby beach to do some fishing (while I had an early night due to some unpleasant consequences of the Food Slam) and found it quite unnerving to see how fierce the currents were so close to shore.
We went for a walk around the headland on the first day, finishing on the top of the headland where there were long views across the Lleyn peninsular. The second day we took a bike ride following regional cycle trail 43 which used country lanes (not that there is any other type of road round here) – no off roading for us on this ride.
The weather had turned out better than expected, so we stopped a couple of times to take in what sunshine was on offer. Once at Porth Towyn, a lovely deserted sandy beach, and once at Aberdaron. Aberdaron is a bustling little village all set up for the tourist trade. For us the main excitement was the free beach WiFi, we’d been without a reliable internet connection for a few days and this let us catch up with the outside world. Plus we downloaded a few TV programmes to help us while away the rainy days we knew were coming.
On our final morning here we woke up to grey drizzle, the only thing that seemed to be enjoying this were the choughs who were busy pulling up worms from the damp grass. These red beaked, red legged members of the crow family are quite rare in many parts of the UK but we’ve seen plenty of them round the coast of wales.
Even the sheep were trying to get away from the rain – by taking refuge under our van. When we woke up to strange sounds we couldn’t work out what it was, but when we opened our door and the sheep all scattered we realised that they must have been scratching themselves against the chassis.
A police car drove up to the carpark that morning, we wondered if this was going to be our first experience of being moved on, but this was obviously just part of their rounds as they drove up through the carpark to the view point at the top, and then a few minutes later drove back out again without a second glance.
It’s still raining as I write this, but I thought I’d share the sunny side of the last seven days, as there was quite a bit of sunshine and it might cheer me up.
Our first spot was Martin’s Haven, a National Trust spot at the end of the Dale peninsular. We drove down to the car park through single track lanes early in the morning to try to avoid meeting any cars coming in the other direction (this was where we picked up all of those pesky seeds that we had to clean off in the rain) and got parked up for free courtesy of our National Trust membership. However there were clear signs prohibiting overnight parking, and although we would have got away with it so long as we had left early the next morning before the parking attendants turned up, we decided not to chance it. We don’t really like early mornings.
While we were there though we took a walk around the peninsular to the village of Marloes (where there was a pub of course, for a quick pint). The views from the peninsular of Skomer Island were beautiful and the currents around the headland made for fascinating watching as they clashed and formed whirlpools. In the many inlets we saw seals bobbing about in the foam, just their dog-like heads poking above the water as they took shelter from the wilder waters of the open sea.
We could have launched the kayak from the sheltered beach at Martin’s Haven, but after our walk we were a bit tired so we contented ourselves with watching a couple of other motorhomers in their sea kayaks (which are lean and efficient for cutting through the waves, unlike our fat but stable sit-on-top kayak).
Our next potential spot for a bit of Kayaking was Dale, a free parking spot just before the village next to the lagoon which sits behind the bay. We drove from Martin’s Haven the short distance to Dale. This time we weren’t so lucky in the narrow lanes and met a local bus service, the ‘Puffin Shuttle’, head on. The bus driver was very friendly though and reversed up to let us pass – they must get used to it. This was our first encounter with the Pembrokeshire coastal bus services which are a fabulous service for walkers as well as locals, covering the majority of the coastline of Pembrokeshire and enabling you to do walks in one direction rather than having to go there and back again. A single ticket is only £1.70 which is a bargain. We quickly learned to check their timetables to avoid meeting them in difficult spots.
When we got to the carpark near Dale it was low tide and the water was a distance across mud and sand, so we didn’t know how great it would be for launching, but we made our dinner and watched the shore from Bertie and gradually the tide came in and covered the bay. As the sun set, we could see the lights of the industrial facilities at Milford Haven twinkling in the distance.
We kayaked around the bay the following day, zig-zagging across the bay in search of the perfect fishing spot, but no luck with the fish. We stopped on the beach at Dale village itself to watch other people indulging in various watersports; kayaking, sailing, SUP and fishing. No one else was having any luck with the fish either so at least we weren’t alone. By the time we got back to our parking spot about four hours later my arms were aching, Paul often compares my arms to those of a tyrannosaurus – of no known use for anything (how insulting), but I agree I relied on him to do a lot of the hard work.
Because we hadn’t caught any fish we cycled up to a nearby house where they were selling lobsters and crab from an outbuilding in the garden, and picked up a couple of crabs for tea, yum.
We’d now had four nights of wild camping on the trot and the toilet was getting dangerously full, we had obviously made more use of public toilets last time. So we booked up a campsite near St Davids, we also knew that the rain and strong winds were due in so felt more comfortable hunkering down in a campsite.
When we got the campsite there was still an afternoon of good weather to take advantage of, so we walked around the coast from St David’s searching for good fishing spots. This time Paul was fishing from the rocks rather than the kayak, and he had a bit more success, but still no Mackerel for my tea, just a couple of launce and a small pollack that had to go back in the water.
Our last spell of good weather and our last couple of days on the Pembrokeshire coast were spent walking, the first day we walked along the coast from Abereiddi through the pretty villages of Porthgain and Abercastle before getting the coastal bus back, the second day we walked around Dinas Head. The coast between Abereiddi and Abercastle has many relics of the slate mining industry; old quarry sites, including the blue lagoon where a school group were having fun (I think that’s what the screams were) jumping into the deep water, ruined mine buildings and the harbours which had at one time been important transport links and are now quiet pretty villages that seemed to be mostly holiday lets or second homes. Dinas Head on the other hand was wilder and we sat on the edge of the cliffs watching the sea birds on their rocky islet, gulls and guillemots sat on the rocks or bobbed up and down on the waves and a solitary gannet made it’s spectacular plunging dives into the sea.
As you can see from the photos, we had plenty of good weather in between the rain, and that’s one thing our extended journey allows – we can take advantage of those good spells. Now we’re leaving the Pembrokeshire cost behind us as we head inland for a bit of a change.