Underground, Overground

 23/11/17

We spent the night of 22nd parked at Batalha in preparation for a visit to Batalha Monastery. We wanted to visit one monastery while we were in Portugal and it was a pretty random decision that bought us here of all the monasteries we had flagged as possibilities.

Batalha means ‘Battle’; the monastery was built by King João I to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for victory in battle over the Castilians in 1385. For many this was the deciding point in establishing Portugal as a country, distinct from Spain, and so the monastery has a special place in the Portuguese people’s regard. 

Statue of King Joao I

The church is free to visit but some of the other buildings require a ticket, after a bit of a search we found the tickets being sold at the back of the church and started our exploration. The building is beautiful with highly ornate stonework in parts, although the church interior was surprisingly stark. The contrast in styles apparently being due to King João’s wife – Philippa of Lancaster – inviting British architects to contribute to the design. We liked the chapterhouse with it’s vaulted ceiling which houses the Portuguese tomb of the unknown soldier, attended at all times by military personnel, the two cloisters, very different in style and the unfinished chapels with their ornate stonework left open to the sky and pigeons.

The Royal Cloister with attractive gothic screens

The ornate stonework of the unfinished chapels

After exploring the monastery we ventured further inland to Mira de Aire. This town is in a Natural Park area of limestone rocks, gorges and caves. We found our parking spot up near the sports complex at the top of the town after another sat nav disagreement (this time it tried to take us straight up a cobbled alley to the top of the town when there was a perfectly sensible road that cut uphill on a more gentle gradient) and wandered down into the town to visit the Grutas Mira de Aire, one of a few tourist cave systems in the area. We bought our tickets and waited for the tour with a handful of people only for a large school party to arrive. The sound of 40 eleven year olds having a good time was an assault to our ears. We crossed our fingers that they would be giving the kids a different tour but it was not to be. With apologies they lumped us in with half of the class. We watched a documentary about the geology of the area (they obviously didn’t believe in dumbing down) which was interesting when we could read the subtitles, but guesswork when showing white subtitles on a limestone background. Then we went down to view the caves, the guide providing commentary in both English and Portuguese.  The part of the cave system on display was vertical, so we descended lots of steps (there was a lift at the end to take us back to the surface) it was well decorated with stalactites, stalagmites, curtains and flowstone. Despite the fact that this is a tourist attraction, has some fairly garish lighting, and water is pumped through during dry periods we still enjoyed viewing the impressive natural decorations. 

Limestone curtain formation – ‘The Organ’
Some of the many stalactites in the cave

We left the caves, walking back uphill to Bertie. The skies were dark with cloud and the first spots of rain started to fall. It quickly got heavier and Paul decided that he wanted to escape the rain rather than stay for the night. We drove back down to the coast in heavier and heavier rain with occasional flashes of lightening. As we approached the coast we got stuck behind a car doing about 15mph, not sure whether he was scared of the dark, worried about the rain or just drunk, we kept our distance until they slowed to a complete stop halfway round a roundabout. We gingerly edged past them and down to our parking spot.          

Roaming Roman Walls

04/11/17 – 05/11/17

We had been watching the weather forecast for a couple of days, tracking a low pressure system that looked like it would hit Portugal and Spain. It had got to the point where the forecasters were pretty convinced that it was going to cause heavy rain and thunderstorms along the northern coast of Spain, and unfortunately for us it looked like it was going to linger over the Picos de Europa.

The cloud approaching at Islares that morning

It was 1995 when I first went to the Picos de Europa  on a trip with my ex-university friends from LUSS – the Lancaster University Speleological Society. My memory of the couple of weeks we were there includes long lazy days in mountain meadows in the sunshine in between stints at the bottom of caves unsuccessfully (particularly in my case as I am a bit of a wimp when it comes to hitting anything) wielding a lump hammer trying to break through constrictions to the chasms beyond. The aim was to find new entrances to the substantial cave systems in the Picos, an activity that continues to this day, see http://www.tresvisocaves.info/.

I was very keen to go back for an above ground visit, but the weather forecast was looking pretty wet and we decided that we’d rather wait and put in on the itinerary for next year. Instead we spent the day driving west and south of the Picos, bypassing the Asturias region and the rain to bring us to Galicia. The drive really bought home the major engineering efforts that are required to navigate through such a large country, tunnels, bridges and viaducts on a scale that we don’t see in the UK. Of course the advantage here is that there is elbow room to build roads, often leaving the ‘old roads’ in situ and giving us tightwads an alternative to paying tolls.

Our drive eventually bought us to Lugo, a hill-top town inland in Galicia; it seemed unprepossessing when we arrived in the twilight, the parking area was part way up the hill with views of roads and more industrial areas of the town and any views upwards obscured by a park. The following morning we climbed up through the park to get to the center of town where we finally managed to get a look at Lugo’s most famous, and unique, feature –Roman walls that form an intact and unbroken ring around the city. We joined many people on a Sunday morning stroll around the top of the walls, looking down and across to the rooftops of buildings of all different ages, some modern or renovated and some looking to be on the brink of collapse. It didn’t take long to walk a complete circuit so we followed it up by meandering through the streets seeing if we could match building to roof.

There wasn’t enough to keep us in Lugo for another evening and so in the afternoon we moved on to Guitiriz with the aim of finding a walk or bike ride in the area. There is a small motorhome parking here which was free AND included working electricity, I think that’s a first for us. We turned up and parked alongside a German motorhome on the limited hardstanding and took ourselves off to explore the small town to see where we might pick up some vittles for our packed lunch the next day. As it was Sunday most things were closed but we spotted a couple of Panaderia/Pastellarias. We also found a notice board for a walk which we agreed would keep us entertained the following day.

That night we felt the first real onset of autumn with a cool, almost cold, evening. Luckily we had electricity and so we could have our little oil fired radiator on for a bit of additional warmth.             

The Stairs to Dragonstone

03/11/17

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.

The bridge and steps to the top of the island

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.

The chapel in the summit has been rebuilt many times due to storm damage

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.   

The view across the artificial lagoon at Islares

A Quick Trip to Bilbao

02/11/17

The following morning we set off for Bilbao, the Dutch couple next to us tried to persuade us that the journey was easier and more enjoyable by bus and we might as well remain parked in the aire, but as we were moving further west anyway it seemed an unnecessary duplication of travel. I got the luxury of being a passenger and it was a beautiful journey along the coast road through villages, past farms and up and down wooded hillsides. For countryside so close to an urban centre it was remarkably unspoilt and very beautiful, the timber framed Basque estancias lending it an alpine character. Paul, of course, was focused on the driving and unable to enjoy the views unless they were in his line of sight.

We had decided to park near to the funicular station in Bilbao, on the North East side of the city. There is plenty of free parking here and the funicular is €0.95 per person each way. It was far easier than trying to navigate through the city and less expensive than the Bilbao aires. We didn’t end up staying here overnight but it felt peaceful and safe so I wouldn’t have had any issues.

Heading down to Bilbao in the funicular

Our focus for the day was a trip to the Guggenheim museum. We had been to the Guggenheim in New York and wanted to see how it compared to Bilbao, personally I found the New York space more cohesive inside; the complexity of the Bilbao space seemed to create too many odd shaped corridors and corners. The Bilbao building was certainly impressive from the outside though, not better, but different. Neither of us are really art enthusiasts, being more inclined to admiring architecture and engineering, and few of the exhibits really engaged us; we ended up feeling that we would have been better off just appreciating the external structure.

A selection of photos from the Guggenheim

Following our visit to the Guggenheim we walked along the river, crossing bridges backwards and forwards as we moved towards the older parts of the city. Eventually we ended up at the La Ribera market, an indoor market with various kiosks selling fresh fish, meat and vegetables as well as cured meats and cheeses. It wasn’t the biggest market I’ve been to, but it had a nice little area of bars serving pintxos (the Basque region’s version of tapas) and we decided to eat our lunch here, sampling various options; octopus and elvers, meat and cheese croquettes, stuffed peppers and other tasty portions.

We had been in the wider Basque country since the south west of France, but here in Spain it was more obvious with Euskara, the language of the Basque people, appearing on road signs and on information boards with equal prominence to Castilian Spanish. The origins of the Euskaran language – which is unrelated to any other Indo European language – and the genetic origins of the people of the Basque region make interesting reading and provide context for cultural differentiation and more recent political activity. 

The Art Deco frontage of Bilbao’s station

Once we had eaten our late lunch – typically Spanish timing – we headed to the tourist office to see if they could provide any information about the surrounding countryside, but they were very focused on the city and didn’t have much to offer apart from their free wifi. We sat in their cool air conditioned building for a few minutes updating some apps and information on our phones before heading back towards Bertie. Once back we decided that we would move on to spend the night by the coast rather than in the suburbs, and after saying that we would be heading west…we went east, just a short distance to the seaside town of Bakio where we parked up in the car park and took a stroll down the beach in the fresh air.

 

Border Crossings

31/10/17

Crossing the border into Spain was barely noticed, no large signs declaiming the point at which we moved from one country to another, just a gradual dawning of realization that the road signs were now of the Spanish variety and a succession of cheap petrol stations being visited by queues of French cars. It’s rarely that we’ve crossed European land borders before as holidays have usually involved leaving the UK by air and landing in our destination country, the Schengen agreement’s easing of travel across borders is a huge benefit to us, but it’s missing the theatre of border control generated by the anticipation of a holiday and the slight apprehension that something might go wrong.

Our first stop was not far from the border, just a step down the coast to San Sebastien where the small city sits behind a large crescent beach. We parked up in an aire in the university district where motorhomes were tightly packed together to make the best use of the space. Motorhomes came and went all day and evening, often arriving to find there was no room. It was a busy place. It was also very cosmopolitan compared to the French aires we had been on recently where the majority of vans were French; this aire had a good mixture of German, Dutch, English, French and Spanish vans.

Looking west along the beach at San Sebastien

The weather turned from grey skies to blue and we ventured the ten minutes or so from the aire to the beach where we took a walk along to the Peini Del Viento (the Comb of the Winds, in case you’re wondering) – a combined architectural and sculptural installation at the eastern end of the beach. Possibly the most engaging part was the way that the sea was used to push air through vents in the floor, producing sounds and blasts of air. The potential for a Marilyn Monroe incident stymied by the fact that everyone was wearing trousers. We headed down to the old town but our walk was cut short when Paul decided his sore toe from the previous day’s walk was probably a blister. We never did make it into the old city, we debated whether to stay for another day specifically to take a longer look around, but not being city fans we decided to give it a miss as we knew we were going to Bilbao in a couple of days.

The Comb of the Winds

The aire was quiet that evening, it may have been the university district but the students obviously ventured further afield for their social lives.   

Suffolk Coast

11/10/17-12/10/17

We moved from our overnight parking spot to the National Trust parking at Dunwich Heath ready for a stroll around the heath. The heath to the north and inland was a little uninspiring in the subdued autumnal light so we extended our walk alongside Docwra’s Ditch and then across to RSPB Minsmere before heading back along the coast to the car park.

Autumn colours on Dunwich Heath

The landscape on the latter half of the walk was more interesting, we joked that Docwra had made a better attempt on his ditch than Offa – subsequent research seems to indicate that it’s a recent feature built as a firebreak, I have no idea why it specifically named after Docwra though. We stopped in a couple of the enormous and well appointed hides at Minsmere hoping for a sight of something interesting but the wind was keeping the birds away. We did see a hobby though as we walked through the wetlands.

Sea views from RSPB Minsmere

That afternoon we moved onto Sutton Hoo, the site where an Anglo-Saxon burial mound was excavated in the 1930s to reveal an amazing ship burial with it’s treasure intact, including the now iconic Sutton Hoo helmet. The exhibition contained a number of artefacts from various of the burial mounds at Sutton Hoo and replicas of the more substantial treasures which are now in the British Museum. I find this period of British history fascinating, probably because so little is known about it so it crosses the boundaries between history and myth.

The Sutton Hoo helmet – large scale replica above the exhibition centre

Also on the site is the house of Edith Pretty, the landowner who requested the excavation of the mound in the 1930s. It contains the story of the excavation and in particular the race to complete the work once war was declared, much more interesting than I was expecting, and we took a short stroll around the mounds. It always makes me wonder now many treasures have not only been plundered by grave robbers but also just ploughed under by farmers or builders.

The Sutton Hoo mounds – the largest has been reconstructed to give a sense of the scale of the burial mounds

 Our overnight spot was at some quiet parking on the coast at East Lane near Bawdsey. Sadly the radar station museum was still undergoing refurbishment – all part of the 100th anniversary work according to Aaron – but there was still an opportunity for a morning walk along the coast, so we set off past Shingle Street and along to the mouth of the Ore and it’s shingle spit before heading back. Along the way we saw remains of pillboxes, some falling into the sea, and four impressive Martello Towers – cylindrical forts built to help defend us from Napoleon’s forces. Some of these had been converted to private houses with additional glass roofed structures to provide views out to sea. 

Martello towers along the Suffolk coast

That evening we moved on to parking at Felixstowe where we watched with awe as the massive container ships were loaded up with their containers using equally massive cranes. The industrial sound of the loading, with the distant thunder ‘boom’ of each container being settled onto the ship soothed us to sleep, with only the sound of the ship’s horn waking us up as finally it was loaded and could set off to sea.

Felixstowe harbour

Studley Royal And Fountains Abbey

02/10/17

The cockerel that had been strutting around the previous evening decided to give full voice at sunrise so we were up bright and early. With the dawning of the new day all was well and the tribulations of the previous day’s shopping were behind us. Even Paul’s sore neck had improved. We made our way to Fountains Abbey in a good mood.

Somehow we had missed visiting any of the Scottish border abbeys, so this visit was to make up for that omission. What I hadn’t realised, until picking up the leaflet at the entrance, was that it’s UNESCO World Heritage status is not solely due to the abbey remains, which are lovely in their own right but not exceptionally different to other ruined abbeys. It is a World Heritage site due mostly to the way in which the ruins of the abbey were incorporated into the 18th century landscaping of Studley Royal Park. Initially the landscaping was created by John Aislabie to draw the eye to Fountains Abbey, but he didn’t own the land the abbey was on. Later he managed to buy the land and so it could be incorporated more fully. The river has been tamed and controlled to create a series of canals and lakes through the park with many features and follies dotted around to offer interesting viewpoints, with the abbey being the ultimate dramatic and romantic view.

Approaching Fountains Abbey from Studley Royal water park

The abbey buildings are very impressive in their scale, especially considering it was established by monks who wanted to live a simple life of poverty and abstinence! Although there are buildings of similar age that are wholly intact, somehow the fact that it is a ruin makes it seem even more impressive. I think that it’s because of the amount of the structure that remains despite it being ruined and raided for stone to be used in other buildings. 

Fountains Abbey church and Huby’s tower
View of Fountains Abbey from the brewhouse

 

 

 

Fountains Abbey cellarium

We had a good day wandering around the abbey and the park. The sun was shining but it was very windy which meant that some of the wooded walks were closed and we missed out on seeing some of the follies and viewpoints, but even so there was plenty to interest us, including the obligatory tea and cake.

Studley Royal water park – not a death slide or lazy river in sight

 

 

Border Lines

30/09/17

Having crossed the border back into England we thought it was only fitting that we visit Hadrian’s wall to see how the Roman empire managed the border with the wild lands outside it’s control.

We drove into Northumberland National Park past signs for the Golf Masters tournament which was on that weekend. Luckily for us we were too late for any traffic issues and sailed through on nice quiet roads.

Our destination was Housesteads Roman Fort. We had originally wanted to walk a few miles along the wall but Paul had woken up with a stiff neck and by the time he had driven this far he wasn’t feeling very mobile, so instead we satisfied ourselves with a simple visit to the fort complex and associated exhibition. I wasn’t very impressed by the exhibition which seemed quite simplistic. I’m sure that the one at Vindolanda was a lot better, although I went there about 17 years ago so my memory may not be entirely accurate.  The fort complex was interesting though, you could see how the standardised layout had been overlaid onto the hilly site with very little regard for appropriateness to the landscape. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the Roman soldiers who were posted here, especially while the fort was still being built.

View across the fort

 

Communal latrine – given Paul’s predilection for leaving the bathroom door open I suggested this might be up his street
The granary with it’s raised floor to keep out rats and mice

We had decided on a campsite that evening so we made our way back towards Hexham and Wellhouse Farm campsite. We arrived but couldn’t find anyone to tell us where to pitch up, we had a quick chat to another motorhome owner who said he hadn’t been able to find anyone either and had just parked up. He also warned us that the showers weren’t working which was a shame for Paul as he was hoping for a long hot shower to relax his neck muscles. We parked up on the grass while I went for a bit of a further explore and found that the lady’s showers did work but were a pathetic trickle of luke warm water so we would probably be best off filling up with water and showering in the van. Except we couldn’t, because we were stuck.

I managed to ring the farmer and he agreed to come and tow us out the following morning, so Paul had a shower in the van with our remaining water while I went back to the shower block and tried to make the most of the dreadful shower.

We talked about why this campsite felt so poor and decided that it was pure disappointment. After all it was only £12 a night, and we’ve paid as much to stay on campsites with no shower block at all and felt like we got reasonable value. But the fact that modern, hot, showers are advertised and not delivered turned us off completely. Isn’t it funny how our minds work.

Bertie being towed off site

 

Final Days in Scotland

28/09/17-28/09/17

Over the last week we have started to feel a little unsettled as we realised our time in Scotland was coming to a close – what should we do for our last few days to make the most of our remaining time? How would we feel to leave the land of square sausage and well fired breakfast rolls?

We toyed with a trip into Edinburgh but I wasn’t too keen, much as I love the city I also spent plenty of time there with work and couldn’t quite separate the city from the memories of clip clopping up and down the hilly streets in my work clobber dragging my little wheely suitcase with me. 

So the answer was that we would spend a couple of days on the ‘golf coast’ seeing a very small selection of what this south eastern stretch of Scotland had to offer.

We started in North Berwick, a gentrified town on the coast within commuting distance of Edinburgh with a long seafront beach and a skyline dominated by two ancient steep sided volcanic plugs; out to sea is Bass rock, home to the largest gannet colony in the world, inland is Berwick Law, topped with a (now replica) whale’s jaw bone.

Bertie’s parking spot in North Berwick

In North Berwick we spent the night in a popular spot on the eastern end of the seafront, with several other motorhomes and campervans. The following morning we walked along the coast to Tantallon castle, an interesting ruined castle with a large curtain wall protecting it’s inland side and sea cliffs forming the main defence around it’s other three sides. The coastal walk was tough going as the paths slowly petered out and we had to fight our way through scrub to finish the walk. On the way back we mainly walked along the road!

Tantallon Castle curtain wall

 

During our walk we watched the many seabirds, mostly gulls and gannets, that were flying backwards and forwards along the coast and out to sea. Through our binoculars we could see the castle and lighthouse on Bass Rock clinging to the sides of the guano draped island. It was difficult to imagine anyone being able to land on the island with it’s steep sides, let alone making their way up the cliffs to the buildings. The island sports no greenery and very few flat surfaces so anyone in those buildings would have been trapped until a boat could come out to collect them, a grim place to get stuck!

After North Berwick we moved onto Eyemouth, a contrast to North Berwick, Eyemouth is a working fishing town with ship building, fisheries and a fish market. We took a walk round the harbour and watched as boats left on the rising tide and then stopped at The Contented Sole for a couple of drinks. Near our parking spot was a memorial to the Eyemouth Fishing Disaster of 1881, where 189 fishermen lost their lives, including 129 from the town itself, an event that must have overshadowed the town for many years after it happened with so many wives and children left to grieve.

We’d had a couple of pleasant days, but the following morning dawned grey and gloomy and our moods were the same as we realised we would be leaving Scotland.

 

Fabulous Falkirk

27/09/17-28/09/17

I would never have thought about visiting Falkirk if it wasn’t for Facebook.

I will admit I have a bit of a Facebook addiction, accessing it far more than is healthy and habitually swiping and refreshing every time I pick up my phone. In an attempt to channel that addiction in a useful direction I have joined a number of forums, including several devoted to motorhoming. The Scottish Motorhome Wildcampers forum has been a great help on our travels round Scotland and I kept seeing pictures of the Kelpies coming up on the feed. As I’m a sucker for anything that is illuminated I immediately wanted to go and visit them, and as luck would have it that fitted in nicely with our plans to finish our tour of Scotland down it’s south eastern side. Also in it’s favour, there are two car parks and both will allow motorhomes to stay overnight.

During the day you can see the huge steel plates that make up the Kelpies

The Kelpies are two huge steel sculptures of horses heads which were installed as part of the Helix project, a regeneration project based around the Forth and Clyde canal. We turned up in the afternoon and popped down to visit them which it was still daylight, and then we went down after sunset to view them in all of their illuminated glory. Through their Wikipedia entry I found an article from the Guardian’s art critic that scathingly referred to the Kelpie’s as misbegotten, bland and stale; obviously not a fan of popular municipal art then! I thought they were fantastic, maybe not thought provoking or ground breaking but definitely awe inspiring and such a great success story for the local tourism economy.

 

The Kelpies slowly change colour during the evening

And Falkirk is about more than just the Kelpies. The following day we took a bike ride along the canal to the Falkirk Wheel, this was built as part of the millemium project to re-connect the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. Back in the days when the canals were being used in anger the 35 meter height difference was managed through a series of locks that took the best part of a day to navigate. These locks were dismantled and the two canals have been separate since the 1930s. The project to re-link the canals was looking for an imaginative way to allow traffic to pass through and so the Falkirk Wheel was born – a huge rotating lift that will transport boats up or down between the canals. We sat and watched in fascination as the tourist boat and some other canal boats used the lift.

Watching two canal boats slowly being lowered from the Union Canal to the Forth and Clyde Canal

 

The Union Canal hovers over the Forth and Clyde canal basin
Looking through the eye of the needle – the Union Canal disappears into infinity

When we could finally tear ourselves away from the wheel we moved on into Callendar Park and the mountain biking centre at Craigburn Woods. This is one of three mountain biking areas in the park and had a short blue trail and a slightly longer red trail. Both were very easy for their grades, but highly enjoyable and we whizzed round them a couple of times getting muddy in the process.

Finally we made our way back along to the Union Canal and across town back to the carpark at the Kelpies. We were asked for directions to the Falkirk Wheel by a Canadian who was cycling in the opposite direction and was a bit concerned after seeing us that it might be muddy en-route. 

It had been a fantastic day and we felt there was plenty more to keep us occupied if we had the time to stay for longer. But we couldn’t stay, so off we went to our next stop, by-passing Edinburgh on our way to North Berwick where we parked up at the end of the beach alongside a few other motorhomes and campervans.

 

 

Bimble Around Brodick

02/09/17

After a day on the mountain we didn’t feel like doing anything too strenuous so we headed to Brodick. We parked up in the car park by the Mountain Rescue centre, where we intended to spend the night (although we decided not to in the end).

First port of call was Castle Brodick which we could visit for free courtesy of our National Trust memberships. From the car park we could walk across the road and go through the pedestrian entrance. The castle itself isn’t open at the moment as it’s undergoing essential fire prevention work, but the gardens were open to wander around. They had a number of nice specimen trees and two walled gardens (I do like a walled garden), although the only walled garden that was open was the ornamental one and the kitchen garden was not open to the public. 

Striking tree in Brodick Castle grounds

One feature in the gardens is the Bavarian Summerhouse which was built by the 11th Duke of Hamilton in the 1840s for his German wife. This structure, built of wood and decorated with pine cones was interesting especially as the ceiling decoration is still the original and hasn’t been restored (although it looks like roofers may have put their feet through the ceiling on a couple of occasions). The 11th Duke was also responsible for the castle building as it’s seen today on the back of Scottish £20 notes, which bears very little resemblance to the original 13th century building although some of the original walls still exist.

The Bavarian Summerhouse

After a couple of hours wandering around the gardens and some tea and cake (in Paul’s opinion the worst cup of tea he’s ever had although mine was perfectly fine – maybe it was the milk as I have my tea black) we went back to Bertie for some lunch and then walked in the other direction down the Fisherman’s Walk which goes into Brodick. This is a nice stroll which runs between the beach and the golf course, sometimes on grass, sometimes on the sandy beach and a short stretch on boardwalks. We popped into the bakery and the coop in Brodick to pick up some essential supplies and then toddled back along the Fisherman’s walk to Bertie.

View along Fisherman’s Walk

By his point it was mid afternoon and as we sat in Bertie we decided that the car park was perfectly satisfactory but a bit dull – no views – so we moved back north to Sannox where we parked up in a laybys by the picnic spot just at the northern end of the village. We could see the sea and river from here which was much more interesting. At this point Paul wasn’t feeling too good (blamed on that cup of tea) so I left him in the van to wallow while I took a walk along the bay. He managed to eat his dinner though so I think he was just a bit tired! 

Bertie in the Sannox parking spot

 

 

 

The Cock of Arran

31/08/17

Lochranza is a village on the northern coast of Arran, set alongside a small sea loch. I don’t know when a bay or inlet becomes a loch, but the name makes it quite clear, this is definitely a loch.

View of Lochranza village from Castle Spit (with one of the many herons we have seen in Arran)

We had parked on the near end of a spit of land which juts out into the loch, not quite cutting off the inland end of the loch from the sea. On this spit of land stands Lochranza castle. It was closed when we arrived but we looked forward to having a look around the following day.

Lochranza castle at dusk

We would be coming back to Lochranza later in this trip to get the ferry that runs between Lochranza and Claonaig on the Kintyre peninsular, but for the time being we were using it as a base for another coastpath walk which would take in Hutton’s Unconformity (a geological feature) and the Cock of Arran (titter yet not) as we walked to Laggan cottage and back again.

We set off initially through Lochranza and past the golf course, Scotland wouldn’t be Scotland without a golf course or two, and Arran lives up to it’s reputation as ‘Scotland in Miniature’ not just because of it’s geographic diversity but also because it has golf courses everywhere you look. Here we saw a group of stags nonchalantly lazing on the fairway which gave us a reason to pause and take a quick photo. 

A new hazard on the fairway

The path continued around the northern side of the loch, past a string of rather nice houses with their gardens protected by deer proof fences before heading onto the coast proper. It was easy going underfoot for much of the first couple of miles. We passed by the old croft style buildings at the ‘Fairy Dell’ and then reached the main obstacle of the walk – the An Scriodan boulders – a tumble of large boulders left by a cliff fall that used to pose a problem for walkers who had to navigate around and over them to continue the walk. Perhaps it was slightly masochistic of me, but the work that has been done to create a clear pathway through the boulders has taken some of the fun out of the walk, and although the pathway involves some steps up rocks and there were one or two occasions when hand touched rock it didn’t seem all that exciting.

View to Lochranza from the early stages of the walk

Once we were past here we were approaching the Cock of Arran, I am a bit confused as to the actual identity of this feature; some guide books say that it is a large boulder that apparently once resembled a cockerel and was used as a navigational aid, some say that it is the most northerly point of the island. We chose to believe that it was the boulder, but who knows. This boulder is red sandstone, and the beach has large eroded slabs of the same red sandstone that are quite striking and bear a strong resemblance to the sandstone features of Orcombe point at home in Exmouth. We sat here for a while looking for wildlife, no sea mammals today but we did see plenty of gannets diving for fish out to sea.

Red sandstone beaches

We continued on past the unimpressive Ossian’s cave – which we later found out was wrongly identified on the OS map and some old buildings which used to be associated with salt panning that took place here, using locally sourced coal to heat the sea water. We could see Laggan cottage but decided to turn around before we reached it and retrace our steps.

We never did identify the exact position of Hutton’s unconformity, but this feature is apparently not very exciting to look at. It is more exciting for it’s place in the history of science and geology in particular. The presence of successive layers of different types of rocks, at different angles were part of the evidence that Hutton – the ‘Father of Modern Geology’ – used to support his theory of geological processes, which included a proposal that the Earth was far older than the accepted age. The Lochranza unconformity was the first such example that he found but not the best and he went on to find various unconformities around the country.

When we finally returned to Lochranza the castle was open and we were able to take a look around this 13th century building. It is one of many castles that are maintained by Historic Scotland and is free to visit. There were some interesting snippets of information around the building explaining the way in which the building had originally been set up (as a ‘hall house’ with storage on the ground floor, a large public hall on the first floor and other more private rooms on the upper floor) and then modified through successive generations.

Lochranza castle

It had been a good day, although we felt that the walk had been much touted as ‘the best coast walk’ on Arran and we hadn’t enjoyed it as much as the one from Kildonan.

The day wasn’t over as we had some jobs to do, we were planning to climb Goatfell the following day, but also needed to empty our toilet and refill our water. We drove through the scenic mountain road back to Whiting Bay, and as we drove past. Rodrick realised we had managed to complete a full circuit of the island. With Bertie refreshed we then retraced our steps back up to Corrie where we parked in a picnic spot south of the village not far from the start of the following morning’s walk.

Never Ending Antiquities

30/08/17

We had parked at King’s Cave deliberately … to visit King’s Cave of course. So the next morning we took a stroll down to the coast to see one of Arran’s famous tourist attractions.

There is a circular route from the car park which goes through forest and picks a path down the cliff with views of the fort at Blackwaterfoot. The forest floor was heavily carpeted with moss and there were plenty of mushrooms glowing with a gentle luminescence against the dark backdrop of the forest floor. Mostly they were the rather prosaically named ‘Sickener’.

View to Blackwaterfoot

The King’s Cave is one of a number of caves cut into the sandstone cliffs along this stretch of coast. The caves were originally caused by sea erosion until the events that caused the raised beach around Arran. The series of arches was far more impressive than the previous day’s Black Cave. The King’s Cave itself is said to be the cave in which Robert the Bruce watched the spider ‘try try again’ to build it’s web. Although that is highly unlikely, the real draw here is the graffiti on the walls, some ancient and some relatively modern. Instead of graffiti, the modern way of making a mark here is to balance stones into towers, covering the beach and cave floors like lumpy stalagmites.

Rock arches and caves
The small stone cairns that have been left by recent visitors

 

 

Some of the older graffiti in the cave

After spending a little time at the caves it was starting to get busy and we wandered back up  to the car park which we found to be full. Our plan had been to drive on down the road to the next tourist spot, but given how busy it was here we thought we might have difficulty getting parked, so we got the bikes off the back of Bertie and cycled to the Machrie stone circles.

Machrie Moor sits south of the mountainous area of Arran and is the site of many Neolithic antiquities. Hut circles, cists, cairns and burial mounds as well as the stone circles. There is a farm track that takes you out to the main grouping of stones but many more on the moor if you want to explore. All this with the dramatic backdrop of the mountains. Even Paul was impressed, although he was heard to say ‘not another one’. 

Sandstone circle, the grass covers the remains of other stones
Sandstone monolith
One of the granite stone circles

It had been the right decision to cycle to Machrie moor as the car park there was full and people were turning up only to have to drive away. We cycled back to Bertie and made our way further up the west coast enjoying the sea views on the way to Lochranza where we parked up by the castle for the night. 

 

Maritime Irvine

27/08/17

We took the plunge and booked our ferry to Arran for Monday. The weather for Monday was going to be pretty dire (again) so we thought we might as well plan to travel rather than sit in the motorhome watching the rain.

The ferry to Arran leaves from Ardrossan which is further north up the Ayrshire coast, towards Glasgow. We looked at possible places to spend the Sunday before embarking on the next stage of our journey. After a lot of outdoor activities (and some weather enforced inactivity) we fancied something a bit different, so we made tracks for Irvine where the Scottish Maritime Museum is based.

Initially as we headed north the roads were just as empty as they had been throughout Dumfries and Galloway. The road was also pretty awful and ripe for some resurfacing, but luckily the lack of traffic meant we could easily avoid potholes and take our time without worrying about building up a tail of traffic. As we got closer to Irvine though the traffic started to build up and we were back to ‘normal’ traffic density.

When the road was close to the coast we could see the rocky outcrop of Ailsa Craig. This island is most famous for producing the granite used for curling stones and is a prominent feature that will be on our horizon for much of our planned route round Arran and later on Kintyre. It’s a very distinctive lump of an island that is the core of an extinct volcano and rises steeply from the sea. If you want to buy it the asking price only 1.5 million pounds!  

We parked up in the small carpark at the very end of the beach in Irvine. There is a coastwatch station here with public toilets and a small café facility. It is also the only bit of the surrounding carpark without a No Overnight Parking sign.

Across the bay from our parking spot is a now abandoned grass roofed building built for the millennium celebrations, there is a bridge leading across the harbour entrance which is now permanently open for boats to pass through. It seems such a shame that this investment couldn’t find a use.

Parking spot at Irvine

 

View across the bay at Irvine

We wandered along the harbour to the Maritime museum, this is based in the ‘Linthouse’ an engineering shop from the Linthouse dockyards on the Clyde that has been moved and rebuilt in it’s current location. The building itself is a lovely red brick building, light and airy with it’s glass roof, and the exhibits covered a varied history of boat building.

Inside the Linthouse building

Some of the heavy machinery from the dockyards was incredible and really made you think about the size and scale of the ships – like the ferry that we were due to take the following day – that we take for granted.

Some heavy lifting equipment – and Paul trying not to laugh!

Also thought provoking were some of the descriptions and exhibits that showed how boats were designed and built before we had computer aided design (it’s not that long ago really). The scale models of ship’s engine rooms had so much fine detail that they were works of art in themselves.

Scale model of ship’s hull showing how the steel plates will be arranged

Last days in Wales

By this time we knew we would have to be heading back to the south west as we had a music festival to attend in just over a week’s time. We decided to head inland and then south through the borders to complete a circuit albeit a bit faster on the return leg.
Our next stop was Carrog Station campsite, yet another campsite next to a steam railway, where we shared the field with a 2CV club rally and a number of other families. The campsite was busy with people starting their summer holidays and a large group of children were playing football using jumpers for goalposts, until one group turned up with actual goalposts. They moved onto rugby later that evening and were still playing when the campsite was dark.
The next morning we moved on to Chirk Castle as early as possible. Here we parked the motorhome and got our bikes out for a ride along the Llangollen canal cycle route.

Long tunnel on the Llangollen Canal – barges and bikes alike needed lights for this one

We followed a pleasantly green and shady canal tow path to Thomas Telford’s impressive Pontcysyllte Aqueduct where canal boats can cross the Dee valley and feel on one side as if they are suspended in mid air.

Canal boats crossing the Pontcysyllte aqueduct

 

Not much room for bikes and pedestrians, but at least there were railings on this side

Then we carried on through Llangollen to the Llantysilio falls, a spot we often see from the A5 in passing but have never visited.
When we got back to Chirk Castle we spent the afternoon wandering around the National Trust property and gardens, enjoying the mixture of periods covered from medieval (and later attempts to create a medieval atmosphere) through to 20th century history.

Round towers at Chirk


We moved further south after Chirk to stay near Presteigne; we initially attempted to find a spot in the town’s car park which allows overnight parking, but it was a small car park and we were too big to fit into a space and allow other vehicles to get around us so we headed back to the edge of the town where a small picnic spot provided our overnight location plus the company of another couple in their Burstner who regaled us with stories and pictures of their travels across Europe.

In Presteigne it was the day of the summer fete which provided our evening’s entertainment, including some late night revellers waiting for their taxi. Their conversation was loud but amusing.

From Presteigne we did a circular walk to take a couple of sections of Offa’s Dyke. I know that the Dyke is just an earthwork, but we were a bit disappointed that it wasn’t more impressive. The hot and humid weather didn’t help and we returned to Bertie sweaty and grumpy (I’ll let you guess who was which).

Our final stop in Wales was in the Wye valley again near the village of Brockhampton, in fact it wasn’t really in Wales, as the drive down south meandered between Wales and England several times. But we counted it as Wales as we hadn’t yet crossed the Severn Bridge, which was really the mark that we had left the country.

Leaving via the Severn Bridge – it’s free in this direction!

We also had good news this week that we had received a full refund for Paul’s walking boots (see earlier post). Hats off to Millet Sports who were the retailer and dealt with our return very graciously and to Salomon who have a two year no quibble guarantee on their footwear, fingers crossed the current pair of boots will not have the same issues though. 

Last day on the Lleyn

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.

Remains of quarry workings

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.

Goats near the quarry

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.   

Bertie in the mist

     

Something different?

Our search for something different took us inland to Newcastle Emlyn where we visited the Wool Museum and a local food festival.

I found the Wool museum very engaging for a couple of hours, it’s one of the National Welsh Museums and so entry is free. Paul was there on sufferance initially but couldn’t help being won over by the tools and machinery on display. Through the exhibits it charts the history of this particular mill, established in the early twentieth century, as well as providing a more general overview of the history of the wool industry in Wales. On the site there is also a small working woollen mill, Melin Teifi, which produces blankets, shawls and other woollen fabrics and clothing. You can access a viewing gallery that runs across their workshops and see them at work. I think I would find it quite uncomfortable to be watched in such a way when I was at work.

Attaching the warp threads
Loading the bobbins
Operating the loom

Reading and listening to the exhibits in the museum you can see how much life changed between the beginning of the century, when production of wool and cloth was mostly home based and highly manual, work for women during the winter months, and the end of the century when it was almost completely automated with foreign manufacturers  putting the woollen mills of wales out of business. The machinery being used by the Melin Teifi woollen mill now seems old fashioned and ‘manual’ even though in it’s time it would have been the height of automation.

And in looking at the changes over time you cant help being grateful for the advances in industrial capability across the world; it may have introduced pollution and excessive consumerism, but it also has given us our leisure time, enabled people of all classes to access education and allowed us to start to reduce discrimination based on sex, class or race. I’m not saying that it’s all rosy, but I would rather today’s advantages than the feudal systems that came before where the majority of us would be working from dawn till dusk.

We stayed at Dolbryn campsite, a couple of miles outside of Newcastle Emlyn, the campsite was just over the top of our budget but made up for it in particular with lovely hot water under good pressure, there is nothing as nice as a good shower after you have been showering in the motorhome for a few days.

One of the Dolbryn pigs

The food festival was in the town which was a couple of miles away. We could have driven down but we’d had enough trouble finding a parking space the previous day so we decided to walk instead. It was wet, very wet. We wore our waterproof jackets and waterproof trousers but still it was wet. The two miles down to town went ok, but on the way back it was wet, in our faces windy and uphill. Thank goodness for the pie we had bought for tea, and for those hot showers of course.  

When the sun shines

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.

View to Skokholm island from the south of Dale peninsular
Boats taking shelter in the bay between Dale and St Davids Headland

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. 

View from Bertie across Dale bay at low tide

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.

At least it was something, even if it was just a launce

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.

The white markers once used to guide boats into the harbour at Porthgain
Buildings in Porthgain harbour, relics of the mining era

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.

Castles and Coastline

Our plan was to head west to the Pembrokeshire coast, we’ve missed the sea since we left Exmouth.

First though we needed to find somewhere to stay the night after visiting the Welsh National Gardens, a wild camping spot was found not far away next to Dryslwyn Castle where there was a car park and picnic area below the castle on it’s hill and next to the winding river Towy which we had followed down from Llyn Brianne the previous night.

The next morning we had a quick walk up to the castle, a jumbled collection of stone walls and foundations from the thirteenth century onwards which was more impressive than it had looked from the road and had commanding views of the whole landscape. Just as we started down a fighter jet flew past low over our heads and then banked around and flew past again – a little air display just for us (the sheep didn’t seem to be too bothered).

View from Dryslwyn Castle

The weather looked like it was going to be better than expected over the next couple of days, so we jumped into Bertie and set off for the coast. First stop was Skrinkle Haven where we found a car park on the headland just beyond the youth hostel. We parked up and looked for any ‘no overnight parking’ restrictions. Good news, we could stay overnight, as could the three other motorhomes who turned up later and circled around their very own corral, presumably to keep out the natives, or maybe to defend themselves from the young people who ventured up from the Youth Hostel later that evening with their guitars and sang us to sleep with renditions of Ed Sheeran songs.

Parked up, we ventured out along the coast where the geology of the area could be seen in it’s full – 90 degrees to normality – glory. The layers of rock pointing vertically from the ground mean that there are many caves, stacks, holes and arches along the coast. Skrinkle Haven beach itself could only be reached at low tide – which we had missed – so we peered through the small cave that separated it from the accessible Church Doors beach and said that of course we would have wriggled through, if only the tide was low enough.

Church Doors and Skrinkle Haven beaches

We walked as far as Manorbier, Paul saw an ice-cream van and so we had to stop and eat ice creams while admiring the outside of Manorbier castle, no cash to spend on the entry fee after spending on ice-creams!

Back at Bertie for the evening we have a fabulous view over the bay and watched fishermen on the cliffs opposite us. I have no idea how they landed their catch (if they managed to catch anything) as they must have been a good 5 or 6 meters above the sea.  

 

To the Brecon Beacons

Off to the mountains for us next. The Brecon Beacons are supposedly named after the practice of lighting fires ‘beacons’ to warn of impending danger.

The road to the Brecons runs along the ‘heads of the valleys’ via old industrial towns like Merthyr Tydfil and the remains of that Victorian industrial heritage are everywhere, obvious with their slightly ostentatious and (given the dark stone of the area) forbidding architectural style.

The Brecons offer a wealth of parking/wild camping possibilities so we were intending to take advantage.

Our first night was at the National Trust carpark below Pen-y-Fan, we arrived on possibly the sunniest day so far in the early afternoon and watched the locals using this as their outdoor gym, turning up in lycra and trainers and making a quick dash up and back down the peak. That night the wind picked up and gusts rocked Bertie, the following morning was still brightly sunny but the wind was blowing, a better day for mountain walking as it mitigated the intensity of the sunshine. We were doing the horseshoe walk across Corn Du, Pen-y-Fan and Cribyn and then back along Graig Fan Ddu ridge. On the way we dropped down to the Neuadd reservoir where we could see one of those Victorian structures, a huge towered dam/weir which was no longer holding back any water as the reservoir had been drained.  Despite the wind keeping the temperatures down we were still very happy to see the ice cream van at the bottom to reward us for out 10 miles in the mountains.

Deeply eroded paths on the popular Brecon Beacons
Resting spot at Lower Neuadd reservoir
Looking back from the Graig Fan Ddu ridge

That night we decided to move to a lower elevation to avoid the wind. We moved along to a parking/picnic spot next to the A470 and the Llwyn-on reservoir. No wind maybe, but a bit too much traffic noise. However we were in good company with a couple of families in a caravan and motorhome enjoying a stopover on their way to their half term holidays and treating themselves to a BBQ.

After a traffic disturbed night we had a look at the maps and spotted a parking place on the other side of the reservoir. We moved first thing and then we made our plans for the day which were based around watching Exeter Chiefs in the rugby premiership final. To earn a few pints we cycled into Merthyr, then back out across the viaduct to Cefn-Coed where we found the Railway Inn serving an interesting (and yummy) selection of pies who were willing to feed us and put BT sport on. Chiefs won again in a nail biting (for Paul) final that went to extra time. It made the final uphill struggle in the rain all worth it.

Part of the Merthyr Tydfil viaduct – this picture doesn’t show just how miserably rainy it was

We stayed in that parking spot for the next night, watching the comings and goings of cars with interest – what were they doing? We had fun making up stories about them – but I did make sure we were extra secure that night!

The next day we moved on, the spell of sunny weather had obviously gone for good, the skies were grey and showery. We moved onto the west of the Brecons area to the Black Mountain where we stayed in another wild camping spot with massive views north, probably the best views so far.

That was four nights in a row wild camping. Thankfully the toilet had not reached capacity, but our water supplies had reached zero. Time to find a campsite so we could have a shower and cup of tea!