Into the Galloway Forest

24/08/17

Next up we wanted to head for the Forest of Galloway for some walking and mountain biking.

Heading back up to Newton Stewart we took a tip from the Scottish Motorhome Wildcampers facebook forum and used the BP garage there to top up our LPG. This garage doesn’t display that it has LPG (or Autogas) on it’s signage, and the pump is hidden between two normal pumps and not visible from the road, so goodness knows how it manages to sell any; we normally would have passed it by.  We also stopped for bread and milk, we have got slightly better at only buying what we need now.

Then we headed north into the forest. The Forest of Galloway is home to Merrick, the highest mountain in the southern uplands. Merrick is also the fore-finger in ‘The Range of the Awful Hand’, the name alone would be reason to climb it!

We headed for Bruce’s Stone carpark, past the visitor centre and up narrow single track lanes. Bertie skilfully navigated around low branches and holes in the road to reach the car park unscathed.

When we got to the car park half of it was blocked off because the farmer was loading a small herd of bullocks onto a transport. I may not have mentioned this before but I really don’t like bullocks, the way that they stare at all humans, particularly me, with angry resentment (probably justified as we have castrated them and are then going to eat them). It’s obvious that they are going to stampede towards you at any moment. So I was quite glad to see these bullocks being taken away, and to see the precautions the farmers were taking as they explained the cows were ‘not good with people’.It seems my antipathy is justified.

To while away the afternoon we took a walk around Loch Trool which took in a small section of the Southern Upland way. This is the site of the Battle of Loch Trool, which was arguably the first battle of Robert the Bruce’s campaign to re-establish himself as the king of an independent Scotland in 1307. Bruce’s stone was erected in 1929 in commemoration of this victory on the 600th anniversary of Robert’s death. The walk took us through areas of native woodland as well as plantations, past rivers and waterfalls and around the loch. A good leg stretcher for a cloudy day.

Bruce’s Stone and the views to the East
Bruce’s Stone and the views over Loch Trool

The Forest of Galloway is also a Dark Skies area, sadly for us the skies were dark with cloud so not a star could be seen.

In the footsteps of pilgrims … almost

19/08/17 – 20/08/17

Because of my usual tardiness in posting the blog I have decided to label each post with the date(s) it pertains to. That way you, the reader, and I, the forgetful and occasionally off-grid author, have a point of reference.

Still heading west we moved onto the Isle of Whithorn, not an island any more but a peninsular linked to the mainland by a causway. On the way we passed through the Galloway countryside with it’s lush green forests, equally verdant farmland and the many herds of cows that contribute to some of Galloway’s dairy products.
The parking spot just past the harbour on the Isle of Whithorn was more like a small informal campsite with people in caravans and tents as well as campervans and motorhomes. We parked with a view across the bay and harbour, very picturesque.

Bertie’s parking spot and view at the Isle of Whithorn

We set off on a walk towards St Ninian’s Cave. St Ninian was a pictish saint who was said to have introduced Christianity to the southwest of Scotland, and the Isle of Whithorn is a place of pilgrimage The remains of St Ninian’s chapel are on the headland and a cairn stones sits within the walls of the old lifeguard building, stones are placed by pilgrims (and others I expect) in remembrance of people and pets. The headland also has a lighthouse and the remains of an Iron Age fort.  

Remembrance cairn with the ruined St Ninian’s chapel in the background

As we walked along the coast the wind was blowing strongly directly at us and we only managed to get as far as Burrow Head before it started to be too much for us and we turned around. So we didn’t get to St Ninian’s cave, but we did see plenty of interesting rock formations in the folded layers of rock along the coast. At Jamie’s Hole (I don’t know who Jamie was or why his hole was significant) we stopped to watch the seals that were beaching themselves in anticipation of the low tide. We have seen seals on the majority of our coastal walks but we never tire of them.

The devil’s staircase – one of the rock formations along this stretch of coast

The wind didn’t show any sign of easing and that evening Paul did his good deed of the day by lending our windbreak to a group who were trying to BBQ, we were glad to be cooking in Bertie.

The following day we walked in the other direction and Paul took his fishing gear. The wind had abated and the hazy cloud was letting through plenty of sunlight and warmth. Paul fished while I clambered around the rocks looking for interesting things, I found some pellets, presumably regurgitated by a seabird (not as repellent as it sounds), and the remains of a couple of lobsters which may have been dinner for otters (lucky them). There were plenty of seabirds flying around and fishing boats out to sea.

Looking for fishing spots

To the south we could see the silhouette of the Isle of Man (on the headland at the Isle of Whithorn there is a memorial to the crew of the Solway Harvester, a tragic loss of young lives in the Irish Sea), we could also see the northern fells of the lake district in the distance.

The lighthouse tower on the Isle of Whithorn

Paul’s fishing didn’t leave us with anything we could take home, pretty standard at the moment. The one mackerel he caught was thrown to a waiting seal who was very inquisitive, but also camera shy – every time I went to take a picture he dived underwater. Whether the seal found the mackerel or was even interested I don’t know.

That evening the car park was full, we wondered if there was something going on at the local pub, but it turned out that there was a church service taking place on the harbour along with a brass band. The minister had a strong voice which carried across to Bertie so we could hear his sermon as well as the hymns being sung.

We had a lovely couple of days at the Isle of Whithorn, I can imagine that it gets really busy on a sunny day so perhaps we were lucky that the weather wasn’t perfect.

Caerlaverock

We remained parked up in Glencaple for the next day and night. The next day was bright and sunny to start with, and although it clouded over later and there were some spots of rain it was mostly a pleasant day. To make the most of it we took a bike ride south along part of Sustrans route 7 which roughly follows the coast of the Solway Firth.

The coast here is low lying and extremely tidal, there are expanses of rushes and lots of the distinctive Reedmace with it’s fat sausage-like flower spike. Between the taller plants and the sandy tidal flats is low lying salt marsh. So the road is quite a way back from the water.

This type of land is a haven for birds and wildlife and the majority of the area is owned and managed by the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust. We stopped off to walk through some of the paths of the Caerlaverock Wetland Centre, but the only thing of any significance that we saw on our short ramble was a tiny Natterjack Toad that Paul escorted off the middle of the path.

Natterjack toad – looks like my phone case was misting up

 

 

Large fungus – possibly Dryad’s Saddle

When we got back to the parking spot there was a minor drama, a couple of police cars and a someone wearing a hi-vis vest marked ‘Rescue’ turned up and focused binoculars upstream. Eventually a police helicopter made a circuit overhead – we were on tenterhooks – was something drifting downstream towards us? What would it be?. We could hear some of the radio conversations but were still none the wiser when they all eventually departed without anything of interest happening.  

While we were here we had a chat with a Estonian lady who was asking where she could get rid of her toilet and grey waste. We commiserated over the lack of French style facilities as I explained that designated disposal areas are few and far between and she would probably need to go to a campsite every few days. There are a few places that provide facilities – some of the Scottish Islands for example – and it does appear that the increasing popularity of Motorhomes is starting to make an impression on local councils. For example our home town of Exmouth looks to be planning to provide motorhome facilities in town as well as designated parking spaces. If this comes to fruition I think it would be great for the town. Fingers crossed!  

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. 

A new way up

After Anglesey we headed back into Snowdonia for a third and final time on this trip. The weather was glorious and a mountain walk was called for.

Now, we have been trying to do new stuff rather than old favourites on this trip, but I couldn’t resist a walk up Snowdon. Still by far my favourite mountain with it’s figure of eight ridges that provide exciting and exhilarating ways to the top and beautiful vistas once you get there. I know that lots of people don’t like the railway or the visitor centre, but for me they are all part of what makes Snowdon Snowdon, or perhaps I should say Yr Wyddfa.

In order to make this a new experience we decided to take routes up and down that we hadn’t done before. So a plan was hatched.

Overnight we stayed at Lookout Car Park. A small car park and viewpoint on the east side of Snowdon it had beautiful views into the Gwynant valley and up to Snowdon itself. We ate our dinner there and spent our time enjoying the view of the mountain in sunshine.

Bertie watching the sun set from the lookout car park

The next morning we took the Sherpa bus to Pen-Y-Pass car park. From here we were going to ascend, not by our usual route of Crib Goch, but via Y Lliwedd. Pen-Y-Pass carpark was already full at 9am, but we saw very few people once we left the miner’s track and started up the ridge to Y Liwedd. The beautiful sunshine, occasional puffy cloud and cooling breeze made perfect walking weather – not too hot and not too cold – and the visibility meant we could enjoy the views all the way to the summit. The ridge walk could be as easy as you wanted it to be, but you could also stick closer to the crest for a bit more scrambling excitement and exposure. As we looked across at the queues of people on Crib Goch we decided that this might become our new favourite route to the summit.

Looking up to the summit from the Glaslyn ampitheatre

By the time we reached the top the weather had become a little more cloudy – mist repeatedly rolled in over the summit and then rolled away again. We popped in to see the visitor’s centre and café – I haven’t been in since it was renovated some time ago – it all looked very smart, but busy, and we were quickly out again to eat our lunch near the summit. Here the seagulls were diving in to try and steal food from anyone who was eating, a sign of how busy the summit was as people queued to walk up from the station to the summit to get their picture. 

We made our way down via the start of the Rhyd-Ddu path before turning off and heading to Nant Gwynant. A pleasant descent that avoids a lot of the scree and worn pathways of the more popular routes. There was a lot of path construction going on here, making it feel as though the path was being laid as we walked.

Path building materials on the way down to Nant Gwynant

Finally we made it down to the car park and bus stop at Nant Gwynant. While we waited for the Sherpa bus back to our carpark we sat by the river and watched thousands of minnows swimming in the shallows as well as a couple of larger eels that relaxed in the deeper water.

Minnows in the shallows

Using the buses had extended our options for the walk and meant we could avoid trying to fit Bertie into one of the popular car parks. At £1.50 per person per ride it couldn’t be much cheaper, something we’ll do again even if we aren’t in a motorhome.

An awesome day on Snowdon was ended with a drive back to Betws-y-Coed for a pub dinner and a final overnight stop in the station car park before heading off and making our way south. 

 

Blogging Anxiety and our final days in Anglesey

You may have noticed that I haven’t blogged for a week, this has caused me a little anxiety, but not quite enough to motivate me to blog. The reason for a lack of blog activity is that I am now back in Devon and enjoying time with family and friends and it’s left little room for sitting at a laptop tapping away about stuff that happened to me a couple of weeks ago.

But I know that if I don’t get on with it I will have a month’s worth of blogging to catch up on and that sounds like hard work. So I’ve finally forced myself to hole up in the motorhome and get on with it.

It has been more than two weeks since we left Anglesey. Our final few days were spent in coastal locations to the North and South of the Island.

Amlwch

We stopped in Amlwch at a car park near the harbour, where there is easy access to the coastpath leading eastwards. It was here that we had our first real NIMBY experience. I’ve always known that there would be people who don’t like motorhomes parking up, you only have to read the views of my home town Exmouth’s community facebook forum to know how vitriolic people get about ‘freeloaders’. And in Amlwch there are ‘No Overnight Camping’ signs on the carpark which did indicate that there may be a few disapproving people about. So it wasn’t a great surprise to be met with an individual who took exception to us having been there overnight. We had an interesting debate about the difference between overnight parking and overnight camping before he threatened us with a very personalised fine ‘because I’m on the council’. 

Anyway that was after we’d spent a very pleasant day and quiet evening (we were the only vehicle in the carpark until the dog walkers showed up in the morning) in the local area. So we were able to get in the motorhome and chug off to our next destination.

The coastline to the east of Amlwch is invitingly rocky – if you are a fisherman – the rocks step down to the sea, and the water is relatively deep directly off shore. So we had a walk along the coastpath and stopped a couple of times for Paul to do a spot of fishing. Along the way we watched some local gig racing between Porth Eilian and Amlwch. Not knowing who we were supporting we gave them all some encouragement. It looked like hard work. 

Gig racing across the bay

We walked out to the lighthouse on the headland just beyond Port Eilian where we spent an hour in the sun watching the dolphins (or possibly porpoises) frolicking in the sea, some of them came pretty close to shore and then seemed to follow us as we retraced our steps back to the motorhome. They were probably the reason that Paul had little luck fishing that afternoon, but later that evening we went back out for a spot of fishing on the high tide which was more successful.

Plas Newydd  

After Amlwch we popped to the National Trust ‘stately home’ at Plas Newydd. The house and estates had some interesting features. Particularly Rex Whistlers trompe-l’oeil mural in the dining room which was fascinating, with it’s clever use of perspective to make the scene change according to the viewers position, and the collection of military memorabilia, including the wooden leg of the first Marquess of Anglesey who lost his leg at the battle of Waterloo. Paul also provided some entertainment doing a bee’s ‘Waggle Dance’; we had stopped to listen to a talk about bees which was probably more aimed at children, but with only two teenagers available and a lot of interaction to get through the bee lady decided that Paul would take least persuading to wiggle his bottom in public. I laughed so hard I forgot to video it.

Beekeeper Paul

 Following this we had a quick overnight stopover on the south coast at a small parking space next to the Sea Zoo. Really it was too small for us but we were tired and not inclined to move again, so wedged ourselves in as tightly as possible and hoped that no one else wanted to join us. Another motorhome did turn up but they opted for a spot a couple of hundred yards up the road. Phew.

Beaumaris

Beaumaris was our final stop on Anglesey. Here there is a large car park on the sea front which tolerates overnight parking (although yet again there are ‘no motorhomes, caravans etc’ signs at the entrance of the car park.

Beaumaris was busy – a sign of the impending school holidays. There were coach parties galore visiting this pretty and tourist friendly village with it’s impressive castle (we only saw it from the outside) and narrow streets. The seafront itself is long but not a beach for sitting and sunning yourself on.

From Beaumaris we cycled to Penmon point. The land here is privately owned and cars or motorhomes pay a toll to drive to the car park. Motorhomes are allowed to stay overnight but we decided to cycle here instead. On the way we took in a small ruined castle – Castell Aberlleiniog, he ruined priory at Penmon point; the immense dovecote near the priory and the lighthouse with it’s fog bell marking the channel between the point and Puffin Island.

Ruined castle
Inside the dovecote with spaces for 1000 birds

 

 

 

That evening we saw the most amazing cherry red sunset as the sun dropped behind the castle – hopefully the shepherds delight of fine weather the next day. 

Bertie in the sunset at Beaumaris

That was it for Anglesey – the following morning we drove through the – just wide enough – arches of Thomas Telford’s Menai bridge and headed back across to the mainland. 

Breathing in to get through the arches

 

   

 

Puffin Watching

Anglesey has it’s own adjacent island in the north west corner, a smaller fractal image of the relationship between Wales and Anglesey; this island is Holy Island and in it’s north west corner, repeating the pattern again, is South Stack island.

South Stack island and lighthouse

South Stack and the cliffs of the coastline in it’s immediate vicinity are home to massive colonies of seabirds. We parked at the first RSPB carpark on the road up to the cliffs and walked the rest of the way. Near the top is a café and a separate RSPB centre with helpful staff, live cameras watching the birds and telescopes that can be used to view the cliffs. As soon as you breast the final curve of the hill on the approach to the island you can hear the birds. Their cacophony is such that you wonder why you couldn’t hear it from miles away. Thousands of – mostly – guillemots sitting on the cliff faces opposite you create a wall of noise as they jostle for their position on the ledges. You soon realise that what looks like rock in the distance is just more birds, closely packed in ranks along every crack and crevice that will hold them.

Seabird Covered Cliffs

This is a place where you can spend hours just watching and listening to the birds. When they aren’t sitting on the rocks they are the myriad specks you can see washing backwards and forwards on the sea, or the birds flying around and diving into the water. Although the guillemots for the larges group there are also razorbills, terns, gulls, kittiwakes, fulmars and the cutest member of the Auk family – the puffin.

Puffins are hard to spot, but there is one thing that helps, most of the other birds here are monochrome, black, white or grey. But the puffins give themselves away, initially with their brilliant orange feet and then, less noticeably at a distance, with their iconic multi hued beaks.

We spent ages trying to spot them on the cliffs, only finally being successful after overhearing another group talking about where they had seen them – on the cliffs facing south stack island. So that evening we walked down the steps to the bridge that crosses to the island and it’s lighthouse. From there we could see cliffs that had been hidden from view and finally we saw the tell tale splash of orange – only for that puffin to decide that it was time to retire for the evening (it did this by turning round and shoving it’s face into a crack in the rock – the fact that it’s backside was still completely exposed obviously wasn’t an issue). But now we had our eye in and we finally started to see more of them. It’s the first time we’ve seen them without having to go on a boat trip and it made me very happy. Who doesn’t love puffins?

Sadly my Camera isn’t good enough to get a great picture – but you might just see those splashes of orange

We spent two nights at the carpark near South Stack. It was a good atmosphere with campervans and motorhomes parking in various spots, and one chap who turned up on his bicycle and bivvyed overnight. We walked north and east on the first day which took us to North Stack island, and we walked south on the second day to the other area of RSPB reserve.

The view south from South Stack – with Snowdonia in the distance

While we were out walking we spotted a girl with a google camera who was filming the trail for Google Trekker, a new (ish) endeavour that allows you to follow pathways as well as roads through google maps.

Google mapping along the Anglesey coastpath

North Stack wasn’t as spectacular as South Stack, there were a lot less birds, but the walk there did have it’s moments – particularly the point at which we decided to do an ad-hoc scramble up the cliffs. This looked like a nice little route at first, a small stepped chimney between the rocks that went nearly to the top of the cliffs from our starting point which was already a good distance above the sea. When we got to the top of the chimney though there was an exposed slab that was canted at a slight angle, enough to make it feel like it would tip you back down into the waves a long way below. And beyond that slab was the final ascent of heather covered jumbled rocks that looked unpleasantly slippery without any nice handholds. Paul had already gone past the slab and didn’t want to come down, I didn’t want to go up the slab! There was a moment when I thought we were going to be the stupid people that have to call out the coastguard because we had chosen to do something we were completely unprepared for. However I managed to get my nerve up and cross the slab in a very ungainly way, and we’re still here and didn’t need to call the coastguard. Phew!     

Seal resting on North Stack island

   

Carneddau climb

We had decided to walk the Carneddau horseshoe from the Ogwen valley. The Carneddau mountains can be found on the north side of the A5 as you leave Capel Curig heading north and every previous time we had attempted to climb them we had to turn back due to poor weather and fog. This was our fault, they have always been a second choice mountain for us with the more exciting Glyderau on the other side of the valley taking first place.

We could have wild camped in one of the many laybys, but we needed to empty and refill and so we stayed at the campsite at Gwern Gof Isaf. This is a good value campsite ideally located for mountain walks direct from the campsite and it has a great atmosphere with so many walkers on site. We had stayed here before in Bertie last October for my Birthday so we knew there was hardstanding for motorhomes even though the site is mostly aimed at tents. In fact there were a number of campervans, a small caravan and another motorhome who also used the site over the couple of nights we were there, so we didn’t feel too out of place.

Returning to Gwern Gof Isaf campsite after our walk – Bertie can be seen between the trees

Our walk up the Carneddau was really pleasant and we didn’t miss the excitement of scrambling on Tryfan too much, although it was always in sight across the valley and we did end up taking a lot of pictures of it and discussing the different routes up that we had done previously, so we must have missed it a little.

View to Tryfan from the slopes of Pen Yr Ole Wen

The rains of the previous 48 hours had swollen the streams that rushed down from the lake in Cwm Lloer and added interest to the initial stages of the walk as we followed the path backwards and forwards over the water. There was a short scramble up the east ridge of the first summit – Pen Yr Ole Wen – we tried to make it more exciting but there wasn’t much opportunity amongst the jumbled rock and heather. After overheating in the sun on the way uphill the cloud started to roll over us. As we meandered along across grass and boulders to the summit of Carnedd Dafydd we enjoyed the moments that the views opened up between each line of cloud, one minute we could see for miles across to the Menai Straits and the broad estuaries at Caernarfon and Bangor, the next minute a peek at the summit of Carnedd Llewelyn, the next minute nothing but grey fog and the most immediate grass and rock.

Views from the Carneddau

Then as we started across to Carnedd Llewelyn – the highest point of the walk – the cloud cover lifted and we were back in sunshine again.

On the ridge between Carnedd Dafydd and Carnedd Llewelyn

On the slopes between Carnedd Llewelyn and Yr Elen we spotted what seemed like a strange shaped and coloured sheep, but it was a dun coloured foal. As we watched it we then saw a grey mare who was joined by the foal, the two ambled along the side of the mountain, occasionally stopping to allow the foal to nurse, it was lovely to see these wild Carneddau ponies.

After Carnedd Llewelyn we just had the downhill path that would take us down to the campsite. There was a short scrambling section but otherwise it was all straight forward paths via Ffynnon Llugwy reservoir and back to Bertie.       

 

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

     

A Parcel of Pinnipeds

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.

Rocky coves along the coast

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.

Seals basking on the rocks

     

Strong Currents

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 in the mists

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.

Walking round the coast path to Aberdaron

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.

Views from Mynydd Mawr

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. 

       

If you cant stand the heat…get up a mountain

The weather was settling into heatwave territory, even Snowdonia expecting temperatures of 27 degrees, so we decided we needed to find a campsite where we could stretch out the awning and make the most of the shade it would offer.

So we stopped at a campsite in the village of Llanuwchllyn http://www.bwch-yn-uchaf.co.uk/. A pleasant campsite, we pitched ourselves in the top field where we could see the station for the Bala lake railway and watch the steam trains going backwards and forwards.

All alone in the campsite

 

 

Steam train ready to go

The location also gave us access to a walk up the Aran ridge in case we felt like it – which we did. One day of lazing in the shade is enough.

Our objective for Snowdonia is to tackle some hills that we haven’t climbed before. We have become creatures of habit in Snowdonia with Tryfan and Snowdon featuring in almost every trip we’ve done to date. To meet this objective I’d been studying the map, and Aran Fawddwy popped up as a good candidate for a substantial walk in southern Snowdonia.

We walked directly from the campsite and followed the well marked path all the way along the ridge as far as Aran Fawddwy before dropping down across featureless bog, through pleasant woodland and across fields to the village of Rhydymain. There was nothing particularly technically challenging about the walk, the most challenging thing was working out how to say Llanuwchllyn so that I could get the bus without too much embarrassment, but I was worried about two things – dehydration and thunderstorms.

Taking shelter from the sun

The temperature was still in the mid twenties so we took as much water as possible, our Camelbak reservoirs are ideal for this as you can drink while on the move without having to stop and find a water bottle. But we also had water bottles and our flasks (it might sound odd to take hot drinks on a walk in such high temperatures, but it’s all liquid), all of which were dry by the time we got back. The thunderstorms didn’t materialise in the end, although each passing aircraft sounded like a potential rumble of thunder. There is a cairn on the mountain in memory of a mountain rescue member who was killed by lightening, which hi-lights the risk especially when you’re the tallest point on a mountain ridge.

View along the Aran ridge

We nearly adopted a dog on the way back when we passed a farmhouse, but luckily a helpful lady we met near Rhydymain offered to take him back to his owners, he was known for going AWOL. IF we’d had to return him to the farmhouse we would have missed our bus and it would have been a long walk back.

That evening we were exhausted and too hot to cook for ourselves so took ourselves to the local pub Yr Eagles where we had a very nice meal. Standard pub meal choices but done well, including an exceptional Chocolate Torte for dessert. Just what we needed.

 

Borth

Morrissey once sang about the ‘Seaside town they forgot to shut down’, and that’s what came to mind when we arrived in Borth, a town on the coast of Wales north of Aberystwyth. The long stretched out seafront, with closed shops and boarded up tourist attractions felt like it was being slowly, reluctantly mothballed. Only the golfers keeping it going.

The long crescent of Welsh coast between Pembrokeshire and the Lleyn peninsular looks as if someone has taken a bite out of it, and they are still nibbling away at the edges. In fact there are legends of medieval land that has been lost beneath the sea – the Cantref Gwaelod.

Whatever the truth of the legends, Borth has a fine example of a submerged forest, the stumps and roots of which can be seen at low tide. Originally preserved by being submerged under layers of peat, storm action has now uncovered sections of the (possibly)  6000 year old forest that will slowly start to decompose.

Submerged forest at low tide
Ancient tree roots looking eerily like a woman trying to drag herself up the sand

Borth’s other draw, in common with a lot of beaches around this area, is the expanse of sand dunes. We spent some time climbing and descending the dunes until rising winds drove us back to Bertie.

Playing in the dunes

It’s a place where you could spend a day or two, so maybe my first impression was a little unfair. 

Sunset from Borth

 

 

An embarassment of kites

In my head, the Red Kite is a rare and infrequently seen bird, but here in mid wales that certainly is not the case. And in fact, reading the RSPB pages about Red Kites, they are now so numerous that they no longer count the number of breeding pairs.

That doesn’t stop me being captivated when we see them though, there is something about the way that they fly, soaring through the sky, twisting their distinctive tail to use as a rudder. Effortless elegance that belies their mediaeval reputation as carrion eaters. 

After our short trip inland we turned back to the coast, in Ceredigion now rather than Pembrokeshire, so the coast is losing some of it’s crinkled cragginess and tending towards a more expansive geography with open bays, wide river mouths and long straight cliffs.

Our first spot was near Llanryhstud, where we walked along the coast path towards Aberystwyth before heading back inland and completing a circular walk by taking little used paths through wooded valleys, fields and villages.

Enormous parasol mushroom seen along the coastpath

It was at Llanryhstud that we saw our larges numbers of red kites yet, floating over the caravan parks were at least a dozen of them, occasionally swooping down low but mostly circling at height. We stopped to watch them for a while, wishing for a better camera and the skill to use it. Further along the path we also saw kestrels hovering, a completely different type of flight.

One of the red kites swooping overhead

The wind blew us along the cliffs but the sun was shining, we could see Aberystwyth in the distance but decided against going all the way and turned off across fields and the main road to  Llanddeiniol, from there we took footpaths that had seen little recent maintenance, including a bridge that had been swept loose from the banks of the stream, leaving us with a practical challenge. A few stones later and we had created a couple of points in the flow that we could use as stepping stones.   

Footbridge to nowhere

We were facing due west across the sea that evening and had high hopes of a glorious sunset, but sadly the clouds came in and obscured the sun for all but the last couple of minutes.  

Bertie’s parking spot near Llanrhystud

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!

Boar Encounter

Our next stop was the Forets of Dean for some wild camping.

Wild camping usually means two key things, firstly finding somewhere to park overnight where no-one is going to object and secondly relying on the resources in the van for day to day needs. 

Bertie had been topped up with water when we left the Mendips, that would take care of drinking and washing, Bertie’s toilet had been emptied, which would take care of sanitary requirements (wee and poo in other words – we don’t know how many days we can go before it will be full up, but we’ll find out I’m sure) and one of our refillable gas canisters had been installed and filled, to take care of heating, cooking and the fridge. Hopefully the solar panels would mean our leisure battery would stay topped up for that most important of needs – connectivity.

We found a spot in a forestry car park, busy with cyclists and dog walkers but big enough for everyone. Later that evening, as the day time visitors started to leave, we  were joined by a German and another British Motorhome.

Our spot in the forest

We stayed here for two nights, at one point a chap rolled up in a Motorhome next to us and started chatting about the Bore, it took us a little while to understand that he’d seen the big yellow banana (kayak) on the roof and wondered if we were going to ride the Severn bore. We weren’t. We had toyed with going to watch but given it was due to happen over the bank holiday weekend we’d decided to leave it for another occasion.

We made the most of the next couple of days with bike rides and wanders through the woods, at one point we thought that the woods all looked the same, but it was just us going round in circles. 

There was an interesting sculpture trail, some picturesque ponds, and most exciting was our close encounter with a Wild Boar; we were cycling along the nice easy family cycle path when I heard a loud rustling in the undergrowth, ‘wow – that’s one big dog’ was my first thought as something large and brindled charged out of the undergrowth, across the path and into the bushes on the other side of the cycle track. By the time I’d realised it was a boar, put my brakes on and fumbled my phone from my pocket it was way too late for a photograph, but I was really chuffed to have seen my first wild boar.

Sculptures in the forest

View over Woorgreen lake

A flying visit

The next stop for us was the Mendips. We were due to spend a couple of days with Aaron and Kate before they flew out to Morocco for a well deserved break.

Unluckily for them Aaron was told at the last minute that he’d been nominated for some additional training that meant their holiday was going to have to be cancelled. Luckily for us that meant we got an extra couple of nights with them.

We stayed at Cheddar Valley touring park, Aaron and Kate stayed in a static van on the same site. Next to a caravan club site, this was much better value and the staff very friendly and accommodating with our change of plan.

We did an extended circular walk around Cheddar gorge with Aaron and Kate, followed by a bit of tourist shopping and beer drinking. The last time I was in the Mendips was when I was at university, I was a member of the university caving club (LUSS – Lancaster University Speleological Society) and we had a little trip underground at Swildon’s Hole. Visiting the tourist caves didn’t hold much appeal for me, and the price didn’t appeal to anyone else either, so we contented ourselves with a lot of cheese tasting (and buying).

All of us (and Aaron’s dodgy facial hair) as we walk back along Cheddar Gorge

As we walked back down into Cheddar we had a minor drama as we met a couple and their two dogs walking up the steep section from the village. One of their dogs, an elderly poodle cross, took it into her head to follow us downhill and nothing could stop her. In fact she then bounded ahead of us and much to everyone’s consternation went off piste as she tried to find a way across the wall and back onto the main road. Luckily, between us and another couple we managed to get her reunited with her owners, who sternly told her that she wouldn’t be allowed off the lead again.

The next day we took advantage of Aaron’s (brand new) car to go further afield and visited Brean Down. The peninsular here has some interesting features including a Napoleonic fort and Second World War fortifications which fitted nicely with Aaron and Kate’s RAF interests.

Some of the Second World War fortifications
Napoleonic fortifications, later used for WWII training
Gun emplacements for training – practice rounds were fired into the bay at Weston-Super-Mare