Portugal’s Silver Coast

21/11/17 – 22/11/17

We had a moment of deja vu as we approached our next destination of Sao Pedro do Moel. This is Portugal’s Silver Coast and had some striking similarities to France’s Cote d’Argent; long sandy beaches, big waves for surfing and dunes backed by pine forest. We drove to a parking spot on the coast just north of Sao Pedro where we had a view from the cliffs with the lighthouse to the south and a long golden beach to the north.

This area had seen significant forest fires this year and we drove through large swathes of burned forest where the sand and ash and dead trees created a starkly monochrome scene of desolation.

The black and white of a burned forest

We took a walk along the cliffs and then down onto the beach, watching fishermen casting into the surf and exploring the lagoon created where the river pooled behind a sandbank. The wind was blowing strongly although the skies were blue and people were wrapped up against the chill.

Cliffs slowly slipping into the sea

The following morning we got on our bikes and followed the bike track north. The road was long and straight, passing coastal resorts that had shut down for the winter, few people seemed to live in these towns where most of the shops and cafes were boarded up waiting for next years tourist season. We sat on the beach in one location watching the sea and were alerted to a pod of dolphins by large numbers of gannets, cormorants and gulls swirling around and diving for the fish that were being driven to the surface. There was life here, but not much human activity. 

The river at Praia de Vieira

Paiva Walkways, the Ultimate in Garden Decking

19/11/17 – 20/11/17

When we moved into our house in Exmouth I remember Paul installing decking in the back garden – decking steps from the backdoor, decking over the crazy-paved patio, and more decking steps down to the lawn. A fun project for Paul. For a while it seemed as though we had the whole of the local timber yard in our garden.

These memories came back to me as we approached the Passadiços do Paiva, our next destination. This walk up the gorge of the Rio Paiva takes place mostly on timber steps and walkways that cling to the sides of the gorge allowing people to walk the length of the gorge from Areinho to Espiunca. 

The walkways are in Arouca geopark, an area of Portugal that is designated a Geopark by UNESCO who use this designation to promote the management and development of sites of geological interest. We started by visiting Arouca itself, a pleasant town inland from Porto with motorhome parking and services in the main carpark. We had a walk around the town; it was Sunday and everywhere was busy with visitors, there was a small farmers market in the park but the main attraction was the monastery (I suppose we would call it a convent as it was home to nuns rather than monks, but I think the term Mosteiro is used interchangeably) with it’s sacred art museum. We popped into the tourist office and spoke to a lovely lady who gave us lots of information about walking in the area and warned us off a couple of the paths where signposting had been damaged by forest fires. She sold us tickets for the walkways (you can also buy them online or at the start of the walk)  – at €1 each it seemed to be good value. 

We had intended to stay the night in Arouca but she suggested we could drive up to the parking for the Paiva walkways and stay there if we wanted to. She advised that with an autocaravana we should park at the Areinho end where there was a large unpaved parking area where it looked like someone had sheered off the top of a hill. There is also some parking down the track that leads to the official start of the walk but it was a narrow road and we couldn’t see how much parking there was so gave it a miss – when we walked down the next day we realised that we could have parked there easily but the track down had no passing places so not an option for a busy day.

Off we toddled, mild sat nav frustration this time as the sat nav didn’t want to allow us to leave Arouca by the main route, there is a 3.5 tonne limit on some roads which was the cause of confusion to the poor thing. We ignored it’s instructions for long enough to get out of town and then found our way easily to the car park where a couple of campervans were already in situ. We watched people returning to their cars at the end of the day, many returning in taxis from the other end of the walk.

Looking down on the Areinho road bridge across the Paiva river.

The next morning it was 5ºC in the van. Much warmer in the snug of our bedroom, but the coldest morning we had experienced so far and only our bladders provided motivation to get out of bed. We slowly warmed up as we prepared a lunch and flasks for our walk. From the car park it was a steady downhill to the official start of the walkway before heading across the main road and straight away tackling the hardest part of the walk – a series of staircases leading up to the top of the gorge. We wondered how people didn’t just avoid purchasing tickets as there are no barriers to stop anyone from accessing the paths, but at the top of the walkway they had cunningly placed the first ticket inspection point. There was another inspection point at the far end of the walk and also a park warden wandering about at the mid-point so you weren’t going to get away with it.  

The stairs wind up the side of the gorge giving plenty of opportunities for photos (and catching your breath)

The sun was shining and the initial climb up all those steps was very warm, but straight away we were going down an equal number of steps into the gorge and there the low November sun was often obscured by the cliffs, providing welcome shade with a bit too much contrast for good photos. We wound our way along the paths through a landscape that switched many times between dry rocky slopes and shaded forest that looked very British with autumn colours, ferns and mosses. Birds and butterflies flitted over the water, we saw plenty of yellow wagtails and a dipper playing in the water, easy to spot with it’s distinctive wide white bib. At one point we saw a European mantis sitting on a step, as cool – and as green – as a cucumber.

European Mantis watching us from the walkway

The Paiva gorge is well known for it’s white water but this year has been so dry that the river’s flow was placid and the rocks that would normally create the rapids were exposed and dry. Boards along the walk pointed out geological features which were easy to see with the river so low. 

Roughly half way the walkways are crossed by a couple of other trails, here there is a suspension bridge; an opportunity to look down on the river from a bouncing and swaying vantage point (not a compulsory part of the walkway). There were also toilets half way, a welcome opportunity as leaving the path for a wee was going to be a bit tricky. 

Suspension bridge, enjoyably springy

Along the way Paul enjoyed pointing out the way that the walkways had been constructed, the clever bolts that were used to anchor the timbers to the rock and the bits of joinery that had been well put together to cope with odd angles. Not just any old garden decking!

We got to the Espiunca end, 8km later, in just over two hours, taxis were waiting for the weary but we turned around and made our way back, taking a bit more time to stop and look around. Despite it being a Monday in November there were a good number of other people on the walkways, I can imagine that in the height of summer it could get quite frustrating and feel like a conveyor belt (I assume they limit the numbers through the ticketing system), but also you could take time to stop by the river and have a paddle or a swim; the November water was far too cold for us. In all it took us 5 hours with plenty of rest stops and photo opportunities. The trudge back up the dusty tracks to the carpark was probably the hardest part of the day.  

We could see why the walk had won tourism awards, it was well maintained with information boards, toilets and cafes but most importantly it was in a beautiful and interesting location. If you’re a decking fan then that would be the icing on the cake!

 

One Mackerel, Two One-Way Streets and Three Lighthouses

08/11/17 – 10/11/17

We had a bit of a lazy day on 8th November. For some reason we just couldn’t get moving and our plans for a bike ride ended up with us driving around the hills and coast near Pontevedra and stopping to take in views or short strolls without doing very much at all. We spent the night at the Memorial Park aire near Poio where we walked around the bay and encountered eucalyptus trees in abundance. These trees, native to Australia, have been planted in Spain and Portugal to provide quick growing timber for the paper industry and this was the first time we had come across them in quantity; their alien charm, with their constantly peeling bark, silvery leaves, and odd flowers, quickly becomes wearing when you realise they are on their way to becoming a monoculture and ousting the native flora.

We saw these grain stores in gardens and smallholdings all round Galicia, well ventilated and up on stilts to protect from vermin.

The following morning we decided to go into Pontevedra in search of a large supermarket as we needed to do a proper stock up. There were two Carrefore supermarkets, the first only had a tiny outdoor parking space that was completely full. The second had an empty outdoor parking area but we didn’t spot the sign on the way in that told us the only way out was through the underground parking. Bertie wasn’t getting through there! Given that we were already in trouble we decided we might as well do our shopping anyway and so, with full fridge and cupboards, we tackled our predicament. I donned my hi-vis vest and went up to the top of the entrance to stop the traffic in a semi-official way while Paul drove the wrong way up the one way ramps. Apart from a case of mild embarrassment it was remarkably easy.

From Pontevedra we drove south west out to the end of the next peninsular. Galicia’s coast is indented with a number of ‘rias’, these sloping sided inlets are like gentle fjords and between each ria is a peninsular, more populated inland, and wilder and more rugged as you reach the seaward end. The Dunas de Corrubedo had been at the end of one of these peninsulas and we were now heading for the Praia de Melide where there was a large parking area south of the village of Donon. We had another falling out with the sat nav which took us through smaller and smaller streets in tiny villages until Paul said quite firmly ‘I’m not driving down there’. We knew there was an easy way there because we had seen it on google maps, but the sat nav just couldn’t direct us and by the time we knew we were going wrong we didn’t have great signal. We retraced our steps back to a ‘main’ road and a point where we had signal so that we could pick up the route on google maps and ignore the sat nav. We finally made it to the village of Donon where we stopped for restorative tea and cake before tackling the remaining couple of miles off road to the car park. Bertie did admirably avoiding ruts and potholes and finally parked up in the sunshine. We spent the next hour or so doing a few chores before exploring the beach and cliffs near the carpark. The low cliffs were ideal for fishing and so I read and sunbathed while Paul fished for mackerel – he managed to catch one, but it wouldn’t make a meal so I gutted it and put it in the fridge, hopefully to be joined by a second one the following day.

Paul sorting out his fishing gear after we had finally made it to the parking spot at Praia de Melide
We saw many autumn crocuses flowering between the trees.

The next morning we decided to walk around the headland, we started by walking out to the first of three lighthouses Faro de Punta Subrido before heading back across the beach to lighthouses two and three – the particularly attractive squat red Faro de Punta Robaleira and the more standard Faro de Cabo. From here we followed rough tracks north as far as possible along the Atlantic side of the headland with large waves crashing against the rocky cliffs, at one point we descended by an awkward and steep fisherman’s path to a tiny beach where the incoming tide quickly chased us back up again.

Looking across the Praia de Melide
The most attractive of the three lighthouses was this one, you can see the islands ‘Illas Cies’ out to sea
Waves crashing into rocks on the more exposed Atlantic side of the peninsula

Eventually the steep cliffs forced us back onto the main track we had driven down the previous day and we walked into Donon. From Donon we dropped down to the Praia de Barra, a large and deserted beach where we gathered large mussels from the rocks before taking cliff-side paths back towards our parking spot.

Empty beach at Praia de Barra, we collected mussels from rocks that were at the end of the beach we took this photo from.

Paul decided to do some more fishing from the same spot as before, but no luck this time. We did see dolphins in the bay though, which made up for (and probably explained) the lack of fish. The large pod, including some mother and calf pairs took their time as they swam past us on their way out to sea.

Dolphins swimming past, look closely for a dolphin tail on the left as well as fins on the right of the picture

That evening I cooked the mussels and solitary mackerel in a rice dish that I hesitated to call a paella after hearing some very sarcastic comments on Spanish radio earlier that week (not that I’m fluent in Spanish but when you hear the words Jamie Oliver, Chorizo and Paella alongside derisive laughter you know that something negative is being said). Whatever the dish was, it was very tasty and the mussels in particular were luscious and juicy. It’s always a bit of a gamble to eat shellfish gathered from the shore and we do take some care, but you never know. No side effects this time though so good news.

The ‘not’ Paella with mussels and mackerel

The following morning we left the carpark. There was a one way system for car park access, so we had to drive up a different track than we had come in…at first…until we got to the point that the road was rippled with foot deep undulations. I don’t think I’ve every seen anything like it, they weren’t potholes or ruts, but were running across the road and there was no way we would get across them without ripping something out from Bertie’s undercarriage. Paul reversed us back to the car park and for the second time in a couple of days we were driving the wrong way up a one way street. Luckily we had made an early start and we didn’t encounter anyone coming the other way.

Calm Waters

28/10/17

Further south, still enveloped by the pine forests of the Landes region of France, is a purpose built resort with the rather long name of Vieux-Boucau-Les-Bains. Part of it’s attraction is an artificially created lagoon which lets in sea water at high tide and has sluice gates to control the exit of water; this gives people the option of the surf beaches of the Atlantic or the calmer waters of the lagoon. Even though we had set off early we still found it incredibly busy when we arrived, it was Saturday and very sunny after all. The two aires were near to capacity and there was a constant flow of people arriving, we queued up behind a couple of other vans to get in and I went to look for possible parking spots while Paul helped them to get through the airlock style barriers (the trick was to get close to the ticket machine as the front barrier wouldn’t lift unless your van was close enough to the sensor). We wedged ourselves into a spot in the sun on the southern side of the lagoon and hooked up to the electricity, at €7 a night for a pitch plus electricity within a stone’s throw of the lagoon, it didn’t seem like bad value.

Looking over the Vieux-Boucau-des-Bains lagoon

We had a quick stroll around the end of the lagoon watching the fisherman who were lined along the outflow from the lagoon. We decided that the calm waters were too good an opportunity to miss and we should get the Kayak out and enjoy a spot of paddling and fishing. It was easy to launch the kayak from the shore close to the aire and we started with a gentle paddle around the lagoon gliding over long strands of green weed waving in the gentle currents of the lagoon. We could see fish jumping as we approached, darting out from their shelter in the weed, but despite best endeavours weed was all we caught.

Looking down the channel that leads from the lagoon to the sea

We circled the lagoon again, closer to the island in it’s centre this time, and pulled up a couple of times to explore it’s beaches. Here we paddled in the shallower waters looking at all of the life, hordes of hermit crabs in their stolen shells crawled across the sands, starfish nestled in the weed and small fish were well camouflaged against the sand. The waters of the lagoon were too weedy, and the bottom too muddy to tempt us in for a proper swim. We gathered a few clams from under the sand to make ourselves a starter for dinner, but they were too gritty even after a few hours being purged and the juices in the pan were grey with silt. Luckily we had cooked up some pork and roasted veg for a main course which kept hunger at bay.

    

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

The Road to Carsaig

19/09/17

Unintentionally we made a poor decision today – we had to choose between another day lazing at Fidden Farm and maybe popping over on the ferry to Iona, or moving on to do one of the longer walks on our wish list. We chose to move on as we knew the weather was then going to be pretty poor for three or four days and I was twitchy about wasting the sunshine.

So we chose to drive part way back down the Ross of Mull and then over to Carsaig to do the Carsaig arches walk. Probably we should have been warned when we saw the signs at the start of the road to Carsaig; ‘weak road’, it said, max weight 13 tonnes (and then another sign which said max weight 3 tonnes with the 1 added using a black marker, we assumed it wasn’t just graffiti). We are just under 4 tonnes so in theory we would be fine, and we’d read reports of other motorhomes going down to Carsaig, so we went for it.

The road ran uphill through woodland until it crossed a cattle grid and we were out in the open, following the contours halfway up the side of the valley. The road had a tenuous hold on the side of the hill, slumping in sections as if it just couldn’t be bothered to stay in place. Bertie sat precariously on the tarmac straddling the grass running along it’s centre, we hoped we wouldn’t have to use any of the passing places which just looked as if someone had tipped a truck load of hardcore off the side of the road. It had the look of a road that was approaching it’s old age, one day it would be a road no more, just a track, and eventually it would disappear from maps and atlases completely. 

As we approached the coast the road got steeper, running through woodland and over a couple of streams which were further contributing to it’s decline. Finally we got a glimpse of the parking spot – another motorhome was there so we weren’t the only nutters. We rounded the corner into the parking spot and it was FULL. Yes, we had come all this way only to find there was no space for us (full was one motorhome and three cars) in this gravelled potholed parking spot on a steep downward incline.

Paul insisted on a cup of coffee at this point to calm his nerves. As he stepped out for a cigarette I put the kettle on – and had to hold it in place to stop it sliding off the burner. We walked around Bertie with our hot drinks trying to work out whether there was some miraculous way we would be able to park without blocking everyone in. Then we walked around Bertie again figuring out how we would reverse out of here without burning out the clutch or catching our undercarriage on the lip of a pothole.

As we started to back out of the car park a 4×4 was coming down the road towards us with a trailer full of logs – that was all we needed – but he pulled over onto the mud to keep out of our way as we backed out with only a slight smell of hot clutch.

The return drive wasn’t too bad, conducted in silence – the best policy when both of us are tense. In fact the whole drive would probably have been a bit of a fun adventure if we had managed to get parked, but driving all that way only to have to turn around made it highly frustrating and exacerbated our stress levels.

We didn’t have a backup plan for the day so once we were back on properly maintained tarmac we talked about what we would do next. With a long spell of poor weather predicted, and on a bit of a downer because of our day so far, we decided that we would leave Mull the next day and so drove up to Tobermory. There were a number of forestry commission parking places along the road that runs to Tobermory, but these all had ‘no overnight parking’ signs in them and were very close to the road. We stopped in one of them and saw our first seals on Mull. Eventually we parked just outside Tobermory in the large forestry commission area of Aros Park.

Bertie all alone at Aros Park

Although there were also ‘no overnight parking’ signs here we considered there was a low chance of being moved on, the car park was empty and out of sight of residential areas and roads; no one was going to see us and it was unlikely that the ranger would do night time rounds just to oust us. Aros Park was once an estate which was bequeathed to the forestry commission, the car park was the site of the house which was demolished in the 60’s. There were lakes and paths and picnic areas and a small pier with views over the bay to Tobermory. It was really quite pleasant, not the dramatic walk we had been hoping for, but not a bad place to spend our last afternoon on Mull.

The old pier at Aros Park

We walked into Tobermory late that afternoon and treated ourselves to posh fish and chips from the van on the harbour. I had scallops and Paul had calamari. It was yummy and warming and we ate it sitting on a bench looking over the harbour. We washed this down with a couple of pints before heading back to Bertie in the twilight feeling more relaxed.

Colourful harbour view of Tobermory

More, Otters and Eagles

16/09/17-17/09/17

After a lovely day at Calgary Bay, the weather turned a little gloomy again, but when we had last seen the forecast it was just the one day of glooms we planned the following day to climb Ben More, something on our wish list while we were in Mull.

We used the dreary morning to make our way around the narrow coast road, heading south from Calgary. On the way we stopped at the Eas Fors waterfalls where we made a fried breakfast to cheer us up. The falls were pretty but lots of people don’t realise that it’s the waterfall down to the beach that is the most spectacular. You can walk to the bottom to view it from the beach, but it was too damp to tempt us so we just viewed it from the top of the cliff.

Looking down on Eas Fors lowest falls

Apart from Eas Fors there weren’t many parking spots along this road, something that I’ve noticed in general in Mull; long stretches of scenic coast with nary a parking spot to appreciate it. After the falls the one parking space we saw had a height barrier – how rude! It made me quite grumpy, it’s no wonder that people stop in passing places.

We finally reached the stretch of road where we wanted to park up. We had a short  pause to let a herd of cattle past us before we got to our first choice of spot – the main parking area for people climbing Ben More – but it looked too boggy and we retraced our steps back to the firmer parking at Rubha na Moine.

Bertie’s parking spot – when the sun finally came out

We were sitting comfortably alone in this parking spot looking out to sea when Paul spotted an otter on the rocks rolling around in the seaweed looking like it was having a whale of a time. Another campervan drove up after fifteen minutes of this and the otter scarpered only to be replaced a few minutes later by a sea eagle swooping down on a couple of small seabirds that were bobbing on the water (it missed). Suddenly the day seemed a lot more exciting. When we popped out for a chat with the people in the campervan it transpired that they didn’t see the otter because they were busy watching two sea eagles ‘talon grabbing’ above Bertie – something we’d been completely unaware of.

The evening did literally get brighter. Ben More had been mist bound when we arrived but by sundown only the summit had a cap of cloud. We could clearly see our route up the mountain. Firstly up the slopes of Beinn Fadha and then along the ridge of A’ Chioch before continuing onto the ridge of Ben More, then a leisurely descent via the usual route up Ben More.

Eying up our route for the next day

 

A sunset at last – whenever we are facing west it seems to get cloudy

The following morning we were up and out by 8:30. We wanted to make it to the summit before any cloud came in. The first 500 meters of ascent were admittedly a bit tiresome, with boggy stretches and no clear path, plus I hadn’t realised that the sun would rise in the gap between the hills and shine directly into our faces on the way up – and I had left my sunhat behind. When we hit the upper slopes of Beinn Fhada things started to pick up, and the ridge ahead of us was looking both inviting and challenging. 

The ridge of A’ Chioch

We kept to the ridge line as much as possible, but it was obviously not a well trodden route and the rocks were slippery with moss and the morning dew that hadn’t yet evaporated. When we reached the most difficult section of the ridge – a small rock tower with a north facing scramble to it’s top – I chickened out. I couldn’t get purchase on the rocks and it was pretty exposed so I took the path round the base of the tower and climbed up a drier set of rocks on the south side of the ridge a few yards later. We had been completely alone on this walk so far, only the crampon scratches on the rocks indicating that people had been there before us, so when we finally emerged at the summit of Ben More it was a shock to see half a dozen other people who had walked up the other route. 

Amazing views – we could see as far as the Cuillin Ridge on Skye and Ben Nevis

 

As we started to make our way down from the summit we felt relieved we hadn’t come up this way, there was a very dull initial section of zig zags through scree before it dropped low enough that the path was on rock and grass. It was at this point that I realised I had lost something – we hadn’t had any internet for three days and so we had taken our mifi device to the top of the mountain so that we could get the weather forecast and drop friends and family a message. We stopped for a bite to eat on the way down and I thought I would check whether we still had any signal…no mifi device…my heart dropped. I left Paul with the rucksacks as I made my way back uphill expecting to have to go two miles to the summit. On the way back up I thought I would ask the other people on the decsent whether they had found it and luck would have it that the first couple I asked – who we’d overtaken some time before – had found it. The relief fuelled the remainder of the walk and not even Paul’s jibes could upset me.

The carpark at the bottom of Ben More was really busy when we got down – that’s what happens on a rare sunny Sunday. Even our parking spot was  getting full with another motorhome and campervan and a couple of cars. It was so beautiful we decided to stay for another night and spent the evening chilling out and watching an otter swimming around.   

 

Carradale Coastal Walk

05/09/17

We woke up to fine weather and so continued with our plan to walk around the coast to Carradale. The intention was to follow part of the Kintyre way to Carradale and through the woods behind the village, then we would head out to Carradale point. On the way back we would make a circuit of Carradale and walk along the beach, crossing the river using the stepping stones before retracing our steps for the final part of the walk.
We started by walking up the road from Torrisdale before joining the Kintyre way as it heads over to Dippen Bay. The route finding was interesting as one of the pale blue markers for the Kintyre way had been knocked over. This was the key marker for determining our route across the first bit of open land to the coast and we managed to take a couple of wrong paths into boggy declivities before we managed to get down onto the rocky shore. Once on the coast though we were good to go with the rest of the route pretty obvious and well marked. Here we saw another otter sitting on a rock having a good nibble on a crab, how lucky to see two otters in two days and an excuse for a rest after our wrong turns earlier.

Paul watching the Otter

At the western end of Carradale bay the route left the coast and walked alongside the river before heading along tracks through forestry commission land and then back down to Carradale where we could pick up the path to the point.
When we got to Carradale point we had hopes of seeing some more wildlife – but all we saw (and smelt) was a herd of feral goats and a few gulls.

Smelly goats on Carrdale point

We had a pleasant walk back along the sandy bay to the stepping stones but then much disappointment as half of the stones were underwater and there was no way I was going to attempt them. We had an extra mile or so to add to the route as we took a detour back up to the nearest bridge, but rather that than embarrassment or a soaking.

By the time we got back to Torrisdale we were quite tired, so decided to stop there for the night. It also had to rank as one of our favourite overnight spots for it’s beauty and peacefulness.

Rainbows over Torrisdale

Ferry Finally

04/09/17

We didn’t get the first ferry from Lochranza, we left it till 10ish to get in the queue. Although we were second in the queue we were waved on first and had pole position on the ferry, right in front of the doors. Our prime position proved interesting as we approached the terminal at Claonaig, we’ve never really watched what happens as the ferry approaches the slipway before. The ferry doors were dropped slightly (as always seems to happen on approach to the terminal) I assume this is partially to act as a sea brake and partially to prepare for dropping the front door completely onto the slipway for disembarkation. With the door partially lowered there was a gap of a couple of feet between the sides of the ferry and the doors and the waves were sloshing around the edges. I can see why the ferry was cancelled the previous day.

Watching the ferry doors drop…and trusting in the handbrake

The tide was relatively high as we left the ferry which allowed the ferry to dock further up the slipway and avoided the risk of grounding due to steep an angle of entry/exit. Something to remember for future ferry crossings especially to smaller ports.

We’d had a lovely time in Arran, we had been very fortunate with the weather until our last day and there had been lots of things to see and do, plus the facilities made it easy for motorhoming. Even the roads were mostly two lanes rather than the highland single track roads.

Saying goodbye to Arran under gloomy skies

Now we were heading for the Kintyre peninsular – if you’ve looked at this on the map you may have been struck, like me, with it’s similarity to a part of the male anatomy. No? It’s just me then.

The weather was still pretty wet but we had already decided that we would make the most of the bad weather by having a seafood lunch at Skipness Seafood Cabin, which is conveniently just up the road from the ferry terminal. The plan was to find an overnight spot near Skipness and then walk to the Seafood Cabin but the parking spots were either taken or too boggy to risk, so we drove all the way to the Seafood Cabin instead. We were a bit early for lunch so we donned all of our waterproof gear and went for a look around Skipness Castle, this was our favourite castle so far with an intanct tower which allowed us to climb to the roof and see the views of the surrounding area.

Looking down into the 13th century Skipness Castle with the Victorian Skipness House (home of the Seafood Cabin) in the background


Finally we felt we could reasonably order some lunch – and the rain had eased. We had a seafood platter for two and I had a rare lunchtime glass of wine; lunchtime drinking makes me so sleepy. It was very good – I particularly liked the scallops with pesto and the hot smoked salmon. We even sat outside (under shelter).
We looked at the map over lunch and worked out a few possible parking spots we could head to for the night. First we stopped at Grogtown, this was where we saw another otter ducking and diving amongst the seaweed. We whiled away half an hour or so until the otter disappeared, but we decided not to stop there overnight as there wasn’t anything we wanted to do in that area the following day. A bit further on we stopped at Torrisdale overlooking the bay. This was ideal as we could have a walk around the coast to Carradale the next day.

Interesting schist rock forms on the beach at Torrisdale

That evening as we were making our dinner the weather started to improve, rain stopped and clouds lifted. The skies turned an improbable set of pastel colours as the sun set over the hill behind us. Beautiful.

 

Bertie looking good at Torrisdale
Pastel skies over Torrisdale beach

Getting Otter

29/08/17

There was much excitement the next morning. Paul popped out for his morning cigarette and saw some movement in the water…it was an otter. Not the first otter sighting of our trip, but given the first sighting was claimed by Paul and I didn’t see any evidence of it, I think this is the one that counts.

The otter made his way through the water in front of us, occasionally ducking down to try and find something to eat. I was able to watch it as I made our breakfast and our packed lunch for the day until it moved out of sight.

We were off for a walk today as the weather had improved and there was even the threat of sunshine. Our plan was to take the coast path to Lagg where we would get the bus back to Kildonan. The plan didn’t come to fruition as I forgot to take my purse with me, I also hadn’t realised that the mysterious break in the path on the map was because there is a section that is only passable at low tide. Uncharacteristic poor planning on my part! Luckily we realised that I had forgotten to bring my purse with me in time to be able to turn around and get back past that point. Otherwise it would have been a long walk.

The path from Kildonan was along the raised beach that runs most of the way around Arran. The current beach itself gently shelves into the sea, then there is a short step up to the raised beach, a fairly level terrace a few meters wide, this butts up to steep cliffs where once the sea met the shore. The raised beach made the walking level going, but there was a lot of boulder hopping and bog avoidance to keep us on our toes.

One of the more unusual shaped boulders – the armchair – made for someone a bit bigger than Paul

Just outside of Kildonan was a large colony of seals, most of them reclining on the rocks conserving their energy during low tide. They gave us plenty of opportunity to stop for a rest and some observation. 

View across the bay at Kildonan – you’ll be able to make out a few seals if you zoom in enough

 

Waterfall near Bennan Head

There were plenty of waterfalls rushing down the cliffs, and when we reached Bennan Head – the point at which the raised beach had eroded and the tide reached the cliffs – we saw the largest cave on Arran. A large, but not particularly deep, craggy fissure in the cliff. We really enjoyed this walk even though it didn’t turn out as planned the sun and the sea mammals more than made up for it.

Black Cave at Bennan Head

That evening we drove on up the west coast to a new parking spot at King’s Cave. We passed through the very attractive village of Blackwaterfoot with it’s pretty harbour and the steep cliffs of The Doon as a backdrop, but couldn’t stop because the good weather had bought everyone out for the day and the car parks were very busy.   

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.

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

   

Squirrel Attack

In the spirit of going to new places, our next stop was Anglesey. This island – off the north west corner of mainland Wales – is a popular tourist destination, but I’ve only ever been there once to get the ferry to Dublin, and Paul hasn’t been there at all.

One of the things that Anglesey is known for is it’s thriving colony of Red Squirrels, in fact they have now started to appear on the mainland too. So our first parking spot was next to the Cefni reservoir where we knew there was a good chance of seeing them.

I can tell you now – never park your motorhome under trees used by Red Squirrels (or probably any kind of squirrel). We were woken up at sunrise with a steady patter as discarded seed kernels from the conifers above us started to hit us. Every now and again we heard a large thunk as a whole cone was discarded. I swear we could hear them laughing at us for our stupidity. It did mean that it was easy to spot the red squirrels, we just had to wait for the noise to start and then to look up into the trees. They are very cute, but we will be more careful about our parking choices next time. Also in this parking spot were a pair of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers who busily made their way up and down the tree trunks opposite us, as well as a good selection of other birds, so we had plenty of nature watching opportunities.

From the Cefni reservoir we could access the Lon Las Cefni bicycle track. This bike trail is very flat, which was a blessing after a couple of hard days cycling and walking. We took it as far as the Newborough forest and then struck off on forest tracks to the coast where we walked out to the lighthouse on Ynys Llanddwyn. Along the way we passed the shores of the reservoir before heading into the Dingle, a lovely area of woodland with boardwalks that can be explored for more opportunities to see birds and squirrels. On the other side of the Dingle was Llangefni, one of the main towns on Anglesey, and from here we followed the Afon Cefni across wetlands to the village of Malltraeth. The wetlands must have been true ‘twitcher’ territory as we saw lots of people dressed in camouflage clothing with very large optical devices. 

Viaduct over the Cefni estuary

From Malltraeth we went through the Newborough forest which is also meant to be home to a large population of red squirrels, but we didn’t have our squirrel sensing device (aka Bertie) with us and didn’t manage to see anything there. This forest was mostly coniferous, but unlike the usual densely planted evergreen forests where only moss can grow beneath the trees, the trees were more widely spaced with plenty of plants growing beneath them and all the wild flowers made it very beautiful.

The beach on the other side of the Newborough forest was a wide expanse of sand and rocks with views of the mountains of Snowdonia across the Menai Straits ,emerging from this beach is Ynys Llanddwyn, a small peninsular  or occasionally (at the highest tides) island. Here is the ruined church of St Dwynwen – the Welsh patron saint of lovers – a light house, an older beacon and several cottages which are now used as a information centre. There were seals on the rocks and plenty of sea birds.

Lighthouse on Ynys Llanddwyn

 

The chapel of St Dwynwen

On the way down, the route may have been flat but the wind was in our faces and made it all feel like it was uphill. On the way back we were pushed by the wind and managed to do twice the speed to get back to Bertie and those pesky squirrels.       

 

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. 

       

Midge Attack

Never let it be said that midges are a Scottish phenomenon.

Our next stopping point was the reservoir of Nant-y-Moch, by the head of the dam was a wide parking spot with a view down the valley where we chose to stay for a couple of nights. It was strangely busy during the day with passing vehicles using the small road between the A44 and A487 and double articulated logging lorries managing the single track lanes with far more confidence than we managed.

Maybe we should have expected the midges, as we headed up the road to the reservoir we commented on the way it felt like the nighlands – long stretches of single track road, but with long views as well, so you could usually see what was coming. On the final approach to the parking spot there were highland cattle grazing by the road. The weather was mild and damp. Of course there were midges. Thousands of the blighters.

After a quick walk we decided to hole up for the rest of the afternoon and evening and shut down the van – even so a few managed to find a way in, every vent was fair game, and it was pointless using the flyscreens as they could get through the mesh.

Bertie’s parking spot seen through the mist

At one point we thought we were going to have company as a VW van pulled up across the parking space, opened his doors and put out cycling gear to dry. Less than half an hour later he was off, doors slammed in disgust and top still popped up as he raced away to escape the midges. When we saw him round the next bend he had thankfully stopped to put his roof down.

The next day dawned brighter and midge free, Bertie was covered in rivulets of dead midges who must have all decided that Bertie made the ideal final resting place.

We thought we would go for a bike ride round the reservoir, the OS map showed roads, tracks and bridleways that went all of the way around so off we trundled.

We fell at the first hurdle, where the landowner obviously didn’t care that the track was marked as a public right of way and had padlocked his gates. After looking at the map we realised we’d be spending a lot of time lifting our bikes over gates if we continued down this route – so we retraced our steps and took a slightly longer route. There were a few exciting sections with a number of rivers to ford (the trick is just to go for it and keep peddling – we got wet but it was a nice day so no harm done) and some very rocky sections of track that had to be walked. We saw lots of kites and buzzards and fighter jets passing overhead. All in all it was going well until we hit a point where the track ended and the bridleway ahead passed over some boggy ground.

It’s always a bit of a gamble when planning a bike ride using bridleways. Horses can manage far more varied terrain than a bike (especially a bike powered by me) so generally we avoid anything that looks too steep, I now know to avoid bogs and marshes too. We tried to keep to the line of the path – but there was no path and we ended up having to push and carry our bikes through about a mile of grassy tussocks and boggy ditches, by the end we walked down the river as it was the path of least resistance. To top it off a herd of cows decided to make a combined run towards us which scared the living daylights out of me. Paul made some farmerish noises at them though and they begrudgingly stopped and watched us like a bunch of surly teenagers as we struggled past. It wasn’t fun, the only upside was that we could see where the track started again and after that it was a short two and half miles back to the van. In hindsight though I’d rather have turned around and retraced my steps! 

Trainers drying on Bertie’s dash after a soggy bike ride

 

Ystwyth yomp

We fancied doing the cycle trail alongside the Ystwyth river so scouted round for a parking spot, something that we could access easily with Bertie and would place us on the cycle path at a reasonable distance from Aberystwyth.

As an aside, I think I knew that the ‘Aber’ in welsh place names meant river mouth and preceded the name of the river, just like the suffix ‘mouth’ in Exmouth, but it still managed to surprise me that there was a river called the Ystwyth.

The parking spot we found was a picnic area near Trawscoed (translated quite literally on some maps as Crosswood – it wasn’t angry, just on a crossroads), a lovely spot with plenty of parking and picnic benches by the river. Although we hadn’t been planning to stay overnight we decided that we would be missing out if we moved on, it was a very quiet spot mostly used by dog walkers although we did see one suspicious transaction (man drove in, looked around and then left, second man arrives and gets out his phone, first man comes back, exchanges something with second man and then leaves, second man walks his dogs…hmmm. First man could have at least pretended to be making use of the car park – his undercover operations skills need some work I think), and there were a couple of pleasant short walks along the river banks.

Trawscoed parking spot, the only problem with parking under the trees is that the solar panels don’t charge as quickly.

 

Now it was only ten miles into Aberystwyth, so not a long cycle ride by any stretch, and on a cycle route that promised to be very flat as it followed the river nearly all the way and the only gradient was where it met the coast. But this wasn’t going to be about pushing ourselves, we just wanted to enjoy more of the lovely scenery we had walked through the day before, that mixture of deciduous woodland, river and coast.

It didn’t disappoint, the sun shone sporadically through the clouds, bringing summer warmth whenever it managed to break through. We had a pleasant meander through Aberystwyth, going round in circles as we tried to break out of the one way system. On the way back we stopped to have a picnic on the pebbled river bank where Paul saw a kingfisher, his second of this trip, yet again I missed it – I’m beginning to think he makes these sightings up! 

View across Aberystwyth from the castle
Springy suspension bridge across the Ystwyth
View down the Ystwyth river

 

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.