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.

Gardens and Greenhouses

We moved on from Rhandirmwyn on a grey and miserable morning, not sure what we would do to fill our day. We had thought about going to the Welsh National Botanic Gardens, but didn’t really want to trudge round gardens in the rain and indoor entertainment opportunities were limited.

While we made up our mind we headed west and popped into an Aldi to pick up some more shopping. We seem to be stopping for food far more often that we would normally shop at home – I think it’s because we haven’t got used to the food storage in the van. At home we had two freezers, a large fridge and more cupboards than anyone rightly needed, this meant that we could stockpile the basic essentials like bread and milk as well as the not so basic (did I really need 50 different spices? some of them were well past their sell by date), and needed less trips to the shops. In the van we have a very small freezer, reasonable fridge and a cupboard that does hold a lot, but is a right pain to find anything in. Anyway, this means that we cant put a loaf of bread or a couple of pints of milk in the freezer for emergencies and whenever we pop to the shops to buy a loaf of bread a few other things find their way into the basket.

Outside Aldi we bumped into another motor-homer and mentioned our predicament (where to go for the day – not our shopping habits). Don’t worry, he said about the gardens, it’s mostly inside anyway. And although he was wrong (the greenhouse is the main event, but there are a number of outside garden areas) we’re glad that he encouraged us to go.

If the weather had been better we would have parked up and cycled into the gardens to take advantage of the half price entry for cyclists. But to be honest it was just too miserable, so we parked up in the coach car park and went into the ticket office. When I explained that we had a motorhome and were parked in the coach car park, the chap who served us asked if we wanted to stay overnight. Sounds like a plan we thought, nice and easy, but sadly it was a Britstops location and as we’re not members the manager wouldn’t let us stay – boo.

The day started to get brighter as we walked around the gardens, the enjoyment a little muted as we don’t have a garden of our own anymore so any thoughts about plants that we would like are going to have to be filed away for the future.

The single span greenhouse (the largest in the world) was impressively inset into the hill and had a meandering path around two levels of plants that thrive in Mediterranean climates from Australia to California. There was a tropical glasshouse with butterflies which I could have stayed in for ages (mostly to warm me up). Outside there was a bird of prey demonstration with a Golden Eagle, Sea Eagle and several smaller birds, where we found out that the British Birds of Prey centre is going to be sited in the gardens and should be open next year. When the rain seemed to have died away we walked around the walled gardens and the lakes, where Paul spotted an otter – I didn’t, all I got was the swish of the vegetation and the ‘plop’ as it disappeared.

Inside the single span greenhouse designed by Norman Foster
The Great Glasshouse from the outside
Butterfly in the tropical glasshouse

My favourite part though, and only a small thing, was the stream that runs down the main path through the gardens, it snakes through various features and geological exhibits and at one point disappears down a hole and bubbles back up again a few meters later, I want one!

After a few hours the sun was threatening to actually make an appearance and we headed off to find somewhere to sleep for the night.       

 

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