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