The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Thursday, 30 October 2014

GT Day 4: Creag Bheag from Kingussie

Thursday 30 October

I found myself stuck in a rut last night, although I don’t mean that in any negative sort of a way. The bellowing of the red deer stags started gently at around 6pm, as a large herd made their way down off the hill to graze the land adjacent to Colin. By 8pm they were really going for it, and I got a brief peak at them too, as a truck bearing a big spot-light came up the road. When I happened to wake at 4am, there was still some bellowing and counter-bellowing going on. Whilst I don’t usually like noisy neighbours, I quite liked these.

As dawn approached and (no doubt) the deer sidled away back up the hill, the weather changed. A pitter-pattering was heard and it didn’t seem like it was a good day for a fair-weather-walker. Nevertheless, I donned walking gear and re-positioned Colin into the car park at Kingussie from where, after more tea and a few ‘let the rain stop’ dances, I set off for a quick jaunt up the little hill which is Creag Bheag (my Gaelic isn’t up to much, but that’s ‘Little Rock’ isn’t it? Or am I confusing my Welsh ‘craig’ with an unrelated Gaelic ‘creag’?).

The initial walk through the woodland was nothing short of gloomy, and even out in the open on the summit the day was so dull that it was like it was dusk, rather than a good couple of hours after sunrise. On the plus side, I hadn’t yet been rained on, and the autumn colours (which I have been enjoying immensely during my drive north) were splendid. A lack of ability and adequate equipment meant that I failed to capture a good representation of their true colours, but here’s the best of a bad bunch of snaps:

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Looking to the east, there was far more water in view than there should be, with the Spey in flood:

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As tempted as I was to call it a very short walk, I reasoned that the weather was at least dry, even if not entirely inspiring, so I dropped off the north side of the hill and headed along the side of Loch Gynack. It was just along there that it started to rain, but I resisted the urge to turn back for a more direct return, and on I went.

Beyond the end of the Loch, the rain got the better of me, and I did decide to cut short, although at this point ‘cutting short’ mean climbing pathlessly over a shoulder, rather than taking a path around the base of the hill, so it’s debateable how much quicker my route was. It did, however, give me more interesting terrain on which to concentrate, and the reality was that it wasn’t hard going.

Almost back at Kingussie, I found myself climbing again (that path definitely didn’t follow the line shown on the map!), such that by the time I arrived (thoroughly dripping) back in the car park, I had walked a very modest 4.75 miles, with a surprising 1500’ of ascent. The second and third lumps on this elevation profile hadn’t featured at all in the intended route:

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The day was still very young indeed by the time I arrived back, and after a brief tour of Kingussie in search of some postcards, Colin’s nose was again pointed north and the afternoon was reserved for total laziness. If I wasn’t being so lazy, I would probably go and explore Culloden Woods, adjacent to which I am parked, to go back to where our TGOC route went briefly awry, to see whether selecting the left fork at a particular junction would have made a difference.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

GT Day 3: A’Challeach

Wednesday 29 October

Leaving Tillicoultry yesterday afternoon, I didn’t head to my intended night stop. The clear skies combined with a good forecast for today convinced me that it would be a day to go high, and having chosen a suitably positioned Munro I decided that I needed to make it further north before parking up for the night. Dunkeld was where I decided to head, and my race to get there to find a parking spot before full darkness fell was only won by the smallest whisker. 

The moon shining down, as I manoeuvred into the car park, told me that it was going to be a cold night. In fact, even by just gone 5, the temperature was collapsing. This is the frosty view across the fields opposite the car park, taken at first light this morning (which also turned out to be the only photo I took today of any merit for sharing!):

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Pointing Colin’s nose north once again at 7am, I arrived in the car park at the road-end above Newtonmore before 8.30, and after an unreasonable amount of faffing (not to mention a little tea drinking) off I set with the intention of a quick out-and-back bag of A’Chailleach.

The Garmin Gadget had been turned on ready to go, but I forgot to pick it up, and I missed the updates it gives me on progress (it trills every mile). Its absence (and my failure to look at my watch) also means I have no idea exactly what time I set off, nor what time I reached the summit, but neither fact is really important. The key fact is that I did reach the top (albeit not necessarily via the usual path), and that it was in cloud when I got there.

It probably would have been in cloud when I left too, if it hadn’t been for a chap from Elgin who reached the top about 30 seconds after me, as on my lonesome I would have just had a quick drink of tea and headed back down. With company, I sat and chatted for what was probably at least 20 minutes and maybe half an hour, such that by the time we parted ways, the views were opening up. Pity that I failed to take a single photo that does them justice!

The other benefit of the chatting was that I was now aware that if I had taken the cairned path I had passed early in my route (the one where I’d thought ‘I wonder if that’s the baggers’ path?’), then I would have benefited from a bridge to cross the Allt a Chaorainn, albeit with the warning that the path from there was ‘a bit boggy’. Given that my route had been rather boggy too, I decided to return via Elgin Chap’s ascent route, and nearly came a cropper as I stepped onto the slick wood surface of the bridge. The stones I’d used to hop across the river on the outward leg had been far grippier!

I was back at Colin in good time to be punctual in arriving for tea with Ali and Sue (TGO Challenge Co-ordinators, and owners of Newtonmore Hostel) and a very pleasant few hours were spent drinking tea and walking their dogs.

I’ve now moved on to another night-stop and as I type this with my fingers feeling the chill, I think it may be another cold night. If only that meant it was going to be another fine day tomorrow, but I understand that’s not to be the case :-(

GT Day 2: Ben Cleuch

Tuesday 28 October 2014

The weather forecast told me that as I drove north this morning, the band of heavy rain, which has been plaguing Northern Ireland and Scotland for the last couple of days, would move south, such that by the time I arrived in Tillicoultry (good place name!), the sun would be beating down on me.

Alas, as I arrived the cloud was still shrouding the tops and the windscreen wipers were still in action. A bit of time was killed in rejigging my walk and finding somewhere to park when it transpired that my intended parking spot was inaccessible due to a 3-day road closure that started yesterday, and a bit more time was killed with a cup of tea. By the time I set out at just gone noon, the tops were clear and the rain had stopped. Not quite the glorious blue skies I’d been hoping for, but I was more than happy to take the compromise.

Unrelentingly upwards went the path until, a shade after lunchtime (or at least, a short while after I paused out of the cool wind for lunch), I came to the top of The Law. That top gave stunning views, and the real treat was seeing what was to the north-west: a clear line of cloud marking the tail end of the weather front, behind which was clear blue skies, heading in my direction. I was also very taken with all of the lumps and bumps stretching out into the distance northwards, not to mention the various hues of green and brown of the landscape. Glorious!

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Blue skies are on their way!

Scant pause was had a The Law, as I now had Ben Cleuch in my sights, and that promised ever more superb (superberer?) views.

I’ve probably made that sound like a hop, skip and a jump, but it had taken me longer to get up  there than I had anticipated and a quick review of the hours of daylight remaining suggested that completing the full circuit I had intended wasn’t wise. Instead, I opted for the ridge I had been eyeing up on my ascent – over Ben Ever, and down towards Wood Hill, before veering off to the east.

The ridge was good and the initial descent to the burn was fine, but that’s where things got ‘interesting’. The little (engineered, in the manner of big slabs of concrete, concrete steps and guard-rails) path took an excellent burn-side route (made more spectacular by the burn being full and in a hurry), but it clearly hadn’t been maintained for a very long time (since the 1970s, perhaps?!), and aside from evidence of a number of rock-falls littering the path, one of the many bridges was a bit dubious (although I’ve been over far worse) and there was one slab of concrete that had been undercut and now boasted a large hole in its centre. I was amazed that there were no health and safety warning signs on display at the start of the path.

All evidence suggests that one is only expected to take that path in an upwards direction, as when I got to the bottom, a firmly padlocked gate met me, beyond which were some large barricades, prohibiting access. Clearly, I wasn’t going to retrace my steps back up the hazardous path and thus a way had to be found past the barricades. A sign on the other side, when I got there, explained that the path had been closed for safety reasons, pending funding being found to make it safe. In what way is it acceptable to only mark a linear path as being closed at one end?

Anyways, all is well that ends well, and it ended very well indeed, as I returned to Colin under the promised clear blue skies, allowing me to look back and admire where I had been.

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Taken from Colin just as I finished the walk. Lovely!

A simply glorious walk, with stats of 6.75 miles walked with 2700’ of ascent.

Monday, 27 October 2014

The shoreline around Arnside

I’ll start with a very quick explanation as to the premise of this trip: Mick (still failing to get to grips with the concept of retirement) has gone back to work for a few weeks, and I’ve just come to the end of a project on which I have been working, so rather than spending the next couple of weeks repeating walks along our local paths, I decided to go on a bit of a tour (Gayle’s Tour, as I’m dubbing it). It’s not really a walking tour. I’m on my way up to Morayshire, to see Louise and David, visiting other friends on the way there and back, with the aim of also taking a little walk each day (provided the weather isn’t too horrible!).

The tour started early this morning; I was on the road at just gone 6.30, and after a few hours of driving and a bit of faffing over deciding where to park Colin, off I set for a walk around Arnside.

People were out aplenty as I set off from a few paces away from the railway bridge. Within the mile, I was on my lonesome, as I left behind the view of the bridge…IMG_7644

…and made my way along the shore line south-west to Blackstone Point:

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Under heavy grey skies, which suggested that the forecast rain was going to soak me through before the morning was out, the views weren’t as they might have been, but it was it was still a mightily nice walk. (As it went, only a few spots of drizzle hit me and they were so innocuous as to justify me describing the walk as ‘dry’.)

Rounding Blackstone Point, the wind hit me, but it proved not to be an impediment for more than 10 minutes, as I then opted to leave the shore and make my way up to the path which runs a little higher up, through the woods.

Past Far Arnside, I ignored the line I had plotted on the map, partly because I’m lazy and wasn’t moved to walk the distance I had plotted, and partly because I’d spotted Arnside Tower and decided to go and take a look at it (it’s possible I’ve been there before, but if I have, I don’t recall the visit). In the absence of an information sign, Wikipedia has filled in a little of the detail of its history for me.

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Ankle-deep slurry was the order of the day through the farmyard below where I followed the two-sides-of-a-triangle along which the footpath runs. I could easily have just trespassed along the third edge of the triangle and kept my boots clean.

Once through Middlebarrow Wood, farmland took me back to Arnside where Colin was sitting patiently where I’d left him. I swiftly pointed him in the direction of Conrad’s house, and a few hours were enjoyed supping tea, eating cake and talking maps, walks, plans and photos.

I’m glad that I made tracks as darkness approached (I’m a bit miffed that the clocks changed just before my tour; it would be much more useful to me to have the light in the evening rather than the morning) as tonight’s campsite is extremely dark and I would have struggled with the solo manoeuvre onto my original pitch had it been much later (as it went, I didn’t much like my original neighbours, so after dark I moved – but to a pitch with much better access).

Today’s stats: 6.6 miles with just 400’(ish) of ascent.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Friday, 26 September 2014

WCP: Caernarfon to Menai Bridge

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Friday 26 September (0715-1010)

Distance: 10.4 miles

Weather: Varying levels of cloud with one short spell of drizzle

 

It's often a benefit of having low expectations of a walk that reality will exceed expectations, and so it was for the final few miles of this trip.

In much finer conditions than yesterday (except for the one short spell of drizzle), I set out from the campsite as the day was still getting to full light, and had a pleasant walk along the Menai Straits to Caernarfon. The route along the waterfront of the town, past the castle, is an attractive (and very clean) one, which made me think that we're long overdue a touristy trip to explore the place further. 

By now I was a mile and a bit into my day and it was a good half a mile since I had realised that: 1) I had forgotten to pick up my paper map; and 2) the battery-eating fault on my phone had seen the battery deplete to 20% overnight, meaning I wouldn’t be able to listen to an audio book and that I needed to be careful with my use of the electronic maps. This was also the point in the walk where the Coast Path waymarks completely disappeared for a few miles, but I knew that it followed Cycle Route 8 for most of the way to Bangor, and Cycle Routes are always easy to follow.

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And so I sped along, mainly on a tree-lined path, and occasionally along lanes or on pavement, until, before I knew it, I was just outside Bangor, which is where things went a little awry when I lost the trail somewhere in a business park and found myself dead-ending in a field. As the route at this point doesn’t follow rights of way, and as the way-markers I had initially followed didn’t bear any resemblance to the route I had drawn on the map, I had absolutely no idea where I had gone awry and which of many side-streets in the business park I should have taken. The only realistic option was to retrace my steps and, as my return journey didn’t reveal any missed waymarkers, back up to the main road I went, to road-walk all the way down to Menai Bridge.

A disappointing end to the walk really, as I should have followed the coast for the last mile, rather than being a little inland. Indeed, on arriving at the bridge I was tempted to walk back along the coast to see where the path came out. However, Mick was patiently waiting for me, and I had arrived there on foot via the nearest right of way to the coast, so I satisfied myself with that and into Colin I climbed. Excellent timing too, as within minutes it was raining. 

With Menai Bridge reached, I have now walked the whole of the coast from Cardigan to Chester, plus Anglesey, leaving me with just Chepstow to Cardigan to go. Realistically, that’s not going to happen this year now, but hopefully I’ll get to do it early next year.

(A few words about the maps I was using for this walk would help to explain what went wrong. When I came to plot this walk back in June, I decided to buy the most recent OS mapping for Wales for my Anquet software, such that I would have maps showing the official route of the path, but I had some trouble firstly in making the purchase and then in getting the maps to display. It was a lengthy dialogue with the Anquet support chap, and by the time I finally had the maps installed (two weeks later!), I had already sat with a split screen painstakingly copying the route from the free 1:25k maps available on the Wales Coast Path website onto my 1:50k maps. When I finally got my new maps loaded, I found that my plotted line almost always followed the pink diamonds on the map,  but that there were a few exceptions. The section south of Bangor was one of the discrepancies.

The other relevant fact here is that whilst the printed maps I have been carrying (except today, of course, when I carelessly forgot to pick it up) are printed from Anquet and thus show the official coast path as well as my plotted line, on my phone I have MemoryMap, with maps which pre-date the opening of the path, and thus just showing my plotted line.

Having had the opportunity to look at all mapping resources to see where things went awry, I can now see that the main basis of the problem I had was that the line I had plotted wasn’t quite right. If I’d had the paper map with me, I would have tried the version of the route shown by the pink diamonds, and it probably would have worked. However, we drove past that turn and I could see no waymarker there either.)

Thursday, 25 September 2014

WCP: Nant Gwrtheyrn to Caernarfon

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Thursday 25 September 2014 (0715-1430)

Distance: 20.2 miles

Ascent: 1200’

Weather: Grey with low cloud and very mizzly spells

Number of other people seen out walking: One dog-walker at Dinas Dinlle.

The photo above shows the view I had from my seat in Colin last night (Mick popped up that hill yesterday afternoon, whilst waiting for me to emerge from the coast). From Mick’s seat, the view included the sea and Anglesey. It was an excellent place to spend the night, particularly as we were about twenty paces from the Coast Path.

There is no photo from today because being grey, misty and mizzly, it wasn’t a day for photos.

The top of the hill above was shrouded in cloud as I passed between it and the pimple to its left and the cloud only came down lower as the morning progressed. By then, I was much lower too, as the path descends steeply once through the pass, past a herd of wild goats* and towards Trefor.

I could have just walked a kilometre across Trefor, but I did the right and proper thing and enjoyed the WCP route as it hugs the coast around three sides of the village. It was the last bit of nice walking I was going to have for a while…

Beyond Trefor, it was road walking almost exclusively for the rest of the day and I did have to question why I’m being so purist about walking the whole way from Chepstow to Chester. The sensible thing to do would have been to have said “Well that was a good walk” and to have got into Colin for a lift home as soon as I hit the car park to the north side of Trefor. But that’s not what I did; instead I took to the tarmac and kept to the route of the official WCP, which for the next 5 or 6 miles runs alongside the A499. It could have been worse; the A499 has been improved in recent years and for a good chunk of the distance the WCP runs along the old road (a little distance away from the new road) which has been turned into a footpath/cycleway. When it runs adjacent to the road it’s quite unpleasant, with speeding cars and lots of overtaking, so I did the only sensible thing and walked really fast, pausing only as I passed through Clynnog Fawr for a cup of coffee and cake. It would have been rude not to, as Mick was sitting there waiting for me!

I should have had a look around the church in the village, as it was remarkably grand for such a small place, but unfortunately I didn’t. Instead I strode on to take to a lane (which turned out to be busy and thus no more pleasant than the main road, as it’s narrow and has no pavement) towards Dinas Dinlle.

Finally, after a pause for lunch at Morfa Dinlle, a short section of sea defence replaced the tarmac, and a while after that I took the path I had plotted, rather than continuing on the official route along two lanes. I’ve no idea why that path isn’t the official route; perhaps it’s always deep in slippery mud, like it was today, and thus considered unsuitable.

I had intended taking to another footpath to end my day, again instead of following some more lanes. A peek over the stile at the start of the path showed freshly ploughed fields stretching out in front of me and suddenly the tarmac held greater appeal. It wasn’t all bad though, as the lane soon re-joined the coast and finally the mizzle which had been persisting on and off all day seemed to have passed by completely (it now transpires it was a temporary pause; it’s coming down again now, as I type). I could even see across to Anglesey (which isn’t far away at all, but visibility hadn’t been great) and make out where I walked earlier in the year.

Mick joined me for the final mile or so of the day and we’re now sitting about a mile south of Caernarfon, giving me just over 10 miles to walk tomorrow. 

(* I can’t guarantee that the herd of wild goats are always in that location. I also can’t guarantee that they’re wild, but they look the same as the wild ones in the Rhinnogs, not like the ones I’ve seen on farms.)

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

WCP: Porth Colmon to Nant Gwrtheyrn

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Wednesday 24 September 2014 (0740-1435)

Distance: 17.2 miles

Ascent: 3500’

Weather: Breezy with sunny intervals. Warm when sun out.

After the rain stopped last evening, it remained dry all night. Or, at least, I didn’t hear any rain and the road was dry when I set foot on it this morning. Thirty seconds later, drops of rain were felt. What bad timing! Happily, it was the briefest of passing showers and the weather then improved as the day went on, with the periods of blue sky getting longer and longer.

Continuing as yesterday had finished, the path hugged the very edge of the coast all the way up to Morfa Nefyn, (where I arrived in time for elevenses), taking in every wobble in the line of the coast and going up and down many an inlet. A fine coast it is, and a fine walk.

With no repetition of yesterday’s meet-up-failure, Mick stayed put in Colin today and thus was there and waiting when I came into Morfa Nefyn. He was even in the best sort of car park - as the coast path went straight through the middle of it, I didn’t have to stray more than five paces off route to be served my coffee and cake on Colin’s sofa.

Beyond Morfa Nefyn/Nefyn, the path left the coast for a little while and I wasn’t inspired by the immediate surroundings, fearing that they were going to remain lacking for the rest of the day. My fear was unfounded and a couple of miles later I was back into a more interesting area. Interesting in this case wasn’t just coastal scenery, but industrial remains in the form of quarries.

My thought of naughtily (and lazily) taking a shortcut at the end of the day, to avoid a drop back down to sea level only to climb back up to nearly 1000’, went out the window when I was striding along so merrily that I strode straight past the turn. I’m glad I did, as the view as I rounded the corner and started a steep descent made the extra effort well worthwhile (plus it took me past the most interesting quarry workings of the day; old quarries can often be a bit of a blot on the landscape, but these were of the ilk which added interest to the view).

The climb back up wasn’t too bad either – largely, I think, because after all of the miles and ascent of the last 10 days, I’m feeling quite fit just now. The blue skies, sunshine and views also helped. It was at the top of that climb that Colin hove into view and my day was over at just half past two, giving me a good rest-up before tomorrow.

I’ve only got about 30 miles to go now until I reach the north coast section of path, which I’ve already walked. Those 30 miles look, on paper, to be sadly lacking in quality. Let’s hope the reality is better.

WCP: Rhiw to Porth Colman

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Tuesday 23 September (0715-1615)

Distance: 21.9 miles

Ascent: 4000’

Weather: Before lunch: overcast but warm summer day; last 2 hours: horrible wind and rain

Only about a mile through today’s walk, I had my most incredible wildlife encounter since the stoat and rabbit incident five or so years ago. There I was, walking up a lane, when an owl flew across the road just ahead of me, and landed in a bush on the left. Nothing massively remarkable about that, but as I drew level with that bush it got spooked by my presence, flew back out and very nearly flew straight into my face. We were both wide eyed in our expressions as I ducked and it flew just over my head. Never in my life before have I had a near collision with an owl.

Alas, the day didn’t continue quite as well. A conversation with a herd of very young cows saw me drift off course, and having got back on course, I found that the path disappeared into a patch of nettles. In my experience, there are two common types of nettles: the very green, very leafy variety, past which it is possible to brush lightly without getting stung; and the tough-leaved, sparsely-leafed variety which sting you nastily if you so much as glance at them. This patch of nettles was (of course) the latter.

A while later I was forced into a detour, trespass and the negotiation of a couple of barbed-wire fences in order to avoid three dogs who wanted to tear me limb from limb. Even with the owl incident, it wasn’t going down as the most successful start to a day…

Things did then improve, and remained improved until I got to Aberdaron, where I expected to find Mick. What I found was Colin, but no Mick (and no phone reception on Mick’s network).

After half an hour of wondering what to do (and having no idea where he was and how long he would be), I borrowed a pen and begged a scrap of paper, left a note under the windscreen wiper suggesting two other places he could meet me later, and continued on my way.

Half an hour later, I realised that I hadn’t put the time on the note and thus when Mick found it, he wouldn’t be able to work out how far I might have progressed to decide where to head for. I discounted my brief thought of going back; if I got back there and found Colin gone, then we could be in an even bigger mess, so onwards I went, fretting about when and where we would meet. (Rationally, if all else had failed, we would have met at the planned end of the day, but as I hadn’t taken lunch or enough water with me, that wasn’t an ideal scenario).

Thus fretting, I didn’t pay anywhere near enough attention to the spectacular scenery through which I was walking.

Mick wasn’t at the first grid reference I had suggested, so I only broke stride to re-arrange some pebbles into the shape of my initials (in the hope that if Mick arrived after me, he would see them and realise I had already been through – oh, I really should carry a pen and paper with me!).

The scenery then got even better, but by then I was busy fretting about whether Mick would be at the next parking area, as I was getting rather hungry (I was putting off eating the rest of my snacks for as long as possible) and a cup of tea wouldn’t have gone amiss. Striding along as fast as my little legs would carry me, by and by I came over a lump and there was the road ahead of me. There were two vehicles in the parking area below … and neither was Colin. Nooooooo!

It didn’t take me too long to realise that wasn’t the car park and, whilst I’m always pleased to see Mick, it was with immense joy and relief to enter the car park five minutes later and find him waiting there. I celebrated with two egg baps and a mug of coffee :-)

Alas, whilst I was having lunch, summer suddenly got replaced with mid-autumn. The morning had seen me in shorts and t-shirt, but by half an hour after lunch I was in full waterproofs and was battling with a vicious wind.

With no choice but to carry on, that’s what I did, but with all my electronics hidden away, there are no photos to illustrate the scenery on this bit of coast. So spectacular, that I really would like to see it in more hospitable weather.

By way of a bonus to end the day, the campsite turned out to be half a mile nearer the coast than I had expected and I was more than ready to stop.

(So, where was Mick and how did we miss each other? It turns out that Mick arrived in Aberdaron just after 7.30 and decided to walk back towards me. Thinking that I was still miles away, instead of following the coast path all the way, he short cut it along some lanes. I was much further on that he though, and thus was on the bit he short-cut at the time he short-cut it. Then, getting to the farm-of-the-killer-dogs, he realised (quite correctly) that I wouldn’t make it through the farmyard by myself, so he waited there for an hour for me to come along, before deciding that he must have missed me. At the time he arrived at the farm, I was just arriving in Aberdaron. At the time I was arriving at the first grid-reference I had left on Colin’s windscreen, he was just arriving back in Aberdaron. Fortunately, he realised that he would have missed me at the first location, so headed straight for the second and decided to give it until 2pm for me to arrive there before heading on to our night-stop. I arrived there at 1315.)

(Conrad: I thought of you as I passed through the area shown in today’s photo.)