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]

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.)

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Rhiw to Porth Colman - holding post

It was a day full of incident today (for example: I nearly had a head-on collision with a flying owl, and Mick and I misplaced each other for 4 hours). I've written a full blog post on the laptop, only then to find that the mobile internet connection is so poor that I can't send it. It will follow, probably late tomorrow.
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Monday, 22 September 2014

WCP: Llanbedrog to Rhiw

Monday 22 Sept 2014
Distance: 17.7 miles, plus 3.2 back again
Ascent: 3000'
Weather: glorious

There was an even more noticeable nip in the air this morning, but I bravely put my shorts on regardless, and shivered my way for the first 20 minutes of the day, until I stopped and dug right to the bottom of my bag to find my gloves. Having done that, I immediately began a sustained uphill, which would have warmed me up nicely, even without the gloves.

In retrospect, I can guess that the signpost that I didn't understand as I left the beach, meant "continue along the beach for some steps leading up to the statue". Not knowing that, or indeed that the statue was on my route, I dutifully followed the WCP markers around 3 sides of a rectangle.

Beyond the statue, which stands at an excellent viewpoint, I was on moorland, resplendent with the yellow of the gorse and the purple of the heather.

Back down at sea level, a goodly walk along a beach had me in need of a snack and as I stood, banana in hand, I saw a buoy bobbing in the water. Banana gone and the skin stowed, I looked up again to see the buoy gone and a woman emerging from the waves just ahead of me. That surprised me!

The almost-full circle around Abersoch I would have omitted if I'd known in advance how it lacked merit, but soon enough I was back on the beach with Mick walking towards me. Ten minutes later I was being served tea and croissants.

The next section was walking perfection, as it undulated high above the sea. One of those undulations in particular (on what appears to be a very new piece of path, replacing a previous inland route) was ridiculously steep, but mercifully short.

Mick met me again just before I started descending to Porth Neigwl, which was to mark the end of my day...

...The only thing was, it wasn't yet 1pm and the day was so fine that it seemed a shame to laze around the afternoon. We, therefore, did something that may appear, at a glance, to be a bit odd: we walked the next 3.2 miles of the route, and then turned around and walked back again.

There were a number of reasons behind the decision to do that, one of which was that the tide was right to walk the beach this afternoon, whereas in the morning it would have been a 5-mile inland walk on the official path. Plus, it gave Mick the chance to have a proper walk without having to drive anywhere and saved him from having to drive the little lanes all the way to Rhiw only to drive back again. Tomorrow, Mick will get up with me bright and early to drive me to the point to which we walked this afternoon.

I've snuck a peek at the map for tomorrow and seems that it's going to be rather strenuous - which hopefully also means it will be spectacular. I suspected that this peninsula would provide good walking, and I've not been disappointed so far.

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Sunday, 21 September 2014

WCP: Penrhyndeudraeth to Llanbedrog

Sunday 21 September 2014 (0725-1550)

Distance: 24.3 miles

Ascent: not enough to bother counting

Weather: Glorious!

There was a nip in the air this morning, which (combined with a weather forecast telling me it was going to be much cooler than of late) caused me to have a last minute switch of clothes from shorts and t-shirt to trousers and long sleeves. That was a mistake and the day turned out to be every bit as warm as at the start of the week, but having not realised that until about an hour into the day, I had to wait until lunchtime to put it right.

I had already called for support once, just fifteen minutes into my day when my shoes, which I’ve worn in perfect comfort for the last 250 miles, reverted to their previous grossly-uncomfortable ways. Mick duly delivered different shoes to me, although that didn’t go entirely smoothly, as he didn’t know that there is a low-lying path below the inland side of the causeway that runs to the east of Porthmadog, and I didn’t know that there was a high-level path running on the other side, and thus we passed each other unseen...

Because Mick was on the sea-ward side, he missed the full glory of this view, which was just a taster of how fantastic this day was going to be:

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We both got to see this one though:

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If Mick hadn’t come on a shoe-swapping mercy mission, he wouldn’t (after leaving me) have then become involved in the rescue of three stray dogs which had, apparently, been dumped in Porthmadog town centre. What is it with us and stray dogs in Wales this year?! 

Meanwhile, I continued through picturesque Borth-y-Gest and onto the first of many lovely beaches, all with views of mountains in one direction or another.

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Black Rock sands is an enormous area of sand, on which many cars had apparently enjoyed making hand-brake turns very recently. It was reasonably quiet from a traffic point of view this morning, but there were lots of people out and about, in common with most of today’s beach areas. The firm surface there made for fast and easy walking and, having walked its length, a rare pull up a hill (and back down the other side) saw me soon striding towards Cricieth, which is an attractive place when approached from the east, as I did.

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Having completed his dog-rescuing duties in Porthmadog, and resolved our dwindling supply of groceries, Mick caught up with me as the route takes to the main road for a couple of miles between Cricieth and Pwllheli. After lunch and a change back into summer garb, I then had an afternoon of mainly beach walking. A large martial arts tournament/meet was in progress on one bit of beach, just outside of Pwllheli; I fear that I accidentally got myself in some of the spectator’s photos and videos.

I’m pretty sure that I haven’t been to Pwllheli before, and it didn’t grab me as a place I wanted to explore further, so I just shuffled on through, meeting Mick as I walked three sides of the huge harbour.

Once of the big benefits of Mick walking back to meet me at various points of the days is that he’s already recce’d the route, so, for example, this afternoon he was able to lead me around a bit of headland which didn’t look passable from a distance. If I’d been alone, I would have walked a longer road route.

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After a couple of days involving stretches of path that were okay, but not deserving of superlatives, today was back to walking perfection (helped, of course, by the gorgeous weather). Even the section of main road paled into insignificance when the day was viewed as a whole.