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]

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.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

WCP: Dyffryn Ardudwy to Llandecwyn Station

Saturday 20 September (0705-1400)
Distance: 18 miles
Ascent: only around 500'
Weather: overcast but warm and dry

Where possible I try to end my walking day at our night-stop, so as to save Mick from the trouble of shuttling me back and forth. Last night's campsite (the one that wasn't where I expected it to be) turned out to be at the very edge of my 'acceptable distance to detour to a night-stop' range. As a result, the first mile and a half of today was spent re-tracing my last mile and a half of yesterday, to land me back on the beach.

No nudists were seen in the nudy area, but there was a scattering of runners and dog walkers for the first half-mile of sand. After that I was on my lonesome until I passed through the enormous campsite which is Shell Island, where most tents were coming to life.

I wasn't overly enamoured with the section alongside the old Dyffryn airfield, but I repeated one bit of it thrice when I returned to pick up my dropped sitmat (the peril of keeping it in the same pocket as the map).

What was lacking in that short section of path was made up when I soon after crossed a lovely area of salt marsh. Alas, that was followed by a trudge along a road (albeit with an interesting chapel to distract), before I made my way down to walk the shore to Harlech.

I recognised, from quite a distance, Mick walking towards me on that section, and I was soon in Colin being treated to an early elevenses of an egg bap.

Another patch of uninteresting terrain (fields; concrete track past a rubbish dump) led me back into happy-making surroundings (with mountain views emerging through the haze) and as I walked the sea-defence opposite Portmeirion, I wondered what I would make of the sight if I wasn't familiar with what it was.

At Llandecwyn station I met an obstacle of which I had been forewarned last night. The bridge over to Penrhyndeudraeth is closed for major rebuilding and the coast path is routed significantly inland to Maentwrog. In amongst my unwritten rules of this walk is a clause which says that I'm not prepared to take a large inland diversion at a place where ordinarily there would be a walkable bridge. So, having walked as far as I could along the closed road, I returned to where Mick and Colin were parked and called the end to my day. I do intend to walk the omitted kilometre at some point in the future, but for the current trip, I will start tomorrow at Penrhyndeudraeth.

(Comments: thank you to the commenters. I do like it when my phone trills with a comment! I will respond when I next find myself with the combination of a 3G signal and an electric supply.)

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WCP: Tywyn to Dyffryn Ardudwy

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Friday 19 September 2014 (0740-1725)

Distance: 23.4 miles; Ascent: 2500’

Weather: cloudy morning, sunny intervals later. No rain :-)

Number of offensive plants which attacked my bare legs: many

 

Today wasn’t such a good day, perhaps because there were too many miles on hard/flat surfaces for my liking. It’s all comparative though; the weather was good and most of the surroundings superb.

I’m not sure why the Coast Path has been re-routed onto a road just outside of Tywyn, and perhaps I should have tried the old route (which is a public footpath), but I figured there probably was a reason and so trod the tarmac where, during the middle miles along its length, the lure of so many ripe blackberries slowed me down.

A couple of cross-country sections did ensue, and just before Llwyngwril I decided to take a bit of a short-cut so as to trade a section of lane for a shorter section of main road. That short-cut did make for a long delay (Mr Frodo) as first I encountered an angry farmer who was not at all happy to find me on his land (my GPS track has since proven that I was, in fact, slap bang on the right of way) and then I discovered (when I had got out of his sight and cut back down to where I wanted to be) that there is no evidence of the right of way on the ground. My already scratched-to-pieces legs gained even more streaks of blood.

Second breakfast was had with Mick in Llwyngwril before I packed him off for the circuitous drive around to Barmouth. I would also have had some circuitousness, as at this point the official Coast Path route meanders around a bit in some lumpy terrain and goes via the Blue Lake before dropping down to Fairbourne. Lopping off a couple of miles, I took the route I would have selected if I’d been plotting from scratch, further justifying my decision on the basis that I’ve walked the omitted hillside sufficient times in the past not to feel the need to walk it again.

Along Fairbourne beach, along the sea defence and over the railway bridge saw me into Barmouth, where Mick joined me for a detour up Dinas Oleu to visit my parents’ tree. It was at the tree that I knelt down, trapping a mature stinging nettle very firmly between the back of my thigh and the back of my calf. Ouch!

Back down at sea level an ice cream (from the very ice cream kiosk where I worked for seven years through my teens) fortified me enough to make me declare that I was going to walk another couple of miles.

That couple of miles turned into 7.5 (some of which was due to the selected campsite not being where I thought it was), rather too many of which were along the A496. I did follow the beach for as far as I could out of Barmouth, but once forced inland there is, for a distance, a lack of rights of way to get one back onto the sand. I finished the day rather fatigued, making me declare that I’m having a short(er) one tomorrow!

(Today’s photo is looking up the Afon Dysynni just north of Tywyn, taken from part way across the shiny, new pedestrian bridge)

Thursday, 18 September 2014

WCP: Furnace to Tywyn

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Thursday 18 September 2014

Distance: 24.4 miles; Ascent: 4500’

Weather: cloudy morning, sunny by mid-afternoon

 

Today was an inland day necessitated in order to cross the nearest bridge over the River Dyfi. For some reason, I didn’t perceive that an inland day in the midst of a coastal walk would be good or interesting; in that perception I was proved completely wrong.

Whilst my day didn’t start on the official Wales Coast Path (having diverted down to last night’s campsite, I took an alternative route to pick it back up further along this morning), it saw me with woodland on my left (mainly birch) and a bank of bracken on my right and it was a whole lot more attractive than those words make it sound. Then, back on the official path, came a walk alongside a delightful stream. The only mar on the first couple of hours was the recently widened forest track, which screamed ‘wind farm coming soon’ to me.

Arriving in Machynlleth a minor diversion was taken to visit Mick and Colin, residing in the car park, and after second breakfast and a cup of coffee, Mick joined me for the walk to the edge of the town, before he turned back in search of a newsagent and TGO Magazine (mission successful; he has his TGO Challenge application form).

Out of Mac, an attack of laziness caused me to shun the official route uphill through forestry, and instead take to the road for a short while to pick up a riverside path, which on paper looked more nicer. A complete lack of waymarks and a number of obstructions and missing stiles dulled what should have been a perfectly pleasing walk.

Back on the official path, I knew that I didn’t need to pay attention to the map any more. The route is so well marked that the map feels almost superfluous. Oh, such complacency! Five minutes later I overshot a turn and having backtracked, my inspection of the junction (a turn off the road out of Penall, as it heads into the MacDonald resort) still didn’t reveal any waymark. They were, however, perfectly plentiful going through the resort and beyond.

The next bit of route saw me climbing up to follow an elevated byway in glorious surroundings, made even more so in the afternoon sunshine. Mick missed the best bit of that walk, meeting me shortly before I descended down to Aberdyfi.

I would have ended my day at Aberdyfi (4 miles in a straight line from yesterday’s lunch spot; 27 miles walked to get there), as had been my original plan, but it was only 3pm which felt a bit early to stop, particularly when the next few miles were flat and easy along the beach. So, onwards to Tywyn I went where, whilst I set about removing half a beach from my feet and footwear, Mick disappeared off and came back brandishing two ice-creams. What a star!

After today’s excellent weather, as I type this (8.15pm) the wind is howling outside. I do hope it calms itself before tomorrow, although I understand there’s a very strong chance of me getting wet the next couple of days.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

WCP: Llanrhystud to Furnace

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Wednesday 17 September 2014 (0725-1700)

Distance: 23.3 miles; Ascent: 4500’

Weather: Glorious, but with a bit of a breeze

 

It was another lumpy one today (except for the flat bits…), which had a definite feel of Welsh hillside. I suppose it was Welsh hillside, it just happened that these hills abutted the sea. Up, along, down and back up I went, in yet more wonderful surroundings, with no climb being more than 400 feet.

Once again, solitude prevailed for the early part of the morning. The lack of a trodden path in places, combined with the apparent age of the cobwebs on some of the kissing gates, suggested that not many people venture onto the bit of path heading out of Llanrhystud, although it is well trodden again in the approach to Aberystwyth, which is where (again, just a few minutes before 10am), I met my first other walker.

A couple of miles later, I was disproportionately pleased to be standing on Constitution Hill. I lived in Aberystwyth for three years in the 1990s and, rather negligently, failed in all that time to go up the little pimple which is Constitution Hill. It’s not even a hill that demands effort, as a train runs to the top. Hopefully, it goes without saying that I didn’t choose the train today, but huffed and puffed my way up instead.

Beyond Aber the path was comparatively heaving. I must have seen ten other people! Another three were first heard and then seen to be having a whale of a time in the sea just before Borth. By then, Mick was with me and upon reaching Borth (15.5 miles into my day), I declared it lunch time and a good long break was had.

Just north of Borth lies the river Dyfi, which (unfortunately, for me) doesn’t boast a bridge particularly near the sea, and thus (in the absence of having a canoe in my back pocket), a large inland diversion is required. In fact, I will only just get back to the sea proper at the end of tomorrow.

The inland diversion starts with absolute ease, as it crosses dead flat marshes. There a dredger was dredging a drainage ditch. One of the dredged items was a bloated cow. Oh, the smell as I passed by!

Off the marsh and back into the land of lumpy, Mick joined me again and together we wandered down to our night-stop at Furnace. On paper it was a long day, but todays lumps were far gentler than those of two days ago so my feet weren’t dragging at the end of the day and I can probably muster the energy to trek all the way over to the distant shower on this campsite!

 

(Today’s photo is Aberystwyth promenade, which no longer shows any evidence of last winter’s destructive storms. The lump at the end of the prom is Constitution Hill.)

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

WCP: New Quay to Llanrhystud

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Tuesday 16 September (0725-1400)

Distance: 16.2 miles

Ascent: A wholly more reasonable 2500’

Weather: Wall-to-wall sunshine

 

I had contemplated having a lie in this morning, as the day looked, on paper, to be comparatively easy and thus there was no call for an early start. I was happy, however, with my decision to go out at my usual time, as I enjoyed the absolute peace and quiet of the early morning.

There were no boats on the water, no cars to be heard on the nearby lanes and (of course) no other people on the coast path (I wasn’t to pass anyone, other than dog-walkers on the beach at New Quay, until a few minutes before 10am). The peace wasn’t shattered until I wound my way back down to sea level in New Quay, where an industrial unit was turning rocks in an open-air washing-machine-esque piece of equipment. It was only 8am and it was making a heck of a noise. although I was soon back out of earshot.

Had the tide been lower or receding when I approached the beach on my way out of New Quay, I would have omitted a bit of distance and road walking, but as it wasn’t lower or receding I went the long way around, to join the beach further along, rather than risking an accidental paddle. A while later I acquired a dog who decided that it would prefer to come with me rather than continue with its owner. It finally turned back just before I left the beach, no doubt much to its (hollering) owner’s relief.

Just before Aberaeron (a very well-presented town, with colourful houses), Mick joined me for the walk back into town, where Colin and elevenses awaited me. It was the bonus for me caused by tonight’s campsite having an uncommonly late check-in time, leaving Mick in campsite limbo.

Lunch was had on the metal steps which were to take me away from the shingle beach at Llanon. Two minutes after restarting I discovered a bench just after the top of those steps. Always annoying when that happens!

There were only 3 miles to be walked after lunch and Mick joined me for the final one, which wasn’t the most inspiring walking of the day, being along lanes on an inland diversion to a bridge. He missed out on the rollingness (as contrasted to yesterday’s violent ruggedness) where gorse and bracken (and in places wild roses) abounded. There were still blackberries and sloes, but not in the same quantities as yesterday.

(I apologise for the poor composition of today’s snapshot of Aberaeron harbour. I really should have moved so as not to include the pole in the foreground!)

Monday, 15 September 2014

WCP: Mwnt to New Quay

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Monday 15 September 2014 (0735-1520)

Distance: 19 miles; Ascent: eleventy billion feet (perceived) or 6000’ (actual)

Weather: Very fine, again

Number of dogs which tried to steal my sandwiches: 1

 

In the 209 days of the year up to 28 July, I went for 172 walks. In the last month and a half, until yesterday evening, I didn’t go for a single walk. Today proved to be a brutal re-introduction. Superb walking, hugging the coast all day, and all in good weather, but the ups and downs meant that by the time Mick found me, less than a mile from the end of the day, I was having no thoughts as to pushing on any further.

Other than incredibly nice coastal scenery, a striking feature of today was the sheer quantity of blackberries and sloes lining the path. I’ve already picked a couple of kilos of blackberries at home, and jam has been made, but it still seemed such a shame that people weren’t out in droves enjoying the sea air and picking such perfect fruit. The only blackberry picker I passed all day was within yards of New Quay. In fact, except within half a mile of car parks, I barely saw anyone all day (and of the few I did encounter, I caused one to scream!).

The excitement of the day came at the bit of path (between Llannagog and Cwmtydu) which plentiful signs told me was closed due to a major landslide. You just never know whether such closures are for good cause, or because of over-zealous risk assessments and each time I passed one of the closure notices, I pondered whether to go and take a look at the issue, or whether to take the inland diversion. The decision was made where a bit of graffiti had been added to one of the notices saying “10/9/14 We enjoyed this walk. Council obliged to put up these notices for insurance reasons. We are 66. No problems with walk.”.

My view in hindsight is that the author of that graffiti believed that ‘no physical obstruction’ equalled ‘safe’. My assessment was that the signs saying that the land is extremely unstable were absolutely spot on. The sizes of the cracks (which in places ran straight down the path) told me that the path is going to land in the sea sometime soon. However, my own risk assessment also suggested that it was highly unlikely to give way during the minute it would take me to clear the area, during a period of dry weather. I certainly wouldn’t have set foot on it if it had been wet lately.

I do hope that work is carried out to re-instate a path around the landslide, and that the temporary diversion doesn’t become permanent, as the rest of that path is truly lovely.

Just a mile away from my destination for the day, I saw someone running towards me and that someone turned out to be Mick. Around he turned, slowing down to my (snails) pace, and retraced his steps back to New Quay. I was so knackered that (to his surprise) I accepted his offer to carry my bag.

I’ve looked at tomorrow’s profile, and it looks to be gentler than today. I suppose the downside of an easier walk will be less rugged surroundings.

Welsh Coast Path (WCP): Outside Cardigan to Mwnt

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Sunday 14 September 2014 (1620-1835)

Distance: 7.1 miles

Weather: Quite splendid

Had September gone entirely to plan, I would be 14 days through a walk around the Welsh coast by now, all walked in fine weather. The silver lining is that, even though I’m two weeks late in starting what is now a severely curtailed trip (starting from Cardigan, rather than starting from Chepstow), the incredible weather is still holding. At 6pm today I found myself walking along a stunning bit of coast, looking down at people sunbathing on the beach below. That’s surely not normal in the evening in mid-September?

Even with the warmth, shorts may not have been the best choice of leg wear. Whilst almost the entire section of the trail that I walked today follows roads, I decided to take a little detour to see if I could take an alternative route along a beach. The answer was that yes I could … but it was significantly further, involved a back-track and a fight with brambles before culminating with a clamber over a fence. I would say that I’ve learnt a lesson, but the reality is that each time I see a potential beach-based alternative to a road walk, I’m likely to give it a try.

The day (albeit a very short day) didn’t finish entirely smoothly either. At 1755, I was (as it later transpired) about five minutes away from Mick, who was sitting in Colin in a field waiting for me. That field wasn’t quite where I expected it to be, which left me taking an unnecessarily circuitous route and (thanks to a lack of phone reception to aid me locating him) wandering randomly around lanes trying to find him. Find him I did, but not until forty minutes had passed since I had been standing five minutes away! All good for the step count, I suppose…

I shall be taking the more direct route back to the coast tomorrow morning!