A mixed week weather-wise but it’s been nice to be back walking after a winter at home. Blisters, aches and pains lasted for the first 3 days and then it all got easier and I settled into a routine.
The paths have been very muddy, making walking quite difficult at times, and this week has been the almost exclusively hilly, cliff top walking. A baptism of fire.
I think Cardiganshire is underrated when compared to its more popular neighbour, Pembrokeshire. I particularly enjoyed my walk from New Quay to Llangrannog. (The sunshine and icecream had no bearing on this comment.)
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is beautiful and more remote than I expected. It seems like the town’s are built inland here, rather than on the coast, and so the coast path is quite isolated from civilisation for long stretches. However, the coast was once a hive of activity as just about every cove has a ruined lime kiln.
It seems like the Pembrokeshire coastal path is very popular, even at this time of year when it’s too early for the summer bus services. I’ve already met lots of hikers and most tell me if they’re walking the whole path. Sometimes I tell them what I’m doing and sometimes I don’t.
Unfortunately it also seems to be too early for the seabirds as I’m only really seeing gulls and the cliffs are empty. Having said that I have seen red kites, a buzzard, kestrels, a few cormorants, lots of small birds and even a couple of egrets this week.
Well it wasn’t raining when I left so that was a good start. I passed through the port and up the hill to an estate called Harbour Village. I took a small detour to look at one of the 3 Carn Wen Cromlechs (Neolithic burial chambers from around 3000BC). This one seemed a bit oddly placed beside the alleyway at the back of the terraced houses. This hill must have been an important site once upon a time.
The visibility was not great and the ground was very muddy but the walk was pleasant enough.
There was a monument at Carregwasted Point to mark where the French landed in 1797.
The path continued around up and down and around every small headland.
Strumble Head marked the end of my walk around Cardigan Bay. It has taken me 13 days to walk from Aberdaron (opposite Bardsey Island) to Strumble Head, a distance of about 50 miles as the crow flies.
It had started to rain but I sat down on a rock anyway to eat my lunch (tesco’s finest rolls filled with cheese and crisps). A couple passed me but it wasn’t long until I caught them back up. Jack Bottrill was a bit of an adventurer and we had a good chat – he’s writing a book about his 5 month cycle tour around Europe to be called “The Road to Rome”. I left Jack and Deja behind and carried on. (I saw 9 serious hikers today.)
The cliffs became a bit more dramatic and, after a couple of hours, the rain stopped.
I arrived at the stony beaches of Aber Bach and Aber Mawr. There was a notice informing me that a small stream bisected Aber Bach but was generally only a trickle except in stormy weather or after heavy rain. Today there was a torrent of water and no way of crossing without getting wet feet.
The signposted diversion was 1.2 miles and I was not doing that. I decided to remove my boots and socks and paddle through. The water was shin deep and fast flowing but I made it without incident.
The sun appeared and the views began to improve as I approached Abercastle.
Another lovely little village built in the shelter of a small inlet.
There was a car on the beach and an old man was selling large crabs that he’d caught from buckets in the back of it.
I arrived in Trefin and was pleased that the hostel seemed really nice. Chris showed me round and after tea and a kitkat I found the will to dosome hand washing, get a shower and head to the local pub for dinner and a pint. Jack and Deja arrived at the hostel and joined me in the pub.
The heavy rain that started yesterday afternoon carried on all through the night and was still going as I ate my Welsh breakfast and delayed departing. Always nice to see the upbeat tv weather forecaster proclaiming a warm, sunny day across everywhere except SW Wales and NW England. Oh well, out into the rain I went fully suited up.
I crossed the Nevern Estuary and headed along the edge of Newport, the path sandwiched between the stony beach and the garden walls of some lovely houses. (I later found out Newport is apparently one of the most expensive places to buy a house in Wales.)
Finally I was up on the cliff path heading towards Dinas Head. The path was incredibly muddy and I found myself slip-sliding at a snail’s pace. The views weren’t great, there was no wildlife about and it wasn’t long before I was soaked to the skin.
I hit the road into Cwm-yr-Eglwys, yet another quaint little village nestled in a cove with a beach.
This one had a ruined church, St Brynach’s, that was destroyed in the Royal Charter storm of 1859. The Royal Charter was one of 114 ships lost off the Welsh coast in that storm.
I decided there was no point walking around Dinas Head as it would just be a trudge up a muddy cliff top with no views to admire. Instead I took the tarmac’d shortcut across the ‘neck’ of Dinas Island (not really an island) to Pwlldwaelod – a mirror image of Cwm-y-Egwlys except with a pub instead of a ruined church. A good place to stop for a coffee and reevaluate my day. To be honest I wasn’t fancying another 6 miles slip-sliding along a cliff path. I took stock and found I could head less than a mile inland to Dinas Cross and catch a bus to Fishguard. Sorted.
Bus drivers are great. This one stopped to let me off at the top of the hill on the way down into Fishguard Lower Town so I could go and look at the Old Fort at Castle Point.
The fort was built in 1781 in response to the French Revolutionaries’ attempt to invade Fishguard four years earlier. The French seriously underestimated the size of the forces ranges against them (apparently the French spies mistook women wearing Welsh national costume for soldiers) and unconditionally surrendered (how unusual for the French!). Crisis averted but the prosperous town decided it needed to protect its port and so built a fort and armed it with a militia (3 invalid gunners from Woolwich – should be enough to take on the French). What a story. I thought the best part was that when the French landed the local cobbler, Jemima Nicholas, marched out with a pitchfork, captured 12, and went back for more!
Fishguard Lower Town is nestled in a natural harbour and from here you can take the lovely Marine Walk up and around the small headland to face Goodwick (there’s no ‘w‘ in Good-ick) and the port.
Fishguard ferry terminal is actually in Goodwick and was built by the Great Western Railway company in 1902 to try and attract transatlantic liners. In 1909 the Mauretania dropped and, until The First World War, Fishguard was a regular stop for Cunards flagship liners, the Mauretania and the Lusitania. After WW1 Cunard moved its operation to Southampton.
Goodwick’s other claim to fame is that in 1912 it was the take-off point for Denys Corbett Wilson when he became the first person to fly from Britain to Ireland. It took him 1 hour 40 minutes in his Beriot XI.
My hotel was on its own next to the main road. I was thankful to have arrived as I was wet and cold. My heart sank when I read the sign saying the bar was open nightly until 2.30am. However, upon chatting to Kylie, the owner, it is open until then to cater for the last ferry passengers (in particular those who miss the last ferry sailing at 2 am). Kylie’s dad set up the hotel because he used to catch (and sometimes miss) that ferry and the town of Fishguard, despite relying on the ferry for its business, does not really cater to the ferry. So Kylie’s family moved here from Coventry and now, if you need a cup of tea, a sandwich, or to warm a baby’s bottle at 2 am, you will find a warm welcome at the Seaview hotel. (Don’t ask for a taxi at that time though – the local taxi drivers aren’t interested.)
I had a nice evening chatting in the bar to Kylie and an American lady who was visiting Ffald-y-Brenin Christian retreat in Newport. It seems every restaurant has faggots on the menu (a local dish here and in the Midlands) so I decided to try them this evening. Not bad actually.
I left Cardigan behind and headed across the Afon Teifi to St Dogmaels.
Crossing the river meant leaving Ceridigion and entering Pembrokeshire.
I walked past the St Dogmaels Abbey and headed to the riverbank, seeking out the Blessing Stone. This large lump of rock may have been the capstone of a dolmen and legend has it that the Abbot of St Dogmaels used to bless the fishing boats and the river from it. I asked for a blessing for the rest of my trip.
Upon leaving St Dogmaels I happened upon the official start of the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path. A couple of blokes were waiting to start their walk and insisted on taking a photo of me.
I set off, along the banks of the Teifi to Poppit Sands. It started to drizzle and this was the weather theme of the day. It wasn’t heavy enough rain to require waterproofs but it was damp and the visibility was much reduced. Fortunately the lighthouse at Strumble Head was flashing to guide me.
Around Cemaes Head I got my last view back to Cardigan Island and Foel-y-Mwnt. There was an abandoned Lookout station with a joke “for sale” sign; only £20Bn and you get the beach below thrown in (accessible only by a seal colony).
The rock formations along the next section of coach were really interesting – lots of crumpled strata.
I passed through Ceibwr Bay and carried on, up and down, up and down.
The cliffs were dramatic but the views limited today. Looking along the cliffs they almost seem flat(ish); however, the path doesn’t go across the top but weaves up and down the cliff side. It was obviously designed by a masochist.
As I approached the corner heading round into Newport Bay the wind picked up (the forecast was for gale force winds) and the rain became heavier. Instantly walking became incredibly difficult and I was being seriously blown about. I had to bend almost double and stick my poles in. The rain felt like pin pricks and really stung. Occasionally I passed behind a hedge of gorse and the rain stopped – it was horizontal after all.
The last 45 minutes into Newport Sands were a struggle and I was not able to lift my head to look for a view across to Dinas Head. I was soaked through when I arrived at the golf club (a links course cutting right into the beach) so was grateful for a hot shower, tea and cake.
I ate in the golf club as there was no way I was venturing out. The rain was teaming down and I was very glad not to be camping.
Another sunny day was promised so I put my shorts on. Naturally this put me at quite a juxtaposition with most other people I saw all day who were wrapped up in hats and coats. My cold, goose pimples skin enjoyed the extra dose of vitamin D.
My first big Welsh breakfast this morning to set me off. I caught the bus back to Aberporth, which meant missing out 5 miles from Llangrannog. There were a few bonuses to this: 1) I can get a bus rather than a taxi, 2) some walkers I met advised me the section between Penbryn and Tresaith is the muddiest bit, 3) hopefully I’ll reach Cardigan early enough to do a bit of sightseeing.
Aberporth beach was sandy and deserted. The town was very quiet. I realised that it hadn’t woken up yet when I ascended the steep hill up to MOD Aberporth; I saw several ladies putting their rubbish out, all in dressing gowns (it was almost 10 am!).
MOD Aberporth is used by QinetiQ to test Unmanned Aerial Systems and air launched munitions. I skirted around it and headed into the cliff top. It reminded me of Durham, bisected by lots of small, steep gulleys with clear streams. Good job I like ups and downs!
The conical hill, Foel-y-Mwnt, sticks out like a beacon. It was shaped by an ice age glacier and demands to be climbed. From the top I got the best view of Cardigan Island. I couldn’t see any of the dummy puffins that have been put on Cardigan Island to try and entice real ones back to nest. The population was wiped out by a plague of rats accidentally introduced by a shipwreck.
At the base of Foel-y-Mwnt is the pretty little Church of the Holy Cross. A tiny 13th Century building at the start point for pilgrims embarking for Bardsey Island from Mwnt beach.
I stopped for a quick instant coffee at Mwnt beach hut (the owner was also wearing shorts). Then it was around the corner at the mouth of the Aber Teifi. Gwbert sits right at the entrance to the river, looking across at Poppit Sands. There were a few big houses here.
As I approached Cardigan (otherwise known as Aberteifi) I passed a sewage treatment works. Nothing unusual about that; however, just below it, hidden in the trees by the water’s edge, was a camp. This was clearly someone’s permanent home as I could see a chimney emanating from the tarpaulin, washing on a line and even a swing seat made from crates. I found the path down to it, marked by a hand rope tied to the trees. I started to walk down but a man emerged from the tent and I suddenly felt like I was trespassing. I doubt he pays council tax.
I made it to Cardigan in time to take a look around the castle. Cardigan has an important place in Welsh history as for many years it was on the threshold between Welsh and English kingdoms. The first stone castle was built by Rhys Ap Gruffydd, Prince of Deheubarth, around 1165. He united some of the Welsh kingdoms and made Cardigan the centre of his court. The town seems most proud of the fact that, under Rhys, it was the birthplace of the Eisteddfod in 1176.
Cardigan was ruled by the English for many years (the castle was sold to the English when Rhys died) but it seems very Welsh now. There’s not much of the castle left, indeed there’s a house in the middle of it.
I wandered up the high street and, on the recommendation of the nice lady in the castle, I headed into Pendre Art shop. Here, tucked in the back room, is a giant cardigan knitted by the townspeople to mark the 900th anniversary of Cardigan. What a brilliant idea.
I had an early dinner of delicious homemade pea, egg and ham pie in a cafe and headed back to my guest house for an early night.
A fairly chilly start but it was bright. Deb kindly sent me on my way with a packed lunch, including her homemade cake. I climbed up the hill onto the cliff top heading South.
The theme of today’s walk was ‘up and down’. I lost count of how many cliffs I climbed only to drop down to the next little cove, across an outlet stream and then up the other side. It was incredibly beautiful and rather tiring.
It was such a clear day that I could see Snowdonia and parts of the Lleyn Peninsula all the way to Bardsey Island. It was beautiful.
I reached New Quay at lunchtime and stopped to enjoy my picnic sat on a bench overlooking the beach and the sea wall. The sun was bright, it was warm and the town was busy; there were plenty of people on the beach and some brave souls taking a dip.
Another pretty town, brightly painted. There were plenty of references to Dylan Thomas as he made New Quay his home from 1944 and it was the inspiration for the town of Llareggub from Under Milk Wood.
It felt like summer had arrived and, if I hadn’t been so muddy, I would have put shorts on. I had to break out the suncream. To celebrate I had my first ice cream of the year, and it was a good one.
Another climb out of New Quay, up and around New Quay Head.
Suddenly the Irish Sea stretched out for miles, with varying shades of blue and green. It was a lovely sight.
I saw plenty of people on the coast path, some on several day hikes (they always ask me the same question: “are you doing the whole thing?” I must just look like I am) and some out looking for the Cardigan Bay dolphins.
It was wonderful to be on the cliffs in the sun, listening to the sea and the birds; a real sense of freedom and I walked with a permanent smile. The views were amazing at every turn (and every up, and every down).
There was a nice little beach and caravan park at Cwmtydu, where cargoes of coal, limestone and salt where landed in the 19th Century. It was also used by Siôn Cwilt, a famous smuggler. I carried on, up yet another steep climb.
The tiny island of Ynys Lochtyn, jutting out at the base of the Pendinas Lochtyn hill fort (stone-iron age) had been visible since I rounded New Quay head and was my destination.
I followed the coast path around the hill fort and admired Ynys Lochtyn but had no energy left to walk the extra mile onto it. Just around the corner was Llangrannog; another picturesque town. This one was tiny so probably more like a village, although it did have 2 pubs, shops and a couple of sandy beaches.
The beaches are separated by a big rock called Carreg Bica. This is the tooth belonging to the giant Bica.
Bica suffered from toothache and a dwarf called Lochtyn told him to stand with his feet in the sea to cure it. This he did, one foot creating Llangrannog beach and the other creating Cilborth beach. His tooth fell out and as a reward he ran his finger through the headland just above Llangrannog to create an island as it was Lochtyn’s wish to live on one.
There were people on the beach and surfers in the sea. I decided to get fish and chips as an early dinner while I waited for the bus. Unfortunately the bus never came (the timetable was confusing and the bus only runs twice a day, but not every day, in summer). The nice locals in The Ship Inn called me a taxi after advising me that was my only option to get to Cardigan (which I was lucky to get after only 45 minutes as apparently it’s common to wait 3 hours!). So much for staying in Cardigan to keep the cost down!
I didn’t get to my accommodation until 7.30pm by which time I was very tired. Fortunately nothing could dampen my spirits after a lovely day.
I didn’t sleep well, I think it was trepidation and nerves at starting walking again. The sky looked pretty dark but it wasn’t raining when I walked along the front at 8.30am. As soon as I rounded the castle I was nearly blown off my feet by the wind. Fortunately it died down a bit during the day but I was walking into a noticeable headwind and did wonder if it would have been easier to walk clockwise?
Coming out of Aberystwyth I crossed the Afon Ystwyth that flows out into the harbour and climbed a (almost vertical) grassy cliff. I got a great view of Pendinas hill, with its fort and monument, and Constitution Hill, with its cliff railway and camera obscura; Aberystwyth town was snuggled in between.
The weather was very changeable, lots of heavy showers, but I was lucky that the sun came out so I could admire the view back to Aberystwyth. I could even make out the Lleyn Peninsula in the distance.
I spent a lot of time walking along cliffs today. There were lots of gulls about, and some fulmars, enjoying the wind, but the brown sea looked cold and empty. I was reminded of home by the number of red kites that I saw swooping about over the land and the sea. Spring has definitely sprung as there are plenty of lambs about.
I walked 10 miles over the cliffs in solitude, passing only one caravan park, to the next settlement of Llanrhystud. Between rain showers I managed to stop for a quick picnic of homemade scones – the last of the food from home.
The going was muddy and slippy in places but thankfully I had poles to keep me upright.
Llanon to Aberaeron was across fields next to the stony beach, and in some places the path had eroded to the extent that the path had disappeared and I was forced into the stones. I survived an hour long heavy rain burst that included a rather painful hailstorm.
I made it to Aberaeron late afternoon, just as the sun came out again. Such a pretty town with its painted houses set out around the harbour.
A quick stop at the shop for a bottle of wine and then I was treated to a lovely evening in the company of Friz and Deb, in their beautiful house overlooking the harbour. I did wonder if it wise to have covered 18 miles on my first day back – a few aches and pains!
After 4 winter months at home it’s time to get back walking. I think I made the right decision for me to go home for the winter. Hopefully I’ve avoided the worst of the weather and can look forward to a summer back on the coast. I enjoyed Christmas, catching up with family and friends, and managed a skiing holiday. I could get used to being retired!
I picked Easter Monday as my re-start date purely because that’s the day I started last year. How was I to know that day would coincide with Storm Kate and horrendous weather? I’m getting a sense of déjà vu! Perhaps it’s just another element of symmetry – I postponed my walk and left Aberystwyth being battered by Storm Clodagh and I made my way back as she was subjected to Storm Kate. At least I was tucked up at home for the intervening 7 storms.
Second time around I have been noticeably much more chilled about everything; hopefully that’s a good thing. I packed last minute and only have a plan for the first 2 days. It’ll all work out.
The train journey was sunny and I approached the coast alongside the River Dovey with a great view across to Aberdovey.
It was a lovely sunny evening and so I wandered down to the sea front to take a look (just in case it’s raining tomorrow). Ah the smell of the sea, the sound of the waves, and the sight of the fading sun on the water. Bliss. I’m glad to be back and looking forward to a sunny summer (fingers crossed).