After walking such a long way already this week it was nice to enjoy a lazy morning before my early afternoon train back to Brighton. I wasn’t sure how far I was going to walk in the afternoon.
Despite the South-East train strikes that had been going on earlier in the week, my train was on time. I picked up my bag and got on board. It was only when I arrived at Brighton and picked up my bag to disembark that I realised I hadn’t got my walking poles. Where were they? I must have left them on the platform at Clapham Junction. That was the second time is left my poles behind when catching a train (remember Barrow-in-Furness?). This time I was able to get a station worker to phone Clapham and my poles were still there. Phew. The bad news was that I had to go and collect them so I endured another round trip to Clapham Junction and back. What an idiot. I’m so glad I retrieved them though, and relatively easily, as I couldn’t put my tent up without them and the cheapest bed and breakfast in Brighton was well over £100.
It was almost 6pm when I finally left Brighton train station. I walked down to the sea front and along the esplanade to the Marina before turning inland to the only available campsite. It was my most expensive campsite stay at £26.40 for 15 hours. There was nothing I could do and I was tired so I put my tent up and went for an early night.
I didn’t get much sleep as I pitched next to a group of profoundly deaf people who started barbecuing at 10 pm. They were incredibly noisy, which I guess was because they couldn’t hear how loud they were. I was too tired to care.
I woke up feeling relieved that I was going home. I had only spent 4 days at home in 4 months and I wanted a break from camping where I could sleep in my own bed.
I packed up and got a bacon and egg sandwich from the trucker-style cafe on the campsite before I headed back out to The Salterns. Here the seawater had been impounded in shallow lagoons, allowed to evaporate (helped by wind pumps) and the residual salt collected. Salt production had been going on here since Roman times, only halting in 1865 when cheaper salt from Cheshire forced the closure of the last Saltern. Now these brackish lagoons formed the Keyhaven-Lymington Nature Reserve.
It was peaceful in the morning and, as it was low tide, all I could here was the sound of the many wading birds that feed in this place. I saw black headed gulls, oyster catchers, egrets, herons, plovers, godwits and sandpipers.
Lymington was a yacht haven. I walked around the marina and stumbled across Lymington Sea Water Baths. This place looked brilliant. built in 1833, it is the oldest and largest lido in the UK. It has a 120m inflatable assault course in it – I was sorely tempted! Had I been here in the late 18th Century it would have only cost me 1/- to swim in Mrs Beeton’s Baths with the aid of a guide, who would have held me up with a rope.
I found a nice cafe in Lymington and had a coffee before catching the train home.
Holly dropped me back in Teignmouth early and I wandered around the town centre before getting on a train to Starcross. There wasn’t much to Teignmouth first thing in the morning and I had a pretty average coffee.
I had decided to get the train along the coast through Dawlish and Dawlish Warren as it looked more exciting than walking.
The train went through a couple of tunnels bored through the cliff. I enjoyed a lovely view of the red cliffs, and then of the town of Dawlish and the entertainment centre that seemed to be Dawlish Warren.
I arrived at Starcross in time to catch the first ferry across the River Exe to Exmouth. I’m not sure what it is with ferrymen in South Devon but this pair waited until we were supposed to leave before departing the vessel (leaving the engine running) to make themselves a cup of tea in the ferry hut. Clearly arriving at work 10 minutes earlier (when the start time was 10 am) was too much.
I walked along Exmouth’s sea front promenade, past the beach full of schoolchildren enjoying various water sports, and headed up onto the cliff at Orcombe.
The Geoneedle at Orcombe Point signifies the Western gateway to the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. To call the 95 miles of coast between Exmouth and Studland Bay the Jurassic Coast is a misnomer as the rocks tell the story of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The oldest rocks, a mere 250 million years old, are the ones at Orcombe Point; the story unfolds from West to East so I am heading in the right direction.
The Triassic cliffs are deep red and the shingle beaches are covered in quartzite, round pebbles, marking the course of a huge river that once flowed through a vast desert. The river originated in Brittany and longshore drift causes the pebbles to continue to move East, from Budleigh Salterton to Chesil Beach and even as far as the Isle of Wight.
I passed the enormous holiday park full of static caravans above Sandy Bay and next to the rifle range at Straight Point.
The colour of the cliffs was incredible and made the sea look muddy at their base. The path curved up and down like a wave. Many of the cliff top paths seem to be given names and The Floors took me to Budleigh Salterton. I passed straight by the town along the sea front.
To cross the River Otter the path took me a kilometre inland to the first bridge and then back out again and over Otterhead.
It was a long, curvy walk up and down to Sidmouth. The standout sections were Ladram Bay and Peak Hill.
Ladram Bay had some amazing rock formations that had been created by erosion.
It was hot work climbing up Peak Hill (fortunately the path did not go to the top of High Peak just before it) but the view was incredible. I could see all the way back around Lyme Bay to Berry Head at Brixham.
I had really picked the pace up as I climbed Peak Hill and descended into Sidmouth so that I made the 3pm bus. I had to get a bus to Exeter and then the train to Teignmouth, where Holly collected me for my final night in a bed for a while.
The Regency Town of Sidmouth looked like a great place to retire and I saw plenty of oldies playing croquet on the town’s court.
Holly and I went out for a really nice pub dinner at The Elizabethan Inn in Luton, Devon. It had been my last day of walking for 9 days as I was heading back to Cornwall for a week off.
Another long train journey to get back to Penzance. Fortunately I like trains. And the train line to Penzance is mostly very scenic. I found I was looking forward to getting back to the coast so that was a good sign.
Sadly, a consequence of my unplanned journey home was that I missed out on the opportunity to go swimming in Penzance’s re-vamped Jubilee Pool. It only re-opened 2 weeks ago and looked lovely when I passed it on Saturday (it was closed then). Something for another trip.
I arrived in Penzance at 5.15pm and walked the 3 miles around the apex of Mount’s Bay to Marazion. I walked between the train track and the beach. There were good views of St Michael’s Mount all the way along.
No sooner had I pitched my tent and been for a shower than it started raining. I finished off my picnic lunch in my tent and had an early night. The heavy rain continued into the night.
The Great Tit chicks still hadn’t fledged when I finally left Jill’s this morning; they were looking ready to go. Jill sent me on my way with several pieces of cake so I definitely wouldn’t starve.
I headed into Gwithian Towans and started walking through the sand dunes. It was a grey morning and the light was flat.
The towans (sand dunes) between Gwithian and Hayle make up the second largest sand dune ecosystem in Cornwall, 400 hectares of dunes. I only walked through part of it as it’s much easier to walk along the beach.
There were plenty of people at intervals along the long stretch of beach up to the Hayle Estuary. It was very windy and a few kite surfers were out.
The tide was coming in as I walked over the cliff top and around the Hayle Estuary. It has a main channel and other tidal areas, such as Carnsew Pool, that attract plenty of bird life.
Hayle Main Street seems to be a busy road and unfortunately that spoils any atmosphere it might have as all other noise is drowned out by the constant passing of vehicles. I wasn’t minded to stop and hurried on through to Lelant Saltings.
Jill had suggested that it might be interesting to catch the ‘Cornish Riviera Express’, otherwise known as the St Ives bay line train, operating since 1877. For people heading to St Ives there is a park-and-ride service at Lelant Saltings. It was full, with cars circling looking for spaces. I walked straight through to the train platform with 1 minute to spare before the train arrived. The ticket man couldn’t operate his machine quick enough to give me a ticket so I ended up catching the train for free. It certainly was a lovely journey along the coast, via Carbis Bay, to St Ives.
St Ives was very busy. There were people everywhere in this picturesque, narrow street town. I wandered through the streets and saw a sign for a hairdressers – just what I needed.
From the hairdressers I went straight to Barbara Hepworth’s house, which is now a museum. It had been recommended to me. I’m not a big appreciator of art but I thought her garden was magical. It was possibly the loveliest garden I had ever seen; a proper oasis from the madding crowd. I was amazed to find out that all the sculptures in the garden were there when Hepworth lived there; she designed the sculptures for her own garden. It was very beautiful and peaceful.
I was camping just on the edge of the town in a nice campsite that retains a space for hikers.
Once I had done my daily chores I decided to treat myself to a nice meal and found the Black Rock restaurant. It was lovely. I finished off in a wine bar at the Wharf; the sea front was very busy with tourists.
I was up early and keen to leave. I had discovered there was a bus from the end of the road into Carmarthen, which would save me a road walk. I caught the bus. Driving into Carmarthen I was struck by the amazing sports facilities – a running track, rugby pitches, indoor rugby training facility and more.
I had intended to catch a train from Carmarthen to Kidwelly as the train line runs next to the coast, whereas the path takes you inland (presumably to avoid the train). I had a long enough gap between bus and train to get a coffee and a bacon and egg sandwich for breakfast. I contemplated hanging around in Carmarthen for a couple of hours and getting the next train (they come at 2 hour intervals) but the man in the cafe suggested there wasn’t much to see in Carmarthen, just the Roman amphitheatre, which apparently takes 3 seconds. However, when I said I was heading for Llanelli he suggested I stay in Carmarthen.
I caught the early train and watched the Afon Tywi go by out of the window.
Kidwelly is a small town “dominated by its castle”. I couldn’t see the castle, I think it was hidden amongst the houses and, having seen enough castles recently, I didn’t bother to hunt for it.
My walk began by following the 3-mile long Kymer’s Canal. It was built in 1768 to connect Kidwelly Quay with the collieries in the Gwendraeth Fawr valley and was Wales’ earliest industrial canal. It looks very small now.
I walked passed Pembrey airfield, through Pembrey Forest and popped out on Cefn Sidan Sands; 8 miles of golden sand and fantastic views of Carmarthen Bay and the Gower peninsula.
At the end of the beach is Pembrey Country Park, on the site of the former Pembrey Royal Ordnance Factory (which apparently suffered the first bombing raid of “The Blitz”). It provides lots of leisure activities, from Segway to skiing!
The next 21 km, from Pembrey to the Loughor Bridge, would be through the Millenium Coastal Park. This park seems to have been created to fill the gap left behind by all the heavy industry that used to be on the North bank of the Loughor Estuary.
I made my way past Burry Port (built to take over the coal export duties from Kidwelly and Pembrey in the 1830s) and into Llanelli.
I stopped to admire the rugby posts, complete with model of Phil Bennett evading an All Black, that have been sited to commemorate the Scarlet’s old ground, Stradey Park (now a housing estate). An old man started talking to me about it and was impressed I knew of Phil Bennett. He loved Llanelli a lot more than the man in the cafe this morning; he told me he has a caravan at Wiseman’s Bridge but after a few nights there he has to come home because he misses it.
Ironically, the old man had initially stopped me to ask why I wasn’t cold (wearing only shorts and a t-shirt) and, after 20 minutes talking to him as the wind picked up, I was now freezing. I only had a mile to go, past the Water Park (on the site of the old Llanelly Steel Works) and into town. How pleasant to be staying somewhere clean. I didn’t go out for the evening as I was able to get a homemade curry at the guest house.
It took me 8 hours to get back to Barmouth yesterday; not that I minded as these days travelling is much more relaxing when one has time. I stayed in the same guest house as my last night here, Môr Wyn. I asked Trevor if the storms had hit and he said a concrete slipway had been smashed and a huge tree had blown down. He reckoned it had been the windiest he’d experienced since he moved to Barmouth 10 years ago. I’m glad I hadn’t walked through that.
It wasn’t raining when I left but within 15 minutes I was fully suited up and getting soaked. The toll booth for pedestrians using the railway bridge to cross the Afon Mawdach was closed so I didn’t have to pay 30p to get across.
The wooden slatted bridge was very slippery. Despite the heavy rain I was able to enjoy the views back to Barmouth. From the estuary the town looks small and neat, with slate houses tucked into the hillside.
On the South side of the Afon Mawdach, Fairbourne sticks out further into the estuary than Barmouth. It looks like a bungalow town with a small gauge railway and is actually below sea level, protected by a large sea wall. I passed the RAF outdoor adventure centre – been there a couple of times before.
From Fairbourne the coast path climbed up the hill and I had a great vista of the head of the Mawdach valley and could even see the Lleyn Peninsula when the clouds parted.
Belts of rain kept coming, interspersed by mizzle. The ground was sodden and the views intermittent, but there were vivid colours and a couple of rainbows as compensation. There was also peace and tranquility; just me and hundreds of sheep.
After about 3 miles I dropped off the top of the hill into Llwyngwril.
Around here, all the settlements at the base of a hill have crystal clear, shallow rivers running through them. It looked like this village had its own graffiti knitter as Humpty Dumpty was climbing over the bridge.
The war memorial was also decorated with scores of knitted poppies.
Leaving Llwyngwril the path climbed up a hill again. I got a glimpse of the entrance to the Afon Dyfi through the gloom before I dropped down a bit to skirt around a hill that once held a fort on top.
Here the route became a bit more difficult to follow as I had to climb over and around 3 felled trees blocking the narrow path.
Eventually I made it to a disused quarry and dropped down onto the road by the broad water, a large shallow bulge of the Afon Dysynni. Aberdovey was too far so I headed for Tonfanau train station (in the middle of nowhere, no settlement of any kind nearby). I caught the train through Tywyn and on to Aberdovey.
Aberdovey/Aberdyfi is right on the corner of the entrance to the River Dovey/Afon Dyfi. It looks like a nice little town and I was staying at the Dovey Inn, “the heart of the town”. My room overlooked the estuary and I was amused to see a bunch of kids paddling a raft they had clearly made as part of a military-style team building exercise (done that before!). It was 4.20pm and nearly dark!
It was a quiet evening in the pub and an early night.
I had planned to stay in Barmouth for 2 nights; however, the forecast was for two storms (Abigail and Barney) to hit the North West, including N Wales, within the next few days. Having spent the last week battling rain and high winds I decided if it was going to get worse I should take a break. I worked out I could get a cheap train ticket to my mum’s in Birmingham (no wonder Barmouth is full of Brummies) and get home from there. Plan made.
The owner of the guest house was sympathetic and didn’t charge me for the 2nd night that I had booked. I packed everything up and caught the 10.30 train back up the coast to Harlech. It wasn’t raining but it was very windy (50+ mph winds forecast again) and the wind was cold. Today was the first day of my trip that I walked in trousers (instead of shorts) and a jumper.
The path from Talsarnau to Harlech cuts across Morfa Harlech, the spit of dunes and low-lying land jutting out into the Afon Glaslyn estuary. Starting at Harlech meant I missed this bit out, saving myself slip-sliding across muddy fields and some exposure to a fierce headwind. Instead, I had a bit more time to admire Harlech Castle on the inland cliff overlooking Morfa Harlech and Tremadoc Bay. It was built by King Edward I around 1289 and still looks impressive.
I walked along Harlech’s wonderful sandy beach. I imagined I was walking in a cappuccino as the extreme wind had whipped up a sea foam that extended the tide line by about 20m.
At the end of the beach I crossed the railway line and headed up the cliff to the road to Llandanwg.
Once in Llandanwg I was a stone’s throw, across the Afon Artro estuary, from Shell Island (Mochras); a place where I have camped many times.
To get to Shell Island I still had to walk quite a way inland, through a field of cows, across a small bridge and then down the road from Llanbedr to the beach at Mochras.
I passed Britain’s possible future spaceport at what was once RAF Llanbedr and followed the man-made raised path across the reedy marshland that borders Mochras and can cut it off from traffic at high tide.
The wind was ripping across the large and magnificent sand dunes and I was forced to don my sunglasses in order to open my eyes. A lot of grass had disappeared under the blowing sand and it was painful trying to get to the beach; I was well and truly sand-whipped. Fortunately the sand on the beach was wet so I was spared further sand-blasting.
The tide was in and, unusually for this beach, I didn’t see many shells. I only saw one other person and she was fully clothed even though we were both traversing the naturist section of the beach. No strange looking naked men hiding in the dunes today thank goodness.
I have previously run all the way along the Morfa Dyffryn beach to Barmouth; however, the beach does run out in places and one is forced to scramble across sea defence rocks. Today I followed the coast path off the beach and in to the little town of Tal-y-bont, crossing the Afon Ysgethin. From here the path follows the main road into Barmouth so I decided to catch the early train from Tal-y-bont, which afforded better sea views than walking and would get me to my mum’s just after 7pm, two hours earlier than the next train.
The train took me through Barmouth and further down the coast, all in beautiful sunshine. The sun only came out after I boarded the train but I knew it was the calm before the storm.
Breakfast was a hideous affair; sandwiched in the dining room with all the old people on a coach trip who had enjoyed a fake Christmas, including nauseating party games led by an over-enthusiastic compere, the previous evening. Neither the old people nor the really friendly Eastern European staff (some of whom went above and beyond to be extra helpful with the older guests) were hideous, just the quality of the awful breakfast in an overheated room. I was glad to escape.
The sun was shining. It took me a minute to realise what it was! I retraced my steps of yesterday around Criccieth in order to see everything again in the sun. The castle looked beautiful.
The sea was rougher than 3 weeks earlier when I was playing tag rugby on Criccieth beach (and went for a dip in the sea) with my family. It was not inviting today, even in the sunshine.
At the end of the beach the path skirts around the small hillock, called Craig Ddu (black rock). A beautiful view along Black Rock Sands and across the Afon Glaslyn estuary to Morfa Harlech panned out in front of me.
I dropped down onto Black Rock Sands and walked along enjoying the sound of the sea. There were lots of beautiful shells on the beach.
The beach runs out as it rounds the corner alongside the Afon Glaslyn and the path takes to the (not very high) cliff top around to Borth-y-Gest. This section was stunning and I felt lucky to do it in good weather.
The views of Traeth Bach (the estuary low lying land) and the mountains beyond were beautiful.
I stopped at the only open cafe on the front in Borth-y-Gest. The clouds were fast approaching but I was desperate for the loo so ordering a coffee was the best option. This small outpost on the edge of Porthmadog was once a shipbuilding port; building the ships that transported slate from the local mines (Blaenau Ffestiniog is just down the road) to the UK and Europe. It was only after William Alexander Maddocks built the cob embankment (similar to the one at Malltraeth, Anglesey) in 1811 that shipbuilding moved to Porthmadog. From 1839-1890 Porthmadog was the shipbuilding capital of N Wales and was known as the ‘Tyneside’ of N Wales with >1000 ships using the harbour each year. In the 1830s it vied with Holyhead to become the main port to Ireland; it lost and now the harbour seems quite small. On the plus side, the area is much more beautiful without the big ships. I stopped at Dinllaen Harbour, Porthmadog, to admire all the slate houses before walking across the cob. Porthmadog is the start of the Ffestiniog narrow gauge heritage railway (built 1830s) and the footpath across the cob is next to the track, overlooking the road and Traeth Mawr (the low land containing the Afon Glaslyn that the cob has rescued from tidal flooding).
The sky had darkened and it started to rain so I had to break out the waterproofs.
The path climbed the hill on the small headland at the mouth of the Glaslyn and Dwyryd rivers.
I skirted around Portmeirion, the village made famous by “The Prisoner” tv series, and on to Minffordd and Penrhyndeudraeth before crossing the new road bridge spanning the Afon Dwyryd.
The wind had picked up and the last section of my walk, along the sea defences separating the tidal marshland from the farmland, was hard work. I was almost blown into the barbed wire fence; thank goodness for walking poles to keep me upright! I gave up the fight at Talsarnau and caught the train to Barmouth (trains are 2hrs apart so
I didn’t want to walk further and wait until around 5pm, when it’s dark, for the next one). Barmouth looked closed. I think the old town looks lovely with its 3, 4 and 5 storey slate buildings. Conversely, I think the part that caters to the tourists is pretty awful with its tacky shops and fairground; a real juxtaposition.
My guest house was at the end of Marine Drive: a row of guest houses by the sea front. It was clean but very jaded, fitting in with the town. I walked through the town to The Last Inn for a pint and some dinner. The old, stone beer-cooling pool has been turned into a fish pond. The majority of the customers had a familiar brummie accent so I felt right at home.
I was away by 8 am and walking alongside the Marina. I passed the 1.75 mile Breakwater that is the second longest in the world (after San Diego) and took 28 years to build, starting in 1845.
Holyhead came to prominence after the 1801 Act of Union between Britain and Ireland. Holyhead became the British town that linked the two countries and road and rail networks were built to serve it. This is why the A5 goes from London to Holyhead. Admiralty Arch, intended to mimic London’s Marble Arch, was built at the Holyhead end of the A5 (unfortunately I couldn’t find it – I think it’s buried within the port).
The coastal path heads part way up Holyhead Mountain (not an actual mountain at 220m) and it didn’t take me long to walk to North Stack.
I met a couple on the way who had come from Bangor this morning, where it was sunny; only mist here. The only other people I met were a pair of climbers heading to climb the ‘A Dream of White Horses’. Holyhead Mountain is a bit of a climbers’ Mecca – even I have been climbing here before on a work adventure training trip.
I walked from North to South Stack and admired the lighthouse from high on the cliff as there didn’t seem much point in climbing down the steps when it wasn’t open.
Just as I arrived, so too did a shepherd and his herd of sheep. He walks the Mountain with them every day. I recognised Manx sheep in his flock (he has 6 of them along with Hebridean and Welsh varieties) and I chuckled to myself that I’m now recognising varieties of sheep!
I stopped at the South Stack cafe for coffee and a cake before heading back to Holyhead along the road. I had made the decision not to walk the South part of Holy Island because it was too far without transport or accommodation.
I wandered along Holyhead high street, which wasn’t hugely inspiring, and then across to the train station to get a train back across the Stanley Embankment to Valley. This way I skipped 5 miles and got to see the other side of the embankment wall that I walked along yesterday.
Amazingly I arrived at Valley in brilliant sunshine; the mist seemed to be confined to Holy Island.
The path meandered alongside the Afon Cleifiog estuary towards RAF Valley. As I walked past the airfield’s runway lights I was overflown by a Hawk. A nice welcome.
By the time I had walked around the airfield a thick fog had rolled in (a Welsh haar?). I could barely see the tip of Holy Island, even though it was only a few metres away across the sea.
It was a long and eerie beach walk in the fog before I headed over the dunes to the bridge that crosses the Afon Crigyll on the edge of Rhosneigr.
I was staying with Elise, who I worked with in my last job. She had invited Nik Nak around for dinner as well so we had an FPP Progs reunion (just missing Scott). It was a good evening.