Coast Part 3b 2008
Day 8 St Davids and Cardigan Bay
St David's is a city by virtue of having a Cathedral but in reality its only a small town. The Cathedral is down in a hollow and not lofty, so from pictures I thought it was talked up to Cathedral status and hence St David's had sneaked in as a city by Welsh subterfuge. The reality, well its still fairly small but on balance given the size of its connected buildings it just about qualifies, just don't expect a Cologne, St Peter's or even a Wells. (Yes I know.. size alone doesn't make a Cathedral its something to do with having a Bishop). Its a charming little place anyway set in beautiful surroundings.
St David's Cathedral
There are so many little bays and inlets around St David's that although we stopped at most and drove to them all they would repay a longer visit so we have marked it down for a future holiday. We did see a first for us, a lifeboat launch at St Justinian. I tried a triple exposure but still pressed it too early and missed the shot of it hitting the water ..Doh!
Launch .. nearly
Having left St Bride's Bay we are now in Cardigan Bay and heading for one of the lighthouses that I had never worked on or visited before, Strumble Head. Enroute we stopped at Porth Gain, but almost any of these little inlets would have been worth an hour or so pause, but as I said we are coming back. Strumble head didn't disappoint and we were able to see seals there using our binos. Perhaps it was because it was a sunny day, but to be honest everything looked good to our eyes. We went into Fishguard and one plan was to see if we could find the wildcamp places that are in the MHF campsite database and which I had taken away in my 'virtual brochure' (if that is all gobbledegook to you check out the campsite database and see how to fill and print your own brochure). I couldn't find either of them with certainty, I think they are in Goodwick not Fishguard and was too lazy to input the lat and long into our tomtom (or even to get it out of its stowage) and so fortified by icecream and as it was only early afternoon we pressed on, only pausing at Fishguard Lower town to read the overnight restrictions in a car park and take a photo.
Porth Gain and Strumble Head
We spent the afternoon ambling along the coast enjoying the views and rejecting car parks because they were too expensive, wild camping spots because of NT overnight restrictions and campsites because they were too expensive or too inclined or with the wrong view and is invariably the case, in desperation eventually settled for the worse site we stayed on in the whole trip. Still Doreen was pleased, she had a whole field of bouncing lambs to watch.
Paused between bounces
8th day - 85 coast miles
Day 9 Cardigan Bay
Today it was misty, one of those days when the sun is surely going to burn it off but never quite seems to. One of my first challenges this morning was the drive out of Cwmtydu, my navigator failed to mention the chevron on the map or the hairpins on this narrow road! Almost like being back in Devon. (for those who have not read part 2 of my coastal blog we spent a lot of time being scraped by bushes or going up or down severe hills, or both!). Shortly afterwards she was demoted to driver and I let Jane on the TomTom navigate.
Cwmtydu sea caves
After passing Newquay we joined the A487 which gives a coastal view nearly all the way to Aberystwyth then we went on the B4572 to Borth and then on to Twyni beach. Borth was initially a disappointment, the tide was too far in to see the remains of the drowned forest and we didn't see any suitable place to while away a few hours over Sunday lunch. We settled for a coffee then a walk back to Borth along the beach, the locals seemed vague about the whereabouts of the forest but we had seen them on Coast, they were in our Guardian guide and they may have been part of the reason behind the legend of Atlantis, as Cardigan bay is a fairly recent feature. And then we found the tree stumps and roots for ourselves as the photo shows.
Drowned forest at Borth
Then after finding a pub lunch we detoured around the Dovey via Machyllyneth to Aberdovey. There was a bike race going on and we passed a stream of very muddy riders on their mountain bikes passing through Machyllyneth in the opposite direction to us. After seeing more riders coming out of a track near the junction of the A493 we saw no more until we passed a lone bike rider, equally muddy, pedalling hard in the opposite direction. It took a few miles for the possibilities to sink in, but was he a straggler on an early lap or was he just fed up with the race and cycling home or did he make a navigational blunder? We will never know. We arrived at Tywyn (it used to be spelt Towyn and is still pronounced that way) and made our way to the delightful site we had read about near Bryncrug. When we set up camp the mountains were still misty and there was no blue sky, by 7pm blue sky all around.
5 pm 7pm
9th day - 80 coast miles
Day 10 On to Shell Island
Our plan today involved a leisurely start, but not for me, first of all I helped a guy fix his microlight aircraft engine by lending him tools and nodding my head knowledgeably about magnetos and two stroke carburetion thinking all the time that it was 35years since I last did a mag drop on a Bell 47G helicopter. Then off the 50 yards to catch the first train of the day on the Talyllyn railway where I treated myself to the first class supplement for the out and back ride to Nant Gwernol pulled by Sir Haydn an 0-4-2 2ft gauge saddle tank built in 1878. I thus spent a pleasant morning immersed in engineering whilst Doreen spent a pleasant morning immersed in sunlight.
If you look at the OS map of Tywyn there is a tiny yellow road going North along the coast, all but the most eagle eyed will not notice a 2mm break as it supposedly crosses the mouth of Broadwater. We alas weren't that eagle eyed, we did notice the 'no through road' signs but hey we knew better. Suffice it to say that there was much 'tooing and froing' around Tywyn as we set out after lunch. At Barmouth I dropped Doreen at Morfa Mawddach station for her to emulate Nick Crane in 'Coast' by walking to Barmouth across the estuarine foot and rail bridge whilst I went via the toll road (60p) at Penmaenpool. We met up successfully each taking about the same time on our two routes.
His Bridge Her Bridge
We had intended to visit Shell island, tide permitting, and then push on around to the C&CC site at Llanystumdwy for a two day stop for Laundry and a Portmeirion visit but after paying the £5 day visitors fee, renegotiated and stayed the night on Shell island for £14. Shell island is cut off twice a day by the tide and at springs that is for about two hours either side of high water. High water was at 9pm and by then the road had long disappeared from sight. We marvelled how people would risk the corrosive effects of the saltwater to splash along where the road had been in their expensive 4x4s and worse, in their motorhomes. The following day we took advantage of our enforced imprisonment by the morning tide to do our laundry.
Don't worry, only two more hours to wait
10th day - 52 coast miles
Day 11 Portmerion
Its a short trip to Portmeirion from Shell Island and once the tide had receded we made our way there. Its a strange place, the brainchild of one man seeking to impose something of himself on this tiny corner of Wales. It is famously where the series the Prisoner was set. I was once returning from Anglesey by a roundabout route with a colleague, Steve, as we passed Portmeirion he said "Of course that's where The Prisoner was filmed". I said that I hadn't heard of it. He then proceeded over the next twenty-four hours and two hundred or so miles to try and convince me that I had heard of it. It later transpired that I hadn't seen it because I was living abroad during its original and subsequent screenings. I still haven't seen it, but some of the scenes are etched into my brain so insistent was Steve on giving me every detail.
It has descended too far into a tourist trap for my taste, with purchasing opportunities in every Italianate corner, a Portmeirion seconds outlet, a Prisoner shop and an italian cafe to pick on just three out of the fifteen or so on offer, still if you avert your gaze from the overtly commercial it still has something, judge for yourself after all you are 'Not a number'
Criccieth according to my Guardian guide is home to one of the best ten ice cream sellers on the coast, we made a beeline for Calwaladers and were not a bit disappointed. Excellent, even though we had to take out a mortgage for the cones that we had. The vanilla, their only flavour up to 2000 was superb and I had a sorbet as well ......mmmm sorbet.
11th day - 32 coast miles
Day 12 On to the Lleyn Peninsula
The same source that gave us the best ice cream sellers also had the ten best fish and chips and so we delayed our departure to make it lunchtime at Pwllheli and haddock and chips twice from Allports then a quick drive to the next village Llanbedrog to eat our lunch. Have to say they weren't bad but I will have to wait until we get to Dungeness to decide if they make my top three. We parked up in the NT car park (another £3) and then set out to find the subject of the front cover picture of my brand new OS map:
The Tin Man at Llanbedrog
So I looked at the NT map, read the notice, we scrambled over a smelly rocky beach and then climbed up and up these uneven steps, at least two lighthouses worth I reckon, but we were too exhausted to count and some 'steps' were 18" high, when you thought you were at the top off they would go again but eventually we got to the top and found this:
Well male or female, it wasn't what is printed on the front of the map so I was dispatched across the headland to find the tin man. I came back with two bits of bad news, I couldn't find the tin man and couldn't see another way back to the car park apart from the steps. So carefully down we went even the dogs weren't happy. Then after going for a paddle, we got back to the car park and as we left asked the girl who collected our money where the tin man was. Our small world story is that she was the daughter of the artist who made the original tin man and because he wasn't paid for his work had to make it out of cheap metal and it had corroded away and been replaced about five years ago. So be warned, obviously OS maps can't be trusted, they can be at least five years out of date.
Abersoch and Rhiw are at the opposite ends of Porth Neigwl, Hells mouth. At the time we didn't know this, as one of the drawbacks of the Guardian guide was that it didn't give any more than a general location and Gywendd is a big place. So now that I have spotted it on the map I can't remember anything fantastic about this surfer's paradise. I don't reckon 'surf was up' because I don't remember seeing a single VW camper. Aberdaron is a place I've been to often as a staging post for Bardsey Island, every bit of available space that you might stop in is priced even the Spar car park is £1, if you stay longer than 10 minutes, we didn't, it was a Wednesday afternoon and the Spar was closed. Onwards and upwards, until we overlooked Bardsey Island at the end of the Lleyn peninsula, then on a bit more until we found some parking next to a deserted coastguard look out. What a place for a wild camp, sheltered, not overlooked but with magnificent views, here we had dinner
Your table is ready
Too good to last. At around 8pm the sounds that we thought were far off gunfire turned into a nearby thunderstorm and for a while we thought we were in for a stormy time, but no, apart from a few heavy drops it slipped by us. The next sound we heard was at 9.30pm a quad bike and a man telling us we had to move on because this was NT land. Generously he mentioned that he had a field we could stay in, he of course, had to charge the same for his field as a nearby camp site "just to be fair". We declined his kind offer. So in the dark we went down narrow lanes for a few miles map reading by torchlight and then dear readers we came to an open gate with a flattish area so we slipped in there and crashed into sleep. I was surprised to find at 05.30 when I peered out that we were at one end of a deserted campsite with an electric hookup within about 10 yards so at 6am I confess we snuck away!
12th day - 35 plus coast miles
Day 13 To Caernarfon
Well we have looked both on OS maps, google and yell but there is no campsite where we think we were, so its a mystery. Anyway thanks to that early start we were able to spend longer at the various beauty spots and spend more with the NT in the form of parking charges. The Lleyn peninsula is a beautiful place and none more so than Porth Dinllaen near Morfa Nefyn where we spent a lot of the morning.
The A499 is getting a compete upgrade so many of our miles were in road works but by lunchtime we were at Dinas Dinlee and Morfa Dinlee. There are formal concrete carparks at each Dinlee but between them a mile or so of less formal car parks ideal for a lazy lunch away from the madding crowd. Then on by the tiny coast road to Caernarfon, past the wild camp in the MHF database which was occupied by an RV, past the CC site at Coed Haven and right into the centre of Caernarfon to a site, recommended by friends, that was right next to the fire station. We spent the afternoon in the town buying stuff and walking around. By the way in a year or so it will be possible to go by narrow gauge steam railway from Caernarfon to Portmadog over the foothills of Snowdonia, we might come back for that (its already as far as Rhyd Ddu - see link at end of blog)
Now is a good as time as any to explain why we won't be going to Anglesey and our policy on islands generally. I am guided by a BBC programme, that I videoed, of the coast of Britain shot from an RAF jet that started and finished at Lands End, it went inside of all the islands. So, like the jet, we will be sticking close to the coast of mainland Britain , therefore no Isle of Wight or Anglesey. Except that in one or two places we will visit an island that we haven't been to before, especially when a long way from home, so for example we intend to go to the Orkneys. There is also the problem that in some places in Scotland there are no roads on the coast so we might island hop, which paradoxically will be a way of sticking closer to the coast of mainland Britain, if you see what I mean.
13th day - 48 coast miles
Day 14 Bye Bye Wales
Ignoring Stevenson's and Telford's bridges we drove to the sea front at Bangor where on May 1st 2006, Nottingham duo Mark Whiteley and Daniel Hoffmann-Gill, of the Hard Graft Theatre Company, began walking from Bangor to Boston. We have seen their show, 'Coast to Coast' telling of their adventure where they paid their way by performances that they organised in an ad-hoc fashion as they travelled. Catch it if it comes near you, also if you follow the link below ask yourselves just where have you seen Daniel before?
Daniel on left
The A55 runs along the top of Wales and as often its the closest road to the sea we were on it a lot. Llandudno was our first real diversion from it and Great Ormes Head our destination. We had to pay a toll to go around it and reverse our direction to anticlockwise as its one way. It was very misty so we took very few pictures so I'm going to post a picture not so often seen, that of Little Ormes Head. In fact the coast beyond Llandudno was a revelation to me. I didn't know Penrhyn Bay and Rhos-on-sea existed.
Little Ormes Head
Back on to the A55 until we turned off near Abergele on to the A459. Kinmel Bay, Rhyl, Prestatyn and Talacre at the Point of Ayr, what can we say? Mile upon mile of mobile home 'holiday villages' just depressing, and the Rhyl Sky Tower, just when did that look impressive? We hurried on Mostyn Quay, Flint and Connors Quay, then we were back in England on the Wirral. Such a pity that the beauty of Wales peters out so quickly and that so many people choose to live in what must be the most uninspiring landscape.
14th day - 110 coast miles
Day 15 Hello England
It must be less than 10km across the Dee estuary from Talacre to West Kirby but what a difference! There are seriously expensive homes in West Kirby, I wonder where the B5140 would be on a monopoly board? Somewhere near Bond street I would think. Because of the anti-clockwise, one way system along the marine lake we got a double viewing of the some of West Kirby. The tide was out so I think we could have walked out to Hilbre Island but that didn't occur to me until I checked out the map much later. West Hoyland was an interesting place, as we drove from Red Rocks to Dove Point the houses diminished in size and grandeur in a very linear fashion. Here is a picture of the East Hoyle bank at Hoyland and for comparison the view at Kinmel Bay looking towards Rhyl taken in similar conditions.
Kinmel Near Rhyl Wales and Hoyland
The dogs ran and ran, on the sands of Mockbeggar Wharf as the sun burnt off the residual mist, by the time we got to our camp site tonight they would be worn out.
I have childhood memories of Liverpool. We used to catch the 'Black and White' coaches from Bristol to Glasgow for our summer holidays. This was a major undertaking in pre-motorway days and gave us a 5 hour stop over in Liverpool in both directions. I think it must have been late evening on the way up because I can remember an early morning tram in Glasgow on arrival going between coach depot and railway station. I was a picky child, didn't like northern food as I recall. My parents must have lacked imagination or cash because here we were in one of the great cities of the world and I don't remember doing anything apart from once waiting for my Dad outside a pub and once going to see the entrance of the Mersey tunnel. Everything else was about not liking the food and not understanding what people said, though with a strong Bristol accent who was I to cast the first stone?
We dusted off the GPS and headed to the northern most Mersey tunnel, as we approached the booths there were suddenly notices of height and width restrictions this led to a panicky moment as we angled across the lanes to the only one large enough for us. Then we went through the tunnel and there were no obvious height problems so we don't know what that was about. In town we headed for the pier head and braving some diversions eventually got to the Liver building. There being in the wrong lane more or less forced us into going North and so we left after a twenty minute visit.
I don't know what, if anything, Crosby used to be famous for, but now its the site of the 3km long by 1km wide art installation 'Another Place' by Antony Gormley
Crosby - Antony Gormley's Another Place
As we went up to the first statue (number 99 out of 100) Lottie, one of our dogs, was seriously spooked, she kept running up to it, sniffing it, and then backing away with her tail between her legs, very odd. I'm not sure if I like art like this but its very powerful stuff. We watched the water coming in for a while then drove to the other end and watched it some more until some of the statues were just heads. There is a link below that explains it some more.
Our next major stop was Formby Point. I thought Formby was a nice enough place but then we saw the notices on each bus stop. These warned that bus staff had "DNA kits' and anyone spitting at them would be identified, charming! I was slightly disappointed with Southport as well, there we were, on the road close to the water's edge according to the map, only towering dunes robbed us of the view. By the time we had a view to seaward, all be could see were the marshes and flats. So here is where the coast and our trip fizzled out as we made our way back to our last camp site near Preston. Hopefully that will be our first site when we return later to start anew.
15th day - 72 coast miles
Welsh Highland Heritage Railway www.whr.co.uk
Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways www.festrail.co.uk
Theatre Company http://www.hardgraft.co.uk
About 'Another Place' http://www.sefton.gov.uk/Default.aspx?page=6216