Location: Cliff top near New Quay, mid Wales coast, Ceredigion, UK
We had picked this next camp site because of its location right next to the “Wales Coast Path:”, another long distance path with 1,600km available to put one foot in front of the other and contemplate the natural world in all its glory. Unfortunately that evening Storm Alex paid Europe a visit, and despite Brexit, thought he would cross the Channel and give the Brits a bit of what for.
Well we had a rocking and rolling night, even with our hydraulic legs down and trying to anchor us, our location on the edge of a cliff in the direct path of the winds gave us a troubled night, then day, then night, then another day. For two and a half days we were confined to the 2 square metres of Truffy floor, as gusts of over 80kph blasted across our very desolate looking field. So my fellow inmate and I sucked it up and did our time in an area about the size of a third world prison cell. A good reminder of what having our freedom to roam really means.
Its now over three years since we took to the road, and became what the UK tax office defines as “vehicle dwellers’, that is people who for whatever reason primarily live in a caravan, motorhome or the back seat of their car. We have been back into our house for two 6 weeks spells, done a couple of house sits, and rented for a few months in lockdown, but we have no “home” we can access in situations like this when the weather turns rough, or lockdowns happen. Its something we have learnt to deal with, and it has changed our view, I think, of what “home” actually is. I came across this quote from a songwriter I have just started listening to, Amanda Shires. She said “Home is being content with yourself wherever you are”. I put her song “You Are My Home” on my September playlist (click here or search Spotify for ‘Mr A’s September favs’), a bit of a fun thing I started doing in lockdown to share with friends every month what we have been listening to on Spotify. As she sings in one verse:
“You are my home,
Wherever you go
Anywhere that you stand,
Is my piece of land,
You are my home.”
Amanda Shires, You are my home
And that sums it up. Wherever Catherine is, that‘s my home (it‘s just missing our beautiful Burmese Miss Tassie!).
Thankfully the storm finally passed and we were able to venture out along the cliff top walk into the small sea side town of New Quay (not to be confused with the much bigger and glitzier Newquay in Cornwall). No one could accuse this one of being glitzy.
The setting was stunning, with the Welsh hills framing a perfectly curved bay, but the town itself was pretty down at heel, so after a very ordinary Sunday roast (looked like a school dinner) we smartly moved on back to camp and walked a little way down the coast in the other direction.
A lookout gave us 180 degree views, but the dolphins we had booked sadly didn’t show. A kestrel did though, hanging upside down intently watching for a late afternoon snack, perhaps hungry after several days of what we would think would be impossible flying conditions, even for these masters of aeronautical acrobatics.
Its such a relief to finally stretch our legs after the enforced confinement, and the Welsh Coast Path is clearly something we need to explore further!
It was a very short drive to our next location, the tiny village of Porthgain on the west coast. I had read on one of our travel apps, about a motorhome parking spot with power and water available opposite the pub, and as we pulled in, we were relieved to find that nobody had nabbed it before us.
Porthgain hasn’t changed a great deal over the years, having had its heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with a huge slate sawmill and exporting cut slate from the harbour on steam ships. Later the factory changed to creating slate bricks, and then stone for road surfacing. These days people visit predominantly to access the coast path, and they are well serviced (for such a small place) with a fish restaurant (with great reviews), art gallery, ice cream shop (closed. for the winter) and a pub, The Sloop Inn.
Large brick structures dominate the harbour, and are the first thing you see as you enter. These are known as hoppers, and were used to store crushed stone before shipping. They are now protected against change as important historical buildings (Scheduled National Monument).
We had a look around the harbour and art gallery, which sells paintings and prints from local and Welsh artists, and booked into the pub for dinner. It’s been a while between dinners out, and quite exciting to have someone else do the cooking and cleaning up for us!
We had a delicious meal, and throughout the evening managed to chug our way through a whole bottle of wine – unheard of for us these days! As with most establishments, the only place we were allowed to not wear a mask was at the table – any movement around the pub was discouraged, and then only while masked up. We got the feeling that not all of the waiting staff were used to serving customers at the table.
The following morning was clear and bright so we decided to take advantage and head off on a hike along the cliff tops before we moved on to our next location. The sun is rising around 7.30am so by the time we got walking at 8.15am the sun was not too high and the light just delightful.
There is a huge amount of human history along this coast, with incredible views. We passed a standing stone, and concluded our walk at the Llwynog Arian Stone Circle, where we sat on a fallen stone and enjoyed a cup of tea, admiring the views. The stone circle had only 11 stones, rather than the usual 12. I assumed some vandals had rolled one off the cliff, but legend has it that a Welsh giant (Owain of Trefin) had tossed the 12th stone to the nearby headland, and that was the solitary standing stone we had come across.
Reluctantly we turned around and headed back to Truffy. We needed to buy more food supplies and had booked onto a camp site up the coast for the night.
We spotted more seals, including some bright white pups left high and dry by the retreating tide. They looked so helpless lying there amongst the seaweed and rock, watched over by curious seagulls, their mothers calling out from the water below.
It was a short visit, but very special. Porthgain was a friendly little village with an authentic feel, touched with history. We drove off with the cloud steadily increasing during the afternoon. Another wet and wild storm is approaching the British Isles, so we feel pleased we made the most of the good weather while we could.
Location: Caerfai Bay, St Davids, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK
A short drive along this magnificent Pembrokeshire coast brought us to our new home for the next three nights, high up on the cliffs overlooking the calm waters of St.Brides Bay. By lunch time a bag of washing is done and hung out, an egg and bacon brunch (well it was Sunday) laid down to fortify us for a hike along the coast (walk link).
Do we turn left or right? This was the toughest decision of the day. Left won out and we headed east along our first chunky section of the Pembrokeshire Coast path. At 299km long, this is another tremendous asset that has been hard fought for over the years by community groups negotiating with hundreds of landowners to get a continuous path for all to enjoy. This path also connects with the 1,400 kilometre Welsh Coast Path. Could you ever run out of walking destinations in the UK?
As we headed out along the cliff top, it became immediately evident that nature is clearly still in charge here, with massive land slips, deeply eroded bays, and plants and trees shaped by the wind.
We watched a seal in the clear water far below us hunting for lunch, its shining spotty white belly briefly exposed when coming up for air before resuming the chase. Mrs A then spotted a bird rare to the UK, with only around 300 breeding pairs, a member of the crow family called a chough. So excited, she emitted a (unusual for her) squeal of delight!
At our turn round point we looked out over an unusual topography, and with a bit of help from Dr Google, realised we were looking at the highly eroded remains of an Iron Age fort (so around 2-2,500 years old). You cannot escape from the deep history that is everywhere around you in this country. Even at the westerly edge of the British Isles, the waves of invasions, rebellions, migrations, assimilations, and recurring nationalism, are evident all around us. We can feel this is going to be a rewarding foray into a country we both know so little about.
Well, with the sun going down behind the off shore islands, it was time to retrace our steps along the cliff top and settle in for another night of splendid social isolation in Truffy.
Our second day here was less energetic, with drizzly rain and very poor visibility. It was a short walk up the road from the campsite to the UK’s smallest city, St Davids. A quick look at the cathedral for Catherine, where the bones of the patron saint of Wales (yes…St David) are buried (walk link).
We felt a little cheated at the lack of opportunity to turn right along the cliff after yesterday’s poor weather, so seeing a better forecast, and seeing such a glorious dawn, we headed out early (for us) in the other direction.
It became obvious after an hour‘s walking that this was a stretch of path that was something special, with dizzyingly stunning views. So I called the campsite and booked us in for another night. This is the joy of travelling off peak – the flexibility to be spontaneous when everything doesn’t have to be booked weeks in advance.
We just didn’t want to stop walking. Looking at the map, we saw we would be heading out along a peninsula that would bring us quite close back to St Davids, so we agreed to keep going and take a chance we could get a bus or taxi into the village (oops, city).
It was glorious weather, Pembrokeshire was showing off her early autumn glory. The bracken was turning a more golden brown, the heather flowers were largely gone, the remaining blackberries plump and almost over ripe, but especially with no lunch or breakfast with us, absolutely delicious. A small apple each was all we had with us, but what a spot to sink our teeth into them.
After a few hours we had only seen a couple of other walkers, then a couple told us there were seals around in the next bay. Their plaintive calls echoed around the cliffs, mums calling to their pups and vice versa.
We watched them for ages, spellbound as they occasionally seemed to look up at us on the cliffs above them. “What are they staring at?” framed in a bubble over their flickering whiskers.
What a perfect day. We walked, we talked, we laughed, and we gazed in wonderment. What more can you ask?
Location: St Petrox and Stackpole Estate, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK
We arrived at our campsite behind an old Norman church in the village of St Petrox just after lunch. We’d chosen the location because of its proximity to Stackpole Estate, a large National Trust owned area of outstanding beauty. Finally the rain had moved on to England, leaving us with patches of blue in the sky and calmer weather.
As we set off to walk down there we realised there was no safe route to it – and walking on narrow, windy roads with traffic seemingly in a big hurry did not appeal. We turned off down a quieter lane and resolved to visit the estate the next day. Our afternoon’s stroll took us around four little villages, each with an old church, with at least part dating back to the 13th century.
We have been predominantly using our own on board facilities for showering, and this Friday night was no different. I decided to wash my hair, and was literally covered from head to toe in bubbles when the water stopped. Not a single drip emerged from the shower. I tried the tap. Nothing. The water pump had broken. Mark dashed over to the campground showers to check they were functioning, and warm (our campsite was quite ‘rustic’ to say the least). I then made a semi streak, dripping wet and shivering to rinse off. One of the least glamorous moments of our travels…and thank goodness we were camping somewhere with showers – that is not always the case!
The following morning, Mr A rang a mobile caravan repairer who said he would come sometime during the day, with half an hour’s notice. He arrived early afternoon, and within 20 minutes we had a new pump and he was off.
The sun was shining, so we quickly packed up Truffy and drove the short way over to Stackpole National Trust Estate and parked up there.
The strangely named Stackpole was named after the earliest confirmed ’owner’ of the estate, Elidyr de Stackpole in 1188, but history of human use goes back much further than this. The estate has literally millenia of history, with the oldest human evidence being a standing stone erected as a meeting place for people more than 5,000 years ago. The whole estate, now run by the National Trust, has a very special feel about it. The multitude of environments, from lakes and woodlands, to sand dunes, cliffs and beaches, are home to all manner of bird and animal life, and even on this fairly busy Saturday afternoon we spotted herons, moorhens, and a bright turquoise kingfisher on one of the lakes.
Residents of Stackpole Court (a house that was dismantled in the 1960s) had worked extensively on landscaping the grounds, with the spring-fed lakes and woodland walks dating back to 1777. They are now heritage listed and have been maintained by the Trust since the 1970s, and incredibly beautiful.
A limestone bridge with eight arches spans a weir between two of the lakes, also heritage listed.
Winding our way around the lakes and over bridges, we eventually emerged on Broadhaven South Beach.
In contrast to the carefully designed and sculptured woodland and lakes, this was beautifully natural and wild, untouched headlands lined with steep rocky cliffs and caves, soft white sand beach bordered by windswept dunes. A short way out in the bay sits the aptly named Church Rock.
We followed the Pembrokeshire Coast Path up along the cliffs, before moving inland to Stackpole Warren, an area of sand dunes, and also the location of the standing stone. There have been found fossilised hoof prints and plough markings dating back to the Bronze age.
It’s definitely an area we could have spent more time exploring, but we had a bit of a weather deadline. We knew we had a four or five day window of fine conditions ahead of us in which to enjoy more of the Pembrokeshire coastline before colder, wetter and windier autumn weather would hit Wales. We packed up and moved on the following morning.
My last visit to the Brecon Beacons was as a 14 year old Boy Scout, being dropped off from an old Land Rover with two weeks‘ worth of dehydrated rations in the middle of a rain storm. The sheets of ice cold water being chucked at us continued for the next ten miserable days of thick fog, wet feet and chafed legs from the cheap, heavy ex-army surplus gear that I was wearing.
Well, some things haven’t changed. The weather is still unpredictable, making it uncertain how long it would rain for that day. But we donned our light, comfy, expensive Gortex jackets (who says money doesn’t matter?) and headed along the Brecon Canal, handily adjacent to our campsite, into the not-so-bustling Brecon town centre.
We immediately injected what looked like some much needed cash into the local economy, (so many empty shops for let) and bought Catherine some new fancy dancy (read expensive) walking boots, and me some very comfy (not chafing!) walking trousers. Well, we don’t have much else to spend money on at the moment. We eat in, we drink in, we only wear walking clothes and PJ’s. We can’t fit another thing into our dinky motorhome, so there is no point shopping for anything else!
Walking has become our path to health and happiness. I’m still researching the science, but all we know is we feel better than we EVER have before (touching wood). More on this in a blog to come.
So the canal was our focus for the next day as well. There was no point in going up onto the tops with zero visibility. It seemed lots of other people had the same idea! It was a busier walk (Strava) than on the coast paths of the south-west in Cornwall. Interesting..
The Monmouthshire and Brecon canal, to give it its correct name, and to be even more optically correct in Welsh Camlas Sir Fynwy a Brycheiniog, winds for a very picturesque 56km of its navigable length, through the south Wales countryside.
At the end we were exploring was the Brecon basin, lovingly restored by volunteers and government grants, as they increasingly realise the potential of this once neglected asset.
We stopped to talk to a couple of guys who had hired their narrow boat for a few days and were lucky to find a hire company with any availability. I had looked during the summer at a number of canals and had seen how busy they were right though autumn It’s so good to see how the UK has stepped back from the brink of letting the waterways be demolished in the 1960s, and thanks to community initiatives has restored much of the network.
The next day brought more rain, but we were determined to not be put off getting out and about. We moved to the western end of the Brecon Beacons National Park and a pub car park in the tiny settlement of Trap. I think the pub made up for 50% of the houses there in fact. We had noticed on one of the apps we use the pub had welcomed over nighters in self contained motorhomes. The only down side that we discovered when calling the owner on the way there, she hadn’t reopened after lockdown! Ah well…another night in then!
Waterproofs were donned and a walk up to nearby Carreg Cennen Castle planned and executed (Strava) at a brisk pace to warm us up.
We were accosted at the little cafe at the entrance to the castle grounds, and accosted felt like the right word to use. A very brusque lady said, “So are you going to the castle or walking round it? If it‘s the castle, then you need tickets”, looking very grumpy that we seemed to have disturbed her day. No other information was offered, so I started to say we were out for a walk, and she turned her back and stalked off. In these strange times I guess we need to make allowances for people being jittery, but given her cafe was empty, and there were two staff doing nothing, I would imagine whoever owns the place is feeling the pinch and would have wanted her to offer more details as inducement.
We are trying to carry on injecting our little contributions into any business that welcomes us on our travels, but a small percentage seem to be staffed by people who seem determined to drive customers away. I do acknowledge that many have no choice about where they work, and having contact with the general public right now is a risky business. This was in such stark contrast to the shop we bought our outdoor gear from (Gibb Outdoors in Brecon), where we were welcomed into the store by friendly staff, who were knowledgeable about their product, and that took no increase in risk on their part, and were rewarded with £350 of our money.
So we spent our quiet night at the back of the pub, while I anxiously ruminated about how we would be getting back up the rather steep (for little town-tyres Truffy) slope back to the road, but with plenty of right foot he romped up and we were not Trapped in Trap…I just had to say it 🙂
Location: Castle Clytha (nr Llanarth), Coed y Bwnydd (an Iron Age fort) and Mynydd Llangorse (a hill), Monmouthshire, Wales
We left Somerset in bright sunshine and turned Truffy’s nose north-west, aiming for a bridge over the River Severn. After so much time looking at the Bristol Channel, it was great to be able to see higher up the river and cross over the great body of water. As we passed into Wales, we left the blue skies and drove into fog…fortunately soon lifting as we reached our destination.
We pulled into a quiet National Trust carpark beside the River Usk. The river starts high up in the Brecon Beacons, before flowing through Wales to emerge at Newport into the River Severn, opposite Western-super-Mare. We had decided to make our first day’s journey relatively short in order to make the most of the blue sky day. (Strava).
Mr A had found a great sounding walk on the National Trust site which would take us along the river, up to an ancient Iron Age Fort and back via a 17th century castle in a mere 12km (7.5 miles). If you’ve seen our Strava link, you will have seen we must have taken a few wrong turns, as it was 15.6km (about 10 miles) for us!
After passing a group of girls swimming and sunbathing on the river bank, we barely saw another person all day as we wound our way on our circuit walk.
As we hiked up, the views began to open up, giving us our first glimpses of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Fabulous clear views of Sugar Loaf open up in front of us – this is South Wales’ highest mountain (596 metres), and a popular day walk. Its popularity is what turned us off walking up this one, we do prefer to avoid the crowds, even when there isn’t a nasty virus around!
The walk description had been written at a time when there were no crops in the fields, so often it was a bit of a challenge finding the pathway through.
High up on a hill we emerged into Coed y Bwnydd, an Iron Age fort. This is a scheduled ancient monument that was gifted to the National Trust in the 1940s by a grieving Captain in memory of his friend killed in World War II. To the untrained eye, it is a simple woodland, but the more you look, you begin to spot the earthworks that signify the involvement of humans here more than 2,000 years ago.
Clytha Castle was a folly built in 1790 and is now available for holiday stays.
We stayed the night in the quiet car park, then the following morning we drove a short way to Llangors, where we parked up at an activity centre (predominantly training army cadets to climb and survive in the wilderness). Our plan was to climb Mynydd Llangorse, a 515 metre hill overlooking Lake Llangors and the Brecon Beacons.
Again, this walk was not on the tourist trail, and yet able to provide spectacular views (Strava) in isolated serenity. Away from the carpark, we saw one other person, just as we concluded our hike.
We could see the weather starting to change as we enjoyed the last of the sunshine for a couple of days. After climbing back down, we drove off to our next camp, just outside the small town of Brecon.