Wednesday, 24 September 2014

And now for something completely different

The start of the walk: Pwhelli

My backpacking is almost all done in the hills. However, I recently decided to try something rather different and do a coastal walk.  In 2012 the Welsh Government, local authorities and various other bodies completed the Wales Coastal Path, meaning that Wales is the only country in the world to have a path all around its coastline. Indeed, if you connect it with the Offa’s Dyke National Trail you could circumnavigate the country in about 1650 km of walking.  My plan was rather more modest.  110 km or so southwards from Pwhelli on the Llyn Peninsula to Aberdovey over 5 days. This would not be wild camping territory so it would be public camp sites, mercifully almost empty in mid-September, despite the Indian Summer.

So a new form of walking experience for me.  Less remote, more towns and villages, more touristy, and more chances of coffee and cake en route…...I also wanted to try out some different equipment.  Thus, I took a meths stove instead of my normal gas, a new extremely light weight backpack, the Z Packs Arc Blast, and a new, ultra lightweight waterproof  jacket, also from Z packs. The latter goes by the official name “The Challenger” as it was tested by Z packs founder Joe Valesko on this year’s TGO Challenge. However, I now call it the “Death Jacket”, as one respected outdoor blogger has told me (tongue in cheek I think) that I will die in it because of what he sees as various design flaws. We shall see.  I am going to do a write up of this new stuff for the gear heads in another post.

Anyways, I trains it to Pwhelli for only fourteen pounds by purchasing my ticket in advance, and enjoys very much the slow Cambrian Coast Railway journey, stopping every mile or so on request at the various halts in little Welsh seaside places, following magnificent scenery, right on the coast, but with great views to the hills of Snowdonia. I could also see the Coast Path in many places which looked super.  Apart, that is, from a section I would walk just after Criccieth where it crossed a large open area with lots of cows and calves and the biggest bull you ever did see and I’m scardy cat when it comes to cattle. Cattleophobic me.

I got to Pwhelli and started as I meant to go on ie  by heading into the first café I saw for coffee and cake, before setting off  in the afternoon sunshine passed the marina, along a road for a couple of km and then on to a gloriously long, almost empty beach.  This terminated at a small grassy headland where I had a lengthy stop to empty the sand out of my shoes, remove my shirt, lie back and let my firm, bronzed young body soak up the sun. Fortunately, there was no-one about to complain.
Aberech Beach
14 km of walking and then I pitched for the evening at the pleasant Camping and Caravanning Club site at Llanystumdwy, the village where Lloyd George was born – he knew my father by the way, and my father knew him – and feasted on a very odd dehydrated meal. I think it was from Blah Blah or some such company.
The Trail Star and the Arc Blast
Next morning I bowled along. The Coast Path is very well signed – in theory. However, the rather pretty blue and yellow way pointers must be easily removable from their wooden posts because three quarters of them are missing. I’m not certain if they are falling off or being taken as souvenirs. As a result, I managed to get a bit lost in some fields within 15 minutes of setting off , somewhat inland from the coast, but by following my nose and the smell of seaweed and salt I eventually ended up on the path again heading towards Criccieth. It was here that I saw a monstrosity of a new house that had featured on that Grand Designs programme on the telly just a couple of weeks back. The designers / owners have built something truly out of keeping, but fortunately the cliff it’s on is eroding rapidly and I reckon it will all be in the sea before the mortgage is paid off.
Grand Designs? Hideous design more like
After Criccieth I realised I was approaching that open area with them cows and calves and the bull in that I had seen from the train, and so I was somewhat distracted by this and generally starting to feel anxious for the twenty minutes or so of walking from the town to this place. However, I arrived and it was empty so I started to breathe properly again and walked on, and then around and up this little hillside. At this point I walks around a bend in the path and see a gate and cattle grid on my route just ahead. And standing all round this area were the cows and the little calves. And right in front of the cattle grid eyeing me up was dad.  There was no escaping this other than a very lengthy walk back the way I had come. So I put my heart into my mouth and my head down and walked briskly through them and passed him and over the cattle grid and then I put my heart back in the proper place and, feeling all brave now, there being a gate and a cattle grid between us, I took his photo and had a little chat with him and he was jolly civil about things. Surprisingly when I got home and looked at his photograph he appeared much smaller than he did in real life. But trust me he was monster size.
He was much bigger than in this picture - really
There then followed some fabulous coastal scenery, the lengthy Black Rock Sands, the bays of Morfa Bychan, the harbour at Porthmadog, together with pretty woods and fields near Portmeirion.  I got lost near there, too, and wandered around aimlessly for a few minutes.  My silly fault.  If you have lots of fields to cross it is sensible to have a 1:25k scale map which shows their boundaries and I hadn’t bothered with one, relying on my 1:50k instead.  Oh and there were lots of caravan sites passed as well on this day which were less pretty.
Approaching Porthmadog

My plan of getting to Aberdovey by the Saturday meant that I had in advance planned to cut out a 16km section of the official path which heads inland to Maentwrog, as it is not currently possible to cross the Afon Glaslyn at its estuary, the road bridge having fallen down a couple of years ago. A new one will be open soon, but the rail bridge reopened just a week or so before my trip so I could take a 2 minute rail journey across the estuary from Penryhndeudraeth to Llandecwyn to avoid the Maentwrog diversion and this is what I did before arriving at Barcdy, my next camp site which had rather good facilities and was dirt cheap. Despite the niceness of the site it was a couple of miles from a pub so I had to feast on dehydrated muck again. This time it was a Mountain House Chilli Con Carne. Never again. Never again. But it had still been a very enjoyable day in the sun with lovely scenery for much of the the 26km I had walked. And so to bed, with a slightly longer distance planned for the following day.

Crossing the Cob at Porthmadog


  1. Never yet found a palatable freeze dried chilli con carne. Even Fuizion was virtually inedible.

    1. You would have thought this was an easy one to replicate, too. I find that pasta dishes generally work best.

  2. I enjoy a walk like this. Something to be said about walking along the coast, rather under-rated. I have done a few day walks along SW coastal path in Cornwall. Good stuff!

    1. Thanks Mark. I suspect that the Wales path will not have the consistent loveliness of the SW Path, but parts of it are stunning.

  3. We must have passed each other (although I'm quite certain we did so at a bit of a distance, because had I passed you on the path, I'm sure I would have recognised you!). I'm just shy of Caernarfon right now, heading north (with just 12 miles to go until I finish this section), and was walking between Aberdyfi and Pwllheli* last Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

    If you fancy a bit more Welsh coast at some point, I particularly enjoyed the Ceredigion Coast Path (which, of course, also forms part of the Wales Coast Path), which is also ridiculously well waymarked.

  4. Hi Gayle
    Good to hear from you. I take it you are doing the whole thing then? You will see in the next post why we didn't meet. There was a change of plan.........

    1. I had hoped to walk Chepstow to Bangor on this trip, except that it got squeezed from a full month to just a couple of weeks, so I only did Cardigan to Bangor (where I arrived this morning). I already did Chester to Bangor, and Anglesey (actually, that's another section I'd recommend - Anglesey was excellent) earlier in the year. Not sure when I'll get to finish it off now, as I'm tending towards thinking that coastal walking is best done in fine weather.

    2. You have still done well, Gayle. I know Ceredigion quite well having had three years at Aber Uni and spent many childhood holidsys on the coast near Llangranog. It is very lovely. So is Angelsey away from the caravan parks - and I stayed on many of those as a child too. I hope you have made time to stop of at the various castles you have passed en route. Magnificent.

    3. Incredibly, in my three years at Aber University, I never once set foot on the surrounding coast (except a few excursions to Ynyslas when I couldn't bear the thought of my International Law lectures...), and thus the gloriousness of the coast was a surprise to me. Obviously spent far too much time with my head in books back then!

    4. I am afraid was the other way round, Gayle. Should have had my head in the books rather more than I did.

  5. Ah yes, the carbuncle Grand Designs house. Looks like a WWII Pill Box with a lick of white paint and self cleaning glass. I'm afraid planning committees are a favourite hobby horse of mine and I'm the bane of ours locally. Any plan that looks out of place gets a stiffly worded letter of objection. I completely accept that our countryside looks the way it does because of thousands of years of change, but it's been gradual change and in long distant past mostly sympathetic (local materials). I can't help thinking that the thought of this part of the coast getting a bit of airplay on national TV swung the jury. Not my cup of tea though.