Our main summer holidays were approaching fast and we had so much on our minds. We had a sick dog, limited money because his vets bills were racking up quickly and we also had the strong desire to escape from the stresses of our day jobs. We had originally planned to road-trip around the South and East of England and Wales but due to fuel cost and more campsite fees involved in that trip we started looking for alternative options.
My parents have a house on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park. A stones-throw from mountains, beaches and vast open countryside. We decided to take refuge there for a week and use it as a base camp for exploring the area before heading South. It was free accommodation and in the most incredible location. Maybe this was a sign our luck was turning?
We started our journey on the Tuesday as we had another vets appointment on the Monday! We drove on busy A roads but managed to avoid the M6 motorway and aimed for lunch in Llandudno, a busy Victorian seaside resort on the North Coast of Wales. We headed here to sample the delights at Providero. This crowdfunded company has been on my radar for quite a while, and after seeing countless posts on their social media, I finally managed to grab a cup of Heartland coffi and a tasty vegan friendly salad bowl. The staff were welcoming and we even took the hound in with us. Always a win!
After lunch was had a walk along the prom, (prom, prom), and watched the boats out to sea before getting back on the road.
We carried on down the North Welsh coast until we got to Caernarfon and then headed inland to reach the small cluster of houses in a vale of oaks, Bwlch Derwin. This would be our base for the next week. On arrival we parked the van in my Dad's workshop as I had a feeling something wasn't right with it.
I was correct. The van was wearing its tyres unevenly, and even though I had the tracking fixed before I left, the tyres had been destroyed with two journeys to Devon earlier in the month. We spent the next day trying to fix the van. My dad and I found that the camber was out by quite a bit and would cause the tyres to wear very quickly. Thankfully we made the adjustments required and, (as if we needed one), had an excuse to go on a long test drive to make sure the new tyres we had also fitted were wearing ok.
What better way to make sure the van is fully fixed than driving to the end of the Llyn Peninsula. Down twisting narrow lanes, through tiny Welsh villages, to the top of hills and the bottom of valleys and along curving coastal roads overlooking the Irish Sea. We followed maps and instructions given to us from a Drive It Day event from a local car club.
The furthest point of the drive was the tiny seaside village of Aberdaron. On arrival to the village we headed even further down to the tip of the peninsula to the village of Uwchmyndd and its old lighthouse station. We climbed the cliff road. A concrete road built into the rock, twisting and turning up to the flat top of cliffs.
The mist rolled over the windscreen and we crawled along the cliff tops. The sea was on each side of us. It felt like we were at the edge of earth itself.
We parked up and went to check out the view. On the tip of the landmass was Bardsey Island. Its rocky cliffs pushing out of the sea and looking like a defensive structure. Maybe the only thing protecting us from endless water and ocean. This place was unique. There was nothing to see except nature itself. Unadulterated natural forms and it made your mind clear itself of the crap it is normally full of! The mist continued to gather on top of the cliffs and in a matter of seconds visibility went from thousands of metres to zero and back to thousands again!
After we had sat, eaten lunch and marvelled at the view 100 times, we headed back through Aberdaron and headed towards Abersoch. We love Abersoch. Such a mixture of contemporary beach lifestyle, old fashioned harbour work and seaside commercialism enabling and balancing the community rather than swamping it. We parked up and wandered towards the harbour and the few shops located around the beach and sea front. The beach is away to the south and with Winston's recent surgery and ocular issues we decided to keep him away from sand. So we picked the harbour and walked to explore the cliffs and watch the boats. The tide was out and the boats were stranded, leaning on the sandbanks. Lame and without purpose until the sea returned to reinvigorate them. Whenever in Abersoch we like to grab a coffee at Kin & Co. A great independent skate and surf shop with a superb coffee shop too.
We returned back to Bwlch Derwin to plan future adventures.
My parents own a Volkswagen T5 Autosleeper van and we were all keen to get theirs and our vans together on the road at the same time. We started planning a joint adventure for the next day. We looked at routes around Snowdonia, further down the coast but we agreed to cross the Menai Straight and head over to the Isle of Anglesey.
The next day we crossed the Britannia Bridge and headed towards LLanfairpwllgwngull and then followed the signs to Beaumaris. Being a formal royal town it hosts a great castle and some amazing buildings. We wandered around the old lands and onto the pier to look back across to the mainland.
From Beaumaris we headed towards Penmon Point. A short journey up the coast we drove through the grounds of Penmon Priory and past St Seiriol's well towards our destination. At the priory a gentleman stopped our convoy and we paid a toll fee to continue up the hill towards the sea. Immediately after paying our fee the road became bumpy and rough. I was starting to wonder where I had led my parents! However, after a few hundred metres we were greeted with a brilliant view. The Trwyn Du Lighthouse standing proud out of the sea with Puffin Island behind it. The 22m high tower was built in 1838 and marks the northern point of the Menai Straight. Its bell tolled under its solar panels which were fitted in 1996 to allow it to run off grid. Originally the tower had a unique feature of a toilet on the ground floor which emptied directly into the sea. This was adapted shortly afterwards after a few lighthouse keepers had a nasty shock during rough seas!
From here we headed West towards Niwbwrch, (Newborough), Forest. We parked up and explored the trails and forest roads. Looking for the infamous red squirrels which live on the island.
After a few days relaxing around Bwlch Derwin we picked a place on the map and heading off for a walk in the mountains. Ffestiniog is a village in the heart of Snowdonia with its roots in slate mining. We went searching for roots which date back much, much further. The Cynfall Waterfalls and Devil's Pulpit are local to that area and harken back to a time when pagenism and witchcraft was often practiced in the Welsh hills.
After leaving the village we could soon hear the waters on the falls. The path climbed down to the river basin and into a dark, humid valley where we found the falls.
After the falls we followed the path along the river and back round to the village. We battled large ferns and close air. It was prehistoric and felt as if a Stegosaurus would be spotted at any point.
This day marked the end of our North Wales adventure. The next day we were heading south to Pembrokeshire.
I was born in North Wales so I have a very close emotional relationship with Snowdonia and the Llyn Peninsula but my families heritage is actually from South Wales. I was really looking forward to exploring some of Pembrokeshire and The Gower.
The roads between the North and South of wales are limited. There are no motorways or even any dual carriageways. We followed our maps and left the sat nav in the glovebox. The road took us along the west coast and for much of the way we had dramatic views. Firstly we carved our way though the deep filled pine forests of Coed-y-Brenin. The road cut through the trees like a parting in freshly waxed hair. Once we had skirted around Dolgellau, Cadair Idris and Machynlleth we headed back towards the sea and followed the coast all the way down to Pembrokeshire.
We found our way to the St David's Lleithyr Meadow Caravan and Motorhome Club Site. We have been using the club sites for years now. Always in a prime location and also impeccably clean and organised.
We were located on the most Western point of Pembrokeshire, a few miles outside the city of St David's. On arrival to the campsite we got told about a local shuttle bus service that takes you around the local area for £3 each a day. A hop on/ hop off service. After a lot of driving in the last few days we decided to use this. Our first stop was the old city of St Davids. The city dates back to the year 500AD and it is Britain's smallest city and is famous for its Catholic pilgrimages over hundreds of years. The city is full of character. With the cathedral being the focal point to the shops and cafes line the roads around it.
After we had explored St David's we got back on the bus and headed towards St Justinian's. A tiny cove with the remains of a chapel and the most beautiful lifeboat station. We walked along the coastal path in search for a natural archway in the cliffs which we spotted on the Ordnance Survey map.
We followed the coastal path south as it curved around each cove and cliff edge. The wild flowers bloomed and the wildlife could be heard in the thick hedgerows and grasses. Beetles walked along the path and birds flew ahead in the summer sunshine. We continued along the path until we reached the natural arch. As we walked around the archway it changed shaped. Transforming from an oval to a circular gap in the rock face until yet again just a slit was visible with a shaft of light punching its way though the hard stone.
The next day we spent at our local beach. It was only 20 minutes walk away, but when you own a van you have to take it the the beach. Call it our St David's Pilgrimage! The local beach was called Whitesands. It was a sandy beach which has surf when there is a North-Westerly front. Luckily that is exactly what mother nature blessed us with. The swell was even and crisp if not a little small. We used surf and bodyboards. I got my Dick Pearce board in the waves and made the most of the dry and sunny Welsh weather.
During the day we walked along the coast and watched the Sparrowhawks fly overhead. Walked amongst the wild flowers and sat and watched the tide change. We stayed down at the beach all day. Watching the sun go down over St David's Head over to the north.
Our Pembrokeshire adventure was over and it was time to drive to The Gower. It wasn't a long journey and we arrived at Pitton Cross, an independent campsite with some great facilities and brilliant views.
After we'd set up we took a walk from the campsite. The site had way-marked a route through their own farmland to a hidden cove on the south of the Gower Peninsula called Ramsgrove Cove. We walked across their fields and down towards the sea, Crossing the coast path we continued down the steps into a pebble beach with steep cliff sides. The gulls flocked above us and we could hear the waves crashing against the rock. The beach was littered with driftwood and smooth pebbles. It was unfortunately littered with plastic and rubbish in place which was heartbreaking to see, and shattered the illusion that the place was our own. We explored the rock pools and followed the cliffs around the the East where we sat and looked across to North Devon, across the Bristol Channel. We returned to the campsite for dinner. At night the stars and the milky way could be seen. The night sky was so visible including Mars. We felt so lucky.
The next day we woke up determined to make the most of the good weather. It looked like this could be the last day with decent weather for a while so it couldn't be wasted. We took the van to Rhossili. A small village in an area of outstanding natural beauty. We parked up in the National Trust car park over looking Rhossili Beach. Its waves queuing up to roll onto the 3 mile stretch of golden sand. From on top of the cliffs you could see Tenby to the North-West, Lundy to the South West and the North Devon cliffs to the South.
We walked along the cliff edge away from Rhossili village and towards the old coastguard station on the end of the headland. There, at the end, reaching out into the sea was the Worms Head. Named "Wurm" by the Vikings which meant Dragon. The land marks the Southern tip of the Gower Peninsula. Due to tide times we never got to cross to walk upon the Dragon. We watched it from afar, lying in slumber upon its Welsh gold no doubt!
The tide has caught many people out over the years and the Lifeguard hut nearby announces the incoming tide with a siren call to stop people getting stranded on the Worm's Head.
Following our lunch back at the van we headed down the endless steps and onto the beach. Surfboard under my arm I pushed against the on-shore winds and braved the rough ocean. The sea was brutal and strong but I've always wanted to surf this swell. Objective achieved with only a couple of strained muscles.
We had a quick stop off in Port Eynon. I had to go to a place with my name in it! A pint in the pub and a walk along the beach there before heading back up to the campsite.
This whole trip had one aim. To relax us. To restore some balance in our lives. We covered many miles and traveled the coastline of Wales but we left feeling stronger, healthier and more tanned! There wasn't the swarms of tourists you meet in Devon and Cornwall, which was perfect for us, but I hear that the Welsh tourism board are concerned for the future. More and more people are staying away from Wales. Maybe it is the ever-growing strength in the Welsh language that is deterring folks or maybe the South West has appealed more during the summer heatwave of 2018. We will be returning and doing all the bits we skipped passed this time. Our Welsh bucket list is overflowing!
Thank you Wales!