The soles of my feet are badly bruised so I decided to take a day off today. My feet have been the main problem since I started this trek. I try not to think about the pain most days but when I was faced with them changing colour yesterday, I realised they needed a decent rest. It’s frustrating but that’s the reality.
On the up side, today I finally met in person a lady who had been one of my biggest supporters since I started my hike.
Almost as soon as I announced my Walking Wales challenge, Chris Grosvenor got in touch with me on Facebook (via my other great supporter and friend, Linda Reardon). Chris is a fellow pancreatic cancer awareness advocate and as soon as she heard about what I was doing, contacted me to offer me accomodation when I finally rounded my way down to South Ceredigion.
She and her husband, Richard, kindly picked me up in their car and invited me into their Pembrokeshire home where I have been fed, watered and truly made to feel part of the family. I feel very lucky. And I must give them a huge thank you for making me feel so welcome.
Never doubt the kindness of strangers, or their ability to become friends.
My next post will be from back on the Wales Coast Path, and hopefully with operational feet!
Before I even set off today, I knew that it was going to be a nostalgia-heavy day. I would once again be travelling through some of my favourite childhood beaches.
I couldn’t wait.
I left from the beach at Llangrannog. It was absolutely heaving, with every possible inch of sand occupied by bodies, towels and windbreakers. Rather them than me.
The ascent out of the village took me up a steep road with a hairpin bend at the top. My grandfather used to deliver post to Llangrannog. This turn is notorious for much gear-grinding to this day, but he used to handle it with expertise.
On the hill is this fellow, St Carannog (480 – 540AD), founder of Llangrannog.
He’s been looking out on the village since he was placed here in 2011. And what a view.
The Wales Coast Path continued upwards on the cliff edge. It was hot and sunny. Two kayakers were also heading south beside me.
Up ahead I spied the tiny secret beach of Traeth Bach which is between Carreg y Nodwydd and Carreg-y-Tŷ.
The path was empty. A few people had made the trek to Traeth Bach though.
Another horrible slog up a hill and I was almost at Penbryn. I’m largely unfamiliar with this beach. My mother was never keen on it because she insists a man from her village drowned in quicksand there many moons ago. When I get back I’m going to check the death records on this one.
The ascents didn’t stop. My lungs hated me and so did my calves and knees. It wasn’t far to Tresaith though.
It was very busy in Tresaith so I chose not to stop. Also, I wanted to get to Aberporth quicker.
This was the beach of choice for my family when I was little. Summer days were spent playing in the sand and rock pools, having slush (blue) in the cafe and rowing around in my dinghy.
And suddenly here I was!
Starving, I had a pizza at Cwtch Glanmordy, overlooking the above Traeth Dyffryn.
I rejoined the Wales Coast Path which hugged the shore and took me past this memorial.
In a couple of minutes I reached the other Aberporth beach, Traeth Dolwen. Home from home.
How great to be back. So many good memories in this place.
I considered just stopping here but I decided to continue on for a little bit. Every step counts, after all. I followed the Wales Coast Path signs past the beach and up the hill. I was back on unfamiliar territory almost immediately.
The WCP in this neck of the woods is diverted away from the coast inland in order to avoid the QinetiQ base, formerly known as DERA. I suddenly found myself walking next to security fences and signs like these, which I’d seen quite a few of dotted around the last few days.
I called it a day and stopped here. My feet were in a poor state and the sun was setting.
More messages of support greeted me when I woke up. I really wasn’t expecting such a reaction to my post from a couple of days ago but I feel very lucky to have so many people who appreciate what I’m trying to do.
I had a quick porridge and rejoined the Wales Coast Path. Well, technically I didn’t. I decided to go down to the beach at Cei Bach once more, which isn’t actually on the official route. But the tide was out and going out so I chose to walk from Cei Bach to Cei Newydd around the headland. This was a first for me. If the tide is in there’s no way of doing this so I had picked the right time of day.
It was a stunning day and the walk to Cei Newydd was easy along the flat beach, in spite of my painful feet.
To reach Cei Newydd, one of my favourite seaside towns, was a treat.
I’d been there countless times but never arrived on foot (as with almost everywhere else on this journey!).
I sat on the green for a while just watching the world go by. Bliss. I had lunch and an ice cream at a cafe before getting back on my way again.
I had a quick nose about before I truly left on the Wales Coast Path. And I was glad I did when I spotted the name of this house.
For any non-fans of Dylan Thomas, this is the name of the town in his play ‘Under Milkwood’. And Cei Newydd is on the Dylan Thomas trail, which I mentioned yesterday. And why was I so glad to see the house’s name? Well, read the name backwards…
Also, I’ve driven past this house numerous times so it was high time for me to get a photo.
As soon as I left Cei the climbing started. Up and up and up. This entire section had been tough. My feet knew it too.
I got to an observation point. A perfect location.
This lookout was last used by coastguards in the 1960s.
Shortly after I had the choice of a low or high path. Going against my personality I chose the high path. It seemed to undulate less.
I was excited to reach my next psychologically-positive location, Cwm Tydu. This was another one of my childhood family destinations. We would come here to skim stones on the stream and generally enjoy the peaceful surroundings. Dad loved it here.
I wanted to stay and skim stones but knew I had to push on. I would be back.
In time I had another blast from the past. This time the Urdd camp at Llangrannog. I came here several times as a child and young person for week long holidays, where I would ride horses, go to the beach, sleep in a dorm of eight and generally have an excellent time. The last time I came here was when I was 17. And that’s when I skied this very dry slope.
I wasn’t far from Llangrannog itself. I remember being made to walk the whole distance from camp to the beach and moaning the whole way as a child. Little did I know that as I grown up I’d attempt a 1000 mile hike!
As I made my way past Ynys Lochtyn, I was reminded of an old Welsh legend about a giant that had been responsible for creating the terrain.
Bica the giant lived in the mountains. When he suffered from toothache he offered a reward to anybody who could help him. A lonely dwarf named Lochtyn told Bica that he should place his feet in the sea. So he set off for the coast and arrived in Llangrannog. His first footstep formed the beach at Llangrannog, while his second formed Cilborth beach. His tooth fell out between his feet creating Carreg Bica, and the giant’s pain was gone! Lochtyn’s wish was that he lived on an island so Bica ran his finger across the headland north of Llangrannog, thus creating Ynys Lochtyn.
While here’s Llangrannog itself.
I had arrived just in time for the sunset. My grandmother hated Llangrannog because it always made her feel claustrophobic due to the huge rockfaces that surround the village. But to me, it looked pretty perfect in the failing light.
I stayed on the beach until it got dark before setting up camp. A tiring but rewarding day filled with nostalgia.
P.S. There’s Carreg Bica just off centre in the above photo.
I woke up to numerous messages of encouragement. It felt good to read people’s comments. I felt better than I had the previous day, though I still felt exhausted.
The Wales Coast Path took me back to the beach, where I was given a good omen for the day.
I passed a set of lime kilns. I am a fan of these relics from the industrial past.
When I arrived in Llansanffraid I got a bit confused by the waymarks. But then I asked some local people and they pointed me in the right direction. Somebody had left two tea lights on the stairs to the beach.
I could see Aberaeron in the distance. I couldn’t wait to get there.
In Aberarth, the WCP led me past pretty houses which looked idyllic in the sunshine.
There was also this touching memorial nearer the beach to local men who lost their lives in the Great War.
On the final stretch into Aberaeron I walked past a pair of alpacas, clearly in a huff with each other.
I arrived into Aberaeron and planted myself on the harbour wall with my legs out. It felt great to have reached the town. I have many happy childhood memories of visits to Aberaeron, where the treat was always honey-flavoured ice cream; the height of glamour in the days where the adventurousness of ice cream flavours extended only to vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. I also remember that they had a wire extending across the harbour and a sort of cage contraption hanging from it. A strong man with enormous forearms operating a pulley would use his brute force to transfer the cage from one side of the harbour to the other for a fee. Very exciting for a small child. That’s no longer there; health and safety maybe.
I had arranged to meet an old friend – Cathryn – who was holidaying nearby. It was great to see a friendly face and have a decent chat, and also to see her three children. Cathryn is also a journalist and blogger so we had many subjects in common which needed a good airing. It was very kind of her to come to see me and lift my spirits. It’s always good to see a familiar face on the trail (especially when there’s ice cream involved!).
The Dylan Thomas Trail runs through places associated with the poet Dylan Thomas in Ceredigion. Aberaeron is one of those places, as is Cei Newydd, down the coast.
I did consider getting a bottle of whisky in order to drink it while walking, as an homage to the poet. Another future challenge maybe?
As I was getting ready to leave and head south, I heard a noise. It sounded like a funeral dirge. Indeed it was. I assumed it was a memorial for some town dignitary or such like…until I saw a 20-foot mackerel leading the procession.
Not something you see every day. I had unwittingly bumped into the 11th annual Aberaeron Mackerel Fiesta, where the town honours the humble fish. Absolutely fantastic. I mean, if you can’t honour a mackerel, what can you honour?
It was time to say a sorry farewell to the town, for the first time on foot and not in a car.
When I reached Pont Y Gilfach, I was treated to some waterfalls.
However, I wanted a better look. So I stashed my rucksack and climbed down the crag for a better look.
It was worth the extra effort to see a secluded spot most people, let alone walkers, would never experience.
Across the bay, I could see Cei Newydd (New Quay). I would reach there tomorrow.
My stopping point was just before Cei Newydd, in Cei Bach, just around the headland. It was a familiar spot for me and looked just as perfect as I remembered. Many was the time that I visited here as a child, usually with my mother. She would always have an egg roll somewhere in the food bag. It’s strange the things that you recall.
I had some signal so published blog number 87, the one in which I struggled. As soon as it went online almost, I received a barrage of positive wishes urging me onwards. How kind people can be when you’re in a bit of a bind. I was overwhelmed, truly. So to all those friends, acquaintances and strangers who sent me good will messages and donations, thank you a million times over. You know who you all are and I think you’re brilliant.
I’m not sure what to say about today. I was miserable. I wanted to quit.
It didn’t start like that though. Quite the opposite in fact.
I had a hearty breakfast and felt cheered to be walking under a blue sky and sunshine.
I walked down the promenade, past the castle and towards the harbour.
I followed the waymarks and was led onto Pont Trefechan over Afon Rheidol. Everything seemed to glisten. There was traffic and people but it felt like there was no noise at all.
I noticed this plaque on the bridge.
So many feelings came to the surface on account of that little plaque and those few words. Maybe that was the source of my later misery, I don’t know.
The Welsh language, my language, has come so far since 1963 in many ways. But it has gone backwards in so many others. And what I’ve seen and heard during my travels so far around Wales leaves me nothing but concerned, frustrated and sad. Moreover, I feel helpless. More on that another time maybe.
The Wales Coast Path then took me past the breakwater and over another river, Afon Ystwyth, which gives Aber its name. See that peak on the right hand side of the photo? I was headed for that.
I had a walk along a stony beach. There were hardly any people about, just a couple of men fishing. I looked back at Aber behind me.
And then it was time to tackle the hill in front of me. I took this photo half way up, huffing and puffing like a choo choo train. It felt endless.
Ok, I admit that the view from the top was a stunner. I could see Craig-Lais (Constitution Hill) opposite me with Tywyn far away in the distance.
For a while I had a flat-ish walk on the cliff edge. There was south Ceredigion ahead.
A humerous and perplexing sight lay ahead. Two men sitting on deckchairs with all their personal effects, wearing shower caps just enjoying the sun and peace, miles from anywhere. Beautiful.
And who could blame them? I mean, just look at the Wales Coast Path. It’s pretty perfect isn’t it?
But I started to tire. I don’t know why. I had had enough food and was drinking water but the fatigue just set in like a fog. It clouded my mind and negative thoughts began dancing around my mind.
Why was I doing this? What was the point? My fundraising seemed to be grinding to a halt. Did anyone care? Did I care? And on and on.
Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I know exactly why I’m doing this and so forth. However, when you’re on your own day in day out, and you’re tired, it’s pretty easy to drift into glass half empty mode. The solitude and the trekking can play tricks. One of the greatest challenges, arguably, is not the walking but the thinking, the believing. Keeping the mind strong is so much harder than keeping the legs strong.
Arriving at Clogwyni Penderi was scant consolation. Though I was surprised that this very site was once one of the largest cormorant breeding locations in Wales until hungry foxes drove them away.
And then I sat down, spent. I sat with my head in my hands for ages and felt angry with myself.
I tweeted that I was struggling and immediately got encouraging and positive replies in return. What a boost. So people did care.
Sharp shooting pains plagued my feet and I elevated them for a while. It helped a bit. Somehow I picked myself up enough to continue. I hobbled onwards.
There was plenty of visible coastal erosion.
I arrived in Llanrhystud, my stopping point for the evening. What a relief. I had made it. The WCP seemed to throw a beautiful sunset at me as a reward. And I was thankful.
I had every intention of pushing on to Llanrhystud today, honestly. But it just didn’t happen.
I awoke with a mouth like the Sahara. I was still dehydrated from yesterday. I went for breakfast and drank lots and lots of fluid.
I ambled around for a while. I’m not familiar with Aberystwyth at all so thought it a mini duty to get to know it a little bit. I noticed the Ceredigion Museum so decided to pay a visit.
Built as a theatre in 1904-5, it was the venue for thousands of events including Eisteddfodau and political meetings. It became a cinema in the early 1930s, which ran until 1977. Ceredigion Museum then took over the building in 1982.
Its purpose is to deepen the understanding of the county.
It’s a very tiny museum but definitely worth a look.
My next stop was the pier. I have so far walked down every pier I’ve come across so Aberystwyth was to be no exception.
We talked for hours and compared notes. It was fantastic to be able to talk with someone face to face about the various experiences of the long distance hiker. The world, and Wales, was also put dead to rights.
But then came the inevitable sad goodbye (yes, yet another!).
I started walking out of the town but as I did, the rain began to fall harder and harder, while the path ahead looked bleaker and bleaker. Hmm.
I turned on my heels and returned towards Aberystwyth. I would rest my weary bones here for just one more night.
A perfect night’s sleep was had at Pen y Graig. It’s not often I get uninterrupted sleep in camp but this was one of those rare occasions. Before I left, I had a ‘put the world to rights’ chat with Wendy and Dylan, the owners. They even donated to my Pancreatic Cancer UK fund too. I couldn’t have met nicer people. But it was then time to bid yet another sad farewell.
I made my way out of Pen y Graig with Aberdyfi peeking out in the distance.
And from there it was a walk right on the cliff edge.
A kestrel soared on the edge of the cliff, surveying its prey.
The terrain stretched out like a creased blanket ahead of me. It was the perfect weather to be experiencing the Wales Coast Path, with a blue sky to accompany it.
The descents were brutal. I came down one particularly steep slope and two men were repairing the path.
“You know this hill here is called The Beast, don’t you”, said one.
“I can see why”, I said.
I was thankful I was going down it rather than climbing up it, but my knees felt somewhat differently.
In a while I heard a noise. Two young mountain bikers were behind me itching to come past. Without so much as an ‘excuse me’ they streaked around me and down the next slope. Hmm.
Lunch and water was had at this spot, the location of an old lime kiln.
And then it was onwards. I could see Aberystwyth peeping out from beyond the headland, beckoning me.
Everywhere I looked was gorgeous. Nature at its best, unspoilt, raw.
I ended up next to the Clarach estuary, the location of a couple of holiday parks, including static caravans and amusements arcades and the like. Not my idea of a holiday but each to their own.
Then I walked past this sign…
…because nothing says ‘Happy Holidays!’ more than a DNA tracking system, eh?
So, I ascended out of 1984 and onto Constitution Hill where I could look at Aberystwyth in all its glory from above. What a view.
Behold! There’s a large, yellow, circular object in the sky above our heads! Ok, slight exaggeration, but that was pretty much my euphoria level when I realised that it was going to be a sunny day (as promised in the forecast) rather than yet more rain.
After porridge and a coffee in the hostel I set off. The first part was done via road. The Wales Coast Path soon got routed up into a forest once more. But on a fine day, I didn’t want to miss out on being next to the estuary, so I continued via road.
It was was fine at first, with beautiful views of the Dyfi.
But then I ran out of pavement and had to find an alternative route in order to avoid the cars roaring past me.
I ended up in a pickle, I don’t mind admitting. To cut a very long story short, I’ll give you the story of what happened in short bursts: hill, barbed wire, dangerous horse, soaking wet feet in waterfall, barbed wire, angry bees, gardens, back to the road again. Ask me face to face for the uncensored version.
With my heart in my throat and sweating like a pig I arrived, somewhat appropriately, in Ffwrnais. It is the location of the Dyfi Furnace, used from the 1700s to the 19th century to make pig iron with charcoal as fuel (hence the term ‘sweating like a pig’….this blog can be just as educational as other more highbrow offerings, you know).
I stopped to contemplate my precarious journey so far and studied the map. I needed to get back on to the Wales Coast Path, pronto. But it was, still, quite a distance away from me and the coast in a forest way above. I had no choice though. I found a road, a steep road, and started climbing. It was tiring and miserable. But at least it wasn’t raining right?
After struggling through undergrowth, over mud, rock and stream, and falling over, I got to the WCP. Delight!
As a reward, I was treated to this view.
From there on, it was pretty dull trail walking, through fields and under tree cover. It seemed to go on forever.
I almost forgot though… By now I was in Ceredigion having crossed the border from Powys earlier on. To me, this represented a small psychological victory. Ceredigion is the county of one side of my family so suddenly I felt as though I was actually ‘home’. A strange sensation since I’ve never been this far north in the county before, or not that I remember anyway.
Anyway, I knew that there was a cafe in Tre’r Ddôl and I was beyond delighted when I finally saw it ahead. Siop Cynfelyn is a community-run project that re-opened the former Cletwr Services as a cafe and shop. What a fantastic idea, and to the weary walker, it represents nothing less than an oasis.
I had tea, orange juice and a huge scone. I also stocked up on a few supplies while I was there. I noticed another few walkers re-fuelling while I was there and felt happy that such a place exists. Then it was on through the pretty village.
The WCP joined a long path next to a ditch. The trail became dull again. And frustrating too since by this point I had entered Cors Fochno – a raised peat mire – and had become the prime item of interest to the local insect population. My feet were aching and I was also very tired. Just what I needed to be ankle deep in sludge, then.
I hobbled into Borth and felt relief at seeing the sign. It had been a tough day.
But it didn’t end there. I still had a long walk and climb up Borth hill to get to camp. The views at sunset were spectacular though.
Wendy, the owner of Pen y Graig was waiting for me when I finally did limp into the campsite. She was so kind and welcoming and I can’t thank her enough. Also, my perfect camp – quiet and on a farm.
I had just enough energy to put up Clark Tent before collapsing inside in my stinky, boggy clothing. No two ways about it, I needed a shower and my clothes needed a wash. So I killed two birds with one stone and took my clothes into the shower with me and washed them that way. It felt good to rid my shoes and clothing of the mud clagged up on them.
I cooked a quick meal and virtually passed out. I had managed 16.5 miles and more than 1000ft of climbing in ridiculous circumstances (many of my own doing I admit). A moment of pride turned into a fantastic night’s sleep.
In Welsh, I’d say that I ‘slept like a pig’. I really did, you know. A pig in a bed with clean sheets, warmth and shelter from the elements. I think I must have savoured every minute of sleep too, in spite of my unconsciousness.
A hearty breakfast set me up for the day, while I ate it with this as my view. Looks like I was in for another drenching.
With waterproofs donned, I set out. Everything in Aberdyfi looked so bleak in the rain but this doorway stood out a mile.
Another place I’ll have to return to in finer weather.
I was soon on the Wales Coast Path next to the Dyfi estuary.
Yachts and boats bobbed about. Nobody was out sailing on a day like this.
The WCP is routed out of Aberdyfi through forests and away from the edge of the estuary. In the driving rain, I really didn’t fancy climbing through hilly, muddy forests, so I decided to go via road to Machynlleth. For one thing, I’d be much closer to the coast than the actual Wales Coast Path. So with head torch on for safety and everything tucked away from the rain, I marched onwards.
Despite the misery of it all, the kilometres fell away quite quickly. It’s amazing the progress I can make when there’s nothing to look at or to photograph.
I crossed from Gwynedd into Powys, over the old Dyfi Bridge and into Machynlleth. It felt weird being this far inland but still on the Wales Coast Path. Besides which, when I was in Aberdyfi, I was only 1km away from the other side of the estuary. The absence of a bridge makes the journey inland a frustrating necessity though.
I thought about going for a swim at the leisure centre but then realised that I’d essentially already swam from Aberdyfi to get here. I also realised that during my walk, I had gone past the 700 mile mark, so allowed myself a moment or two of pride.
I called in to the Museum of Modern Art (slightly smaller than the New York version). An elderly gent was manning a desk. Nothing quite said ‘welcome to our gallery’ more than him wagging his finger at me, and in a plummy ‘Brief Encounter’ style accent, warning me not to “bash the paintings”. Had I just crashed in through the door on a galloping horse? Or maybe he thought I was Jack Nicholson in Batman…
Well, I didn’t stay after that. Instead I visited Owain Glyndŵr’s Welsh Parliament building.
It’s built on the site of the parliament at which Owain was declared leader of Wales. Unlike the MOMA, I got a fabulous and friendly welcome from Dafydd, museum assistant.
I saw a copy of the Pennal letter, which was sent by Owain to Charles VI of France. In it he set out his vision of an independent Wales.
And then I spotted the greatest irony I’ve seen in recent years.
I had to stifle a laugh. You just can’t write this stuff.
After a bite to eat I made my way to my accomodation. For the second night in a row I was to sleep under a solid roof, this time a hostel. It was positively decadent.
I laid in bed with a smile on my face while my kit dried off and felt a very lucky person.
The Wales Coast Path gets routed away from the coast after Fairbourne. It ends up going through farmland and up hills. Although the sun had come out, I didn’t fancy trudging through muddy fields, so I elected to take the road route for the first section of the day. It was quiet and actually much closer to the coast than the WCP. The scenery was typical.
I made it to Llwyngwril and noticed a yarn bombing on the way into the village.
And then another…
I discovered that this is a village project to raise money for the community centre. I thought it was fantastic! As a crocheter, I looked at some of the yarnbombing creations with awe.
And as I departed, there was even a little helper on the WCP waymark to wave me on my way.
It’s a good thing that the yarnbombing put such a smile on my face because it was then that the clouds opened and the most relentless of rain began. It didn’t stop. For the next few kilometres I trudged in utter misery, soaked.
I had my head down to avoid rain getting in to my coat past my face. And that led me to missing a waymark. I ended up at a disused quarry which seemed to have a depiction of Paul McCartney as a young child on a poster outside.
Anyway, I turned back and a few metres away there was the waymark. I was back on track.
I then got to walk over the relatively new Tonfanau Bridge over the Dysynni estuary. This was put here just for the Wales Coast Path. As footbridges go, this is a good one.
By the time I reached Tywyn, it was truly torrential. I just wanted the day to be over and done with as I had a prize waiting for me in Aberdyfi, so on I ploughed. I had a long walk along the beach in order to get there and by the time I reached the end of it, the rain eased off enough for me to take a photo of the gorgeous view I’d had to accompany me. Great isn’t it?
In fairness, on a sunny day it’s probably stunning. But in driving rain and low visibility, not so much. I will have to return…
And so it was that with sore feet and an aching will, I struggled into Aberdyfi and collapsed….into a B&B! Every cloud has a silver lining, and some of those linings come in the form of an actual bed (a dry one at that), with showers, towels and a roof etc.