We haven’t posted a walk for a while, not because we haven’t done any walking but because of a general lack of inertia when it comes to posting the details.
The Cambrian Mountains are a wild and empty plateau lying between the Snowdonia and Brecon Beacons National Parks. They are Wales’ fourth national park in-waiting; designated in 1972, the Park was later cheated of recognition and protection, by an unholy alliance of landowners and politicians. It remains surprisingly unknown to a lot of people.
The Teifi pools lie to the north east of Strata Florida and are a group of lakes situated about 1500 ft up the western slopes of the Cambrian Mountains and this is a rather exceptional walk on a fine day. It can get very wet underfoot so good boots (and gaiters?) are essential pretty much any time of year.
As we are in the middle of an unusual heatwave in July 2013 we set off in the campervan the night before to make an early start. The walk is approached from a ‘no through’ road from Strata Florida and there is parking for about 3 or 4 cars at the point marked on the map above. There was no one else there at around 10.00 pm other than a lot of midges! So we camped there before setting off about 5.30 in the morning. The walk starts about 100 metres BEFORE or west of the parking place not where the footpath is shown in the map If you try and take this route you’ll be going straight through a farm (Tyncwm) full of barking dogs. The path is an easy uphill, past a cairn, until you reach Llyn Egnant. Here the track becomes tarmac as it is a service road for the reservoir. Keep going until you reach a ‘T junction’ then turn left.
Continue along this track with Llyn Hir on your left until you come to a board indicating that you have reached Llyn Teifi. Turn left and follow this track, through a gate until you reach the dam. Go through the small double metal gates then follow the track under the dam. Follow the lake side across all the other small dams. Once you have gone across the last one turn back sharp right and find the fairly indistinct track down the valley. Keep going down until you reach a small cairn, just ahead is a waymarked fence. Follow the path along the fence. The path turns away (left) by a marker post and goes up to another small cairn. The track should be more distinct now.
Follow the track towards the farm Frongoch. Go through the gate and in front of the house turn right and go over the ladder stile in front of the farm buildings. Keep following the track all the way to Troed-y-rhiw. When you come to the white holiday cottage there is a gate on the left, go through it into the field and follow the path across the field to a stile. Go over the sile and follow the contouring path down to the road. Turn left on the road and walk back to your starting point.
Today has been another glorious day at the beginning of summer; the weather has been spectacular for the last few days. It has probably been the hottest day of the year so far and it was one of those lovely summer evenings that you remember nostalgically in the winter. The daylight slowly fades into the late evening twilight as the sun sets and the wood pigeons ‘coo’ in the trees.
The sun was setting in the valley as we set off for an evening walk from home. You can just make out the slate roof of our house in the trees in the bottom left of the picture below. The land beyond the trees running up to the skyline belongs to us.
The valley is spectacular with wild flowers our route takes us around the valley, crossing the river twice on a circular route.
Harebells are amongst the myriad of wild flowers on the roadside.
The hedgerows are alive with wild flowers, the primroses and bluebells are just starting to fade but soon there will be wild strawberries that we pick and eat on our walks.
The whole valley, with virtually no traffic or road noise is a very special place.
We cross over the river in the bottom of the valley via the small footbridge.
It is cool in the woodland by the river.
The evening sunlight starts to fade across the floor of the valley.
Look at the ivy on the old clinging wall
Look at the flowers and the green grass so tall
It’s not a matter of when push comes to shove
It’s just an hour on the wings of a dove
~ Van Morrison
Almost the last sun of the evening falls on the recently cut fields. The small road beyond leads down to our house. Three Red Kites honoured us with their presence and soared overhead nearby.
We cross back over the river by the small metal road bridge that leads to our house.
Liz lingers on the bridge that leads back home to look for Dippers and Wagtails.
The very last rays of summer light fade as we walk home.
Monday the 16th January 2012 turned out to be quite a pleasant sunny day so having made some sandwiches and packed the camera we set of to Mynachlog-ddu, which means Black Monastery in Welsh, to explore some of the Preseli Hills.
This is wonderful countryside and an area rich with ancient monuments and mysterious places; not to mention being the source of the stone for the inner circle at Stonehenge.
We parked in the car park just where you enter the village and then walked north up the road for a few hundred yards before turning left along the road then after a little while took a right turn which crosses a cattle grid onto the common.
Follow the road across the common, passing the Bluestones Monument, and up to where the bridleway leaves the road (it is also possible to park here if you want to drive to this point). Leave the road and head gently uphill going virtually due north. The gradient is gentle with spectacular views. The path can get boggy in places and needs a little careful negotiation. Eventually, near the ridge, the path meets another path crossing at ninety degrees. Take a right turn (East) and continue up towards the large stones/cairn, Carn Bica (shown below).
From here you walk down to Bedd Arthur (Arthur’s Grave) a small stone circle. This so-called stone circle lies overlooking the Bluestones outcrop of Carn Meini. It is actually oval or horse-shoe shaped leading to speculation that it may have been this site which influenced the original horseshoe of Bluestones at Stonehenge.
It comprises thirteen small standing stones along with two or three more now fallen. Some believe it may be a henge – others claim it is the remains of a small portal dolmen.
From Bedd Arthur continue in an Easterly direction along the track eventually you will pass behind a large conifer plantation, that looks very alien in this wild landscape, before descending back down to the road.
At this point note the memorial stone and take a moment to remember that what is now taken for granted (access to the Preseli Mountains and their prehistoric remains) was once nearly denied to the public. The plaque reads:
These mountains would not be accessible to walkers today if it were not for the brave stand by local inhabitants at the end of the 1940s. Soon after the Second World war, in November 1946, the War Office declared its intention to turn the Preselau into a permanent military training area.
That would mean turning more than 200 farmers from their homes. However, under the leadership of Nonconformist ministers and local headmasters, a spirited campaign was organised to withstand the threat. A barrister was employed to represent the Prescelly Preservation Committee and it was made abundantly clear that not an inch of land would be surrendered.
‘We nurture souls in these areas,’ was the precise comment of the Rev R. Parri Roberts when confronted by military officers. The ‘sanctity’ of the mountains was emphasized with their 38 bluestones transported to Stonehenge, over two thousand years ago, to become part of English heritage.
By spring 1948 the Government had give in to the determination of the people of Preselau. All present day farmers and walkers are indebted to those heros of yesterday. The full story can be read in the book ‘Battle of the Presaelau – the campaign to safeguard the ‘sacred’ Pembrokeshire Hills’ by Hefin Wyn.
Once back on the road turn south-west and walk back to your starting point at Mynachlog-ddu. The complete walk is around 7.5 miles. Enjoy!
At the end of November we travelled to Nepal and spent most of December there, returning to the U.K. for Christmas. The first couple of weeks we spent trekking in the Langtang region and this blog details how we walked from Langtang to Helambu (I’ve put a map here) across the Laurebina Pass (4610m). The information and prices here are correct as of December 2011 and is provided on a goodwill basis (i.e. use your own common sense, check nothing has changed and don’t blame us if it doesn’t go as planned!). The weather was warm and dry but did turn increasingly cold at night as we moved into mid December. There was a very small amount of ice on the trail but the route was easily done with normal trekking gear although the high altitude lodges were cold at night. This trek would become harder in January and February, once there is snow, without proper gear (crampons and an ice axe?). The variety of scenery and the comparative lack of other trekkers (although the time of year may well have been a factor here) made this one of our favourite treks in Nepal.
On arriving at Kathmandu we went to stay initially at a guest house in Thamel; The Sacred Valley Inn. The owners Ailsa and Ganga are old friends who we first got to know twelve or thirteen years or so ago when John used to bring trekking groups to the Annapurna region. This is without doubt probably the best value guest house in Kathmandu and unless you are a backpacker on a very tight budget or need unashamed international style luxury I doubt you will find better value. You may also note that Liz is the model on their website page as John took some photos for them when we stayed there there last year!
To do the trek from Langtang to Helambu you will need to reasonably fit and have some decent boots, rucksack, sleeping bag and warm clothing. Other than ‘broken in’ boots (which you need to bring with you) everything can be bought cheaply or hired in Kathmandu at a shop like Shona’s trekking shop (there is an interesting article on Andy the ‘Brummie’ who runs it with his wife here). The lodges will have extra blankets so you don’t need a fantastic sleeping bag. Take a water bottle (or Camelback) and some water purifying tablets to avoid having to pay for bottled water (and more importantly reduce the use of plastic in the Park).
Before you start you need a TIMS card and a park entrance permit. Both are probably just an excuse to extract money from tourists. Anyway you can get them from the Nepal Tourism Board in Kathmandu (ask your hotel to direct you) for $20 per person for the TIMS and 1000 Nepalese Rupees for the trekking permit (the later can also be purchased at the park check point). In addition to obtain the TIMS you need to take along a copy of your passport and two passport-size photographs. Note that the Tourist Board office helpfully (Not) closes at 14.00 hrs so get there in good time before then.
So fully kitted out we set off to the starting point of Syabru Besi not far from the Tibet border. This is probably the most dangerous part of the trip (i.e. seven or eight hours on a Nepali bus). The bus is caught from the bus stand at Macha Pokhari (in Kathmandu – most taxi drivers should be able to take you there) and leaves at around 7.00 a.m. we got their at 6.30 and obtained seats OK, but in busy times you may need to book the day before. Seats at the back of the bus are not recommended as they get very bumpy and the ride is bad enough. By the way at the end of the journey I counted 14 people get out of the front 2 rows; in addition the bus will be loaded up with chickens, rice, vegetables and barrels of cooking oil. Many people choose to ride on the roof but the bus will stop before every check point to allow them to climb down and cram inside to satisfy the authorities. It will then stop half a mile later to allow them back up on the roof! Ensure that you have sufficient water and snacks for the journey although the bus will stop halfway for a food break. Eventually, the bus will reach Dhunche where you need to get out and complete the Langtang Park formalities (or get a Park Permit if you didn’t get one in Kathmandu). The bus will then travel on another hour or so to Syabru Besi.
Note that this road is being extended and improved by the Chinese all the way to the Tibet border. Once it does become sealed all the way the journey should improve dramatically but I fear that the unique character of this Tamang area will rapidly be changed forever.
At Syabru Besi there are a number of Guest Houses to choose from. We went to the Village View, a small guest house where we had stayed previously.
I asked the owner of the guest house if he knew a reliable local guide who could also carry up to around 15kg for us. I had hired a suitable 60 litre rucksack to hold our sleeping bags and waterproofs etc at Shona’s (50 Nepalese Rupees per day) back in Kathmandu.
The Lonely Planet suggested a rate of 1000 Nepalese Rupees per day for a local guide (most guides from Kathmandu start at 20$ per day). Here we met the lovely Tempa Tamang who became our guide and we agreed on 1300 NR per day with him carrying our bigger pack whilst we carried day packs with our personal gear and clothes etc. Tempa (pronounced more like Demba), although in his own words uneducated, proved to be a very reliable guide who spoke some English. Although not a professional registered guide he was excellent company and should you wish to seek him out ask for him at the Village View Lodge in Syabru Besi or try emailing his wife’s sister in Kathmandu –Starting at Syabru Besi there are a number of treks and combinations. The main ones are the Tamang Heritage trek to Gatlang, Tatopani, the Tibet border and finishing around Khanjim before returning. This trek is more home stay based than trekking lodges so has more potential for interaction.
Another option is to trek straight up to Langtang and Kyanjin Ghompa before returning much of the same way (perhaps coming back from Rimche to Khanjim). We had previously done this trek and it makes a nice short trek with some great views up at the highest points.
The third option is to trek to the sacred lakes of Gosainkunda then across the Laurebina Pass to Helambu and finish literally back on the outskirts of Kathmandu. This trek can be combined with either or both of the previous treks to make a longer trek. We decided on the last option with a slight detour at the start to take some photographs (we took last year) back to the villagers in Khanjim. In addition because of the altitude of the trek this gave us a couple of nights to acclimatise a little. Above 3000m it is advisable not to sleep more than 300m higher each day.
Our route was as follows and although we broke the 300m rule by sleeping at Laurebina we had no problems as we had had a couple of nights to acclimatise.
Day 1 Syabru Besi to Khanjim – half day trek. Good walkers could easily push on to Rimche.
Day 2 Khanjim to Rimche – an other easy walk; only half a day.
Day 3. Rimche to Thulo Syaphru
Day 4 Thulo Syapru to Shin Gompa
Day 5 Shin Gompa to Laurebina
Day 6 Laurebina to Phedi – A long day walk over the pass at 4610m.
Day 7 Phedi to Tharepati
Day 8 Tharepati to Kutumsang
Day 9 Kutumsang to Chisapani
Day 10 Chisapani to Sundarijal. Then return to Kathmandu by bus
We estimate (very roughly) the total distance to be around 95 kilometres. Trekking lodge room rates varied from 100 NR at Kanjim to 500 NR at the high lodges (around 80 pence to 4 pounds for 2 people). We probably spent between 600 and 800 NR each on food for a whole day.
At our guides village, Thulo Syapru, we spent the day at a Tamang wedding and the singing and dancing went on late into the night. The food was excellent and they had killed a buffalo especially for the occasion. It did come as quite a surprise though to see all the locals videoing the wedding on their latest ‘smartphones’!
At Chisapani you hit roads (or rather tracks) and I’m sure that you could negotiate a vehicle (not sure if local buses come this far) back to Kathmandu from here. We walked on to Sundarijal (probably another 5 hours from Chisapani) which is literally on the outskirts of Kathmandu. We then returned to Kathmandu from Sundarijal by bus (only about 40 minutes or so). As we had met a few other trekkers along the trail we negotiated a whole mini bus for 2000 NR to take all of us and the guides back into Thamel. Back in Kathmandu we had a welcome hot shower, a few beers and some respite from eggs for breakfast. We then went onto Bardia National Park in the south west of Nepal.
Oh dear we’ve been very lax in updating the blog recently. Too busy enjoying ourselves. For the last two weekends we’ve been spending time in the Elan Valley camping overnight in a wood near Rhayader in mid Wales and photographing and walking round the lakes during the day. We were there to take advantage of the amazing Autumn colours and as you can see from the photographs this was enhanced by the amazingly still water.
The dams, reservoirs and 73 mile of aqueduct of the Elan Valley waterworks in mid Wales were mostly built about a hundred years ago to supply clean water to the city of Birmingham in the English Midlands. Although it looks like a bridge the Carreg-ddu dam (below) is partially submerged to keep the water level up at the extraction point.
Leaving aside the morality of removing the original residents to flood the valley the reservoirs and dams which supply water to Birmingham entirely by gravity are a an amazing feat of engineering. It is almost beyond comprehension that thousands of men could build these structures. It really does put in perspective the rubbish that we see built today. In addition the foresight of elders of Birmingham to conceive and undertake such a scheme is astonishing. As well as building the dams this also involved building a 73 mile long aqueduct down which the water travels at less than 2 miles per hour, taking one and a half days to get to Birmingham.
The walk around Carreg-Ddu reservoir is a lovely walk and you can start at various points. We parked at the car park by the Carreg-Ddu dam and did a complete circuit of the lake. The map below shows a longer walk starting at the visitor centre.
Well summer is drawing to an end and it’s time to introduce you to our new friend ‘Huey’ as he (it) is known. Having had a Landrover since we came to Wales (which was indispensable in the worst of the winter) we had to acknowledge that we didn’t use it enough the rest of the year and what we really wanted was a campervan. This led to a big dilemma as we didn’t want to be running three vehicles. Eventually we ‘bit the bullet’ and decided to buy a VW California 4motion. One of the few vans that comes in a 4×4 configuration. So after handing over an inordinate amount of money here is ‘Huey’.
So after an initial weekend away walking in the Radnor Forest last weekend we seized a brief interlude in the weather and drove up to Snowdon last night to climb Snowdon or Yr Wyddfa as it is known in Welsh. We over-nighted in a small lay-by not far from Beddgelert and then drove to the car park at Rhyd Ddu (off the A4085 – SH 571 526) to have breakfast and make an early start.
The plan was to walk up Snowdon via the Rhydd Ddu path and descend via the Snowdon South ridge. Other than a slight navigational error on the descent that is what we did. The walk up took us around two and a half hours. The cloud cover cleared, as forecast, as we ascended giving us some good views at the top. The routes up Snowdon are detailed here our route is below.
The ascent up Rhyd Ddu is fairly gentle in most places, the South Ridge path is a tad more challenging.
All in all we had a great couple of days and we’re pleased to have ‘Huey’ to help us to take advantage of the amazing countryside in Wales
Another lovely sunny day, so we set off for the glorious Pembrokeshire coast for another of our walks. Although it is now the height of the holiday season here in Wales and there are more people on the beaches few people seem to venture far from the tourist spots. So it is quite possible to have this glorious countryside mostly to yourself.
This walk starts at the Bedd Morris standing stone at SN 038 365
To get there turn left off the main Newport to Dinas road (A487) immediately after leaving Newport. The road is signed Fford Bedd Morris.
Bedd Morris has had an eventful history since its Bronze Age origin; incorporated in the boundary of the parish of Newport, it also formed a route node for the medieval Newport-Haverfordwest highway, or ‘Ffordd Bedd Morris’, which still crosses Mynydd Carningli. In later years it is said that the name is said to derive from the bandit Morus who once lived among the rocks and robbed travellers. It is etched with a surveying benchmark and other inscriptions.
Park at the car park by the standing stone then walk slightly back down the road before turning left off the road at the wooden finger post towards a large outcrop of rocks (photo above). From here you can follow a well worn path that descends down toward the coast. This eventually turns into a farm track before reaching the A487. Cross the main road and proceed down a concrete track (slightly to your right after crossing the road) and go through a farm yard. Eventually, near some cottages, you will see a sign pointing you to the coastal path. Take this and turn right following the coastal path with amazing views (see photo below) until you come to Aber Rhigian.
When you come to a small wooden bridge leave the coastal path and follow the path inland back up a shady path. You will eventually reach another vehicular track that will bring you back to the main road. Turn left on the A487 and after fifty yards or so turn right up a small road/track towards Holm House. Follow the footpath (slightly boggy and indistinct in places) to Y Garn. Here you join and turn right onto the tarmac road for a little way before turning right at the first junction up a road that has a sign showing it is a no through road. After several hundred yards this road degenerates into a track you turn left up a footpath that brings you back onto the road to the car park where you started.
The walk is about 6 miles and will take a reasonable walker about 3 hours. We spent longer stopping for lunch and to watch the birds on the coastal cliffs. The gradient back to the car park is not steep despite the fact that you walk from sea level to nearly 300m.
The weather recently has not been fantastic so we had been waiting for a pleasant interlude to make the trip over to Skomer Island. Skomer Island lies just off the west coast of Wales near Marloes (although the boat departs from Martin’s Haven which is too small for our Sat Nav) and is a sanctuary for birds. It is home to the largest number of Manx Shearwaters in the world and has a substantial colony of Puffins. It is the latter that many photographers go to photograph as the puffins are quite oblivious to humans (probably far more worried about those vicious gulls catching them).
Puffins start feeding their chicks around the end of May so we wanted to try to get there in June to see this.
A visit to Skomer needs a bit of planning because the boat to the island can’t sail in bad weather (particularly a strong northerly wind) and tickets are allocated on a first come, first served basis. So after a quick review of the weather forecast we got up at 6.00 a.m. for breakfast and a shower etc. before heading off to arrive at Martins Haven about 8.30 a.m. where we managed to get tickets for the first boat at 9.30 a.m.
We then headed up to ‘The Wick’ where it is one of the best places to photograph the Puffins returning with food for their chicks. Photographing them in flight is extremely difficult as they can fly very fast; they also fly very low and straight to their burrows so as to avoid the marauding gulls. This area can get quite busy with visitors to the island.
Lots of photographers there with huge long lenses, which to be honest you don’t need in most cases. You can easily photograph these Puffins here with a compact camera or a standard lens. Liz’s photo above is taken with an 85mm lens on a crop sensor SLR. The photo below was taken by John with a 300mm lens on a full frame camera. The longer lens and choice of a wider aperture gives a nice diffuse background but often I felt I needed a shorter lens and did indeed switch to my 100mm lens for some of the time as it was far more useful generally. However, you definitely do not need fancy kit to take good photos of Puffins here. Although you may need to be quick!
The next challenge is to get back and get a good shot in flight. But my goodness it’s hard (rather like trying to photograph someone throwing a cricket ball towards you!) as they travel at up to 70 m.p.h. and are not very big birds. Shooting large birds of prey in flight is a ‘doddle’ by comparison!
As well as all the other amazing bird life here the island makes a great place for a walk (approx 4 miles round). But be aware that there is no shade on the island and that there are no provisions there other than bottled water.
Our friend Paul was renting a small cottage in Trefin on the Pembrokeshire coast this week with the intention of doing some walks and taking some photographs for a story he was hoping to do, so we decided to go and help him. Paul used to work together with John doing wedding photography. Paul continues the business, now that John has retired, at www.wessexweddings.co.uk
We met Paul and his dog Ben at the cottage in Trefin and started the walk at Garn Fawr a short drive away. Garn Fawr is an Iron Age hillfort situated on a craggy outcrop of the west end of the Pen-caer ridge. It is a short walk up to the summit of this craggy outcrop from which there are superb views over the bay to Strumble Head and Pwllderi. From there it is a rocky steepish descent down to the coastal path. Paul had to be careful because Ben always had to be in the lead and was upset when he wasn’t. We soon passed a brick building, one of an aligned pair, which were used for carrying out tests on low level air to surface vessel radar. The other building, located at Strumble Head is now used as a bird observatory. Apparently there are also the remains of a two man coast watchers hut from the first world war.
The walk towards Strumble Head was very pleasant weaving in and out of little hillocks and a mixture of gorse and heather. From the cliff edges we could see Choughs doing their aerobatic display and hear seals on the rocky islets. We even saw House Martins which must have just arrived from their long journey from Africa. There are several rocky inlets and small bays along this route one in particular, Porth Maenmelyn caught our attention. This is a small wild cove with steps cut into the cliff face apparently cut, about a hundred years ago, by an engineer working on the construction of Fishguard harbour and wanted his own private access to this cove.
After passing the light house at Strumble Head we continued further along the coast path until we reached a white holiday cottage owned by the National Trust where we turned inland. We followed bridleways which, considering how drive the weather had been, were quite muddy because they had been churned up by the horses. Probably this is not a walk we would do in the winter. We passed the smaller iron age fort of Garn Fechan on the way back to the car park at Garn Fawr.
After finishing the walk we drove back to Traeth Llyfn where John took some sunset photographs on the beach. As dusk fell on a perfect day we walked back to the Sloop Inn in Porthgain for something to eat before driving home.
We decided to explore more of the coast so drove down to the Stackpole estate owned by the National Trust on the Pembrokeshire coast, between the villages of Stackpole and Bosherton. We started our walk at Stackpole quay, a delightful little bay now used by fishermen and pleasure boats. There you can find tea rooms and toilets. We then walked along the coastal path to Barafundle bay. This walk takes you along high cliffs which are a haven for seabirds and occasionally choughs can also be seen here.
Barafundle Bay has the reputation of being one of the best beaches in the UK. To be honest we thought it pleasant enough but not fantastic – but then we are not ‘beach people’. It is accessed from the path by some steepish steps and is certainly very sheltered and has beautiful sands.
The exit from the beach is up some more steps through a lovely wooded area.
The walk continued along the cliff edge to Broadhaven beach where we turned inland to Bosherton Lakes, also known as the Lily Ponds locally. To reach these lakes we walked across the Stackpole Warren Dunes. These lakes were created by the Earls of Cawdor between 1780 and 1860. The lakes occupy 3 narrow valleys which were carved out by glacial meltwater in the carboniferous limestone of the area. They are important for the wildlife found there which includes otters, bats, birds and many wild flowers. It is also an important Stonewort area. Stoneworts are a type of green algae occurring in freshwater and may become calcified. Many British Stonewort species are under threat due to water pollution as they are very sensitive to nitrates and phosphates.
It is a beautiful area to walk around the lakes passing through many wooded areas. The walk back to the car park was across farmland and we went past the site of a standing stone but were unable to see it as it was hidden by a wood.
Back at the car park we had tea coffee and cake in the tea rooms (pretty rock and roll huh?) before heading home.