In contrast to the glorious weather of the previous few days, we woke to a driech morning, with the mist and mizzle obscuring the views we knew were out there. We had slept well after our ride and did not wake until gone 7.00. It did not take us as long to get ready for the day, already falling into the routine and practicalities of vanlife. The benefit of touring with the van, is that unlike bike/camp touring, when there is a day of miserable weather, we can make progress in comfort and not have to battle the elements enduring, rather than enjoying the journey.
We left St Anne’s Head and retraced our steps back to the pretty harbour town of Dale and headed back to Haverfordwest (pronounced locally as Haffordwest). It is over 30 years since we lived here and it is always strange revisiting a place which was once so very familiar, but of course now much changed in the intervening three decades, which disorientates until there is a familiar landmark to hook on to. We passed through towns and villages to be reminded of place names that once formed part of our regular conversation, but had not crossed our minds since leaving the area and now bring back memories so clear it is as if no time had passed at all.
We headed northwards, skirting through the town of Fishguard, which is both a quaint coastal town, and major ferry port. On the approach from Haverfordwest, the roads are clearly built to accommodate a constant flow of traffic, however once past the ferry port into the old town, the narrow roads wind round and necessitate taking turns to pass at certain points where it is only possible for one vehicle to navigate. We made a brief stop just outside and above the town, the viewpoint lay-by set aside to show off the town at it’s best; alas the grey day did it no favours today though.
We drove onwards, still heading north, certain that the day was trying to get brighter and stopped to stretch our legs and have a look around Cardigan, a once major trading hub, but now the main draw for visitors is the castle, though personally I think that Pembroke Castle has more bang for your buck.
After Cardigan our route took us along the coast with lovely views and we felt sure there were definite signs that it was brightening a little. The roads were fair enough, though a little windy and though two way, still not a lot of room when meeting a large oncoming vehicle. It was along the route to Aberystwyth that we came to a flock of MAMILs which given the lack of clear road ahead and our less than speedy acceleration, we were forced to follow them for some time before risking an overtake. We spotted them later in Aberystwyth clearly congratulating themselves on a ride well ridden.
We had a little meander around Aberystwyth, promenading the full length of the Promenade and exploring the castle ruins at the far end. Being a university town, it was clear that the students were preparing to leave for the summer, such was the bustle of vehicles being packed up. The town itself is somewhat faded and in need of some TLC. We did note that the lovely Old College building is currently being renovated which is positive.
From Aberystwyth we travelled on to Machynlleth, which from recollection, I think means ‘Chair in the Sky’ and we certainly did feel like we were up in the clouds. We did not stop here, but used to visit frequently when we lived in the area and know that it is a charming little town, best known for the Centre for Alternative Technology which is located outside of the town itself, but used to run a lovely whole food cafe in the High Street. We drove on toward Dolgellau, and just about spotted our old house located up the hill overlooking the town, again we did not tarry as we wanted to make our intended overnight stop before it got too late, so we drove on to Fairbourne and right to the end of the Mawddach Estuary.
We have been using the Park4Night app which had recommended this place, with the last positive review of it as an overnight stop being logged only a week ago. After parking up eating supper, we took a walk along to the little station for the narrow gauge railway that runs from the village centre, and then wandered along the beach which we had to ourselves other than a couple of riders galloping their horses at the far end. We took the road way back to the van and on the way noted that the lay-by that was also listed in park4night now had ‘no overnight camping’ signs displayed and on returning to the van saw that there were some of the same signs in that area, though it was not clear whether they were referring to a lower gravelled area as they were each side of the entrance way. This gave us a dilemma, we had both had a little snifter with supper so would not want to drive, so do we risk it given the isolation of the location. As we sat in the van, a lady wandered round and asked us if we were parking there overnight; not knowing whether she was someone officious, we were cagey in our response, saying that we had hoped to. It turned out she and her friend were in the same situation as us, having used the app were now wondering whether to risk staying – we said we were intending to as it was getting late, so we all settled in to our respective vehicles. Mr V was though a little on tenterhooks for the rest of the evening, every time a car drew up he had to have a peep to see if he could judge whether they were benign. As it turned out, there was no late night knock on the door and we woke to a beautiful sunrise over one of our favourite views up the Mawddach Estuary.
Our plan for the day was to peddle up the length of the estuary to Dolgellau and back, along what used to be the railway line. We parked at Morfa Mawddach, which back in the day was a major railway junction, but is now a busy little car park for those with the same intent as us. There is still evidence of it’s past life, but nothing to indicate what a bustling place it once was. Mr V’s family lived in this area, indeed they occupied two of the houses on the approach to the car park, and such was the amount of time that his great uncles spent in the public house at the station, it was evidently known locally as the ‘Vaughton Arms’. Indeed his Great Grandfather was the county surveyor and it is said that the milestones in the county are often placed suspiciously close to the public houses.
The Mawddach trail which follows the old line is now a haven for wildlife and is all peace and tranquility as we peddled along taking in the spectacular views and enjoyed feeling the sunshine beginning to warm the day.
As the going is flat, we made good time and quickly reached the very pretty Penmaenpool which still has the railway signal, though the station building is now a pub/restaurant and the signal box an RSPB post.
Not far along from this is the crossing over the main road and then shortly after we reach the market town of Dolgellau, with which we are familiar having lived here when the children were young. The one way system saw us going around the town, and offered the opportunity to see if our favourite bakery was still open – to our joy, it was, and they still make the much craved honey buns so off I hopped and procured two fresh buns for our morning coffee.
The ride so far had been flat and easy going, and quicker than anticipated so we checked with ViewRanger to extend the ride and give us a bit of a challenge. We decided on a vaguely circular route up the hills behind the town towards a pretty spot at Cregennan Lakes, with the option of a steep quick decent back to Morfa or to retrace our steps along the estuary.
We peddled on through the back of Dolgellau which sits in the shadow of Cader Idris, and out up towards the hills; we ascended at a consistent gradient ever upwards that had us puffing, but not over exerted. The sun was out and the scenery was quite lovely. As we rose, the woodland gave way to the more rugged and mountainous terrain that shows the evidence of generations of sheep farming with dry stone walls criss-crossing and the remains of long disused sheep pens that must have taken considerable effort to build in the long forgotten past.
We reached Cregennan Lakes in good time, this area is owned and cared for by the National Trust and for those who know it, will often spot it used as a backdrop for many a mystic film. The lakes are surrounded by hills and there is a small enigmatic island which adds to the atmospheric imagery. Indeed if you listen carefully, I swear you can hear Enya’s dulcet tones carried on the wind!
We stopped in the shelter of a little rocky nook overlooking the lakes to soak up the loveliness and savour our much anticipated honey buns, which after the disappointment of the pikelets a couple of days ago, were all the more delicious.
As we had made good time, and still felt fresh despite the climb, we opted to retrace our steps rather than the short steep descent directly down to Morfa. This turned out to be a joyous long freewheel almost all the way back to Dolgellau, where we completed the circuit of the town and headed back down the estuary, which by now was rather busy with other cyclists and walkers enjoying the scenery.
We got back to the van in good time, and after packing Twolula in the back were delighted that a parking space had opened up behind us allowing us to reverse, so making our departure much easier in the limited space of the car park. Over a cup of tea we reviewed our options for the night, our intended destination being the Llyn Peninsular where we had identified a circular day ride. Many of the park4night options seemed to now prohibit overnight parking, though one option did allow for this at a £20 charge. In the end we opted for a camp site for the same cost, which also included the usual facilities. We set off and arrived at our destination which is a farm close to the scarily named Hell’s Mouth Bay, and parked at the far end of the field before enjoying gloriously hot showers and a lovely supper accompanied by a cooling G&T as the sun set. Bliss…