Oh, the times we had! Disgraced in Barmouth but I found paradise at Shell Island.

I’ve been looking back over the blogs I wrote of my travels with Morgan and Jess around Wales and thought they were worth sharing again….

Barmouth is but a stone’s throw from Dogellau. It has a back drop of beautiful mountains and its beaches are sublime….. WP_20140611_14_26_00_Pro

……miles of sand and occasional sand dunes and, when the sea goes out, warm pools are left along the undulating beach, deep enough for the doggies to swim in. Back and forth they paddle, in a blissful world of their own. It is worth coming here just to see them so enjoy themselves. In the evening we walk along the north end of the promenade just to hear and watch the thundering boom of the waves as they crash against the harbour walls… WP_20140611_18_30_42_Pro

…but Barmouth is a victim of its beauty for every other shop caters for the massive invasion of holiday-makers which arrive in summer-time, with buckets and spades and wind-breaks for sale in every colour under the sun; a fairground; and donkeys on the beach.

It was quiet while I was there, in the middle of the week in June, but I’m reliably informed that when the schools break up for the summer holidays you will struggle to find a parking space anywhere along the miles of promenade after 9 a.m. in the morning.So, I’m glad we came when we did.

It was a twenty minute walk to the beach from where the camper van was hooked up. I carried a large cool bag slung over my shoulder, to carry water for the dogs and some lunch for me. On our last morning, I decide we’ll explore the town before going to the beach. I’m walking along with the dogs, hunting in vain for an interesting shop that doesn’t sell buckets and spades, when I am tapped on my shoulder from behind.

” I hope you don’t mind me telling you, love, ” says the woman, “but I thought you should know. Your bag has rucked up your skirt at the back. I can see your knickers!”

I wish for the sands of Barmouth to bury me. I never want to know how long I had been walking those streets with my nether regions exposed to all and sundry.  With my street cred in tatters, I go in search of somewhere a little less ‘touristy’ and closer to a beach, and so make my way up the coast to Shell Island.

Shell Island is not really an island anymore because the massive sand dunes have filled the space which once separated it from the mainland, though it still can only be reached across the causeway at low tide. The ‘island’ takes its name from the abundance of shells which get washed up on its shores. From January to June, just about every shell you can name is to be found here in such abundance it is impossible to walk along the  north shore of the island without crunching through stacks of them…. WP_20140614_13_01_14_Pro

Walking along this part of the beach is a treasure hunt, while on the southern part of the island the dunes are massive, and the sandy beaches stretch all the way back down to Barmouth….

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Shell Island is reputed to be one of, if not the, largest campsite in Europe. It covers hundreds of acres. But it is the views across to the Lleyn Peninsula in the west, and Snowdon in the north, which make this one of the most stunning camping locations I have been to. WP_20140617_20_09_25_Pro I take photographs but none do justice to the extraordinary and unspoilt beauty of this place. I arrived here as soon as the tide allowed on Saturday. Not the best time to arrive. Not the best of first impressions. I now know that what happens here on a Friday evening is that the whole of Birmingham and Liverpool (okay, this may be a slight exaggeration) descend upon Shell Island, with English flags fluttering on their wing mirrors, hoping to party through to Sunday morning. Luckily, the warden doesn’t like loud music, and especially doesn’t like it after 11 p.m.

One of the ingenious camp rules (along with No Caravans Allowed, snigger) is you can camp anywhere on the island as long as you allow 20 metres space between yourself and another camper; absolutely wonderful on a Sunday evening or weekday out of season but not so good on a Saturday with previously mentioned invasion, if you’re hoping for a pitch with views or that is anywhere near level. After driving around for a while, I soon realise that all the prime pitches have been taken and grab what I can.

I can’t see the sea or Snowdon from my van but I’m near the dunes and the beach. I park up, level up with the chocks as best I can, open the door and… groan… on one side of me is a bunch of lads, necking the lager, kicking the footie, and playing booming music from their car with the boot and doors open. Not far away from them is another group, screaming and shouting, English flags flying and radio blaring from one of their cars. Another rule of this campsite, in addition to ‘no loud radios’, is ‘no groups’. Obviously, these lads slipped through the net because they didn’t arrive in one vehicle; I counted four surrounding their tent.

I go for a walk with Morgan and Jess. We explore the fabulous dunes, which they love, and go and sit on the lovely beach where we can hear the sea and ache over the views.

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Why do some people think they can’t enjoy anywhere unless they are playing loud music and getting plastered? And why assume the rest of the world is going to enjoy their choice of music? And why come to such a stunningly beautiful place as this only to do exactly what they would have been doing if they’d stayed at home? Maybe I’m just getting old.

On our return from our walk, the volume of the music has been toned down by several notches. By 8 p.m., silence reigns. My guess is the group are either unconscious or the warden had a word. I’m told by people who come here often that it’s best to avoid coming here altogether once the schools break up and especially on bank holiday weekends.

But in between times, during the week, I am regularly pinching myself because it seems almost too good to be true.

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Guess what happens Sunday morning? The groups of lads and the noisy, squabbling families pack up their tents and start to leave! By lunchtime, most of them are gone and it is bliss. I spot a prime pitch that has been vacated and I bag it. I now have the most spectacular view out of my doorway, of Snowdon, from where I sit to write; a view out over the ocean and Lleyn peninsula from my cab window; and a view out over the sand dunes from my side window. If it wasn’t for the weekend crowds, I would want to stay here forever. We go and sit outside, Morgan, Jess, and me, and enjoy the sounds of the waves lapping the shoreline just below us, and gazing out over the Snowdonia range and the view of Harlech castle across the bay….

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Walking along the beach here at 9 p.m. in the evening, we are sometimes the only people here; not a soul to be seen in either direction for as far as the eye can see. At this time of day, the Lleyn Peninsula and Snowdon et al are silhouettes cast in varying shades of blue against a pale blue sky, and the sea is deep turquoise. By 9.30, the sun is going down and the sky above the Lleyn turns peach, then deep shades of deep orange and pink, while the mountains behind us to the east are rendered purple.

After dark, parts of the shoreline of the peninsula glitter with the lights of its harbours. Like a child, I don’t want to sleep; I want to lie there gazing out of the little window over my bed the whole night long.

Every morning, we go for a lovely walk from the south beach to the harbour in the north. I tell myself I will not look at the shells, I will not look at the shells, but I can’t help myself; I’m like a kiddy in a sweet shop. There are stacks of them left behind by the tide every morning. Then we sit for a while and watch Snowdon swathing herself in mantles of cloud and just as quickly throwing them off again.

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When we get up in the morning, Snowdon and her sisters are rendered pale-blue, ghostly peaks emerging from the mists. The sky is blue. The sea is calm, ripples shimmering in the early morning sunshine. A solitary skylark warbles overhead. A wave laps the shoreline. All is right with the world.

Jenny Lloyd is the Welsh author of The Megan Jones trilogy, historical suspense novels set in early, 19th century, rural Wales.

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You can read about the books and purchase them by clicking on the links below.

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The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd

Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/i1sy302jXXK

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I went in search of some souls and found my self again.

One thing I hoped to see less of when I came inland from the coast was static caravans. But, somehow, I’ve ended up on a site that has regimented rows of them along with seasonally pitched touring caravans. So packed is this site that I feel I am the filling in a caravan sandwich. Worst of all, 90% of all these caravans were empty, on my arrival. Now it is Sunday evening, and the few people that were staying here have left and it is like a ghost town. Once upon a time, apparently, this site was lauded in one of those ‘top campsite’ camping guides. Times have changed, the statics have taken over along with seasonal pitches and the place has lost its soul. It’s a shame because the location is stunning; you just can’t see much of it for the caravans all around you, packed together so tight that if I put up my awning (not that I will be doing that again for a while) it would be right up against the caravan alongside me.

The site is run by a woman with military zeal. Every half hour, she marches up and down between the rows, scowling and frowning at each caravan she passes, looking for some breach of caravan site rules. When not on parade, she is in and out of the utility block, checking to see if anyone has done something unspeakable in there in her brief absence.

She stops by my camper van and asks if I’m planning any trips out during my stay. She returns half an hour later to say that her husband says I can’t possibly drive my vehicle to see the waterfalls because the road is too narrow; and as for the mountain road to Bala, well, her husband would never allow her to drive that road alone. Obviously, neither she or her husband know that I’ve cut my camper-van driving teeth on the road to hell. The other thing they don’t know about me is that if I hear anyone tell me I can’t do something, I get all uppity and narky. I guess I’ve been told ‘you can’t do that’ one time too many in my life.

The sun appeared this morning for what must be the first time in over a week, and I woke up in a ‘we SHALL go to the waterfall, SO!’ kind of mood. I started out early, in the hope of beating the crowds. I stayed so long that by the time I left in the afternoon, the car-park had overflowed and there was a steady stream of new arrivals every minute. Needless to say, I gathered a good deal more vegetation on my hub-caps along the 5 miles of narrow lane to the nearest village.

The waterfall at Pistyll Rhaedr is sublime. WP_20140601_10_00_30_Pro

There is a path which goes up beyond the falls and into the Berwyn mountains beyond. This is the land of Arthurian legend and Celtic myth and it transcends any mountain landscape I’ve hitherto been…

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…this little footbridge crossed a tumbling mountain stream where the dogs took a swim in a rocky pool…

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…we sat for a long time gazing at the views down to the valley below the falls and up toward the mountains…

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… hunger took me back down to the falls and the tearooms in the little house there. I ordered a pot of tea and a slice of Bara Brith and was filled with wonder as a little green finch hopped up onto the table and took crumbs from my hand. A nuthatch then darted up and peered at me from the post beside my seat.

I talked for a time with the charismatic custodian of this magical place and he informed me of this site’s significance to the early druids. There is a small and exclusive campsite here, for the spiritually minded only, and a spiritual retreat for those who are feeling lost and adrift and needing to reconnect with themselves.

There is a special atmosphere to this place, something beyond the ordinary, something magical and mystical.

If you want to read a fascinating account of the myths and legends which surround this fabulous and remote part of Wales, follow this link;

http://www.pistyllrhaeadr.co.uk/berwyns.html

Jenny Lloyd is the author of the Megan Jones trilogy of novels, historical suspense set in early 19th century, rural Wales.

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You can read about the books and purchase them by clicking on the links below.

Leap the Wild Water: http://ow.ly/jEoi302jXkd

The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd

Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/i1sy302jXXK

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Snakes in the grass, the journey from hell, and a host of hungry blood-suckers!

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I went to a little beach at Tresaith to see the waterfall spouting out of the cliffs. There, I met a couple from the valleys, Eira and Jim, who were watching as I maneuvered ‘the beast’ into a tight spot in the car-park. We got chatting, as you do.

“Ooh, I think you’re very brave going it on your own!” says Eira. “You be careful, now, and don’t go talking to any strange men!”

I explained I had done that already, and told her about the man who was anticipating my arrival somewhere in the south of France. He used to be a coach driver and had driven all over Europe. Now he was retired but went abroad in his camper as often as he could.

“You come down to the south of France and we’ll have some fun!” he said to me. “The last woman I took up with drank vodka from the bottle and chain-smoked, and I thought to myself, I can’t be doing with this so I told her goodbye. It’s a while now since I ventured with a woman but I’m up for it if you are.”

“Well, um, er…”

While I am stuttering at the brazenness of his approach, he continues.

“How old do you think I am? Go on, guess!”

Too old even for me, is what I am thinking. I hazard a guess that he is in his late seventies but tell him I think he is 67 because I have a kind heart.

“Eighty-two!” he says, triumphantly.

He proceeds to give me directions to a place in the south of France that I have already forgotten the name of.

“How big was his camper van?” Eira asks me, with a shrewd stare, when I relate this meeting to her.

I tell her it was not very big and a bit of a rust bucket, to be honest; thirty years old, at least.

Eira sucks air between her teeth. “Ew! He was after your camper van, the old devil! You mind, in future, if you meet another like him, you say to him; never mind your bank balance, how big is your camper van, eh?”

So there we are. In this nomadic world I have entered, men shall henceforth be measured and judged by the size of their camper vans.

Oh, but I haven’t told you about the less than fond farewell I received before I left for Tresaith. I was bitten while taking the chocks from beneath my wheels.  It hurt like hell, at the time, and my middle finger swelled up and turned blue-back. I didn’t see the varmint that bit me but now wonder if it could have been a snake. I had seen a dead one run over on the lane above the campsite, so know there are snakes in that area; also, I could see two small puncture wounds, after the swelling and bruising have gone away. It can’t have been  venomous, whatever it was, because I didn’t feel ill.

I left Tresaith on the coastal road north to Aberystwyth, collecting profuse amounts of cow-parsley on my hub-caps as I meandered along the narrow lanes. I stopped for some provisions in Aberystwyth, before starting out on a drive which tested my nerves to the utmost degree. As I drove through the biblically named villages of Moriah, Pisgah, and Zion (the names of chapels where I come from), I was about to discover why the need for God was so strong in this part of the world. I called upon him a few times, myself, on the next leg of my journey.

You are a madwoman, Jenny Lloyd, I tell myself as the road climbs ever upwards, twisting and turning through cloud shrouded mountains. Falling away to the side of me, at every bend, I glimpse the looming precipitous fall down to the valleys far below. This terrifying ordeal goes on for miles and miles and miles. I know that I am missing spectacular views but I dare not take my eyes from the road for more than a second at a time. There is only one sensible way to travel such a road, in my opinion, and that is with two feet planted firmly on the ground.

This was the road to Devil’s Bridge. Or was it after? I cannot remember, now. I recall it as one does a nightmare; in snatches of terrifying clarity, the rest is rendered in a traumatized haze.

Eventually, the ordeal ends and I enter the stunning Ystwyth valley, along a narrow mountain road rated by the AA as one of the most beautiful in the world. Was the journey worth the destination? Here is the view from my camper van door;

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In every direction the views are achingly beautiful.

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This rural idyll was marred by just one thing. Across the road, at the farmhouse, a builder is building a stone wall around a concrete building. He has the boot of his car open, the better to hear the booming blare of his radio. You can hear it all the way down this remote and otherwise peaceful valley.

There is only one other vehicle on the camp site and it is parked as far away from the din as possible. I go and park beside them, feeling like a heel; until I came along, they had the entire campsite to themselves. I am dismayed to discover that I can still hear the radio booming unless I close all the doors and windows.

The builder is dishearteningly conscientious. At five ‘o’ clock, when I am thinking he will surely now call it a day, my heart sinks when I see him mixing another load of cement. At six, he turns off the radio, but carries on working until eight, just as the rain arrives.

This morning, it is still raining and the thermometer tells me it is eight degrees outside my cosy, heated van. I open the door to admire what must be one of the most beautiful campsite views in the country, and am greeted by a swarm of midges that have obviously been waiting for this moment for some time. An alarming number rush inside before I have time to slam the door on them. I don’t know what my camping neighbours must have thought as I hopped around inside the van, clapping my hands in the air, determined to kill every last one of the blighters.

They are out there now, swarms of them, head-banging at the windows, hungry as hell for the blood of a Welsh woman. I’m praying they will go away, and that the rain will stop. If only I could remember the directions to that place in the south of France…..

Jenny Lloyd is the author of the Megan Jones trilogy of novels, historical suspense set in early 19th century, rural Wales.

Leap the Wild Water new book cover meadow    The Calling of the Raven updated book cover    Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg

You can read about the books and purchase them by clicking on the links below.

Leap the Wild Water: http://ow.ly/jEoi302jXkd

The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd

Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/i1sy302jXXK

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No sense of direction, no Satnav, I’m the lost and clueless sort.

I was chatting to a man in Aberaeron and he asked where I was headed from there. I’m off to a place called Mwnt, I said, where there is a remote little church upon the cliffs above Cardigan. I got married in that little church, he said, surprising me. It was a long time ago, mind, there was nothing else there back then. No caravans, no National Trust shop selling ice cream. I’m making a detour first, I said, to the National Wool museum. What a detour that turned out to be!

I have a reputation for having no sense of direction and hence, for getting lost. I missed a few turns I should have taken but got to my destination, eventually. Along the way, I passed through some beautiful scenery and there was one stretch of the road which for miles was edged on either side with hedgerows bedecked with flowering laburnums. It was a breathtakingly beautiful stretch of road but sadly I couldn’t find a safe place to pull over to take photographs.

The museum was interesting, filled with old machinery which took the processing of wool from fleece to finished cloth. It was on leaving here that I took a major wrong turn and ended up at a crossroads on the top of some remote hill. Not one of the remote places on the finger-posts could I find on my map so I turned around and headed back to the museum. Now back on the right road, I passed through Cenarth, over a narrow, humped back bridge which traversed the river Teifi. The view upstream was spectacular with the river tumbling down over falls where salmon can be seen leaping in the season.

As I headed north out of Cardigan, I stopped at a petrol station and asked the genial, young man at the till if I was very far from my destination of Mwnt.

“Ah, well, now then, that depends!” says he.

“On what?”

“On how far you want to go. If you carry up to Aberporth then double back, now, that is the long way round and will take about half an hour. But if you take the right turn just as you go out of here, then you’ll be there in five minutes.”

I begin to wonder if he is slightly unhinged because it seems like a no-brainer to me and I tell him I will take the short route.

“Ah, but, you see, if you go that way, well, it’s a bit tricky, see. It’s a very narrow lane, like, and you might come upon a tractor and then where will you be? Which one of you is going to reverse, isn’t it? There aren’t many passing places, see?”

Indeed, I did see, and ask what he would do if he were me, given that I am driving a large motor home.

“I’d give it a go, isn’t it? It’s raining, see, so you should be alright. If it was sunny, though, well there’d be tractors all up and down that lane, see, cutting the silage, isn’t it?”

He shows me in a map book; which turns to take, and where, along this little lane. I thank him, explaining I have already got lost once today. “Perhaps I should get myself a Satnav!” I exclaim, thinking I certainly should.

“Oh, dear,  no, you don’t want to be using one of those around here, it’ll likely lead you over the nearest cliff!” he says, with manic glee.

I buy his map book. It is a Navigator map book and shows all the little lanes I might get lost in. Just the thing I need.

I thank him again and make to leave.

“No worries! We get lots of your sort around here!” he says.

I assume that by ‘my sort’, he means clueless and lost. He then begins to relate a tale about a man who staggered into his garage, one evening, eyelids drooping with fatigue, and asking if, pray to God, he was anywhere near Swansea.

“And I broke it to him gently, like, isn’t it? I said, well, no, not exactly. You have a while to go, yet. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he had another hour and a half to go! He’d been up over some mountains, somewhere, after taking a wrong turn off the motorway. Pitiful sight, he was.”

Duly warned of the dangers of taking wrong turns, I follow his directions to Mwnt along a web of narrow criss-crossing lanes to a farm overlooking the sea. Not that I could see the sea as it was shrouded behind a veil of torrential rain. I arrived here at 3pm and it was still raining seven hours later. A strong wind picked up, too, towards night. I know this because I made the mistake of unwinding the awning so my route in and out of the door would be sheltered from the rain. Having unwound it, I was unable to reel it in again when the wind picked up. So, I went to bed to the sound of the thwack and slam of the awning knocking against its supports. I was surprised to find it still there in the morning, and a little brute force from the helpful proprietor got it reeled in again.

As the rain had passed, I sat on my step to eat my breakfast toast and these beady-eyed little chaps turned up to share it with me;WP_20140525_07_06_12_Pro__highres

Today, we climbed to the top of the conical hill of Mwnt; a precarious climb for one such as me, as I have a dizzy head for heights. It was worth the effort and the terror, though. The slopes were smothered in wild flowers…

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and the whitewashed church was beautiful in its simplicity…

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… the view from the coastal path across the bay was lovely…

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…if you use binoculars, you might just see the little church perched above the cliffs!

Mwnt was invaded, unsuccessfully, by the Flemings in 1155. It is said that the site of the church dates to the Age of the Saints, though the present church is possibly 14th century. It has a font cut from the stone of the Preseli mountains (as is Stone Henge).

Jenny Lloyd is the author of the Megan Jones trilogy of novels, historical suspense set in early 19th century, rural Wales.

Leap the Wild Water new book cover meadow     The Calling of the Raven updated book cover     Anywhere the Wind Blows Book Cover - jpg

 

You can read about the books and purchase them by clicking on the links below.

Leap the Wild Water: http://ow.ly/jEoi302jXkd

The Calling of the Raven: http://ow.ly/4uRO302jXmd

Anywhere the Wind Blows: http://ow.ly/i1sy302jXXK

Follow me:

Twitter; https://twitter.com/jennyoldhouse

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Pinterest; http://www.pinterest.com/jennyoldhouse