Tuesday, 5 January 2016

New Year weekend in Wales

Wednesday 30 December 2015
We were up early this morning.  Chris had spent the week with us for Christmas and was heading back down south, ready to start a new job as a bike mechanic and support crew with Forest Holidays.  We packed up our cars and said our goodbyes, only for him to ring us 10 minutes later that his car battery had died and he was stranded on the A49!  So we turned around to pick up the jump leads from home and drive to where he was parked in a lay-by.  The jump leads were - in a word - knackered, so I had to drive away and buy a new set!  It took a few attempts but eventually his car started and, with a warning not to turn the engine off until he reached home, we sent him on his way again (he made it safely home and replaced his battery).  Hopefully he'll sort the other mechanical issues out, or just replace the car for something more reliable!  We carried on to load Nido up, fill his water and diesel tanks; it was good to be back with him and we had our first look at his new awning in daylight, which looks great.  We stopped off on the way to visit Cathy's brother and his wife - Tony and Becky - in Mold before continuing our journey into Wales.  It rained on and off and there was plenty of evidence of past floods, although thankfully the worst had receded.  Our stop for tonight was a Britstop - number 332 for those that are members.  It was a small but very cosy country pub a few miles from Bala.  We arrived in time for lunch, which is our preferred main meal of the day and had a really tasty two-course meal.  The owners met on Lundy Island when he was head chef of the island pub.  The menu was mainly homely, well-cooked food and we were ready for it!  Cathy had some wine and I had a couple of pints of real ale - Merry X-Moose - made by a local brewery in Porthmadog.  It was lovely, a little like Christmas cake and at 5% it packed a punch.  We also made friends with Chips, the three-legged cat.  She'd had a tumour on her front right paw and had to have a whole leg amputated, but she seemed to be coping well.  She's clearly used to making friends with the customers, but I think was put off us when we ate all our food and didn't offer her any tit-bits! Gradually the pub emptied of lunchtime diners, so we sat in the warm, enjoying the log fire and chatting to the owners.  We had planned to pop back into the pub later that night for a drink, but after unpacking and a snooze, we didn't surface until much later, so decided to stay in the van, have a brew and a read and go back to sleep!

Thursday 31 December 2015
It was a cold night - when I started the van engine the outside temperature was 3'C - but we were warm under our double quilt and a furry throw.   Up at about 0830, we packed up the van and drove off to Lake Bala to have our breakfast with a view.  We parked up within a couple of metres of the lake and soaked up the view of the snow-capped hills, while the weather (wind and rain) swept in!  Cathy made a lovely breakfast of ham (left over from the Christmas gammon), eggs and muffins, enjoyed with a hot brew.  Back on the road, we drove past Dolgellau and onto the road along the estuary towards our stop for the next three nights - Graig Wen campsite.  We passed the site entrance and carried on driving down to the coastal village of Fairbourne.  It was blowing a hooley and raining quite hard so Fairbourne was looking a little battered, plus many of the houses were closed up for the winter.  But we found a car park overlooking the sea and parked up.  The waves were pretty big as they pounded the pebble beach and the wind and rain rocked the van.  We even had some thunder and lightning for effect!  But after a brew and a read we were ready to head for the campsite, via the local shop to buy a few goodies.  The welcome at Graig Wen was warm and we were soon pitched up, on electric and enjoying the warmth of the heater.   Cathy prepared our dinner in 'Oska' - salmon with cabbage, onion and lentils, ready to just switch on later, while I set up the laptop so we could watch Episode 1, Series 1 of 'The Bridge'.  We'd seen Series 3 and enjoyed it - in Swedish with English sub-titles - so wanted to go back and watch the others.  With a few snacks and a glass of red wine, the first episode went quickly.  By now the rain had stopped for a while and Cathy went for a snooze, although later the rain and hail started again!  Later in the afternoon a caravan plus two small campervans turned up; I think that's all the hard-standing pitches taken now.  It's clearly a popular site and a good job we booked in advance.  I'm sure the view from here is good, but with the wind and rain, plus a steamed-up windscreen, I can't see much.  The owners kindly invited us down to the communal camping area for the midnight of New Year's Eve, but I'm not sure we'll still be awake then - we've tried to stay up late before and always failed miserably!  If we don't make it to midnight, have a very happy New Year's Eve celebration.


Tiglet enjoying the view at Lake Bala

It's snowy on them thar hills!

Beach at Fairbourne

Our little Christmas tree!
Friday 1 January 2016
A new year has arrived and we're looking forward to the future.  True to form, we were in bed well before midnight, so missed the campsite celebrations.  Apparently there was singing, champagne corks popping and fireworks according to Cathy - I didn't hear a thing!  I felt a bit ill last night so went to bed early and slept through until about 0830 this morning.  By the time I woke up and surfaced, I realised it was too late to walk to Barmouth for the New Year's Day sea swim.  But at least the rain had stopped, although it was still quite windy and cloudy.  I got up and popped the heating on then scooted back under the duvet, then 15 minutes later was up, dressed and putting the kettle on for a brew.  I also sorted out our 'dockey' for our walk (incorrectly called 'bagging' in the grim north!).  I cooked us breakfast - ham, eggs and toasted muffins again - I think that's us now officially sick of the Christmas gammon!  While Cathy washed up and sorted inside, I emptied the grey and black fluids (the loo!) and topped up the fresh water tank.  Rucksacks packed, walking boots and coats on, we walked down the steep track, past the camping fields and towards the estuary.  

On the way down we passed the 'big drop' loo, locked up for the winter, but no doubt with a clear and fabulous view over the estuary and hills when in use!  Reaching the Mawddach Trail - which is a disused railway line now turned into a cycle and pedestrian track - we turned left and followed the path along the estuary.  A few people were out enjoying a New Year's Day walk and it was a good walk and scenery with not the merest hint of a hangover.  The tide was out so a few birds were on the mud flats.  The hills and trees to our left protected us from the wind and we soon warmed up.  About 40 minutes later we reached the railway station at Fairbourne, then followed the railway line across the estuary on a wooden walkway, towards Barmouth.  Away from the lee of the land, the full force of the wind hit us, but at least it was on our back although it felt a lot colder!  

As we approached the opposite side, it started to spit with rain and we passed the unoccupied toll point (30p per adult) and walked up to the main road, turning left to head into Barmouth, passing the "ISIS Pizzeria"!  By now we could see the weather heading in from 'our' side of the estuary as the wind and the cold rain increased.  Hang on - today's forecast was supposed to be cloudy and about 8'C - so where was this rain coming from? We walked along the old town harbour wall, before heading along the promenade, past the Lifeboat station (from where I guess today's sea-swim started) and towards the modern, grockly part of town with amusements and fast-food joints, before doubling back and heading uphill to explore some of the narrow streets of the old town.  By now the rain was hitting us sideways, mixed with hail, and when we reached the top of a particularly steep path and turned towards the view of the estuary and Fairbourne, we didn't hang about there long!  Dropping back down, we descended narrow steps between old buildings, some with great balcony views over the sea, before reaching the main street and retracing our route towards the rail bridge.  On the way we decided to duck into a pub to escape the weather and warm up, but it was very full so we decided to crack on.  

Back on the estuary bridge, the full force of the wind, rain and hail hit us face on and it stung!  We were soon drenched and by the time we reached the relative protection of the other side, we were feeling the cold.  Walking back along the trail, the rain stopped and we started to slowly dry off in the wind.  We stopped on the way for a brew and a mince pie, which did wonders for our morale and energy levels!  We continued along the trail, enjoying the view of the mountains and some of the lovely houses along the edge of the estuary, with the tide now well on the way in.  Just before the turn off for the campsite we stopped off at a bench overlooking the estuary to eat our lunch, then made our way back up the hill to the warmth of the van.  

We'd left the heating on low and the van felt toasty warm.  I sorted out the boots and rucksacks while Cathy unpacked inside.  She decided to shower in the van, while I went off to use the campsite showers - better than many we'd used in the past and lovely and hot!  Now both clean and warm and, with our damp clothes and towels drying, we had a brew before I prepared our dinner - duck breasts with celeriac, cabbage and sliced potatoes - again cooked in Oska.  While this cooked we had a welcome G&T, then enjoyed our dinner with a bottle of well chilled Cava and a candle on the table - who says you have to rough it in a camper van!  Washing up done, we settled down with a brew and a cookie or two to watch a couple of episodes of The Bridge.  By now the wind was increasing with the odd wintry squall, but we were toasty warm inside the van, sat in comfort in t-shirts.  It's these times that we really enjoy the comfort and protection the van provides.  We're both feeling weary and after a good 8 mile walk, we'll no doubt sleep well tonight.  Our faces are glowing from our walk, most likely from the strong wind and cold rain - good for the circulation!  So, 2016 has started, another year closer to retirement.  It was a typical New Year's Day for us - early night, no hangover in the morning and a bracing walk to welcome in the new year.  Happy New Year to you all!

View from the trail at the bottom of the campsite


Wonder if they sell an 'explosive' Vesuvius pizza!



Remoska - great bit of kit

'Roughing it' dinner in the van
Saturday 2 January 2016
Another lazy start today.  It had been a relatively calm night and was quite warm, so after breakfast (toasted bacon butties this time!), we dropped a flask and a twix into the rucksack and walked back down through the camping fields to the Mawddach trail, this time turning right towards Dolgellau.  At this point the sun came out oh so briefly, so we stood our ground and soaked it up for a few minutes. It was a much calmer day today with high clouds and flecks of blue sky and the estuary was like a mill pond as the tide gradually flowed in.  There were fewer people around today but still the usual mix of dog walkers and cyclists.  We followed the path for about an hour, stopping off at a small waterfall to toss a coin each in the pool and make a wish!  In this direction there are a number of picnic benches with great views of the estuary and hills, all cleverly equipped to take a wheelchair. At one we stopped for a brew and our twix, leaving a few crumbs for the robin that was taking an interest in our table.  Reversing our route, the clouds started to descend and the rain gradually increased, although we didn't get as wet as yesterday.

Back at the van, we chilled out with a few snacks and a drink, reading our Kindles.  I prepared our dinner - pork chops cooked above peppers, garlic and butter beans, including a sweet and sour sauce I cobbled together.  The Remoska really is a great piece of kit for cooking one pot when on EHU, retaining all the flavour and moisture.  We enjoyed this with a bottle of well-chilled Muscadet and our candle and napkins!  Later we watched some more of The Bridge before turning in for the night.

Look - the sun!

Cathy making her way down the bottom camping field

More sun!

Our break buddy


Sunday 3 January 2016
Home day today.  We woke to torrential rain and wind, so after a bacon and egg breakfast, Cathy tackled the packing and cleaning inside, while I donned my waterproof coat to empty our tanks, ditch the rubbish and unhook the electric cable.  We left the site at about 1130 and trundled our way back through heavy rain to return Nido to his storage home, before we returned to the house to unpack and get ready for the start of the new working week/year.

We enjoyed our few days away over New Year.  Despite the weather, we got out and about and really enjoyed all that Wales has to offer.  We can highly recommend the Graig Wen campsite.  As well as hardstanding pitches with EHU, they have various camping fields, plus self-catering cottages and a B&B offering.  The site is clean, well maintained and has great facilities.  The owners were very welcoming and there was loads of info about things to do, including walks, cycle routes and tourist attractions.  We particularly liked the 'honesty shop' - although we didn't use it, the range of goods was great, including local beers!  The owners have clearly invested a lot of time and effort into the site and this has paid off - we will certainly return.

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