Friday 24 July 2020

Camping in Cynwyd, Denbighshire

Tuesday 21 July 2020 
Nido's parked up at the very peaceful and beautiful Felin Uchaf campsite, in the village of Cynwyd, which is just south of Corwen in Denbighshire. We have the site to ourselves and the friendly owner has been across for a chat. It's a Camping and Caravanning Club 'Certified Site' with 5 pitches available to club members. 

This is our first trip away since some of the lockdown restrictions were lifted in Wales. Campsite facilities still remain closed until later this month, but as we're self-sufficient we're allowed to stay. We did go away for a few days in February, to New Quay in Ceredigion, which was Salty's first trip away in the van. But the weather was pretty dreadful and, apart from a couple of hours on the beach, we were stuck inside most of the time. It did feel a bit strange leaving Anglesey this morning, the first time we've been off the island for 5 months. It's also taking some time get used to the van routine again - what goes where, what switches to press and so on, but we'll soon get back into the swing of it! 

We left home at 1000 this morning for the 1.5 hour journey here. We'd packed up most things in the van yesterday. Salty seemed off his food last night and this morning and we eventually worked out that he wasn't sure if he'd be coming with us - bless him! He does love being inside the van and has a choice of several different snoozing areas (none of which are on our bed though!). The roads through Snowdonia were fairly quiet; a marked contrast to the weekend just gone, when the crowds descended (and ascended). The Police had to eventually take charge of the cars parked along narrow roads (so that emergency vehicles could get through) and I heard the illegally parked cars were all issued tickets. 

The 5 pitches here are all hardstanding and we were soon parked up, electric plugged in and kettle on. A cuppa was in order first thing, sat outside under a cloudy but warm sky. We also enjoyed some bara brith made by our next-door-neighbour. We had a bit of an explore of the river (Afon Trystion) that runs just below the campsite and, walking upstream, discovered the Rayadfa Cynwyd (waterfalls) next to the mill house where the owners of the campsite live. It's a beautiful waterfall with a small but quite deep pool at the base - perfect for a dip after a hot day walking in the mountains! Salty took advantage and really enjoyed sliding down the rocks into the water! He was a bit timid with water when we first got him, but loves a dip and zoom now. 

We walked out of the site and followed the road running up the side of the valley, with some lovely drystone walls and ancient trees. We stopped half way on a long bench (perfect for social distancing!), before reaching the reservoir, where Salty again had a swim and a bit of a crazy run around. Back down the hill to the site, by the time we returned the sun was starting to break through and we sat outside with another cuppa. I'd prepared most of our meals at home yesterday, so they just need warming up. We were hungry so had an early meal of dhal and naan before sitting outside reading and snoozing. Later on we went back to the waterfall, which was now bathed in beautiful hot sunshine and had a paddle. We followed the rocky path up to the next level and discovered another waterfall and pool above the first one. Supper was a cup of tea and some toasted crumpets and butter and we're now relaxing in the van, listening to the silence. 

I've mentioned Salty and this is the first time he's appeared in the blog. He's a Patterdale Terrier and about 18 months old. We adopted him last December from a rescue centre in South Wales. Just a few days before, he'd come over from Ireland. We don't know his full history, apart from he hadn't spent much of the first year of his life outside, so even grass was new to him and we had to teach him how to play with his toys. He was quite timid but has settled very quickly and is now a full (and the most boisterous) member of the team! He loves running on the beach and in the dunes, although he does tend to bolt if he sees people and other dogs - he's too sociable for his own good! 

We're here until Friday and plan to do some walking over the next couple of days, so long as the weather holds. There's no phone signal so I can't check the forecast, but it also means there's no temptation to check up on the news or Twitter - a bit of a social media break, which is no bad thing. It does feel a bit strange writing this blog after such a long break; I've not written since our month in France last year, so it'll take a bit of time to get back into the swing of it. Reading this back, it does feel a bit like a narrative, so I'll need to up my game and penmanship! We're all very sleepy now, so an early night I think, ready for what I hope will be an enjoyable walk in the Berwyn mountains tomorrow. 

Interesting fencing

Wednesday 22 July 2020 

It rained softly and gently in the night and morning brought a cloudy sky but a warm day. Today's plan was a circular walk through the forest and into the Berwyn mountains, about 8 miles in total. 

The first section was a repeat of yesterday - following the 'North Berwyn Way', up the steep road and past the reservoir. We continued on past some smallholdings and into Cynwyd Forest, dark and thick with mature pine trees. The valley sides were steep and the path traversed this, before dropping down onto one of the many tracks used by the lorries to remove the chopped trees. Quite a bit of forestry was ongoing, although the heavy machinery used to access, cut and move the trees had made a dreadful mess of the ground. In some places the trenches from the tracks were over 2ft deep and filled with mud and water. As we like to say....'custodians of the countryside my a**e!'. It was sad to see the forest turned into such a quagmire. 

We left the forest behind and climbed steadily along a stony track into heather moor - as far as the eye could see. There was little to break up the monotony of the hills, except for the odd lonely pine tree and areas of heather that had been cut to no doubt favour the grouse shooting up here. We were hit by a short, sharp shower that we watched creep up to us from the valley to the west, so had to don waterproof jackets for a while. We walked up to the ridge line, where the North Berwyn Way turned left to reach the summit of Moel Fferna. We instead turned right and followed a barely visible path through heather, with boggy, peaty ground to our right, following a wire fence steadily uphill. This was quite hard going as we couldn't see where we were placing our feet and I slipped over once, falling in slow motion to a soft landing in the heather, accompanied by a chuckle behind me (and it wasn't Salty laughing!). We stopped at the summit - Cerrig Coediog - for lunch, sheltering from the wind behind a small, rocky outcrop, looking east towards even more heather-clad hills, with not a building in site. The sun broke through and stayed with us for the rest of the walk. 

Descending, we met up with the local warden and his assistant, who advised us that our return route was 'quite challenging' - he wasn't wrong! We could see our target - a light-coloured track in one corner of Cynwyd Forest. But the route followed a rough line along the edge of several streams. The problem was, there was no defined path and we had to walk through heather, gorse, chest high bracken and wetland bogs! It took a couple of hours, lots of re-checking of the route on the map, some very wet feet and quite a bit of swearing! It was really hard going and, had I known the terrain would be like that, I would probably have just reversed back the way we came. But we made it eventually for a long walk back along forest tracks and the road past the reservoir, back to the campsite. 

We were pretty shattered and aching, but a hot shower, a pre-cooked chicken curry and some alcohol helped deaden the pain. Even Salty was soon snoring in his favourite chair in the van. An early night was had by all! 

Destroyed forest undergrowth

View from our lunch spot

The walk off back to the forest - through 'challenging terrain'!

Thursday 23 July 2020 
We all slept well after our epic walk yesterday. It was agreed we'd try and give featureless grouse moors a miss on future walks....and I agreed to stick to clearly defined footpaths when planning them! After a hearty breakfast (Salty enjoyed a little piece of toast and butter too), we walked 5 minutes down the road to the village of Cynwyd. The village has a compact centre with a square at its centre. There used to be two pubs until recently, but only the Blue Lion is still in business, currently closed due to COVID-19. The Spar shop and Post Office was doing good trade though. There seemed to be a lot of renovation work going on in the small terraced cottages and the village had a nice community feel. 

Our walk today was much gentler, starting in large, open fields, silage recently cut and gathered in. The path ran alongside the river Dee as it winds its way towards Chester via Corwen. There was plenty of wildlife, including quite a few geese in the fields and on the river. The wide, flowing river, open fields, abundance of mature trees and old, stone buildings really had the feel of the Dordogne - green, timeless and ignorant of current world events. With no mobile phone signal, it's been lovely to forget about the news for a few days and just enjoy the peace and quiet of this part of Wales. The footpath eventually joined the old railway line, which is part of the North Berwyn Way we followed yesterday. The railway line and sleepers have all been removed and nature has been allowed to reclaim it, with just a grassy path to walk through. The route took us north, again following the Dee, towards Corwen. The line reaches the very busy A5 about a quarter of a mile from Corwen and, not wanting to walk along a road full of HGVs, we reversed our route back to the village. 

On the way back up to the campsite, we met again with the owner, who was cleaning a cottage they own and are about to rent out. We had a good natter about the village and what goes on in the area; it seems community is a big part of life here, which is lovely to see.  

The rest of the day has been spent lazing around the van, reading and snoozing. Dinner was a steak of beef skirt, a cut often known as the 'butcher's cut'. It's very tasty although not as tender as some steaks, but it cooked really well. I made a salad and some garlic bread to go with it, enjoyed with a glass of rosé. Salty has spent most of the afternoon and evening (and still is) asleep on the passenger seat - his favourite spot. I think we've really worn him out the past few days! 

Tomorrow we head home. It's been good to get away even only for a few days, and not that far from home. We've enjoyed relaxing in and around the van again and exploring a part of Wales we haven't visited before. I'd recommend the area and particularly the campsite - Felin Uchaf - thanks Nan and Gwyn for a warm welcome and enjoyable stay. Hopefully if we visit again the village pub will be open and we can a pint after our next walk.

River Dee

Enjoying a paddle

Old railway line to Corwen

BBQ time!