Monday 24 April 2023

First trip of the year

 Fairbourne and Bodilan Fach Farm - 16 - 19 April 2023

We'd been itching to get away in the van, but the weather's been rubbish over the past few weeks. We planned on taking this trip a week ago, but wind, rain (and snow!) meant it was sensible to postpone.  But the weather forecast improved - at least the rain and strong winds had stopped - so we decided to take a chance.

After an expensive diesel fill-up, we drove one and a half hours south from Anglesey to the village of Fairbourne.  It's situated right by the beach at the southern end of the Mawddach estuary, just across rom the town of Barmouth.  Fairbourne is right down at close to sea level and is protected from the sea by a series of flood barriers. But it's been decided by the Welsh Government that maintaining them is too expensive and the village can't be saved if sea levels rise (and they will) so it's likely the place will eventually be abandoned and surrendered to the sea over the coming decades.  Given that, the occupants are finding it almost impossible to sell their houses and anyone who wants to buy here has to pay cash.  So the area is starting to look a little run-down, although reading the various noticeboards, there does appear to be a strong 'all in it together' community spirit.  The village seems to mainly be English retirees and holiday homes, handed down the generations. However, there did appear to be an active and noisy primary school, so perhaps not all is lost.....for now.

The beach is mainly large round pebbles up by the defences, with a long sandy stretch when the tide's out.  Behind the village are mountains and across the sea, to the left of Barmouth, is a view of the Llyn Peninsula.

Our first stopover was on something like a French aire.  It's actually the private car park of a closed hotel, but the owner's made use of the space and allows overnight stopovers, at a very reasonable cost of £5 for 24 hours, paid via the 'Pay by Phone' app.  He's also installed a motorhome service point, with black waste disposal and fresh water.  This is available to all but there is an honesty payment of £5, paid online via a QR code.  When we arrived, there were still a few Sunday trippers parked in their cars, but still plenty of room for us to pull in on what is a very level, tarmac parking area.  We were soon joined by a couple of other vans.  After some lunch we walked along the raised promenade heading north.  The middle section of the beach is no dogs from 1 April - 30 September, but dogs are allowed on the beach on either side of this.  The tide was out and we hobbled across the large round pebbles to walk on the wet sand.  There is a small ferry that sometimes runs at the end of this spit of land for the short crossing to Barmouth and it's the only way to get there from this point, unless you walk the 45 minutes back to the wooden train bridge which spans the estuary, or drive quite a few miles around.  At the end of the spit there's a cafe that services walkers and those using the small steam railway that runs from the station just by the aire.

The weather wasn't great - very grey and cloudy - but at least it wasn't raining or windy.  Back at the van, we chilled out before eating, then later took a walk in the other direction towards the main road and the mountains.  I had a chat with the owner of one of the vans. He and his wife had been away touring the UK for about 3 weeks and were planning on continuing until the end of May. We talked about the difficulty of finding places such as this to stay overnight, without the hassle of pre-booking a campsite and wished for many more of them. Although next to a road, the aire was very quiet and we slept well.

Good service point

Salty watching the little steam train from the aire

The next morning dawned still cloudy but at least a little brighter and warmer.  After breakfast we drove just a few hundred metres up the no-through road running alongside the beach to the car park at Fairbourne Golf Club.  They allow overnight parking for £10.  The parking area's hardcore with some muddy puddles, but we still found a dry, level spot, with lovely views towards Barmouth and the mountains.  The payment can be made in cash when the clubhouse is open, or via an honesty box at the entrance to the small golf course.  We spent our day walking the coastal path, which took us zig-zagging up the hillside to about 270m above sea level, with great views over the bay towards the Llyn peninsula and the mountains; Snowdonia would be visible on a clear day.  It was quite mild with no wind and we enjoyed the sporadic hits of sunshine.  On the way up we visited the Blue Lake, formed from the slate quarrying.  It's dark blue in colour, clear and about 15m deep.  It's no longer possible to get down to the small lake, but the views from above were lovely.  Carrying on the coastal path heading south, we made it to a group of standing stones, where we sat to have our snack and a cup of tea.  Leading down towards the coast from this point, we visited the clearly visible hut circles and the old enclosure at the high point.  Back on the path, we retraced our steps back to Fairbourne.  The ice cream parlour was open so we all enjoyed a well-earned ice cream, including Salty who loved his 'doggy' ice cream, chasing the tub around the floor with his tongue!  Back at the van, it was time for a cup of tea overlooking the views, then a bit of a snooze before eating.  We'd hoped to try one of the two takeaways in the village, but they're only open at the weekend.  There is a small bar that does food by the ice-cream parlour, but we didn't really fancy that.  So Cathy cooked up a risotto, using some sausages, onion, pepper, garlic and fresh kale from a friend's garden.  I popped in to the clubhouse to let them know I'd left money in the honesty box and thank them for allowing us to stay overnight.  They were very friendly and welcoming and explained the toilets at the back remained open all night.  The bar was warm and inviting with a good range of beers, so perhaps next time we might pop in for a nightcap.  We finished off the evening with a gentle stroll along the prom to loosen off our aching legs from the long walk.  Another quiet night.

View down towards Fairbourne and Barmouth

Blue lake

Golf club stopover

The next morning it was clear blue skies and bright sunshine, but the strong, north-easterly wind was wickedly chilly.  I took Salty out for his morning constitution and we returned to the van with cold tears in our eyes!  Our final stopover for this trip was at the CL on Bodilan Fach Farm, nestled in the Dysynni valley between mountains in the Snowdonia National Park.  It only took about 20 minutes to drive there, following the coastal road before cutting inland , following ever-smaller roads and lanes into a dead-end valley.  What a beautiful spot.  The CL is a grass area just past the farm, next to a fast flowing river.  It's pretty basic - fresh water tap and black waste dump - but that's all we needed and only £10 for the night.  There's also absolutely no phone signal here, which won't suit lots of people, but is perfect for us. I'd emailed the owners a few days before and had a very welcoming reply; I tried a couple of times at the house to say hello and pay the fee, but no doubt they were busy on the mainly sheep rearing farm.

We pitched up with our side door facing south to benefit from the strong sunshine, then made up a flask, grabbed some snacks and headed out for a walk.  We wandered up the lane before turning right and doubling back on ourselves along the footpath on the opposite side of the river.  The route followed the line of one of the many dry-stone walls that reminded us so much of Yorkshire.  Reaching a road, we stopped to read the monument at the derelict house of Mary Jones. A few minutes on, we reached St Michael's Church, which has a small exhibition dedicated to Mary Jones and her family. The story of Mary Jones and her Bible inspired the founding of the British and Foreign Bible Society. Mary Jones (16 December 1784 – 28 December 1864) was a Welsh girl who, at the age of fifteen, walked twenty-six miles barefoot across the countryside to buy a copy of the Welsh Bible from Thomas Charles because she did not have one. Thomas Charles then used her story in proposing to the Religious Tract Society that it set up a new organisation to supply Wales with Bibles. Together with the Welsh hymn writer Ann Griffiths (1776–1805), Mary Jones had become a national icon by the end of the nineteenth century, and was a significant figure in Welsh nonconformism.

We continued to follow the narrow lane heading south, soon arriving at the base of Castell y Bere.  The remains of the castle stand on a large rocky outcrop in the middle of an otherwise flat and featureless valley, with high mountains on either side.  Constructed by Llywelyn the Great in the 1220s, the stone castle was intended to maintain his authority over the local people and to defend the south-west part of the princedom of Gwynedd. In 1282, war with Edward I of England resulted in the death of Llywelyn's grandson, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, and Castell y Bere fell to English forces. Edward I expanded the castle further and established a small town beside it. In 1294 the Welsh leader Madog ap Llywelyn mounted a major revolt and the castle was besieged and apparently burnt. Edward did not repair it and it became ruined. It was cleared of undergrowth and the first archaeological dig completed in the 1850s.

We had a very enjoyable hour exploring the castle, finding a sunny spot out of the wind to enjoy our tea and snacks.  The last leg of our return journey continued along the lane we'd driven down earlier and back to the van, for a well-earned cup of tea sat in the sunshine, with Salty sleeping contendedly by our feet.  I made tonight's dinner - a simple salad with sausage and cheese toasties made in the Ridge Monkey. The sun had disappeared behind the mountain by 6pm, so after washing up we walked up the bridleway to see the sun on the distant mountains and he looked down the valley towards the sea.  The path continued on, traversing the hillside and promises further great walks when we return here....and we will. Tired from a couple of days of hilly walks, we read our books before falling asleep to the sound of the river rushing behind us.

The next morning was clear and sunny again, but still with that cool wind blowing.  We popped in to thank the owners and pay the fee, before heading north for home.  I needed to stop off in Llanberis to collect some climbing helmets from an outdoor shop for the search and rescue team I'm a member of.  V12 Outdoor are strong supporters of the various search and rescue teams in North Wales and provide us with a good discount on the various outdoor and rope safety equipment we need.  Their shop is well stocked and they're very knowledgeable - give them a try if you're in the town.  As we were in Llanberis, we took the opportunity to park up and have a walk around Llyn Padarn, a large lake surrounded by mountains, with Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) towering over them all.  After a quick panad back in the van, we made the short journey back home to Anglesey.

This was just a short trip, not too far from home.  But we enjoyed the change of scenery and it was good to get back in the van.  We'd forgotten how to do 'van life' after a long winter break and our 'To Do' list filled up with things we forgot to buy or need to do.  But we'll get back into the swing of it during a visit to the Lake District (and possibly Scotland) next month.  Until then...

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