Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

Walks around Barmouth in different decades

2nd August 2016

Currently, I find myself in uncertain times. The cause is the recent vote on Britain’s membership of the European Union when a small yet significant majority supported leaving it. As someone who hails from the Republic of Ireland, that adds doubt to the prospect of my remaining where I have lived for more than twenty years. My being a non-British national making use of my rights to freedom of movement is but a part of this. Such has been the nature of public discourse during the referendum campaign that this no longer feels like home and I feel less a part of a place where I have felt acceptance before now.

All this is enough to cause me to stop and review my life situation, especially with the need to complete outstanding family business in Ireland after the change of last year. A career break would be welcome and it might allow me to ponder next steps. Obtaining British citizenship is one option that I am exploring seriously and moving to another EU country like Germany could be another. After all, it could make a good base for exploring the Alps, as would Switzerland (though it is not in the EU) if opportunities arise there. Either would be a big change since my explorations of Britain would be much reduced and the focus of this blog and the whole website would change dramatically as a result.

Considerations like these were non-existent a decade ago when I considered myself an integral part of British society. That sense of settlement was enough to allow me to spend much time to be exploring the delights of hill country in Scotland, Wales and England. Many of those inspired entries on here and there are more to relate. One from November 2014 reminded me of another from the middle of the last decade, a simpler time that even pre-dated the existence of this blog. With all the current tumult, it is good to think back to then because recollections of happier times help us to get through the tougher ones that come our way from time to time.

A Spring Bank Holiday Weekend

Memories are faded now but I reckon that the occasion was in 2005 when I paid a visit to Dolgellau on that year’s Spring Bank Holiday weekend. It was to be a weekend visit and Cadair Idris was the lure. However, it had escaped my notice that this was the weekend of Ras y gader, a fell race up and down the very mountain that had drawn me in the first place. If I had an accommodation booking, this would have been of no consequence and I was in the habit of turning up at the local tourist office on the day to organise such matters back then. There was no luck in Dolgellau and the nearest vacancy was in Llwyngwril. This threw out whatever plans I might have had and I asked about Machynlleth instead.

With accommodation booked in Machynlleth, I pottered about Dolgellau a little before catching the next bus there. It was an overcast and rainy afternoon, but things were cheerier when I reached Machynlleth. Strolling about the town, I sorted out something to eat and passed one of the marker stones of the Glyndŵr’s Way as I explored the place. Later on, I re-planned my weekend.

Looking at travel possibilities and pondering other considerations, I settled on a trot about Barmouth. Next morning, I caught the bus that followed the coast as it went between Machynlleth and Dolgellau serving such places as Aberdovey, Tywyn, Llwyngwril and Fairbourne. It was at the road end for Ynysgyffylog and Morfa Mawddach train station where I left the bus and where I caught it again in the evening for the return journey to Machynlleth. In between, there was to be a lot of stravaiging.

Firstly, I made for the Mawddach Trail and then crossed the tolled pedestrian bridge to get across the Mawddach river (the return trip was 50p then) to Barmouth where I had business to do before setting off into the countryside. With that out of the way, I set to ascending a steep path that took me by the first-ever piece of land acquired by the now ubiquitous National Trust. Even now, I have recollections of seeing sea thrift as I did so in the bright sunshine.

After the sweaty climb, things levelled and I bumbled along a variety of paths. What tempted me was the prospect of an out and back walk to Diffwys, one of the Rhinogydd so that was the general direction that I took. The course was not direct though as I navigated the footpath network but I believe that I must have passed Cell-fechan and Gellfawr before heading north with views of the pastoral coastline ahead of me. Eventually, I would have turned east on a path that took me towards Bwlch y Rhiwgyr where the time of day caused me to set aside any thoughts of reaching the top of Diffwys. That was to wait until February 2010 when an out and back walk from Dyffryn Ardudwy got me there.

Cadair Idris from Cerrig Arthur, Barmouth, Gwynedd, Wales

The descent of good sense was no disappointment for the change, of course, was to gift me views of Cadair Idris like the one you see above. The lovely sunny day and the seasonal height of the sun in the sky was enough to ensure that. In wintertime, the north face of Cadair Idris is often shrouded in shadow, so that makes it a difficult photographic prospect.  The unexpected collection of three standing stones aroused my curiosity and, while there are not as dramatic a site as others of their kind, there are prominent enough to get highlighted on OS maps. What I had found was Cerrig Arthur.

From there I returned to Barmouth by a more direct route that still followed public footpaths to cut down on road walking. The evening was delightful with a mix of bright sunshine and perfect views whose impressions have not been erased that much by the passage of time. Though I might have liked to hang around longer, there was a bus to catch, so my time in Barmouth was fleeting and I returned across the toll bridge to make sure that I was in time for my bus to Machynlleth. The next day, I stopped off for a short time in Dolgellau on my way home for one last hurrah on a weekend that had not been unkind to me.

A Pleasant November Afternoon

It was to take me until November 2014 before I would go walking about Barmouth again. There were accommodation foibles this time around too but it was not finding a place to stay that was the issue for I have learned my lesson and nowadays book ahead before I travel. Another problem was to arise.

Because I went for a walk around Llangollen the day before, I stayed in the town that night and at a hotel that I had used a few times previously. After the day of walking, I was hoping for a quiet, relaxing night. What I had not expected was that the night’s entertainment was to set off the fire alarm so many times that the band had to finish early. If the band was called The Blunders as I remember it, then it was particularly apt.

The result was two unhappy sets of customers. First, there were the hotel’s overnight guests who did not get the quiet night that they might have expected until all the fuss had subsided; some cancelled their payments in disgust. Then, there were those after a good night out and had travelled a distance to see the band in question. Neither were satisfied and it was one of those nights that are best not repeated. As it happens, I have not been there since then, but that has more to do with my not visiting the area rather than any fury at what happened.

Still, a night’s rest was had once everything had calmed down again and the next morning saw me catch a bus to Barmouth. A midday arrival with short daylight hours along with heaviness in my legs after the previous day’s exertions meant that I was going to keep things simple.

The fine winter sunshine and the location meant that nothing more than that was needed so I pottered about a quiet Barmouth for a little while before picking out the path that was to take me by Dinas Oleu and Gorllwyn. There was height to be gained but I took my time and recall no overextension as I dealt with the intricacies of passing through a network of small walled fields.

Mawddach Estuary as seen from Panorama Walk, Barmouth, Wales

Cadair Idris & Tyrrau Mawr, Bontddu, Gwynedd, Wales

Eventually, I found my way onto the single track road between Barmouth and Sylfaen and that was left so I could sample the glorious views from the viewpoint at the Panorama Walk. Even though it was November, others were about too and what was a mild afternoon for the time of year. Views along the Mawddach estuary were in plentiful supply and there was Cadair Idris on the other side, shrouded in its habitual wintertime shadows.

Diffwys, Bontddu, Gwynedd, Wales

Garn Fach & YGarn, Bontddu, Gwynedd, Wales

Because it led downhill and away from my objective of Cerrig Arthur, I eschewed the track leading towards Cutiau and returned to the road. Well lit views towards the Rhinogydd and their foothills lay ahead of me as I shortened the distance to Sylfaen. Diffwys and Craig y Grut lay among their number and I delighted on seeing both from this side again.

Cerrig Arthur & Craig Y Grut, Barmouth, Gwynedd, Wales

After Sylfaen, the road became a gravel track and the time of day concentrated my mind when it came to seeking out the antiquity on which I had happened in 2005. Hazy memories made for an indirect course and there was no one around to get upset about that. Once I relocated the three standing stones, I set to making some photos in the late afternoon light. Lengthening shadows made this tricky but I managed what I came to do and returned again to a quiet Barmouth well ahead of the time to start my homeward journey. Those few hours reminded me of the delights of the area, and why I should focus my mind and set a few days aside to explore around there sometime soon.

Travel arrangements:

Bus service X94 from Llangollen to Barmouth and the way back to Wrexham. Train journey from Wrexham to Macclesfield.

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