Scotland, and Pembrokeshire, a change of plans – September 2016
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The day had begun at 5am in Somerset, it was now nearly 11 mid-morning, and I was keeping an eye on the flickering temperature gauge as we drove up the motorway north of Carlisle. Given that the needle was swinging far too rapidly to be recording actual engine temperature, I presumed an electrical problem and pressed on regardless. By Moffat it had settled down again as we headed east towards our first stop.
Grey Mares Tail Falls, otherwise appropriately known as Roaring Linn, is a 60 metre hanging valley waterfall on the Tail Burn. The walk alongside is steep and slippery in the wet, and this being Scotland it is always wet, but well worth the climb to reach the tranquil Loch Skeen at the head of the falls. Here a few shaggy goats watched us pass, and a miniature cloud hovered in the micro climate above a turbulent part of the stream. Some hardy walkers pressed on in the torrential rain with backpacks to spend the night wild camping in the hills above, while we returned to our camper for a nice cup of tea.
We pressed on for Mary Loch but found a more suitable overnight stop next door to Megget Reservoir. Sleep was never going to be long coming after a 487 mile drive and 4 mile hike in the rain, so we drifted off to the sound of rain tapping on the roof. When we woke the sun made a brief appearance and we enjoyed a short ramble across the turfed dam and around the spill pool below.
Our first planned sightseeing stop was Rosslyn Chapel. A pretty enough church made famous by the Dan Brown book, and now basking in that glory by charging £9 to get in (or £7 concessionary for me much to Linn’s enjoyment), and forbidding photography so they can sell more postcards. We did not stay long, shunning the commercialism that has befallen this once architectural gem.
On route for The Kelpies the temperature gauge started to swing madly again, and slowly edged towards hot. By the time we got there, I was concerned that the engine might now actually be overheating and found a small service area to pull into and investigate. While I meddled under the bonnet, Linn took Truffle for a walk around the giant horses’ heads, and later reported that they were even more impressive close up. I hope to visit again in the future so I can get up close and personal, and see the Falkirk Wheel as well when I am not bushwhacked by technical problems. However, for now we decided that it would be advisable to get the sensor replaced, and we found a suitable repairer at Motherwell, some miles south again of where we were. The link roads around Glasgow and Edinburgh are excellent, and despite miles of road works, we were soon parked at Strathclyde Country Park having just missed the open hours of the nearby workshop. Thinking we might still get back on the road north today, we called the AA. An hour later a sorry excuse for a mechanic showed up with a tow truck and no tools, and an inability to even open the bonnet. Having revealed the engine to him, he then decided to run the engine for 20 minutes at considerable revs to see if it would overheat despite not having any reliable means of measuring this. He finally announced that the sensor was the problem, an hour after I had already told him that, and that he could not do this himself but it was safe to drive the vehicle for the rest of our intended tour of the highlands. Unconvinced, I thanked him and sent him on his way as we prepared to spend the night beside the manmade Loch Strathclyde. Despite the mini Alton Towers nearby, and the aroma of burgers and toffee apples in the air, it was actually a great place to stop and we had an excellent walk around the loch before tea.
Imperial Motors is one of those huge commercial drive through repair workshops that proliferate around busy road networks. You drive in, hand over your keys, find a butty wagon and get two breakfast rolls for £2.70 and a freebie for the dog, and two hours later the van is fixed for half the price that the main dealers charge and who would have you wait until the middle of next month to book you in. We were now off our intended route, but with a rock steady temperature gauge we were soon skirting Glasgow and headed for the east side of Loch Lomond some miles north.
In the last few years the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park have taken the extreme measure of banning wild camping anywhere in the area east and north of the loch. This ban was supposedly introduced to curtail the littering attributed to the beer swilling bivvy dwelling overnighters that pop up from Glasgow for a bit of wild action at weekends. Unfortunately, being a blanket ban, it also prohibits the more responsible campers who do not leave their litter behind, or need to light a fire in order to cook their beans. Such as it is, we found the least commercial campsite available right on the loch shore, and plugged into the mains to wallow in copious supplies of hot water and blown air heating to dry our soggy clothes. The rain continued beating its rhythm on the roof, and we settled for only a short walk along the loch shoreline. Since the site offered us the convenience of facilities seldom found at the side of the road, and the weather showed some signs of abating, we decided to stay another night and spend the next day kayaking. We paddled over to Inchionaig first, just to see how Truffle reacted to her first trip in the kayak. She loved it and settled immediately as we did all the work. Emboldened, we paddled around Inchionaig and onto to Inchconnachan, famed for its wallabies. A quick walk proved that they are true to their nocturnal habit, and after a picnic we paddled back to the campsite just as storm clouds rolled in above us again. The map showed that a short walk away there were allegedly the ruins of an Iron Age fort. I say allegedly because when we got there, the sign declared that the monument was only ‘probably’ a fort, and since there was nought but a few stones that could easily have been an old shed, I remained a little unconvinced. It was a pleasant walk though and we found a plethora of brightly coloured fungii over which we debated their edibility or otherwise. Since we could not be sure about identifying any of them, and therefore their suitability for eating, I just took photos of them instead.
In the morning, after a surreal chat with a beaded long-haired hippy about the nuisance of strimmers on a Sunday morning in suburban gardens, we de-camped and set off for fuel and groceries. Luckily the first garage we came to advertised being a mini supermarket as well. I filled the tank and wandered in to pick up supplies only to be greeted by a bank of long empty shelves and freezers. As I paid and asked if there was a shop in town, the cashier responded most proudly “Oh yes, we have a Co-Op now you know” and directed me. I guess the new shop had been the final nail in the coffin for the garage’s store, and wondered how long they could exist on pump sales only. However, it was actually a very good Co-Op, and who doesn’t need an Easter egg or Christmas mince pies in September?
The Trossachs are pretty enough, but the ban on overnight parking is absurd and we didn’t hang around for long. We did creep cautiously all the way down a very narrow track beside Loch Vali and Doine only to find another camper had already requisitioned the only parking spot, but we were not in the mood for sharing the isolation and moved on again. Still, the detour was not totally wasted as we did find Rob Roy’s grave in a very pretty little church who’s parking area would have offered a very peaceful overnight stop had we had the nerve. Instead, we found a secluded lay by on the side of Loch Earn, shared only with a few fishermen. Despite a sign ordering no overnight camping, we stopped. Frustratingly we watched as the fishing party packed up and left the remains of their picnic, beer bottles and litter strewn about the shoreline despite there being bins on site. Much later in the evening three youths turned up and pitched tents on the small beach. They lit a bonfire, had drinks and retired at a respectable hour. In the morning there was absolutely no litter left, the fire had been made safe, and we were prompted to ask ourselves if the blanket banning of overnight campers is actually directed at the right group of people, since the real culprits seem to be the day trippers. During the night we had seen several fires on the opposite shoreline, and on leaving our site in the morning we drove around the loch to investigate. It turned out that these pop up camps belonged to anglers who had the same disregard for clearing up after them as we had seen the day before. The journey also revealed that some people have an irrational dislike of motorhomes such as ours, and at several points we were forced into precarious positions on the road by oncoming drivers who relentlessly ignored the many passing places in favour of trying to squeeze by us. On one such occasion their stubbornness brought traffic to a complete standstill as they found they could not get past, and they lacked the reversing skills to get back to the passing place they had determinedly ignored. Amusingly, these altercations often resulted in obvious mouthed insults, or impatient hand gestures from the other drivers who clearly felt that we should not be on the road. Unfortunately the Edinample Falls did not merit the inconvenience of the drive to see them.
Dochart Falls, on the other hand, are well worth the detour, being a series of low falls and rapids that pass right under the ancient stone bridge. The roar of the water is audible from some distance, and even in the rain you can feel that the air is saturated with spray from the turbulence. The bridge itself is a multi-arched gem, and there are many historically interesting buildings nearby that warrant a closer look, not least the local pub. Onwards and upwards, we continued north along roads crisscrossed with logging tracks and warning signs of “Large Plant Crossing”. Linn asked if we should look out for giant geraniums and did a startling impression of lumbering flora by puffing out her cheeks and holding her arms out wide. I eyed her nervously for a good few miles after that.
Glencoe is a mystical place. Despite not being able to see the tops of the surrounding hills because of the low cloud, we felt dwarfed as we drove through the pass. Abundant waterfalls cascaded down every gulley, a break in the landscape revealed more hills beyond, and it was easy to imagine the horror of the MacDonald’s during the massacre in 1692, trapped by the topography and the forces of King William. When we visited, the main hazard was absent-minded tourists trying the get that elusive shot, or wayward sheep looking for greener grass. We pressed on for a picnic lunch beside Loch Leven before the pretty drive up to Fort William. Previous visits had impressed on me that this is very much a busy modern town, and apart from some excellent restaurants, and a good many outdoor shops, it has little to attract the overnight camper. With that in mind we turned right at the outskirts, and took the single track road down to Landave in the hope of camping beside the loch. Unfortunately, like many parts of Scotland now, the land owners have barred access to all but the paying fishing guest, and we back tracked to a small iron bridge over a raging mountain stream for the night. Having settled for the evening, we were surprised when the normally silent Truffle started to bark at something outside. It turned out to be some cows mooching passed, and we realised that she had never seen cows before, so we allowed her to voice her concern until they became old hat and she settled peacefully in her bed.
It rained nonstop all night, and the morning brought more with it. We had hoped for a good day and maybe an assault on Ben Nevis, but instead we opted for a safer walk through Glen Nevis to Steall Falls, the second highest in Scotland at 120 metres. Because of the size of our camper we had to park at the lower end of the road that winds up through the gorge, but this proved quite fortuitous as we enjoyed an interesting walk with sparkling waterfalls tumbling from the hill on the one side, and under the road to the torrential river on the other. After a couple of miles the road ends in a small car park, and the way forward becomes a precarious rocky track, with a rock face on our left, and a sheer drop on the right. Good walking boots were essential as we crossed several mountain streams and a few places turned into a scramble over rocks. Truffle took it all in her stride, and would have happily run on ahead had it not been for her extending lead. The walkers we met returning from the falls mostly showed better manners than the drivers further south, and we passed easily where we found small sections of wider path. Most were properly kitted out in wet weather walking gear, but a few had attempted the climb in jeans, T-shirts and trainers, and they looked most uncomfortable. Finally the track opened into a beautiful wide valley that was reminiscent of the Alpine valleys of Switzerland. The meandering river was first crossed by stepping-stones, and later, if you chose, by a wire tightrope bridge. In front of us, the falls cascaded into the rust coloured stream below. In nicer weather we would have loved to wander up through the valley, maybe have a picnic and even a swim, but the rain had only let up for a short while, and we set off back down the track knowing that we still had a longish walk back to the camper even after the descent to the road.
I had planned our journey north to pass the Commando Memorial where we stopped and had a sombre moment of reflection. This imposing, larger than life bronze monument of three sturdy commandos stands as an amazingly detailed and moving memorial to the British Commandos who trained all around the Lochaber region that the monument overlooks. Nearby a Garden of Remembrance is the final resting place for the ashes of many commandos who survived World War II. Often busy, the bad weather that day had kept the coaches away and meant that a few of us could take time to reflect, and pay our tributes in silent respect.
We had hoped to find our overnight stop before Fort Augustus, since I knew there was nowhere suitable around there, but finding only a couple of Forestry Commission car parks that we did not fancy, we ended up in the quaint little town. Fort Augustus is set at the southern end of Loch Ness and attracts thousands of visitors, as such it has an abundance of restaurants and a large central car park that short sightedly has signs announcing no overnight parking. We would have been more than happy to pay a fee to spend the night and enjoy the facilities of the local businesses, but instead we passed through without even stopping.
Driving up the west side of Loch Ness during the summer is an unrewarding experience because the trees are fully leafed and block the view. We only glimpsed the loch a couple of times through breaks in the trees, and we certainly did not see any monsters. At Urquhart Castle, you used to be able to park and walk down to the loch shore, right by the deepest recorded part at 755 feet. Not now, the parking is heavily charged and only accesses the castle itself. So we carried on to Drumnadrochit, where again, previously we had been able to freely park and walk to the water’s edge, but no more. Garish signs advertise the Nessie Experience, and the pubs promise Monster Meals, but getting down to the loch is now completely blocked to anyone who actually wants to just paddle in the mythical waters. By now we were frustrated by the lack of opportunities to park for the night and access to the loch, and I was concerned that we would end up at Inverness where I had no plans to stop. However, when we got there we found several very pretty areas beside the river Ness which would have made excellent overnight parking stops had it not been for the unfriendly signs forbidding it. Again we reflected on this short-sighted attitude, despite being totally self-sufficient, but tired and hungry, we would happily have found a local pub to quench our thirst and have a meal if it were not for the fact that we would then have to move off again. So we carried on until we joined the B862 that skirts the east side of Loch Ness, and hoped for an opportunity to pull in for the night. There are several picnic areas at the start of this road, and seeing signs forbidding overnight parking we drove passed them in the hope of finding an approved stop. By the time we got to Foyers, half way down the loch, and an abortive attempt to get into the pub car park because of some badly parked 4×4’s, I had had enough and we returned to the first picnic area for the night regardless of the signs. With our evening meal cooking merrily, we took a quick walk to investigate the shoreline and nearby wood, both looked promising for further exploration tomorrow.
Storms during the night subsided by the morning, and we enjoyed a peaceful woodland walk high above the loch with far-reaching views. It being Saturday, we returned to find the locals were starting to come out for their weekend jaunts, and one of them had brought a drone which buzzed like an annoying insect overhead. We de-camped and moved down to Farigaig Forest where we realised we probably could have stayed the night, and where there is a wonderful series of walks. We chose the 3.5 mile Lochan Torr an Tuill one, but realised after a while that we were following the wrong route, and when, after about 5 miles we eventually got to Lochan Torr, we knew we had gone way off track. Recent forestry work meant that several of the coloured markers had been removed, and while in these particular woods it would have been easy to find our way to the road again, it was a stark reminder of the need to be better prepared when walking further afield.
The stunning scenery inland of Loch Ness on the drive towards Fort Augustus was only slightly marred by the often 3 abreast procession of cyclists taking part in an Iron Man Challenge. We marvelled at their endurance, but had to keep a wary eye open as they snaked their way up the slopes to descend the other side at speeds often faster than our own. The road skirts Loch Tarff, one of the prettier small lochs, that on that day reflected the late summer sun like a mirror. Another camper had stopped for lunch by a small clump of trees, and we were reminded that we too should stop soon. We decided to find a restaurant or pub at Fort Augustus, and dine out. When we got there the place was overrun with runners, the fastest cyclists had beaten us, and were now setting off on the final stage of their triathlon. The town was at a complete standstill, with every parking place taken and only a single file of traffic running through the middle. Denied the luxury of eating out again, we found a pleasant spot beside the loch for an alfresco picnic.
The weather so far had been disappointing, so much so that we were both feeling claustrophobic despite the vastness of the surrounding countryside. The hills, far from being a place of interest and exercise, became our jailers in the intemperate climate that prevented their exploration. Forests, full of red squirrels and pine martins, closed in around us as the rain even found its way through the dense canopy overhead. Our trip around Loch Ness had taken us slightly off the planned route, and because we were not staying in one place for as long as we had intended, we were now ahead of our schedule such as it was. On route back down to Fort William, we discussed the possibility of driving up to Skye for some adventures there, but having reflected on the continued poor weather forecast and reports that it was sunnier in the south, we opted to start our return journey.
Appin Port is a beautiful little quay overlooking several small islands a little way offshore. Access is very narrow, but we managed to get our motorhome down the lanes and onto the small pebbled beach. Here it dawned on us that another thing we had missed on this holiday, apart from the sun, was the sea. Being beside the sea quashed all our feelings of claustrophobia, it was like a weight had been lifted off our shoulders and we immediately felt more relaxed. Even Truffle seemed to relax knowing that she could potter around the van and not have to worry about roads, or getting lost. Beside the small beach is an upmarket restaurant called The Pierhouse, and we hoped that in return for our custom that evening, that they might let us park overnight on what they obviously considered to be their car park. I enquired at the bar. The Italian maître d’hôtel eyed me critically and asked if I had a reservation, I replied not but that we were hoping they could fit two of us in for a meal that evening, my plan was to keep our requests simple to begin with. He flipped open the desk diary and confirmed that they did indeed have one table left. I then hit him with the vegetarian card, and he affirmed that they could accommodate Linn’s requirements, and even showed me two wholly acceptable options on the menu. Emboldened, I asked if in return for our dining there tonight and our inevitable hefty bar tab, whether we could stay in our motorhome on the beach overnight. He seemed to twitch. His brow furrowed. He walked round from behind the bar to take a closer look at our 27 foot, 3.8 ton temporary home as if being the extra couple of feet closer would make it any smaller or more acceptable. Then he shook his head slowly and proclaimed that, “Sorry, no. We are unable to have caravans in our car park because it will spoil the view for our guests. You must go to the campsite, then you can come back.” I tried to explain that we were not towing a caravan, the vehicle was one piece. If we were to come back later it would still be the same size and I even doubted that I would be able to negotiate the lanes in the dark anyway. But he was adamant, no caravans in his car park, so we left disappointed.
Loch Creran is the next sea loch down from Appin. There is a bridge that takes you over the mouth of the estuary, or a single lane road that circumnavigates it. A little way down this road we found another forestry commission car park, and a camper clearly settled for the night with their barbecue set up and levelling ramps under the wheels. There was enough space to join them without, we felt, crowding them, so we parked up and set about setting up our levelling ramps. An old boy and his dog wandered over, and he pointed out that it was much more level next to his van if we wanted to move there. He accepted my explanation that he was there first and that we had no wish to crowd him, but thank you all the same. We chatted about our routes, and what had brought us to Loch Creran. We explained it was the rain, and the need to be heading south. He explained that he was travelling alone with his dog since his second wife had died. With sad eyes he explained how he had travelled the world during his earlier life, and that before he lost his second wife they had explored Scotland and he was now just trying to relive those happy memories. There was a sadness about his story until you reflected that unlike many his age, he was not confined by ill-health or poverty, he was actually getting out and having the best time possible with his loyal dog by his side. In fact, I found his story so uplifting I began to wonder if losing two wives was just unlucky, or suspicious. We bade him goodnight, and asked him to keep the noise down after 10pm and not to party too late which brought a twinkle to his eye and the assurance that he could not guarantee that.
Truffle always ensures an early start, so we were already long awake when the chap arrived with the strimmer to clear the woodland path on Sunday morning. We exchanged greetings, and thankfully he made no mention of the no overnight parking signs as he disappeared into the woods. Having breakfasted, we followed his track for a very pleasant walk around Glasdrum National Nature Reserve. Although we did not see much wildlife, undoubtedly the noisy petrol strimmer was the cause of that, the colours of the trees as they tried on their autumnal foliage was glorious, and the infrequent glimpses of the loch below sent a mischievous sparkle bouncing through the leaves. Back at the van our elderly neighbour wandered over again. He explained that he was going to stay another night because time meant nothing to him now, and he had no place to be other than wherever he was. The dogs played disinterestedly with each other as he told us how he lived on the east coast of Scotland, but much preferred the west, which was why he often found himself with no particular place to go, and no time to be there by as he spent a largely nomadic existence with his dog. We discussed the sights to be seen when the weather was as bleak as it was, and agreed that it really was limited to, well, just trees really. He asked if we had driven round the loch the night before or come in from Appin. Knowing that he had driven round the loch, and telling him that was the way we intended to go, I asked him what there was to see over there. “Trees”, he replied as he walked away with a backward wave of his hand.
The rain eased off enough for the sun to make an occasional appearance, and mindful not to waste the good weather driving all day, we turned left for Dalmally just before getting to Oban, and then south towards Inveraray. At Loch Awe we went off piste and found, with some difficulty, a tiny boating and fishing spot which proved most convivial. This busy little port provides both hire boats and moorings for privately owned fishing boats, with a small shop come café, toilet facilities and even a laundry room. Long horned highland cattle graze in the field alongside, and a stately looking old hunting lodge is now a pub just a short walk away. To us it was nirvana, and we parked alongside an old clinker rowing boat filled with brightly coloured geraniums. There was an excited buzz as dark storm clouds rolled in overhead, and one boat after another motored in for shelter. Some tied up alongside the bouncing wooden jetties, others signalled the tractor driver with a whistle and had their boats pulled out across the small pebbled beach. Halyards and boat covers started flapping noisily in the rising wind, and people scurried around double tying painters and checking fenders. People were leaving now, and soon enough there were just a few of us left, some who obviously intended to sleep on their boats, and a couple who evidently lived in the camouflaged mobile home parked by the small wooden shack. Truffle had her first proper game of fetch in nearly ten days, and ran delightedly as the ball pitched and rolled across the puddled car park. Finally she plonked herself down, exhausted, caught her breath, and then bounced the ball to our feet again for more. We togged up in suitable clothing, and walked up to the pub where a combination of school dinner smells, and a sign warning that no dogs were allowed when food was being served, made us hesitate at the door. A slightly drunken voice from the smokers cave outside bade us go in and pay no heed to the sign as there were already 3 dogs in there. We were glad that we did. The log burner was lit, Country File was on the telly and a few locals sat at the bar with tankards poised. One of the dogs was a huge Rottweiler who took up most of the available floor space, and only managed a slight raise of his big flat head as we walked in. The beer was decent, the food agreeable and the company companionable, and all the while the storm outside continued to gather.
It rained all night, and by the morning we had both made the decision that enough was enough. Radio reports of glorious sunshine and endless barbeques in the south proved our downfall, and with only the minimum of discussion we agreed to drive back south. By ten thirty we had had a cooked breakfast, taken Truffle for a walk, paid our £5 parking fee and were headed south, although we did not know exactly where yet.
I’ll skip Glasgow, where somehow, I managed to inadvertently drive right through the middle of the city. It may have been the 1990 European City of Culture, but the bits we saw looked tired and dowdy. The motorway was awash, and driving conditions were horrendous, and the thought of driving all the way to Dorset where we knew the sun was shining, were soon banished. We set the sat nav, hit Carlisle, and started looking out for the M56 Junction and a Welsh interlude.
Chester is a lovely looking town, as indeed are Wrexham, Oswestry, Welshpool and Newtown. But they are not overly motorhome friendly, so we drove straight through them on the lookout for somewhere to eat and possibly stay the night. The first likely looking pub we found did not do food on Mondays, so we carried on until we chanced across the Red Lion near Llanbister. While Linn popped in to see if they did food, and while I was parking the van, a chap ran out, moved an old pick-up and told me to park there. He showed me the mains hook-up, the grey water dump and outside tap with such enthusiasm that I felt I had to park there even if we did not stay the night. As it happens it is a lovely old pub, full of bric-a-brac and memorabilia, and they even did a half decent meal, but despite their enquiry what time we wanted breakfast, we decided to give it a miss, and press on. Our sat nav, actually my phone at that time, indicated that Trywn Sands was only an hour’s drive away and the thought of waking by the side of the sea was too tempting. Little did we know that there are two Trywn Sands, and the one we were heading for was back up north in Snowdonia National Park, and not the one we knew down south near Newport. There is a remote chance that I may have sworn, just a little, as I got out and surveyed the unfamiliar surroundings. But it now being late, and having been driving most of the day, I succumbed and we spent the night on the esplanade to be woken by the sound of waves tumbling pebbles on the beach a few feet away and seagulls squawking on our roof.
It rained, again. But as we drove through gloriously pretty, hilly, countryside, the weather improved and we got our first glimpse of the sun in nearly two weeks. Some of the coast roads in Pembrokeshire are too small for us, so using a map we picked our way cautiously until we reached Trywn Sands, also known as Newport Sands – not to be confused with the other Newport, near Cardiff. During our last visit here, we had been involved in an altercation with an irate gentleman driving his Lexus, who had forced us off the road and into what appeared to be a private parking area. Not content with this, he had then followed us, stormed out of his car while his wife hid her head in her hands, and berated me with language so foul I have seldom heard the like even with over forty years’ experience on building sites. I would have just allowed him to have his say and cool down, but the whole time he was hanging off my door mirror and I did feel it right and proper to ask him to let go of it. This made him madder, and now, totally at a loss for further adjectives, he yelled “Bubble nose” at me. I’m a little hard of hearing, and thinking I had misheard him, I turned to Linn and enquired, “Bubble nose?” It was not the best thing to do, it reduced us to tears of laughter much to my attackers additional rage. At the point that it seemed that he would actually rip our mirror off, I advised him, as seriously as I could muster, that he should get back into his car and leave, now. Thankfully, realising that I was not about to be bullied anymore, the big burly chap stormed back to his car just as Linn and I burst into hysterics once more. The one good thing that came of this was that it turned out that the car park we were in continued right to the edge of the beach, and there appeared to be no mention of no overnight parking, so we had enjoyed a couple of great nights there prompting this return visit. Having parked tidily for the night, we enjoyed a leisurely walk along the beach and beside the river into town, before returning over the golf course and watching a magnificent sunset over the sea.
We woke to find a strange light in the sky, the sun. Steam wafted gently off the tarmac as people started to arrive and unload beach stuff from their cars. After a quick walk with Truffle, we decided to kayak up river and we were soon afloat. Or would have been had it not been low water. We abandoned our trip after going aground a few times and returned to the camper for a cooked breakfast just as another motorhome pulled alongside. We believe that there is an etiquette to wild camping, obviously leave nothing behind except footprints, but also don’t set up camp and be a nuisance to others. Our neighbours obviously felt differently, they had their chairs set up, BBQ out, pug dog yapping while his master sat drinking beer from a can and his mistress emptied the contents of the van into the car park to give it a spring clean. We pondered how long it would be before such examples of antisocial behaviour would result in this favourite place becoming forbidden like so many others. But the tide was coming in fast, and another attempt at the river was due, so we left them to their housekeeping and paddled blissfully past wading birds, boats swinging idly on their moorings and kids jumping off a jetty with cries of laughter. Passing under the road bridge we entered a different world, tall reeds closed in on each side and the river meandered tightly with farm land just out of sight behind the marginals. We now had to duck as trees bowed heavy branches to dip into the water like drinking straws over our heads. The river became so narrow in places that sometimes we had to push our way forward using our paddles on the bank. And then, a fallen tree completely blocked our way, and rather than clamber over it, we turned around and let the current carry us softly back down river.
Back on the beach, we emptied the kayak except for the seats and paddles, secured our gear and Truffle in the van, and pushed out into the surf. The waves, although quite modest in size, lifted the bow high into the air before passing under us and letting us fall into the following trough. We paddled out through the surf line, and then turned to catch the waves back in. We were soon completely swamped, but this is not a problem in an inflatable, and we revelled until exhausted and caught our final wave back to the shore. Having already got completely soaked, we then swam fully clothed and attempted to body surf in the tumbling waves.
After a bit of a lay in the next day, and a walk with Truffle along the beach, we continued south. Stopping for fuel at a small garage, we bought some groceries and asked permission to fill up the water tank, we always like to fill up whenever we can as we are never certain where the next tap will be. So, with full tanks and no place to be, we found ourselves in St. David’s and parked outside a huge Nisa supermarket that sold everything we had just bought for half the price. St. David’s is a lovely city, small, unassuming and pretty, the outstanding feature by far is the stunning cathedral. This is a beautiful building, inside and out, and well worth a few hours to explore before a gentle stroll around the town itself. We’ve been twice now, and still have not seen everything there is to see, the hidden architectural gems, the small side street shops, the inviting looking pubs and the candle scented stalls on market day. We’ll be back for sure.
Near to Bosherton, St. Govan’s Chapel is a magical place. One story says Govan was an Irish monk who travelled to Wales, another story identifies Govan with Gawain, one of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table; another that he was originally a thief. Whoever he was, the legend says that Govan was set upon by pirates, and that the cliff opened up and left a fissure just big enough for him to hide in until the pirates left. In gratitude, he decided to stay and live within a small cave, probably to help warn the locals of the impending pirate attack if they were to return. It is said that the number of steps varies depending on whether one is ascending or descending. The present small vaulted chapel was built over the cave and dates from the 13th century, although the site may have been of monastic importance since the 5th century. Having walked down to the chapel, and absorbed the ambience of the place, we had hoped to spend the night on the range above, but when we returned to the van a chap ran over and said we had to leave because firing was due to start at 3am. In fact, we doubted this, but since it was one of the better reason we have been given for moving, we decided to go to another spot nearby anyway.
We overnighted at one of our favourite spots nearby, and in the morning made an early start from the National Trust car park at Bosherton for a walk around the Lily Ponds to the coastal path. Unfortunately, the NT warden saw fit to challenge us about our parking, and made some pretty sweeping unpleasant comments about motorhomers in general. This was the more frustrating given that I had spent some time carefully choosing a place that minimised the number of spaces we occupied, or obstructed; and even more frustrating was where she wanted us to park would have blocked one-third of the entire parking area. I was too cheerful for a row with the prospect of a decent walk ahead, so decided to leave her to argue with herself, whereupon she turned her attention to Linn who gave as good as she got. The altercation later resulted in an official complaint to the NT, but more immediately in a lengthy post-mortem of the confrontation by Linn and I as we walked around the beautiful man-made lily ponds. By the time we reached Broad Haven Beach with its great views of Church Rock, our mood had mellowed and we fell into a lengthy conversation with another dog owner and soon learnt her entire family history and how she came to live in Bosherton. And a little further on, we were greeted by yet another dog owner who apologised for the state of her bearded dog, who had apparently rolled in some unmentionable mess and now seemed pleased enough to want to share it with everyone she met.
There is a flight of steps that lifted us off the beach and onto the coast path that would bring us back to St. Govans for a second look at the chapel, and the discovery that the range above was still open and there was no firing after all. Having paid our respects again to St. Govan, we took the coastal path towards Stackpole that would take us past Barafundle Bay. Barafundle is often voted the best beach in Wales, and even Europe by some, and as we dropped down through almost tropical woods, it was easy to see why. Crystal clear water rolls effortlessly up the yellow sand, before fizzing through the grains as it recedes gently back again. Walking through the dunes, we discover the well-made stone path and arch that reveal the importance once bestowed to this place, although their manmade presence now appears incongruous in this idyll of naturalness.
The walk along the cliffs to Stackpole rewarded us at every turn with staggering views along a jagged coastline. By now the sun was overhead, and we realised that we were foolish to set off without enough to drink. But the scenery was captivating, and the walking was easy being relatively level, and before long the growing number of other walkers told us that we were not far away from civilisation. Stackpole Quay is a film set location. It is easy to imagine square riggers nosing cautiously in with the tide to unload their cargoes on rickety gibbets to the solid stone jetty, and the small local fishing boats tied up inside the tiny protected harbour formed by the quay. When we were there the tide was out, and the only water was the clear stream babbling over the shiny pebbles. Behind us, a small tea room served tea and cakes amid clattering china. I disappointingly delved my hand into a pocket that I knew contained only a few coins and wondered if I could afford any of the refreshments on offer. I ushered Linn to an empty table, and ventured inside to find that I was a few pence short of a pot of tea and a scone for Linn. Uncertainly, I joined the queue clutching my few coppers in the hope that I could come to some negotiation at the till. When it was my turn to be served, I explained the dilemma to the girl, and asked whether it was possible to come to a deal that would procure a pot of tea for one and maybe a cake of some sort. Immediately the gentleman in front enquired by how much I was short, and proffered a fist of pound coins insisting that I help myself. It is such generosity from total strangers that helps to restore one’s faith in humanity, and as if in affirmation, the girl serving handed me a tray with a pot of tea and a delicious looking scone, and with a friendly wink, took my last pennies and refused any from my new Samaritan friend. Linn’s face was picture as I approached the table with what appeared to be a feast given my earlier financial shortcomings.
It is possible to make this into a round walk, without retracing your footsteps. So, we set off along a dusty path through manicured fields having been instructed that this would take us back to Eight Arch Bridge by the Lilly Ponds, and, it did. We were coming to the end of a beautiful walk, and as we enjoyed blackberries from the hedge and the odd hazel nut, Linn saw the lady with the dog with the unfortunate rolling habit in front. “Oh look” she announced the now immortal words, “There’s that woman with the smelly Schnauzer!”
Despite threats to the contrary by the irate warden in the car park that morning, the car park was still near enough empty, and she busied herself as she saw us approach so as to avoid the chance that we might point out the error of her ways. Instead, we enjoyed a cup of tea in the van before leaving for the next overnight stop.
The drive to Angle is pleasant enough, there are just a few narrow sections that make passing difficult when in a 7.6-meter four ton truck, but the views of Thorne Island peeping around the headland make it well worthwhile. Over the years there have been many ships wrecked here, the most notable being the Lock Shiel with a cargo of gunpowder, beer and Scotch whiskey, much of which was never recovered. It is often described as the Wales ‘Whiskey Galore’, and more than one person is known to have drowned while trying to recover some of the kegs, and bottles of the beer sell for over £1000.00 each despite the beer being described as drinkable, but flat. There is a fort on the island that is now a hotel. We exercised Truffle on the beach until she collapsed breathlessly in the pools, panting as she regained the energy to roll her ball to our feet for us to throw again. Back at the van, we considered staying the night in the car park, but signs prohibiting this, and the nearby campsite made us feel uneasy, so we drove back to Freshwater West and a great spot in a small disused quarry beside the road. Regrettably, as I walked around trying to find the most level spot, I discovered several handfuls of nails and screws that had been scattered on the ground. We were told later that not all the locals appreciate visitors. Nevertheless, we enjoyed a quiet night with amazing views and a staggering sunset.
On setting out on this three-week trip our intention had been to tour around Scotland, but the incessant rain and, quite frankly, unwelcoming attitude in Scotland called for a change of plans which saw us end up in Pembrokeshire. But as we drove the pretty route home along the A40, we reflected that this is one of the beauties of modern motorhoming, the freedom to flit from one place to another at the merest whim and the joy of escaping the confines of everyday life.