Day 37-38 – The Lowland Hundred

Starting mileage: 17602 km
Day started: 10:00
Day ended: 22:30

Gwynedd

Gwynedd

There doesn’t seem that much to do on the Ceredigion part of the coast, other than soak yourself in the sea and cruise in boats seeking for dolphins (the largest population in the UK). We’ve already seen dolphins, and we didn’t feel like swimming (and there was still no water for any kind of surfing) so we simply drove northwards with just a few rest stops along the way.

There is one bit of the coast that’s good for walking, and that’s near the village of Llangranog, where the cliffs rise tall over the beach, but we got so tired trying to get down to the village that we gave up on the walk – and it didn’t seem as exciting as Pembrokeshire anyway. Perhaps I’m unfair, but after Marloes and Grassholm, Ceredigion seemed to have little to offer.

We stopped at New Quay (not to be confused with Newquay in Cornwall) for refreshments; there’s a nice, wide beach there and a good harbour, as well as a few restaurants and shops. It was Sunday, so most places were only offering a lamb roast – just what you’d want on a hot summer day on the beach, isn’t it? We had another crab sandwich at a bistro, and some ice-cream, and off we went. Covering about 70 miles that day, speeding past Aberaeron and Aberystwyth, we finally reached the one really interesting and famous bit of this coast: the sunken forest of Ynyslas.

Between Ynyslas and Borth – the names sound like a couple of knights of the Round Table – stretches a long range of dunes, which move back and forth on the wind over the centuries. The dunes themselves are of natural and scientific interest, but it’s what happens to the beach at low tide that brought us here. The receding water reveals first a strange, leathery substance which after some digging turns out to be an old layer of turf under the sand; and soon after, the trees appear: the oaks, hazels and willows, between 3 and 5 thousand years old; this ancient petrified forest remembers when the stones were carried from Preseli to Stonehenge, and when the men at Pentre Ifan had been buried. This is Cantre’r Gwaelod: the Lowland Hundred.

A legend tells of a rich land, stretching far into what is now Cardigan Bay; it was lost to the flood, variously due to a woman or a boy neglecting their guard duties at a mighty dyke guarding it from the sea. Remains of this legendary land can be seen throughout the northern part of Cardigan and Gwynedd coasts, mostly in the form of sunken tree stumps; and if you’ve read my books, this is of course where Bran ap Dylan and his family live 🙂

There is a great variety of exotic sea life washed out on the Ynyslas beach, from giant jellyfish to plenty of colourful shells, some of which definitely don’t belong to Northern Atlantic. At a guess, I’d say they are either brought here by stray currents, or thrown off with balast waters from ships sailing past River Dyfi, but I could find no further information.

That was the end of the day for us, and off we went to a campsite, which was already across the Dyfi, in Gwynedd, at the foothills of Snowdon.

The next day we had a drastic, but planned, change of direction. After a morning visit to a nearby Ynys-hir RSPB reserve, we headed due East, towards Midlands.

Summer is, frankly saying, a rubbish time for birdwatching in the UK. Apart from sea birds, and that only in a chosen few locations, everything else is gone. The RSPB reserves list among summer highlights things like smelling flowers or chasing dragonflies.

Ynys-hir was only a little better than average in this regard, despite its vast size and great facilities. We’ve seen a couple of field birds, some oystercatchers and a fair amount of geese in enormous flocks, but most disappointingly, we saw none of the red kites for which this area is famous. We had seen a few the day before and early in the morning, but none in the actual reserve!

There’s an osprey reintroduction project going on at Dyfi, and if you’re in luck you can spot a pair hunting in the valley.

On our way we passed briskly through Shropshire; the county lies on the Welsh-English border, and is rich in heritage, from a great Roman ruin at Viroconium – including UK’s largest free-standing Roman building – to the UNESCO-inscribed Iron Bridge Gorge, the cradle and heart of industrial revolution. We made a brief stop at the Iron Bridge itself – the first of its kind in the world – but in truth, the place deserves a full day visit, with its many museums of industry and heritage sites.

We were heading towards West Midlands for a good reason: to visit Anna and her partner Mark. Anna is our dear friend from Warsaw, who had moved recently, and confusingly, to Walsall, where she’s doing fantastic job supporting local community and engaging in local projects, like guerilla gardening. We had practical reasons to visit them – pick up a few parcels, check the car at the local garage – but really, that was just an excuse to meet them, use their hospitality, sleep in a proper bed and eat a decent meal in the nearby balti house 🙂 We spend the rest of the evening listening to Kraftwerk and David Bowie from Mark’s ample vinyl collection, and went to sleep.

As luck would have it, it was a dark and stormy night.

New Quay

New Quay

Sunken forest of Ynyslas.

Sunken forest of Ynyslas.

Ironbridge

Ironbridge


Now that’s what I call a full five-star campsite! Gwerniago has it all: great views, fine facilities, peace and quiet. Nestled in the foothills of Snowdonia, the site overlooks the bends of the Dyfi Valley. Red kites and RAF aircraft are flying overhead constantly; there are designated campfire areas everywhere, and the new showers and toilets are solar-powered and squeaky clean. This is definitely one of the best sites we’ve been to so far.

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