Today is a walk in three parts. All very different.
Despite my sadness at finishing the Pembrokeshire National Trail, I’m looking forward to the Ceredigion Coast Path. It starts gently from Cardigan, beginning with a pleasant walk alongside the river.
Turning inland, the path meanders through woodland, and past a non-stinky sewage works.
For the most part the way is well sign-posted – I only get lost a couple of times – and I love the Ceredigion footpath logo – really effective as a graphic image, cleverly signifying a coastal walk, and suitable both as a B&W image, as an engraving, and as a line drawing.
I walk along farm tracks, a quiet road, and then through fields full of cows. Cows! Luckily they seemed soporific in the sunshine and don’t pay me any attention ( I really, really, don’t like cows!). On the other side of the river is St Dogmaels, where I can see the jetty I passed yesterday and the marker signifying the end of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
As I get closer to the sea, there are staggering views over the mouth of the estuary and Poppit Sands.
I join the coast road, and walk past a marina and a holiday camp…
… before reaching the tiny village of Gwbert. A roadside pub looks inviting, but it’s too early to stop.
Unfortunately, from here the coastal path is forced to deviate inland. This is due to the reluctance of a local landowner to allow the coast path to cross his land, a case of intransigence which has escalated into a long-running and divisive legal dispute.
Shame. And a bad business decision in my opinion. The people who might pay to visit a farm park are entirely different from people who pass through on a long distance walk, and some of us might even stop at the farm café for a cup of tea.
Maybe one day the local authorities will win and this section of the coast will be made accessible. Until then, all you can do is slog around the periphery and grumble. It’s not a particularly scenic walk: a long climb up a boring road, then farm tracks, muddy paths, edge of field stumbles…
… until you reach the coast again and see the view the Farm Park landowner would like to charge you for experiencing. Cardigan Island. Uninhabited and owned by a wildlife trust. Once home to puffins. Now a place of choughs and seals.
I meet a couple – the first walkers I’ve seen since I left Cardigan. They look hot and tired, and ask me where the nearest place is to get a drink. When I explain they will have to walk on to Gwbert, a couple of miles further along across the fields, they decide to have a short rest and then turn back. (People often underestimate the difficulty of coastal walking.)
And now begins the second part of my walk.
Here begins a proper coastal path. In and out. Over rocks, stones, and screed. Rugged and wild. On a rocky outcrop, I stop for a snack lunch. It’s surprisingly mild for September and I unzip the lower sections of my trousers, turning them into shorts. And take a self-portrait.
Further along the path I meet a group of wild ponies. And some donkeys.
And then I begin the descent into Mwnt Beach. Which is very beautiful. A perfect little beach, sheltered and calm, where people are walking and swimming.
Just above the beach is a kiosk where I buy a cold drink and sit on a wall for a rest. Because I know what I want to do next. Look at that conical hill! Foel-y-Mwnt. It’s not actually on the coastal path, but I’m going to climb it.
It turns out to be even steeper than it looks. And I feel quite dizzy at the top – partly from exertion and partly from vertigo. The views are wonderful. Only slightly marred by the car park and nearby caravan site.
This is the view looking back to the west. You can see Cardigan Island. The far headland is Cemeas Head on the other side of the Afon Teifi estuary.
Looking to the east, over sunlit fields, I can see the headland in front of Aberporth, my intended destination today.
And, in the clear light all around the horizon, is the blue-tinged and curving coastline of Cardigan Bay. It seems to go on for ever. Indeed, I think I can see all the way to Snowdonia! Maybe those distant humps on the end – looking like islands – are the hills of the Lleyn Peninsula?
(Sadly, despite the apparent clarity to the naked eye, the coastline blurs into nothingness in my photographs.)
While I sit carefully on my high perch, clutching my camera, a local woman scrambles up beside me. We are the only two people to have climbed to the summit. Fearless, in fashion boots, she strides up and down the rocky ridge on the top of Foel-y-Mwnt, taking photographs. I ask her whether the far mountains might be Snowdonia, but she seems unsure.
Carefully I clamber down from the peak, eager to begin the final stretch – part three – of my walk.
For the next few miles I walk through a landscape entirely empty of people. The cliffs rise steeply above a clear sea of pastel blues and turquoise greens. Slanting sunlight outlines patterns in the rocks, whose colours range from yellow ochre to steely grey…
… while around me the foliage is glowing with the warm browns and oranges of autumn.
The path is tortuous, following the curves of the coastline. Many of the coves don’t even have names. Those that do are in tongue-twisting Welsh: Hatling Bigni, Pencestyll, Llwyn Ysgaw.
The sun sinks lower and the north-facing cliffs soon fall into shadow, while fair-weather clouds throw moving patches of darkness across the landscape. The deepening shadows create an air of almost sinister mystery. I try to speed up my pace, but my efforts seem to bring me no nearer to that elusive headland.
Only 2 miles on the map, but it takes me almost 2 hours to cover this wonderful stretch of coastline. Not only does the path twist in and out, but it sinks down into shady valleys, crossing hidden streams, before climbing up again to regain the top of the cliffs.
Luckily the little bridges across the streams are well maintained. I’m grateful to the local volunteers who spend time and effort keeping the path open for the rest of us to enjoy.
Finally, with my watch showing nearly 5pm, I reach Traeth Gwyrddon. Here the coast path turns inland, avoiding the headland which is (or so I believe) a military zone. This section of the path follows a grassy ridge, Allt y Gwrddon…
… before plunging into unkempt woodland…
… and emerging eventually onto a sunlit field. The course of the footpath is shown by a mown stripe which leads right through a bunch of cattle. Cows! But I’m too tired at this point to feel much anxiety.
On the other side of the field is a blocked road. The signs say ‘Government Property’ and ‘No unauthorised access’. Strange wording. Is it a military camp? Or not?
I reach a proper road. This is the village of Parcllyn, and it certainly has a military-base feel to it. I’m tired and was half-thinking of ending my walk a mile short of Aberporth, and of catching the bus back to Cardigan from here instead. But the place seems rather unfriendly and there is nowhere to sit while waiting.
A young man is standing by the roadside and, as he is the only person in sight, I feel a little uneasy passing close to him, so I cross over to the other side of the road. He turns to face me and calls out ‘Everything all right, love?’ I assume he is talking to me and, although I think he is being rather over familiar and a little rude, I think it’s best to reply. ‘I’m fine thank you.’ A split second later a female voice calls back from further down the road. ‘No, I’m struggling here.’ He wasn’t talking to me, after all! How embarrassing.
I continue down the road towards Aberporth. It’s a steep slope and tough on my tired knees.
In contrast to the rather ugly streets of Parcllyn, Aberporth turns out to be beautiful, with a wonderful little beach, and open green lawns that catch the last rays of the evening sun.
I buy a cold can of drink at an open-all-hours village shop, and ask the owner where I can find the bus stop. He comes out of the shop to point me in the right direction.
It’s been a wonderful day. I hope the rest of the Ceredigion Coast turns out to be as beautiful as this.
The ‘military’ base at Parcllyn appears to have been turned into a technology park and a testing area for drones.
Miles walked today: 14 miles
Total along Wales Coast Path = 532 miles
Total distance around the coast: 2,139 miles