I manage to get lost on the way to the station this morning, and miss the train to Machynlleth. So I have a later start than anticipated.
The first waypoint on my walk today is the bridge to the north of the town, which is the first available crossing point over the River Dovey. A plaque by the bridge tells me I’m entering the Snowdonia National Park.
Snowdonia! I feel a thrill of excitement.
On the other side of the river, I follow the A493 westwards for a short distance, before a familiar Wales Coast Path sign directs me up a minor road.
And then begins a long hard slog up a hill. The climb lasts for at least a mile and puts a strain on my tired legs, still recovering from yesterday’s 16 mile hill walk. Still, it’s a nice quiet lane. No traffic.
Near the top of the hill the footpath leaves the road behind and heads off across a field, still climbing. The hill is unnamed on my map and is only 250m tall, but it feels like a mountain.
From the top I look back the way I’ve come. The sun is shining, but the distant hills are lost in a morning haze.
And then I look forward. Those hills (or mountains) in front are part of Snowdonia. The terrain looks wild and rugged. I hope I will be able to cope with it.
On the other side of the hill my path dips down – overgrown, steep and narrow – until it joins a gravel track.
It’s a surprise to find a network of wide tracks running along the hillside. There are no farms in the vicinity, only trees, and I realise it must be forestry track used by logging equipment.
I meet no machines on the track today. Nor people either.
I’m going steadily downwards. It’s a relief at first, although continuous downhill walking makes my knees protest. And the end of my toes jar against the front of my boots with each step. But I mustn’t complain. I’m going downhill.
The track doubles as part of the National Cycling Route number 8, which traverses Wales from north to south. I make a note to tell my husband, who is a keen cyclist. This would be a lovely ride.
I join a minor road and walk down to rejoin the A493 at the village of Pennal. Here I stop for lunch at a wonderful pub/restaurant, where the landlord allows me to order 2 starters for lunch, and serves a glass of iced water, unasked for, with my diet tonic, because he knows that walkers are always thirsty. Very impressed.
Here is a photograph looking back at Pennal and the hill behind.
From Pennal I walk along the A493 again for a short distance, before following a lane off to the left. From here the signage is unclear and could be improved. The lane leads up a slope to a holiday park at Plas Talgarth. It looks like private road, but the footpath runs straight through it…
… and emerges on the other side, going past putting greens, and turning into a ‘trim trail’. Signs tell me to stick to the path because of ‘DANGER FROM FALLING BRANCHES AND TREES’.
I walk past some rather decrepit looking trim trail equipment, and then see why the warning signs were up. There has been logging going on, just below the trail.
I always have mixed feelings when I see an area of woodland scarred by logging. On the one hand, it seems a good idea to grow the wood we need and avoid deforesting other countries. On the other hand, trees take years to replace and these empty wounds make me feel sad.
The path avoids the deforested area, and runs along the side of a hill.
Just before I emerge into fields, I nearly stumble over some people. They’re a couple in their sixties, sitting on the edge of the path, eating a picnic lunch. I shout out in surprise. I’ve met nobody else out walking today and have become used to having the path to myself!
This couple are proper long-distance walkers, walking the Wales Coast Path in stages as I am, but carrying everything on their backs. They have large rucksacks and dangling maps in waterproof pouches. We exchange greetings and comment on the emptiness of the path.
I notice they’re both wearing Wales Coast Path badges – with the Dragon Shell logo. And I’m immediately filled with envy. I want a badge too!
The man tells me the route ahead is easy. Just cross the field to the lamppost, and turn right. Lamppost? It sounds like something out of Narnia.
Then I see some strollers coming up the path behind me. More people! I’m seized with an irrational anxiety about being overtaken. So, I say goodbye and hurry onwards.
Striding quickly down the field, I come across a lone telephone pole (ah, the ‘lamppost’) but forget entirely to turn right. Going straight on, I emerge onto a road and go the wrong way, before turning back, only to meet the strollers I’d been so keen to avoid. I admit to being lost and they point me in the right direction.
Back down the road I trek, feeling a little dispirited, and am relieved to see a familiar footpath sign.
Across more fields, and I reach the main A493. Again! The Wales Coast Path seems to have been playing a game of tag with this road. I must cross over here, because the path continues up a hill on the other side.
And now begins the best part of the walk. It starts off as a leg-tiring slog up a hill along a lane…
… past sheep, and rundown farmhouses, until the tarmac turns into a dirt track. I walk through puddles and along the side of old stone walls.
On and up, continually rising, the route continues, past logging sites and through moorland filled with sheep. I’m heading west and the afternoon sun is low in my eyes. Turning back, I take a photograph down the way I’ve come.
And, somewhere near the top of the hill I see a strange sight. A tractor with a mower on the back. The farmer is cutting the long coarse grass and allowing the shorter grass to grow as fodder for sheep. I’m surprised he’s allowed to do this in a national park.
I take advantage of a grassy bank and sit down for a drink and a snack. And then I meet my third proper walker of the day, coming down the hill towards me. He is laden with two enormous rucksacks on his back, a third one slung around his front, and he looks both dirty and exhausted.
‘Do you know how far it is to the top of the estuary?’ he asks. Yes, I can tell him exactly, thanks to my Garmin. ‘Nine miles.’ Nine miles?! He seems astounded and throws himself down on the bank beside me. Am I sure?
It turns out he is walking the Wales Coast Path the hard way, all in one go, camping along the route. He’s lived in Wales all his life, but didn’t appreciate how BIG the country is. He talks with enthusiasm about being part of the natural world, of walking along sandy beaches and seeing the blue hills of the Lleyn peninsula.
He tells me he hoped to get to Aberystwyth today. I laugh at this. We only have 2 and 1/2 hours of daylight left. He might just make Machynlleth. I both admire him and feel sorry for him, knowing how cold the nights are getting. And I offer him my snack bar before he leaves.
Then I’m alone with the sheep. The sun is low now, turning everything a golden colour.
The track I’m walking along is known as the Panoramic Walk. It runs just below the top of a curving ridge and, although most of the views are inland, there are occasional points at which I get a shining view across the sands and the mouth of the estuary.
The inland views are lovely, looking down into a valley of sheep and fields, dotted with farmhouses, and against a backdrop of hills.
A number of bridleways join my track. This sign – ‘Unsuitable for motor vehicles.’ – seems rather superfluous, although I do come across one parked car up here, with its occupants admiring the view.
And then the track becomes a proper road, and begins to curve downhill. Just ahead is the place where the Wales Coast Path is going to dive off down to the left, heading once again towards the A493.
At the point where the Wales Coast Path leaves the road I see a roadside kiosk. Water is available, along with Welsh cakes and chocolate brownies, and other goodies. What a nice idea.
In America, there are people who offer comfort and sustenance to hikers on the long-distance trails, such as the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail. Such good Samaritans are called Trail Angels. Whoever set up this kiosk is definitely a trail angel!
I assume there’s an honesty box inside, but I don’t need any refreshments and so I don’t stop to investigate. By this time the sky is getting darker, and I’ve only got a mile to go before I reach my destination.
The path leads across a field, which drops steeply down from the ridge. The ground is churned by cow hooves, and the way isn’t clear. I lose the trail, and have to clamber through mud around the periphery of the field. I wade across a stream, only to find I’m on the wrong side of a fence and am forced to retrace my steps.
Eventually I discover the way, via a stile which is cunningly hidden in a ditch (see the photo below).
I’m relieved to leave the mucky farmland behind. The path opens out and I walk along a slope high above the sea. The views are stunning. But with the sun now very low – and shining straight into the camera – the photographs are disappointing.
The path reaches the outskirts of Aberdyfi and I walk down to the main road. My plan was to catch the train back to Machynlleth to pick up my car, but a nearby rumble tells me I’ve just missed it. That’s the second train I’ve missed today and there isn’t another one for two hours.
Luckily I find a bus stop and there is a bus to Machynlleth due in 20 minutes. This gives me time to take some photographs of Aberdyfi in the light of the setting sun.
I seem to be making a habit of finishing my walks at sunset!
Miles walked today: 13.5 miles
Total along Wales Coast Path = 616.5 miles
Total distance around the coast: 2,223.5 miles